Ogden's Basic English Institute Forum

Selected Letters - 2007

    I'm especially curious about Ogden. Who was he? Why did he decide to create this language? If you know of a good biographical source on him, that would be a great help.
        Also, several language instructors have voiced criticisms of simplified English systems like Basic on the grounds that they are actually harder for non-native speakers because they rely heavily on irregular words, words with no cognates in other languages and idioms. Is this a fair criticism of Ogden's Basic English?
    [ Student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism ]
        There are two Ogden biographies mentioned on our website(s). : A Collective Memoir, our summary is rather complete, and : a bio-bibliographic study has a shorter summary because the book is readily available.
        Ogden once ran a newspaper for translating world news and observed the same ideas existent in all languages ; that English had more regular form ; that simplification of our rich language was possible ; that all actions fall to a few verbs ; that emotional content/encumbrance can be reduced by concentrating on nouns ; that a simple, yet purely English subset would be transparent to the listener, while quick to learn by the non-native speaker.
        Example: an international page of a newspaper written in Basic English could be read by native and non-native without notice, whereas a "Spanish page" in the local paper received complaints from all and was dropped.
        Ogden avoided, to the cringe of some of his supporters, addressing verb regularization, spelling reform, non-standard conventions, and anything that made his language appear un-English. He said to adopt into Basic whatever might develop in main-line English, but not to lead -- example, his early spelling of "plough" became commonly "plow" during his lifetime. Our current spell checking accepts either "through" or "thru", at user option, as both are common in today's English (via Chicago Tribune).
        English variation of "to be” is horrible -- "I am", "you are", "he is") is much too complex for no benefit, other than proof of learning -- was, were, been, being, become. Ebonics has some regularizations of English, but they just sound ignorant : I be, you be, he be. This proves Ogden's point. Some day we may become used to it with some advantage. (I would prefer : I is, you is, she is ; which approximate English pronunciation ; I’se, youse, he/she/it is. Will we see an infinitive "to is"?)
        It is awkward to teach the need for differences for the same thing when used as subject or object ("s" swapping), specially pronouns/possessives, "I, me, my, mine" which are among the first things a learner must be exposed to. Ogden did not shy from irregular verbs, he just shrank the total number of verbs and allowed the learner to concentration of getting the basics correct.
        Nor did Ogden widen the selection of words to single senses -- some of his severest critics consider that language must be one sense-one word. This foolishness 1) is not English, 2) adds words to be learned, 3) wastes early learner time with additional spelling and pronunciation. The base is 850 words (he and others cheat : "to be" and its cognates and selected derivatives are counted as one word).
        Ogden expected learners to spend half of their learning time in understanding idiom. This also gives insight to alternate senses. (However, is not programmable and the Institute was founded for artificial intelligence applications and now spends a lot of time in computer translation -- phrases are in the future.)
        There is no fault in Ogden's philosophy. It is both : 1. An international second language, complete, yet easy, and allows the learner to quickly participate in the world's existing international language. What language should an aspiring third world businessman learn ? 2. An introduction to full English that allows the learner to quickly participate, thereby practice with practical use, in the language. Note that Ogden had a path to full English, to the 2000 word level. Competitors like to compare their 2000 word languages with the Basic 850 -- that is cheating, too.
        Creating languages is an interesting hobby -- Klingon, Esperanto, etc. but not useful for the non-native needing to communicate in the real world. Two issues are directed to Basic : It is too irregular -- it is not the language that would be selected by the UN to force all residents of the planet to learn. (Not a bad idea, a better world language could become established in 50 years from a universal start date.) Second, it is subject to anti-establishmentism. Nationalists see any form of English as a conspiracy ; academics suggest a "neutral" (and regularized) language for discussion, meanwhile the need for an ISL goes unfilled. (Better to let free enterprise determine.) Note that this week, Babel was introduced to the Internet -- foolish, tho understandable.
        "Simplified English" has one current, major application -- documentation manuals for 3rd world workers. Consultants take Basic, add some speciality words for their clients, and charge BIG bucks to aircraft companies for maintenance manuals.
        "Simple English" is Basic (to be able to say anything), plus the 1000 most common words not already in Basic (for flow), and some add VOA Special English (for pronunciation).
      http://ogden.basic-english.org     archives, 500 pages
      http://www.basic-english.org       21st century (projects, downloads, etal)

