Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd
Broadway House, Carter Lane, E. C.

And the Lord said, Behold the people is one, and they have all one language ; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Gen. xi, 6.













The Choice Before Us



The Points of View



Science versus Sophistication



The Economic Motive



Simplicity and Regularity



Concrete Reinforcement



The Psychological Value of Experiment








1 .




A Current Legend



The Claim of Chinese



Artificial Simplification



The Case for English





2 .

Radio, the Movies, and the Telephone






The Movies



The Telephone



The Purity Crusade



Advance Australia



English versus Esperanto



The Value of Synthetic Languages


3 .

National Pride



Central Europe

































The Case for Simplification















    The present volume is designed to provide a general orientation for those who believe that the solution of the problem of Babel is to be found in some form of English, and specifically in the simplified system known as Basic. It therefore invites comparison with the companion volume in the same series entitled International Communication-- a symposium, where the case for some form of artificial or constructed language is presented ; it may, indeed, be regarded as a reply to the arguments there set forth in favour of the synthetic approach.

    Of the hundreds of artificial languages projected during the past three centuries only four have secured more than a handful of adherents ;and of these not one makes any pretence to more than a purely Western European basis. Their alleged agreement on fundamentals is therefore illusory. Little or no progress has been made with public opinion since 1889, when Volapuk (to-day as dead as Sanskrit) could claim over 1,000,000 enthusiastic supporters ; and it is time that the issue raised in the following pages was squarely faced.

    For the further study of Basic English, the reader is referred to Basic English, The Basic Vocabulary (The Basic Words), Brighter Basic, and Basic English Applied: Science, by the present writer ; also to Carl and Anna (in Basic) and The Basic Traveler, by L. W. Lockhart, where specimens of the language will be found. By way of Introduction, a short account of the system, written in Basic English, is prefixed.

    Any corrections, or material for incorporation in a Second Edition, will be welcome, and may be sent to the address given below.
C. K. Ogden.
The Orthological Institute,
10 King's Parade, Cambridge.




( In Basic English )


    Basic English is an attempt to give to everyone a second, or international, language, which will take as little of the learner's time as possible.

    It is a system in which everything may be said for all the purposes of everyday existence ; the common interests of men and women, general talk, news, trade, and science.
    To the eye and ear it will not seem in any way different from normal English, which is now the language of 500,000,000 persons.

    There are only 850 words in the complete list, which may be clearly printed on one side of a piece of note-paper. But simple rules are given for making other words with the help of those in the list ; such as designer, designing, and designed, from design, or air-plane from air and plane.

    The word order is fixed by other short rules, which make it clear from an example such as
"I will put the record on the machine now"
what is the right and natural place for every sort of word.

    Whatever is doing the act comes first ; them the time word, such as will ; then the act or operations put, take, or get ; then the thing to which something is done, and so on.

    It is an English in which 850 words do all the work of 20,000, and has been formed by taking out everything which is not necessary to the sense. Disembark, for example, is broken up into get off a ship. I am able takes the place of I can ; shape is covered by the more general word, form; and difficult by the use of hard.

    But putting together the names of simple operations -- such as get, give, come, go, put, take -- with the words for directions like in, over, through, and the rest, two or three thousand complex ideas, like insert which becomes put in, are made part of the learner's store.

    Most of these are clear to everyone. It would be hard, for example, to go wrong about the way to put disembark or debarquer, into Basic English. But in no other language is there an equal chance of making use of the process. That is why Basic is designed to be the international language of the future.

    In addition to the Basic words themselves, he learner has, at the start about fifty words which are now so common in all languages that they may be freely used for any purpose. Examples are Radio, Hotel, Telephone, Bar, Club. Records like the one now on your machine will make it clear what the sounds are to be like.

    For the needs of any science, a short special list gets the expert to a stage where international words are ready to hand.

    Those who have no knowledge of English will be able to make out the sense of a Radio Talk, or a business letter, after a week with the word-list and the records ; but it may be a month or two before talking and writing are possible.

    An Englishman will make an adjustment to Basic ways of thought in a very short time, but at first he will have to take some trouble to be clear and simple.

    In fact, it is the business of all internationally-minded persons to make Basic English part of the system of education in every country, so that there may be less chance of war, and less learning of languages -- which, after all, for most of us, are a very unnecessary waste of time.1

1 . A gramophone record of these four pages may be had from the Orthological Institute, price 10/-.






    "What Europe needs most is about fifty more dead languages", said a sagacious observer at the outbreak of the World War. What the World needs most is about 1,000 more dead languages -- and one more alive.

