|Created by||Charles Kay Ogden|
|Setting and usage||controlled natural language|
Basic English (British American Scientific International and Commercial English) is an English-based controlled language created by linguist and philosopher Charles Kay Ogden as an international auxiliary language, and as an aid for teaching English as a second language. Basic English is, in essence, a simplified subset of regular English. It was presented in Ogden's book Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar. The first work on Basic English was written by two Englishmen, Ivor Richards, Harvard University, and C.K. Ogden, of the University of Cambridge, England, working in association.
Ogden's Basic, and the concept of a simplified English, gained its greatest publicity just after the Allied victory in World War II as a means for world peace. He was convinced that the world needed to gradually eradicate minority languages and use as much as possible only one, English in either a simple or complete form. A widely known 1933 book on this is a science fiction work on history up to the year 2106 titled The Shape of Things to Come by H. G. Wells. In this work, Basic English is the inter-language of the future world, a world in which after long struggles a global authoritarian government manages to unite humanity and force everyone to learn it as a second language.
Although Basic English was not built into a program, similar simplifications have been devised for various international uses. Ogden's associate I. A. Richards promoted its use in schools in China. It has influenced the creation of Voice of America's Special English for news broadcasting, and Simplified Technical English, another English-based controlled language designed to write technical manuals.
What survives of Ogden's Basic English is the basic 850-word list used as the beginner's vocabulary of the English language taught worldwide, especially in Asia.
Ogden tried to simplify English while keeping it normal for native speakers, by specifying grammar restrictions and a controlled small vocabulary which makes an extensive use of paraphrasing. Most notably, Ogden allowed only 18 verbs, which he called "operators". His "General Introduction" says, "There are no 'verbs' in Basic English",[verify] with the underlying assumption that, as noun use in English is very straightforward but verb use/conjugation is not, the elimination of verbs would be a welcome simplification.
What the World needs most is about 1,000 more dead languages--and one more alive.-- C. K. Ogden, The System of Basic English
Ogden's word lists include only word roots, which in practice are extended with the defined set of affixes and the full set of forms allowed for any available word (noun, pronoun, or the limited set of verbs). The 850 core words of Basic English are found in Wiktionary's Basic English word list. This core is theoretically enough for everyday life. However, Ogden prescribed that any student should learn an additional 150-word list for everyday work in some particular field, by adding a list of 100 words particularly useful in a general field (e.g., science, verse, business, etc.), along with a 50-word list from a more specialised subset of that general field, to make a basic 1000-word vocabulary for everyday work and life.
Moreover, Ogden assumed that any student should already be familiar with (and thus may only review) a core subset of around 200 "international" words. Therefore, a first-level student should graduate with a core vocabulary of around 1200 words. A realistic general core vocabulary could contain around 2000 words (the core 850 words, plus 200 international words, and 1000 words for the general fields of trade, economics, and science). It is enough for a "standard" English level. This 2000 word vocabulary represents "what any learner should know". At this level students could start to move on their own.
Basic English includes a simple grammar for modifying or combining its 850 words to talk about additional meanings (morphological derivation or inflection). The grammar is based on English, but is much simpler.
Like all international auxiliary languages (or IALs), Basic English may be criticised as inevitably based on personal preferences, and thus, paradoxically, inherently divisive. Moreover, like all natural language based IALs, Basic is subject to criticism as unfairly biased towards the native speaker community.
In 1944, readability expert Rudolf Flesch published an article in Harper's Magazine, "How Basic is Basic English?" in which he said, "It's not basic, and it's not English." The essence of his complaint is that the vocabulary is too restricted, and, as a result, the text ends up being awkward and more difficult than necessary. He also argues that the words in the Basic vocabulary were arbitrarily selected, and notes that there had been no empirical studies showing that it made language simpler.
In his 1948 paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication", Claude Shannon contrasted the limited vocabulary of Basic English with James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, a work noted for a wide vocabulary. Shannon notes that the lack of vocabulary in Basic English leads to a very high level of redundancy, whereas Joyce's large vocabulary "is alleged to achieve a compression of semantic content."
In the novel The Shape of Things to Come, published in 1933, H. G. Wells depicted Basic English as the lingua franca of a new elite that after a prolonged struggle succeeds in uniting the world and establishing a totalitarian world government. In the future world of Wells' vision, virtually all members of humanity know this language.
Evelyn Waugh criticized his own 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited, which he had previously called his magnum opus, in the preface of the 1959 reprint: "It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster--the period of soya beans and Basic English--and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language that now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful."
In his story "Gulf", science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein used a constructed language called Speedtalk, in which every Basic English word is replaced with a single phoneme, as an appropriate means of communication for a race of genius supermen.
The Lord's Prayer has been often used for an impressionistic language comparison:
|Basic English (BBE)||English (NRSV)|
Our Father in heaven,
Our Father in heaven,
The satirical force with which Orwell used Newspeak to serve as his portrait of one of those totalitarian ideas that he saw taking root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere can be understood only if we remember that he speaks with shame about a belief that he formerly held ... From 1942 to 1944, working as a colleague of William Empson's, he produced a series of broadcasts to India written in Basic English, trying to use its programmed simplicity, as a Tribune article put it, 'as a sort of corrective to the oratory of statesmen and publicists.' Only during the last year of the war did he write 'Politics and the English Language,' insisting that the defense of English language has nothing to do with the setting up of a Standard English.