For another article I’m working on, I came across the Simple English Wikipedia, a parallel set of articles written in a subset of English designed for non-native speakers, students, children and others who may have trouble with standard English:
Simple English is similar to English, but it only uses basic words.
We suggest that articles should use only the 1000 most common and basic words in English. They should also use only simple grammar, and shorter sentences. Writers can also use a special system, for example Basic English. Of course, people can write original articles; these could be put in both this and the main Wikipedia (with a normal level of English). Usually, only about 2,000 words are enough to write a normal article.
For example, here is the first paragraph from the botany article, first in the regular English wikipedia…
Botany, plant science(n), phytology, or plant biology is a branch of biology and is the scientific study of plant life and development. Botany covers a wide range of scientific disciplines that study plants, algae, and fungi including: structure, growth, reproduction, metabolism, development, diseases, chemical properties, and evolutionary relationships between the different groups. Botany began with tribal efforts to identify edible, medicinal and poisonous plants, making botany one of the oldest sciences. From this ancient interest in plants, the scope of botany has increased to include the study of over 550,000 species of living organisms.
…and in Simple English:
Botany is a science. It is a branch of biology, and is also called plant biology. It is sometimes called phytology. Botany is the study of plants. Scientists who study botany are called botanists. They want to learn about how plants work.
That feels like a book report I wrote in third grade after a deep research session with the World Book Encyclopedia. But that’s a good thing. For many users, that simple definition of botany is all they need. It answers their question, and provides a basis for further learning.
More importantly, a user with limited English could write that article and share it with the world, while inviting the same kind of editing and feedback that native-language articles get. A teenager in Botswana could document the rules for a common game largely unknown outside the community. That’s remarkably helpful.
I can anticipate cries of implicit English imperialism; who says that the world’s knowledge is better kept in English? Fair enough. But I’d rather the article exist in Simple English than not exist. I’d also suggest that Simple English probably machine-translates into other languages more easily than other alternatives.