the Loglan-Lojban Dispute

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Written by Robert LeChevalier, lojbab@lojban.org

Lojban is the current viable version of the artificial language Loglan, supported by The Logical Language Group, Inc., a non-profit organization. Lojban is a public-domain Loglan, with 300-1500 supporters depending on how you count, about 300 people claiming to be learning the language, and over a hundred having completed a course and/or otherwise demonstrating skill in the language.

The inventor of Loglan, Dr. James Cooke Brown (JCB) continued work on a separate version of Loglan, supported by his organization, The Loglan Institute (TLI). While he does not advertise it as such, much of his language design is considered proprietary, and TLI claims copyright, royalty and publication rights in his version of the language, and requires trade secret agreements to get complete language details. To keep his control over the language in the face of 'competition' from Lojban, few supporters of 'Institute Loglan' are given direct access to others, and there is little spontaneous activity going on. There are by latest report 110 supporters, many of whom are supporting both versions of the language. Most of these stem from a largely unsuccessful advertising campaign in 1988 when JCB published a revision of his book on the language. There are no known speakers of TLI Loglan, and only a couple of people try to write in the language (and all writings have to be vetted by JCB before publication). JCB is now (2000) in the process of retiring as leader of his organization, and there is no evidence that his handpicked replacements command the authority and respect needed to sustain the effort without him. While I am obviously biased, I firmly believe that the TLI version of Loglan is dead and going nowhere. In any event, the proprietary claims on the language give it little attraction to most potential users of the language.

The two versions of the language are close, but drifting slowly apart, with Lojban being a superset of JCB's version with a completely substituted vocabulary list (derived algorithmically in the same manner as the original). Both versions are substantially different from the earlier published versions of the language, with significant known flaws remaining in JCB's version (detailed review available via postal mail or on the Planned Languages Server).

More details follow:

Loglan is based on predicate logic, and was started in 1955 for the purpose of testing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Other linguistic research and education applications have been added since, along with computer and AI applications associated with its unambiguous grammar and morphology (flawed in the case of JCB's version.)

Loglan was first publicly announced in the June 1960 Scientific American. JCB had not completed the language design, and did not for several years to come. However, several science fiction authors took note, most notably Robert Heinlein, who referred to the language in his novel 'Moon is a Harsh Mistress', and Robert Rimmer, who made several mentions of the language in various utopian novels, most especially 'Love Me Tomorrow. JCB himself wrote a utopian science fiction novel, 'The Troika Incident', in which Loglan figures prominently.

In 1965 and 1968, limited editions of a book called 'Loglan 1' (L1) were published, the latter in microfilm. After several years outside the country, JCB republished L1 and a dictionary called Loglan 4/5 (L4/5) in 1974-5, and incorporated The Loglan Institute, Inc. (TLI).

Over the next few years a Loglan journal 'The Loglanist' (TL) was started edited by Dr. John Parks-Clifford, (pc) Professor of Logic at University of Missouri at St. Louis. About 2000 copies of the books were sold, with about 250 purchasers remaining active for the next year or two. Of these perhaps half a dozen temporarily learned the language well enough to carry on conversation with direct assistance from JCB. Meanwhile, JCB sought grants for research from the National Science Foundation and was turned down 3 times, at least partially for irregularities in the proposals as compared to NSF standards. The influx of new people led to many new ideas and the detection of several major problems in the language design. Computer technology, notably that of 'YACC' the UNIX compiler development tool, was applied to Loglan, and the supposedly unambiguous language was found flawed in this aspect. Meanwhile in response to criticism, a more robust way of making compound words that comprise the bulk of the Loglan vocabulary was proposed. The twin redevelopments of the grammar and the morphology paralyzed the language for several years, during which JCB and TLI relied on Loglan supporters to financially keep the project afloat. Shortly after the redevelopment was complete, in the 1982-4 era, there was a big power struggle between JCB and the TLI Board of Directors over control of the language and the organization. JCB won because there was seen to be no hope of completing the language without him, but the bulk of the supporting membership and the most active volunteers dropped out. The new language design was incompletely documented and there was no in-language activity; old Loglanists forgot much of what they had learned. 20% of the root vocabulary and 100% of the compound vocabulary was changed, and there were many changes to the grammar. The journal TL suspended publication, as pc dropped out. JCB virtually alone set about rewriting the language definition, but progress was infinitesimal. In 1986, I (Bob LeChevalier) volunteered to work on a dictionary update, and tried to stimulate new volunteer activity. I was successful, and even got some of the old-timers involved again, but JCB saw this activity as a threat. Nora Tansky (now my wife) and I completed an MS-DOS based flash-card vocabulary program. JCB insisted that we sign a copyright acknowledgement and agree to pay royalties, claiming copyright on the individual words of the language. Legal threats followed, and the mass of Loglan volunteers decided to reinvent a public domain vocabulary and grammar while seeking a negotiated solution. Negotiations failed, and the legal threats culminated in a trademark registration battle, which our organization won in 1992, with a ruling that 'Loglan' was a generic name. Loglan/Lojban design was completed, and we have an active if cash-poor organization with language students on 5 continents. To sum up, the underlying dispute is over whether an artificial language can hope to succeed if its inventor tries to control its development too closely, whether intellectual property claims are valid given that they are being raised after people had contributed time and money for years without such claims, and whether people will support a language when information is kept secret from them. This is a historically recurring battle in the history of artificial languages. To the extent any AL has succeeded, it has been through openness and letting the language supporters control the language. I will be happy to respond to questions on any of the above. Details and documentation are enormous as I maintain as complete an archive as possible.

Copyright, 1991, 2000 by the Logical Language Group, Inc.
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USA Phone (703) 385-0273
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