For a similar example, the "Plot Summary" section of the page about "A Void" also conforms to its subject's constraint--in that case, avoiding the letter "e": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Void#Plot_summary
It surprises me that avoiding forms of "to be" presents such a challenge for me--particularly with this sentence. I feel that it makes my writing sound more repetitive, since I end up replacing "X is" with wordy alternatives like "I find X" or "X seems"; while I'm used to forms of "to be" appearing dozens of times in a paragraph, my replacements stand out more when overused.
> E-Prime, a prescriptive version of the English language, excludes all forms of the verb to be.
Doesn't the part parenthesised in commas have a kind of implicit 'is'?
For example E' is supposed to stop me saying things like 'Terminator is a good film and is 2 hours long', but I can say 'Terminator, a good film, lasts for 2 hours'.
> E-Prime, [which is] a prescriptive version of the English language, ...
That sentence should instead be written:
> E-Prime prescribes a version of the English language which excludes all forms of the verb "to be".
Prescribe seems out of place there, anyhow.
Now I get down into semantics, can E-Prime prescribe something or is it the name of a rule-set that can be prescribed? I lean to the latter, hence my remark is still valid?
On another note, I find the recursion mentioned by OP quite interesting in a broader context. Choice of grammar has meaning itself.
Edit: Ultimately though, language is inherently underspecified, I heard, and I suppose in linguistic context it means a lack of definite distinction. You could go on subdividing prescription into negative and positive, i.e. prohibitive and, say, constructive. You could divide that ad infinitum. No?
(can't help rewriting to follow the style)
If the article starts with "E-Prime prescribes..." I still don't know what E-Prime _is_. Is it a committee? Is it a style guide? (Right now the article says it's a version of English, which, if superficially, at least answers the question).
You get the idea now? The very form of the question affects your understanding of the answer. Through the description you receive, you begin to understand what E-Prime means to those that came up with it. In E-Prime, you literally can't state what it is to anyone else because that would go against E-Prime's rules.
See, "E-Prime" is a proper noun, and proper nouns don't have a meaning; they instead refer to specific things (giving them an identity). The same way Spain is a country, E-Prime is "a variant of English."
> stop me saying things like 'Terminator is a good film and is 2 hours long'
can't you say
>x is y and z,
do you need the second is?
> E-Prime uses the English language prescriptively.
there, now even the prescription is mentioned in a prescription. How recursive, init?
The part between the commas, I think, is called a subjunctive clause. Does it really break the "rules" of E'? The sentence still contains a verb, so it doesn't look like a loop-hole to me.
I was thinking of "to do". If you say something like "X does Y", you're making the same kind of assertion E-Prime seems to want to avoid. Seems to me like another loophole.
While avoiding 'to do' additionally aides in specificity, I believe avoiding 'to be' has a bigger impact, and avoiding both near impossible.
"E-Prime (short for English-Prime, sometimes denoted É or E′), a prescriptive prescribes a version of the English language which excludes all forms of the verb to be."
Edit: I didn't notice earlier while viewing the mobile version of the page, but the Talk page includes a discussion of whether or not to enforce E-Prime.
In a way, you have found the purpose of E-Prime. While your speech or writing will use more words to avoid use of "to be," you will actually communicate more since you are describing more instead of simply making a proclamation. Word count will increase, but meaning and information will increase as well.
And yes, it did take me a little bit longer to write this comment following the constraint.
change: reintroduce the word "is" to the opening sentence, for clarity; fix sentence where a "speaker" becomes a "writer"
I also spent the following week trying to speak in E-Prime. This proved very difficult but worth it. I had a notepad with me with several useful phrases in it. Even simple things like ordering from a coffee shop made me stumble. But I would try my best to speak in E-prime. I failed several times!
Writing appeared much much easier. It made emails and other postings less personal, less objective and more subjective and relative. I believe "Non Violent Communication" has many similarities to E-Prime.
Robert Anton Wilson wrote a very good introductory text explaining E-Prime. http://www.nobeliefs.com/eprime.htm I suggest you all check it out!
