(From Lognet 94/2. Used with the permission of The Loglan Institute, Inc.)
Letters policy: Unless otherwise stated, letters addressed to logli in general, to The Institute, JCB, or any editor of Lognet will be considered as offered for publication. But it would be good if the writer explicitly offers. We reserve the right to edit letters, mostly just to drop material that has to do with ordering books, etc. Sometimes a given correspondent will have several letters in the hopper, so to speak, and we will combine them into one purely for the sake of clarity. If you are not on e-mail and your letter is a long one, we’d be grateful if you’d enclose a soft copy on a diskette. We can translate most word-processors into the one we use and having your letters on disk could save us a lot of typing.
The first few letters we have this time were responses to my “Why Is Loglan So Hard ... ?” paper in LN94/1. The first is from Bob McIvor. (Since I’m the only one making italicized comments in and to readers’ letters these days, I’ve eliminated ‘—JCB’ from all but this and my last comment.) —JCB
Hoi Djim, fie,
I received [the second copy of] LN94/1 today, for which thanks very much. [The first had gone to Bob’s winter address, uu.] ....
I was interested by your response to Dunn. I had come to a similar conclusion myself some time ago: either Chomsky is correct that there is a basic, hard-wired grammar—it is, I feel, apparent that some sort of built-in language facility is present in humans—that does not correspond to Loglan structure, or that we have all been so Whorfed by our natural languages that it renders the learning of L exceedingly difficult in a way that learning even an unrelated natural language is not.
Re the PHEPH fallacy, it is clear to me that this has survival value, and probably extends to a certain extent to any organism that can be conditioned. As an example, I cite the [incident] (perhaps an urban legend) [of a] dinner party where the host had served some delicious mushrooms that she had found growing nearby, fed one to the dog that was begging at table, and a few minutes later discovered the dog was dead. A mad rush to the hospital of hosts and guests followed, with gastric lavage. Later they discovered the dog had died of natural causes. When some undesirable result follows an action, it has definite survival value to avoid similar actions, even if there is a reasonable chance that the action was unconnected with the result. Similar logic gets extended to actions associated with a favourable result.
We trained [our dog] Aiwa to open a sliding window when she wanted to go out on our balcony. She first learned to get in from outside by pushing (actually random stabbing at it) with her paw, and to go out by pushing the window with her muzzle. As long as she lived, she never connected the two techniques, and always used her paw to enter and her muzzle to exit. A friend’s cat that we kept for awhile required no training, but opened the window (with paw) efficiently by turning sideways so that she could pull it toward herself. Apparently cats’ brains are wired better for this sort of problem than dogs’ brains.
As to Whorf, maybe I mentioned it before, but it seems to me that there would be a fertile field for investigating these effects by observing the ways in which peoples that share a language but not a culture [do and do not] resemble each other [in their thinking], compared with their compatriots [who use] a different tongue, e.g., francophone Canadians and French, vs. francophone and anglophone Canadians. Likewise for German-, French-, and Italian-speaking Swiss.
—Hue Bab [Mykaivr]
(I enjoyed this ruminative letter, thought it wonderfully instructive, and told Bob that I would like to use it in the next Lo Lerci, which I already knew was going to contain some comments on the “Why is Loglan so Hard?” piece, including some exasperated ones, soi crano. Bob agreed to let me publish it.)
Re your comment about the general phyletic usefulness of PHEPH, I am reminded of the one-shot learning phenomenon that seems to be reserved, in humans, for episodes in which gastric distress follows the ingestion of some strong-tasting food. What is learned immediately, i.e., without further trials, is to avoid all future offerings of foods with that particular strong taste for a very long time, some guesstimates suggest a decade or more! Apparently any strong taste—extreme sourness, bitterness, saltiness, or sweetness—suffices to make a food a candidate for this effect, and it is the most recent of such culinary candidates that wins the nearly permanent avoidance response. One psychologist has called this effect, rather misleadingly in my opinion, the Blanc Mange Effect (blanc mange being rather inspid-tasting stuff). Anyway, that we are apparently programmed to avoid any food more or less forever that (a) tastes strongly and (b) was a fairly recent predecessor of a bout of gastric distress is, as you suggest, an instance of an apparently hard-wired, and very useful, PHEPH-like biological adaptation.
Also, let me mention that Bickerton (see my reference to his book in L1) seems to have even better evidence than Chomsky’s for a universal grammar, and offers what is in my opinion a stronger argument for, and a usefully detailed hypothetical description of, what he calls the “human language biogram,” something that Bickerton finds limned in all the creoles of the world. (Creoles, he proposes, are invented by children when the usual linguistic authority of parents is, for some reason, broken down; so creoles show features of the human biogram more nakedly than other, more mature languages do.) Interestingly enough, the Bickerton version of “universal grammar” is not as simple as Loglan grammar, having many more fundamental features, indeed more numerous parts of speech. In short, Loglan may still be “rattling around like a pea in a shoebox in human heads,” a metaphor that first occurred to me when I tried to teach Very Very Early Loglan, soi crano, to human subjects in 1956, a year after the project was born. Then, admittedly, the language was demonstrably incomplete, and so too small, both grammatically and lexically, to fit the “language template” I even then suspected resides in human heads. The newest suspicion is that the “pea in a shoebox” analogy is true in a much more fundamental sense than I thought possible at that time.
Hoi Djim, fie,
I found your article “Why Is Loglan So Difficult...?” a tad infuriating, though for reasons that were a bit off your subject and therefore not really your fault. When you argued that people are born with certain built-in logical fallacies, you left one with the impression that these fallacies are complete mistakes, buggy and therefore useless code. I maintain that they are not at all useless, but are useful behaviors that happen to be inappropriate in formal logic.
Consider the PHEPH “fallacy.” A key fact about causality is: If P causes Q, then P occurs before Q. If A occurs before B, then it has matched a key fact about causality. Maybe A causes B. No reasonable person would object if I were to be on the lookout for more cases where A occurs before B. If B occurs after each A enough times, I might hazard the guess that A causes B. [We need more than precedence, of course, to confidently identify A as a cause of B. We need both A’s invariable precedence and B’s invariable succedence whenever A occurs, and we need the absence of A to be invariably followed by the absence of B. Moreover, if A and B are graded phenomena, we need the grades of A to be followed by corresponding grades of B. Finally, we need to know about the conditions C under which the A-B causal link occurs; for in nature, causation is apparently never independent of surrounding conditions.]
In other words, PHEPH is a fallacy only in the rigorous world of logic. It isn’t always true, but it’s an excellent indicator of things that might be true. It is a theory-forming heuristic.
It is also true that observing the real world is not rigorous. To rigorously prove that A causes B, I have to observe that B occurs after A in every single case in all of history, which is humanly impossible. [And isn’t this why we experiment? So as to collect data in those structured ways we need to identify causes without having to wait for those lifetimes of random observations to occur?] At some point, I will lose patience and say, “That’s good enough.” At that point I have assumed PHEPH, and there is nothing wrong with that.
You wrote, “I suspect that for most of the millions of years that hominids have arguably been thinking in PHEPH-like ways, it was very adaptive for them to do so.” I maintain that the only way to never think in a PHEPH-like way, is to never draw any conclusions at all. [Lo nu dutci!] That doesn’t sound very adaptive to me, soi crano.
Logic is useful because it can tell us if the things we think we know are consistent. When logic tells us we have assumed PHEPH, it is only reminding us that there is a chance we are still wrong. When we are checking the consistency of our beliefs, then we must completely eschew PHEPH, but when we are “learning from experience,” which is most of the time, PHEPH is just an example of inductive reasoning.
