Re: E-Prime

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Thu, 8 May 1997 18:49:08 -0700 (PDT)

> I have heard that in Hebrew there is no form of the verb to be. I'd be
> interested in hearing this from someone who speaks the language. In
> addition, are there any other natural languages without a form of to be?

That question isn't meaningful. The appropriate question is "In other
languages, how are the various meanings that we express using 'to be'
expressed, and in what ways are they better/worse than English?"

"To be" is used for dozens of different purposes in English, most of
them (but not all) less clear than alternatives. For example, how does
it express set membership ("I am a human"), inherent and transient
properties ("I am tall, I am hungry"), metaphor (I am a quivering mass
of Jello"), progressive tenses ("I am running"), etc. "Passive voice"
applies only to positional languages, but other forms of omission or
elision of modals exists in most (even Lojban, only there every such
elision is unambiguous as to what is elided and why).

Progressive tenses are legal even in E-Prime, so it's the others that
really matter; in particular set membership and elision of modals.
That's where much of what general semanticists complain about resides,
because set membership implies generalization without always saying so.
Generlization is a completely worthwhile, valuable act of cognition,
but it is often abused. Elision is particularly abusable, and while
it can be used to aid expressiveness, it is more often used to avoid
it. In English, one can often use passive voice with "to be" to elide
modals, but the question is not whether other languages have "to be";
the question is can they elide modals, and how common is it?

Any theologist who has studied the Bible can tell you that Hebrew is
every bit as capable of ambiguity and deception as English, whatever
forms are used.

Lee Daniel Crocker <>  <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC