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Lojban

The artificial language Lojban (SAMPA ['loZban]) was created by the Logical Language Group[?] in 1987 based on the earlier Loglan, with the intent to make the language more complete, usable, and freely available. The language itself shares many of the features and goals of Loglan; in particular:

  • The grammar is based on predicate logic, and is capable of expressing complex logical constructs precisely.
  • It has no irregularities or ambiguities in spelling or grammar, so it can be easily parsed by computer.
  • Lojban is designed to be as culturally neutral as possible.
  • It is, nonetheless, simple to learn and use compared to many natural languages.

While the initial goal of the Loglan project was to investigate the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the active Lojban community has additional goals for the language, including:

  • General research into linguistics.
  • Research in artificial intelligence and machine understanding.
  • Improved human-computer communication, storage ontologies, and computer translation of natural language text.
  • Use of language as an educational tool.
  • Personal creativity.

Lojban Grammar

Lojban has three parts of speech: one (called brivla) for both common nouns and verbs, one (called cmene) for proper nouns, and another (called cmavo) for structural particles: articles, numerals, tense indicators and other such modifiers. The cmavo are further subdivided into selma'o, which are closer to the notion of parts of speech (e.g. UI includes interjections and discursives). There are no adjectives or adverbs in the sense that Indo-European languages have them. The articles inflect to indicate individual, mass, set, or typical element. Brivla do not inflect for tense, person, or number; tense is indicated by separate cmavo, but grammatical number is absent.

As befits a logical language, there is a large assortment of conjunctions. Logical conjunctions take different forms depending on whether they connect sumti (the equivalent of noun phrases), selbri (phrases that can serve as verbs; all brivla are selbri), parts of a tanru (a construct whose closest English equivalent is a string of nouns), or clauses in a sentence.

The typology is Subject Verb Object, with Subject Object Verb also common. Word formation is polysynthetic; many brivla (all of which, except for a handful of borrowings such as alga, have at least five letters) have one to three three-letter forms called rafsi which are used in making longer words. For example, gasnu means "to make something happen"; its rafsi -gau regularly forms compounds meaning "to cause...x", in which the agent is in the subject place of the new predicate.

Lojban has a positional case system, though this can be overridden by marking predicate arguments with explicit modal particles. For instance bramau means "is bigger than"; the bigger thing is in first position, and the smaller is second, and the measured property in the third. So mi bramau do le ka clani means "I am bigger than you in the property of height" or "I am taller than you"; but this could also be expressed as something like fi le ka clani fe do fa mi bramau, "In height, you are exceeded by me".

  • le cinfo cu bramau le mlatu -- "The lion is bigger than the cat"
  • mi bramaugau le cinfo le mlatu -- "I make the lion bigger than the cat"

What a particular place means depends entirely on the brivla. For animals and plants the second place is the species, variety, breed, or other taxon; for verbs of measurement it is the numerical measurement, and a further place is the standard; for klama ("go" / "come") it is the destination.

Something of the flavor of Lojban (and Loglan) can be imparted by this lightbulb joke:

Q: How many Lojbanists does it take to change a broken light bulb?
A: Two: one to decide what to change it into, and one to figure out what kind of bulb emits broken light.
This makes use of two features of the language; first, the language attempts to eliminate polysemy, that is, having a word with more than one meaning. So while the English word "change" can mean "to transform into a different state", or "to replace", or even "small-denomination currency", Lojban has different words for each. In particular, the use of a brivla such as the word for "change" ("binxo") implies that all of its predicate places exist, so there must be something for it to change into. Another feature of the language is that it has no grammatical ambiguities such as appear in English phrases like "big dog catcher", which can mean either a big person who catches dogs or a normal-sized person who catches big dogs. In Lojban, unless you clearly specify otherwise with cmavo, such modifiers always group left-to-right, so "big dog catcher" is a catcher of big dogs, and a "broken light bulb" is a bulb that emits broken light (you can also avoid the ambiguity by creating a new word, so "broken lightbulb" has the intended meaning).

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