Background documents: The Lojban Dictionary, fa'a as orientation, dictionary notes from 2001, Great Dictionary Problem, jbovlaste, Elephant, 2002 Baseline Statement,
Also see: Old BPFK Procedures
mi'e nitcion pe ka'i le baupla fuzykamni
[.i mi djica lenu le baupla fuzykamni cu se sinxa levi pixra .i pixra lo mlatu kujoi ne'abo lo lamne jitro grake .i le pixra cu srana le glico jufra noi mi pilno ke'a lenu skicu le ka nandu fa lenu tugnyri'a loi lojbo .i pilno lu'e ledu'u dunli lenu dzutro loi mlatu .i le pixra cu se cpana lu by py fy ky li'u noi se ciska ci'e la tenguar.]
lamne jitro grake ki'a? mi'e pier.
.i .u'icai .i le pixra cu mutce leka zdile .i le mlatu cu claxu ro kanla .e ro birka .e ro tuple .iku'i ri palci crida se kerlo gi'e clani kruvi se rebla gi'e zdile se kerfa fi le nazbi noi na'eka'e viska ke'a .i ji'a le grana cu simsa me'o ty. .i mi mutce nelci .i mu'omi'e .djorden.
Illustration by Matt Arnold aka Eppcott (epkat)
lanme jitro grake: shepherd's crook (sheep-controlling staff). (So s/lamne/lanme/, but are you sure about the grake? I think you've got a sheep-controlling gramme there instead. mi'e filip.) Awkward, I know. The cat didn't have that much thought put into it , but it was supposed to invoke the typical feline contempt for the world. and now that you mention it, it is a kind of Cheshire nose... .ixu lenu le grana cu me me'o ty, cu ka'e smuni da do ? .i smuni su'oda pe mi po'o ge'u no'u ledu'u simsa le'e grake (grana? f.) be loi natmrvlaxo .i lei natmrvlaxo cu se bangu lo simsa be le bangrnrumana gi'e xabju le snanu tutrnbalkano .i tcaci ke lanme kansa litru .i lei pilno be le sinxa cu jgira tu'a levo'a bangu .i ku'i so'e natmrvlaxo cu zmanei lenu pilno le xelso bangu kei ki'u tu'a le citri vlipa bo ciste . Actually, I have no idea what the connotations of an Arumanian/Vlach symbol ultimately are for Lojban. I just know I'm taking the symbol of a shepherd. — n.
This page describes the mini-dictionary project and the responsibilities of the Language Design Commission, the baupla fuzykamni (Abbreviation: byfy or bypyfyky). I (Nick Nicholas) have been currently appointed as chair of the Commission; where I am making statements ex cathedra, I will be signing them as BPFKJ (baupla fuzykamni jatna). If the commission lose confidence in the way I run the commission, they are of course free to vote me out and ask the board to appoint another. In order to forestall debate (or, if you prefer, to enable it), I will lay out here what my vision of the Commission's work is, and what the mini-dictionary should involve.
Much of this is recycled from my posts on the board and exchanges with other board members. This should be read in conjunction with the 2002 Baseline Statement. That statement is the opinion of the board; what I say here is the opinion of me, the BPFKJ, and clearly the board statement takes priority.
I am more than happy to solicit comment from the community in general; however, to keep this a coherent document, I will be editing commentary out and onto the bottom of the page, when I amend its content following suggestions. The reason I'm being all tippy-toe may be obvious: this is an exercise of power, and we all want to make sure that any such power is circumscribed and not abused --- and more over, that it be seen as not abused.
.i .a'o la djig. .e la talen. cu kecti lemi pruxi
1. The mandate of the BPFK, as I see it
1.1. What has gone wrong
There are several things wrong with Lojban as it currently stands. Not everyone sees them as wrong to the same extent, because of the diversity of opinion of the community; however, enough of this wrongness has accumulated that there are problems needing to be fixed for the good of the language; and the BPFK's job, as I see it, is to fix them in a way acceptable to the community.
1.1.1. The baseline is incomplete
While most of the community embraces the need for a baseline (and the rest are prepared to tolerate it), there has been imprecision and confusion about what constitutes the baseline, to what extent Lojbanists are bound by it, when it expires, what it encompasses, &c &c &c. The board's 2002 statement seeks to clarify these issues. But as before, the baseline remains incomplete: a dictionary providing further clarification of words needs to be written.
1.1.2. There are inconsistencies in the existing prescription
From time to time, minor bugs are found in the existing prescription, namely the CLL and the grammar. Most of these have been approved of by John Cowan, who wrote CLL. However, if the baseline is regarded as having been absolutely, utterly, completely frozen since 1997, there is no scope for these bug fixes to be fixed. (Of course, depending on whose interpretation of the 1997 statement you take, that freeze may or may not have just expired. That uncertainty has been circumvented by the 2002 statement.)
