The idea of a universal language which would bring Nations to better understanding, developed as early as about 100 BC, and a number of attempts have been made. The earliest projects were mostly artificial ones. In the 17th century when the decline of Latin as well as the historical and cultural upheavals that took place, this issue was actively pursued. In the latter half of the century utopian stories appeared one after another, where ideal languages were spoken on the moon, on the sun, or in some little known places on the earth. Some people tried to make an ideal language with signs corresponding to ideas, which was called a philosophical language. It was thought the correspondence between words and what they indicate would keep away the confusion. Wilkins and Leibniz were the most well-known for making such a language. Ogden studied these past trials in great detail. Soon the media as an international communication means came to seem more realistic. Then from the 19th to 20th century such a trial seemed to reach a climax, and both artificial languages like Esperanto and simplified natural ones like Basic English appeared.
There were some, mostly philosophers, who were aware of drawbacks in language and preached the needs to improve language, or rather people's attitude to it. Ogden noticed this steady development of the new attitude to words and in his writing gave the names of these thinkers: Occam, Bacon, Locke, Leibniz, Hoone Took, Bentham, etc. However, they didn't actually put their theory into practice. Ogden studied and discussed each of these pioneers' views. Bentham was noted as a legal reformer but he also did a great deal of work on language. This had been almost overlooked for about 100 years until Ogden took it up and threw light on it. On the other hand, Bentham's view about language had a great deal of impact on Ogden. In fact, it provided Ogden with the key to a practical solution to the language problem. The major point was Bentham's 'fiction' theory. In general fiction words like 'freedom' or 'emotion' are used like 'apple' or 'table', which makes our thought confused, he insisted. He persuaded people not to substantiate such fiction words which in fact have no real entity. Ogden put Bentham's ideas in his manuscripts together and with his preface published a book Bentham's Theory of Fiction. Bentham proposed putting these fiction words into more concrete, descriptive forms. Especially verbs which are stuffed with complex ideas and are slippery can be analyzed and are made clearer; as 'enter' into 'go into' and 'disembark' into 'get off a ship'. His work confirmed the view that language had pitfalls but could be controlled, and served to give clues for the development of Basic English.
Ogden studied and united language theories of the predecessors. However, newer theories have to do with views of contemporary thinkers. For example, Watson, Russel and Wittgenstein were all concerned with the idea of 'substitution', which is a key concept of Basic English. In fact, Ogden's ideas were close to those by each of these theorists. He carried out detailed research of their work and was influenced by them. Peirce, Saussure, Malinowski and Korzybski were some other theorists worthy of mention in this context. Malinowski's article on the problem of meaning in primitive language was included as an appendix to The Meaning of Meaning. Bridgeman, a modern scientist, noticed ambiguity of language and insisted on the operational definition of words. The idea of 'length', for example, is actually defined by the operation of measuring the length, he said. In Basic English, verbs are taken as operational elements. Ogden must have thought Bridgeman's idea would be of use for the development and support of Basic English.
A rather unconventional book – The meaning of meaning - is a joint work by Ogden and I.A. Richards. They pointed out that linguistics so far had neglected the study of meaning and the relationship between language and thought. This was a thorough-going attempt to define the nature of communication and to provide a basis for the study of meaning. The book is also called 'many books in one', for it covers a wide range of topics; signs, definition, function of language, communication, etc. and cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs. As the subtitle 'A Study of Influence of Language on Thought and Science of Symbolism' says, it has two main objectives. One is to discuss the troubles caused by language and make people aware of the power of words. They wanted to “explode the myth of the magic bond between words and things”. The second is to formalize the new science of symbolism, study of words as signs (what we would call semantic tags really...). As the practical expansion of the first aim, there is a third aim to seek the way out of 'word magic'. This solution he tried to seek first in this book, and then in Basic English. In fact, this book played a great part as the background of it. The following points especially influenced Basic English:
1) The definition routes were of great use in selecting Basic words.
2) Canons of symbolism about the proper use of words provided the theoretical foundations for Basic.
3) As to the division of language functions, Basic English put as much weight as possible on symbolic rather than emotive use.
In fact, while Ogden and Richards made definitions of various words, they were struck by the fact that whatever words they defined, certain words kept coming again and again. Then they thought that with some limited set of words a simplified language might be possible. They were so excited and even wished to stop the book in order to tackle a new language system. In fact, after the book was finished, Ogden started to go on with this project. In practice, he faced many difficulties, but according to Richards there were two big factors for a solution, Bentham's suggestion that verbs can be reduced by breaking up into more elementary words, and Ogden's specific gift for rephrasing, which he systematically cultivated. By 1928 he was convinced that 850 words could do the work of 20,000. What mattered was where to keep balance of advantages; simplicity, regularity, economy, clarity, easiness of learning, naturalness, etc. Ogden then went on with experiment by putting various English writings into Basic. In this endevour he made use of his “panoptic” method in order to select the words that should be included in a “basic” vocabulary. He considered 30 groups/ontologies/categories/tags to help, which SIMPLISH combined with other criteria, such as Kant's categories to arrive at a core set of semantic tags of 50 such tags that describe natural language, not only from a liguistics point of view, but also considering neuroscience and metaphysical aspects. The diagram employed by Rachael and SIMPLISH is still very much a work in progress but its power cannot be underestimated, after all it is the linguistic equivalent of the 4 chemical bases used for DNA coding, so one can only imagine what we could produce if DNA had 50 bases! The following are some specific topics more advanced users interested in linguistics, philosophy and artificial intelligence would find useful and/or historically relevant, which we shall add to periodically.
- The meaning of meaning by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards
- A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar
- Basic English and Grammatical Reform
- English Word Frequency
- Basic English for Artificial Intelligence
- Artificial Cognition Systems-General Cognition Engine Module Using Simplish
- EVOLUTIONS From The Growth of Science [PART.1 & 2]
- The Sounds and Sound Patterns of Language Part 1
- The Sounds and Sound Patterns of Language Part 2