    "Make everybody speak English" was the four-word peace-slogan suggested by Henry Ford some years ago ; "Basic English for all" is its modern counterpart. The so-called national barriers of today are ultimately language barriers. The absence of a common medium of communication is the chief obstacle to international understanding, and therefore the chief underlying cause of War. It is also the most formidable obstacle to the progress of international Science, and to the development of international Commerce.

    As to the desirability of a Universal Language, therefore, thee can be little difference of opinion. Two distinct possibilities are, however, often confused at the outset. We may either suppose that some or all of the 1,500 existing languages will continue to be used alongside the language which is to be common to all -- in this case our Universal Language is most properly described as an Auxiliary Language ; or we may look to the gradual disappearance of existing languages in favour of a truly Universal medium.. This is perhaps, not very important at first sight, but it may often determine the choice between the two main alternatives next to be considered. We may either adopt (or adapt) an existing language ; or add a new language for all to learn.




    In the latter case (genus Millenio) the chief possibilities fall into three groups . There are the synthetic languages, of which Esperanto is the most successful ; in fact, the sole active survivor. There are improved forms of these, not yet used by a thousand persons, of which Ido has attracted most attention. There is a theoretically perfect language whose birth is occasionally heralded by philologists and mathematicians : let us christen it Perfecto.

    Then come the projects (genus Millenial) of which Novial is the type, useful at present chiefly for monologues. If the U.S.S.R. were to invent one of its own, it might thrive for a while as Sovial. The rest may be grouped together as Jovial-- so strong are the convictions of their adherents, or so universal the hilarity with which they are received.

    All six involve an addition to the existing Babel. The alternative, the adoption or adaptation of an existing language, is represented by the more hopeful movements associated with the universalization of English (for no other national language need at present be seriously considered). If we are content merely to assume its adoption with the necessary phonetic modifications, we have Anglic. If we prefer to imagine that it will gradually absorb other languages in virtue of its adaptability, flexibility, and analytic simplicity -- taking what it needs from all, we get what may be called Pasic : a foretaste of such a language may be found in the later work of James Joyce. Finally, if we remember that English is already regarded as the Universal language by nearly half the inhabitants of the globe, and that a simplified form of it, reducing the labour of learning by 90%, is now available for the other half, we shall advocate BASIC.

    In the meantime, our ninefold classification may serve a useful purpose, for reference :










    It is, therefore, not surprising that interlinguists are far from having reached complete agreement s to either method or content. Since, however, those who advocate a constructed language have unusually concerned themselves with a few European languages only, it is equally not to be wondered at how much in common their various proposals actually have, both in vocabulary and in general spirit of procedure. The vital issue lies not so much between these proposals themselves as between the idea of a constructed language and that of an already well-established national one, whether in its standard form or simplified. Persons well acquainted with the international language situation are often ready to admit that some more regular system may be theoretically desirable, but think it little use to work for it. They hold that English has already virtually established itself the international language of modern times, and that the determination of its precise form for universal use may well be left to historical and psychological factors. This point of view has a certain easy inevitability about it, but, like so many things that seem easier than they are, it may none the less embody a number of important truths.




    If, now, it is our object to discover what is to be expected of an international auxiliary language, and whether these requirements can be better satisfied by a national language, including some simplified version of it, or by an artificial system, the distinction we have just made will enable us to keep the issues clear.

    There are two points of view from which the needs of international communication may be approached. The first arises from the most elementary needs of international communication-- such 'necessary evils' as the translation services of commerce, the restriction of radio and telephonic development, and the Babel of social and scientific congresses. Such examples can, of course, be multiplied ad infinitum.

    We may take as a single example the work of the Imperial Soil Bureau, whose director, Sir John Russell, has frequently laid stress on the language difficulty.1 The difficulty is a recent one. Before the war an expert could keep in touch with world developments if he had a working knowledge of English, French, German, and possibly Italian, but publications about soil are now coming out in over twenty languages. At the Rothamsted Agricultural Station there is a Russian lady who knows the majority of these, "but", said Sir John, in a press interview, "it is difficult even for her to keep abreast of the new ones that come along. The Poles, who used to use Russian, insist on Polish ; then there is Ukrainian, and we are now threatened with a journal in Georgian". A big institution may still be able to cope with such a situation, but under such circumstances translation is hardly less important than research itself.

