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Thursday, 28 November 1935


Senator ARKINS (New South Wales) . - I support Senator Abbott in what may be considered a somewhat visionary and idealistic proposal in a world of practical realism. Often, the idealist is discouraged. It is said that his dreams will never crystalize into real and material benefits to mankind. I do not suppose that there was ever a visionary in history who was not scoffed at and derided. He is a prophet who looks to a far off land, which is never to be reached. But the time is fast arriving when there shall be a common language known to all the peoples of the earth and giving them a common relationship. Notwithstanding differences of colour and creed, when we come close to one another and understand each other better, we realize we all belong to the common family of humanity. I read recently 'The Vision of the Things to Come, a book written by H. G. Wells, a great thinker and one of the greatest visionaries as well as one of the greatest fundamentalists that the English-speaking people has produced. Surveying modern economic tendencies, he foresees the breaking down of all national barriers, and the building up of one common humanity. I see nothing wrong in the suggestion that we should despatch this motion to the League of Nations. It is a most admirably constituted body to deal with such a matter. The League of Nations was founded to bring about peace between the peoples of the earth, and international communication and understanding of each other's ideals are among the basic essentials of peace. For that ideal to be brought into practical being, a common vehicle of communication between the various peoples must be introduced. There should be a common literature. We should be able to read the great literature of the world not only in English, French, Russian and German, but also in a common language in which men of all nations can express themselves. I believe that, although Senator Abbott's motion might not run the gauntlet of this Senate, the day is coming when the League of Nations will- discuss this problem. If Australia does not take the initiative, some other country will urge before the League that a common vehicle in which understanding can be transmitted from one country to another, so that each might understand the other's sentiments, should be introduced. It is true, as Senator Pearce stated, that in the United States of America, where English is the predominant language, a civil war was waged 70 years ago, but then, civil wars 'have broken out elsewhere - in Soviet Russia and, more recently, in Greece, for example. The occurrence of civil wars is not an argument against this proposal to bring the people of all nations into closer communication by what Senator Abbott has termed an international thought exchange.


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I remind the honorable senator that this matter was discussed by the Committee on Intellectual Co-operation at Geneva about two years ago, and nothing was done.


Senator Abbott - Did not that committee adopt the attitude that it might be arrogating something to itself unless it was asked to consider the question.


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No.


Senator ARKINS - This topic will be discussed again by the League of Nations. Senator Abbott has just handed to me this note -

You are, of course, aware that thu question of an auxiliary international language has already been considered by the Auxiliary International Committee of the League and negatived, partly owing to the .fear of laying itself open to a charge of '.' arrogating authority " vide page 320 " Ten Years of World Co-operation " issued by the Secretariat of the League of Nations.

I propose now to say a few words on behalf of a vehicle of language which might easily be adopted by the various peoples of the world. I refer to "Basic English ". Very little is known about it in Australia, although it has considerable vogue in Great Britain, and has spread widely on the continent and throughout the Orient. I quote the following from an article which appeared in a recent issue of an American newspaper: -

Unlike Esperanto and many other unnatural systems which the invention of men has put forward, basic English is a readymade and living language. It is, in fact, English; and while not quite the English of the library, being much simpler, it is still true English and clear enough for any purpose. Basic English is the name which its friends give it. They have gone through the word book with a small-tooth comb, taking out great masses of words as unimportant and unnecessary. They have kept 850 words only. You may place them all on a sheet of notepaper. This selection gives us a language which takes only a short time in the learning and in the narrow limits of 'what it is possible to put across any every-day thought that may come to mind.

The trick may seem a little hard to do at the start, but a person quickly gets the idea. By way of example, this discussion down to here, is in basic English.

The paragraphs which I have read clearly prove that, although concise, basic English is adequate for the expression of human thought. The writer of the article adds -

The chief sponsor of this newest international language, is C. K. Ogden, of Magdalene College, Cambridge, England, Director of the Orthological Institute at Cambridge. Co-operating with him are leading scholars the world over. Basic English has been in process of development and trial for ten year3, and is now studied and used by groups' in lands as far apart as Japan, Mexico, Iceland, and Czechoslovakia. " We find fully 1,500 languages acting as barriers to world understanding," says Mr. Ogden. " Though Russian is given as the language of 150,000,000 people, there are twenty distinct language groups in the Soviet Republic. China contains hundreds of dialects that differ as widely as Spanish and Dutch. In India there are 200 native tongues. It must be clear that one of the greatest needs of humanity to-day is an auxiliary language understandable in all lands. Such a language would be the best internationalizer. " While a hundred artificial languages have been proposed in the past, there is now only one, Esperanto, and it has relatively few adherents. All of these innovations have been synthetic. Not one has the advantage of taking off from the solid ground of a living language. English, on the other hand, is already the language, natural and governmental, of 500.000,000 people. Ten years ago some of us saw that if it was only made simple enough, it might become the international speech for trade, for science, and for all other purposes."