On the other hand, the concern for much of the community with stability means that any 'fixes' in the language should be very carefully regulated; this cannot turn into 'open season' on the language definition. This means that a body needs to formally consider any proposed fixes to the language, and approve or reject them in a transparent, open manner, with explicit documentation of whys and wherefores, and with accountability to the community. Past battles waged in the community means that this task cannot be undertaken by one or two people, however well esteemed in the community; but by a formal committee, whose deliberations are open to the public, and can be called into question.
1.1.3. Noone knows how to write a dictionary
A Lojban Dictionary is a formidable thing to write for anyone
- the more so because the community expects it to represent current usage and understanding of the language, and the initial intent of the designers may no longer be enough to satisfy that expectation. The big successes in Lojban recently have been collaborative including the wiki and the joint translation projects. Individuals may still end up taking dominating roles; but having a group of people to fall back on, and to divide labour up amongst, is clearly the only way such a major task can be undertaken now --- the only way it can be completed, and the only way it can become politically palatable to the community. (No disrespect intended to John; then again, John himself will admit that CLL is not ultimately the work of just one man. And I don't just say that because I wrote the first draft of one of the chapters.)
For the dictionary to get done, bits of it need to be farmed out; this is clear to me, and this is how I intend to run the BPFK --- the more so as I simply have neither the time, the Montagovian training, nor the political capital to write the whole thing myself. Such a project needs strong coordinating and some post-editing to make sure it remains coherent, as well as accurate and representative; coordinating is what I envisage my primary role as.
To get the dictionary started, the community needs to get over its mental block of "how do you write a dictionary entry". I attempted to do this (traumatically) for fa'a some time back; in my to-do list, I intend to do so for something rather simpler (I hope), nau.
1.1.4. Collective memory and amnesia
In recent debate on the relevance of jboskeists (on which see below), And Rosta has asserted his confidence in the collective wisdom that Lojbanists have developed on their language over the past fifteen years. (pc would argue, 40 years; but pc isn't here right now.) There is an upside and a downside to that. The upside is that some things have been decided and worked out, and form part of how Lojban is used. Since these things have never been incorporated into CLL (though CLL has incorporated a hell of a lot), there is a resulting problem with this lore having to be relearned by osmosis every time someone joins the language. Since this lore is nowhere documented, it is hard to track down --- trawling the archives is not terribly efficient. In fact, it is easy for decisions made to be forgotten, with the unsavoury result that debates end up being endlessly rehashed; this has prompted the repeated requests for an Elephant through the past year.
A dictionary incorporating at least some of this Lojban lore would help the language a lot; in fact, a statement xod made on the Board list encapsulates this sentiment well:
The Academy [early name of the BPFK] is charged with the creation of short position statements, which should at least serve as a FAQ on each debate for future users, which is desirable and better than nothing.
(One might well ask, what is the legal force of lore: it ain't baseline. Sure. But, where that lore is universally accepted, it might as well become so. Lojban should be as explicitly documented as the community will put up with --- if the community universally accepts the lore, then it should be published accessibly; and if it does not universally accept the lore, best we find out now, and stop people arguing for that lore as law.)
1.1.5. The power to decide
The downside to Lojban community lore is that, for every point resolved, there are n points which have never been resolved. There are several reasons for this, depending on who you ask:
- the finickiness and pedantry of the discussants;
- the orneriness of prominent Lojbanists;
- the lack of a mandate to get anything decided (particularly when "let usage decide" was the only official line, and the resolution of such issues was not felt with the urgency it is now),
- the abstruseness and complexity of the debates,
- the impossibility of following them through a mailing list context ("who's supporting what now?"),
- lack of background in formal logic (a reality that has unpleasantly dawned on several Lojbanists recently as necessary to work out what is going on with the language)
- lack of time to deal with the issue, particularly the way threads tend to explode.
The BPFK needs to solve this if it is to even get to the FAQ statement stage xod described. The methodology I suggest below, which is basically "Sudden Death", is intended to help for the relatively quick solution which the mini-dictionary needs to represent. There will still be a place for the Elephant, because Lojbanists will never stop debating their language; this is simply what artificial language users do. But to get the mini-dict done within a reasonable timeframe, as many corners as possible need to be cut.
1.2. Who we are
There are honest differences of opinion in the community of what the language is about, and how it should develop. The articulations of ideologies have crystallised on the wiki, although of course they have been exaggerated for rhetorical or taxonomic effect; Lojbanists do not really have as rigid positions as they sometimes claim.
One axis of difference is how much importance is placed on the formalisation of the language, which primarily means matters of formal logic, versus what Lojbanists actually use. One pole was originally termed "hardliners"; usage is starting to wander towards "jboskeists", and here I'm using "formalists". The other pole has been termed "naturalists".
