Lojban Wave Lessons/Morphology

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Lesson 13: Morphology and word classes

Back to more heavy (and interesting) stuff.

If you haven't already, I strongly suggest you find the Lojbanic recording called "Story Time with Uncle Robin", or listen to someone speak Lojban on Mumble, and then practice your pronunciation. Having an internal conversation in your head in Lojban is only good if it isn't with all the wrong sounds, and learning pronunciation from written text is hard. Therefore, this lesson will not be on the Lojban sounds, however important they might be, but a short introduction to the Lojban morphology.

What is morphology? The word is derived from Greek meaning the study of shapes, and in this context, we talk about how we make words from letters and sounds, as contrasted with syntax - how we make sentences with words. Lojban operates with different morphological word classes, which are all defined by their morphology. To make it all nice and systematic though, words with certain functions tend to be grouped by morphological classes, but exceptions may occur.

Class Meaning Defined By Typical Function
Words:
brivla bridi-word Among first 5 letters (excluding ) is a consonant cluster. Ends in vowel. Acts as a selbri by default. Always has a place structure.
gismu Root-word 5 letters of the form CVCCV or CCVCV One to five sumti places. Covers basic concepts.
Lujvo Compound word. Derived from from lujvla, meaning complex word Min. 6 letters. Made by stringing rafsi together with binding letters if necessary. Covers more complex concepts than gismu.
zi'evla Free-word As brivla, but do not meet defining criteria of gismu or lujvo, ex: angeli Covers unique concepts like names of places or organisms.
cmevla Name-word Beginning and ending with pause (full stop). Last sound/letter is a consonant. Always acts as a name or as the content of a quote.
cmavo Grammar-word. From cmavla, meaning small word One consonant or zero, always at the beginning. Ends in a vowel. Grammatical functions. Varies
Word-fragments:
rafsi Affix CCV, CVC, CV'V, -CVCCV, -CCVCV, CVCCy- or CCVCy- Not actual words, but can be stringed together to form lujvo
  • cmevla are very easy to identify because they begin and end with a pause, signaled by a full stop in writing, and the last letter is a consonant. Cmevla have two functions: They can either act as a proper name, if prefixed by the article la (explained in next lesson), or they can act as the content of a quote. As previously stated, one can mark stress in the names by capitalizing the letters which are stressed. Examples of cmevla are: .io'AN. (Johan), .mat. (Matt) and .cumindzyn. (Xuming Zeng). Names which do not end in consonants have to have one added: .anas. (Anna), or removed: .an.
  • brivla are called bridi-words because they by default are selbri, and therefore almost all Lojban words with a place structure are brivla. This has also given them the English nickname content-words. It's nearly impossible to say anything useful without brivla, and almost all words for concepts outside lojban grammar (and even most of the words for things in the language) are captured by brivla. As shown in the table, brivla has three subcategories:
  • gismu are the root words of the language. Only about 1450 exist, and very few new ones are added. They cover the most basic concepts like circle, friend, tree and dream. Examples include zdani, pelxu and dunda
  • lujvo are made by combining rafsi (see under rafsi), respresenting gismu. By combining rafsi, one narrows down the meaning of the word. lujvo are made by an elaborate algorithm, so making valid lujvo on the fly is near impossible, with few exceptions like selpa'i, from se prami, which can only have one definition. Instead, lujvo are made once, its place structure defined, and then that definition is made official by the dictionary. Examples include brivla (bridi-word), cinjikca (sexual-socializing = flirting) and cakcinki (shell-insect = beetle).
  • zi'evla are made by making up words which fit the definition for brivla, but not for lujvo or gismu. They tend to cover concepts which it's hard to cover by lujvo, for instance names of species, nations or very cultural specific concepts. Examples include xanguke (South Korea) cidjrpitsa (pizza) or .angeli (angel).
  • cmavo are small words with one or zero consonants. They tend to not signify anything in the exterior world, but to have only grammatical function. Exceptions occur, and it's debatable how much attitudinals exists for their grammatical function. Another weird example are the words of the class GOhA, which act as brivla. It is valid to type several cmavo in a row as one word, but in these lessons, that won't be done. By grouping certain cmavo in functional units, though, it is sometimes easier to read. Thus, uipuzuvukumi citka is valid, and is parsed and understood as ui pu zu vu ku mi citka. Like other Lojban words, one should (but need not always) place a full stop before any words beginning with a vowel.
    • cmavo of the form xVV, CV'VV or V'VV are experimental, and are words which are not in the official language definition, but which have been added by Lojban users to respond to a certain need.
  • rafsi are not Lojban words, and can never appear alone. However, several (more than one) rafsi combine to form lujvo. These must still live up to the brivla-definition, for instance lojban is invalid because it ends in a consonant (which makes it a cmevla), and ci'ekei is invalid because it does not contain a consonant cluster, and is thus read as two cmavo written as one word. Often, a 3-4 letter string is both a cmavo and a rafsi, like zu'e, which is both the BAI and the rafsi for zukte. Note that there is nowhere that both a cmavo and a rafsi would be grammatical, so these are not considered homophones. All gismu can double as (word-final) rafsi, if they are prefixed with another rafsi. The first four letter of a gismu suffixed with an "y" can also act as a rafsi, if they are suffixed with another rafsi. The vowel "y" can only appear in lujvo or cmevla. Valid rafsi letter combinations are: CVV, CV'V, CCV, CVCCy- CCVCy-, -CVCCV and -CCVCV.

Using what you know now, you should be able to answer the test I thus present:

Categorize each of the following words as cmevla (C), gismu (g), lujvo (l), zi'evla (z) or cmavo (c):

A ) jai G ) mumbl
B ) .irci H ) .i'i
C ) bostu I ) cu
D ) xelman J ) plajva
E ) po'e K ) danseke
F ) djisku L ) .ertsa

Answer: a-c, b-z, c-g, d-C, e-c, f-l, g-C, h-c, i-c, j-l, k-z, l-z. I left out the full stops before and after names in order not to make the task too easy. Note: some of these words, like bostu do not exist in the dictionary, but this is irrelevant. The morphology still makes it a gismu, so it's just an undefined gismu. Similarly with .ertsa