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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
- The concept of the predicate
- Place structures
- Single words that can act as sumti
- Variant forms of the bridi
- sumti switching
- selbri modification
- Converting a selbri to a sumti
- Marking the selbri
- Vocatives and imperatives
- Yes or no questions
- Other terms
- Lojban Mini-Lesson Exercises
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.)
Let us consider John and Sam and three statements about them:
"John is the father of Sam" "John hugs Sam" and "John is taller than Sam"
These all describe relationships between John and Sam. However, in
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.
______________|_______________ | | John is the uncle of Sam |____| |_______________| |___| | | |
sumti selbri sumti (argument)
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.
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.
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.
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
x1 talks to x2 about x3 in language x4 This bridi will
then have the form
x1 tavla x2 x3 x4
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?
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.
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
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.
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
mi tavla do ti I talk to you about this. has the same meaning
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.
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.
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 "x1 is fast at doing
x2"; "sutra tavla"
means "x1 talks fast to x2 about x3 in language x4".
Specifically, the meaning of the first place of the first word is what
modifies the next word: "sutra tavla" means
"x1 is a fast-thing type of talker to x2 about x3 in
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 "x1
is a fast-talker type of shoe (for x2 of material x3)". 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.
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 -- ===== -- -------- means 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.)
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
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.)
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".
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.
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, affection .oi complaint, discomfort Oy!, Ouch! .ua discovery Eureka! .ui happy, cheerful Whee! .uu pity, compassion Aww! ~/pre~
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.)
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 respondent) 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
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
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".