A second axis concerns degree of adherence to the baseline, or rather ideological agreement with the baseline. One pole are "fundamentalists"; dissent from this position has been diverse, but I would term it as being either "evolutionist" (Usage Decides, baseline is dead letter) or "revisionist" (the baseline is wrong, and a formal alternative is proposed instead.) This makes a distinction between spontaneous and conscious deviation from the baseline which may not apply in practice to a language community like Lojban; but these are statements of ideals in any case.
A third axis concerns the degree of importance people place in language usage, on the one hand, versus Lojban as a formal object of study, on the other. The latter have been termed "tinkerers" or "lojbanologists"; the former have been termed jboka'e.
These positions do have correlations between them, of course.
Some of these positions are irreconcilable, and the last axis draws the most acrimony. Several Lojbanists have questioned that tinkerers have any right to participate in decision-making about Lojban at all. Revisionism is not much less anathematised by the community (I recently exemplified this by blowing up at Jorge for perceived revisionism --- even though I mostly agreed with him.
The BPFK enterprise makes some ideological presuppositions, and these come to the fore in the relative priorities accorded conflicting sources of information. The primacy of the already published baseline, and the difficulty forced in modifying it, are fundamentalist. The board statement slightly favours usage over logic (D.5 vs. D.6), so there is a slight naturalist bias. And both the fundamentalist and naturalist bias repudiate 'tinkering' --- although the possibility of errata in the existing prescription, and of admitting proven experimental cmavo, allows a (very slight) opening.
I have more of a formalist bias than the board as a whole, I believe, but I can only exhibit such a bias in my votes, not in my stewardship. I am opposed to excluding Lojbanists of good faith from decision making, and I am not defining 'Lojbanist' as jboka'e for the purposes of the BPFK (what happens post-baseline is another matter,) I believe the system described in the board statement already has enough safeguards in place to avoid turning over Lojban to tinkering, without the need to bar any gates. I certainly do not want revisionists to have a majority on the commission; but I remain convinced that the lojbanologists have an understanding of aspects of the language which it is crucial for the BPFK to be able to draw on.
I must also note something John said on the board list with interest:
I will add that it is not sufficient reason not to change something merely that one believes that, on principle, nothing should be changed. Conservatism should be a tendency, or at most a general prejudice, but not a counterargument.
I'm not sure I agree, but if that's fundamentalism, it's a fairly moderate brand of it...
1.2.2. Conflict Resolution
My position on conflicts of sources is as follows (and I think it is close enough to the board's to be admissible --- but I am more than open to debate on it.)
- Where usage and formalism diverge, all other things being equal (i.e. no prior prescription or conflicts in the prescription), there is a bias towards usage over formalism, but it is slight.
- If usage has done A and formalism suggests B
- and enough Lojbanists, including 'naturalists', go along with B, and say it should be the usage from now on- then B should be allowed to win. (This is my take on what happened with ka.) Otherwise, leave well enough alone. (This is my take on the semantic inconsistency that has emerged between pu and pu'o as sumti tcita.)
- If usage has overwhelmingly trumped prior prescription, especially where that prescription is muddled, usage should be allowed to win --- but this is allowed to change the existing prescription only when the case is overwhelming, and formalism doesn't contradict (Board Statement D.5.: "consistent with the design goals for the language".) (This is my take on what happened with vo'a.)
- If formalism suggests A and usage is split (or at least not overwhelmingly opposed), and the prescription is silent but more consistent with A read between the lines (for a commonly accepted standard of 'reading between the lines'), then formalism should have a chance of prevailing. (This is my take on what happened with the quantification of empty places in bridi conversion.)
- The supplicatory model is a resource available to the BPFK (i.e. they can ask Bob or John what they meant when they defined word X so.) But the designer intention, where not clearly stated to begin with, is not especially privileged: it is not elevated to the status of CLL as inviolable. The BPFK can consider what the designers intended X to mean; they are not bound to.
Bob has posted a hierarchy of fundamentalism that can also serve as a guide to how serious one should consider any proposed changes:
- typo correction
- clarification that does not contradict a viable denotation of the existing definition
- clarification that basically admits I/we chose poor wording so that the denotation of the existing definition is misleading (rewording a gismu definition)
- splitting of a word into two words to resolve polysemy
- addition of a new word not justified by polysemy on a currently unassigned cmavo (or adding a single line YACC grammar rule that changes no others, e.g. CAhA+NAI; adding a place to place structure)
- deleting an assigned cmavo because it is useless (deleting a place from place structure, or a gismu)
- addition of a new word reusing such a deassigned cmavo; seems much higher than using an unassigned cmavo - I would support using xVV before reassigning tei even if tei is deleted (changing a place structure other than simple addition or deletion)
1.2.3. The Lojbab Lesson
This diversity of opinion is long established and unlikely to go away, and many Lojbanists have acute disagreements about details of the language design. On the other hand, a unitary baseline specification, attained by consensus as the Board has defined it, means that Lojbanists will have to accept that not everything they cherish will be accepted as standard.
