But only ten people can speak it
// Evelyn Cranston

Coi mi’e la Lojban, mi se krasi logic! .i xu do pu djuno fi le du'u ? Hello, I’m Lojban, I come from logic!

Did you know what that meant? Probably not, as Lojban is a language understood by only a tiny fraction of the earth’s population, despite being proclaimed as an international language. It is notable for being an artificial language, completely disconnected from cultural ties which exercises strict adherence to rules of logic and grammar.

The word Lojban is derived from logji, meaning logic, and bangu, meaning language. Unlike other invented languages, such as Elvish or Klingon, all of Lojbans’ root words are based off six of the most widely spoken languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, Hindi, Russian, and Spanish. The intention behind this is to make it easy for a wide demographic to learn. Lojban is a scientific approach to expression based on mathematical functions, logarithms, and a carefully constructed breakdown of sentence structure.

There are 1,300 “root words” in Lojban, from which all speech is constructed. The root words are all five letters long and avoid giving preferential treatment to European languages. As explained on a tutorial site, “’prenu' (meaning person) has the ‘per’ of English ‘person’ and the 'ren' of Chinese.”

If there is no root word to fit a meaning, words are either combined or compounded. For example, as there is no root word for ‘nurse’, a speaker would use 'kurji' (take care of) and 'mikce' (medic). As new words are developed within the language community, they are added to an online, openly edited dictionary.


The idea of an invented, logical language arose as a response to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, otherwise known as the principle of linguistic relativity. The theory states that speakers of a specific language understand their world within the structural confines of the language, and that language invariably determines thought processes. Sociologist by day and sci-fi writer by night, James Cooke Brown formulated a plan to combat this theory. In 1955, he began constructing a language that would be “taught to subjects of different nationalities in a laboratory setting under conditions of control” to test if a culturally neutral, unambiguous language could work to bridge cultural language gaps. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis proposed an intrinsic link between language and culture, but by artificially creating an objective, math based language, Brown hoped to disentangle the bond.

The project, originally called Loglan (also entomologically based on logic language) consumed Browns life. It exploded into a large enough vocabulary and a deep enough understanding to create emotive poetry and translate famous literary works such as Alice in Wonderland. One man even proposed in Lojban, which literally translated to “I choose the state of being married to you.”

After an issue in federal court, Brown lost the rights to Loglan and it was renamed to Lojban.


The marriage proposal example alludes to the general tone of Lojban. According to the website, “Lojban has phonetic spelling, and unambiguous resolution of sounds into words.” Every sentence is a function of single meaning words and has a straightforward relation to grammar. However, the literal aspect of Lojban can’t be overemphasized.

For example, when you hear “I brushed my teeth and went to bed,” the ‘and’ is lazy in popular English discourse. Everyone understands that before you went to bed, you brushed your teeth. However, in Lojban, the ‘and’ is imperative to the structure of the sentence. Spoken literally, you could have brushed your teeth while in bed, went to bed in someone else’s house or brushed your teeth two days before you went to bed. In Lojban, there are over 20 ways to use ‘and’. A proper approach to this sentence would be closer to, “I brush my own teeth (past). I go to my own bed (past, medium time interval)”.

As Aritka Okrent, PhD Linguist and author of In the Land of Invented Languages explains, “When you say you ‘woke up and ate breakfast’ do you mean that you woke up first and then ate breakfast? Or did you do the two things simultaneously? Or, maybe your breakfast was asleep, so you woke it up and then ate it.” Context and unambiguous meaning is the backbone of Lojban. Clear enough?

Okrent describes her experience with learning Lojban: “The further I waded into Lojban, the more everything I heard seemed to be filtered through the sensibilities of a bratty, literal minded eight year old – ‘You love birthday cake? Well why don’t you marry it?’” She describes a moment she had while watching a children’s show when the actors posed the question, “What two numbers come after 6?” After thinking in Lojban for so long, she was truly baffled. She thought, “There are infinite amounts of numbers that follow 6!” While the show was obviously alluding to an answer of ‘7 and 8,’ a logical thought process threw her off.


The popularity of the original Loglan language was short lived. The general consensus held that it was interesting and well constructed, but essentially useless apart from being a quirky hobby. Even so, the revitalized Lojban has a small, but dedicated core following. Since 2002, the Logical Language Group has hosted an annual meeting called Logfest. In 2011, the meeting was held in California, with a mere 10 people in attendance. Still, the crowd ranged from beginners to veteran experts, and attendees participated in live conversation, workshops and presentations.

In 2005 and 2006, the meetings were held at science fiction conventions. This language movement has a very specific following, mainly people who live on the social fringes. Okrent attended Logfest and noted, “I didn’t see much live conversation at Logfest, but I did see a little. It goes very, very slowly. It’s like watching people do long division in their heads. Of course, the people who are attracted to Lojban are precisely the types who are good at doing long division in their heads.”


The potential of an international, straightforward, easy to learn and culturally neutral language is huge. With an increasingly interconnected world, cross-cultural communication is vital. The official Lojban website states it has a wide variety of uses from “the creative to the scientific, from the theoretical to the practical.” It could be used for “people in communication with each other, or with computers in the future.”

Although Lojban is logical, it’s not emotionless. The word .iu means love, but it can be modified to different forms of love. As a tutorial website elaborates, “.iuro'a is social love – what you might feel for a good friend. .iuro'u, however, is definitely sexual, while .iure'e is spiritual love, the kind of thing mystics feel, maybe. You can even have .iuro'e – mental or intellectual love – if, for example, you had a passion for physics.” However, Brown himself is quoted as saying, “by no means certain is Loglan a thinkable language, let alone a thought-facilitating one.”

If a language isn’t entirely equipped to convey a full spectrum of emotion or thought, it is hardly prepared for an entire culture. Because of culture’s inherent link to language, the idea of a scientifically objective, mathematical language can seem unnatural and unsettling. Lojban claims to be culturally neutral, but Carolye Kuchta, English Professor at Capilano University, argues otherwise.

“I do think [having a culturally neutrally language] is impossible,” she states, “but I do think that there could be a language that could have enough nuance within it that different cultures could access different parts of it for their own needs.” This is to say that some parts of Lojban may not be as useful in different areas of the world, if it were to become widespread.

Kuchta continues, “I think that people use language the same way that people wear clothes. We’re not aiming to all look identical, we’re aiming to have style and flair. So even if we think about slang words ... those words are the ways that people infuse their own personal style, let alone cultural style, into a language.”

People use their words in a myriad of ways to convey their thoughts. Although Kuchta belives that a universal language in an increasingly globalized world could be useful, she says, “I think that people will always strive towards individuality and self expression.”

Even if personal expression is shorthanded by Lojban, having an easy-to-learn, unambiguous language could serve a purpose for international, cross-cultural business situations. Though not the most widely spoken, English has swelled in popularity and is increasingly seen as a world language.

Kuchta states her concern with this, saying, “I think that there's a lot of question about whether English as a language, being the dominant language in the world, is also imposing a kind of very subtle ideology. I would be in favour of something a little more neutral, a little less English oriented.”

By using English, cultural differences in interpretation may be overlooked. Could a logical language such as Lojban be the answer? Kuchta was generally positive about the idea, but speculated, “I think that if it actually took place, people would find ways to modify it artistically and culturally for their own purposes.”

// Evelyn Cranston, Staff Writer
// Illustrations by Katie So

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