    I saw that you were looking for volunteers. What exactly is required?
    Here is a sampling -- is there anything here that fits into our interests?
    1. Education.
      A. Teacher course work -- the complete package ready to be mailed out. (The Institute was founded for engineering (A.I.) applications) Teachers expect a complete package alien to techy types. Our teacher from Japan retired (80+years).
      B. Self teaching for online learners. We have two separate textbooks. Learners need somebody to ask questions of -- likely tied into Forum for shared interest with other learners.
      C. Update the existing texts -- they are dated -- "talkies" and "phonograph" era; needs updating to modern topics. A chapter transcribed today referred the "the bulb used to trigger a camera" (users of multimedia cell phone cameras haven't a clue.)
      D. Self teaching needs to be provided with multimedia.
    2. Writer.
      A. Online Zines on most any subject, just so written in Basic.
      B. Weekly international news page for newspapers and online sites. (Learners of Basic can speak normal English, but because they cannot read a rich vocabulary, they need restricted media to practice with.)
      C. Write for scholarly journals, presentations at seminars.
    3. Administration.
      A. Run a forum for Basic English. We have tried with two different Internet Service Providers, but each was hacked twice into oblivion We gave up on this valuable tool.
      B. Track down the copyright situation of all Basic Books -- most are out of print, but the "Sonny Bono Copyright Law" stupidly says 99 years ; if we put full text online, (instead of our "rather complete summaries", somebody might make us take them down.
      C. Once this is resolved, convert our web pages to PDF.
      D. And condense the website into a book (e-book and/or paper-back.)
    4. Programming.
      A. Update our dictionary (flat file) to work in Open Office suite every few months. It can't be too difficult, we had a volunteer do it a couple of generations ago, but he disappeared.
      B. C++ (probably) Programmer to rewrite IDP Companion specifically for Basic English as software that smaller and faster and bundled with Basic (not cluttered with other languages).
      C. Adapt the Basic English dictionary (from excel format) to work as a drop down thesaurus in Word (like it does in Open Office.)
      D. Develop the Open Office Thesaurus technique to allow categorizing feature for alternate senses of the same word. Word has a similar feature.
      E. Multimedia teaching technology (see below).
    5. PR Statesman
      A. Representation in Language, Education, and Government circles.
    6. Basic Internals.
      A. Surveys to update the vocabulary and special word lists and to work with groups to develop new specialty lists.
      B. See the projects page.
      C. Spelling : Commonwealth vs. English. Which words have simplified ; plough, plow, etc.
    7. Clerical
      A. Complete pictures of Basic words.
      B. Transcribe Basic texts into HTML.
      C. Transcribe The General Basic English Dictionary.
      D. Edit Institute and Ogden web pages for correctness and completeness.
      E. Clerical assistance to the programmer(s).

        Time Table. The China Olympics have Basic as a core for local guides. The demand is huge, in a hurry. We have missed a bunch of it.

    There is no pleasure in the English need for an "s" made joined to the third person, one only, present time word.  A small change in thought causes a complete change of the sentence.  And is mixed with senses of more than one (tense “-s”.  And is used for “the thing pointed to (our, ours).  Further, is  easily mixed in ones mind with owner, John's.  Why a number of cases ending with the same letter, “S” ?  (Or, when the words are not regular : (“this, these” - I guess that “they” is better than "thiss" or "thises", which is probably how it developed into "these", but "thise" makes more sense in writing, but not in speech.)      [This is a series of rants within the Institute]
    Esperanto uses "-j" for plural ; [Novial uses "-en" ] ; this is arbitrary but why not?  At the same time it uses "-o" for nouns, "-a" for adjectives, -_s for verbs, (sometimes useful, but mostly not needed) but then screws round with time where "-is" is past; "-as" for present, "-os" for future.  It would be simpler to not consider time or take all as present unless time is specially needed,  but we may see timing problems (past thru present, present thru future, past and future but not present) and ongoing (progressive) and completed (perfect) times ( tenses). Nobody here has knowledge of Esperanto/IDO. [ We need a special wordlist of 50 Grammar words (or 50 Language words including Grammar) or a webpage with simple, Basic senses.]
    Another English thing is the multiplicity of pronoun forms -- these are among the first words a non-English learner must learn -- try to explain : I and me; we and us; followed by : he, him ; she, her ; they, them ; who, whom -- these at least have a similar look.  Yet, at other times we have You, you ; and It, it ; which doesn't cause confusion.
    There is a language, constructed as a neutral (non-English) international language based on Romance languages, Interlingua, in which "es' serves all the "to be" senses and is popular in the large number of nations of romance heritage (after Esperanto).  It does away with "agreement" between parts of speech and anything not shared by ALL the "base" languages . Example, you don't need gender in English, so it is dropped from Interlingua and thus simplified.  We should do this with English, take out all the unnecessary bits.
    While on this rant, the verb "is" (why is it called "be"  when the most common usages is "I am" or "you are" or "she is") is much too complex for no benefit, other than proof of learning -- was, were, been, being, plus become.
    Interlingua has only one form of "to be" so that "es' serves all "is" senses and is popular in the large number of nations of romance heritage (after Esperanto).   There is a language version of English that does not allow the use of the forms of BE, called "E-Prime".  Not for reason of simplification, but for social reasons in feeling that nothing is an exact equality -- one of the dumbest things ever suggested.    Ebonics has some regularizations of English, but they just sound ignorant :  I be, you be, she be. Some day we may become used to it.  But I would prefer: I is, you is, she is ; which approximate English pronunciation ;  I’s, youse, he/she/it is.
        Ogden would not take on the task of changing English, just selecting the easy, useful parts and accepting the warts, like all the forms of "to BE" and the wealth of spelling influences so that Basic was clearly a subset of the world's first language.  He solved the problem of all other international languages by being an established language, not just a diversion.