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what do you think about eprime language and its possible relevance to anarchy?

+3 votes
i recently learned about eprime (short for english prime), a language identical to english with the exception that you cannot use the verb “to be” and all of its potential forms (am, is, are, was, were,  be, been, they’re, isn’t, etc.).  proponents suggest that among other benefits, using eprime leads to a reduction of absolutism and dogma.

the concept intrigued me a lot. and as i experimented writing and speaking this way,  not only did it help to clarify my thoughts, but i began to see  more connections between this alternate language and anarchy. it also took a lot more effort than I thought it would, considering the absence of essentially only one word!

i’d like to hear what others think about it, especially as it may relate to anarchy.  


(i wrote all of the above in eprime – as far as I can tell).

edited: to add, just let me know if you'd like a few links to info on the subject.
asked Dec 22, 2014 by bornagainanarchist (7,360 points)
edited Dec 22, 2014
i think thought experiments are great. things we do to get out of conscious or unconscious ruts are fun and informative.
and i do agree that language formats us (ew) in ways invisible to us (and not!), and that english lends itself to declarative simplicity.
but i could also argue that u.s. culture (at least certain parts of it) is tending towards rejecting decisiveness and clarity, that there is a "talking therapy" effect of relativity and mushiness, and that many of the people who would be most interested in this experiment are the people who are least comfortable with the positive aspects of declarative statements.
dot, removing "to be" from english does nothing that i can see to remove declarative statements, decisiveness, and clarity. in my experience of using eprime, i've noticed more of those qualities, not less. i don't understand the basis for your argument (the second part of your comment).
maybe you're right.
i had hoped for more discussion, but maybe i didn't sound like it. :)
bornagain, im confused as to how one would talk without "to be" in english. Give me a couple examples of how you would remake statements with "to be"
rick, i'll come back later with some more comments to hopefully make it clearer (and to discuss the benefits i see with eprime, as well as the relationship to anarchy), but i'll leave you with a few examples for now...

as an example, i could reword your statement above "'i'm confused as to how one would talk without 'to be' in English".... to

"i feel confused as to how one would talk without 'to be' in English" or

"how to talk without 'to be' in English confuses me".

dot's comment above "maybe you're right"... into

"i might agree with you.'  ...or

"maybe you have some points that make sense"

another example....

"i'm an anarchist" (non-eprime)

versus some e-prime versions...

"i call myself an anarchist"

"i desire anarchy"

"i live for anarchy"

"i'd like to see the whole world living in anarchy"

"i think anarchy rocks"

"fuck the hierarchical institutions"

"i want anarchic relationships"

someone walking outside to a group of friends says....

"it's cold out here"  (non-eprime) versus

"i feel cold out here" (eprime)

and the famous

 "to be or not to be...that is the question"

"to live or die....i ask myself this question"

also, i wrote my original question, as well as this response, in eprime.
ok, you replace being with a feeling or action, that's interesting
yes, among other things...

like i've noticed the writer or speaker of the statement often comes back into the picture, where normally they've disappeared. for example, you could translate your last statement to eprime by changing, "that's interesting" to "that interests me." now i have more of an understanding of you, rather than thinking of a thing (the ideas you discovered, in this case) as having an inherent quality of "interesting".

edited to add: although many people probably automatically interpret "that's interesting" to "that interests me", depending on the subject matter, emotions involved, and so on, i see where it could make a big difference. also, when i hear something stated in eprime, i can usually visualize it better - in this case, a person feeling curious, rather than thinking about whether a concept "is" interesting or not.

3 Answers

+1 vote
Color me intrigued.  My initial thought is that using eprime could preclude expressing ideas, concepts and arguments in an essentialist form, or at least make it difficult enough that in order to assign essential attributes to something you'd have to conciously construct a sentence before speaking it, at least in some situations.  Maybe speaking/writing in eprime could help pose a challenge to some unexamined essentialist assumptions.

