Simple English and Simple Wikipedia: how the idea of ​​simple English became a reality

English is far from the easiest language in existence. And in terms of the amount of vocabulary, he is generally one of the leaders. By research Google and Harvard University, in 2000 there were already about 1,022,000 words in English.

In world history, there have been a number of attempts to popularize English in the world by simplifying it and using a limited vocabulary. The most modern attempt can be considered the Simple English Wikipedia, articles in which even a student with a Pre-Intermediate level can understand.

Today we will tell you how the attempts to simplify English have evolved historically, what they led to and what the Wiki in plain English really is.

History of Plain English

Plain English or Simple English is a concept of an artificial language based on English that operates with simplified vocabulary and, in some cases, grammar.

The idea of ​​simplifying English for more convenient communication between foreigners and the British is far from new. One of the first to suggest it is the linguist Charles Ogden, calling it Basic English.

Basic is an acronym that stands for British American Scientific International Commercial, that is, British American Scientific International Commercial.

The Basic English vocabulary consisted of only 850 words. In comparison, at the Intermediate level, a student who teaches English as a second knows approximately 3000-4000 words. That is, the lexicon was simplified so that a foreigner with basic knowledge of the language could practically freely express himself and understand the interlocutor. It was one of the first attempts to turn English into the lingua franca – the true language of international communication.

Similar ideas were also voiced by George Orwell in his essay. “Politics and English”… But not for foreigners, but for the British themselves. In his work, he gave recommendations on business correspondence, so as not to overcomplicate the language, long before Ogilvy and, moreover, Ilyakhov.

Here are the basic tips a writer gives:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

  1. Don’t use metaphors, similes, or figures of speech that you are used to seeing in print.

  2. Don’t use a long word where you can use a short one.

  3. If you can throw away a word, always throw it away.

  4. Don’t use a liability where an asset can be used.

  5. Don’t use a foreign phrase, scientific term, or slang word if you can think of a mundane English equivalent.

  6. Break these rules before you say something completely barbaric.

The essay turned out to be quite resonant, because the deliberate complication of written English in the 30s and 40s was a common cultural feature. Especially in the field of public administration, because even the politicians themselves hardly understood what their colleagues were writing in official correspondence.

Partly because of this essay, Her Majesty’s Chancellery ordered the development of a special guide for officials that would help get rid of the problem of overcomplicated official letters.

This was done by Ernest Gowers, who was already known for his studies of bureaucratic English – in 1929 his work Mainly About the King’s English was published.

In 1948, he presented a ready-made guide, Plain Words, a guide to the use of English. It was very well received and Gowers continued to work on eradicating the office. Over the next 10 years, he produced two more voluminous works, The ABC of Plain Words and The Complete Plain Words.

Winston Churchill strongly supported the idea of ​​simplifying English. Although the politician himself had a huge vocabulary of more than 45,000 words, he saw simplified English as an excellent way to trigger language expansion around the world. There have even been launched Basic English schools in different countries. But after Churchill left the post of prime minister, their funding was first cut, and then stopped altogether, so the project was left without actual results. By the way, you can learn more about “Churchill’s English” in the article “Speak like Winston Churchill: who needs to sell his soul to communicate in English SO“.

In the future, the idea of ​​simple English was supported by many international media. For example, Voice of America has developed a special dictionary of 1580 wordswhich was used by announcers to broadcast to countries where English is not the state language. It is also called Special English.

The only difference between Basic English and Special English is vocabulary. Basic English vocabulary consists of 850 words, and Special English vocabulary consists of 1580 words.

By the way, Special English today is enshrined at the legislative level as a variation of the language of the British rescue services. They were obliged to speak as clear and simple English as possible so that even a person who does not know the language well could fully understand the dispatcher.

Simple English Wikipedia: What’s the Difference from a Normal English Wiki

English became the first international language quite independently. Mostly via the internet. But the idea of ​​simplifying vocabulary and grammar remained. Now, first of all, so that foreigners, even with poor knowledge of the language, can read and understand English texts.

This is one of the main reasons why Simple English Wikipedia was created.

The modern Simple Wiki uses two versions of English:

  • Basic English is the same basic English with 850 words of vocabulary.

  • Learning English is one of Voice of America’s enhanced 1580-word Special English that was used to teach Advanced English.

