Loan words

You got a brief taste of lujvo in Lesson 8. As we said there, lujvo are the main way of introducing new words — more precisely, new brivla — into Lojban. The most important thing about lujvo is that, as selbri, they are meant to have very well-defined place structures; and there are guidelines in place for deriving them (see The Complete Lojban Language, Chapter 12.) So, particularly when the concept you want to express is 'verb-like' (that is, when it's likely to have sumti of its own), lujvo are preferred.

There are some cases, though, when you do have to borrow a word from another language, creating a loan word (called in Lojban a fu'ivla). This can be because the thing you're talking about is very concrete or particular, and/or because the reference is quite culture-specific. In either case, it would be really cumbersome to describe it with a combination of gismu. (For example, how would you come up with a description for brie? Or rock 'n' roll? — which, we should point out, you would have to keep distinct from the later musical genre of rock!)

The problem with borrowing words into Lojban is, Lojban has a quite thorough set-up for working out what the words are in a stream of letters. This means that most words you import into Lojban (once you spell them in Lojban letters) are likely to mean something else already. For example, if I want to bring the word Esperanto into Lojban, the last thing I want to do is start saying .esperanto. That will get analysed as .e speranto, which is something like 'and marriage-soft'.

Note: Well, it would be if 'soft' was ranto instead of ranti — but the point should still be clear: importing words exactly as they are would lead to confusion and havoc.

The sanctioned way to deal with loan-words (described in more detail in The Complete Lojban Language, Chapter 4.7) is to stick a gismu (minus its final letter) in front of the word, showing what sort of thing the word is; and to put an r (or, if an r is already there, an n) between the gismu and the word. The gismu helps the reader or listener, who has likely never seen this word before, guess what the word might be. This is particularly handy if the source word might be ambiguous between two different meanings. And the combination of gismu minus final vowel, source word (which should start with a consonant, and end with a vowel), and r or n will hopefully produce a cluster of consonants crunchy enough that it cannot be mistaken for another Lojban word or phrase.

Tip: There is no standard consonant to put in front of the word to become a fu'ivla if it starts with a vowel. Two popular choices are x and n. Similarly, there is no set convention on where to get the vowel from, if your word ends in a consonant. In these lessons, we'll just repeat the preceding vowel; e.g. Englandgugdrninglanda (from gugde 'country'.)

So what does all this look like in practice? Well, we've already seen curry:

(The consonant cluster is also crunchy enough to be difficult to pronounce; the r is a syllable on its own, and the word should sound something like shidgerrrrrkari.)

Loan words (in Lojban, fu'ivla) are still only sporadically used — particularly because, as of this writing at least, there is no Lojban dictionary where a standard list of them can be looked up. The problem of which language to borrow words from is also hard to settle, and the choices made can cause problems of their own. The most international solution for plant and animal names, for example, is Latin, and in particular the Latin of the Linnaean system of classification. But this means that, to come up with a word for 'catnip', say, you have to know Latin and your Linnaean taxonomy. (Or, like I did, look it up on the Internet — but you can't normally do that while you're having a conversation.) So fu'ivla are still largely unexplored terrain in Lojban.

Note: That said, you will occasionally see 'Stage 4' fu'ivla in use. The fu'ivla we've seen are 'Stage 3'; in Stage 4, you drop the initial 'crunchy' rafsi, reasoning that the word should already be well-known or recognisable enough — and making sure that the word still doesn't look like a normal brivla. (For example, The Complete Lojban Language suggests tci'ile for 'Chile', instead of gugdrtcile.) Not everyone likes them, so they're not yet all that common, and you'll usually get plenty of warning if someone is using them.

P.S.: If you were wondering, by the way: cirlrbri, zgiknroknrolo, zgiknroko.

Exercise 4

Turn these words into fu'ivla, using the gismu supplied as the prefix. For example:

Mummy/Mommie: mamtamamtrmami.

  1. Cockney: bangu

  2. Pizza: cidja

  3. Derivative: cmaci

  4. Adagio: zgike

  5. Psychopathy: bilmi

  6. Deuterium: cidro

  7. Amethyst: jemna

  8. Rallentando: zgike