Chapter 13. Keeping it flowing: Textual cmavo

Table of Contents
Lojban with lots more attitude
My attitudinals! All mine! (And you?)
Bits and pieces
Answers to exercises

Most of what we've been concentrating on until now has had to do with the logical side of Lojban — getting sentences to be true. To that end, we've been looking at how to describe relationships between things (bridi, internal sumti); how to situate events and things in time and space; how to describe things as masses or individuals; how to speak about events and facts; and so on.

This kind of thing is the 'hard-core' of Lojban, so to speak; the logical machinery on which Lojban is based, and which works with concrete realities. But there's another, less concrete side to language. No, not its ineffable soul, or its intrinsic poetry, or anything like that: we're not about to go into such rarified abstractions. (Although those rarified abstractions do have some rather tangible — and linguistically concrete — bases.) The less concrete side of language has to do, not with what you say about things, but how you manage the business of saying it. This means things like:

A language isn't really a language if it can't cope with things like these — although typically these kinds of things are not dealt with in traditional grammars, but are picked up in usage. If there's one thing you'll have noticed about Lojban, of course, it's that it is as explicitly specified as possible. Accordingly, Lojban has a special subsection of its grammar dealing with these issues, rather than leaving it up to usage. But, precisely because this isn't what logic was designed for, the grammar Lojban uses here has little to do with bridi: it is a much simpler grammar, mostly using isolated words. We'll go through the ones you're likeliest to meet.

Lojban with lots more attitude

You'll remember from way back in Lesson 1 that Lojban has little words called attitudinal indicators (or attitudinals), which show how you feel about something. That 'something' is whatever precedes the attitudinal. As we have seen, if the attitudinal is after a terminator, it's a reaction to whatever phrase ends in the terminator. If it follows an article, then it applies to the entire sumti; if it follows a connective, it applies to the connective and whatever following term it is connecting; and so on.

Attitudinals belong to selma'o UI. This means that their grammar is as simple as can be: they can turn up after just about any word of Lojban, without disrupting anything going on grammatically. For that reason, they don't need terminators: there's no danger of them swallowing up any errant sumti (unlike their close relatives, the vocatives.)

There are some cmavo whose job is to modify other UI cmavo, though. You've seen one already: nai has the function of converting the attitudinal expressed to its opposite. So if .a'u expresses interest, its opposite, .a'unai, expresses repulsion. We saw in our discussion of negations that, when you set up a scale between something and its opposite (to'e), you can also speak of something that's neutral, in-between (no'e). The same goes for attitudinals, and the word to use in that case is cu'i. So .a'ucu'i expresses neither interest nor repulsion, but disinterest.

You can divide up the continuum even more finely. If you want to say that you feel an emotion only weakly, you can add to it ru'e. If you want to say you feel it strongly, you can add sai. And if you want to say you feel it really strongly, you add cai. This gives you a seven-part scale:

cai > sai > (nothing) > ru'e > cu'i > nairu'e > nai > naisai > naicai

So for instance, if you want to say "Eh. That's cool", you'd say .a'ucu'i. If you want to say "That is really gross!", you'd say .a'unaisai. And if you want to say "Oh my God, that is the most interesting thing in the world since the very invention of Lojban!!!", .a'ucai is a pretty safe bet.

Note: All these modifiers belong to selma'o CAI, except for nai — which turns up all over Lojban grammar, as we've already seen, and has its own selma'o, NAI.

There are 39 attitudinals fitting the pattern VV (two vowels, possibly with an apostrophe between them; these are a subclass of selma'o UI, called UI1.) Each of these corresponds to a different emotional state. With the addition of the seven-way scale we've just described, that makes 273 attitudinals you can use, plunking them pretty much wherever you want in your sentence. That's not even counting selma'o UI4 and UI5, which can further modify your attitudes. As with everything else, Lojban allows you to be as specific as you want to be in expressing yourself.

Note: selma'o UI4 specifies what 'part' of you is feeling the emotion — whether it is a physical, social, mental response, and so on. selma'o UI5 has some 'left-over' modifiers; we already saw in passing ga'i, which indicates haughtiness.

The cmavo in this category you will see almost constantly is zo'o. It is used just like the smiley-face in e-mail, to indicate that you're being humorous when saying something, and it's used for much the same reason. In these two communication systems, it's difficult to work out whether someone is joking or not — in e-mail, because you can't hear the tone of voice that gives things away; in Lojban, because by its ideology the language doesn't want to leave things to natural-language–based intuition (and also because it's used a lot on e-mail anyway.) So hints like this are always welcome, and frequently taken advantage of.


Note: Attitudinals have three-way glosses: what they mean on their own, what they mean with cu'i after them, and what they mean with nai after them.


attitudinal: intent – indecision – rejection/refusal


attitudinal: patience – mere tolerance – anger


attitudinal: relaxation – composure – stress


attitudinal: suggestion – abandon suggest – warning


attitudinal: approval – non-approval


attitudinal: pity – cruelty


attitudinal: repentance – lack of regret – innocence

Exercise 1

Match one of the following attitudinals to each of the following situations.


  1. You see someone stub their toe.

  2. You bought the last ice cream in the shop, and the toddler queuing behind you has started crying.

  3. You'd like to ask someone to take you along to the shops, if it's not too much trouble.

  4. You will absolutely die if your sister doesn't take you to the Ricky Martin concert.

  5. Your local football team, the Loglandia Contrapositives, has just won a match. You watch football maybe twice a year.

  6. You have just been slapped in the face, and you are neither the Buddha nor Christ — or into S&M, for that matter.