The venture, if it is to have any hope of succeeding, requires its members to act in good faith, to accept compromise wheresoever possible, and resign themselves to the possibility of losing issues. Since the model is consensus rather than majority vote, there will be hefty pressure on minority opinion holders (where they number more than 1) to yield to the majority. Such Lojbanists have a moral obligation they'll scarcely need reminding of, to stand their ground if they think the majority opinion will damage the language. (In such a case, as I detail below, the expected outcome is to sidestep the controversy by watering down the definition, and "letting usage decide". This presupposes that the issue is not already biassed against by prior prescription or usage.) But such Lojbanists also have the obligation to yield to the majority, I believe, if they recognise that the issue is not crucial to the integrity of the language. (I happen to think the importing behaviour of ro is such an issue, which is non-crucial enough to be decided by the mob --- convenient for me, of course, since I am with the mob on this one...)
Getting this community, with such diverse views and expectations, to collaborate on a project as crucial as the dictionary, is going to be as difficult as herding cats. I let this remark slip to Bob, he said it to the Board, and in embarrassment, I cannot but propose that the logo of the BPFK be a Cat With Shepherd's Crook.
1.2.4. We're All Individuals
The ideological differences mean it is impossible for all Lojbanists on a BPFK to agree on theoretical presuppositions prior to their work: their motivations for working with the language are irreconcilable. Yet ultimately, this does not really matter, as Bob pointed out to the Board list: the issues the BPFK will consider are not "shall the language be formalist or naturalist", but concrete, specific issues like "shall .a'e be irrealis", "shall so'a mean 'more than 50%'" or "shall it be valid to say that lo'e cipni cu na'e vofli". Faced with such concrete issues, the ideologies are not of primary importance: what matters is that consensus be attained, among Lojbanists of good will.
This is not to minimise the importance of the ideological splits; I think this tension is a lot of what makes Lojban interesting. And the differences are dealt with by being open about them, I believe, not by sweeping them under the carpet. But very often. the differences will simply not be germane to the questions the BPFK will actually be faced with.
1.3.1. A Standard Lojban
Different members of the community invest different meaning in what the baseline's job is; this affects how they view it. I do not believe they can be reconciled as to what its job is. Since however everyone wants the dictionary done, we should be able to agree on what needs to go in it.
All descriptions of 'factions' in Lojban are exaggerations; but the following (overlapping) positions are possible:
- The baseline prescribes what is and isn't Lojban, period; anyone deviating from it is not speaking Lojban.
- The baseline is obsolete, since Lojban is now a real language in use; work on the baseline is merely of antiquarian interest.
- The baseline defines a formal rigorous object, which is of value in and of itself as a piece of linguistic work, whatever ends up spoken.
- The baseline describes a standard version of the language, which may be taken as a reference point, but usage can and will deviate from it in practice. The standard is not about being an idealised formal rigorous object, but is what most people find acceptable.
To fulfil all these roles, I suggest the 'standard' formula, which xod has devised. Since our interests in Lojban are routinely antithetical , if I can see fit to accept it, it probably is a good compromise. Some members of the community may choose to regard it as binding in perpetuity; others may accord it the same level of regard (or disregard) as most English speakers do to Fowler or The Chicago Manual of Style. (The parallel is helpful, because 'standard Lojban' has been spoken to as a standard for collaborative projects, and for official LLG language use, not for individuals.) But since most of us do want a Fowler-equivalent around for Lojban, whatever use we may put it to, the baseline has to encapsulate what the majority of Lojbanists (if not the overwhelming majority) would accept as part of the language without controversy. If the baseline prescribes something half the community finds unacceptable, it will simply be rejected.
'Standard Lojban' does mean 'non-experimental', which is why no experimental cmavo should be included in the dictionary: their usage is legitimate, but it cannot be included in the official standard. The same goes for other minor deviations as they come up; for instance, despite their popularity in some quarters, I regard standard Lojban fu'ivla as being Type 3, not Type 4. This is not to say that Type 4 are illegal --- but simply that they shouldn't be included in the dictionary, where they would be model examples of what fu'ivla should be like.
1.3.2. Variant Usages?
This also means that it may be useful for the dictionary to do things that prescriptions wouldn't do, but style guides would: where there is genuine disagreement in the community, not to prescribe one or the other alternative, but to state that the alternatives exist. In my opinion, the major asset of Lojban is explicitness, and not the adopting of one or the other model of language. If Lojban cannot have One True Way of doing something, I believe that rather than leaving it all to chance and pidginisation, it is better served (as a logical, formal language) by having Two True Ways that users can choose among --- and that users can state which one they're using. That way, ambiguity is still avoided, without the entire community being forced to accept something it will not unanimously accept.
