Lojban Wave Lessons/0

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Lojban Wave Lessons: Foreword | Lesson 0 | Lesson 1 →

Lesson 0: Sounds

While you are (hopefully) eager to get started on the inner workings of Lojban grammar, a short lesson on the sounds and writing conventions of the language is beneficial. Learning a language only by reading is hard, and it's not easier if your internal voice is mispronouncing it.

For more details on vowels and consonants sounds used in Lojban, click on the letters described. They are pointing to Wikipedia articles which describe the sound and usually have an audio record of it.


There are five proper vowels in Lojban and one almost-vowel. First the proper ones:

a as in "father" or "large"
e as in "get" or "gem"
i as in "machine" or "scream" (not as in "hit")
o as in "bold" or "more" — not as in "so" (this should be a 'pure' sound.)
u as in "rude" or "due" (not as in "but")
y as "a" in "Tina" (not as in "but")

These are pretty much the same as vowels in Italian or Spanish. The sixth (almost-)vowel, y, is called a "schwa" in the language trade, and is pronounced as "comma", "taken" or "surprise!". It's the sound that comes out when the mouth is completely relaxed.

Two vowels together are pronounced as one sound (and called a "diphthong"). Some examples are:

ai as in "high"
au as in "how"
ei as in "hey"
oi as in "boy"
ia as in "yacht"
ie as in "yes"
iu as in "you"
ua as in "wander"
ue as in "wet"
uo as in "woke"
ui as in "we"

i and u act as semivowels when they precede another vowel. Double vowels are rare. The only examples are ii, which is pronounced like English "ye" (as in Oh come all ye faithful) or Chinese "yi", and uu, pronounced like "woo".

Note that because of variation between English dialects, approximations like these will necessarily be wrong for some speakers. The surest way to learn the phonology of the language is to imitate those who already speak it!


There are seventeen consonants in Lojban and one almost-consonant. The Lojban consonants are the same as the English, except that Lojban doesn't use the letters H, Q or W. Most of the consonants are pronounced like in English, but there are some exceptions:

g always "g" as in "gum", never "g" as in "gem"
c "sh", as in "ship"
j as in "measure" or French "bonjour"
x as in the exclamation "Ach!", or in German "Bach", Spanish "Jose" or Arabic "Khaled"

The almost-consonant is the apostrophe This letter is pronounced like the English letter H, but is only used between two vowels to prevent them from running into each other. Thus ui is normally pronounced "we", but u'i is "oohee". Groups of cmavo are called selma'o and are written using capital letters; but unexpectedly the capital version of this letter is h not H (ko'a is KOhA).

The combination dj is like the j in "joke". The combination tc is like the ch in "chat".

The following sound as they do in English, with the exception that r is often rolled (but does not have to be):

b, d, f, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, z.

Letter names

Speaking of the letters, what are the names for them? For example, when reciting the alphabet in English the letter C is pronounced "see". This is rather different than the sound the letter makes when used in a word. How about Lojban? Well, consonants are straightforward: The name of a consonant letter is the sound of that letter, plus y. So the consonant letters of Lojban, "b, c, d, f, g ...", are called by cy dy fy gy in Lojban. The almost-consonant ' is called .y'y (pronounced like an agreeing uh-huh but without the stress).

Vowels are handled by following the vowel sound with the word bu, which signifies we're speaking about a symbol. So the vowels of Lojban are: .abu .ebu .ibu .obu .ubu and .ybu.

Lastly you should know that stress is placed on the second-to-last syllable in words with more than one syllable, ignoring syllables containing y, and that one-syllable words are not stressed.

Correct pronunciation

You don't have to be very precise about Lojban pronunciation, because the phonemes are distributed so that it is hard to mistake one sound for another. This means that rather than one 'correct' pronunciation, there is a range of acceptable pronunciation—the general principle is that anything is OK so long as it doesn't sound too much like something else. For example, Lojban r can be pronounced like the "R" in English, Scottish or French.

Two things to be careful of, though, are pronouncing Lojban i and u like Standard British English "hit" and "but" (Northern English "but" is fine!). This is because non-Lojban vowels, particularly these two, are used to separate consonants by people who find them hard to say. For example, if you have problems spitting out the zd in zdani (house), you can say zɪdani — where the ɪ is very short, but the final i has to be long.

Writing Lojban

As you have already seen, Lojban uses the Latin alphabet, though various Lojbanists have suggested different, usually self-designed ones. Furthermore, Lojban almost always uses lower-case letters. Capital letters are only used to mark stress in proper names, but people tend to avoid them even in names.

