(Originally appeared in Lognet 93/3)

Toward A Loglan Speech Community

James Cooke Brown

I think it is time to create one. Moreover, I think it is now possible to create one, by which I mean build a semi-permanent speech community right here in North America in which human speakers will be speaking Loglan to one another on a daily basis for at least two years

These thoughts came to me in Oranienbaum, Russia in August. I had been obliged to detach myself from the Loglan Project long enough to prepare the paper on Loglan I had committed myself to giving. The occasion was the Annual Meetings of LOS, the Language Origins Society, of which I’ve been a member for some years. As I mentioned in last quarter’s Lognet, LOS met this year in Oranienbaum, a pleasant 18th Century village on the shore of the Baltic a few miles west of St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad.

Necessarily, my paper had to be an historical one. What I planned to tell my colleagues is how Loglan came to be invented, what exactly happened to it after it was invented, and what might be learned from what happened that might be of interest to the several sciences and scholarly disciplines that concern themselves with language origins (we are a very multidisciplinary society.) In fact the title of the paper I had committed myself to giving was “What Can be Learned from Thirty Years of Engineering a Logical Language about the Probable Course of Language Evolution.” By the time I actually gave the paper one word had changed. ‘Engineering’ had been replaced by ‘Teaching’; for in drafting the paper I had discovered that the most scientifically interesting things I had to say about Loglan had been learned, not through inventing, designing, or engineering the language, but by teaching it, or attempting to teach it, to several generations of human learners. I won’t try to summarize here what I said to my colleagues in St.Petersberg about those experiences. Not that there’s anything confidential about what I said; and you, as logli, would have a right to know in any case. Eventually I hope to tidy up the paper for publication in the Society’s proceedings but I haven’t done that yet. When I do, I shall, as promised, make it available to La Logli as well. There, if you’re interested, you’ll be able to find out exactly what I had to say about Loglan in the summer of 1993.

The Oranienbaum paper, by the way, was well-received. My LOS colleagues, being extraordinarily open-minded scientists, were fascinated that such an experimentally-oriented project had been undertaken at all. I think I made a handful of new scientific friends for Loglan that day. In any case all sorts of people from psycholinguists to brain scientists expressed interest in learning more about the language and what we may yet find out about the human head by using it.

But how do you get from what has been learned by teaching this logical language to my surprising new conviction—it surprised me, at any rate—that it is time to build a Loglan speech community?

I arrived at this decision—well, perhaps it’s not firm enough yet to be called a decision; let’s just call it a plan—by following two pathways: first, by reminding myself, during the long historical junket I was obliged to take to prepare this paper, of the original scientific purpose of Loglan: namely to provide an instrument for “turning on” the Whorfian effects of second-language learning in arguably greater “volume” than learning other sutori-languages does. This would make possible the measurement of such effects, if they exist, with the necessarily crude instruments that we’ll have to use during the early stages of such studies. Then, if Whorfian effects do exist, and Loglan does reveal them, the second step would be to arrange for their attribution, through well-designed experimental tests, to concrete linguistic structures in the experimentally-used languages, thus permitting either the refutation or the confirmation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, with all the implications that that would have for our planetary future.

In 1989, in Chapter 7 of the 4th Edition of Loglan 1, I had laid out at least a preliminary experimental program to answer such questions. But since that relatively quiet time I and The Institute seemed to have forgotten all about these high scientific purposes in our absorption with the problems of commercial survival.

In Oranienbaum, in the company of scientific friends, I found another quiet time and reminded myself of these commitments.

The second thing I seemed to have discovered in Oranienbaum, whilst talking about the Loglan experience with my scientific colleagues, was that Loglan the language was in some sense already done! I found, as I thought about it, that Loglan was ready—had become ready, or at least partly ready, while I wasn’t noticing—to be used for the purpose for which it had been designed. The grammar was now as steady as a rock; the “new” morphology was no longer new and was demonstrably working; both the lexicon and the usage-structure were growing by those proverbial leaps and bounds; and all we seemed to lack were speakers. The reason we lacked speakers, it seemed to me (although I may be mistaken in this), and were being driven instead to various kinds of literary interactions with one another at a distance, was because we lacked speech opportunities. We didn’t visit enough. We were still too “thin on the ground,” as I had perhaps grown too fond of saying, to make speech useful to us.

But if somehow a cadre of speakers could be formed—hothouse-grown, if necessary, but in the end practiced speakers, fluent speakers—I found myself thinking that we could then look forward to actually running that experiment in a year or two. With fluent speakers ready to serve as second-language teachers, as the role-models and exemplars of Loglan they would have to be in order to serve in some “total immersion language-learning” experimental setting, funding for that experiment would not be difficult to get, the argument for running it would not be difficult to make, and the Great Whorfian Experiment could at last be run.

So I found myself thinking, at any rate, in Oranienbaum.