- I'm Steven
- Hi, my name is Steven
- I'm named|called Steven
The only thing I could come up with "Hi, Steven, nice to meet you" sounds rather forced.
The grammatical rules of English make it more difficult to use this compared to some other languages. E-prime seems very stinted, especially when asking questions:
Is "less objective" really an advantage over "more subjective" for a hacker?
One of the advantages of this restriction on speech is that it forces you to think about relationships between things. In this case, what does it mean to have a name?
Has some suggestions. All seem pretty awkward to me.
- They call me Steven.
Probably it sounds wrong for native English speakers.
It's the sort of phrase that James Bond might say.
Speaking in E-prime can't be separated from the other person's speech in conversation, and its rules need to deal with this situation.
E-prime runs in communicative problems because of linguistic marked-ness.
It is perfectly normal to use phrasing such as that in some languages apart from English. While not common in English, I think generally it makes more sense this way.
I meant instead "I call myself ______ ", which is common in Spanish, for example, and other languages.
I think it's interesting to take the argument even further, to argue for structural types (like interfaces in Go and Typescript, and objects in OCaml) over nominal types (like Java interfaces and Haskell typeclasses). The former just says "if Bar is an interface with method Blaz(int, int, bool), and Foo has a method Blaz(int, int, bool), then Foo is a Bar", while the latter require the programmer to explicitly specify that Foo is a (implements) bar.
I could see why removing "god mode" for language would improve the clarity - both of the speech as well as the speaker's understanding.
you and me ;)
Instead of: "Mount Everest is almost 8 km tall."
A verbose E-Prime version would sound something like: "I recall having read an Wikipedia article that reported the height of Mount Everest as almost 8 km."
Notice all the extra verbs in there.
"Recall"? Could I have mis-recalled?
"Read"? Could I have misread?
"Reported"? Could Wikipedia have misreported it, intentionally or unintentionally?
I'm familiar with this concept but this is the first time I've heard of it formalized with a name, or used outside of creative/narrative writing. When I was in high school, a writing teacher made my class perform an exercise to memorize a superset of the "to be" verbs. The rationale was that, while these verbs are direct and objective, they are "flat" and fail to engage a reader.
In the case of descriptors/properties that simply require too much wrangling to find an appropriate verb - the case of color came up elsewhere in these comments, as in "the barn is blue" - the guiding rule is that those descriptors shouldn't be the focus of a sentence in the first place. "The barn was blue" is not interesting enough to stand on its own as a sentence and something else needs to take the verb. "The blue barn loomed over the landscape" or "The blue barn dominated his thoughts."
Writing a Wikipedia article in this style is certainly an interesting exercise, but given the goal of a Wikipedia article I don't think it's a good fit. An encyclopedia entry is not narrative and needs to be direct and objective.
As an aside, her exercise proved to be oddly effective, as I can still recite the list from memory: am, is, are, was, were, have, has, had, be, been, being, do, does, did, can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must. :)
I wonder what the reason for removing these are. They are basically evidentiality and epistemic markers , and don't really mean anything in and of themselves. Then again, perhaps that was the point?
E-Prime just removes "to be". So you can have other simple words, like can and have :)
Although, I do like your example as it gives a better indication of observer and subjectivity.
(damn this IS hard)
1. Code documentation. If you write your comments and docs in E-Prime, you will find it a little more difficult to write ambiguous docs. In comments, E-Prime helps you avoid using "is" to describe a variable's contents and type with the same phrasing, which can confuse later readers.
2. ET speech in Sci-Fi movies or Tee Vee shows. If you write, say, a Vulcan's lines in E-Prime, you almost always end up with a slightly foreign, or "scientific" sounding prose.
Or should I say:
I find this version of the English language interesting. It clarifies my thinking and strengthens my writing.
I realise it has the best of intentions, and nobody is proposing to remove 'to be' from everything. But the discussion here about how adopting E-Prime forces you to rethink what you mean to say, is eerily reminiscent of how Newspeak was used to control people's thought process.
The idea behind it is supposed to show that by removing the verb 'to be', you have to think more on how to properly convey what you actually mean.
So in a sense it even allows you to get your actual thought process out there rather than having it dismissed for sounding overly harsh for example.
