Stylistic issues in Lojban text

How can we know what is good Lojbanic style?

Lojban being a fairly young, artificial language (in one sense, it was created in 1960, in another sense, it's been here only since 1987), little has been worked out about how to use it for sophisticated written works. Lojban hardly has any metaphors at all, and importing them from other languages, or using anything other than literal language, is deprecated. Still, I maintain that Lojban is a rich language, with room for nuances, and with many different ways to say the same thing.

Common conventions

These are some of the conventions that have been used in the Lojbanic literature to up to this date:


You can of course have the persons say lots of quoted text, in this manner:
la pel. cusku lu .e'o ko darxi le veltivni li'u
.i la tut. cusku zo ki'a
.i la pel. cusku lu doi tut .e'o ko darxi le veltivni li'u
.i la tut. cusku lu go'i mu'i ma li'u*
Another way is using is using discursive parantheses to indicate who is saying what - and let the contents of the dialogue flow as normal text. Like this:
sei la pel. cusku se'u
.e'o ko darxi le veltivni
sei la tut. cusku se'u
sei la pel. cusku se'u
doi tut. e'o ko darxi le veltivni
sei la tut. cusku se'u
go'i mu'i ma*
This one is used a lot, among others in an example dialogue in the grammar. But in my humble opinion, this more closely resembles the kind of dialogue used in drama, and should not be used in prose. (As you can see, the latter example is much, much longer than the one above.)


If a predicate claim has been made about something, the word "le" + the predicate, most often refers to it. Thus, in the example "ti gerku .i le gerku cu pu batci mi"*, "le gerku" in the second sentence, may be presumed to be the same as "ti" in the first sentence.

You can use the words "ri", "ra" and "ru", but they are too unspecific for some uses.

The most widely used is assignment with the selma'o KOhA, such as in: "fanri loi ve lanci goi ko'a .i pe'i ko'a dukse kargu"*. A disadvantage with this kind of assignment, at least in spoken communication, is that you have to think beforehand what you want to say more about. It is fine for written work, though.

Cmavo compounds

Even though cmavo compounds (several cmavo written together as one word) have their own dictionary entries, their meaning do not differ from their equivalents written with spaces. Cmavo compounds do not have specific meanings of their own, as lujvo have.

There is some tradition regarding which cmavo should be written in compounds and which should be written as seperate words, but I won't tell you about them. I write every cmavo as a word on its own, and that's what you should do, too. This makes it easier to see where one word starts and another word begins.

The "clear and Lojbanic" style

How does "good Lojban" look like? Some people have the opinion that it's sufficient that the sentences are grammatically correct and to avoid malglico (read more about it in my article about malglico). But Lojban has some special features that most natural languages lack. If you take advantage of those, you can express a lot through few words.

Predicate grammar

From the Lojban introduction course you probably remember the basic Lojban expression - the bridi, or predication. The bridi is what makes Lojban different from all other languages. The most important sign of a good Lojban text, is that it is pervaded by predications. A sign of lingustic innovation, is to use predications in new and unexpected ways.

Let's look at a haiku poem by Jorge Llambías as an example (it appeared on the Lojban mailing list a while ago, and I learnt it by heart because I thought it was so good):

.oisai le nicte
le selgei ca'o kunti
.ije do darno
The word "kunti" means "empty", but unlike the English version, the x2 place in the predication gives additional information, namely what the x1 is empty of, or what specifically there isn't in x1. The word "selgei" is a lujvo for "se gleki", which means "that which someone is happy about".

As you can see, the poem suffers from the translation:

Oh, the night
is still void of joy
And you are far away
The English word "joy" doesn't really capture the full meaning of "selgei", and the position of words isn't as free as in Lojban.

The rich tense system

Lojban does not only have simple tenses, such as "pu" (past tense) "ca" (present tense) and "ba" (future tense), but also what is called "event contours" such as "co'a" (begin), "co'u" (stop) and "ba'o" (finished). Lojban even has "space" tenses, that express where the events take place, relative to the speaker. With space and time tenses, you can be very terse about concepts that require lots and lots of words in other languages, such as English. A good tip if you want to write good Lojban, is to read the chapter about tenses in the reference grammar, and learn it.

Remember that tenses can be used in sumti, too. You can say "le co'u citka" for "the one who stopped eating" and "lo pu zu zdani" "something that was a house a long time ago".

Arnt Richard Johansen,