LESSON 1: Sounds, names and a few attitudes
The first thing you need to do when you learn a foreign language is to
become familiar with the sounds of the language and how they are
written, and the same goes for Lojban. Fortunately, Lojban sounds
(phonemes) are fairly straightforward.
There are six vowels in Lojban.
- a—as in "father" (not as in "hat")
- e—as in "get"
- i—as in Italian "vino" (not as in "hit")
- o—as in "so"
- u—as in "cool" (not as in "but")
These are pretty much the same as vowels in Italian or Spanish. The
sixth vowel, y, is called a "schwa" in the
language trade, and is pronounced like the first and last "A"s in
"America" (that's English "America", not Spanish). It's the sound that
comes out when the mouth is completely relaxed.
Two vowels together are pronounced as one sound (diphthong). Some
- ai—as in "high"
- au—as in "how"
- ei—as in "hey"
- oi—as in "boy"
- ia—like German "Ja"
- ie—like "yeah"
- iu—like "you"
- ua—as in "quark"
- ue—as in "question"
- uo—as in "quote"
- ui—like "we", or French "oui"
Double vowels are rare. Two examples are ii, which is pronounced like English "ye" (as in "Oh
come all ye faithful") or Chinese "yi", and uu,
Most Lojban consonants are the same as English, but there are some
- c—"sh", as in "ship"
- j—as in "measure" or French "bonjour"
- x—as in German "Bach", Spanish "Jose" or Arabic "Khaled"
The English sounds "ch" and "j" are written as tc and dj.
doesn't use the letters H, Q or W.
Lojban has no punctuation, but some of the characters normally used
in punctuation affect the way Lojban is pronounced. A full stop
(period) is a short pause to stop words running into each other. An
apostrophe separates two vowels, and is pronounced like an H. For
example, ui is normally pronounced "we", but u'i is "oohee".
Commas are rare in Lojban, but can be used to stop two vowels blurring together when you don't want to
use an apostrophe (which would put a "h" between them). No Lojban words
have commas, but they're sometimes used in writing non-Lojban names, for
example pi,ER. (Pierre).
Capital letters are not normally used in Lojban. We use them in non-Lojban words (like
Pierre) when the stress of a word is different from the Lojban norm.
This is to put the stress on the last-but-one syllable, so, for example,
kurmikce (nurse) is kurmikce, not kurmikce. The name "Juliette" would be written DJUli,et. if pronounced in an English way, but julIET. if pronounced as in French.
You don't have to be very precise about Lojban pronunciation,
because the phonemes are designed 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 "zIdani"—the first
I is very short, but the second has to be long.
Lojban with attitude!
If you tried pronouncing the vowel combinations above, you've
already said some Lojban words. Lojban has a class of words called
"attitudinal indicators", which express how the speaker feels about
something. The most basic ones consist of two vowels, sometimes with an
apostrophe in the middle. Here are some of the most useful ones.
- fear (think of "Eeek!")
- discovery, "Ah, I get it!"
- wonder, "Wow!"
- pity, sympathy*
- repentance, "I'm sorry!"
In English, people have started to avoid the word "pity", because it
has come to have associations of superiority. .uu is just the raw emotion—if you wanted to
express pity in this rather condescending way, you'd probably say .uuga'i—"pity combined with a sense of
superiority," or .uuvu'e—"pity combined
with a sense of virtue." There again, you would probably just keep your
You can make any of these into its opposite by adding nai, so .uinai means "I'm
unhappy", .aunai is reluctance, .uanai is confusion ("I don't get it") and so on.
You can also combine them. For example, .iu.uinai would mean "I am unhappily in love." In
this way you can even create words to express emotions which your native
language doesn't have.
Attitudinal indicators are extremely useful and it is well worth
making an effort to learn the most common ones. One of the biggest
problems people have when trying to speak in a foreign language is that,
while they've learned how to buy a kilo of olives or ask the way to the
post office, they can't express feelings, because many languages do this
in a round-about way (outside group therapy, very few British people
would say outright that they were sad, for example!). In Lojban you can
be very direct, very briefly (there are ways of "softening" these
emotions, which we'll get to in a later lesson). In fact, these
attitudinals are so useful that some Lojbanists use them even when
they're writing in English, rather like emoticons (those e-mail symbols
like ;-) etc.).
Using the attitudinal indicators above (including
negatives), what might you say in the following situations?
- You've just realised where you left your keys.
- Someone treads on your toes.
- You're watching a boring film.
- Someone's just told you a funny story.
- You disagree with someone.
- Someone's just taken the last cookie in the jar.
- You really don't like someone.
- You are served a cold, greasy meal.
- Your friend has just failed a test.
- There is a large green beetle crawling towards you.
Lojban Names (cmene)
Watch any film where people don't know each other's language. They
start off saying things like "Me Tarzan," which is as good a place to
start learning Lojban as any. So here we go.