Contrast that to Newspeak, whose design is to limit and shape people's thoughts by external means (Another person chosing what is ok and what not), where as here /you/ get to choose what you say, it is merely the form that changes.
To be more explicit:
1. Do people 'think in a particular language' such that limitations in language limit their thought? This is something that psychologist have considered. The other comments in this thread suggest to me that there might be something in this.
2. Is it dangerous to allow any kind of authority that tells people what they can/can't say? If the answer to #1 is 'yes' then would such a group be too powerful to be allowed to exist?
The people who wish to do this are labouring under a great many sceptical confusions and take saying ordinary things like "the pen is red" to be some god-like act. Ie. they wish to subjectivise everything.
It isn't god like at all, and we're not trapped within our own subjective nightmarish experiences for every doomed never to be talking about the world.
It's a very simple thing to make a claim about how the world is and for it to be true (eg. "the sun is aproximately 8 light minutes from earth"). Rewriting language on the basis of some mistaken sceptical pet-principle is the height of absurdity.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
All rules are there to be broken
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Orwell writes essay advising writers to remove undesirable vocabary, part of which OP is an extended exploration.
All language shapes thought. This is the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis".
"Newspeak" was an attempt to use this principle to shut down thought by taboo-ing entire classes of concept.
E-prime is an attempt to provoke thought by taboo-ing a single concept.
There are good and bad uses for everything.
This is not unusual; lots of languages work that way. And in my experience, it does reduce the use of copula constructions compared to English, but not by much.
Incidentally, the "extra verb tense" you refer to is formally called "evidentiality", and is not considered the same thing as a" tense" by linguists. That's also fairly common in many languages, though it may seem exotic to English speakers.
Spanish has to different verbs to depict the meaning(s) of 'to be' -> ser (exist) and estar (stay). I always thought merging those meanings into a single verb did not help to express the richness of the English language.
21st Century language geeks think that English should be more like Klingon, so they ban the verb "to be".
For example 中國很大 ("China is very big", literally "China very big")
But for a while you'll be tempted to add an "is" in there.
In fact you can use an "is" to change the emphasis.
Eg. "中國是很大的" (literally "China is very big adjective modifier")
"Hungry, or?" - "Not hungry"
"Take, no?" - "Take"
In practice, people will often grunt for yes, and shake their head and break eye contact for no.
"Has mary got the message?" "she has"
"ooh, it's wet outside today" "it is"
"Are you happy?" "I am"
"(Are you) hungry?" - "Yes(, I am hungry)!"/"No(, I am not hungry)!"
I assume that the adverbs "yes" and "no" initially occurred as optional parts of an answer (only to later cast their supplementary part of the answer as the optional one). Curious enough, now when I'm thinking about it, I remember utterances with the usage of "yes" in the questions themselves (especially on some immigrants) - like "Hungry, yes?" I wonder what will this evolve into down the road...
"No" is ไม่ , ไม่ใช่ , or เปล่า (mai, mai chai, bplao)
There are many other words that also mean yes/no but those are the direct translations that are used extensively in everyday conversation.
This is basic standard Thai used by all central Thais.
Where in Thailand do you live, and what level of Thai fluency do you have that you're running in to frequent counter-examples?
I gave two references to standard Thai, a dictionary and a video teaching basic Thai by native Thai speakers. Both show the Thai words for "yes" and "no". If you have an reference of any kind that indicates there are no words for "yes" and "no" in the Thai language please link to it.
"Do you want an ice cream?" "want"
Maybe: "One calls her/him"?
In passing: This guy walking up, Jake, handles our servers.
Imperative: Call me Ishmael.
Italian, which has the verb to be, nevertheless uses a different form: literally "I call me X" (mi chiamo X). "I'm X" (io sono X) would be understood but it's more the answer to who are you than to what's your name.
It encourages the separation of entities and their properties, and helps to more accurately represent these. Perhaps :)
Perhaps English speakers found his real name too hard to pronounce, or perhaps he lives under an alias after joining the witness protection program, or perhaps he works as a super spy.
Other languages probably do the same, but I'm not qualified to speak about anything else.
