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E-Prime

9 Post author: CannibalSmith 08 April 2009 01:01PM

I found this and thought we could find a use for it.

Wikipedia describes E-Prime, short for English-Prime, as a modified form of English. E-Prime uses very slightly simplified syntax and vocabulary, eliminating all forms of the verb to be.

Some people use E-Prime as a mental discipline to filter speech and translate the speech of others. For example, the sentence "the movie was good", translated into E-Prime, could become "I liked the movie". The translation communicates the speaker's subjective experience of the movie rather than the speaker's judgment of the movie. In this example, using E-Prime makes it harder for the writer or reader to confuse a statement of opinion with a statement of fact.

Discuss! In E-Prime!

Comments (18)

Comment author: gjm 08 April 2009 06:40:00PM 9 points [-]

The discipline of writing in E-prime splits, I think, into two parts.

The first part, less interesting perhaps, consists of avoiding one particular verb in all its forms. What determines whether a particular proposition requires that verb for its expression? To a great extent, historical happenstance. I can say "...whether a particular proposition requires that verb" but not "... whether that verb IS required to express a particular proposition", for instance. Avoiding that verb resembles (not "IS like") avoiding the letter "e" -- a discipline that might equally reasonably go by the name (not "BE called") E-prime: writers may find that it helps them write better, but largely because such restrictions trigger creative thinking and slow down one's writing.

The second part, not mandated by E-prime as such, consists of avoiding predication: not affirming propositions of the form "P(x)" stating that a particular individual (or every one in some class) has a particular property. It happens that some such statements use the forbidden verb; but not all. If the inventor of E-prime thought he saw a good reason for finding the ones that use it worse than the ones that don't, that reason is not known to me. I think this is the more important aspect of E-prime in its inventor's view, but remain thoroughly unconvinced of its value myself. The main benefit of avoiding predication comes, I think, from having to qualify many statements by saying (for instance) who thinks/feels/experiences a particular thing; but why predication should need such qualification more than other statements puzzles me as much as why predication that uses the forbidden verb should need it more than predication that doesn't.

So it seems to me that whatever benefits writing in E-prime may confer derive not from the central ostensible purpose of E-prime, namely avoiding predication, but from other aspects of it that arise almost by coincidence.

Comment author: gwern 10 April 2009 03:07:46AM *  8 points [-]

I tried E-prime when I was younger. I ultimately decided that natural language was deceiving in this respect. Syntactic level restrictions don't buy you much, as they are way too easy to get around, inadvertently break, and are fundamentally a weakening and not a strengthening of the language.

To put it in programming terms, E-prime wasn't much more useful for me than Hungarian notation is for a C programmer. What is useful is a type system which is actually a type system and not an ad-hoc convention or design pattern! It needs to be enforced ('strong') and provide powerful facilities for saying the correct things (something on the level of Hindly-Milner type systems, with all the good things like abstract data types and polymorphism). E-prime fails on both counts.

(Lojban may be better in these respects, but I don't know enough about it.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 April 2009 01:28:01PM 4 points [-]

Does E-Prime allow "might be useful" or do you need to say "thought you could use this"?

Comment author: CannibalSmith 08 April 2009 05:31:14PM 2 points [-]

Part of me knew somebody would call me out on that and screamed at me as I clicked the submit button. I should've listened. I've edited the article to conform to E-Prime.

Comment author: gworley 08 April 2009 02:16:38PM 2 points [-]

If it's allowed, it certainly violates the spirit of E-Prime. As I understand it, part of the point is to attach such statements to an actor. Why might something be useful? Who or what makes it useful? Maybe the correct statement in E-Prime would be "I thought you might make good use of this".

Comment author: Cyan 08 April 2009 03:11:11PM *  4 points [-]

If we allow it, it certainly violates the spirit of E-Prime. As I understand it, E-prime forces one to attach such statements to an actor. Why might something be useful? Who or what makes it useful? I think you would express the statement in correct E-Prime as "I thought you might make good use of this".

