Natural and Universal Languages: Simplified or Basic Languages

About the concept of simplied or basic languages that would compress a vocabulary down to few words and then use combinations to express range of meanings.


"Here you have a very carefully wrought plan for an international language, capable of very wide transactions of practical business and interchange of ideas," said Winston Churchill in 1943 in a speech advocating Basic English as a world language. The grand old man, who himself used language with tremendous effectiveness and power, was talking about a simplified English system invented by linguists C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards. Ogden and Richards had noticed that certain common words were repeated over and over again in dictionary definitions of tougher terms. It was possible, they felt, to get along with as few as 850 English words and say almost anything. With such a small vocabulary, Basic English could be mastered in less than 3 months. The system includes 18 common verbs like "come," "put," and "get." Combined with other words, these make up synonyms for a multitude of other verbs. "Make," for instance, is the basis for: make up (create), make out (discern), make a law (enact a law), make good (succeed), make eyes (flirt), and many more verb phrases. The vocabulary also includes 600 nouns and 150 adjectives, along with operational words like "of," "the," and "very."

Critics of Basic English claim that the system is too restrictive and that its synonyms are often inexact or unwieldy. Instead of "air-plane" or "jet" or "helicopter," for instance, the Basic English speaker uses "winged machine for flight." Since the language was 1st devised, special classes of words, such as those needed in the sciences, have been added, bringing the real vocabulary total to nearly 8,000 words.

Attempts to create Basic French, Basic Russian, and other basic languages have also been made.

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