—Hue Djeimz [Djeninz]
Well, I certainly gave the wrong impression, then, because I agree with you completely about the usefulness of PHEPH (“Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”) reasoning. I don’t agree, as you’ve seen, with your account of causation; but that’s really an aside. (My own views on causation owe much to the analysis of the 19th Century British logician, economist, and philosopher John Stuart Mill.) The main point is that PHEPH has clearly been a useful, even an indispensible, tool to animals like ourselves, who have been, at various times in our long evolutionary history, busily engaged in filling our heads with the “easy beliefs” that PHEPH provides, and that presumably later became human culture. With that profoundly important evolutionary point I couldn’t agree more. In fact my own point was that PHEPH was an extraordinarily adaptive belief generator, exactly what these protohumans “needed” to fill their heads with the protoculture that was going to prove so useful to their descendants. (Actually our ancestors didn’t need this early protoculture at all, of course; but something filled their heads with it anyway; and that turned out to be an enormously adaptive accident in the history of our lineage. You might wish to look at Greenhood’s and my evolutionary scenario, “Paternity, Jokes, and Song,” on this point; it is cited elsewhere in this Lo Lerci.)
I also agree with you, James, that the place where PHEPH is least useful to humans is in those recent, hypermodern contexts, such as scholars’ studies and scientific laboratories, where some humans are actually trying to identify the real causes behind our many problems, not just the abundant, easy, proto-causes that PHEPH provides. For example, some of us are trying to find the real causes of the growing hole in the ozone layer, of global warming, of economic inflation and unemployment, as well as of our all-too-human impulses to wipe out our ethnic neighbors when history suddenly gives us the chance to do so (as the German Nazis, the Yugoslavian Serbs, and the Rwandan Hutus having given us all too vivid and recent examples) as well as our evident tendency to destroy our physical habitats and overpopulate the ones that remain ... and all the other critical problems for which we’d better come up with some real, that is, workable because causally understood, solutions one of these days or our days on this planet are surely numbered. It is in these contexts, the context of coping with the world that the last 300 years of science and industry have made for us to live in, that continuing to think in PHEPH-like ways—as most of us even in the industrial world still do, unfortunately—is clearly not a good idea.
The bottom line on the PHEPH question appears to be that we of the scientific-industrial world—a world in which some of us, at least, have partially escaped the PHEPH-like ways of thinking that, until the last few centuries, tradition demanded of all of us—owe the few peoples of the Earth who still live in wholly traditional ways. I’m thinking here of such hunting-gathering peoples as those who live in the rain-forests of the Upper Amazon, of Borneo and Papua New Guinea. Clearly we owe these paleoform relatives of ours the honor of respecting, and helping them preserve, their “refuge cultures.” We can do this best by protecting their shrinking habitats and restraining our own cultural “need” to dominate their lives; for in these refuge peoples science is teaching us, at last, to see and understand ourselves. As custodians of the planet—and like it or not that is what we industrial peoples now are—we owe these still wholly traditional peoples as much affection, wonder, and understanding as we can marshall for them before they disappear altogether from our planet. But, at the same time, the fragile planetary surface on which we and these refuge cultures alike depend is now beset by such formidable physical problems—survival problems: problems like global warming, ozone depletion, the nutritional demands of our still “exploding” human population (apparently we can expect at least another doubling before growth in the human biomass at last subsides), all urgent problems that have apparently been created by the last 300 years of European industrial civilization (themselves the product of 15th through 17th Century European science), that we cannot expect them to yield in any significant way to PHEPH-like ways of thinking. It is this world, the world that science and industry have surely built—not the life of the eternal hunter-gatherer standing in his rain-forest—with which PHEPH-like thinking simply cannot cope, and with which the tough discipline of Loglan, which you are now helping so ably to develop, may very well help human minds to cope.
I received and have read my copy of Lognet 94/1. It’s nice to know that you are still in business and doing good work. But its arrival stimulated this letter.
First, I note that new versions of LIP, LOD, and MacTeach 2-3 are available. [Member Bigelow had sent us all his old disks for updating. I urge any other logli who may still be using old programs to do that. All our software except M1 has been recently revised. The cost for any amount of updating at one time is $5, and this includes the return postage.]
Second, I have some comments concerning your article [“Why is Loglan so Hard .... ?” LN94/1:2-7]. I submit that, at such time that a group of people choose to conduct a formal discourse entirely in Loglan, the Whorf hypothesis will be de facto proven for all the participants. On the other hand, I submit that people will never choose to conduct an informal discourse in a language that precludes alogical and motivational communication possible in natural languages. It’s not in the genes but in the biological nature of the animal. [How can something be in the one without being in the other?] Biology dooms us, unless we consciously work very hard to avoid it, to emotion- and sensation-filled approximal thinking. Not all that bad since we are instantly able to come to conclusions (biases?) and take action based exclusively on prior personal experiences (free associations?). Perhaps we could graft a logical mechanism onto our brains (a LISP-based computer?) or add a “grammatical garbage” component to Loglan. I note that, in the extension of the language, you have taken many tentative steps toward the latter course (experiments in the theory of semantics?). My hope is that, in whatever is done, the distinction between the two types of expression[s] remains apparent to both people and machines.
Finally, I wonder if I could get hold of a copy of the latest version of the language’s syntax. [All current copies of LIP contain a listing of the formal grammar that made it; this file is now being sent to all new LIP buyers routinely, and will be provided to any owner who buys an update ... as you just have.] .... For learning purposes, I am updating my version to conform with the contents of NB3 and the results of the application of LIP. As a language-user rather than designer, I note that since the syntax is under constant modification, it would be one more thing to keep current and perhaps not worth the effort. What do you think?
Thanks very much for your attention.
Let me deal with your last question first. I personally find it useful to have the very latest version of LIP “on my desk” at all times; but I almost never look, these days, at how Dr. McIvor has executed the most recent grammatical changes that we’ve agreed to in our Keugru discussions. I used to be Cefli Takyrultua. But I am very glad to have turned over that role to an even more skilled takyrultua, and I certainly don’t bother to check up on how he performs his monthly miracles! It would be even less important, I’d imagine, for a user like yourself to keep up with all the changes that Dr. McIvor writes into the formal grammar each year in order to keep up with the decisions of the Keugru.
Having said that, I’m going to appear to contradict myself by saying that at least one careful study of how our machine grammar works—even how an older version of it, like the one published in NB3, worked in 1987—is probably essential for an understanding of Loglan grammar: its awesome elegance, how it cuts through the ad hoc arabesques of natural grammars, to what must seem, to logicians and philosophers at any rate, to be the very heart of the matter: the essential ingredients of human claiming. In short, Loglan formal grammar is, in my view, an achievement worth examining. All logli should probably visit this Loglandian monument at least once in their lifetimes—have a go, in short, at NB3—and maybe take their children through it, too, soi crano. But once is probably enough ... for childen and grownups.
As to your remarks on Whorf, just having a “formal discussion” in Loglan couldn’t, by itself, confirm the Whorf hypothesis. (You say ‘prove’ but I expect you mean confirm, that is, fail to refute it; for experiments can prove nothing true; they can only falsify.) Only if the discussants showed measurable increases in their logical competence could confirmation of the hypothesized Whorfian effects of learning Loglan be said to have taken place. As to your other forecast, that “people will never choose to conduct an informal discourse in a language that precludes [the] alogical and motivational communication [that is] possible in natural languages,” I don’t know how we could know that beforehand! My own suspicions run in the opposite direction. Take the e/ze distinction, or the a/onoi one. In my head, by this time, I simply cannot say ‘John and Pete carried the log’ unless it is true of both of them independently ... and even then I am likely to add the word ‘independently’ just to make sure my hearers/readers understand that it is e I mean. But if, as such remarks usually mean, the two men carried the log together, acting jointly as a two-man team, then my claim would not be true of either John or Pete taken separately but only of that team. My head has evidently become so accustomed to making this once-“unnatural” distinction—once unnatural to me, that is—that I would feel obliged to say ‘John and Pete jointly carried that log,’ or use English ‘together’ or some other ze-anticipating English phrase if it was the John-Pete team that had done the carrying.
