lojban Mini-Lesson

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NOTE:This lesson is somewhat out-dated but still valuable as an

introduction to the basic concepts of Lojban.

Copyright, 1991, by the Logical Language Group, Inc. 2904 Beau Lane,

Fairfax VA 22031-1303 USA Phone (703) 385-0273 [email protected]

All rights reserved. Permission to copy granted subject to your

verification that this is the latest version of this document, that

your distribution be for the promotion of Lojban, that there is no

charge for the product, and that this copyright notice is included

intact in the copy.

  • {ALINK(aname=>intro)}Introduction{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>predicate)}The concept of the predicate{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>placestr)}Place structures{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>pronunciation)}Pronunciation{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>singlewds)}Single words that can act as sumti{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>ellipsis)}Ellipsis{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>variant)}Variant forms of the bridi{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>switching)}sumti switching{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>selbrimod)}selbri modification{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>selbriconv)}Converting a selbri to a sumti{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>marking)}Marking the selbri{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>names)}Names{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>vocatives)}Vocatives and imperatives{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>greetings)}Greetings{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>attitudinals)}Attitudinals{ALINK}
  • {ALINK(aname=>yesorno)}Yes or no questions{ALINK}


This is the 16 September 1991 draft of the Lojban Mini-Lesson, an

introduction to the language that is intended to give readers a

basic idea as to how Lojban looks and sounds, and how it differs

from English and other languages. For those familiar with it, this

corresponds to the first of the Esperanto Postal Course lessons,

except that thus far, this is the only lesson, and it covers a bit

more of the language in one unit.

This mini-lesson is expected to

become a mainstay of our introductory package for Lojban. At this

posting we already have people committed to translate this into

Esperanto and Swedish, and other language versions are expected to


We are interested in comments on the readability and

understandability of this material. We especially want people to go

through it, and then to try the exercises at the end, so we can

determine whether the lesson teaches the material and whether the

exercises are appropriate and within the capability of the student. We

want responses from both active Lojbanists and people who have not seen

any of our material before.

We are interested in more than just

corrections of typos—we want to know what you understood, and what

needs more explanation. LLG will commit to providing individual

responses to all questions generated from this draft circulation, and

will provide an commented answer key to anyone who returns a completed

response (please allow a little time for these responses—we have no

idea how much volume is to be generated). For our benefit, if you do

the exercises. please let us know whether you did them as you went

along, or after reading the entire lesson text, and also give us a rough

idea how much time the entire lesson took.

Of course this may cause

reviewers to become more interested in learning Lojban, and we certainly

would not object to that. Contact LLG at the address above for more


(Note: There are exercises at the end of the lesson for each

section. You may do these exercises as you go along, or wait until you

complete the entire lesson.)

{ANAME()}predicate{ANAME}1. The concept of the predicate

Let us consider John and Sam and three statements about them:

"John is the father of Sam"

"John hugs Sam"


"John is taller than Sam"

These all describe relationships between John and Sam. However, in

English, we

use a noun to describe a static relationship (1), a verb to describe an

active relationship (2) and an adjective to describe an attributive

relationship (3). In Lojban we make no such grammatical distinctions;

these three sentences, when expressed in Lojban, are grammatically

identical. The same part of speech is used to represent the

relationship. In formal logic this whole structure is called a

predicate; in Lojban it is called a "bridi", and

the central part of speech is the "selbri".

Logicians refer to the things thus related as

arguments, while Lojbanists call them "sumti".

These Lojban terms will be used for the rest of the lesson.

''bridi'' (predicate)



| |

John is the uncle of Sam

|'| |''''''''''''''''_| |_|

| | |


''sumti''  ''selbri''   ''sumti'' (argument) 

{ANAME()}placestr{ANAME}2. Place structures

In a relationship, there are a definite number of things being

related. In English, for example, "give" has three places: the donor,

the recipient and the gift. For example:

-+John gives Sam the book.+- and -+Sam gives John the book.+-

mean two different things because the relative positions of

"John" and "Sam" have been switched.