I dangle the foregoing paragraph as something the BPFK may need to come back to later on in the game, because it contradicts the board statement, D.5: "Thus, if multiple meanings for a word have emerged in actual Lojban text, the byfy shall select one meaning, justifying any change from the default. Usage based on alternate meanings shall not be acknowledged in the baseline documentation, and are formally discouraged by LLG." (But see also D.6: "If formal logical analysis is inconsistent with either usage or the documented status quo, the byfy may consider adding a brief note to this effect.") I'm finding myself flipping on the issue, but shall not press it unless it becomes manifest that it needs to be pressed. Adopting it, and acknowledging diversity of usage in the prescription, goes beyond the BPFK's current mandate, and would need to go back to the Board for approval.
I mentioned above that there will be a place for the Elephant beyond what the mini-dict prescribes. This comes back to xod's Standard Lojban notion: the community wants a standard, defining as much of the language as the whole community is comfortable with. Some Lojbanists (the formalists) may well want to formalise the language further. Noone can prevent them from doing so, just as noone can prevent naturalists (let alone evolutionists) from ignoring them in how they choose to use the language. But any such move lies outside the standard that is to be finalised now as the language baseline by the BPFK.
This can end up meaning Lojban ends up splitting into slightly different dialects (disdialektigho in Esperanto), depending on linguistic ideology and degree of fundamentalism. IMO, as long as this happens far enough down the road, and as long as there persists a standard reference point for the language, this is not the disaster it usually would be for an artificial language. But the time for disdialektigho is not yet upon us, and as much as possible, the BPFK should be codifying a unitary standard. (So for now, 1.3.2 doesn't count.)
2. The BPFK's Job
2.1. What goes into the dictionary
These preliminaries done, what is this BPFK to do? It is to create a dictionary in order to complete the baseline of Lojban. This work is to complement the foregoing baseline, not to annul it; any modifications to the existing baseline must be made with reluctance, and only if they are inevitable. The completion task needs to satisfy both formalists, with their emphasis on logical rigour, and naturalists, with their emphasis on established usage. It is to base its conclusions on the past work of the Lojban community, in order to preserve continuity, to satisfy the community's declared intentions, and to avoid reinventing the wheel and getting bogged down. It is to use both past discussion, to satisfy the formalist imperative, and past usage, to satisfy the naturalist imperative.
The specific tasks of the BPFK is to author satisfactory extended definitions of words, inasmuch as the current, brief keywords are widely felt to be unsatisfactory. These words include cmavo, gismu, lujvo, fu'ivla, and cmene. Of these:
- The cmavo definitions are pressingly inadequate. CLL started out as a cmavo dictionary, and has gone a long way towards clarifying the meaning of cmavo; but it is not felt to have obviated the need for a distinct dictionary explaining cmavo. By default (and unless a good case is made too the contrary), anything the CLL does say to explain cmavo will form the basis of the dictionary definition.
- Although I presume in theory the gismu list lies within the ambit of the BPFK's revision, there is no great eagerness to reopen its definitions, and it is not named in the board's motion. Unlike the cmavo list, the gismu list has fairly extensive definitions, which were subjected to review in the '90s. That said, ambiguities in the statement of the place structures have been raised several times over the past eight years. I think it appropriate for the BPFK to consider disambiguating the place structures by further specifying their meaning; I am disinclined to consider radically altering their places (adding or subtracting.) But I do not believe this is the first priority of the BPFK.
- The cmene, fu'ivla and lujvo are to be included on a sampler basis. While the definitions included need to reflect BPFK consensus, and will serve as model definitions, their presence or absence is not decisive for the language definition itself, the way cmavo are. All three need to be tractably small sets; I would not anticipate more than 500 in each. The criteria for inclusion should include paedagogical illustrativeness, but also frequency and anticipated frequency (salient concepts which people are very likely to need; the lujvo used as disambiguations in the gismu list should certainly figure.)
So the main job for the BPFK is to define cmavo as explicitly as is politic. It needs a reasonable amount of space to do so, but not to rewrite CLL in the process: I envisage up to 200 words for most entries, with only a few high use cmavo exceeding that. For instance, a definition of rau would not look too dissimilar to this:
- "rau" indicates a quantity which is satisfactory for the purposes of the perspective-holder in context [not necessarily the speaker], as they can be inferred from context. Its reference is not constrained to being a ceiling value ('large enough value'), it may be a floor ('small enough value') or a median value, according to context.
The BPFK is also charged with considering any alterations to the existing baseline. These can emerge either through what is determined for cmavo definitions during the commission's work, or through errata raised in the commission. For obvious reasons, the commission must be reluctant to entertain destructive change (endangering backwards compatibility with the prior baseline). Additive change is not truly a problem. In particular, the BPFK has the authority to make official experimental cmavo which have become accepted in the community, and to enter them into normal cmavo space. This does not make it open season on experimental cmavo, and there are not that many available cmavo; I think there is some chance the remaining 5 + 3 + 5 unassigned cmavo (effectively 5) will not be exhausted. But I think there are a couple of proposals worth entertaining.