A paragraph or two ago, I said that I’d discovered, from that remote perspective, that Loglan was “in some sense done.” But there was another sense, I knew, in which it wasn’t done; and that negative fact had also to be squarely faced. (In fact, the phenomenon I am about to discuss was one of the main themes of the paper I gave to LOS, because it is, in a certain sense, the most scientifically intriguing one.) Despite the ease with which the mechanics of Loglan can be acquired—by which I mean its grammar, its basic word list, the short list of usages we actually do have now, and the art of using the morphology to create and/or decipher new vocabulary...all arts that we can and do learn easily—there is another part of the Loglan experience that is exceedingly difficult to learn, may even prove impossible to learn; and that is the art of devising logically satisfactory new usages on the run. In other words, if some natural language structure—the ago-system, say, or the meaning of no longer, or of the little word Amen—has not been sufficiently well analyzed by the logli logicians and usage-builders who have gone before us to have become a standard expression of our language, that is, a usage, then it is probably impossible for any but the philosophically most gifted of us to solve such problems on our feet. Maybe in fact there are no such speakers! Maybe no one is gifted to such a degree!

This is just another aspect, of course, of the problem Dr. McIvor and I have faced recently in our work of helping logli translators polish up their work. In the course of making any substantial translation, apparently—and this is quite unlike what we find in writing Loglan compositions of apparently equal substance—the translator is almost certain to come upon yet another unanalyzed natural-language expression that will give t pause...that will, in fact, stop t in t’s tracks! In particular, it will cause t to take time out to construct yet another Loglan usage to deal with it. But why is this so difficult to do? Why, in particular, can it not be done on the run? Because trying to figure out what these always obscure and often idiotic natural-language usages “really mean” (I’m going to the movies, I’m waiting for a taxi, He’s a one-legged man) is sometimes an extraordinarily challenging intellectual exercise, requiring the patient marshalling of all one’s literary, metaphysical, poetical, ontological, logical, and other language-analyzing tools. Moreover, not everyone can do it (one is not surprised to learn) even when given all the time in the world. Most of us, on encountering such a problem, choose to wait patiently until the pundits have gathered, until the furor of their arguments has finally died down, and a new usage has been turned out for all of us to use (Ai mi godzi lo sinma, Mi pazda lo taksi, Da nu tugle neba).

What all this means, I found myself thinking in Oranienbaum—while trying with the other half of my mind to think of ways of explaining this odd phenomenon to linguistically-sophisticated strangers—is that while Loglan is mechanically easy to learn, it is, because it is a logical language, surprisingly difficult to master...if by ‘mastery’ one means ‘being able to use its logical apparatus to perform unrehearsed or unconventional logical analyses of meaning or deductive transformations extemporaneously.’ Put in these bald terms the difficulty newcomers encounter in “mastering Loglan” in this demanding sense is not very astonishing. It’s on a par with the discovery that every teacher of formal logic makes, namely that his students find casting natural-language sentences into the forms of symbolic logic—remember those exercises in the back of your old logic book?—difficult to do. No logic gene is fixed in the human gene pool, apparently; at least no one now believes that any are; and there is some pretty strong, mostly ethnographic, evidence that some illogic genes are pretty broadly distributed amongst us (the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” gene is certainly one, and mistreating a conditional as a biconditional is probably another.) What this means is that logical operations, like mathematical ones, are essentially “unnatural,” that is, artifactual, and so must be mastered—if mastery is to take place at all—by drill, familiarity, in the end by exposure to a set of habitual responses that one’s mentors have learned to make...which is, of course, exactly what a linguistic usage is!

As I once put it—apparently while feeling poetic about them—Loglan usages, unlike natural-language ones (which tend to be “idiotisms,” as the Spanish say), are congealed philosophical analyses. The reason we logli say De nu tugle toba instead of any more literal translation of, for example, the mildly insane English sentence He has two legs (What! He owns them? Where are the deeds?) is because someone once went to the trouble of discovering what such a claim “really meant”; and finding that it meant, in English logic-talk, that there are exactly two somethings x such that Y is belegged by x, our logli usage-inventor was in a position to say, with brilliant economy (thanks to Elliott’s implicit quantification system), De nu tugle toba. Forever afterwards, each new logli, on encountering this “strange” usage for the first time—perhaps after tediously deciphering it—is going to see the results of that analysis pretty starkly revealed, and, I hope, unforgettably; and so be able to apply the results of that difficult but now-congealed analysis to other, similarly constructured claims (That’s a three-wheeled car, That sentence has two parts). Similarly for the logically-simpler logli habit of saying Lo fagro! when a theater is on fire, and Mi danza lo taksi when waiting for a taxi, and Ta pacenoina vetci when something is no longer happening, and Speni lo gudbi denli when traveling in the logle parts of Australia, soi crano...all without redoing the analyses that produced these inventions in the first place; for inventions they surely are. And none of them was made “on the run.”

