Top 7 Reasons to Learn Lojban

Posted: 2008-02-16

So i haven't actually learned to speak Lojban yet, but it's really cool. It is a constructed, or engineered, language. Originally called "Loglan" (short for "logical language") by project founder Dr. James Cooke Brown, who started the language development in 1955, it has been built over three decades by dozens of workers and hundreds of supporters, led since 1987 by The Logical Language Group. Why should you learn it?

  1. Think differently.
    Learning Lojban is a mind-expanding experience. Lojban was initially designed for the purpose of supporting research on a concept known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: "the structure of a language constrains the thinking of people using that language." Lojban allows the full expressive capability of a natural language, but differs in structure from other languages in major ways. This allows its use as a test vehicle for scientists studying the relationships between language, thought, and culture.

    The hypothesis states that the structure of a language constrains and influences the culture that uses it. In other words, if concepts or structural patterns are difficult to express in a language, the society and culture using the language will tend to avoid them. Individuals might overcome this barrier, but the society as a whole will not. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is important and controversial: it can be used as a sociological argument to justify or to oppose racism and sexism (and a variety of other 'isms'). A simple example is the assertion that since genderless expressions in English use 'masculine' forms, English is 'sexist'. This presumes the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to be true. Understanding the potential for Sapir-Whorf effects could lead to better inter-cultural understanding, promoting communication and peace.

    Unique features of Lojban remove constraints on language in the areas of logic, ambiguity, and expressive power, opening up areas of thought that have not been easily accessible by human language before. Meanwhile, the formal rigidity of the language definition allows speakers to carefully control their expressions (and therefore perhaps their thought processes).
  2. Be specific.
    Did you know that due to the natural language processing of English, the spoken phrase "pretty little girls school" can be interpreted in a bunch of different ways depending on the groupings of the words and interpreted meanings of them? It could be interpreted as {pretty {little {girls school}}}, {{pretty little} {girls school}}, {{pretty {little girls}} school}, and so on. Does the school look little? Do the girls look little? Do the girls look pretty? Does the school look pretty? Then you can also ask, does the word pretty mean 'beautiful' or 'fairly'? Is it the school that the girl goes to, or is it an all-girls school? Lojban can express each and every single one of these meanings without ambiguity and without circumlocution or overhead.

    Lojban enables metalinguistic discussion about the sentences being spoken while remaining unambiguous. It also supports a 'tense' logic that allows extreme specificity of time and space relationships, even those implied by time travel. Lojban's grammar is designed to support unambiguous statement of mathematical expressions and relations in a manner compatible with both international usage and Lojban's non-mathematical grammar.

    Lojban has an unambiguous grammar (proven by computer analysis of a formal grammar with YACC), pronunciation, and morphology (word forms). The person who reads or hears a Lojban sentence is never in doubt as to what words it contains or what roles they play in the sentence. Lojban has no words that sound alike but have different meanings (like "herd" and "heard"), that have multiple unrelated meanings ("set"), or that differ only in punctuation but not in sound (like the abominable "its" and "it's"). There is never any doubt about where words begin and end ("cargo shipment" can be heard as 2, 3, or 4 words). The function of each word is clear: there is nothing like the English "Time flies like an arrow," in which any of the first three words could be the verb. Precision in no way confines the meaning of a Lojban sentence. It is possible to speak nonsense, to tell a lie, or to be misunderstood. You can be very specific, or you can be intentionally vague. Your hearer may not understand what you meant, but will always understand what you said.
  3. Speak to computers.
    Lojban was designed as a human language, and not as a computer language. It is therefore intended for use in conversation, reading, writing, and thinking. However, since Lojban can be processed by a computer much more easily than can a natural language, Lojban-based computer applications are a natural expectation. Due to its unambiguous grammar and simple structure, it can be easily parsed (broken down for analysis) by computers, making it possible for Lojban to be used in the future for computer-human interaction, and perhaps conversation. Lojban's predicate structure is similar to existing artificial intelligence (AI), suggesting it as a powerful tool in AI processing, especially in the storing and processing of data about the world and people's conceptions of it. Linguists are interested in Lojban's potential as an intermediate language in computer-aided translation of natural languages.