Machine Grammar changes are a different matter, since the grammar has long been regarded as a fixed and defining aspect of Lojban. We are reluctant to make any alteration to the grammar (additive or subtractive), even though many of us view the grammar as it stands with dismay. But where true syntactic ambiguities have been identified
- and this has happened at least once - this should be considered an erratum, since syntactic unambiguity is a core feature of the language.
2.2. Manner Of Operation
- There is a very real danger of any definition work getting bogged down. "Bogged down" has become synonymous with jboske discussions, and the community cannot afford another ten years of this until the dictionary is done. Insiders have asserted that the discussions are spirals rather than circles; but until they can become better organised and more transparent (vide Elephant), this will be hard to see.
- Not everyone in the community is equally interested in all aspects of the language; there might be only two people passionately interested in MEX definitions, with the rest thinking "whatever..." People should be able to tune out of design issues where they think (after non-trivial consideration) that they would be happy with either proposed outcome.
- The BPFK needs to have access to prior discussion of issues ("lore"), and should take the opportunity to make that discussion readily accessible not only to other BPFK Members, but also to future Lojbanists, such as those who might want to work on a maxi-dictionary or a more detailed formalisation one day.
- The BPFK needs to consider both prior usage and prior discussion in its entirety. All likely relevant material needs to be traversed by those who compile definitions based on the lore. And other commission members need to be able to verify that the proposed definition accurately reflects the lore.
- Participation in discussion of the definition should be possible for all members. But it should not be forced on them. A commission member should be able to decide to concentrate on only certain issues, and ignore others, casting a "don't care" vote.
- Anyone authoring a definition needs to take into account paradigmatic semantic relations between cmavo of the same class: the definition of na'o will certainly depend on the definition of ta'e. So one person should be authoring the definition of an entire paradigm.
- There must be opportunity for rebuttal and counterproposal. But this must be doable in a fairly formal and curt fashion: there is a plethora of cmavo to go through, and the commission cannot afford to be forced to follow a free-flowing discussion of fifty different selma'o at once.
- The entire process needs to be transparent and open to the public (i.e. non-Commissioner Lojbanists.)
So I envision the decision process happening as follows.
- We assemble a corpus of all Lojban and all meta-Lojban ever written. That means all JLs, all mailing lists (including the 3 incarnations of Lojban List, jboske, the members', the russian list), all irc logs, everything on the wiki, all books published and under publication, all versions of wordlists that have ever appeared, the lot. There are a couple of lists subject to confidentiality (those on them know which ones I mean), and private correspondence should not be admitted unless both parties consent.
- We get or write concordancing software with a web interface. I preview what I mean on the Prototype Page. We do not need just a generic web search interface: we want something that will pinpoint the word in context accurately (so that the user can quickly work out whether the instance found is relevant or not). This should also indicate the author where retrievable (and in email digests this should be doable readily). And the search needs to be open-ended: if there are 10,000 instances, the user should potentially be able to browse through the lot. In the first instance, this can be just a search for full words; substring searches might help for commonly orthographically-compounded cmavo, but my impression is we know which the usual compounded cmavo are.
- The cmavo are broken up into paradigms, each to defined by one person. A paradigm is defined semantically, not syntactically: there will be several paradigms in large selma'o, and several closely related selma'o will be conflated into a selma'o. The paradigms can (and might as well) include corresponding closing cmavo; these are in syntagmatic rather than paradigmatic relation, but that's enough structuralism for now.
- A voting database is set up; this too is prototyped at the Prototype Page. The database is to have a publicly viewable web interface; it will contain cross-references to the existing word lists and CLL (as the necessary starting points for any definition); a link to the concordancer (so all instances of the word in the corpus can be browsed); space for the proposed definition and evidence; space for any number of counterproposals and evidence; and publically viewable votes.
- A BPFK member volunteers to define a paradigm. They commit themselves to traversing the entire corpus for all relevant usage and discussion of the words they define. They write their proposal up in the voting database, proving documentation. Their proposal must characterise the understanding of the cmavo meaning likeliest to be broadly accepted: this is not the time or place for controversy.
- The documentation consists of hyperlinks, linking to:
- all representative discussion supporting their proposal;
- all representative usage;
- As a means of "taming the lore", it is recommended (though not mandatory) that proponents also outline all major controversies involving the cmavo in the history of lojban, with the opposing views briefly described in each debate, and hyperlinks giving representative statements of these past positions.
- wherever feasible, and where there is controversy about the word meaning: all usage of the word, with indication of how many people used the word in sense X, how many times. See Prior usage and discussions of vo'a for what I think such a survey should look like.
- Sudden death vote. Everyone on the commission votes (just votes) on whether the proposal is acceptable, within a brief period --- a week, at most. I really, really want to discourage discussion at this stage, but in order to prevent confusion in the next stage, I'll accept that voters can state their reasons for rejecting the proposal, but very very briefly (100 words max), and with no right of rebuttal yet.
