E-Prime Translator: A Cipher for Empathy and Sanity

Removing absolutes from communication reveals more truth than literal interpretations, and E-Prime and E-Prime Translator can help you do just that.

Our language patterns have a distinct way of transforming our perceptions and experiences into statements of absolute truth about reality. This happens in even the lightest of conversations. Our usage of a single verb form turns speech about our personal interactions with reality into speech about the absolute nature of reality, which nobody has direct access to, despite the quirks of our language that often indicate otherwise.

First a primer on E-Prime from Robert Anton Wilson:

E-PRIME, abolishing all forms of the verb “to be,” has its roots in the field of general semantics, as presented by Alfred Korzybski in his 1933 book, Science and Sanity. Korzybski pointed out the pitfalls associated with, and produced by, two usages of “to be”: identity and predication. His student D. David Bourland, Jr., observed that even linguistically sensitive people do not seem able to avoid identity and predication uses of “to be” if they continue to use the verb at all. Bourland pioneered in demonstrating that one can indeed write and speak without using any form of “to be,” calling this subset of the English language “E-Prime.”

Here are examples of a few statements and their E-Prime equivalents:

The sky is blue.
The sky appears blue to me.

The earth is shaped like half of a hollowed out rabbit.
I have never observed earth in its entirety and so I am not certain of it’s shape, but it seems to me that it could be shaped like half of a hollowed out rabbit.

In order for life to be meaningful there has to be liberty.
In order to fulfill the meaningfulness I seek in my life I believe I should begin by obtaining liberty.

Pretty seemingly simple stuff until you try to put it into practice. It feels hard enough to do in writing, and trying to practice it conversationally seems almost impossible. Especially once you start taking stock and realize what loaded  communications you produce using these dishonest statements of certainty, and just how often you are doing it.

For some reason we generally find it easier to recognize the faults and delusions of other than ourselves. So where it seems almost impossible to monitor ones own speech for deviant linguistic quirks, it seems much easier to do it to others. Which is why I propose that it might actually provide more productive communications if we translate other peoples speech into E-Prime.

Aside from it often feeling less laborious to use an E-Prime Translator than actually speak in it, there may be some other great benefits.

When you take peoples statements of certainty at face value you often end up identifying the person by them. If you find their statements to be ignorant, callous or otherwise regrettable, you could easily find the person to be unscrupulous and dismiss them entirely. At which point you can no longer have a positive effect on them and vice versa. However if you can recognize their statements as personal only to their own unique experience, you can understand them and avoid identifying them by your points of disagreement. And with understanding comes a bridge where we can meet peacefully with dignity and respect…but most of all…trust. All anathema to mutually agreeable outcomes in most situations.

When faced with the monumental task of gleaning any kind of consensus truth from 7.5 billion people, one can easily feel overwhelmed. If the entire world seems to have gone mad, then your own sanity also comes into question. So long as you have to question the madness of others you must also remain suspicious of your own impending breaks from mental harmony. So if you could start translating other peoples statements in a way that makes them appear less insane to you, chances are you will also feel more secure in who you are. And breaking down self-doubt and insecurity often also breaks down fear and anger, which can lead to increasingly productive and fulfilling states of mind.

Probably the greatest reason for using the E-Prime Translator, from my perspective, is that it could be a good way to practice speaking in it. Yet more importantly, it could facilitate thinking in E-Prime, which was the general intention of its creators in the first place. The more you think in E-Prime the more open you might become to information in the world that could be useful to helping you achieve your goals. Introducing a healthy amount of uncertainty in ones own perceptions in relation to any alleged underlying reality clears up a lot of dogma and makes it possible to see things from many angles not available to those who believe they know what they are seeing the first time, or even before, they see it.

I do not believe it is so much what people believe that defines them, or provides others access to the inner sanctum of their mental picture of the world, but why they believe what it is they believe. And we might be far more amenable to discovering those reasons why if we first interpret their beliefs as only their beliefs and not their total identity.

Language and its contents shape our perceptions. If we transform our perceptions we essentially transform our reality. What greater exercise in self-ownership, independence and personal responsibility could there possibly be?

Facebook Comments