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response to J. Prothero book review and comments of 12 Oct 90
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- Subject: response to J. Prothero book review and comments of 12 Oct 90
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- Date: 28 Oct 90 01:19:52 EST (Sun)
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A response to issues raised in Jeff Prothero's book review of a book
on Interlinguistics, dated 12 Oct 1990.
(Contact uunet!milton.u.washington.edu!jsp if you didn't get and want this
1. Of the authors, Detlev Blanke is on our mailing list, but probably too
recently to have based anything he wrote on our material.
2. Jeff's description of the Netherlands translation project is good; we were
certainly aware of it. Unfortunately, all descriptions of it were too short
and copywritten, so I have nothing I've been able to include in JL with any
authoritative information. I'll try to put something together for next issue.
3. The Netherlands project is based on Esperanto - but with a caveat. It uses
a formalized 'written' Esperanto form that may be slightly different from
spoken forms, but most importantly has disambiguating information encoded in
the way the language is written. For example grouping of modifiers (our
'pretty little girls school' problem) is solved by using extra SPACES to
disambiguate which terms modify which.
4. Esperanto's affix system is similarly ambiguous, though not as bad as 1975
Loglan was. I've been given a few examples. Some handy ones are 'romano'
which is either a novel (root + no affix) or Roman (root Romo = Rome plus
affix -an-) and 'banano' which is either 'banana' or 'bather' (from 'bano'
= bath + -an- again). I've been told there are others. This type of
ambiguity presents no problem to a machine translator, which can store hyphens
to separate affixes etc.
5. I have not investigated Esperanto's affix system thoroughly, but it is not
compatible with Lojban's. (We did ensure at one point that we had gismu, and
therefore rafsi corresponding to each of the affixes, though.) Simply put,
Lojban has rafsi for EACH of its gismu. Esperanto has only a couple of dozen,
and a MUCH larger root set. Some Esperanto affixes have several Lojban
equivalents. For example, we now have "na'e", "no'e" and "to'e" for scalar
negation of various sorts to correspond to Esperanto's "mal-". Note that
Jeff did not mention the large root set in his comments. Most of these roots
are combined by concatenation, like German. But apparently as often as not
a new root is coined rather than concatenate, since Esperanto has no stigma
attached to borrowing. But it is not true that Lojban has two forms while
Esperanto only has one.
6. The Esperanto affix/semantic system is probably even more poorly defined
than Lojban's. As Jeff said, it is largely intuitive; this means independent
of a rule system. However, there are rules; this was mentioned a few times in
the recent JL debates between Don Harlow, Athelstan and myself. A guy named
Kalocszy apparently wrote up the rules early in this century; they are some
40-50 pages long and most Esperantists never read them much less learn them.
They also are apparently rather freely violated in actual usage; they were
descriptive of the known language, not prescriptive. By the way, I suspect
that Lojban's compounding semantics is actually better-defined than it seems.
I just don't know enough about semantic theory to attempt to write it up.
Jim Carter wrote a paper several years ago, which we can probably offer for
distribution (or he can), on the semantics of compound place structures. We
haven't adopted what he has said whole-hog, but it certainly has been
7. We will probably make extensive use of Esperanto dictionaries when we start
our buildup of the Lojban lujvo vocabulary. We thus will not reinvent the
wheel in totality. BUT, we cannot do this freely for a large number of reasons.
a) our root set is different than theirs. Some of their compounds will thus
not work. The same is true of old Loglan words. We've been held up on
translating Jim Carter's Akira story (the one he uses in all his guaspi
examples) from old Loglan to Lojban by this need to retranslate all the
compounds (which he used extensively and in ways inconsistent with our
current, better defined semantics).
b) as mentioned above, our affixes are not in 1-to-1 correspondence.
c) their compounds undoubtedly have a strong European bias. I doubt if it
is as bad as Jim Brown's (who built the compound for 'to man a ship' from the
metaphor 'man-do'; i.e. 'to do as a man to'. He also did 'kill' as 'dead-make'
where 'make' is the concept 'to make ... from materials ...' Sounds more like
Frankenstein to me, folks.) But I suspect Esperanto has a few zinger's in
there. Indeed, I understand the Ido people criticized Esperanto most
significantly for its illogical word building, though I don't have details.
Perhaps Bruce Gilson (new to the list) could explain with examples??? And the
ESperantists among us will almost certainly have counters (Oboy Oboy!!! A
lively discussion! Let's not get violent though.) I also intend to draw
heavily from Chinese, which has a more Lojbanic tanru 'metaphor' system
since it doesn't ditinguish between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Esperanto
tries to get around this by allowing relatively free conversion between these
categories, but the root concepts are taken from European languages that
more rigidly categorize words, and their compounds probably reflect European
d) Most importantly, Esperanto words are not gismu. They do not have place
structures. Lojban words do, and the affix semantics and compound semantics
must be consistent with those place structures. We've covered this in previous
discussions in the guise of warning against 'figurative' metaphors that are
inconsistent with the place structures.
e) Nope. Most importantly is another reason. Lojban is its own language.
It should not be an encoded Esperanto any more then it should be an encoded
English. I suspect that just like English words, Esperanto words sometimes
have diverse multiple context-dependent meanings (though again perhaps less
severely than English). We want to minimize this occurance in Lojban if not
prevent it (we may not succeed, but we can try - the rule that every word
created must have a place structure is a good start.)
The bottom line is that each Esperanto word must be checked for validity, just
like any other lujvo proposal, but must also be translated into its closest
equivalent Lojban tanru as well, and have a place structure written, etc. The
bulk of dictionary writing is this other work. I can and have made new tanru/
lujvo (without working out the place structures) at the rate of several per
MINUTE for related concepts. Coranth D'Gryphon posted a couple hundred
proposals to this list last December (that no one commented on), which he made
based on English definitions. We have perhaps 200 PAGES of word proposals to
go through. Nearly all of these have no place structures defined or are
Lojban also has a multi-man-year isvestment behind it, though not 'mega'. No,
Jeff, we aren't a DOD project, but in terms of people working on it and time
spent, we've far exceeded many such projects. And word-building, whether for
better or worse, has received the greatest portion of that effort, since that
is all most people have felt competent to work on. (Incidentally, the
Netherlands project IS a government sponsored project, if not defense-related.
If we had several million dollars, I think we'd be well along the way to a
translator ourselves. Sheldon Linker has claimed that he could do a Lojban
conversing program with heuristic 'understanding' a la HAL 9000 in 5 man-years.
This is, in my mind, of comparable difficulty to a heuristic translation
program. Any comments out there from those who know more than I do on this
P.S. to Brian Eubank - you will want to get a copy of the review from Jeff P.
since it relates to computer translation.
-- lojbab = Bob LeChevalier, President, The Logical Language Group, Inc.
2904 Beau Lane, Fairfax VA 22031-1303 USA 703-385-0273