Special English

I had previously heard of Basic English, a proposed simplified English with an 850-word core vocabulary. (In case you're curious, a Basic English website has some examples.)

But I hadn't previously known that Basic English is just one example of a controlled natural language, a subset of a natural language "obtained by restricting the grammar and vocabulary in order to reduce or eliminate ambiguity and complexity."

And I also hadn't known about Special English, used by some Voice of America radio broadcasts to make them easier to understand by non-native English speakers. VOA has been broadcasting in Special English for almost forty years now.

Special English has a 1500-word core vocabulary. To quote the VOA site:

Special English writers use short, simple sentences that contain only one idea. They use active voice. They do not use idioms.

Special English broadcasters read at a slower pace, about two-thirds the speed of standard English. This helps people learning English hear each word clearly. It also helps people who are fluent English speakers understand complex subjects.

I think it's a neat idea, especially because these days VOA also posts corresponding written versions of the Special English broadcasts on their website, so listeners can compare the spoken and written versions, which a couple of listener letters on the abovelinked About page indicate can be helpful to people learning English.

One Response to “Special English”

  1. shmuel

    Also of possible interest, though it lacks a specific core vocabulary: Simple English Wikipedia.


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