Further, -+The book gives John Sam.+- seems

strange to us merely because the places are being filled by unorthodox

arguments. The relationship expressed by "give" has not changed.

In Lojban, a given selbri has a specified

number of arguments. The simplest selbri consists of a single root word, called a "gismu", and

the definition in a gismu word-list gives the place structure

explicitly. The primary task of constructing a Lojban sentence, after

choosing the relationship itself, is deciding what you will use to fill

in the sumti places.

{ANAME()}pronunciation{ANAME}3. Pronunciation

Lojban has six recognized vowels: "a", "e", "i", "o", "u" and "y".

The first five are the pure Romance vowels: "a" as in "father", "e" as

in "let", "i" as in "machine", "o" as in "dome" and "u" as in "flute".

"y" is pronounced as the sound called "schwa"; that is, as the

unstressed "a" as in "about" or "around".

Twelve consonants in Lojban

are pronounced more or less as their counterparts are in English: "b",

"d", "f", "k", "l", "m", "n", "p", "r", "t", "v" and "z". The "c", on

the other hand is pronounced as the "sh" in "hush", while "j" is its

'voiced' counterpart, the sound of the "s" in "pleasure". "g" is always

hard as it is in "gift", never as in "giant". "s" is as in "sell", never

as in "rose". The sound of "x" is not found in English; it is like

'breathing through' a "k". It is found as "ch" in Scottish "loch", as

Spanish "j", and as "ch" in some dialects of German. It gets easier to

say as you practice it. "r" can be trilled, but doesn't have to be.

Lojban also has three 'semi-letters': the period, the comma and the

apostrophe. The period represents a glottal stop or a pause; it is a

required stoppage of the flow of air in the speech stream. The

apostrophe sounds just like the English letter "h". Unlike a regular

consonant, it is not found at the beginning or end of a word, nor is it

found adjacent to a consonant; it is only found between two vowels. The

comma has no sound associated with it, and is used to separate syllables

that might ordinarily run together. It is only found inside names taken

from other languages (it helps preserve the original sound of a


Stress falls on the next to the last syllable of all words,

except if that vowel is 'y', which is never stressed; in such words the

third-to-last syllable is stressed. If a word only has one syllable,

then that syllable is not stressed.

{ANAME()}singlewds{ANAME}4. Single words that can act as sumti

Some words can be used singly to fill in a sumti place. mi I, me, we, us, the speaker (and maybe others,

unspecified)—Lojban words (unless explicitly quantified, i.e.

labeled with a number), do not

distinguish between singular and plural forms. do you, you all,

thou, the person(s) addressed by the speaker ti this thing, this person, this place (usually indicated by a gesture) ta that thing,

that person, that place tu that yonder

thing, that yonder person, that yonder place zo'e something, it's not important that you know

what ("zo'e" is used as a place filler) da something, I haven't determined what ("da" is the 'existential variable'

of logic) ma what?, fill in this blank ("ma" is used for

asking some kinds of questions) Let's look at a simple Lojban bridi. The place

structure of the gismu "tavla" is -+ x{SUB()}1{SUB} talks to x{SUB()}2{SUB} about x{SUB()}3{SUB} in language x{SUB()}4{SUB} +- This bridi will

then have the form -+ x{SUB()}1{SUB} tavla x{SUB()}2{SUB} x{SUB()}3{SUB} x{SUB()}4{SUB} +-

For example:

mi tavla do zo'e zo'e means I talk to you about something in some language.

do tavla mi ta zo'e means You talk to me about that thing in a


mi tavla zo'e tu ti means I talk to someone about that thing

yonder in this language.

ta tavla ma mi zo'e means That person talks to who(?) about me in

some language. or Who is that

person talking to about me?

