Friday, January 4, 2013

E-Prime: To Be Or Not

When learning foreign languages, there are always a few verbs that are considered very important to learn first. Without a doubt, the most important in most languages is the verb to be and its many, many conjugations. It's especially important in English.

What would happen if you just got rid of the verb to be? What if you carried on using English without this seemingly indispensable verb? What you would be doing is operating under the rules of E-Prime.

Two bees or not two bees... that is the question.
E-Prime, which is short for English Prime is, to put it simply, English without the verb to be or any of its conjugations or contractions. It has been suggested that using E-Prime can reduce misunderstandings and help clarify language. That said, we are fairly sceptical of it.

The concept was devised by D. David Bourland, Jr. and was immediately met with criticism and controversy. Clearly scholars love the verb to be and won't allow for anything bad to be said about it. The system could have a few benefits, however. It could be used as a rule for drinking games amongst language nerds (anyone for King's Cup or Ring of Fire?) or just a bit of fun to test your mental faculties and linguistic abilities.

The main reason that E Prime was conceived was part of a continuation of the work in general semantics by philosopher Alfred Korzybski. The E-Prime system, though an idea with good intentions, seems to be so riddled with problems and criticisms that we wouldn't expect anyone to rush to adopt it. What it takes from the English language seems to be far greater than what it would add. It could make the language clearer, but that would take most of the fun out of English!