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relayed response

Relay of Mike Urban's comments re lojbab's on Prothero

Date: Mon, 29 Oct 90 11:19:12 -0800 (PST)
From: Michael Urban <cbmvax!uunet!monty!rand.org!urban>
Subject: Re: response to J. Prothero book review and comments of 12 Oct 90

While I am a dyed-in-the-wool Esperantist, I agree that attempting to modify or
extend Lojban in imitation of various features of Esperanto would be a mistake
(I also lose patience with reformers who want to Lojbanify aspects of

Esperanto's `affix system is ambiguous' to the extent that the language itself
is indeed lexically ambiguous.  Not only `affixes' but roots themselves are
combinable, and so it is possible to come up with endless puns like the
`ban-ano' ones you mentioned (`literaturo' might be a tower of letters, i.e., a
`litera turo').  Without the careful, but somewhat restrictive, phonological
rules that Loglan or Lojban provides, this kind of collision is inevitable.

The borrowing of words in Esperanto (`neologisms') instead of using a compound
form is a controversial topic.  Claude Piron, in his recent book, `La Bona
Lingvo', argues (quite convincingly, I think) that the tendency of *some*
esperantists to use neologisms, usually from French, English, or Greek, is
partly based on pedanticism, partly based on Eurocentrism (``you mean,
*everyone* doesn't know what `monotona' means?''), partly a Francophone desire
to have a separate word for everything, and largely a failure to really Think
IN Esperanto, rather than translating.  In any case, the distinction in
Esperanto between affixes and root words has always been a thin one (Zamenhof
mentioned that you can do anything with an affix that you can do with a root),
and has been getting even thinner in recent years.  Combining by concatenation
is every bit as intrinsic to the language as the use of suffixes.

You asked about Ido and Esperanto.  While I have not looked at Ido in a number
of years, I recall that the main gripe of the Idists was not that Esperanto was
too European--indeed, one of their reforms was to discard Esperanto's rather
a-priori `correlative' system of relative pronouns (which works rather as if we
used `whus' instead of `how' for parallelism with `what/that, where/there') in
favor of a more latinate -- but unsystematic -- assortment of words.  If
anything, Idists tended towards a more Eurocentric (or Francocentric) view than
Esperantists did.  Ido's affix system, however, attempted to be more like
Loglan/lojban.  They took the view that predicates did not have intrinsic parts
of speech; thus any conversion of meaning through the use of affixes should be
`reversible'.  Thus, if `marteli' is `to hammer', then `martelo' *must* mean an
act of hammering, not (as in Esperanto) `a hammer'; or, if `martelo' means `a
hammer', then `marteli' must mean `to be a hammer'.  One result of this is a
somewhat larger assortment of affixes than Esperanto possesses, (for example, a
suffix that would transform a noun root `martelo' to a root meaning `to
hammer') with rather subtle shades of distinction in some cases.  The result is
a language that is only slightly more logical than Esperanto, but
proportionally harder to learn, and no less Eurocentric.

Linguistic tinkerers like the Idists underestimated the organic quality of
Esperanto, or of any living language.  Indeed, one of the valuable aspect of
Lojban or Loglan, if either ever develops a substantial population of fluent
speakers, will be to observe the extent to which the common usages of the
language diverge from the prescriptive definitions.  Such effects will, I
think, be easier to isolate and analyze in a language that was created `from
whole cloth' than in an a-posteriori language like Esperanto.