{ANAME()}ellipsis{ANAME}5. Ellipsis

There are many words in Lojban that do not need to be written or

spoken aloud for them to operate. For example, when "zo'e" is left off of the end of the bridi, it is understood that the sumti place still exists, and is filled with some

unstated sumti. This process is called

ellipsis. Trailing "zo'e"s are almost always


mi tavla do means I talk to you.

do tavla mi means You talk to me.

da tavla ta means Someone talks to that person.

do tavla zo'e mi means You are talking about me.

zo'e tavla mi do means Someone talks to me about you.

{ANAME()}variant{ANAME}6. Variant forms of the bridi

Thus far you have seen one sumti before the selbri with any

remaining sumti coming afterward. In fact, the selbri may come after

any number of the sumti without changing the

meaning of the bridi (but not before all of

them). So: -+mi tavla do ti I talk to you about this. mi do tavla ti I, to you, talk about this. and mi do ti tavla I, to you, about this, talk. +- all represent the

same relationship. The important thing is that the order of the sumti has not changed. These variations similarly

apply to selbri with

different numbers of sumti.

{ANAME()}switching{ANAME}7. sumti switching

For one reason or another you may want to change the order, placing

one particular sumti at the front of the bridi. The operator "se",

placed before the last word of the selbri, will

switch the meanings of

the first and second sumti places. So -+mi tavla do ti I talk to you about this. +-

has the same meaning as -+do se tavla mi ti You are talked to by me about this. +- The operator


used in the same place, switches the meanings of the first and the third

sumti places. -+mi tavla do ti I talk to you about this. +- has the same meaning

as -+ti te tavla do mi This is talked about to you by me. +- Note that only the first and third

sumti have switched places; the second sumti has remained in the second place.

The operators "ve" and "xe" switch the first and fourth sumti places, and the first and fifth sumti places, respectively.

More than

one of these operators may be used on a given selbri at one time, and in

such a case they are evaluated from left to right. However, in practice

they are used one at a time, as there are better tools for complex

manipulation of the sumti places.

{ANAME()}selbrimod{ANAME}8. selbri modification

When two gismu are adjacent the first one

modifies the second, and the selbri takes its

place structure from the rightmost word. For

example, "sutra" means "x{SUB()}1{SUB} is fast at doing

x{SUB()}2{SUB}"; "sutra tavla"

means "x{SUB()}1{SUB} talks fast to x{SUB()}2{SUB} about x{SUB()}3{SUB} in language x{SUB()}4{SUB}".

Specifically, the meaning of the first place of the first word is what

modifies the next word: "sutra tavla" means

"x{SUB()}1{SUB} is a fast-thing type of talker to x{SUB()}2{SUB} about x{SUB()}3{SUB} in

language x{SUB()}4{SUB}".

When three or

more gismu are in a row, the first modifies the second, and that

combined meaning modifies the third, and that combined meaning modifies

the fourth, and so on. For example, "sutra tavla cutci" means "x{SUB()}1{SUB}

is a fast-talker type of shoe (for x{SUB()}2{SUB} of material x{SUB()}3{SUB})". That is,

it is a shoe that is worn by a fast talker rather than a shoe that is

fast and is also worn by a talker.

{ANAME()}selbriconv{ANAME}9. Converting a selbri to a sumti

Often we wish to talk about things other than the speaker, the

listener and things we can point to. Let's say I want to talk about a

talker other than "mi". What I want to talk

about would naturally fit into the first place of "tavla". Lojban, it turns out, has an operator

that pulls this first place out of a selbri and

converts it to a sumti. "le

tavla" refers to "the talker", and may be

used as a sumti.


that the double underline in examples marks the selbri, while each

single underline marks a sumti. This notation

is only for clarifying the sentence structure and is not a part of the



mi tavla do le tavla

-- ===== -- --------


I talk to you about the talker



"le sutra tavla" is "the fast talker", and "le sutra te tavla"

is "the fast subject of talk" or "the subject of fast

talk". (Which of these

related meanings is understood will depend on the context in which the

expression is used. The most plausible interpretation within the

context will generally be assumed by a listener to be the intended one.)