Apart from the letters, some punctuation is used:

A full stop (period) is a glottal stop (the consonant in the middle of "uh-oh") or a short pause. The rules of Lojban make it easier for one word to run into another when the second word begins with a vowel; so any word starting with a vowel conventionally has a full stop placed in front of it. Full stops are not usually used to end sentences.

Commas are rare in Lojban. They are only used to emphasize boundaries between syllables, and adding or removing commas never changes a word's pronunciation or meaning.

The following are found writing styles of different Lojbanists, but they are not conventional:

Spaces are usually used between words. They are mandatory between some words (more on that in lesson thirteen). Double or triple space is sometimes used before the beginning of new sentences. This is to clearly mark sentence shift visually. This might compensate for lack of capital letters which are used for the same purpose in English.

In òrder to visuàlly reprèsent the stress on the penultìmate syllàble, and bècause they find it visuàlly plèasing, some pèople use grave or acute àccents òver the vòwel of those syllàbles.

Some people borrow other punctuation marks from English, even though they are not canon, and Lojban is equipped with actual words which should compensate for any punctuation one might want to use. Nonetheless, question marks, for example, clearly marks a sentence as a question and is much easier to catch with the eye than any word is, and so some Lojbanists use them. Quotation marks, parenthesis and exclamations marks can be used similarly. While this is not ungrammatical, since that doesn't interfere with the sentences, some people think exotic punctuation creates an unwanted difference between written and spoken Lojban, generally a big no-no.

Lojbanized foreign proper names (cmevla)

The following names are Lojbanized - their sounds are transcribed into Lojban and their ending sound have been changed to a consonant. The final consonant is necessary, because that's how foreign names are differentiated from Lojban words. Again, more on that in lesson thirteen.

Exercise 1

Where are these places?

  1. .nuIORK.
  2. .romas.
  3. .xavanas.
  4. .kardif.
  5. .beidjin.
  6. .ANkaras.
  7. .ALbekerkis.
  8. .vankuver.
  9. .keiptaun.
  10. .taibeis.
  11. .bon.
  12. .delis.
  13. .nis.
  14. .atinas.
  15. .lidz.
  16. .xelsinkis.


  1. New York: USA
  2. Rome: Italy
  3. Havana: Cuba
  4. Cardiff: Wales (The Welsh for "Cardiff" is "Caerdydd", which would Lojbanise to something like kairdyd..)
  5. Beijing: China
  6. Ankara: Turkey
  7. Albequerque: New Mexico, USA
  8. Vancouver: Canada
  9. Cape Town: South Africa
  10. Taipei: Taiwan (note b, not p. Although actually, the b in Pinyin is pronounced as a p... But this isn't meant to be a course on Mandarin!)
  11. Bonn: Germany
  12. Delhi: India (The Hindi for "Delhi" is "Dillî", which would give dilis. or dili'is..)
  13. Nice: France
  14. Athens: Greece ("Athina" in Greek)
  15. Leeds: England
  16. Helsinki: Finland

Exercise 2

Lojbanise the following names.

There are usually alternative spellings for names, either because people pronounce the originals differently, or because the exact sound doesn't exist in Lojban, so you need to choose between two Lojban letters. This doesn't matter, so long as everyone knows who or where you're talking about.

  1. John
  2. Melissa
  3. Amanda
  4. Matthew
  5. Michael
  6. David Bowie
  7. Jane Austen
  8. William Shakespeare
  9. Sigourney Weaver
  10. Richard Nixon
  11. Istanbul
  12. Madrid
  13. Tokyo
  14. San Salvador


  1. .djon. (or .djan. with some accents)
  2. .melisys.
  3. .amandys. (again, depending on your accent, the final y may be a, the initial a may be y, and the middle a may be e.)
  4. .matiius.
  5. .maikyl. or .maikl. , depending on how you say it.
  6. .deivyd.bauis. or .bouis.
  7. .djein.ostin.
  8. .uiliiam.cekspir.
  9. .sigornis.uivyr. or .sygornis.uivyr.
  10. .ritcyrd.niksyn.
  11. .istanBUL. with English stress, .IStanbul. with American, .istanbul. with Turkish. Lojbanists generally prefer to base cmevla on local pronunciation, but this is not an absolute rule.
  12. .maDRID.
  13. .tokiios.
  14. .san.salvaDOR. (with Spanish stress)
Lojban Wave Lessons: Foreword | Lesson 0 | Lesson 1 →