Why I like Lojban

Warning: this page is intended as propaganda. It only tells you one side of the story. Here is the other side. Think before you believe.

In the beginning, there was Loglan

It started back in 1995 or 1996, I think. I had no Internet access, and used to dial local BBSes and download lots of informative text files. One of these files was named The Esperanto FAQ. One of the questions was the following:
6. What about other `artificial' languages like Loglan, Ido, etc.?
The answer was along the line of: "Esperanto rules, because it's intended as an international language; Loglan and Lojban suck, because they're intended as an experiment. But if you're still interested, visit web page xxx, or send an e-mail to xxx."

Having no web access, but a free e-mail account on a BBS, I sent a mail to James Cooke Brown, the founder of the Loglan project, asking humbly for "information about Loglan and Lojban". After a brief correspondence, I received an envelope in my paper mail, containing a Scientific American article from 1960 (by JCB), an article from another, less known magazine (written by somebody else), and finally a price list of all the material the Loglan Institute were selling.

The language description in the SciAm article was intriguing. I particularly liked the idea of not having to distinguish between noun, adjective and verb, and the idea of having particles instead of inflections. I wanted to learn this language, but I couldn't. The dictionaries and grammars cost too much, so I put the materials away for a while. I wasn't bothered by that Lojban wasn't mentioned anywhere. I reckoned it was only some bastardized, inferior version of Loglan (the Esperanto FAQ called Lojban a "spin-off" of Loglan).

How I discovered Lojban

It wasn't until late 1997 that I discovered Lojban, in the form of a mailing list at FIX. At first glance, the language didn't seem to bear much similarity with the Loglan of the 1960 SciAm article. It didn't have any familiar words, and it was written with only small letters. Besides, they used Lojban terminology (e.g. gismu, selma'o, cmavo, bridi), where the Loglan people used Greek/Latin/English coinings (e.g. prim, lexeme, operator word, predication).

When I discovered the Lojban FAQ, I finally got some sense into it all. It seemed that the Lojban folks (the Logical Language Group) had broken away from the Loglan folks (the Loglan Institute), partly because JCB claimed copyright to the language (any use of Loglan had to be approved by him). The LLG saw itself as the "living" part of the Loglan project, and TLI as dying. Only a handful of people still used Loglan, and many of them were members of the LLG, too.

In order to circumvent JCB's copyright claims, they remade the about 1300 root words (gismu) from scratch, and they also gradually made new operator words (cmavo). They also won a trial in court over whether they could call their version of the language "Loglan".

But what really was interesting about the FAQ, was that I could download full details about the language for free, by FTP. The grammar and LogFlash quickly found their way to my hard disk, where they have stayed ever since.

Why I stayed with Lojban

Lojban is unique

I'll talk about the place structures first, the very trademark of the Lojbanic sentence structure. Each Lojban predicate word, or brivla, relates concepts, varying in numbers from one to five (some brivla deviate from this rule, and can take an arbitrary number of arguments). The number and nature of these arguments define the meaning of the brivla. Thus, words that are very close in meaning in other languages, are radically different to each other in Lojban.

For example, take the words tavla, casnu, cusku, and bacru.

x1 (a person) talks to x2 (a person (in general, another person, but possibly himself)) about x3 (a subject/topic) in x4 (a language).
x1 (a group of people) talks about x2 (a topic).
x1 says x2 (quoted words, or concept) to x3 (the intended audience) via x4 (a medium, might be his voice, a letter, or a web page).
x1 says (he is using his vocal chords) x2 (quoted words, or only a non-verbal sound).

Another nice feature of Lojban is its large number shorthand words. For instance, you have "go'i", which repeats the last sentence (often used as "yes" in the meaning "yes, that's true"), "zu'i", which means "the typical", "ca'e", which means "I hereby declare", "pe'i", which means "in my opinion" (you'll use it a lot), and so forth and so on.

In Lojban, there are so many ways to say the same things. Its rules allow you to shape the sentences into the patterns of other languages, or to say things in completely new ways. For instance, take the sentence "I was bit by a dog":

English style:
mi pu se batci lo gerku
I was bit by a dog
Spanish style:
pu se batci lo gerku
Was bit by a dog
German style:
mi lo gerku ba'o se batci
I have, by a dog, been bit
Chinese style:
batci gerku
Bite dog
Turkish style:
fe lo gerku pu selbatci fa mi
By a dog bit was I
Invented example (Yoda-speak?):
pu batci mi fa lo gerku
Bit me have a dog

Lojban is different

Lojban is radically different from all the natural languages I know about. It is true that an exact translation from colloquial English to Lojban may be very long and verbose, but this is because the English uses constructs that are alien to the Lojban mindset. In the same way, Lojban sentences may come out as very long and convoluted English, if an exact translation is required. Here are some examples.

Lojban is our language

When the so-called "baseline" expires some years after 2003, there is no longer any central authority on what is right and what is wrong. We, the speakers of Lojban, get to construct new words and idioms, and decide where the language is heading. We can actually be the Shakespeares and Dickenses of a complete, new language. Learn Lojban now and become a living legend!
Arnt Richard Johansen, arj@fix.no