{ANAME()}marking{ANAME}10. Marking the selbri

There is a problem when we want to say "the fast one is talking";

"le sutra tavla" means "the fast talker", not

"the fast one is talking". To solve this problem we mark the selbri with the word "cu".

The word "cu" has no meaning, and stands only to

mark the beginning of the selbri within the bridi, separating it from a previous

sumti. It comes before any other operator, such

as "se" or "te". So:


le sutra tavla means the fast talker

le sutra cu tavla means The fast one is talking.


le sutra se tavla means The fast talked-to one.

le sutra cu se tavla means The fast one is talked to.



"cu" is always assumed to be in front of the selbri. It may be elided

(left out) if this will not alter the grammar of the sentence, as in "mi cu

tavla do".

{ANAME()}names{ANAME}11. Names

All words in Lojban end in vowels except for names. Names end in a

consonant followed by a pause or glottal stop, either of which is

represented by a period. Note that all grammatical punctuation in

Lojban is spoken and represented by words rather than symbols. Names

are 'Lojbanized' by conforming them to Lojban spelling and providing a

final consonant if there isn't one; this consonant is typically "s" or

"n" for English names, but any Lojban consonant may be used.

Remember that a comma without spaces around it in the middle of a name can be

used to separate syllables that would ordinarily be run together in


To convert a Lojbanized name into a sumti,

use the article "la". "la

djan." is "the one called John". For obvious reasons, the

letter sequence "la" may not occur inside any

name. Likewise, "doi" may not appear in a name,

for reasons that will be obvious in the following

section. (If a name would use either of these two sound patterns, it

must be changed, perhaps to use "ly" or "le", "do'i" or "dei" instead.)

{ANAME()}vocatives{ANAME}12. Vocatives and imperatives

You may call someone's attention to the fact that you are

addressing them by using "doi" followed by their

name. The phrase "doi djan." means "Oh, John,

I'm talking to you". It also has the effect of

setting the value of "do"; "do" now refers to "John" until it is changed

in some way in the conversation.

If you say "do tavla", it means "you

are talking". For the imperative in Lojban, the word "ko" is

substituted for "do". The phrase "ko tavla"

instructs the listener to do whatever is necessary to make "do tavla"

true. For example:


ko tavla means Talk.

-- =====

ko sutra means Be fast.

-- =====

mi tavla ko means Be talked to by me.

-- ===== --

or Let me talk to you.


"ko" can fill any appropriate sumti place, and can be used as often as

is appropriate for the selbri: "ko kurji ko" and "ko ko kurji" both

mean "You take care of you" and "Be taken care of by you", or to put it

colloquially, "Take care of yourself".

{ANAME()}greetings{ANAME}13. Greetings

In all natural languages, greeting words are idiomatic. In Lojban

"coi" means "hello" and "co'o" means "good-bye". Either word may stand

alone, they may follow one another, or either may be followed by a pause

and a name.

''coi. djan.''      means    Hello, John. 

''co'o. djan.'' 	means    Good-bye, John.

{ANAME()}attitudinals{ANAME}14. Attitudinals

Different cultures express emotions and attitudes with a variety of

intonations and gestures that are not included in the written language.

Some of these are available in some languages as ejaculations (i.e.

Aha!, Oh no!, Ouch!, Aahh!, etc.), but they vary greatly from culture to

culture. Lojban has a part of speech known as an 'attitudinal' which

specifically covers this type of commentary on spoken statements. They

are both written and spoken, but require no specific intonation or

gestures. Grammatically they are very simple: one or more attitudinals

at the beginning of a bridi apply to the entire

bridi; anywhere else in the bridi they apply to the word immediately to the


Some attitudinals are:


Lojban English attitude Ejaculations and other English used

'''' ''''''''''''''''''' ''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''_

.a'o hope hopefully, I hope

.e'o request, petition, please!, get it done!

command (with rank)

.iu love, endearment,


.oi complaint, discomfort Oy!, Ouch!

