e-prime sounds like the latest financial trading platform or auction site, but refers to a modified form of english first proposed by linguists in the mid-1960s who sought to substitute all forms of the verb "be", including contractions, in an effort to communicate more dynamically and precisely.
from the wikipedia entry, "this approach can force the writer or speaker to think differently, and can make written text easier to read... in eliminating most uses of the passive mode, it obliges the writer to explicitly acknowledge the agent of a sentence" and to "choose verbs and meanings carefully."
since verbs constitute the skeleton of a sentence, the structure around which all other parts of speech revolve, e-prime has a-priori merit. but how far can it be stretched?
as hemingway "picked the very's", arabic picks at "be", allowing predicate constructions such as "the apple red" rather than "the apple is red." the italian "i am hungry" is "ho fame," transliterated: "(i) have hunger." but despite the absence of a "be" verb, italian puts no more emphasis on the agent than the english nor does it seem more precise or easier to read.
one can imagine a thought-experiment language that transliterates as "i entered (a state of) hunger," or "hunger has me" which would still allow respective speakers to effortlessly understand the underlying meaning. then why not: "i hunger" or "i hungry." by squeezing out redundancy, from an information-theoretic point of view the latter constructions reduce bandwidth without loss of meaning.
it is recognized that like musical genres, cuisines, religions, or any other facet of culture, languages evolve dynamically. they mutate and cross over geo/political/ethnic boundaries. speakers introduce and abandon vocabulary, mix and morph phonetics and structure. like flora and fauna, most species that existed are currently extinct. polynesians alone are thought to have spoken as many as 2000 distinct languages as they spread across the pacific. from graham robb's "the discovery of france," we learn that a 1790 survey found only 11 percent of the population speaking french, and that "a century later, only about a fifth of the population was comfortable speaking french."
"standard language" might be an illusory construct. the concept makes sense at best statically, and averaged across the population, see: john mcwhorther, "word on the street: debunking the myth of a pure standard english."
averaging, or even measuring, isn't as easy as it sounds in complex systems. we have known since the 1960s and mandelbrot's pioneering work on fractal models of nature, that even an operation as seemingly clear-cut as measuring the perimeter of great britain, say, depends on the scale of the "ruler" because of fine geographical features at all length scales: it is not possible to wrap measuring sticks infinitely precisely around all such features, e.g. individual rocks and pebbles and grains of sand. depending on the degree of roughness (that enter as "scaling exponents" in the characterization the corresponding fractal model) passing to increasingly smaller measuring devices doesn't necessarily lead to a limiting value - and in that case, perimeter makes no independent, objective sense.
subcultures, even individuals, can generate analogous small-scale structure in languages that can skew averaging processes. the arabic construction presented above is entirely analogous to american black slang that often ablates the existential in auxilliary. "we riding" has a well-defined, clear meaning even as it is deprecated outside the black community and fans of hiphop.
in line at the post office, i once chatted with a black high school english teacher. to us, ebonics sounded more terse and futuristic than accepted english. i had brought up dylan thomas as a poet who routinely abstracted dictionary meaning from words and rearranged syntax. she understood, saying thomas sounded - in his time - more terse than rimbaud, who took similar liberties with french. likewise, william burroughs - in his time - sounded more futuristic and edgy than thomas and so on. granted, by this time we are talking about essentially phonetic, free-association style nearly devoid of meaning (douglas hofstadter commented on dylan thomas poetry's lack of semantic significance in "metamagical themas"), the polar opposite of a technical paper.
as one physicist who is also a poet remarked, the two jobs are inverse of each other: the physicists's is to make the complex simple and understandable. the poet's is to make the simple complex. so, whether spoken or written, we recognize at least two vertices for the spectrum of usage of a language: language as medium for stylistic expression on the one hand, and language as a precise, transparent tool for technical or journalistic communication on the other.
most day-to-day usage falls somewhere in between - a hybrid. i was born in former yugoslavia where you might see muslims pray in the direction of mecca, while 180 degrees behind them are shelves full of rakia - an example of hybrid religious practice, as alcohol is strictly prohibited by islamic law.
there are no examples on the wikipedia entry to help one go about e-priming his english. who can improve on the following passages - culled from the collection of essays "rational choice" - by e-priming them? best (i.e. clear and precise) entries will be hyperlinked and the very best wins a bottle of prime armagnac.
the rational person of neoclassical economics always reaches the decision that is objectively, or substantively,
best in terms of the given utility function. the rational person of cognitive psychology goes about making his
or her decisions in a way that is procedurarly reasonable in the light of the available knowledge and
means of computation.
herbert simon / "rationality in psychology and economics"
in gambling devices, the nature of uncertainty is explicit since there is
a well-defined sampling space
and sampling procedure. in contrast, when assessing uncertainty in real world tasks, the precision of the
gambling analogy can be misleading.
hillel einhorn + robin hogarth / "decision making under ambiguity"
it is easier to forego a discount than to accept a surcharge because the same price difference
is valued as a gain in the former case and as a loss in the latter.
amos tversky + daniel kahneman / "rational choice and the framing of decisions"
economic theorists usually leave task complexity out of their models by assuming that any decision-making problem,
no matter how complex, will be solved optimally.
descriptive validity would be increased by assuming that the use of simplifying rules
and heuristics (with their accompanying biases) will be used more often in complex
situations (even when the stakes are high.)
richard thaler / "psychology and economics conference handbook"
my colleagues... have been devoting their... econometric prowess to this task and
have reluctantly concluded that the estimating equations are too sensitive even to small variations in the risk
measure to establish confidently whether dividends sell at a discount relative to capital gains.
we are back to black and scholes!
merton miller / "behavioral rationality in finance"
the game is not well understood from a game-theoretic perspective. the version
with unlimited budgets and unlimited time has no solution except infinite bids.
with limitations on endowments, under no circumstances can nonparticipation
by everyone be a nash equillibrium.
charles pott / "rational choice in experimental markets"
from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, our innate plasures, hungers, lusts,
fears, and pains are subgoals, selected as mediating
inclusive fitness. learning takes place in the mediating of such goals. the message of
cybernetics... is that learning itself is a chaining not of
muscle contractions but rather of "acts" organized around the achievement of subgoals.
donald campbell / "rationality and utility"