Words index  Vivian Cook

Basic English

In the 1920s the academics C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards proposed Basic English, a specially constructed simple form of English to be used as a ‘supranational language.

Why Basic English? ‘the world’s need for a common language’ (Richards)

Which language? ‘a priority for English as the world’s ‘second’ language in the interests of everyone’ (Richards)

How? ‘Basic English is English made simple by limiting the number of its words to 850, and by cutting down the rules for using them to the smallest number necessary for the clear statement of ideas’ (Richards)

The 850 words (to be supplemented by some specialist and international words)

Operations 1200: of, when, not, send, north, again, do, I etc with 18 verbs come, get, give, send etc

General Things: 400:  blood, grass cough, look, verse, butter, kick, death, level, knowledge, etc: all nouns

Picturable Things: 200: potato, stomach, cheese, house, berry, eye, school, knife, coat, etc

General Qualities: 1200: male, good, fertile, electric, dependent, red, strong, clean, true, violent, etc

Opposites Qualities: 50: bad, dirty, female, shut simple, feeble, low, foolish, soft, false, etc

Summary of Rules

Plurals in ‘s’: eyes, schools etc

Derivatives in er ing ed from 300 nouns: stronger, coughing

Adverbs in ly from qualifiers, degree with more and most: most beautiful

Question by inversion and do: Do you see him?

Operators and pronouns conjugate in full; he/him/his etc

And that’s it. Everything else is built up from these words and rules, a language reduced to a single page of specifications, rather less complicated than the instructions for a digital TV.  


Basic English translation trans by Richards

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

It happened one time that going a fishing with him on a calm morning, a fog rose so thick, that though we were not half a league from the shore, we lost sight of it; and rowing, we knew not whither, or which way, we laboured all day and all the next night;

It came about one time that when we had gone fishing on a quiet morning, such a thick mist came up that, though we were not a mile and a half from the land, we were unable to see it. Without any knowledge of where, or even which way we were going, we went on in the boat all that day and all the night after…

The Atlantic Charter

…. Third they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.

…Third, they take the view that all nations have the right to say what form of government they will have; and it is their desire to see their self-government and rights as independent nations given back to those from whom they have been taken away by force.

Basic English was taken seriously for many years. It has now been supplanted by the de facto use of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) across the globe, whose characteristics come from its users rather than being laid down by authorities.

Link: http://ogden.basic-english.org/

Simplified vocabulary

Words in the National Curriculum