Thursday, January 3, 2008

Isbe Dies a Very Slow Death. . . .


So I began working on New Year's Resolution #2 today - "learn to think in E-Prime." For those who haven't heard of it (or had to listen to me blabber on about it yet), let me quickly introduce it.

E-Prime means th practice of removing all forms of to be from English speech: specifically, be, is, am, are, was, were, been & being, including their contractions, such as it's & I'm. Proponents of E-Prime claim that th practice of writing & speaking with to be introduces potentially unhealthy statements about objective reality & truth that lead to a false conception of th world. In contrast, they suggest that "use of E-Prime leads to a less dogmatic style of language that reduces the possibility for misunderstanding and for conflict."

You can read Robert Anton Wilson's talk about E-Prime at here & you can watch a video in which he discusses it here.

Anyway, I practiced talking & thinking in E-Prime today as I walked my dogs. I found it an interesting & formidable challenge. I had to correct nearly every sentence I thought of or uttered! "Is" permeates my speech & thoughts to an alarming extent!

I found it easiest to speak in E-Prime when I talked slowly & deliberately with myself & th dogs. I often corrected myself, even then, but at least I took th time to work it out. Later on, I visited my friend Chase at a coffee-shop where he works, & when we had a conversation, I found myself completely throwing E-Prime out th window. I couldn't hold a "normal" conversation while constantly monitoring every sentence & revising it in my head. I tried & failed miserably.

RAW & others suggest that by changing this pattern of thinking, one can see th world more clearly & strip away one's assumptions & unconscious dogma. I feel up to th challenge. My goal remains to think in E-Prime by th end of th year, but if I can speak mostly in E-Prime by then, I will consider my work a success.

In at least one instance, I found it helpful & insightful to reformulate in E-Prime. I love my dogs, but sometimes I get frustrated with them. Sometimes, they sniff around looking for poo to eat in th snow. I don't want my dogs to get sick, so I try to stop them, but sometimes they continue & I lose patience. I got annoyed with one dog today & muttered something like:

You're terrible; you think th outside world is a salad bar!

Obviously, I didn't really believe that th dog "was terrible." Anyway, I thought about how th sentence would translate into E-Prime:

I find you terrible.
You seem terrible.
I think of you as terrible.

Immediately, th agent of thought comes into th light: me. My reworded statements immediately reflect th fallacy of th speaker. Nothing can "be terrible." Th terribleness of th dog existed only in my head. I applied my own grumpiness in that moment to something outside of me, & came out looking rather foolish.

Many consider E-Prime a completely different language than English. I can understand why as I look at normal, everyday, idiomatic expressions & ways of talking that an E-Prime speaker must change. I will list some difficult examples:

How to introduce oneself.

Th usual ways:
My name is Andrew.
I'm Andrew.

Some E-Prime alternatives:
People call me Andrew.
My birth certificate says Andrew.
My name reads as Andrew.
I think of myself as Andrew.


It might work best to turn th introduction into a command:
Please call me Andrew.

That still seems awkward, tho.

How to locate oneself.

Th usual ways:
I'm at Michigan & Chestnut.
I'm located at Michigan & Chestnut.

Some E-Prime alternatives:
I stand at Michigan & Chestnut.
You can find me at Michigan & Chestnut.
Look for me at Michigan & Chestnut.
I find myself at Michigan & Chestnut.

Some of those would work in certain contexts, but all potentially sound awkward.

How to indicate th date or time.

Th usual ways:
It's 1:23.
It's Thursday.
Tomorrow's Friday.

Some E-Prime alternatives:
Th clock reads 1:23.
Th calendar considers it Thursday.
We call tomorrow Friday.

None of those sound idiomatic at all.

Anyway, I intend to proceed with this experiment. If I have success, I will come across as an alien to most people, or someone whose came to English relatively late in life. I find it easier to imagine a foreigner than a native-born American making some of those awkward statements above. Regardless of how much success I have, I may find this practice not worth continuing. It has its drawbacks. You can read some very intelligent & sound arguments against it here. I don't necessarily consider E-Prime "better" than English or more valid, nor do I necessarily agree with all th statements of its proponents. However, I consider th exercise of studying it very worth pursuing.

One last note. Th Isbe in th title of this post refers to a character I thought of that has remained in th back of my mind for a while now. Th name combines is & be, & represents a personification of normal English speaking patterns using to be forms. I have intended to use th character to illustrate th dangerous thinking patterns that reliance on to be forms can foster. Some day. . . .


bacob jarton said...

I think I will make E-prime one of my performance sub-projects this year, yea!

Others include the mentioned adjective/adverb removal, and E-primitive, that E-prime extension which emphasizes verbing. Inspiring conversations at the Rewild forum.

Another non-idiomatic way to lose the isbes: Substitute a colon.

A similar structure? Question, answer.

"Topic-comment syntax" in American Sign Language, the same thing essentially.

For another day: Going the other way: instead of removing the B-verb and its cadre of rabid adjectives, add more words. To an adjective, append "to" and do some anthropomorphizing. "You're terrible to... me? the world? yourself? your well-being?"

In a certain collaborative conlang, this was my attempt to explain this attempt.

I shall soon try integrating this into re-integrating "right" and "wrong" into my language, always in relation to people, or even systems of thought.


Rebelfish said...

"My name's Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump."

Even Tom Hanks is trying it.