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Is-Y white hats and is-Y black hats.

IN RECENT ISSUES OF ETC., we've been treated to arguments for E-Prime and to arguments for E-Choice. In presenting my two-cents worth, I shall abandon the faintly carnivorous metaphor and switch into the hollywood Western mode: good guys wear white hats and bad guys wear black hats.

The principal E-Prime advocate, Dave Bourland, places black hats on all uses of the verb be. Korzybski explicitly goes along with putting a black hat on the "is of identity." As I read his statement in Science and Sanity, he means by "is of identity" only the copulative use of forms of be followed by a noun or noun construction. This use definitely gets a black hat from him.

This doesn't mean that he avoided such use of be consistently. He admits that he has not sufficiently retrained himself in this aspect of being invariably conscious of abstracting. But he used this verb frequently in other ways. I think he would put white hats on the following uses.

The "is of existence." "I am here." This has no connotation of identicalness.

The "auxiliary is." "I am writing this letter." This is has no more connotation of identicalness (of is and writing) than its root verb, "writing," has.

The "passive is." "This letter is being written to ETC." This use may lack semantic clarity, but it has at least two useful functions. One, to conceal the doer of the deed: "This letter was written." Two, to describe simply a clearly observable operation. "A computer was used to type this letter."

The "is of identity" and the "is of predication" used with a consciousness of abstracting qualifier. "It seems to me that he is a cook." "I believe him to be venal." Such a usage may profitably be followed by an operational description of a reason for the classification, such as "His votes usually support the position of wealthy contributors to his reelection."

The uses of "is of identity" and "is of predication" in conditiona; mode forms such as "maybe," "might be," "could be," "should be." "He may be a cook." Such uses open up possibilities of other preceptions and interpretations and judgments. "But than again, he may be honest."

And now for the "is of predication." "The sky is blue." This tempts me to reach for a gray hat, if such exists. This label, used in a context not evidencing consciousness of abstracting, does imply identicalness. Shall we give it a black hat? But what if the adjective is used attributively rather than as a predicate adjective following a copulative verb? "The jagged snow peak seemed to pierce the blue sky." I can't imagine anyone placing a black hat on an attributive adjective -- of which each of us utters a few thousand every day. Yet it seems to me that there is an equal possibility of identicalness in each kind of usage. Maybe we shall have to give the "is of predication" a white hat with a black feather in it, warning us to call to mind a picture of the structural differential -- plus a subvocal chanting of the mantra: "Whatever you say it is, it isn't."
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Title Annotation:E-prime symposium II
Author:Holmes, Stewart W.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Words:523
Previous Article:Talking to the wall.
Next Article:A Review of to be or Not: An E-Prime Anthology.
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