    Emphasis is not laid, as a rule, on any specific difficulty in communication, but the cumulative effect is stupendous. Sooner or later one begins to wonder whether the evil is really 'necessary'. Impatience translates itself into a desire to have something immediate done about it all, and this often resolves itself in the easiest way that lies ready to hand. Why not push Esperanto, for instance, which has already made some thousands of converts and which is said to show signs of spreading in the world of commerce and travel? Such hasty proposals, however, look for no more worthy solution of the difficulty than a sort of provisional hybrid as the lingua franca for the modern world. Their sponsors usually pride themselves o being 'practical', and like many 'practical' people, they are apt to argue with their hostess. The speakers of most European languages, in fact, are under profound illusions as to the universal character of their medium. What's good enough for Indo-Europeans, they fell, is good enough for Anglo-Indians, Afro-Americans, Samurai, Mandarins, and Orientals generally. As Sapir well says, "They confuse the comfort of habit with logical necessity". They have seldom considered the advantages of the analytic over the inflected technique. This means that the cosmopolitan spirit will not long rest satisfied with an international language that merely extends the imperfections and inflections of one group of languages at the expense of all other.

    The opposed consideration is not so easy to state, but it may be put somewhat as follows : An international auxiliary language should be suitable for every type of communication which is of more than local interest. The exigencies of trade or travel are from this point of view merely the more obvious symptoms of the internationalizing of human interests, and it would be a mistake to expect too little of an organ of international expression. It must also be capable of meeting the needs of modern science. The modern mind tends to become more and more scientific in outlook ; hence it must devise for itself an engine of expression which is at once analytic and pragmatic.




    In other words, the Universal language of the future must eschew the grammarian's paraphernalia of suffix and inflection, and the subtle differentiation of synonyms dear to the man of letters, as well as the scholastic quest for a system 'logically defensible in every part', and concern itself rather with economy of material with the reduction of mnemonic machinery, and with the provision of an analytic instrument at once simple, serviceable, and sufficient. The sciences themselves are already developing their own international nomenclatures, and successfully cover millions of gradations for which only a symbolic technique is appropriate. It is therefore the business of interlinguists to prevent any international 'language' for attempting to usurp or ape the functions of that technique. The confusion of adequacy with literary adequacy has been a chief cause of their failure to carry conviction. This does not mean that the international language is expected to have the perfection of mathematical symbolism, but it must be progressively felt as moving in that direction.




    These two primary opposing considerations may be rephrased as "what might be done in the abstract" and "what must be done in the long run". But there are other important factors, of which the most obvious is the attitude of people toward the spread or imposition of any auxiliary language which is not their own. The psychology of a language which, in one way or another, is imposed upon one because of theoretical or in idealistic considerations, is very different from the psychology of a language that one accepts of one's free will, from economic or utilitarian motives. There is a sense, as Sapir points out, in which every form of expression is imposed upon one by social factors, one's own language above all, but it is the thought or illusion of freedom that matters. The modern world is confronted by the difficulty of reconciling nationalism and internationalism alike, owing to its persistent problems of overpopulation and the dominance of tendencies primarily economic. Every great commercial world-combine still scorns or flouts the machinery of the internationalist ; and, at the same time, no nation is so secure that it can neglect a linguistic avenue to trade expansion. Railway, Electricity, Telephone, Automobile, Radio, Movies-- all have been freely accepted from one nation by the rest, in spite of political and religious barriers, within living memory, for purely economic motives. They have in no sense been the creation of all. Their acceptance has not demanded an equal sacrifice. More and more, unsolicited gifts from constructive interlinguists are likely to be received with conscious resentment. Only that can be freely accepted which is in some sense economically necessary, and perhaps not the least potent argument against a constructed international language is the fact that it is equally foreign, or apparently so, to the traditions of all nationalities.

    Economic motivation, especially when Science reinforces the demand, can give to any system an impersonal character and silences the resentment that is born of literary tradition. English, already largely accepted as the international language, is thus far more secure than French proved to be (as the one and only accepted language of diplomacy) or than Latin (as the international language of science). According to Sapir, 1 both French and Latin are involved with nationalistic and religious implications which could not be entirely shaken off. English might prove to be equally unacceptable were cultural propaganda its chief source of support ; but the traditions of trade and finance, and, in particular, its fundamental practicality, render it invaluable as a means of international expression., One must beware of an over-emphasis on the word 'auxiliary'. It is perfectly true that for an indefinite period an international language must be auxiliary, and must not attempt to set itself up against well-established literary vernaculars. But for all that, it must have a character and individuality of its own, capable of all that may reasonably be expected of language, and protected by the powerful negative fact that it cannot be regarded as the outcome of any form of literary idealism, or interpreted as the symbol of an effete or circumscribed technique.
    1 . International Communications, 1931, p.72.




    Whether Basic English is to win out in the immediate future depends primarily on conscious forces that can be manipulated. What may happen three centuries hence is too speculative to influence our immediate policy ; but at least it is clear that Esperanto, however great its psychological interest, can never develop into Perfecto. The possibilities of English are less easy to determine. The adoption of Basic English as an international auxiliary language over the whole world would not necessarily mean that the universal language problem had been finally disposed of. The scientific needs of the world of tomomorrow might still not be satisfied ; our descendants might still have to deal with the choice between an English which had laboriously and at long last solved the primary problem of Debabelization, and a more scientific form of symbolism with such obvious advantagess of structure that it might gradually displace any system we can at present conceive.

