le jbocifnu (by )

As I mentioned before, I'm teaching Mary Lojban.

The project that lead to Lojban was originally started to explore an idea - the Sapir-Worf hypothesis states that language influences thought; in its strongest form, one cannot imagine a concept one cannot put into words (but that's been largely discredited now). The weak version of the hypothesis is that language can hinder or help our cognitive processes.

Lojban was designed as a language with as much expressive density as possible - letting you clearly express precise concepts easily. The idea is that somebody who can think in Lojban can think more clearly than somebody thinking in English, for example.

I've been learning it myself, and I've certainly found it interesting - I'm limited by my slowly-expanding vocabulary, but already, I often find myself using Lojban concepts in my inner dialogue. There are concepts covered by a large class of irregular grammar in English that are just a single word in Lojban, and identifying the commonalities between all these bits of English into one thing is, in my experience, providing a lot of insight.

But it'd be awesome if I could teach my daughter to think awesomely. It'd certainly help us to attain world domination. Some of the more far-out possibilities in Lojban might take a few generations of native Lojban speakers to fully understand!

However, nobody seems to have taught Lojban to a newborn baby before, so I'm having to work out how to do it myself, based on advice from people raising bilingual children in other languages. I'm mainly starting with Lojban's attitudinals before, which are simple words used to attach emotional context - whereas in English, emotion is expressed with subtle yet crude changes in wording and emphasis, Lojban has a rich set of words to explicitly attach attitudes to sentences or any part thereof. They're useful on their own, too, to simply express the emotion on its own without making any actual statement.

They're perfect for the simple emotional world of babies, and they're easy to say. Here's the ones I've been using:

  • {.uu .oidai} ("Oooh Oy-die") - "Aw, you're suffering/uncomfortable"
  • {.ui .oinaidai} ("Whee, Oy-nie-die") - "Yay, you're comfortable"
  • {.i'i} ("Ee-hee") - "We're together"
  • {.i'isai} ("Ee-hee sie") - "We're very together" (eg, whole family cuddle!)
  • {.oi} ("Oy") - "Grr, I am suffering" (eg, when something goes wrong for me during a nappy change)
  • {.oipei} ("Oy pay") - "How are you feeling on a comfortable <-> uncomfortable axis?"

There's a vast repository of more and more subtle emotions that can be expressed as time passes.

But I'm also using some actual sentences, too. Mainly things like {xu do xagji} ("Hoo doe hag-jee"), "Are you hungry?" and pointing out what things are {ti mamta} ("Tee mamta") "That's your mum, that is!". And sometimes I throw in complex sentences, even though she won't understand, because it's useful to get used to the sound of sentences: {.iu lo mensi be do .e lo mamta be do .e mi cu prami do} ("you low mensee be doe eh low mamta be doe eh me shoe pramee doe") "your sister, your mother, and I love you" (said with a loving attitude, which doesn't quite translate into English).

But as she develops, I'm keen to explore the cases where Lojban and English don't match up well, as they are the mind-opening things that have already taught me more about language and thought. {ti mo} is a good question - it literally asks what relationships the pointed-at object is involved in or what properties it has, which invite a wide range of answers from "it's a cat" and "it's black" to "it exists in a three-dimensional space" (which sounds bizarre for a child in English, but {se canlu} ("Se shanloo") is a short phrase in Lojban that is the natural way to distinguish a real or toy cat from a picture of a cat).

All of these are rather verbose technical-sounding concepts in English, but that's part of the beauty of Lojban - they're simple words, forming parts of the core lexicon, and so they are easier concepts to teach in it!


  • By sarah, Sat 12th Feb 2011 @ 10:25 am

    This all makes my attempt to make sure Jeany heard all the different language sounds from around the world in her first year sound lame :/

    Me and Jeany are doing baby sign with her though - and Jeany remembered half the signs anyway even though she'd stopped using them 🙂

  • By Lionel, Thu 17th Feb 2011 @ 8:20 am

    Interesting what you say about it being good to hear complete sentences. I guess everyone has their own version of baby language, in my case (when you were my baby) I used to use the most lengthy and academic diction, it just came naturally to me when faced with the wonderfully solemn and wise face that a baby sometimes shows. So, instead of saying "good baby" or baby talk as something like "oggly googly goody baby" i was more inclined to say something like "Upon my soul, I do perceive a babe of not inconsiderable excellence". That may sound stupid, but I could see from your face that you were enjoying the sound of all those long words, spoken so precisely. Sometimes you would laugh with glee and even come up with a garbled version of some of my longer words. According to what you write here, I may have been helping to lay a foundation of language skills on you, Alaric, though it seemed at the time that I was just following my natural instincts.

  • By Cathy Dean, Thu 24th Feb 2011 @ 9:08 pm

    Coo how fascinating - I'd never heard of Lojban before. I feel the need to do a little research...

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