About Lojban, by Matt Arnold
by Matt Arnold, President of the Board of Directos of LLG in 2009.
Did you ever feel that language is a haphazard assortment of cultural accidents? Lojban is an artificial language, designed over more than fifty years by a volunteer organization of linguists and logicians to be a powerful system. Take a look under the hood!
Many constructed languages, like Star Trek's Klingon or Tolkien's Elvish language, do not have a vocabulary large enough to be useful. Lojban has a large vocabulary of more than 8,000 words and growing. Lojban also has hundreds of enthusiasts, which by the standards of constructed languages, is a large community.
What Lojban does not have is a lot of fluent speakers; only a few dozen. They were self-taught because the only opportunities to speak Lojban are on the internet. They include Nick Nicholas, Robin Lee Powell, and Jorge Llambias. There are many others whose thorough command of the vocabulary and grammar allows them to compose most utterances in Lojban without assistance, but cannot do so at the speed of thought. The problem for language acquisition, as opposed to the memorization of vocabulary and grammar facts, is that thinking in a second language can be achieved by self-teaching only by those who are exceptionally gifted.
Lojban is easier than natural language in some ways, and more difficult in others. It eliminates the arbitrary rule exceptions that make natural languages so difficult. It builds complex structures rigorously from a limited number of elegant components, so it's systematic. Lojban's difficulty results from how weirdly alien it is.
This is great if you love language for the same reasons you prefer Linux– it's not about how many other people use it. If your main reason for learning an artificial language is to have more people to speak to, Esperanto will be better for you than Lojban. Esperanto is an excellent project for its purposes.
In the mundane workaday world, the average population doesn't like learning language. Many of them consider learning their own first language a tiresome necessity, to say nothing of a second one! Many of them would wish to dispense with the bare minimum language learning required to communicate the practicalities of life in their immediate environment. By emphasizing inter-cultural communication in its global mission, Esperanto gives its adherents a respectable excuse to tell their family and friends who would rather avoid language learning altogether and can't imagine why anyone would enjoy language. Many people feel embarrassed that they enjoy learning for its own sake.
That's fine. But I let my geek flag fly with pride, and don't need a practical excuse for it. Lojban turns it into far more than a metaphor– there's an actual flag. It's our own secret geek code. If everybody learned it, we'd probably stop.
Lojban is a hobby, and like most hobbies from model ships to stamp collecting, it's a way to practice certain enjoyable skills and explore a mystique. Lojban is a fun and fascinating game with which to learn about semantics and expand the mind. The mystique is in learning first-hand that the familiar things we grow up with and take for granted are really not the only way. Those who study Chinese, Hopi Indian, Farsi, Russian or Hindi might tell you that breaking out of their provincialistic mold and trying to look at the world from another side of the planet was an exhilarating experience. Lojban gives you all of these languages' features that are the most expressively flexible, and most unfamiliar, simultaneously. To a curious and exploratory individual, Lojban offers a veritable buffet menu of exotic expression tools. For such purposes, the challenge is a feature, not a bug.
So, which one has more bang for the buck? That depends what bang you're looking for. To get a “tiresome” process over with quick and speak to more people, choose Esperanto.
To get a language with the meat of fascination hanging on its bones, more powerfully alien than Klingon could ever hope to be– to get a direct injection of neuropetrol – choose Lojban.
- Matt Arnold
President, Board of Directors
Logical Language Institute