Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reflections on E-Prime: A Follow-up to Shakespeare In E-Prime

My good friend, Devkumar Trivedi of the Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences in India, sent me this email in response to my last post putting Hamlet's soliloquy in E-Prime. E-Prime (E') was formulated by Korzybski's student David Bourland who advocated eliminating all forms of the verb "to be" from the English language.

Dev writes:
Hi Bruce,

1     What a telling and hilarious spoof on proponents of E-prime !
2     The structures of ordinary English as taught/learnt in many countries are embedded deeply in neural network of most students by the age of fifteen years, generally a long time before they ever even hear anything of GS. The challenge is to unlearn the structures, which is not easy.
3     Hence, awareness to understand the adverse impact of the identificatory and opinionating 'is' , and to contain the degree of damage by misevaluation appears a more feasible approach. In history attempts have been made by reformers to change spellings etc. [ G.B. Shaw even created a fund for it ], but language meanders autonomously, disregarding reverence and obedience to creative writers as well as scholars. You know the spelling of fish given by Shaw ?; Ghuitio.
He wanted to demonstrate the phonetic anarchy of spellings. Did not succeed. How much more difficult to change the very structure of language, to 'standardize' it and teach from nursery classes upwards !
4     Shakespeare in E-prime appears contrived, constricted and convoluted. Oh the economy beauty and simplicity of 'is' !
       Warm wishing,      Dev

N.B. The methodology of skits, singing, dancing etc., I fully endorse and actually follow in my workshops. Nobody likes to see the visage of a funeral facing teacher !
I replied as follows with these reflections on E-Prime:
Hi Dev,
I agree with your sentiments about E-prime ponderousness.
 I knew Dave Bourland. He seemed the epitome of the courtly gentleman and I liked him personally, but he held onto his contentions about E-Prime with the tenacity of a bulldog biting a burglar. 

Bob Pula once told me (and wrote about somewhere) about seeing Dave Bourland at an IGS sponsored event, where Dave introduced his new wife on the order of 'Bob, this constitutes my wife, Karen.' Bourland denied he said this. But I believe Bob.  

I have come to see 'identification' as a default stage of evaluative development. 

Absence of 'is' does not at all guarantee non-identifiying consciousness of abstracting. 

Whatever I say is in the 'is' is not in it. 

E-Prime works when it does because it tends to force the user to reword in more actional, descriptive language.

Useful but not the panacea that Bourland and others seemed and seem to want to make it. 

The possibility of identifying remains as long as we have language with subjects, verbs, and objects—forms which appear as the one set of solid universals that exist in all languages (cf. Gregory Sampson). 

Rejecting totally and for good, all forms of the verb "to be" seems uncalled for (too radical a reform in English where  'Is' exists as partly as a kind of generic all-purpose verb and verb helper). 

Very useful as a way to shorten lengthy ponderous expositions like this email is in danger of becoming. 

When I use, 'is' I often put quotes around it (sometimes with my toes so nobody sees—seriously, I do) which affords me the opportunity to distance myself and question for a moment as to whether I might be identifying. 

The 'is of identity' that Korzybski advised eschewing? Aristotle's "A is A" as an orientation. 

So 'is" and "to be" forms only constitute 'ises of identity" when the person using the words is actually identifying. 

Again, whatever I say is in the 'is' is not in it. 

The words mark potential identifications and are actually for that reason useful to retain in the language as visible indicators of possible problems. 

Otherwise, the identifications just get buried in other usages which may not appear so obvious.   

Thank you, "Is".  

Well, enough of that for now. 
Warm best regards,...
But please, experiment rewording with E-Prime, by all means. It is not a cure-all but if it helps you to become more conscious of what you say and what you 'mean', well, all to the good. 


Sunshine Bright said...

for me it seems the way you try to discount eprime comes at an expense of using what gets termed jackal speak and the break another GS formulation of non absolutism

Bruce Kodish said...