    What is needed above all is a language that is as simple, as regular, and as economical as possible ; a language wich starts with a minimum of demands on the learning capacity of the humblest individual and can get done the maximum amount of work ; which is to serve as a sort of touchstone to all national languages and as the standard medium of translation. At the same time the ideal must not be lost sight of, though, as Sapir wisely remardks ; "Ideals are not meant to be reached ; they merely indicate the direction of movement".
    It is with such considerations in mind that those who have been working for the past ten years on the simplification of English embarked uoon their labour.2 The result satisfies all these demands sufficiently to justify its claim to be the most suitable medium yet proposed for auxiliary purposes. Morever, it allow a maximum utilization of the economic tendencies of the present, and a minimum departure from the linguistic traditions of the majoriity of the human race. It capitalizes the progress of five centuries, and it further develops the analystic tendency of the most adaptable language the world has yet seen.
    . . . (more)

    1 . In particular, it is most important to realize that the feature of many verb-systems known to philologists as 'aspect' is merely a device for loading the verb, by inflection, with an adverbial equivalent. Aspects, in fact, can almost always be simply and adequately covered by the use of ordinary adverbs.




    So much for simplicity and regularity, about which considerable confusion is apt to prevail. The reader who has followed the argument thus far is not likely to accept the more facile criticisms which are often developed in discussions of 'irhcness', and 'creativeness'. The former hs been admirably dealt with by Sapir ;and it is clear that the alleged poverty of any international language is much like the absence of that golden brown which is supposed by some to be the prerogative of the Old Masters. "Show me any one of these new buildings that has lasted as long as the old ones", says the conservative in all ages. And as regards creativeness, the issue can ususally be reduced to the naive query ; What is the difference between disembarkation and getting off a ship ?
    . . . (more)




    One conclusion at least emerges with special force as a result of any sufficiently broad survey of the international language problem : in no sense is it likely that the foundations of such a language have been laid either in Esperanto1 or in any other proposal for a constructed symbol system-- though such experiments are of great psychological interest. they may ventilate the problem in Hungary or rush the Ruritanian Radio. They may even persuade the Russians that a clear sweep often means a dirty chimney ; every Russian might become an adept in Esperanto or Sovial, and yet the way to the outer world might remain blocked. And above all they will absorb the energies of the weaker and the wilder brethren.

    Advocates of Basic English therefore welcome all movements towards a constructed language -- up to the point where they threaten to impinge on the peasant, the proletariat, or the parliamentarian. It is wicked to encourage the Australian bushman or the Swedish financier in the belief that, if he learns any constructed language, he (or even his offspring) will ever communicate effectively with the Zulus, the Siamese, or the Aga Khan. Theoretically, however, as well as psychologically, nothing but good can result from researches which keep the problems of symbolic construction clearly in view. The quest of Perfecto is the safeguard of the cerebral system against the perpetual inroads of eidetic and vaso-motor Word-magic.2 There is no risk that Basic English, even as a Universal Language, will ever come to be regarded as sacred and inviolate ; but its progress must be guided by principles which can only emerge from the most exhaustive symbolic exploration, so that it may profit by, and rightly interpret, the notations of sciences yet unborn.

    1 . It is here that we differ most radically from Professor Sapir, whose arguments in favor of a constructed language are set forth in his contribution to the Symposium, International Communication, to which reference has already been made. For controversial purposes his general method of presentation has been followed as closely as possible, even to the extent of occasional echoes of phraseology ; so that the reader will have no difficulty in comparing and contrasting the two points of view.
    2 . "eidetic and vaso-motor Word-magic" = unusually vivid mental image - nerve regulating the size of a blood vessel - belief that word frequency analysis yields word utility.





    Considerable ignorance seems to exist as to the extent to which Babel actually prevails.
    There are approximately 1,500 languages at present spoken (differing as much as, say French, Spanish and Italian) by approximately 1,800 million people. Only 29 are spoken by more than 10 millions ; of these, seven account for half the total population. The seven according to a recent French estimate are :1 --


















1 . The 2002 New York Times Almanac numbers are:



















    Though approximately one person in three throughout the entire globe speaks English or is under English administration, probably less than one Englishman in a thousand could guess more than half the languages at the top of the list (i.e., those spoken by over ten million people). Of one-third he would be unlikely even to recognize the names.
    . . . (more)





1 . List of Nations with English