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E-Prime! The Fundamentals

"E-prime" refers to the use of English without any form of the verb "to be."

Maybe this has relevance for the StyleGuide.

See also Wiki:EprimeLanguage, [LojbanWiki:White Knight's Song Gotcha].

From the web site:

Their concern, and ours as critical thinkers, centers upon two semantic usages of "to be," Identity and Predication, that have these general structures:

(1) Noun Phrase-1 + TO BE + Noun Phrase-2 (Identity)

(2) Noun Phrase-1 + TO BE + Adjective Phrase-1 (Predication)

where TO BE represents an appropriately inflected form of the verb "to be."

Critical thinkers have argued against using statements having the structure of (1) because they immediately produce high order abstractions that lead the user to premature judgments. Consider the following example:

(3) John is a farmer.

The immediate consequence of such an identification at the very least brings about unjustified abbreviation. For example, consider the following three sentences about "John":

(4) John farms three acres.

(5) John owns and operates a 2,000-acre farm.

(6) John receives $20,000 a year from the government for not growing anything on his farm.

We could even carry this illustration into a different dimension:

(7) John, after living in the city all his life, has just bought a farm.

(8) John grew up on a farm and has farmed there for 61 years.

Despite the fact that (4) through (8) make extremely different statements about "John," most English-speaking people feel comfortable making the jump from any one of (4) through (8) to (3). Critical thinkers trained in general semantics hold that (3) does not represent a valid higher order abstraction which could come from such observations as (4) through (8), but rather a possibly incorrect and certainly inadequate abbreviation of the larger picture.

Of course, due to the uniqueness of structures on the event level and the process character of "reality," no structure can have precise identity with another or even with itself at two different times, for that matter. Hence we can categorically deny the validity of any Identity relation. And accordingly, any linguistic structure which conveys or assumes an Identity relation does not correspond well with "reality." As Korzybski would put it, "The map does not fit the territory."

About 10 years ago, I saw something on NPR about this, and they tried to do the credits in E-prime. So, instead of something like:

"Our engineer is Joseph Blow, our producer is Jane Doe, I'm John Smith. Thank you for listening."

They did something more like this:

"Joseph Blow twiddles the soundboard knobs, Jane Doe made all the decisions and my parents named me John Smith. Thank you for listening."

We also discussed this about that time in a journalism class, and while E prime contains a lot of points journalists want to consider (primarily, it reduces passive language), it cannot be used for journalism in any deep way, because sometimes a statement of being is the story. --DaveJacoby

Dave, don't you mean the story states the statement of being? ;) When I was editor for my high school paper, I attacked passive voice usage with religious fervor. Now I am more mellow. I mean I act more mellowly. Or I should say, I embody mellowness by not acting so unmellowly? Or something like that. This avoiding passive voice IS hard. -- SteveHowell

No, I meant what I said, although it could've been said with a smiley. Sometimes, the story presents itself most effectively by describing the state of being, not by naming the actors. "Titanic Sunk!", for example. There are problems with the passive voice ("Mistakes were made." Oh yeah? By who?) but while it is an overused tool in the box, it is overused because it's useful. --DaveJacoby

Wasn't I agreeing with you that passive voice has a place? -- SteveHowell

I meant to add humor in there. But yeah, you were. -- DaveJacoby

Dave, I don't follow you here. You wrote the headline ("Titanic Sunk!") without using the verb "to be". "Sinks" or "has Sunk" would also work. None of these look like identity or substance-predicate statements to me. They could conform more closely to Korzybski's principles by describing a sensory observation instead of the 'objective' world, but presumably the actual article would mention sources. Perhaps I should take a more mellow attitude, :-) but I'd like to see you explain your view in more detail. -- Dan

Eprime basically rips out a fundamental construct of many languages. x = y (also known as: x is y) is really fundamental. If they are trying to eliminate preconceptions they'll still be there. If you're trying to avoid vagueness, people can be still lazy. -- MahyarMcDonald?

EPrime: Shades of Leibniz and fantasies of (a perfected) human (natural) language as some logical calculus! Human language is context sensitive but not highly context bound even while its very perception qua language requires implicit attribution of some context ("rightly" or not). We know what H. language does well but lament when its very fitting virtues there keep us from doing well with it when we try to do something quite other. -- Carroll McGorkey?

HOW THE HELL DO YOU EXPRESS MATHEMATICS WITHOUT THE VERB 'TO **' ?!?!?! Seriously; I believe that eliminating certain verbs expressing identity or predication makes it harder to express many various concepts. That is, without resorting to an overtly stilted writing style and other textual monstrosities. Besides; killing off certain identity/predication verbs will not kill off the passive voice. If we want to kill off the passive voice; we must strike it's root instead of the branches.

The paragraph above should be standard E-prime. Please correct my errors. -- AnonymousDonor


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