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Wednesday, August 25, 2004


The trouble with Lojban

I just stumbled upon the Lojban page ( www.lojban.org ) - logical language, get it? This is an Esperanto-like project to construct a language, this time for perfectly logical human and human/machine communications. The language is constructed to be be perfectly logical and phonetically accurate. The idea has some merit I suppose, but I'm sticking with English. English, besides allowing great nuance and subtlety (I've heard) is also very efficient. Next time you buy an appliance check out how much shorter the English instructions are than the French, German or Spanish. In short, in engineer's parlance, it's elegant. This has powerful meaning for both the poet and the soldier. But back to Lojban. It's supposed to be inspired by the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (well worth a Google), which I barely get - and agree with, I think. This type of project fails to take into account the reality of chaos. That may be a strange statement so I'll clarify. We now know that the brain is contantly rewiring itself to accomodate skills and knowledge acquired and lost. Language processing takes up a large amount of our brainpower and affects our brain structure. Japanese chauvinists sometimes say that the Japanese brain is structured differently than others. To the extent this is true it's not because they are Japanese but because they speak Japanese. English is a language of many rules and a myriad of exceptions. The spelling is insane and the pronunciation is very much open to, shall we say, exploration. The only sensible thing about it is that objects have no gender. But here's the thing - life, if not reality, is chaotic and inexplicable and I believe having a brain wired for English gives one an emotional advantage when stubbing one's toe against life and reality. It's more natural to be flexible, open, and maybe a little bit crazy when your language is the same. So that's why I think Lojban and similar projects don't offer much to humanity. But hey, it keeps a lot of geeks out of trouble.

Have you ever really tried learning it and knowing what it's really for?
No and no. I've had a major brush with humility lately (see my post on 'lightning juice') so am prepared for another. I would very much like to know what it's really for.
Sorry to post on something so out of date, but I've been interested in lojban (and Loglan) since the 1970s.

The language was designed not to be particularly useful, but to push the boundaries of thought far enough in one direction to be able to detect evidence for or against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Since there are no metrics for poetry and similar things, logic was chosen as the characteristic to stress.

By the way, good meeting you last night.
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