Now if my biology were trying to prevent me from doing this, it seems to me I would feel a certain strain as I did so, like the strain of trying not, as an adult human male, to look at a naked adult female human body that happened to drift into my field of view. It can be done; monks do it; and so can I, if circumstances require this “abiological” behavior of me. But there is a palpable effort in the doing of it. Nothing of the sort appears to attend one’s gleeful awareness of a distinction not made automatically in natural languages—but nevertheless makable, note—which one has learned is absolutely essential for straight thinking. Whether one is doing the thinking in Loglan or English doesn’t seem to matter. What does matter is remaining aware of this distinction between the two meanings of English ‘and’ once one has been taught to see it. This does not feel like an uphill biological battle to me, but simply making good my escape from a limiting feature of the language that happened to be spoken in the vicinity of my cradle. It is much like my childhood discovery that there were negative numbers. Nothing in ordinary language had prepared me for it; but as soon as arithmetic began to happen in my life, the discovery that some numbers had to be negative was a delightful one that, once made, was simply unforgettable. In short, what the ze/e distinction feels like to me now is that some years ago I saw through a bit of cloudiness in my native tongue to a very interesting corner of reality, one that now blazes up at me every time I look in it. Seen once it seems impossible not to see it always.
These kinds of observations of self and others—and I have been making them for several decades now—tempt me to believe that children taught Loglan as a first language will be able to make the ze/e and the a/onoi distinctions (as well as a great many other features of loglandian reality) just as comfortably and happily as I do ... and without having to have been even a potential inventor of a logical language in order to do so, soi crano. But for the outcomes of both these predictions, yours and mine, we can only wait and see. And try as hard as we can to prepare for, and ultimately run, the critical experiments.
Dear Dr. Brown:
.... I was very surprised to learn, from my two Lognet issues to date, that there are at least a half dozen artificial languages besides Loglan and Esperanto (the two I knew about), and that Loglan itself had spawned one of these: Lojban. Since it appears that Lojban split away [from Loglan] during the “engineering years,” I assume they wanted to take a different approach to the “demabiguification” of the language. Since this speaks to the heart of my interest in Loglan, I would like to learn more about their approach. Can you send me any material you folks have written about them, or tell me how to get in touch with them? (I would hope that perhaps some of your people are keeping in touch with both camps!) I am also curious about the “hyperevolved” Esperanto offshoot, Ido.
I can’t resist commenting on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis ... although of course I never studied it. While it seems to me that we are indeed capable of non-verbal thought, which we then “translate” into words, [such thought] would be difficult to hold onto and build [up into] any original thought if one couldn’t “quantify” those thoughts in words. And if the language is too crude, the “quanta” too large, one would be very limited. But I would think [that] to adequately test this hypothesis, one would have to teach Loglan to infants as a “first” language, perhaps in a double-blind test ... and what an undertaking that would be! I wish you the best of luck in this endeavor!
I have learned just enough Loglan (I think) to try to translate part of a pun-riddle from ancient childhood years: Da nigro ze blabi e redro ... what is it? ....
—Yours truly, Bill Rambo
(Every now and again someone does ask about Lojban; and every now and again I feel obliged to make a more than perfunctory answer. Member Rambo’s letter made such an occasion for me.)
It is indeed reasonable, Bill, for you to infer that, since the break with the people who were to form the Lojban group (hereafter “lojbi”) took place in 1987—although the break itself had been brewing since the fall of ‘86—and since 1987 falls within the 1977-88 period that I’ve called “the engineering years”—one that starts, by the way, with work on the machine grammar in November 1977 and ends with the completion of the borrowing algorithm in the summer of 1988—that it was an engineering issue that precipitated the schism between us. But it wasn’t. Overtly, at least, it was a dollars-and-cents issue: a question about how The Institute should run its business and about who had the right to publish Loglan software. So in fact the 1987 schism had little or nothing to do with the design or engineering of either language.
Later, of course, some minor design differences did emerge between Loglan and Lojban ... naturally enough, as the lojbi tried to put together a distinctive, if not actually a different, language. But the difference on business policy that actually led to the schism was a very simple one: should TLI defend its copyrights or not? Looking back, it seems almost incredible that such an essentially “grubby” question—amounting to who was to make the first buck off of Loglan—was to lead to the partition of something that called itself “the logical language community”! (So, you would be right to infer, something else was going on, namely a struggle to take control of TLI; but that will shortly be obvious.) What happened was this:-
In 1986 Mr. Robert LeChevalier, who precipitated the schism, told us that he wanted freedom to write and sell Loglan software without any legal restraint from TLI whatsoever. He felt quite rightly that he was prevented from doing this by the existence of TLI’s numerous copyrights and the long-standing policy of its Board of Directors to defend them. (At the time, the Board hoped to make a commercial success of Loglan in our upcoming GPA (“Going Public Again”) by selling lots of books and software, thus freeing TLI from dependence on particular people, and assuring it, in turn, of a reasonably long future. Those intellectual property rights of ours were to be our chief means of doing this.) But even though he vigorously disagreed with us on this basic strategical point, the Board regarded Mr. LeC as a valued member of the Loglan community and offered to publish his software—which was really nothing more than an alternative to M2 based, ironically, on some earlier work of mine—under our standard royalty agreement, along with the other software we were then planning to publish, M1-3 and LIP, all of which had been written by people who had no objection whatever to TLI’s copyright claims and policies.
Surprisingly, Mr. LeC would have none of this. He likened Loglan to French (!), that is, to a language which was already in the public domain, and stood firmly on his own rights as, we gathered, an American entrepreneur to make whatever money he could from such “public” materials.
The next thing we heard was that the very policy that had precipitated this teapot tempest, namely TLI’s long-established policy to copyright and trademark all derivative didactic works in cooperation with their authors—see LN 90/3:26-27 for a still-current statement of this policy—had become a cause celebre. We learned that Mr. LeC had rallied a small minority of the Loglan community behind him in support of this strange new sacrificial doctrine that TLI should give up all its copyrights. (Since then I have learned that this feeling that copy privileges should take precedence over copy rights is quite common among hackers ... and goodness knows, we had some hackers!) How he pulled off this essentially political coup we will never know, but the next thing we learned is that this new group of dissident logli had formed itself into a separate legal entity; this entity (calling itself “The Logical Language Group”! How virtuous can you get, soi crano?) had declared itself to be a formal commercial rival of TLI. Among the other nasty things the LLG did in this new role was to sue (successfully, it turned out) to deprive TLI of the exclusive use of its trademark ‘Loglan’, a word I had coined some 35 years before!—and proposed to build “its own version of a logical language,” that is, of Loglan. This version, the LLG announced, would never, never, never be copyrighted! (Ironically, this promise has not been completely kept, although in part it has been.) In short, the issue that led to the Loglan-Lojban schism in the first place had all the intellectual merit of a contest between preschoolers over a toy-wagon.
Still, I understand that Lojban has grown into a fairly substantial object despite its unpromising beginnings. Several of our people do make it their business to keep up with developments in this other camp of logical language workers. One of them is our chief grammarian, Dr. McIvor, who subscribes on our behalf to the lojbo journal; another is our chief word-maker and artificial language specialist, Steve Rice, who made a study of Lojban several years ago and reported back to us that it was moving in an increasingly “unnatural” direction—if we may call it that, soi crano, as both Loglan and Lojban are by definition unnatural, that is, constructed, languages—whereas, in S’s judgement, L was moving equally strongly in the opposite direction, that is, toward becoming more like a natural language. A third logli who has had a close, recent look at Lojban is Randall Holmes, our logic-worker, who finds Lojban to be logically quite interesting ... even a bit ahead of us along that particular dimension. I’m sure any of these prominent logli would be happy to discuss with you whatever they’ve learned about the ways in which Lojban now differs from Loglan. Just write them at their addresses on the backcover.
As to your—again, very reasonable—inference that the two languages differ in their approaches to disambiguation, unfortunately for your technical interest in this topic, they probably don’t. Loglan was disambiguated in 1982 using a technique based on Aho, Ullman, and Johnson’s 1974 work on automatic parser generators for computer languages, work that a handful of our own volunteers, beginning in 1978, had adapted and extended to disambiguate Loglan. (This technique, which is embodied in a handsome piece of software that we called LYCES—the “Loglan Yaccing and Corpus-Eating System”—is soon to be published in La Logli.) Our LYCES work, though proprietary, was well-known to some of the future lojbi. Indeed, one current lojbi, Jeff Prothero, was one of the volunteers who had helped build an early form of LYCES; and it was LYCES—plus some reasonably clever uses of it—that enabled us to disambiguate Loglan in February 1982.
