The application of C.K. Ogden’s semiotics in Basic English

James McElvenny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although a relatively minor project in terms of its impact on the broader international language movement, Basic English is interesting for the elaborate semiotic theory that underlies it. The creator of Basic English, Charles Kay Ogden (1889–1957), is today remembered chiefly as co-author of The Meaning of Meaning, a book widely regarded as a classic of early twentieth-century semiotics. In this article, I will engage in a critical examination of the design of Basic English and demonstrate how it essentially represents an implementation of the key doctrines set out in that book, tempered by the practical exigencies of language construction. I will focus on Ogden’s method of ‘panoptic conjugation’, which he used to select the Basic English core vocabulary of 850 words, as well as his conception of the grammar of Basic English as an outgrowth of its vocabulary. We observe additionally how Ogden’s approach does not result in a self-contained, independent international language, but rather a language that is subservient to Standard English idiom.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-204
JournalLanguage Problems and Language Planning
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • planned languages
  • The Meaning of Meaning
  • international language movement
  • C. K. Ogden
  • semiotics
  • Basic English

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