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Basic English is an English based controlled language created by Charles Kay Ogden (in essence a simplified subset of English) as an international auxiliary language, and as an aid for teaching English as a Second Language. It was presented in Ogden's book Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar (1930).

Ogden's Basic (or "BASIC"), and the concept of a simplified English, gained its greatest publicity just after the Allied victory in the Second World War as a tool for world peace. 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. More recently, it has influenced the creation of Voice of America's Special English for news broadcasting, and Simplified English, another English based controlled language designed to write technical manuals.

Design principles Edit

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 paraphrasis. Most notably, Ogden eliminated verbs, saying in his General Introduction that "There are no 'verbs' in Basic English", 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.[1]

Rules of grammar Edit

Ogden's rules of grammar for Basic English allow people to use the 850 words to talk about things and events in the normal English way.

  1. Words are pluralised by adding an ~s on the end of the word. If there are special ways to make a plural word in English, such as ~es and ~ies, they should be used instead.
  2. Words like change, turn, and use are not used as verbs, like "I change," "we will turn right," or "you use." They are used as nouns, like "make a change," "take turns," or "make use of," and so on. (This is the key-idea of Basic English.) The 300 of them may be turned into different forms by adding the ending ~er or ~ing; or into adjectives by adding ~ing and ~ed. Only act is to be turned into actor rather than acter.
  3. Some adjectives can be turned into adverbs with the ending ~ly.
  4. For comparatives and superlatives, either more and most or ~er and ~est may be used.
  5. Some adjectives can be inverted with un~.
  6. Yes/no questions are formed by adding do at the beginning or changing the word order.
  7. Operators and pronouns conjugate as in normal English.
  8. Combined words can be formed from two operators (for example become), from two nouns (for example newspaper or headline) or from a noun and a direction (sundown).
  9. Measures, numbers, money, months, days, years, clock time, and international words are in English forms.
  10. The wordlist can be augmented by the jargon of an industry or science. For example, regarding grammar, words such as grammar or noun might be used, even though they are not on Ogden's wordlist.
  11. The letter [X] is not included as it is thought to be the most difficult letter to pronounce.

Historical references Edit

In the future history book The Shape of Things to Come, published in 1933, H.G. Wells depicted Basic English as the lingua franca of a new elite which 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.

From 1942 until 1944 George Orwell was a proponent of Basic English, but in 1945 he became critical of universal language. The language later inspired his use of Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four.[2] Noted science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein used a form of Basic English in his story "Gulf" as a language appropriate for a race of genius supermen.[3]

Word listsEdit

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).[4]

The 850 core words of Basic English are found in Wiktionary's Appendix: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 word 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 specialized subset of that general field, to make a basic 1000 word vocabulary for everyday work and life.

Moreover, Ogden assumed that any student already should be familiar with (and thus may only review) a core subset of around 350 "international" words. Therefore, a first level student should graduate with a core vocabulary of around 1350 words. A realistic general core vocabulary could contain 1500 words (the core 850 words, plus 350 international words, and 300 words for the general fields of trade, economics, and science). A sample 1500 word vocabulary is included in the Simple English Wikipedia.

Ogden also provided lists to extend the general 1500 vocabulary with additional word lists to make a 2000 word list, 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.

Criticism Edit

Like all IALs, Basic may be criticized as unavoidably based on personal preferences, and thus, paradoxically, as inherently divisive.[5] Moreover, like all natural language based IALs, Basic is subject to criticism as unfairly biased towards the native speaker community.[6]

As a teaching aid for English as a Second Language, Basic has been criticized for the choice of the core vocabulary and for its grammatical constraints.[7]

See also Edit

Other forms of English Edit

Other relevant pagesEdit


  1. A good summary in Bill Templer: Towards a People's English: Back to BASIC in EIL Humanising Language Teaching.
  2. Illich, Ivan; Barry Sanders (1988). ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind (in English language), 109, San Francisco: North Point Press. "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.""
  3. Heinlein, Robert A., "Gulf", in Assignment in Eternity, published by Signet Science Fiction (New American Library), 1953. Page 52-53: "It was possible to establish a one-to-one relationship with Basic English so that one phonetic symbol was equivalent to an entire word".
  4. See the list of words which are assumed and not counted for details.
  5. Rick Harrison, Farewell to Auxiliary Languages
  6. For instance, a sample quotation from the auxlang mailing list archives.
  7. For instance, by proponents of Essential World English. See a summary of EWE for instance.

External links Edit

Simple English edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Template:English dialects by continent

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