And this is only one of eight versions of Wikipedia, written in variants of Anglic – dialects of English.

As of the end of June 2021, Wikipedia has over 190,000 articles written in simplified English. And it ranks 50th in the ranking of the largest language versions of the encyclopedia.

It has a fairly large community – more than a million registered users, but there are not so many writers and editors among them – just over 1000. Therefore, Simple English Wikipedia is growing rather slowly.

Most of her content is revised articles from the regular English version of the site.

Take the home page, for example. The greeting and slogan in English sounds like this:

And in simplified English, it is as follows:

Even something as simple as “that anyone can edit” has been replaced with the simpler “anyone can change”. The word edit is simply not in the Simple English lexicon – it is quite successfully replaced by change.

For illustration, let us compare two more articles in different versions of the encyclopedia. Take the articles on the Milky Way galaxy.

Here link to an English article.

BUT behold – for the article Simple English.

The huge difference in the volume of materials immediately catches the eye. The standard English article is a little over 9600 words. And a similar article in a simplified version of the language is less than 1000 words.

The English article is written in a classic scientific language with an abundance of special terms and phrases. It contains a lot of information and nuances – nine full sections.

The simplified version is lighter in everything. There are only three sections, everything is as simple as possible and quite understandable even for a high school student. The Simple article only uses basic terms that cannot be paraphrased: light-year, dwarf star, barred spiral galaxy, or black hole, but that’s it. For comparison, there are more than a hundred technical terms in the original article.

Here is some of them:

  • electromagnetic radiation – radiation of electromagnetic waves;

  • interstellar medium – interstellar space;

  • H II regions – regions of ionized hydrogen;

  • rotation curve – galaxy rotation curve;

  • nucleocosmochronology – nuclear cosmochronology.

Let’s directly compare two similar sections:

A block of text from the original article.

A similar block from a simplified article.

The difference is not even in the primitive language, but in the maximum simplification of the structure and understanding of the text itself.


The Milky Way is the second-largest galaxy in the Local Group (after the Andromeda Galaxy), with its stellar disk approximately 170,000–200,000 light-years (52–61 kpc) in diameter and, on average, approximately 1,000 ly (0.3 kpc ) thick.


The Milky Way is the second largest galaxy in the Local Group (after the Andromeda galaxy) with a galactic disk approximately 170,000–200,000 light years (52–61 kpc) in diameter and, on average, approximately 1000 light years thick. years (0.3 kpc).

Simple English Wikipedia:

The stellar disk of the Milky Way Galaxy is about 200,000 light-years (9 × 1017 km) in diameter, and is considered to be, on average, about 1000 light years thick.


The disk of the Milky Way galaxy is roughly 200,000 light years (9 × 1017 km) in diameter and is believed to average about 1,000 light years thick.

Even this small paragraph contains serious simplifications. In the simple version, they simply discarded the mention of the Andromeda galaxy and the Local Group of Galaxies, and also removed the parsec as another unit of measurement.

The sentence was also simplified grammatically by rephrasing it without any addition. The phrase “second-largest” (second largest) was dropped altogether, and “approximately” (approximately) was replaced by simpler counterparts “is about” (approximately) and “is considered to be” (considered).

But we are not saying that this is bad. Simple English Wiki is just created for several categories of people:

  • pupils;

  • students;

  • adults with learning disabilities and / or dyslexia;

  • people who learn English as a foreign language.

And for these specific audiences, the articles are well written. Simple enough English vocabulary to understand it already at the Pre-Intermediate level. A simplified grammar that mostly uses monosyllabic sentences. And a simplified meaning, which as a whole reveals the topic, but eliminates the heap of facts.

Yes, you won’t be able to dive deeply into the topic – the explanations are superficial. But the point is to give them exactly in English – and so that a person who does not know the language very well understands everything in full.

So Simple English Wikipedia can really be a good study guide for reading in English. Students with a Pre-Intermediate level and even in some cases Elementary will be able to work with these texts. In fact, this is a ready-made adapted literature for students who are starting to learn English.

There are enough texts, so textbooks can be chosen based on the hobbies and wishes of the students themselves.

The Simple English Wiki does its job well. And when you learn to understand the adapted texts well, you can try your hand at something more complex. This is how we organize classes at EnglishDom. Want to get a feel for your own experience? Then sign up for a free trial online lesson with a tutor and have fun learning English.

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