Lojban Tutorial: Lesson 2

LESSON 2: Relationships and places

Names and relationships

In Lesson 1 we looked at cmene, Lojban names.
cmene always label one particular thing. Just as in English, if I say "Mary",
I mean one particular person called Mary, no matter how many people
there are in the world called Mary, so in Lojban, meiris. can
only refer to one person. This means that cmene can never
stand for classes of things (like "person", "dog" or "computer") or for
relationships between things (like "loves", "gives" or "is inside").

Relationships are the key to Lojban, and words describing a relationship
are called selbri. A selbri is not a type of word (like a "verb" in English), it is
something that some types of word can do. Various types of word can act as selbri, but cmene, as we've seen, can't.

The main type of word used as a selbri is a gismu, or root-word. These are the building blocks of Lojban vocabulary. gismu are easy to recognise, because they always have five letters, in the form

(C=consonant; V=vowel).

Exercise 1

Which of the following Lojban words are:

  • (a) gismu
  • (b) cmene
  • (c) neither? Note: I've left out the full stops in the cmene—that would make it too easy!

  1. lojban
  2. dunda
  3. ankaras
  4. mi
  5. cukta
  6. prenu
  7. blanu
  8. ka'e
  9. dublin
  10. selbri

Now we can recognise a gismu, let's see what we can make it do. dunda means "give", and as a selbri describes a relationship between a giver, something they give, and someone who receives it. Let's say we have
three people, Maria, Claudia and Julia. If we say

la mari,as. dunda la .iulias. la klaudias.

we mean that Maria gives Julia to Claudia—let's say Julia is a baby, as since the abolition of slavery, we don't normally give people as presents. In English you can "give" someone in marriage, but that's
a culture-specific metaphor, and Lojban discourages that kind of thing—it's an example of malglico ("bloody
English"), transferring features of English into Lojban which don't
work. If, on the other hand, we say

la .iulias. dunda la mari,as. la klaudias.

we mean that Maria is the baby, and Julia gives her to Claudia. How do
we know this? English uses the word "to" to indicate the receiver, and
in some other languages (like Latin or Turkish) the form of the words
themselves change. In Lojban, as in logic, we have what is called
place-structure. Place-structure means that

dunda doesn't just mean "give", it means
x1 gives x2 to x3

where "x" means someone or something. Even if we just say dunda on its own, we still mean that someone gives
something to someone; we just aren't interested in (or we already know who or what.

We can say, then, that dunda has three "places". We can think of places as slots which we can, if we want, fill with people, objects, events or whatever. These places are called sumti in Lojban (easy to remember, as it sounds a bit like someone saying "something" and chewing off the end of the word). Again, a sumti is not a type of word, it is something a word does. The simplest Lojban sentence is a bridi, i.e. a selbri and a bunch of sumti. In other words,

bridi = selbri + sumti

Note for logicians and computer programmers: for selbri read "function"; for sumti read "argument."

How many sumti can a selbri describe? The number depends on the place structure of the word we use for the selbri (there are ways of tagging on extra sumti, which we'll cover in later lessons). A gismu has a set number of places; as we've just seen, dunda has three. The number of places varies from one to a staggering (and rare) five. Here are some examples.

One place

x1 is a woman (any female humanoid person, not necessarily adult)
x1 is white / very light-coloured
x1 laughs [not necessarily at someone or something~~to include the object of the laughter you would use the lujvo (compound word) mi'afra~~x1 laughs at x2, a slightly different concept]

Two places

x1 is a bird/avian/fowl of species x2
x1 flies [in air/atmosphere] using lifting/propulsion means x2
x1 reflects Chinese [Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, etc.] culture/nationality/language in aspect x2
x1 (person) is serious/earnest/has gravity about x2 (event/state/activity)

Three places

x1 is good/beneficial/acceptable for x2 by standard x3 [This is very Lojbanic~~the English word "good" on its own is so vague as to be almost meaningless. It is also slightly malglico to put a person in the x1 place, which is normally filled by an object, state or event~~or moral good you would usually use vrude—"virtuous"]
x1 is to the right of x2 facing x3 [remember all those times you have to ask "Is that my right or your right?" in English]
x1 leaves x2 for x3 by means x4
x1 is a cup/glass/tumbler/mug/vessel/[bowl] containing contents x2, and of material x3

Four places

x1 [seller] sells/vends x2 [goods/service/commodity] to buyer x3 for amount/cost/expense x4
tivni [ tiv ]
television x1 [broadcaster] televises programming x2 via media/channel x3 to television receiver x4

Five places

x1 goes/comes to x2 from x3 via x4 by means x5
x1 is a book about subject/theme/story x2 by author x3 for audience x4 preserved in medium x5
x1 translates x2 to language x3 from language x4 with translation-result x5

Determining place structure

If all these places sound a bit daunting, don't worry—you don't have to memorise all of them (in fact nobody does). There are a few cases where it's worth learning the place structure to avoid misunderstanding, but usually you can guess place structures using context and a few rules of thumb.