    Those with a computer background can lead development of the first computer applications for the language. Expertise in the language will no doubt be valuable as Lojban becomes recognized as a useful tool for computer applications by the computer industry. Computer-oriented Lojbanists can also aid in developing computer-aided instruction tools or converting existing software to run on new computers.
  4. It makes sense.
    Lojban's pronunciation, spelling, word formation, and grammar rules are fixed, and the language is free of exceptions to these rules. Each Lojban sound is uniquely assigned to a single letter, or combination of letters. Each letter is defined to have a particular set of possible pronunciations, such that there is no overlap between letter sounds. The forms of Lojban words are also extremely regular. This, coupled with the phonology rules, allows a stream of speech to be uniquely broken down into its component words. The written language corresponds exactly to the sounds of the spoken language; spelling is phonetic and unambiguous, and the flowing sounds of the language break down into words in only one possible way. These features make computer speech recognition and transcription more practical. Learning to pronounce and spell Lojban is trivial.

    Lojban is simple and sensible. Its grammar is based on the principles of logic. It's unambiguous. It's regular and phonetic. It's everything that language should be.
  5. Be expressive.
    Lojban is a beautiful language. Lojban has a smooth, rhythmic sound, somewhat like Italian. However, its consonants create a fullness and power found in Slavic languages like Russian, and the large number of vowel pairs impart a hint of Chinese, Polynesian, and other Oriental languages, though without the tones that make many of those languages difficult for others to learn.

    Original poetry has already been written in Lojban, and some has been translated into the language. Lojban's powerful 'tanru' metaphor structure allows you to build concepts into words easily, as you need them, and has been used to create colorful images and to convey moving emotions. A Lojban speaker doesn't need a dictionary to use and understand the millions of words that can potentially exist in the language. The absence of cultural constraints makes consideration of new ideas and relationships easier than in natural languages, spurring creativity. Lojban aids in communicating abstractions by identifying their nature explicitly. Lojban is thus a very powerful language, not only for poetry, but for discussing such abstract fields as philosophy, physics, metaphysics, and religion.

    Lojban poets are already experimenting with new (and old) forms of poetry that seem especially well suited to the rhythm, sound, and flow of the language. Rarely do poets have such an opportunity to affect the development of a new language as they do now with Lojban. Lojban is rich and powerful. Lojban unleashes the full potential of poetic expression to communicate both concrete and abstract ideas.
  6. It's easy.
    Lojban is actually much simpler than natural languages. It is only slightly more complex in its grammar than the current generation of computer languages. Lojban seems complex only because the varieties of human thought are complex, and Lojban is designed to minimize constraints on those thoughts. Lojban text can appear longer and more complex due to its lack of idiom, its complete explicitness of logical structure, and most importantly, its unfamiliarity. On the other hand, conversational speech uses less than half of the possible grammatical structures, leaving the rest for writing and for other circumstances when one is likely to take time to carefully formulate exact logical phrasings.

    Lojban is free of exceptions to the rules of pronunciation, spelling, word formation, and grammar. Such exceptions, which are present in other languages, are the bane of learning to speak a natural language correctly. Without the burden of ambiguity, Lojban users can be precise and specific more easily than in other languages.

    Because Lojban's grammar is simple, it is easier to learn than other languages. Using flashcard-like techniques, a working vocabulary including the complete set of 1350 root words can take 8-12 weeks of study at 1 hour per day. It is by no means uncommon for people who embark on learning Lojban to be able to write grammatical Lojban within a few days, and to hold at least a limited conversation within a few weeks. Natural languages, especially English, take several years to learn to a comparable level of skill.

    The available Lojban teaching materials are structured so that you can learn the language without classroom instruction or a close community of speakers. Communication practice with others is needed to achieve fluency, but you can start using the language as you achieve proficiency.
  7. Have fun.
    You needn't learn Lojban for any practical purpose. Many of those learning Lojban are doing so because it is fun. Learning Lojban is intellectually stimulating, and provides human interaction and mental challenge. Lojban has all the benefits of games designed for entertainment, with the added prospect of developing useful skills as a side benefit. Learning Lojban as an 'intellectual toy' means that you can get enjoyment from learning Lojban without nearly the effort needed to benefit from studying other languages. While becoming fluent in Lojban will probably take hundreds of hours over several months, you can feel some sense of accomplishment in the language after just a few hours of study. You can use Lojban immediately for fun, while gaining skill with greater experience.
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Really, there is way too much to sum up here, in one blog post, but i promise you, if you are the creative type or the logical type (hopefully you fall into at least one of these), lojban will appeal to you more and more as you learn more about it and start to learn it yourself.

Even better, learn to write it with tengwar. Why?