I don’t know when the disambiguation of Lojban occurred, but I understand that it has. Whenever it was, it was necessarily at a later date than Loglan’s. So I suspect that the techniques the lojbi used to disambiguate their language were substantially the same as those that we had pioneered in the 1978-82 period, for these were applicable to any speakable language that was, at the same time, to be made syntactically unambiguous. This is an inference, and I may be wrong about it. So if you discover that I am—if the lojbi actually did discover different, and presumably more powerful, disambiguation methods than those we used—I’m sure we’d all like to know about them. If you discover anything interesting along these lines, please write it up for your fellow logli in LN or LL.
There are one or two other questions in your letter that I’ll try to answer more briefly. (I admit your first two did let loose a flood of history!) I know nothing of Ido, but my fellow kejgrudjo, Steve Rice, certainly does. He’s our artificial language specialist, remember, as well as our Cefli Purmao. So contact Steve. His e-address is on the backcover; and surface mail will reach him via TLI’s own surface address.
I find your observations about pre-verbal thought and its possible role as a precursor of spoken language—which you suggest can thus be regarded as its “quantizer”—very insightful. If you’d like to examine some fairly similar ideas in an evolutionary context, have a look at Greenhood’s and my 1991 article “Paternity, Jokes, and Song: A Possible Evolutionary Scenario for the Origin of Language and Mind,” Journal of Social and Biological Structures 14(3): 255-309. By the way, I’ll also send any other logli who asks for it a reprint of this paper. Just enclose our standard Postage & Handling fee of $3.00, or authorize the deduction of that modest amount from your balance.
To translate the old riddle into Loglan, you’d have to say Hu nigro ze blabi, e nu ridle go kapli? wouldn’t you? But then it wouldn’t be a riddle! One of the disadvantages of an unambiguous language, uu, is that puns don’t work in it. Unfortunately, nu ridle and redro don’t even sound very similar!
Dear Mr. Brown:
Last month, at the Miami-Dade, Public Main Library, I found your book Loglan 1: A Logical Language (fourth edition).
Since years ago, I have been very interested in Artificial Languages and the idea that it would be possible to develop a system of communication capable of expand[ing] the humans’ capacity to think. I agree with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis mentioned in your book; our brains work in interaction with the tools created by themselves [or by the brains of other humans]. As a simple experiment the only thing we need to do is compare our capacity to multiply with and without paper and pencil. An excellent example is the invention of the concept of zero as a numeral, that you mentioned in your book.
My impression is that Esperanto and other attempts to create artificial language, were made only with the idea of a neutral second language. [They were therefore] imitations or blends of natural Indo-European languages, with almost all [their] grammatical constrictions. The only important contributions are, the creation of phonetic languages (Spanish, my native tongue, is) and the elimination of irregular words.
In your book I found, for the first time, an effort in the right direction. If an Artificial Language is going to succeed, it has to be a better tool.
Since it is not very easy to find books about Loglan here in Miami, I would appreciate your help in letting me know where in South Florida they are available.
—Sincerely, Javier M. Ferrand
In a certain sense Esperanto already has succeeded, in that roughly 100 years after its invention several millions of humans speak it. One can only hope that, sixty years from now—for we’ve already used up 40 of our first 100!—Loglan will have succeeded so well. Actually Esperanto is a “better tool”—better than any natural language, anyway—for the limited purpose for which it was designed, namely to be an easily learned instrument for international communication and so a candidate for that universal second tongue that we so obviously needed—even in the 1890's—on this planet. But I agree with Reader Ferrand’s main point here. Loglan is—scientifically, at least—a more exciting tool, one with truly revolutionary implications, both for our understanding of ourselves and for human communication in the future. But precisely because Loglan introduces the mind to new thoughtways—the predicate calculus for one, sentential quantification for another—Loglan is probably not as easy to learn as Esperanto is. Still the large promise of its potentially liberating metaphysics evidently makes the extra effort worth it for the people—admittedly, relatively few so far—who have been “turned on” by its promise. Besides, it won’t be until we actually begin to teach Loglan to our logli infants—as Member Rambo quite rightly points out in his letter—that we’ll learn whether Loglan is really difficult for humans to learn, or not.
By the way, this good letter was unfortunately sent to Gainesville last February, where it sat for awhile before being forwarded. Uu! But I have since sent Mr. Ferrand all the information he’ll need to buy books and supplies, and I hope he’ll join us in our enterprise. Incidentally, Mr. Ferrand will probably be interested to learn that the President of our far-flung Institute, Wes Parsons, also lives in South Florida. Perhaps they’ll be getting together for a word or two of skafi kupta logla before long.
.... For the obligatory autobiographical note: I’m a computer/electrical engineer who specializes in compilers and computer languages. I enjoy human languages too, and I’ve spent the past few years becoming fairly fluent in Mandarin Chinese. I read L1 about a year ago, and I’m finally taking advantage of a bit of disposable income to get into Loglan a bit deeper. [Member Housel has just bought all the learning tools we sell!]
My ambition for Loglan, in addition to using it as a vehicle for teaching myself about linguistics and computerized natural language understanding, is to translate the New Testament books of Luke and Acts. (Actually, biblical scholars would call it a paraphrase, since it will be based on English, German, and Chinese translations rather than the original Greek.) I imagine this will take quite some time, as the two books total around 57,000 words of English, and the translation will require the invention of hundreds of new words and usage idioms. Can’t wait to get started!
—Cheers, Peter S. Housel
Welcome to our team of logla translators! We have, you know, exactly one brana jungi logli (born Chinese loglanist). He is Mr. Shang Junyi of Chengde, China; see LN 93/3:17 for his introductory letter. I am sure he would welcome correspondence in either Chinese or Loglan (or, most profitably, a mixture of both), and he also writes a very respectable English. Write for his address if you’re interested in developing a trilingual correspondence. Your translations of Luke and Acts will be very welcome in La Logli, which does not have the space limitations of Lognet. Just get in touch with LL’s Editor, Kirk Sattley (address on backcover), when you’ve got a trial piece large enough to float. I’m sure he’ll welcome any opportunity to send big chunks of nurvia logla out to our readers. As for those “hundreds” of new words and usages you’ll need—probably more like 1000’s, from what I remember of biblical prose—I trust you’ll find our new LOD (“Loglan Online Dictionary”) as powerful an instrument for that purpose as it is for furnishing old ones.
The following letter was adressed to Jim Smith, a then-editor of Lognet, and Jim sent it to me for answering. Since the issues the writer raises are of quite general interest, I’ve decided to answer it publicly.
Dear Mr. Smith:
A few weeks ago I received a [free] copy of Lognet 93/2. I was somewhat surprised since I had assumed the Loglan Institute was no longer active. [The writer had purchased the 4th Edition of L1 in 1989 but on reading it had apparently decided not to (re)join The Institute. As a consequence he received no further messages from us and we apparently seemed to him to have slumped into total inactivity! It is true that we do not have the kind of public relations resources that, say, the Ford Corporation has, soi crano, that might have kept even non-members apprised of our existence. But in 1993 we broke our long silence with old customers by sending out free copies of LN to many of them. This letter is one of the many interesting results of that campaign to reawaken sleeping logli.]
[In 1989] I wrote [a letter to you with] 12 pages of comments plus 14 pages about the “pretty little girls’ school” [problem], which was much discussed several years [earlier]. [This famous problem with one of the appendices of the 3rd Edition had been “much discussed” in 1976-77, and, we thought, resolved.] .... [T]here are a lot of questions .... that would have to be answered before I could believe that Loglan is really workable. ....
.... [A] point that I find disturbing is the continual reference to the supposed non-ambiguity of Loglan. There were about ten references in this issue of Lognet. In only one case was the modifier ‘syntactical’ used, which would make the statement at least approximately correct. As I understand it, Loglan has eliminated syntactical ambiguity from the structure of the language. That is, one can distinguish A(BC) from (AB)C.
