e-prime

 

 

to be or not:

 

 

"On the surface, the term E-Prime refers to an English language derivative that eliminates use of the verb "to be" in any form (such as "am", "is", "was", "are", "were", "be", and "been"). E-Prime allows users to minimize many "false to facts" linguistic patterns inherent in ordinary English, and to often move beyond a two-valued Aristotelian orientation which views the world through overly simplistic terms such as "true-or false", "black-or-white", "all-or-none", "right-or-wrong"."

 E.W. Kellogg III and D. David Bourland, Jr. from Working with E-Prime: Some Practical Notes

 

"Examine the verbs of the "to be" family and you will find a startling underlying assumption. The words be, been, is, was, am, were, etc., have their logical basis in the idea that things stay the same. The notion of identity — a thing's absolute sameness with a similar thing or with itself over time — has confused and corrupted thinking since the days of Aristotle.

Life means change: growth, learning, metamorphosis, decay. Even the apparently changeless earth changes, as moving plates push up mountains or split continents apart. Today we often experience rapid social and technological change. Yet our daily language has at its foundation the assumption that things don't change, an assumption that helps us focus and therefore "understand," but also leads us astray when we act as if things haven't changed, and they have. How can we deal with this "two-edged sword" that both helps and hinders us in our daily lives?

E-Prime, a new variant of English that eliminates the verbs of the "to be" family, makes us aware of the problem, and offers one solution."


 D. David Bourland from To Be or Not: An E-Prime Anthology

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Going his teacher one better, David Bourland heads up a crusade for the adoption of E-Prime. "General semanticists," Bourland explains, "object to to be for philosophical as well as psychological reasons. To start with, we reject an axiom of classical logic: the principle of identity. For that reason, we call ourselves advocates of 'non-Aristotelian logic: Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived before Socrates, insisted that everything changes: He saw this as the basic truth of existence. Time moves inexorably, and in the fraction of a second you need to describe a thing, it has already begun to alter. (...)
"Using E-Prime can improve a person's outlook on life. Once you realize that every time you say is you tell a lie, you begin to think less about a thing or person's 'identity' and more about its function. I find that E-Prime makes me stay honest."

 

To understand E-Prime, consider the human brain as a computer. (Note that I did not say the brain "is" a computer.) As the Prime Law of Computers tells us, GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT (GIGO, for short). The wrong software guarantees wrong answers. Conversely, finding the right software can "miraculously' solve problems that previously appeared intractable. It seems likely that the principal software used in the human brain consists of words, metaphors, disguised metaphors, and linguistic structures in general. The Sapir-Whorf-Korzybsld Hypothesis, in anthropology, holds that a change in language can alter our perception of the cosmos. A revision of language structure, in particular, can alter the brain as dramatically as a psychedelic. In our metaphor, if we change the software, the computer operates in a new way.

Robert Anton Wilson, Towards An Understanding of E-Prime, 2001