- mi'e robin.
- I-am-named Robin; I'm Robin
mi'e is related to mi, which is "I", "me" and so on. It's a good
example of the apostrophe separating two vowels, and sounds a bit like
I am lucky because my name goes directly into Lojban without any
changes. However, there are some rules for Lojban names which mean that
some names have to be "Lojbanised". This may sound strange—after
all, a name is a name—but in fact all languages do this to some
extent. For example, English speakers tend to pronounce "Jose" something
like "Hozey", and "Margaret" in Chinese is magelita. Some sounds just don't exist in some
languages, so the first thing you need to do is rewrite the name so that
it only contains Lojban sounds, and is spelled in a Lojban way.
Let's take the English name "Susan". The two S's are pronounced
~the second one is actually a Z~~and the A is not
really an "a" sound, it's the "schwa" we just mentioned. So "Susan"
comes out in Lojban as suzyn..
You may have noticed the extra full stop (period) there. This is
necessary because if you didn't pause, you might not know where the name
ended and the next word began. In addition, if a name
begins with a vowel, you need a full stop there as
well. For example:
- .IBraxim. or .IBra'im.
You can also put a full stop in between a person's first and last names
(though it's not compulsory), so "Jim Jones" becomes djim.djonz. .
An important rule for Lojbanising names is that the last letter of a cmene (Lojban name) must be a consonant. Again,
this is to prevent confusion as to where a name ends, and what is and is
not a name (all other Lojban words end in a vowel). We usually use S
for this, so in Lojban, "Mary" becomes meris. ,
"Joe" becomes djos. and so on. An alternative
is to leave out the last vowel, so "Mary" would become mer. or meir..
A few combinations of letters are illegal in Lojbanised names,
because they can be confused with Lojban words: la, lai and doi. So "Alabamas" can't be .alabamas. but needs to be .alybamas. , for example.
The final point is stress. As we've seen, Lojban words are stressed
on the penultimate syllable, and if a name has different stress, we use
capital letters. This means that the English and French names "Robert"
come out differently in Lojban: the English name is robyt. in UK English, or rabyrt. in some American dialects, but the French is
To give an idea of how all this works, here are some names of famous
people in their own language and in Lojban.
- Margaret Thatcher - magryt.tatcys. (no "th" in Lojban because most people around the world can't say it!)
- Mick Jagger - mik.djagys.
- Napoleon - napolion.
- Juliette Binoche - julIET.binOC.
- Laozi - laudzys.
- Mao Zedong - maus.dzeDYNG.
- Mustafa Kemal - MUStafas.kemal.
- Erkin Koray - .erkin.korais.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein - ludvig.VITgynctain.
- Clara Schumann - klaras.cuman.
- Isabel Allende - .izaBEL.aiendes.
- Che Guevara - tcegevaras.
Where are these places?
Lojbanise the following names:
- David Bowie
- Jane Austen
- William Shakespeare
- Sigourney Weaver
- Richard Nixon
- San Salvador
Lojban words as names
By now you should be able to Lojbanise your own name. However, if
you prefer, you can translate your name into Lojban (if you know what it
means, of course) or adopt a completely new Lojban identity. Native
Americans generally translate their name when speaking English, partly
because they have meaningful names, and partly because they don't expect
the wasichu to be able to pronounce words in
Lakota, Navaho or whatever!
All Lojban words end in a vowel, and although you
can use them as names as they stand, it's common to
leave out the final vowel to make it absolutely clear that this is a
name and not something else (Lojban goes for overkill when it comes to
possible misunderstanding). So if your name or nickname is Cat (Lojban
mlatu), you can either add s like a normal cmene to
make mlatus., or just chop the end off and call
Here are a few examples:
- Fish - finpe - finp.
- Bear - cribe - crib.
- Green - crino - crin.
- Mei Li (Chinese = beautiful) - melbi - melb.
- Ayhan (Turkish = Moon Lord) - lunra nobli (= lurnobli) -
Answers to Exercises
- .oi, .i'enai, or even .oi.i'enai
- .iunai Probably .a'unai.oi, unless you like cold greasy food, of course.
- Depends on your feelings about beetles. .ii if you have a phobia, .a'unai if you are merely repelled by it, .a'u if you're an entomologist, and so on.
- New York
- Beijing (note the dj - the BBC always get this wrong!)
- Cape Town
- Tai Pei (note b, not p)
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.
- djon. (or djan. with some accents)
- .amandys. (again, depending on your accent, the final y's may be a
- maikyl. or maik,l, depending on how you say it.
- deivd.bau,i. or bo,i (but not bu,i - that's the knife)
- .istanBUL. with English stress, .IStanbul with American, .istanbul. with Turkish. Lojanists generally prefer to base cmene on local pronunciation, but this is not an absolute rule.
- san.salvaDOR. (with Spanish stress)