I don’t wish to minimize the importance of this feature. However, I know that Loglan has not eliminated semantic ambiguity since it still defines words in terms of English words which are themselves ambiguous. I also know (unless [you] have made some revisions since publishing [the 4th Edition]) that Loglan has not eliminated “modification pair” ambiguity. That is essentially the same type of ambiguity that is found in English when one noun modifies another noun.
It seems to me the word ‘ambiguity’ is being used in an inaccurate way. Claims are being made about Loglan which if taken literally are simply not true. If Loglan is to be taken seriously, [writers in] publications like Lognet need to use words more carefully. ....
—Sincerely, Paul Doudna
Reader Doudna has a legitimate complaint here: we should be more careful to specify the kind of ambiguity we are talking about when we say that Loglan isn’t. The kind of ambiguity we have totally banished, of course, is just the kind he says it is, namely the syntactic ambiguity typified by such famous pairs as ‘Time flies like an arrow’ and ’Fruit flies like a banana.’ This “double take” phenomenon—caused by there being more than one legitimate parse of the same utterance—is not only massively present in English (Susumo Kuno once found the average number of legitimate parsings of 20-word English sentences to be about 10!) but it probably also characterizes every other natural language that has an “ancient” grammar, which is all of them. I’m glad Reader D finds our reduction of this number for Loglan to an invariant 1 to be a worthwhile achievement, for it is certainly central to what one commentator on Loglan (Reed Riner) has called its “option of clarity”.
As to semantic ambiguity, I believe Reader D is wrong to suggest that we ought to try to banish that sort as well. I’m afraid that to do that—and formally, it could easily be done—would be to turn L into a sterile logical code, a deductive system, which, like other such systems, would probably not be speakable and would certainly have almost no capacity for spontaneous growth. Users of deductive systems are constrained to introduce new meanings by rigorous definition; and this is not something that even experts in those systems can do very well “on the fly” ... assuming that the “utterances” of such systems can be spoken, though they seldom can be. So such a program of language reform—assuming it could succeed, as I do not believe it could—would lead to a virtually static code in which users would not be allowed to coin new meanings by metaphor. Moving powerfully against such a reform would, I believe, be the human capacity for poetic invention. Metaphor-making appears to be such a powerful and widely distributed human faculty that I do not think that any program to rid spoken language of the sort of ambiguity that metaphors ineluctably generate—What did the bard mean by calling Richard “lion-hearted”?—could succeed with humans. Humans would simply defy its rules; they would coin new metaphors anyhow; they would behave like poets, not mathematicians, in their verbal inventions; and there is no way that you could get them to behave differently. Again I’d like to refer the reader—Mr. Doudna included—to Greenhood’s and my 1991 language-evolution paper, “Paternity, Jokes, and Song,” in which the case for “metaphor”—which is there generalized to mean any intentional “misuse of signs” (for example, as in joking)—having played a central role in the evolution of language is, I believe, fairly strongly made. In any case, the hominid capacity for making binary metaphors—a capacity, Greenhood and I argue (G is an evolutionary biologist and a desultory, soi crano, stude je lo logla), that emerged long before grammar itself evolved—is one of the three or four pivotal hypotheses of our scenario. (Again I’ll mention that a copy of this paper can be obtained from TLI by any of its members for $3 postpaid; non-members, like Mr. D, will be asked to pay the cost of copying.) I believe its logli readers will find that this paper illuminates in a useful way how metaphor works as a word- and language-building tool, and that it also shows why metaphor, and the poets who specialize in them—indeed, why the poetic component in us all—is and are so important to the linguistic enterprise. If B&G are right, to abandon metaphor altogether would be to abandon language altogether. I trust that even Reader Doudna would agree, soi crano, that such a move would be draconian.
But having said this in favor of at least one kind of ambiguity, I would like also to suggest that Reader D’s evident hope for a less semantically ambiguous language is quite a reasonable one, and one that it is even now being partly satisfied by a rather surprising development in Loglan. The present LOD does a fine job, I believe, of exhibiting this development; for it shows very clearly how Loglan lexical semantics has developed over the years in a “nearly unambiguous” way, in particular how the lexicon of the language has remained remarkably free of the homonymic ambiguities that mar the semantics of so many natural tongues. I refer here to the sort of ambiguity of which English ‘bank’/‘bank’/‘bank’/‘bank’/‘bank’ is such a good example: an example of a homonym run riot. Homonymic ambiguity is, of course, the kind that proves so baffling to sutori-language learners; and it does this, remarkably enough, despite the fact that all homonymic ambiguities were, on the B-G hypthesis, originally generated by unary metaphor.
The reconstructive linguistics of the Indo-European languages bears us out in this. Our five English meanings of ‘bank’ apparently all come from a hypothetical Old Norse word *’banki’ (on which the ‘*’ means “reconstructed”, by the way, not “illegal”) which probably meant a “bordering slope”, like the bank of a river, a fiord, or a sunken road. Thus ‘river bank’ is apparently the fundamental meaning here, the meaning of the “primitive”, if I may speak loglandically. If this is so, the “bank” where you keep your money is a kind of pile, a money pile, and so similar conceptually (and so metaphorically) to the pile of dirt that makes a riverbank (!). And to “bank” a fire, or the curve of a road, or to point to a “bank” of keys on a typewriter or an organ, or to “bank” an aircraft, to put it into a “banking” turn, are even further metaphorical steps away from the original notion of the bordering slope ... steps which utilize still other features of this historically primitive concept. All this, of course, is in English, where all these words are, oddly enough, unary metaphors on the original idea of a bordering slope, each using a slightly different aspect of that fundamental notion—as seen, that is, by different poets—to transport us to a new meaning of an ancient word.
The point of all this is that the Loglan word-building system is quite a different one from that of English, and it is different in surprisingly promising ways, as far as lexical ambiguity is concerned. The Loglan system for making new words is, as we all know, to invent a binary metaphor—not a unary one—for the required new notion and then compact the resulting two-word phrase in certain routine ways into a single word, thus getting telbie out of terla bidje = ‘Earth’s edge’, for example, to use yet again my favorite Loglan metaphor, soi crano. This straightforward process produces new predicates quite easily and abundantly from the set of old ones: in this case, the one for ‘horizon’ from the ones for ‘Earth’ and ‘edge’. This binary procedure assures us that, in Loglan, none of these metaphorical steps is very far away from the primitive meanings of the constituent words, and, what is probably even more important for the future clarity of the language, a binary metaphor is always recognizably a metaphor while unary ones may not be. So the Loglan of the future is very much more likely to have preserved the distinction between what is basic and primitive and what is complex and derivative in the language; and so to keep the roots of even old metaphors alive and meaningful for the indefinite future. The result even now, as LOD so handsomely displays, is a language that invites binary metaphor on the part of its users by exhibiting the results of previous binary moves by earlier users in the most naked and appealing way. We seem, in short, to have struck on something fairly useful, here, in the way of ambiguity control.
Finally, let me say that I, too, like Reader Doudna, would like to see the types of metaphor intended by logli poets more plainly displayed in at least the “expository form,” if I may call it that, of their poetic inventions. Thus I’ve called for some time now for some ambitious logli to build us a set of infixes—to be optionally inserted by the speaker between the terms of some metaphor that s has just created—that would tell the hearer just what kind of metaphor s was intending. Perhaps such infixes would be inserted in answer to a probing question by h. (‘What on Earth do you mean by ‘lion-hearted’?’) I think of these infixes as being strictly optional, of course—that is, I would expect them to be replaced by their null allolex in normally rapid speech—but it would be an option that was always there, to be remobilized, so to speak, whenever this new “option of clarity” was desired.
So in the end all I can say, Reader D, about your quite legitimate concerns is that we’re working on them. You might like to stay tuned.
To other logli let me say that the Keugru will welcome any criticism of, or alternatives to, the ideas we have recently been generating on this intriguing topic ... most of which have already been bruited to the logli list, I believe. For the idea that the “natural”ambiguity of human speech may be still further reduced by extending Loglan’s option of clarity in this newest way is certainly an appealing one.
