Simplified English – a new language?

The English language is the mostly widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken / understood across all the 5 continents. Due to this very nature of its widespread popularity there have been several regional variations that have made the language unwieldy, complex and sometimes difficult to comprehend. Its vocabulary is constantly evolving with new words borrowed from other languages being added almost every day. In fact there are over 100 dialects / accented English versions spoken across the world. You have American English, Australian English, Indian English, African English, Caribbean English and so on. This variation in the language has unwittingly increased the need for professional translation service providers for accurate translations of documents etc. In order to simplify the language there have been several attempts in controlling English. The aim of the latter is to reduce ambiguity and complexity of the language. Controlled English would improve readability for non native speakers of the language as well as in automatic semantic analysis of the language. The first type of improvements could be used by technical document writers like computer manuals in order to enable easy comprehension. Some examples are IBM’s easy English, Caterpillar Technical English, ASD simplified technical English etc. Certain generic rules have been developed like writing short and grammatically simple sentences, using nouns instead of pronouns, using active voice in place of passive voice, etc. They are also aimed at semi automatic translation of the documents. The second type of simplifying English is based on logical reasoning so that the language is amenable to automatic (machine) analysis. They are based on a formal syntax and semantics and would enable English to be used for knowledge representation. The modified language would support automatic consistency and redundancy check, enable query answering etc. However for accurate document translation, machine translation has been found to be inadequate when compared to human translation. The original aim of developing controlled English was in writing aerospace industry maintenance manuals. Certain standards were developed by European Association of Aerospace Manufacturers (AECMA) in the 1980’s for writing in simplified English. Broadly these standards were developed with the following objectives: 1) reducing ambiguity; 2) improve clarity of technical writing 3) improve understanding of the written language by non native English speakers 4) making manual translation into other languages easier, quicker and cheaper and 5) enabling computer assisted or machine translation. This standard has evolved into what is now known as ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English (STE) used by industries in addition to aerospace. We will discuss more details of this simplified English and how it has impacted usage of the language worldwide in another blog.