- If at most one person dissents, the proposal is accepted, and we move on.
- If more than one person nay-says the proposal, we have a problem. Within a designated period, someone should make a counterproposal (with their own evidence), addressing the objections raised by the voters, and that goes to vote.
- If both proposal and counterproposal are rejected, we have trouble. Discussion gets taken to a discussion forum. This can be jboske, but I don't want one forum with 50 threads, as said before; I would be more comfortable with a bulletin board solution like a WebXing forum off each word (or paradigm) --- as long as the text of those transactions can be readily extracted and archived. People may choose to get email digests of particular forums.
- Not everyone on the board is compelled to take part in any such discussions. In fact these discussions are not meant to happen routinely anyway. Where they do happen, it is highly desirable that a 'shepherd' do the job of coordinating discussion, and report back to the rest of BPFK on what has gone on. In the first instance, the shepherd should be the initiator of the proposal; by definition, they are the expert on the topic.
- And has stated on the list that he wants a phase of discussion raising the issues, and a phase reaching consensus on them. My current take is: issues raised in the past must at least be mentioned in the initial proposal (as background). Novel issues can be raised in jboske, but should be entertained only with caution: this is clean-up, not new lojbanology. (And has basically assented to this: "in the context of trying to arrive at a recommendation to feed in to the BF, not of trying to investigate all the jboskological ins and outs.") So part of the first phase is subsumed by the initiator's initial research. The rest (new issues) may well arise in discussion, but are not the reason why the discussion is happen, and should not be pursued as an end in itself. (This is an underlying philosophy, as it will be impossible to police this in practice.)
- Periodically, new proposals are posted and voted on, until consensus is reached. If an aspect of the definition is controversial, and members cannot be swayed readily, then that aspect should simply be cut out of the definition, and left for 'usage to decide' or whatever. The definition needs to be as explicit as community consensus will allow, but not more explicit than that. A skill Commissioners will need to develop is realising when an aspect of the definition is not going to sway everyone, and when to cut one's losses. In the worst case, the definition keeps getting watered down until we are back where we started --- the CLL definition if there is an explicit one, the ma'oste if we're really unlucky.
- Past the initial proposal and counterproposal, supporting hyperlinks should be optional, and I don't anticipate them being needed much after the initial exchange.
- Discussion can continue on jboske on all these issues if people want to; but frankly, I cannot keep up with it now, and do not expect to keep up with it when it gets multiplied by 10, as I expect will happen.
- If no consensus whatsoever can be reached, then at least the two rival proposals (and I should hope there'll be only two) should be written up, and the commission moves on. The board statement allows the board final decision on how to pick among the alternatives (D.9), including voting itself, or appointing some other body to do the picking. Let's please not get to that stage...
- A further way out of such impasses is to recommend a new (official) cmavo for one alternative and the existing cmavo for the other.
- It has been suggested that the only way to legitimate meta-Lojban is by doing it in Lojban: that discussions about changing the language should be in Lojban. The board statement says that any revisions of the language post-baseline must be discussed in Lojban. No such requirement is in place for the current BPFK. In fact, since I want to minimise the amount of discussion happening at least on the voting site, there won't be as much scope for it anyway. I encourage meta-discussion the BPFK transacts on fora to be also in Lojban, though with the expectation of translation on request. This is an important sign of the maturity of the language. But I am not prepared to require it at this stage of the language.
2.3. The Chair as Bully
I may have to make hard decisions; I don't want to have to, but I may. These can include booting someone off the commission if they are demonstrably unwilling to seek consensus (there is a fine line between this and being a yes-man), or wilfully ignoring the baseline-compliance requirement. I am answerable to the board, the commission itself, and the community. I would like to think I am entering into this venture with good will, and that the commissioners likewise enter into it with good will. We will all say things we shouldn't; and we should all try to make sure the project doesn't get derailed. Recent exchanges on jboske have made me optimistic (although I must admit I wasn't the one contributing to constructive consensus-building.)
That said, I have a fragile ego --- I am not ashamed to admit; and if my effectiveness or honesty is challenged, it will be very easy for me to decide this isn't worth it, and to walk away. I will try to disengage as much as I can. Still, this venture will attract such criticism; it is endemic. This is the main reason why I sought a vote from the community; this is an intrinsically controversial project, because it is an exercise of power, and I want to make sure (a) that I am not given more power than the community trusts me with (I manage the commission, I don't define stuff on my own), and (b) that I am in fact entrusted with seeing the commission's work through the way I want it to operate.
2.4. Things To Be Delegated
- Collecting the corpora
- Authoring or getting the concordance tool
- Dividing up the paradigms
- Authoring the voting tool
- Managing the voting process
- Pretty printing the result in a book
Lojbanists, I am going to delegate as much of this as humanly possible. (I remind you that as of this writing, I still have to finish off the Level 0 package
- I'm now working out how to get Urdu into the pronunciation key - and complete the lessons --- which is a substantial task. I also am intending to start doing linguistic research again; I'll sacrifice a lot for Lojban, but not my identity.)