I don't know, I haven't really thought this through yet.
answered Dec 22, 2014 by Yosemite (5,880 points)
Yosemite, yes, when speaking eprime, it has helped me to construct sentences in my mind first before speaking. many times, the entire sentence structure changes, and it forces me to really think about what i want to convey and how i want to say it.

i hadn't heard of essentialist form before, but after researching it a little, i tend to agree with you that speaking/writing in eprime about such concepts would become more difficult.
+3 votes
Hey bornagain, I wanted to revamp this discussion since I actually had some thoughts about this (I'll use eprime for fun)

This could have some interesting implications for anarchist writing, because analysis always attempts to say "a=c" like "capitalism is the central theme of our world" or "our social lives are decomposing". Taking away the to be makes these statements less authoritative, even though writing in general acts as an authority (since it expresses content uni-directionally). John Zerzan talks a lot about the problem of saying "a=c rather than letting a be a", if you haven't "running on emptyness" or "free from civilization" I would recommend them since they speak a lot about the problem with language and symbolic representation.
answered Jan 7, 2015 by anonymous
Definitely recommend "Free From Civilization", I helped edit the translation of the section on symbolic culture :-D
haha, that was a great book, mostly an expansion on JZ's thoughts, and i liked his writing style better
hey rick, thanks for the revamp!

i agree with your observations about a=c making things sound authoritarian. i hadn't thought before about how writing in general can act as an authority, but i see your point. with eprime, at least the authority comes off more often as the person making the comment (the author of your own thoughts), rather than as a fact of life decreed by an unknown authority that exists outside of the person.

i read "running on emptiness" at your suggestion and liked it a lot - this one line really spoke to me "the more involved this internal representational system is, the more distanced we are from the reality around us." (like money, for example - my add). you might like to read some of Charles Eisenstein's work, particularly, "the ascent of humanity" which touches on many things that Zerzan did in that article, regarding numbers, lack of using other senses, separation and abstraction, and so on.

I've found that eprime also helps to remove the abstraction of time. when someone says "it was" or "it is", it appears that ideas, people, society, things have a state of permanence, rather than ever-changing qualities. the world "was" this way and now it "is" this way. perhaps when anarchists talk with non-anarchists, one problem becomes this fixation of time - i.e. "capitalism IS the theme...." and both parties end up speaking the same language of abstraction rather than relating experiences and observations and the context in which they occurred. this might tie into another conversation you had in another thread (sorry, can't remember it right now) where you discussed how anti-authoritarian views can contain some of the same qualities of authoritarian views.

i'll check out "free from civilization" nexts. thanks for the suggestions and the conversation.
haha, yes this is the terrain of behemoth we are talking about, much larger than the terrain of lerviathan! The realm of thought policing is to me is of great interest, it teaches us why physically fighting physical authorities 99.999999% of the time does absolutely nothing effective
agreed, the beast behind (and beneath) the beast!

i haven't found Free From Civilization on the internet anywhere yet...ALC, rick, or anyone else, i'd appreciate a link if you have one...free preferred.
http://littleblackcart.com/Free-From-Civilization.html, i think LBC is the only distributor that prints it. It's around 300 pages long and is really well researched and written in a more precise manner than JZ's work. Quite an ambitious work, i really enjoyed it.
thanks, rick.
+3 votes
Logged in for the first time in a year just to mention that I've used e-prime/e-primitive in all of my formal writing for about 6 years now and really loved the challenge it has provided me, and the way it clarifies thinking.
answered Jan 9, 2015 by AutumnLeavesCascade (8,890 points)
hi ALC, nice to know you're still around (even if mostly lurking)!
what are your formal writings? You've got to tell me now that you say you used e-prime/e-primitive!
ALC, thanks for your answer and for logging in at the prompt of my question. i appreciate it. if you feel inclined, i'd like to hear more of your experiences of writing this way and what challenges and benefits you received as a result...and any impact it might have had on your practice of anarchy.