THE LOGLAN INSTITUTE, INC.
A Non-Profit Research Corporation
c/o Jennifer Brown
1701 N.E. 75 St.
Gainesville, FL 32641
Phone: (352) 378-5655
by Alex Leith
What sets humankind apart from other animals is language. Certainly many species communicate, and some do it in a very sophisticated way...think of wolves and dolphins. The important difference with human language is that it can be written down, allowing us to communicate across time as well as space.
There is a linguistic theory--known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis--that the structure of a human language sets limits on the thinking of those who speak it; hence a language could even place constraints on the development of the cultures that use it. If this hypothesis is correct, then a language that could lift those constraints, by reducing them to a minimum, ought thereby to release its speakers' minds from their ancient linguistic bonds, and that should have a profound effect, both on individual thinking and on the development of human cultures.
Loglan is a language designed to test this hypothesis. It was originally developed in the 1950s, and an early version was described in the Scientific American for June 1960. Since then, Loglan (a logical language) has continued to develop and expand. One aim in its development was to make the grammar free from ambiguity, and that aim has been achieved. Another aim was audio-visual isomorphism (which means that the Loglan speechstream breaks up automatically into fully punctuated strings of words), and this has been partially achieved. There are in any case no ambiguities in Loglan such as "ice cream" vs. "I scream": Loglan word boundaries are always clear. Moreover, much of Loglan grammar is based on the Predicate Calculus of modern mathematical logic...don't worry, you don't have to be a mathematician to learn Loglan, but you will probably enjoy the clarity of thought that its grammar encourages.
The vocabulary of Loglan now comprises over ten thousand words, and there are algorithms (step by step procedures) for generating new ones, either by combining already-existing Loglan words, or by borrowing words from the natural languages, notably from the International Scientific Vocabulary. The basic vocabulary of Loglan--a little more than one thousand words for common concepts--was chosen to be as far as possible culturally neutral, and to be as easily recallable as possible by speakers of the eight most widely spoken* natural languages: English, Chinese, Hindi, Russian, Spanish, French, Japanese, and German.
Loglan's freedom from syntactic ambiguity makes it ideal for three computational uses:
Many loglanists believe, too, that their adopted language is ideally suited to become a lingua franca for the world. Its clarity and lack of cultural bias are just what is needed to cement international cooperation. That leaves each of us with a Mother Tongue that we would use for jokes, poetry, and making love. A further bonus is that our Mother Tongues could be much more locally based: not merely English but Liverpool Scouse, not just German but Hamburger Platt, not just French but Occitan. To maintain the linguistic and cultural diversity that minority and regional languages enshrine could be just as important in the long run as maintaining the diversity of life.
One thing is certain: along with all these worthy and important roles that Loglan could play, it is also a delightful linguistic toy, a lens with which to examine the strange but unexpectedly rich world that its use reveals.
Loglan, in the course of its development, has gone through several fundamental changes. One took place--The "Great Morphological Revolution"--just before the publication of the 4th Edition of Loglan 1 (see below) in 1989. Now, however, the structure of the language and the procedures for borrowing and combining words are stable. No further changes in these areas are expected. That's not to say that the language will not continue to develop; a language that does not, of course, is dead. So Loglan grammar will continue to expand, allowing loglanists to speak and write ever more precisely and effectively, and its vocabulary will also grow indefinitely, as loglanists coin specific terms for new concepts or for distinctions they'll make from time to time within their "old" ones. Besides being a tool of translation, we expect Loglan to be used more and more to produce original works: stories, plays, essays...even a novel is underway. Meanwhile, we look to the computer scientists to provide a means for the Loglan Understander to build its own representation of the world, and so become our Silicon Interlocutor, helping us to educate it, and helping it thereby to educate us. Distant goals, as we have seen in the last couple of decades, have a habit of appearing on our doorstep, hollering, "Let me in, I'm here, I'm ready."
If these aims and prospects excite and inspire you, here's what The Loglan Institute has built to offer you: a kit of tools to facilitate your learning and your ever-wider use of the language.
* Alas, demographics change. Those where the eight most widely spoken languages when Loglan was first created, in 1959.
Last modified January 22, 2007.