.ua discovery Eureka!

.ui happy, cheerful Whee!

.uu pity, compassion Aww!


Attitudinals represent scales of emotion,

and there are some indicators available to show where on the scale you



cai intense or absolute .iucai intense love

extreme feeling

sai strong feeling .iusai strong love

ru'e weak or mild feeling .iuru'e mild love

cu'i indifference .iucu'i "no love lost"

nai single word negator .iunai hate, enmity

naicai intense opposite .iunaicai intense hate

naisai strong opposite .iunaisai strong hatred

nairu'e mild or weak opposite .iunairu'e mild hatred


Intensity indicators may stand on their own, indicating intensity of

emotion while leaving the emotion unspecified, or they may be used to

modify another attitudinal, but they will only modify the word

immediately to the left. Thus ".a'o.uu"

expresses hope mixed with pity, but ".a'o.uucai" expresses "hope mixed

with intense pity", not "intense hope mixed with intense pity". (Note

that, unlike in a selbri, attitudinals do not

modify each other in any strict order, but are mixed. If multiple

emotions are indicated, the one that the speaker wants most to express

usually comes first.)

{ANAME()}yesorno{ANAME}15. Yes or no questions

All yes or no questions in English may be reformulated to begin "Is

it true that ...". In Lojban we have a word that asks precisely that

question in precisely the same way. "xu" placed

in front of a bridi asks whether that bridi is true as stated. "xu", however, is

technically an attitudinal and can go almost anywhere in the bridi, in which case it asks the same question but

emphasizes the word immediately

to the left of it. So


xu do tavla mi means Is it true that you are talking to me?

-- ===== --

do xu tavla mi means Are you the one talking to me?

-- ===== --

do tavla xu mi means Talking to me? Is that what you're doing?

-- ===== --

do tavla mi xu means Is it me you are talking to?

-- ===== --


An affirmative answer may be given by simply restating the bridi. Lojban has a shorthand for doing this with

the word "go'i". This word stands for the whole

bridi and assumes the values represented by the

sumti are unchanged unless you specifically

replace them. Instead of a negative answer, the bridi may be restated in such a way as to make it

true. If this can be done by substituting sumti, it may be done with "go'i" as well.

question:   ''xu do kanro''         Are you healthy? 

answer:     ''mi kanro'' 	        I am healthy. 

or: 	''go'i'' 		I am healthy. ("''do''" to the 

questioner is "''mi''" to the 


or: 	''le tavla cu kanro''   The talker is healthy. 

or: 	''le tavla cu go'i''    The talker is healthy. 

A general negative answer may be given by "na go'i". "na" may be placed before any selbri (but after the "cu").

It is equivalent to stating "It is not true that ..." before the bridi. It does not imply that anything else is true

or untrue, only that that specific bridi is not


{ANAME()}other{ANAME}16. Other terms

All gismu have combining-forms associated with

them which may be combined into compounds called "lujvo". All gismu have at least one

combining-form associated with them and may have as many as four, not

counting the full form of the word, which may only appear at the end of

a lujvo. The short combining-forms or affixes are called "rafsi". A

lujvo may act in any way like a gismu within a bridi. Any

word that can behave in this way is called a "brivla"; that is, a brivla is any word

that can stand alone in a selbri or can modify

another brivla.


two or more brivla are strung together in a selbri or a sumti, the

combination is called a "tanru". A tanru may also have "se"-type

operators as well as brivla in it, as well as

some other features not yet covered.

The little words that are not brivla, and

usually indicate grammatical structure are called "cmavo". The cmavo also

include the attitudinals and short sumti like

"mi" and "do".