  1. The first place is often the person or thing who does something or is something (in Lojban there is no difference between "doing" and "being").
  2. If there is someone or something that has something done to them he/she/it is usually in the second place.
  3. "to" places nearly always come before "from" places.
  4. Less-used places come towards the end. These tend to be things like "by standard", "by means" or "made of". The general idea is that the places which are most likely to be filled come first. You don't have to use all the available places, and any unfilled places at the end are simply missed out.

Exercise 2

Try to guess the place structure of the following gismu. You probably won't get them all, but you should be able to guess the most important ones. Think of what needs to be in the sentence for it to make sense, then
add anything you think would be useful. For example, with klama, you need to know who's coming and going, and
although you could in theory say "Julie goes," it would be pretty meaningless if you didn't add where she goes to. Where she starts her journey, the route she takes and what transport she uses are progressively less important, so they occupy the third, fourth and fifth places.

  1. karce - car
  2. nelci - like
  3. cmene - name
  4. sutra - fast
  5. crino - green
  6. sisti - stop, cease
  7. cmima - member
  8. barda - big
  9. cusku - say, express
  10. tavla - talk, chat

gismu as sumti

So far we've seen how a gismu can express a relationship between two or more cmene, so we
can say things like

la bil. nelci la meilis.
Bill likes Mei Li

But if we don't know her name, how can we say "Bill likes the woman"? If we say la bil. nelci la ninmu, we mean that Bill likes someone whose name is "Woman". What we say, in fact, is

la bil. nelci le ninmu

What does le mean here? We translated it into English as "the", but that isn't quite it. The best way to think of it
is "the thing(s) I call". la + cmene is like a permanent label (Bill is always Bill). le +
gismu is more like a temporary label~~I have something in mind, and choose to call it "woman". Probably she really is a woman, but with le this doesn't have to be so~~we could be talking about a transvestite or a stone that looks a bit like a woman. There are other articles which can show that it's a real woman, or a typical woman or whatever, but we'll leave those alone for the time being.

One more word is sometimes necessary when using gismu as sumti: cu. This doesn't carry any meaning, but separates the selbri from whatever comes before it. It's not necessary with cmene, because they can't run
over into anything else, but le ninmu klama doesn't mean "The woman goes"; ninmu and klama get run together, with the result that it means "The woman-type-of goer" (maybe a female traveler). What we say
instead is

le ninmu cu klama

IMPORTANT! cu does NOT mean "is" (as in "The woman is going"). In fact it doesn't mean anything—it's just there to indicate that there's a selbri coming. You can also use cu after a cmene, but it isn't usually necessary. Similarly, you don't need cu after mi (I / me), do (you, the person I'm talking to) or any words like this ("pro-sumti", in Lojban jargon).

Exercise 3

Add cu to the following Lojban sentences where necessary, then work out what they mean.

  1. la klaudias. dunda le cukta la bil.
  2. le karci sutra
  3. la kamIL. cukta
  4. mi fanva la kaMIL. la lojban
  5. le prenu sisti
  6. le ninmu cliva
  7. la .istanbul. barda
  8. mi tavla la mari,as.
  9. la meiris. pritu la meilis. mi
  10. le cipni vofli
  11. crino
  12. ninmu

Changing Places

We've seen that if we don't need all the places (and we rarely do), then we can miss out the unnecessary ones at the end of the bridi. We can also miss out the first place if it is obvious (just as in Spanish). However, it sometimes
happens that we want places at the end, but not all the ones in the middle. There are a number of ways to get round this problem.

One way is to fill the unnecessary places with zo'e, which means "something not important". So ''la suzyn.
klama la paris. la berlin. zo'e le karci tells us that Susan goes to Paris from Berlin by car, but we're not interested in the route she takes. In fact zo'e is always implied, even if we don't say it. If someone says klama'', what
they actually mean is zo'e klama zo'e zo'e zo'e zo'e but it would be pretty silly to say all that.

Most people don't want more than one zo'e in a sentence (though there's nothing to stop you using as many as you like). A more popular way to play around with places is to use the place tags fa, fe, fi, fo and
fu. These mark a sumti with a certain place, no matter where it comes in the sentence. For

la suzyn. klama fu le karce
Susan goes in the car / Susan goes by car

fu marks le karce as the fifth place (the means of transport). Without fu, the sentence would mean "Susan goes to the car."