Comment author: PhilGoetz 08 April 2009 09:09:45PM *  3 points [-]

E' isn't really about avoiding the verb "be". For example, IMHO E' could allow the passive. (I don't like the passive for other reasons.) It could allow us to say "The purpose of E' is X", because that's equivalent to "E' accomplishes X". Any usage of "is" that you could restate without "is", and without introducing new data, is fine.

The bad kind of "is" is the "is" that hides data. When someone says "Hot peppers are nasty", they should instead say, "I don't like hot peppers." When someone says "Jimmy is irrational," they should instead say "Jimmy plays the lottery", or present whatever data they're using to infer that "is".

Comment author: pjeby 08 April 2009 06:55:22PM *  4 points [-]

IMO, the NLP metamodel (sometimes referred to as the "precision model") is easier to use than E-Prime, and more useful in practice. (Bandler and Grinder were heavily influenced by Bateson and Korzybski in its creation; in some senses, NLP is a more practically-oriented offshoot of General Semantics.)

While there are conceptually more patterns involved in the meta-model than in E-Prime, the patterns themselves contain the questions you need to ask to expose the missing information or challenge the generalizations contained therein. (E.g. "who says? better for what purpose? All? What happens if you do? What happens if you don't? How do you know?") That is, they are explicitly questions for finding out about someone's map, as opposed to the territory they're claiming to point to.

(I also found them tremendously valuable in my work as a computer programmer/management consultant/tech manager long before I used them in the self-help field. They're a great way to separate people's actual requirements from the designs and specs they try to give you instead.)

Of course, the NLP founders themselves pointed out that when they first taught people the metamodel questions, people were prone to "meta-meddling" and creating a "meta muddle" by overusing them on friends and family members, rather than pointing them at themselves or at clients. So, use wisely, and as the NLP guys would say "apply to self first". ;-)

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 April 2009 06:58:39PM *  1 point [-]

Top tip: use backslashes to escape brackets in links, like this [something](http://foo.com/link_\(brackets\))

EDIT: figured out how to stop hyperlinking by reading Vladimir_Nesov's comment below. The trick is not to escape the first open parenthesis!

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 08 April 2009 08:07:38PM *  0 points [-]

If you write in the editor

\[something\](http://example.com/link_\\\(brackets\\\))

then it'll render as

[something](http://example.com/link_\(brackets\))

which is what you'd need to write in the editor to get

something

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 April 2009 03:36:22PM *  0 points [-]

That's what I wrote, except that I escaped the first parenthesis; not doing that suppresses the hyperlinking. Thanks!

Comment author: Cyan 08 April 2009 03:18:11PM *  2 points [-]

Try this experiment: see if the writing at this link seems natural to you. RAW got by without "to be"; can you?

ETA: RAW on E-prime.

Comment author: rosyatrandom 08 April 2009 02:54:04PM 2 points [-]

Try talking in E-Prime without the use of personal pronouns, if you want to try for Really Damned Unassuming!

Comment author: thomblake 09 April 2009 05:10:13PM 0 points [-]

The supposed distinction between fact and opinion is pernicious. I think that those who take this distinction seriously are really thinking of a distinction between matters of taste, as opposed to things that are not merely matters of taste.

I don't think we'd usually confuse a statement about a matter of taste for one of a different sort. For example, when I say "Sushi is yummy", it's completely clear that I'm making a statement about a matter of taste; someone else responding "Sushi is yucky" is not expected to provide a refutation of my claim, as they're claims about different facts.

If there's a distinction to be drawn between facts and opinions, it's that facts are the referents of opinions. My opinion, "The world is round" (if it is true) refers to the fact that the world is round. My opinion, "Sushi is yummy" (if it is true) refers to the fact that sushi is yummy (to me, since this is clearly a matter of taste).

Stating things that are opinions as though they are from some neutral perspective does not make them any less opinions, and all propositional beliefs are opinions.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 April 2009 04:59:04PM 0 points [-]

I find E-Prime to be a waste of my mental effort, and prefer to use the type of language I find easiest to use.