Skip to main content

Dipping toes into Lojban.

4 min read

So I've been chatting with a few esperantists in Korea and Japan. Among them is a Lojbanist.  He often posts simple things (pictures and descriptions of meals) in both Esperanto and Lojban (and Japanese).

I'd never been interested in learning Lojban, because it seemed like a language for American "logic" nerds, with unreal ideas of what human thought was really like.  But here was a real person, not an Anglophone (that I knew of), who was into the language on its own merits, and good at it.  And posting about things like apricot sushi.

So I grabbed some Lojban resources, like these:

Lojban Wave Lessons. These date from the long lost social network, Google Wave. Remember Google Wave?  Me neither. In any case these are fairly hardcore and precise. They teach you details.  I got through about Lesson 15 before my brain started getting too full and I didn't feel like I could usefully continue.

La Karda. An overview that doesn't try to be 100% complete but is still very detailed.

The Crash Course.  This is a little bit radical, it seems to me, because it starts less from the theory and more towards the practice.  For example, in Lojban as it is defined, there are lots of parenthetical expressions with opening and closing "parenthesis" particles.  Like "lo...ku" with a verb (selbri) between the "lo" and the "ku."  The "ku" has no function but to close the "lo" expression. (It's called a "famyma'o" which is pronounced famaMAho")  In Lojban it is possible to end a phrase or sentence with a huge stack of closing parentheses (like (a (LISP (expression))).  However, there are circumstances under which famyma'o may be omitted, and these circumstances obtain much more often than not.  So the Crash Course doesn't even teach you about the famyma'o for many lessons, simply putting them in, or putting particles in which obviate them (like "cu", "shu") when necessary. That's how people would actually speak/write Lojban.

Overall I was very surprised by how "human" it all was. You could never mistake it for a natural language, but it was possible to express yourself very "human"ly -- the meanings of all the words were in terms of human concepts, not some weird abstractions. And there is this big collection of attitudinal particles, which allow you to modify the plain statements you make to add nuances about your feelings and attitude towards what you're saying, as if you were adding things like "wow" or "yeah right" or even "smh."

There's also a sense of playfully/cleverly building meanings from a toolkit which reminded me of Esperanto kunmetaĵoj.

Anyway, I don't know if I will be taking it any further than my week-or-two dive into tutorials and lessons.  It acquainted me with it enough to parse out sentences about Japanese meals.  But I don't know if I want to put tons of work into getting better at it.

BTW, as you might expect with any enterprise, there has been a certain amount of drama. I read this blog post* and was kind of amazed to learn about a person who had made Lojban the most important part of his life and kind of crashed and burned when things didn't go the way he hoped with it.  ("But it's a toy!" It's not a toy to everyone.) That kind of blew my mind.  But then, I thought of how important Esperanto has become in my little world and it didn't seem quite as strange.

Anyway, that's my short and shallow but interesting little journey with Lojban.  I'm not currently planning to take it much further but I have a lot more interest in it than I had a few weeks ago.

Still on the list of future things to investigate: Volapük (gotta give that umlaut key a workout), and Lidepla. I have already met a Volapükist on Twitter, and meeting an existing enthusiast/speaker is an important motivator.  And Lidepla is just cool.

*BTW, I was mightily amused to hear him use the word "logjammin'" to describe being a Lojbanist.