He goes by the name Jack.
He bears the name Jack.
He answers to the name of Jack.
Everyone calls him Jack.
His parents named him Jack.
For example: I hear "He goes by the name Jack" and I think, "okay, but what is his real name?" Or: "Everyone calls him Jack" implies once again that "Jack" is not his real name. "His parents named him Jack" implies that he now goes by another name, not his given name.
E-Prime is an interesting thought experiment, but it's simply not practical for real world, everyday speaking. I will grant that it can be effective in writing, but it still seems as if it's only trying to prove a point, and aggressively at that.
If you think about it, a human being has 3 different identities:
1. His true self. Unfortunately we will never know the real Jack, just as we will never really know ourselves.
2. His appearance. This is the sum total of your interactions with Jack. The empirical Jack.
3. His being. You could call this Jack's spirit, or the effect that Jack has on you.
#3 is distinguished from #2 because Jack might be a real jerk, or he may have done something that seemed jerkish to you. Either way, it's clear that he both 1) did something and 2) it had an effect on you. There is an ongoing relationship between you and Jack, and while people are known by their actions, they are not confused with their actions. Therefore we must differentiate between Jack's actions and Jack himself, and so we call the man "Jack" though we often think we are talking about the #1 definition of selfhood when we call him that. But as I mentioned, you truly don't know Jack.
I suppose "The car ran me over while walking to the store," but that's ambiguous, since some sort of walking car could have run me over, when I happened to be sitting on a bench outside the store.
The combination of E-Prime and SEXI was a real challenge to write at first, but with practice I found that it led to really solid papers with greater clarity of thought. It was a tremendous help in writing my college senior thesis.
Unlike the article, I didn't try to use either form in my comment. :)
I'll give it a shot. This proved harder than I thought it would, and might read awkwardly. (Especially the "actually called 'E-Prime'" part. I can't think of a way of rewording that that doesn't sound weird.)
In High School, my English teacher had us write essays in a format that incorporated these rules, but I had no idea that it had a name: "E-Prime". In addition to not using forms of "to be," we followed the SEXI format. This meant we composed every body paragraph from four parts: Statement, Explanation, eXample, and Interpretation (one web site lists this as Importance). I think that in short essays each SEXI paragraph also couldn't number more than four sentences.
The combination of E-Prime and SEXI created a real challenge to write at first, but with practice I found that it led to really solid papers with greater clarity of thought. It tremendously helped in writing my college senior thesis.
Without thinking about it too deeply, formal logic would probably also be rather funky.
Some philosophers, e.g. early Wittgenstein, would argue that certain philosophical positions only exist by sleight of tongue, being based upon some form of incoherence that can only exist in imprecise language.
From his Tractatus (note that he sort of changed his mind in his later work): "The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science--i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy -- and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person--he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy--this method would be the only strictly correct one.
Some philosophers, e.g. early Wittgenstein, would argue that certain philosophical positions only exist by sleight of tongue because the philosophers who held these positions based their theories upon some form of incoherence that can only exist in imprecise language.
From his Tractatus (note that he sort of changed his mind in his later work): "The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science--i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy -- and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person--he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy--this method would be the only strictly correct one."
But certainly it seems to be a theme with these "logical" languages, to embed questionable philosophical assumptions that don't hold up under more careful analysis...
"The coat has a red colour"
1. Many unclear English sentences have "to be".
2. Therefore, let's disallow "to be" to make English clearer.
Well, the obvious alternate explanation is:
3. Since "be" is an extremely common word, for most attribute X, a subset of "English sentences with attribute X" will naturally have many sentences with "to be".
I mean, in what way is "Mars is round" any less clear/objective/interesting than "Mars orbits around the sun"?
Think of it like the weights baseball players put on their bats during practice. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_doughnut)
It seems to me that E-prime works only because "be" is so common that you're forced to rewrite almost every sentence, yet it carries so little "semantic weight" that all such sentences can be rewritten with a bit of practice.
That sounds like a statement about "reality unfiltered by our senses and our linguistic programs".
It's not uncontroversial either, as lots of people have in fact claimed to have just such access.
To live or to die,
I ask myself this.