Dear Dr. Brown:
.... I was Professor of Music at the University of Maine, Presque Isle, until I retired in 1987. I have always been interested in discovering how and what people communicate by means of music, visual arts, and language, and what the differences [between these modes] are.
Loglan is utterly fascinating; I am awe-struck with your creation. The reason I haven’t bought any software until now is that I have somehow survived without owning a computer [or] knowing how to operate one. I’m planning to learn when I return to Presque Isle this fall.
—Cordially, (Mr.) Jan Kok
Thank you for your very kind words, Gandias Kok. But you know what? Loglan is no longer “my creation.” Starting most emphatically with the first publication of TL (“The Loglanist”) in 1975, L very rapidly became a work of many hands. This is even truer today. All of us in the volunteer cadre—our working stiffs, soi crano—have made important contributions to the language, some of them quite recent. Wherever I look at L today, I see a piece of it that has been fashioned by Bob McIvor, another piece that is Steve Rice’s handiwork, another that is Randall Holmes’, or James Jenning’s, or Bill Gober’s, or Kirk Sattley’s, or John Parks-Clifford’s, or James Carter’s, or Scott Layson’s, or Bill Mengarini’s ... to mention, toward the end of this list, some of my earlier fellow language-builders. Of course building a language never ends. In short, L is an ongoing work of many hands. It is true I got L started; but what I presented to the Loglandic-community-to-be in 1975 was a sculptor’s armature, a framework on which to hang the meat of the language. Today we have a very meaty language indeed; and the fact that it is, is the result of the work of many, many others besides myself. I, too, am occasionally awestruck by the result!
I hope you do get a computer and join the network of e-connected logli. When you do, let me know by e-mail—my and TLI’s e-address is on the backcover—and I’ll put you on the logli list right away. (Anyone else—who is not a lojbi—can have access to our inner circle (where we’re called “logli”) just by asking for it. Our outer circle (where we’re still called “loglanists”) is accessible to anyone who puts him- or herself on the Loglanists List. To do the latter, just e-write the UCSD listserver on the Internet—the address of this mysterious personage is ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’— and say ‘Add <me> loglanists’, where <me> is your Internet address. If you’re on CompuServe, your Internet address is simply your CompuServe address with the comma changed to a period followed by the suffix ‘@compuserve.com’. For example, TLI’s Internet address is ‘email@example.com’. I look forward to having Ian Kok, ji la Muzgandia, among our e-connected logli. We’ve needed one!
In 1960, while I was studying for my degree in Electrical Engineering, I was developing an interest in constructed languages. Coincidentally, an article appeared in the June issue of the Scientific American by James Cooke Brown. I was very impressed by the language that the article presented as being in the process of development. I had previously been disappointed by constructed languages such as Esperanto, Ido, and Interlingua. These languages are modeled too much after the European plan. They have the advantage of having a regular grammar, but they are still shackled [to] the European system of grammar as though it is the only one, or the best. I always thought that a much better language could be constructed if one took a totally different grammatical approach, such as you have done by using mathematics as a model as well as a knowledge of different [natural] grammatical systems.
I continued to study the article in my spare time. As time went on, my attention was diverted to other matters. However, in 1966, I renewed my interest in Loglan (I still had the article). I wrote Scientific American to see if I could locate James Cooke Brown in hopes of learning more about Loglan and perhaps obtaining a more complete vocabulary than was presented in the article; but they couldn’t help me. [I’m surprised at that; I believe that SA were still forwarding mail to me in 1966. Bad luck, I’d say; an off day at the Author Forwarding Desk at SA, perhaps.] I had struck a stone wall, so I thought. I continued to be intrigued by the idea of a language constructed on the logical concepts presented in the article; and in fact, have made attempts to construct it myself.
Just recently I hit on the idea that, if something had been published concerning Loglan, I might find ‘James Cooke Brown’ in a publisher’s guide (why hadn’t I thought of this before). I looked and, much to my surprise, I found. As you may have guessed by now, I am interested in knowing what has been published concerning Loglan, and what it will cost me to obtain it. Please send me information.
—Sincerely, Vincent R. Chavez
Inquirer Chavez got his information in May, promptly bought L1 and the old L4&5, and I expect him to turn up any day now as a member ... if only to get a half-price LOD, soi crano. Such persistence ought at least to be rewarded with the key to the city of one of the Loglandian provincial capitals, don’t you think, soi crano? But which one? Anyway, I look forward to hearing more from Reader Chavez ... perhaps soon to be Nurpoldi Tcaves.
I heard about Loglan and Lojban through the esperanto.faq on soc.culture.esperanto [on the Internet], and I’m very curious. The idea of artificial languages is intriguing. Please send me as much e-mail info as possible on Loglan. Also, some questions: What is the Whorf hypothesis? Where can I find a manual or textbook on Loglan? How closely related to Esperanto is it? Since Loglan is meant to “bear little resemblance to existing human languages”, does this mean that it’s a written/read language instead of a spoken one?
—Thanks! Demetrius Delane McDowell
After directing Mr. McDowell to the Foreign Language Forum (“FLEFO”) on CompuServe for the “What Is Loglan?” document that is kept on file there, I tried to answer his four questions. Since they are questions often asked by inquirers, I thought it might be useful to repeat them and my answers here:
(1) What is the Whorf hypothesis? As most of our readers know, it’s an anthropological hypothesis developed in the 1930’s and ‘40’s by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, both anthropological linguists, that the structures of local human languages set practical limits on the development of local human thought, and hence on the principal products of that thought, human cultures.
(2) Where can I find a manual or textbook on Loglan? A number of books and computer programs are available from The Institute, as you’ll see from our information packet.
(3) How closely related to Esperanto is it? It is not at all related to Esperanto ... except that its invention was similarly motivated. But even that is true only in the rather broad sense that both Dr. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, and I had what might be called “internationalist” motives for inventing our respective languages. But Loglan is meant primarily to be a scientific instrument for releasing, and then studying, cross-cultural Whorfian effects—revealing in the process, it was hoped, the ways in which different languages affect the minds of their monolingual speakers ... if in fact they do have such effects—while Dr. Zamenhof intended Esperanto to be adopted as a second language everywhere, and thus become a universal instrument for international communication. (It is hard to say which project was the more ambitious, soi crano.)
(4) Since Loglan is meant to “bear little resemblance to existing human languages,” does this mean that it’s a written/read language instead of a spoken one? The surprising answer is that Loglan is both written/read and spoken/understood despite it’s having been deliberately devised to be an extreme instance of a very special kind of human language, namely a hyperlogical one. But this design feature has led, as the last several issues of Lognet (including this one) clearly show, to a very interesting type of learning difficulty with which the logli community is just beginning to cope.
To Whom It May Concern:
As a student of both sciences and languages, I am intrigued by the possible benefits that studying Loglan may bring to me. If nothing else, a more effective way of perceiving language would be helpful in further language acquisition in addition to my English, Spanish, German, and Russian. As a physics major here at Purdue University, studying Loglan would be a possible way to learn to better communicate with my colleagues. [It is surprising how attractive Loglan is to physicists!]
Therefore I have decided to join The Institute as a student member .... Again I would like to emphasize my scientific interest in the language phenomenon, and in the structure and value of such a synthetic, logical language like Loglan.
Thank you for your cooperation,
—Rollin C. Thomas
Many logli have remarked on what Loglan has done for their communication skills generally. I am reminded of what was at the time the surprising report—surprising to me, at least—of Logli Richard Kennaway, a British computer scientist, who published in a letter to Galaxy magazine (I believe it was) that Loglan had taught him to avoid the “predicational incompleteness” of most English speech, including his own previous habits. What Richard was referring to is the logical fact that to say, for example, that something is “true” is to imply that there is a set of rules—an epistemology, to use the language of philosophy—by which it is true, just as to say that one “sees” something is to imply the existence of a background against which it is seen, and to speak of someone’s being “married” is to imply the existence of a spouse. Not to acknowledge these things in one’s speech is to “speak incompletely,” and that of course is what we mostly do in English ... although I imagine that we logli gleci (loglaphone anglophones), being more aware of the structure of our predicates, do less of it.