With place tags you can also swap places around. For example,

fe le cukta cu dunda fi la klaudias.
The book was given to Claudia.

Again, you probably don't want to overdo place tags, or you'll end up counting on your fingers (although they're very popular in Lojban poetry—place tags, that is, not fingers).

A final way to change places is conversion, which actually swaps them round, but we'll leave that for another lesson. There are no rules for which method you use, and you can use them in any way you want, so long as the person you're talking to understands.


In this lesson we've covered the following points:

  • The basic bridi structure.
  • The difference between cmene and gismu, and the article le.
  • The place structure of gismu.
  • cu to separate selbri from sumti.
  • zo'e to fill missing sumti places.
  • Changing places with place-tags.

Although there is a lot more to Lojban sentences than this, you now have the basics of Lojban grammar~~the rest is just a matter of adding things on to it~~different articles, tags, times, numbers and so on.

Answers to exercises

Exercise 1

  1. lojban - cmene
  2. dunda - gismu (give)
  3. .ankaras. - cmene (the capital of Turkey)
  4. mi - neither, it's a type of cmavo (structure word) called a "pro-sumti", a word that stands in for a sumti, like an English pronoun stands in for a noun
  5. cukta - gismu (book)
  6. prenu - gismu (person)
  7. blanu - gismu (blue)
  8. ka'e - neither, it's a cmavo or structure word, meaning "can"
  9. dublin. - cmene (the capital of Ireland)
  10. selbri - neither, it's a lujvo or compound word

Exercise 2

  1. karce
    x1 is a car/automobile/truck/van [a wheeled motor vehicle] for carrying x2, propelled by x3
  2. nelci
    x1 is fond of/likes/has a taste for x2 (object/state)
  3. cmene
    x1 (quoted word(s)) is a/the name/title/tag of x2 to/used-by namer/name-user x3 (person)
  4. sutra x1 is fast/swift/quick/hastes/rapid at doing/being/bringing about x2 (event/state)
  5. crino
    x1 is green
  6. sisti
    x1 ceases/stops/halts activity/process/state x2 [not necessarily completing it]
  7. cmima
    x1 is a member/element of set x2; x1 belongs to group x2; x1 is amid/among/amongst group x2
  8. barda
    x1 is big/large in property/dimension(s) x2 as compared with standard/norm x3
  9. cusku
    x1 expresses/says x2 for audience x3 via expressive medium x4
  10. tavla x1
    talks/speaks to x2 about subject x3 in language x4

Note the different place structures of cusku and tavla. With cusku the emphasis is on communication; what is communicated is more important than who it is communicated to. Quotes in e-mails frequently start with "do cusku di'e" (di'e means "the following") as the Lojban equivalent of "You wrote" (ciska - "write" - places more emphasis on the physical act of writing). With tavla the emphasis is rather more on the social act of talking—you can tavla about nothing in particular.

Exercise 3

  1. la klaudias. dunda le cukta la bil.
    Claudia gives the book(s) to Bill.
  2. le karce cu sutra
    The car(s) is/are fast.
  3. la kamIL. cukta
    "Camille" is a book.
  4. mi fanva la kaMIL. la lojban
    I translate "Camille" into Lojban.
  5. le prenu cu sisti
    The person(s) stop(s) [whatever it was they were doing]
  6. le ninmu cu cliva
    The woman/women leave(s)
  7. la .istanbul. barda
    Istanbul is big. (an understatement—it has a population of over ten million)
  8. mi tavla la mari,a.
    I talk to Maria.
  9. la meiris. pritu la meilis. mi
    Mary is on the right of Mei Li, if you're facing me.
  10. le cipni cu vofli
    The bird(s) flies/fly
  11. crino
    It's / they're green.
  12. ninmu
    She's a woman / They're women /There's a woman / There are some women In sentences 1, 3, 4, 7, 8 and 9, cu is possible but not necessary. In the last two sentences, cu is impossible, since it has to separate the selbri from the sumti that comes before it, and there are no sumti here.

Note that I have translated these sentences in the present tense (since in English you have to choose a tense) but they could be in any tense, so le cipni cu vofli could also mean "The bird flew", for example. We'll look at how Lojban expresses tense in later lessons; just remember that you don't actually need it—normally it's obvious whether an action takes place in the past, present or future.

Created by raladue. Last Modification: Thursday 15 of December, 2011 16:19:21 GMT by CHLim.