Here, then, we have to our hand an appropriate vehicle which makes possible a common understanding between all nations. At least 500,000,000 people have a rudimentary, and approximately 180,000,000 people a fairly intimate understanding of the language.

It has been suggested that the Japanese people will not take kindly to it.


Senator Abbott - Russia has adopted it.


Senator ARKINS - The Japanese, I understand, have difficulty with words that do not end with a vowel, but it is encouraging to know that many societies in J apan are urging the adoption ' of "Basic English" as an auxiliary language for the Japanese people. English, to a large extent, is being taught throughout the Japanese school system. In a remarkable little work entitled Debabelization, which is apropos Senator Hardy's reference to the Tower of Babel. Mr. Ogden, the author of Basic English, makes a comprehensive survey of contemporary opinion on the problem of an international language, and states that by " debabelization " the world will eventually be brought back to a common understanding of major problems. The principal languages of the world are set out in the following table which appears in Whittaker's Almanac for 1929 -

 

It should be noted that at least 500,000,000 people have a rudimentary knowledge or come under the influence of the English language, so the adoption of " Basic English ", which is founded on 850 of the easiest words in the language, would be the quintessence of simplicity. What is more beautiful than the simple language of the Old and New Testament, the Book of Common Prayer, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. These it has been said, are written in " Tinker's English ". As a matter of fact, they are written in simple English and convey graphic word-pictures. Modern English, it has been said, is more or less a jargon, and lacks much of the beauty which could be conveyed in thoughts expressed in basic English.

Senator Abbott,I know, was approached by several people who are interested in this subject, and urged to include in his motion a recommendation that " Basic English " should be the language for the exchange of international thought, but he declined because he did not wish to confuse the issue. There is, of course, the objection that every nation jealously guards the purity of its language in which are preserved the songs of folk-lore and cherished traditions of race. But the adoption of an international language would not interfere in any way with their desire to preserve their literature and ideals. All that the motion seeks to do is to enlist the sympathy of the League of Nations in a proposal for the adoption of an international language. We are all aware of the existing difficulties due to the absence of a common vehicle for human thought. I doubt that any Australian delegate to the League of Nations - not excepting even University graduates - has had a thorough understanding of French, which is the diplomatic language. Honorable senators are well aware how difficult it is for the average speaker to express his thoughts clearly in his mother tongue. This being so, how much more difficult is it for our delegates to the League of Nations to convey their views in words that can be understood by their fellow delegates. In the use of the spoken word there is not only the difficulty to impart, but also the difficulty to receive. The adoption of an international language is, I believe, essential if the League of Nations is to fulfil its true purpose, namely, to be a League of universal peace, working for the improvement of the world and human life in all its aspects.

The work done by the International Labour Office during the last few years has demonstrated the potential force of the League for the good of mankind.

Quite recently we have had striking evidence of the influence of the interchange of thought. An Australian delegate who is very well known, has returned to preach a somewhat revolutionary industrial gospel - a reduction of working hours in industry - and, what is more significant, has declared his intention to test his theory in his own industrial undertaking. It is important that there should be a complete understanding between the nations represented in the League, so that advocacy of improved social conditions in one country may not re-act unfavorably upon another. The League of Nations is evolving not only as a League of Peace, but also as a parliament of mankind. Tennyson, I believe, was inspired by prophetic vision when he wrote -

Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd,

In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

It is fitting that the English language in which is enshrined the glorious traditions of the British peoples, and which is the language of the land that was the mother of parliamentary institutions, should become the vehicle for the exchange of international thought. And let Australia, as the youngest of the

British, dominions, take the initiative in the establishment of an international language. Lot it also be decided that " basic " English, as scientifically devised by Professor Ogden, not merely because it is English, but because of its universality, shall be the common language of all the peoples of the earth. If we do that we shall have gone a great distance along the road towards true liberty, and mankind will be nearer to the realization of its great destiny.

Debate (on motion by Senator Foll) adjourned.







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