Wednesday, 15 August 2007

E-Prime

"If a foolish man is associated with a wise man, even all his life, the foolish man will understand truth as little as a spoon understands the taste of soup." (Buddha)

My friend K called me to ask if I was ok after reading my last 2 depressing posts. You know, the flypaper one and the by the pond one. She's so lovely, little K. Don't worry K. I wrote the second one by the sea, watching my workmates commenting on gossip magazines, boats passing by, sun shinning. It's fiction, with a touch of reality, K. Just a touch. But thanks for calling.

I'm not blogging as often. Lots of funny things happened and they would fill this space gloriously if it wasn't for my foolish attempt to write in E-Prime. It is not easy to eliminate the verb "to be" from our writing, ladies and gentleman, but apparently it restructures the way we think, and obviously the way we sound. But it takes time to get used to it, and it sounds weird as fuck, for instance, to substitute "Portishead is better than Shakira" for "In my mixed state of musical education and ignorance Portishead seems better than Shakira to me". Or even, "the phone is ringing" replaced by "The phone registers as ringing to my human ears".

So now I spend my time translating my once flowing writing to E-Prime, and sometimes it sounds so hilarious I just give up and laugh. It will definitely make me even more weird, especially if I get very good at it and start speaking in E-Prime. And I will. Fuck Aristotelian logic.

11 comments:

twit said...

It can sound/look kinda like a 'politically correct' approach to expression -taken to the Nth degree.

I used to do it - all the time.. until it became automatic.

But now, although I still think that way, I dip in-&-out of expressing myself like that -as the(my) mood takes me.

-Similar to the way I like to vary where I throw-up, I suppose..
..sometimes down the toilet, sometimes on other folk ¦:¬รพ

Indigobusiness said...

Great quote.

E-Prime, it seems, is something I unwittingly slip into, in my aspiration of lateral thought.

Not to worry, you couldn't possibly be more weird. Weird is hardly worthy.

Paulette said...

No, you don't.

It seems impossible to use E-Prime constantly (to me, there you go). One would really have to reformulate all language to the point of sounding very formal/boring/aloof, or use "seems", "sounds like" and all these verbs to the point of exhaustion.

Sometimes the verb to be is necessary, and doesn't imply omniscience.

Indigobusiness said...

It's true, sort of. Maybe not overtly, but I find myself silently couching things in terms of "it seems" -consciously cutting 'I' out of my inner dialog- to try to form thoughts in ways that are free from judgment.

It probably doesn't come across in my written words because I'm often rather automatic (intellectually lazy) and fall back on bad habits. But I have been interested in the notion of patterns of thinking shaped by language forms, and how different patterns can dramatically alter the very same content.

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis digs into it in a way that sort of parallels my instinctive inklings, in a way I can sort of wrap my mind around.

It has never occurred to me to claim to be omniscient, or otherwise, nor to be.

Indigobusiness said...

Maybe I'm missing the point, but this quote gets at what I'm talking about:

Whorf gave this idea greater precision by examining the particular grammatical mechanisms by which thought influenced language. He argued his point thus:

"We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way—an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language […] all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated."

— (Language, Thought and Reality pp. 212–214).

And this spits in Aristotle's eye:

The interdependence of thought and speech makes it clear that languages are not so much a means of expressing truth that has already been established, but are a means of discovering truth that was previously unknown. Their diversity is a diversity not of sounds and signs but of ways of looking at the world.

-Karl Kerenyi
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word verification- XVRAW

Indigobusiness said...

To abuse this further, this page makes a good point about a troublesome aspect:

Abusing E-prime. I perceive some people as "abusing" rather than using E-prime. One can perform simple substitutions on sentences to replace the verb 'to be' with a direct substitute while not eliminating the identification at all. Such substitutions constitute, in my opinion, mere baby-steps in the right direction. But when someone claims that they "use" E-prime, as if it were an "all or none" (two-valued) choice, I get annoyed, especially if I see them just making, what I call "euphemistic" simple substitutions for 'to be'. "Exists as" indeed, I say! One can abuse E-prime because one can eliminate the verb 'to be' without eliminating identification. I say that it is equally possible to eliminate identification without eliminating all forms of the verb 'to be'.
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And this page breaks it down nicely.
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This is interesting stuff, and it goes well beyond the semantical considerations. If I took up too much room in my rambling around this topic, just delete these entries, but I'm glad you posted this...it's good grist for the mill.

BTW- You don't seem weird, just extraordinarily curious.

Paulette said...

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is such a facy name! :)

Great stuff! Too many things to comment on. I'll have to write a whole big post to cover it.

" We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages [...] all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated". I really hope to be able to calibrate our linguistic backgrounds. In Brazilian portuguese language and thought end up in bed. I'm tired of it.

Good point on abusing E-Prime. I don't think we have to eliminate the verb "to be" completely in order to reshape our inds. Sometimes is just necessary.

Also, the verb "to be" has 2 forms in portuguese and a few other laguages. You can say someone is beautiful now (esta) or someone is beautiful, full stop (e). That diference between english and portuguese is quite harsh on my little mind, so I'm glad I found E-Prime. don't really know why english doesn't diferentiate the "2 states of being". That smooths a bit the issue, but obvioulsy don't really eliminate misunderstanding cos you'll still making subjective statements

Thanks for the links!!!! :)

twit said...

Fundamentally, I see it as an outlook; a sense of perspective.
& once that perspective starts to feel comfortable, the language can follow, quite naturally.

I also don't see the necessity for a person to drastically increase the number of words they use.
According to the Wiki-link you supplied, “The movie was good.”, can simply be replaced with, “I liked the movie.”.
-So when you replaced, "Portishead is better than Shakira", with, "In my mixed state of musical education and ignorance Portishead seems better than Shakira to me"
-you could have just as easily replaced it with, "I prefer Portishead over Shakira.".

Who I speak to has also become a vital aspect for me -ie; how much detail do I need to communicate(?).

My particular take on this kind of thing comes out of my all-encompassing concept of projection.

That said, I don't believe it necessarily brings us closer to any 'ultimate truth'.. or even that it's more scientific (despite it's 'sterility'); the English language is far too fluid for that - thank God!

You are weird, Paula.

What a load of old shit ¦:¬]

Paulette said...

First of all, english language is fluid for you. For me it seems to be maturing.

Second, we're just having fun here. No ultimate truth involved.

also, for a change, you didn't get the gag. I won't double the amount of words.

God bless the weird.

Indigobusiness said...

Twit called you weird.
That's rich.

Interesting slant on this, Paula.

What this seems to get down to is a world/reality in flux, and recognizing thought and language forms that accommodate that understanding.

Like Clinton said, when he was being deposed about his Oval Office blow-job, "it all depends on what your definition of 'is' is."

Change is constant, for everything, it's all weird.

twit said...

The 'only-joking-clause'..
..nice one.
Well played, sister.

I'd never even heard of E-Prime before your post.
I just scanned the Wiki-page & span it from there.

Mentioning 'ultimate truth' was only in reference to my own previous statements (hence the 'that said' bit).

-As was, "What a load of old shit ¦:¬]"

What a fantastically ironic situation.

~ ~ ~

Re the Buddha quote: Again, very reassuring.

& in all sincerity: Thanks for the stimulation.