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- Oren Watson -
My Thoughts On Lojban

Lojban is a constructed language created in 1987 as a successor to Loglan,
and for much the same goals. It is meant to be unambiguous, structurally
sound, simple and easy to learn, and international.

However, while I think its goals are laudable, I don't agree with the choices
made in its development, and there's two things in Lojban's design which I think
are very large mistakes.

The first major mistake in Lojban's design is in its phonology. As noted in 
reference #1 at the bottom, Lojban has 6 vowels. The first five are the  
A E I O U common in continental european languages, which are also common
elsewhere in the world. The last is schwa, represented by the letter Y. 
Schwa is common, but hard to make intentionally. 

However, I could overlook the inclusion of schwa in the vowel system,
if it didn't also cause problems with another feature of Lojban, consonant 
cluster buffering #2. Lojban words can include difficult consonant clusters,
but these can be "buffered" with a vowel. In most languages, the obvious 
vowel for this purpose would be none other than the schwa, or possibly
a vowel of a nearby syllable.

In Lojban however, both the schwa, and all other vowels in the language,
are forbidden from being used to buffer the consonant clusters. Instead
some other vowel sound must be used; but this vowel sound isn't specified!
This causes problems for human speakers, who must therefore either be 
able to pronounce all the lojban consonant clusters, or be able to pronounce 
seven distinct vowel sounds.

This also causes problems for human listeners, who might not recognize 
whichever vowel a speaker chooses to buffer their clusters with; and even
for computer processing of speech, which would have to somehow recognize a 
variety of buffer vowels, including the ones noted in #2. It would be better 
to have 'y' represent a high central vowel like those, and buffer clusters 
with a schwa.

The second major problem with Lojban's design has to do with the basic 
grammatical structure of the bridi. In a bridi, the selbri can have up to five
sumti. In a natural language, this is akin to a verb that has 5 completely 
unmarked participants. It is my opinion that anything more than 3 is too many; 
and only 2 is ideal. In english for example, only a very few, very common 
words can have 3 participants unmarked with prepositions, and none 4.

Further, selbri with similar meanings can differ widely in their place 
structure, particularly with regards to the last two sumti. For example, 
consider the selbri:
ciska: x1 writes x2 on x3 using x4 
cusku: x1 says x2 for audience x3 via medium x4
benji: x1 transmits x2 to receiver x3 from origin x4 via x5
As a result, one has to remember what roles the two to five participants in
a bridi have for each selbri, in addition to the raw meaning of the selbri.

The participants of a bridi can be rearranged into different orders, and marked
with particles #3, #4. However, these particles merely tell you which numbered 
role a sumti goes into, and nothing about what that role actually is. As a 
result the use of marked sumti causes more confusion, not less. It would be 
better if Lojban had a fixed word order with only two unmarked sumti, and 
marked other participants with semantic roles, rather than marking positions 
that have arbitrary semantics.

These two problems with Lojban's design are not the only ones. There are 
smaller nitpicks which can be made regarding orthography, internationality, 
and vocabulary. However, these two reflect choices made which I think are not 
only poor, but illogical and cause confusion; they conflict with the basic 
goal of the language, to be logical and unambiguous.