Now in the late 1980’s, which was when I read this letter of Richard’s, I found myself thinking that this was a fairly modest use of Loglan’s bristling pin-cushion of linguistic insights. Why not the buried quantifications of English, or the transformation-inviting structure of L connectives? I asked myself a bit unfairly. Does this reaction of mine mean, I wonder, that, by the late ‘80’s, the principle of predicate completion had become so routine in my own mind that it actually seemed ho-hummish to hear others speak of it? If so, that would be a most remarkable development indeed of my own logical awareness! For I imagine I started out, many years ago, just where Richard started when he learned Loglan. I have no clear record, of course, of how I treated these predicational matters before I invented Loglan ... and, what is more to the point, began regularly to use it. I suppose the text of my pre-1955 published work could be carefully examined for the presence or absence of clues to my awareness of the normally hidden freight of the English predicate. Any linguistically inclined logli want to do that? Certainly I could supply plenty of text, soi crano!
There follows a second letter from Now-Member Rollins.
Hoi Lomi Fremi: [This parses, by the way, and therefore constitutes a possible new usage. The more common usage, Hoi Ralin, would be simply Hoi Fremi, or Hoi Fremi, fie ... the latter, I admit, being a bit redundant, soi crano. What do you notbi logli think of this possible new salutation-form?]
I have enjoyed reading Loglan 1 and the two issues of Lognet that I have so far received. .... I wish to communicate that since reading a large portion of the text, my interest has peaked, and I would like to know whether any investigation has been initiated as to whether Loglan could serve as a facilitator in second-language acquisition. Has anyone speculated (or experimented) with the possibility of using the structures of Loglan “grammar” to facilitate the learning of another language?
—Sia, Ralin Tam[y]s
Not to my knowledge, although many logli have reported that having studied Loglan was very useful to them in learning other sutori (second and subsequent) languages. The fewness and simplicity of L’s grammatical categories apparently allows one to make comparative sense of very diverse sets of natural languages. But so far as I know this fact has not been exploited by other sutori language teachers, uu.
[H]oi Djim [Braon], ze R[endl Holmz], [ze Bab Mykaivr,] ze R[id Rainr], [fie]: [I’ve taken the liberty of transforming Alan’s original “Loglish” salutation into “pure” Loglan and making the evocations of the original addressees both more complete and more explicit.]
Despite my silence, I have been working hard to make my vision of Loglan, which I hope you all share, a reality. I hope that Loglan will become the language of choice for every graduate student and every scientific researcher regardless of academic affiliation. That may be a grand vision but with the current crop of logli, and all the new software tools we have, I have strong hopes that we will all live to see such a situation.
Enough of that! As you probably all know, I have been struggling to finish my master’s program at the New School for Social Research. It is going very slowly because I am also at the point where I am beginning to establish myself in the field of technical publishing. Sometimes there is a nice dovetail effect when some of the things I have been doing at work help me to see my academic work in a new light and vice versa.
Recently, I was very fortunate to hire a very bright Johns Hopkins [computer science] student as a consultant/developer. He helped me to realize another dream I had: a document tracking and reporting application. This is the second project that we have worked on together, and we are quickly learning what we need to do to design and develop software together. For this project, I wrote the specification over the course of about 2 months (including the user interface design down to the screen level). When [D] had two weeks off from school, he worked closely with me and [we] developed the entire application, in a database programming language—one that [D] had to learn as he worked—in just 8 days! We put in two 70-hour weeks, but the project was completed before he had to go back to school. ....
In any case, the work that I did with [D] has helped me to put together the final vision of my Philosopher’s Assistant. I now think I know how to solve the implementation problem of machine-human dialog in Loglan. The concepts behind that solution are now part of the essay that I have included with this letter. [It] is the final for the last class in my master’s program. It began as an attempt to translate McLuhan into Loglan. Both you, Djim, and you, RAM [“Robert A. McIvor”], were very helpful to me in that attempt. But I finally decided that I had better not get into the Loglan word-creation business or I would never finish [the essay]. [This was said just before LOD was released. I wonder if Alan would have the same sense of endlessness now that he has LOD? I doubt it. LOD makes word-making so easy!] ....
Although I am sure that professional mathematicians/logicians such as you, Randall, will find my symbolizations amateurish, they certainly helped me grasp the [logical] concepts and understand what needed to be done. ....
.... [With] regard to a computer conferencing course in Loglan for the Mars Colony [a project in which Professor Reed Riner of Northern Arizona University had invited JCB and, through him, Alan to participate], I find the prospect very exciting. I would love to be an active participant and anything that I can do to help [you two, Djim and Reed,] shape up the curriculum I would be glad to do. As you may recall, before I started my career as a technical writer, I was an ESL [“English as a Second Language”] teacher in Italy and New York City. Some of the same teaching techniques might be adapted to the new electronic media and Loglan with good results. I am still lurking on both Loglan lists so we should be able to use that communications channel. ....
—Sincerely yours, Alan T. Gaynor
This marvellous letter—one that told a handful of us, Bob, Randall, Reed, and me, how Alan was progressing with his Philosopher’s Assistant project, in which Loglan was to play so central a role—deserved, in my opinion, a wider airing. So here is a somewhat shortened version of it.
Since writing this letter, Alan has, I believe, received his MA (or was it an MS, Alan?) from the New School, and has in any case finished his thesis on the Philosopher’s Assistant, in which this highly imaginative software is carefully described and its many possible future applications projected.
Alan’s allusions in this letter to his work with D reminded me of the exciting days in which I worked in a role very similar to Alan’s with Scott Layson (now Scott Burson) on developing LYCES, then later with Bob McIvor on developing LIP, and later still with both Glen Haydon and Bob on developing the three MacTeach programs now in distribution. The interaction between a designer/algorist (Or is that ‘algorithmist’? My dictionaries do not help me here) and a programmer who can cast the former’s algorithms into runnable code, almost as fast—potentially even faster, one is forced to admit, if the algorist weren’t so goldarned slow!—as/than they can be thought out and written down, can sometimes be very magical. Alan and D seem to have had one of those similarly magical synergistic experiences.
It would indeed be lovely if we could hire this algorist-programmer pair to write that long-awaited Loglan interface! It would be Alan’s PA and then some, including that “write a computer program by consulting in Loglan with an expert program writing system” feature that so many of us have dreamed of for so many years. But, uu, there isn’t anything like that kind of money lying around here! Does anyone know a rich donor who could—and, more important, would—fund such an heroic effort? What the Greeks used to call a “magnanimous (great-spirited)” donor? If you do know such a granurspi donsu, chat d up and, when d has sufficiently warmed to the idea, put d in touch with our President, Wes Parsons, who is also our expert fundraiser. Wes will know how to take it from there. Another possibility, of course, is for one or more of you research people, including Alan, to apply for an institutional grant—from NSF or any other funding agency that might be interestable—to do such potentially widely useful work.
You’d find that TLI would cooperate to the hilt with any effort to fund such a project. Alan has convinced us—yet again!—that it really is quite possible.
... My involvement [with Loglan] has been far less active than I would wish, but the realities of learning German for my job and acquiring a wife, son (now nearly two), and house (now nearly 70, but it’ll be 100 by the time it’s ours) in less than two years have allowed me less leeway in choosing how to spend my time than would be the case in an ideal world. One note of fan mail, however: the understanding of the grammatical structure of languages I gleaned from several reading[s] of L1 provided a framework for learning German that has made my progress from a monoglot to a sesquiglot considerably easier and more interesting than it would be otherwise.
