Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


Article excerpt


As this issue goes to press, the editors received word that ISGS President D. David Bourland, Jr., died on October 12, 2000, at his home in Wichita Falls, Texas, of a heart related illness. We extend sympathy to Mr. Bourland's family.

DAVID BOURLAND has authored and edited many articles and books on general semantics and related matters. Currently President of the International Society for General Semantics, he has served on the boards of the Institute for General Semantics and the ISGS. Many know Mr. Bourland as the "inventor" of E-Prime, English without the verb to be, a discipline which has caused some controversy among general semanticists.

Interviewer: Jeremy Klein, Editor of ETC.

Jeremy Klein: How did you become aware of general semantics in the first place?

D. David Bourland, Jr.: In the early 1940s, I had the good fortune to attend a very upscale summer boys camp. The new experiences I encountered there led to the two main currents of my life: general semantics and weightlifting ... Mens sana in corpore sano in action! My path toward general semantics went through my initial exposure to science fiction, and then to The World of Null-A by A. E. van Vogt. I tried to get Mr. van Vogt to write an introduction to E-Prime III!, but his health problems prevented this cooperation, which obviously would have provided me with one of life's great moments.

Could you share with us some of your memories of Alfred Korzybski?

I will always cherish the time I spent with Korzybski, alone with him or in a group. Let me tell you about the first time I saw him. This took place immediately prior to the opening lecture at the seminar in 1947. I arrived a bit early, as I usually do, and found him seated behind a small table at the front of the lecture room. I found an appropriate desk: not too close, but certainly not too far back. I put my notebook down, sat, and looked up at him. He also studied me, looking at me somewhat suspiciously. One glimpse of him immediately helped me to a better understanding of the vast gulfs that lay between him and me relative to education, life experiences, and actual or potential accomplishments. However, he became warm and friendly toward me over the years, and at our last interview it surprised me when he stated that "Dave, you'll never have a better friend than me."

Your academic career has taken you to some very diverse institutions, including Harvard, Duke University, and the Universidad de Costa Rica. Did you see many differences that surprised you?

Only what I had come to expect: vast differences between the various people who make up the university cultures. Once, in the U.S., I attended a mathematics conference at Duke University in the middle 1960s. Professor Norbert Wiener led the corps of distinguished speakers. And there you had it: Great speakers on the platform, and yet in the halls, the students helped one another with high-school problems. I observed similar dynamics in Costa Rica.

Could you tell us how your interest in and use of general semantics influenced your career?

Such understanding of general semantics as I had, and continue to try to increase, has influenced every element of my "career." I have always consciously tried to keep from believing that I "knew it all." My wonderful friend, the late Harry Holtzman, used to chide me for continuing to attend Korzybski's seminars: "Davy, if you haven't 'got it' by now, you never will." This consists of one of the few disagreements we ever had -- and believe me, you have never met two more contentious people!

You have participated in the development and administration of both the Institute for General Semantics and the International Society for General Semantics. Some thoughts about your efforts in these areas?

The totality of my not too inconsiderable experience in participating in the management of both the Institute and the Society inevitably contributed to my current attitudes. …

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