As a result, I will be issuing calls to volunteer on specific tasks through the main mailing list periodically. But the BPFK will have its own mailing list, for whatever administrative stuff specific to it might come up. The commission consists of those who volunteer to keep voting on a substantial number of issues; but technical expertise can be volunteered by Lojbanists outside the commission. I'm not as sure that definitions can be in the first instance authored by Lojbanists outside the commission --- there is an accountability issue, in that it is easier for someone to be answerable to the commission for their definition if they are already inside the commission. But there is no problem with the commission asking someone outside to contribute a definition.
The To-Do list immediately below contains current tasks, and who has committed to doing them.
- What would be useful would be to asap have a list of what we're eventually going to want to have resolutions about, so we can gauge how many problem cases there are likely to be and can try to get cracking on discussing them sooner rather than later. And we can also try to get the easy resolutions done and dusted asap. --And
- And, we need everything. What do we need resolutions about? Everything pending. Not being facetious. The only limitation I can set is, there will be some stuff that is outside of the scope of the dictionary. What is outside scope is still fuzzy to me. (Incidentally, I restate that the baupla fuzykamni is not to be a jboskeists-only venture. More when the baseline statement is finalised...) — [Nick]
- I'm not trying to jump the gun, but it would be useful to have an overview of the amount of undecidedness and contentiousness among cmavo meanings. I'm not assuming that the baupla fuzykamni would be a jboskeist-only venture, but I do think that it would be good if the baupla fuzykamni could have among its instruments a clear statement of the jboskeist view. (IMO, since the membership of jboske is open to whoever bothers to join and participate, and since Jboske is precisely the forum where lojbanological issues are discussed, the jboskeist view would generally be pretty unassailable.)
- It's not the end of the world if jboske is ignored. As long as there are experimental cmavo, one can just ignore any unsatisfactory baselined cmavo, and use experimentals instead. The only problem there is the excess of syllables and the antizipfean mismatch of word length and word frequency; but that's a more general problem and needs a more general solution.
- There seems little merit in rushing to fix definite meanings to cmavo without first considering each case properly; the result of excessive haste is to have defective stuff set in stone, and either that defectiveness propagates into usage, or else usage avoids defectiveness by avoiding using the defective cmavo. So we need a reasonable amount of time to consider proposed cmavo meanings. But I am fairly sanguine that discussion wouldn't be interminable, if we clearly separate the relatively terminable task of ensuring that proposed meanings aren't defective from the less terminable and much less crucial task of deciding which nondefective candidate meaning would be the best to assign to a given cmavo. (Again, the existence of experimental cmavo make this a much less contentious issue than it would otherwise be.) --And
- jboskeists shall be consulted; that is my intent as bpfkj (baupla fuzykamni jatna). (This is assuming I get community assent to doing this; after the board issues its statement, I will be putting together a platform statement.) jboskeists shall need to convince non-jboskeists they are not breaking the language in their formalisations; this too is my intent.
- The "experimental cmavo salvator" (comparable to the Grice Salvator naturalists rely on) could end up being a hallmark of the hardliner dialect. For my part, I can only consider exp'tal cmavo for inclusion in the dictionary and non-expt'al cmavo space if they have seen broad usage --- which means the two ventures remain separate. (That is, expt'al cmavo filling gaps in the language naturalists also see; and expt'al cmavo leading to more rigorous definitions than what is currently there.) But as you say, that's not a big deal, if hardliner lojbanists are cool with expt'al cmavo.
- If hardliners aren't cool with experimentals then their ability to contribute fruitfully to this project is doomed, unless, like xorxes, they recycle standard cmavo with new improved meanings. --And
- And, I know I'm intemperate in saying this, but the jboskeists have had 8 years to get their story straight. I'm willing to let cmavo definition take time, but not another 8 years. Not even another 2. In my plan, any controversy arising in the definition process goes straight to jboske
- and if any consensus arises, report back to us by proposing a new definition of the cmavo to vote on.[Nick]
- But the jboskeists never had any authority to embark on this sort of programme of activity. Indeed, even if we had tried to focus our efforts on deciding what the official meaning of some cmavo should be, the official line was that it was ultimately a matter for usage to decide. Jboske discussions have achieved a great deal, but their entirely unofficial status has meant that the knowledge that has accumulated resides mainly in the minds of the jboskeists. I'm pretty sure that in practise we'll see eye to eye on this project: you want to get things done, but you want to get them done right. --And
- *sigh* In practice, all the ideologies melt away (as Bob has already said to the board); there are just appropriate and inappropriate definitions. It's bringing everyone to the table that I'm worried about. [n]