... I’ve had LIP and the Mac version training programs for several years now. However, they’re on my machine here at work and they crash very badly under System 7, which I have to use. I’m frustrated by my inability to take advantage of the programs and thus reach the minimal level of competence necessary to take advantage of your presence here on the West Coast. Is there an upgrade of these? [I sent Member Campbell copies of the LIP and MacTeach programs I’ve been using on my own Mac Classic with System 7, and while I haven’t heard from him since, I gather that they solved his problem. Any other “crashing” going on out there? We want to help.] Is anything planned for the A/V Macs or Windows multimedia machines? [People keep telling us about the multimedia possibilities of Loglan—you know, programs that talk back at you in English or Loglan, and maybe show little cinegraphs of predas in action, soi crano—and although these 21st Century possibilities are certainly didactically exciting, I know of no one who has actually put together such a package for Loglan yet. Surprise me! We’ll let everybody know when someone does.]
Have a great holiday season.
—Thanks, Whitney Campbell
Thanks for the fan mail. Your report that Loglan has helped you with German bears on a thread of interest in notbi sutori ci lengu po cirna (other second-or-subsequent language learning) that seems to be winding its way through the lerci this time. As for building new versions of our software for these modern environments, Dr. McIvor did put out a call in LN for a Windows programmer a few months ago, but no one has reported for duty yet, soi crano. We’re still hoping someone will. (By the way, Hoi Notbi Logli, a “sesquiglot”, in case you’re interested in what Member Campbell is these days, is a master of one-and-a-half languages! Do we need a ‘sesqui’-prefix in L, Bob and Steve? I’m only sesquiserious.)
The next letter is from Member James Salsman, who proposed some time ago that The Institute give away free copies of Loglan 1 to “deserving” libraries around the world. TLI accepted this idea as well as his offer to help defray the costs of this program through something we called the “Salsman Fund.”
Dear Dr. Brown:
... The A[merican] L[ibrary] A[ssociation]’s Data Processing department is not looking good [as a source of library addresses for the gift copies of Loglan 1 we intend to send out]. They want to charge money for the list (but maybe not...) even though it’s for donations to libraries. I will try to get around this, but I might just end up forking it over after comparing the cost with Cahners, a commerical mailing list vendor.
I’ve also started an errata [list] based on my gatherings from Lognet, the Cassettes, and anything else that [might] indicate some error, typo, or misprint in Loglan 1. I will send this to you when it stops growing.
I’m a bit worried about [the] bindings [of the copies of L1 ] the Buk[y]radsro Cmesro [‘Book-round-store Money-store’ = ‘Circulating-library Fund’] is going to send out. I would like to find out more about laminate bindings that would preserve the covers and inside covers and spine, all of which are important in the case of L1. It might be expensive, but I’ll try to shop around.
The Loebner (Turing Test) Exhibition was this evening at the Computer Museum in Boston. Thanks to [the] NL-KR-Digest [evidently an electronic magazine in which Member Salsman told people about Loglan], there were many people (judges, the contestants’ authors, and spectators) there who knew about Loglan. I will order a copy of the transcripts tomorrow, and give you a summary, if you like.
It’s a long way off, but I look forward to writing a letter like this in Loglan.
Oh, as far as the goal primitives in the Careers Sr. game [are concerned], I have decided [that]
Virtue > Power > Enlightenment.
In the Jr. game I always chose the ranking:
Love [sic] > Money > Fame.
[Actually, the “dimensions” of success in the Jr. game were, and still are, Happiness, Money, and Fame. Virtue, Power, and Enlightenment were added to make the Sr. game.] I’m not sure if I could rank all six. A partial order, maybe.
Finally, please let me know if The Troika Incident is still in print, and if not, where you think I might be able to obtain a copy. Thanks,
—Later, Dude! James P. Salsman
This splendidly boisterous letter from perhaps our junti je raba logli (younger-than-anyone logli) is a kind of update on the “Give L1 Away to Libraries” project, a project that was gallantly funded by him in 1992 and supported by several other generous logli, including, most notably, Alan Gaynor, who’s been buying three books a month for it ever since! Since those exciting early days, however, the Library Project seems to have stalled. There’s plenty of money in what I call the Salsman Fund—and he calls, more loglandically, I admit, the Bukyradsro Cmesro—enough to buy and give away at least 100 books. What we seem to have stalled on is a way of selecting the libraries that will receive the books, and of typing up the labels that will carry them to them. I stand ready, here in San Diego, to send out those 100-odd books—which are to be paid for by the Fund at the rate of $5 each, by the way, including even foreign postage—to any list of public libraries for which I am sent address labels. It’s identifying the deserving libraries and getting those labels typed up that seem to have held up the works. It’s a pity that such a minor glitch is keeping this otherwise noble project from spreading the good word about L around the world. Anyone willing to help get this project moving again?
As to Member Salsman’s other questions and allusions, my 1970 futurist novel The Troika Incident —which, as a set of predictions, seems to be holding up well, by the way—is no longer in print but is still to be found in most North American public libraries, having got good reviews several decades ago in the library trade-journals that acquisitions librarians evidently read. Careers (Junior), that humble intellectual sibling of Loglan’s that helped support it for so long, soi crano, is still in the toy stores, but with a different publisher (Tiger Electronics). Careers, Sr., which is a far better game in my and most other players’ opinions, has yet to see the light of a commercial day, although it’s made plenty of pleasant non-commercial evenings for me and my friends. As I kept back some of the rights to the Sr. game from the new publisher, I am free to publish it until he wishes to do so. So if anyone can think of a way of putting this other sibling of Loglan’s to work in joint harness with it—that is, in Loglan’s interests as well as my family’s—you’ll find I have ears to listen but neither the money nor the energy, these days, to launch commercial ventures myself ... even virtuous ones, soi crano.
Dear Dr. Brown:
I’m sorry that the arrangements to have you [as a panelist and workshop-giver] at ConFrancisco, [the 1993 science fiction conference at San Francisco,] didn’t work out. I’m still not sure exactly what went wrong. I gave the information to the people who were supposed to handle the invitations, but neglected to check later to make sure that the necessary arrangements had been made.
I would have very much enjoyed being on a panel with you. The question of whether a language can be free of built-in ambiguity and still capable of serving the full range of functions that natural languages serve is a fascinating one. I found Loglan 1: A Logical Language to be a convincing affirmative answer to that question. The related questions of whether humans could acquire native-speaker fluency in such a language, and whether, as a living and evolving language, it could maintain its unambiguous nature over time, are even more fascinating, and I would have enjoyed discussing them with you. I believe that you have much to say to the science-fiction community, and I hope that you will have opportunities to participate in other cons.
Again, please accept my apologies.
—Sincerely, Timothy L. Smith
I don’t know what happened either but the Loglan workshop and corridor table I’d asked for at this SF Sci-Fi Conference, and which I thought had been granted by its organizers, didn’t materialize, and I opted not to go just to sit on a panel ... much as I love that city. Perhaps I’ll show up at some other sci-fi conference some day if someone else takes the responsibility of arranging it all. With the chance to give a workshop and sell some books and software to the conferees, I or someone from TLI—even a team of someones—are very likely to go.
Reader Smith touches on several interesting points in his graceful letter. I, too, worried about keeping the language unambiguous once our all-out disambiguation effort had actually succeeded. Could such a “fragile state” as conflict-freeness be maintained, I wondered? Well, the answer seems to be that conflict-freeness isn’t a fragile state. Given an institution like ourKeugru, an on-tap expert like our Cefli Takyrultua, and an already achieved conflict-free state, in particular the one we achieved for L in 1982 when we finally parsed the Loglan Corpus, it seems now to be ridiculously easy to keep the language growing, flexible, meeting everybody’s needs, and—almost as an afterthought, it seems—also conflict-free. I once told Bob McIvor that I was surprised at this: surprised that we’d found it so easy to stay on top of the mountain when we’d had such a formidable time getting there; and he said he wasn’t. Imagine not being surprised at what seems to normal people (like the inventors of constructed languages, soi crano) to be a bloody miracle! Ah well. Good to have this miracle-proof champion of the mountain-tops on board with us!
As to Reader Smith’s other worry, “whether humans could acquire native-speaker fluency in such a language,” well, I guess that’s my worry too, now, soi crano ... although in the meantime, while we’ve still been finding out, it has certainly been fun to try! I hope to have space to say more on this point in my SLS.—JCB