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E-Prime (short for English-Prime or English Prime, sometimes denoted É or E′) is a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be, including all conjugations, contractions and archaic forms.
Some scholars advocate using E-Prime as a device to clarify thinking and strengthen writing. A number of other scholars have criticized E-Prime's utility.
D. David Bourland Jr., who had studied under Alfred Korzybski, devised E-Prime as an addition to Korzybski's general semantics in the late 1940s. Bourland published the concept in a 1965 essay entitled "A Linguistic Note: Writing in E-Prime" (originally published in General Semantics Bulletin). The essay quickly generated controversy within the general semantics field, partly because practitioners of general semantics[who?] sometimes saw Bourland as attacking the verb 'to be' as such, and not just certain usages.
Bourland collected and published three volumes of essays in support of his innovation. The first (1991), co-edited by Paul Dennithorne Johnston, bore the title: To Be or Not: An E-Prime Anthology.
For the second, More E-Prime: To Be or Not II, published in 1994, he added a third editor, Jeremy Klein. Bourland and Johnston then edited a third book, E-Prime III: a third anthology, published in 1997.
predication, of the form "nouncopulaadjective" [The cat is furry]
auxiliary, of the form "nouncopulaverb" [The cat is sleeping]; [The cat is being bitten by the dog]. The examples illustrate two different uses of 'be' as an auxiliary. In the first, 'be' is part of the progressive aspect, used with "-ing" on the verb; in the second, it is part of the passive, as indicated by the perfect participle of a transitive verb.
existence, of the form "there copulanoun" [There is a cat]
location, of the form "nouncopulaplace-phrase" [The cat is on the mat]; [The cat is here]
Bourland sees specifically the "identity" and "predication" functions as pernicious, but advocates eliminating all forms for the sake of simplicity. In the case of the "existence" form (and less idiomatically, the "location" form), one might (for example) simply substitute the verb "exists". Other copula-substitutes in English include taste, feel, smell, sound, grow, remain, stay, and turn, among others a user of E-prime might use instead of to be.
Words not used in E-prime include: be, being, been, am, is, isn't, are, aren't, was, wasn't, were, and weren't.
Contractions formed from a pronoun and a form of to be are also not used, including: I'm, you're, we're, they're, he's, she's, it's, there's, here's, where's, how's, what's, who's, and that's. E-Prime also prohibits contractions of to be found in nonstandard dialects of English, such as "ain't".
Bourland and other advocates also suggest that use of E-Prime leads to a less dogmatic style of language that reduces the possibility of misunderstanding or conflict.
Kellogg and Bourland describe misuse of the verb to be as creating a "deity mode of speech", allowing "even the most ignorant to transform their opinions magically into god-like pronouncements on the nature of things".
eliminate the infinitive and verb forms of "to be" from their vocabulary, whereas a second group continued to use "I am," "You are," "They are" statements as usual. For example, instead of saying, "I am depressed," a student was asked to eliminate that emotionally primed verb and to say something else, such as, "I feel depressed when ..." or "I tend to make myself depressed about ..."[page needed]
Korzybski observed improvement "of one full letter grade" by "students who did not generalize by using that infinitive".
Albert Ellis advocated the use of E-Prime when discussing psychological distress to encourage framing these experiences as temporary (see also Solution focused brief therapy) and to encourage a sense of agency by specifying the subject of statements. According to Ellis, rational emotive behavior therapy "has favored E-Prime more than any other form of psychotherapy and I think it is still the only form of therapy that has some of its main books written in E-Prime". However, Ellis did not always use E-Prime because he believed it interferes with readability.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Many authors have questioned E-Prime's effectiveness at improving readability and reducing prejudice (Lakoff, 1992; Murphy, 1992; Parkinson, 1992; Kenyon, 1992; French, 1992, 1993; Lohrey, 1993). These authors observed that a communication under the copula ban can remain extremely unclear and imply prejudice, while losing important speech patterns, such as identities and identification. Further, prejudices and judgments that are made are more difficult to notice or refute. James D. French, a computer programmer at the University of California, Berkeley, summarized ten arguments against E-Prime (in the context of general semantics) as follows:
The elimination of a whole class of sentences results in fewer alternatives and is likely to make writing less, rather than more, interesting. One can improve bad writing more by reducing use of the verb 'to be' than by eliminating it.
"Effective writing techniques" are not relevant to general semantics as a discipline, and therefore should not be promoted as general semantics practice.
The context often ameliorates the possible harmful effects from the use of the is-of-identity and the is-of-predication, so it is not necessary to eliminate all such sentences. For example, "George is a Judge" in response to a question of what he does for a living would not be a questionable statement.
To be statements do not only convey identity but also asymmetrical relations ("X is higher than Y"); negation ("A is not B"); location ("Berlin is in Germany"); auxiliary ("I am going to the store") etc., forms we would also have to sacrifice.
Eliminating to be from English has little effect on eliminating identity. For example, a statement of apparently equal identification, "The silly ban on copula continues," can be made without the copula assuming an identity rather than asserting it, consequently hampering our awareness of it.
Identity-in-the-language is not the same thing as the far more important identity-in-reaction (identification). General semantics cuts the link between the two through the practice of silence on the objective levels, adopting a self-reflexive attitude, e.g., "as I see it" "it seems to me" etc., and by the use of quotation marks—without using E-Prime.
The advocates of E-Prime have not proven that it is easier to eliminate the verb to be from the English language than it is to eliminate just the is-of-identity and the is-of-predication. It may well be easier to do the latter for many people.
One of the best languages for time-binding is mathematics, which relies heavily on the notion of equivalence and equality. For the purposes of time-binding, it may be better to keep to be in the language while only cutting the link between identity-in-the-language and identification-in-our-reactions.
A civilization advances when it can move from the idea of individual trees to that of forest. E-Prime tends to make the expression of higher orders of abstraction more difficult, e.g. "She is a student" is rendered in E-Prime, e.g., as "She attends classes at the university".
E-Prime makes no distinction between statements that cross the principles of general semantics and statements that do not. It lacks consistency with the other tenets of general semantics and should not be included into the discipline.
According to an article (written in E-Prime and advocating a role for E-Prime in ESL and EFL programs) published by the Office of English Language Programs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the State Department of the United States, "Requiring students to avoid the verb to be on every assignment would deter students from developing other fundamental skills of fluent writing."
Zimmerman, Daniel (Fall 2001). "E-Prime as a Revision Strategy". ETC: A Review of General Semantics 58.3. pp. 340–347. Retrieved 2009-01-10. Using E-Prime, I require students to paraphrase about half their sentences—admittedly, in a special way, but using as stylistic models the best of the rest of their sentences, already written in 'native' E-Prime. The more gracefully and effectively they learn to do this, the more they begin to sound like themselves as writers, rather than like all the other writers around them sound about half the time.
French, James D (1992). "The Top Ten Arguments Against E-Prime". ETC: A Review of General Semantics. Institute of General Semantics. 49 (2): 75–79.
Herbert, John C. "English Prime as an Instructional Tool in Writing Classes". English Teaching Forum Online. United States Department of State. Archived from the original on 2006-10-07. Retrieved 2009-10-06. When applying the aforementioned ideas to any writing assignment, teachers must make sure their students know that the proposed set of guidelines represents only one means to an end and does not present an end in itself. Requiring students to avoid the verb to be on every assignment would deter students from developing other fundamental skills of fluent writing. However, introducing E-Prime restrictions for at least one assignment forces students to spend more time with their essays, to think critically about acceptable grammar and vocabulary, and to search for new, or nearly forgotten, vocabulary.