This suggests what I think is going to happen soon, and what is beginning to happen now, namely that the body of Loglan usages, as it accumulates, will begin to constitute a body of clear, simple, didactically-useful examples—a record of other people’s good logical habits, if you will, as well as, more fundamentally, of still other people’s successful analyses—by which the art of deploying the logical apparatus of our language can be successfully learned. If this is so, then we are ready, now, to construct that speech community: the community that will provide that pool of potential Loglan teachers, those exemplars of “good usage” who will, we hope, be able to teach Loglan to English-speakers as readily as French is taught to English-speakers now, that is, by the spontaneous demonstration of good usage in the speech of the teacher. For when that is happening, it won’t matter that Loglan was, in fact, difficult for this first generation of fluent speakers to master. For by the time our first cadre of teachers get around to teaching Loglan to someone’s experimental subjects, the “blanket of usage”, let us hope—the tissue of congealed philosophical analyses, as I still like to think of it—will have grown wide enough to cover all the semantico-logical situations commonly encountered by humans in their everyday lives.

These then are the premises of this proposal: (1) that we have enough Loglan usages now to cover most of the occasions of everyday speech; (2) that we have a group of “usage-coining gurus”—about a dozen people including myself, the Takrultua, the Lodtua, but also all our other e-connected columnists and editors, who are now a pretty savvy bunch, as well as a handful of other e-correspondents from as far away as Korea and New Zealand—who communicate with us and one another very rapidly and effectively by e-mail these days, and who are by this time demonstrably capable of solving almost any new usage problem they are handed in a very few days—well, weeks at the most, soi crano—that is, of inventing logically satisfactory new usages more or less “on demand”; (3) that we have a place—which I’ll mention in a moment...perhaps several places, when the full count is in—in which a small community of 8 or so logli could live and practice their logla skills on one another on a daily basis; (4) that we may have, among our members, enough logli such that each (please forgive this “loglanism”!) is willing and able to spend from two to four weeks a year in such a community to keep it continuously populated on a year-round basis; and (5) that we probably also have enough members earning enough extra personal income to be willing to support that community financially by collectively picking up the tab for its expenses...at least for the few years that it might to take to generate that cadre of practised speakers.

Well, I seem to have made my proposal instead of just “summarizing its premises”! Premise (1) is obvious; we’ve just been talking about it. I think you will probably agree that it’s true. Premise (2) will be obvious to anyone who has participated in the exciting process of usage-invention over the past two or three years. Indeed, our group of e-connected logli has developed such a formidable collective talent.for logla problem-solving, especially for logla usage-invention, that it now amounts to a “group-mind.” Which brings us to premise (3): I have a house in Florida, on a lake just east of Gainesville, about seven miles from the university, which has 3 bedrooms and a study (the study in Loglan was originally built) that could easily be used as a 4th bedroom, and which has in general the kinds of public spaces—living-room, dining-room, patios, and kitchen that can easily accommodate 8 residents and their occasional guests. I reckon assigning at most 2 residents to a bedroom, either couples or same-sex roommates. There are 3 full bathrooms, so people won’t have to line up for showers. The house occupies a large wooded site on a lake rich in wildlife. There is a sailboat in a slip on the lakeshore, a volley-ball court in the “backyard”, and a swimming pool in the “frontyard”, all for the sportively inclined. For want of a Rex May cartoon this time, a photograph of what my family and I call the “Lake House” is on this issue’s cover.

Right now the Lake House is rented; but now that Careers is back on the street, I don’t think I or my family will need the rental income...at least not for awhile. So I think it quite possible that for such a worthy purpose we could turn the Lake House over to The Institute for a couple of years. Indeed, other logli may have other and better houses to offer, in more attractive settings. But before anyone commits as much as a house to this plan, I expect he or she would like to have a fair idea of how the other premises are faring. At least I would.

Premise (4) is the only iffy one, in my opinion. Are there enough logli to populate such a community? To keep it running continuously—usages gathering and fluency mounting—for as much as two years? You tell me. And when you’ve told me, I’ll tell the rest of us either that there are enough of us—for, anoi lo natra ga letci, I’ll be one—or that there aren’t.

I could personally spend a week or two at a time, let’s say twice a year, in such a community, and still keep all my other fires burning. The way I imagine this would work would be for each potential communitarian, or pair of communitarians, to decide, individually, that he or she or they could dedicate a block of time to live-in Loglan-learning...if enough others were willing to do so too, and roughly how much time (vacation time, perhaps augmented by unpaid leave time?) could be spent in that way in their case. Then, given that input, we could decide as a group how to stagger our individual visits throughout the year, the goal being (a) to keep the logle fires lit and the logla conversation going, but also (b) to schedule arrivals and departures in such a way that, except for the very first “watch”, there would always be at least some old hands in residence whenever anyone new arrived.

Please write me before December if the prospect of being such a communitarian—a live-in trainee of The Institute, as it might appear—interests you personally, or you and your partner. I’ll get back to the wider logli community with your collective response in Lognet 93/4 if I have it by that time.

Now for premise (5). This will, I think, turn out to be the easy one. Many of us find ourselves willing, indeed eager, these days to support in some small-to-us financial way the active efforts of others who are struggling to achieve some goal of which we deeply approve, but which we may have neither the talent nor the time to advance directly. For example, many of us support those brave young people who put themselves in the way of whale-killers or nuclear-weapon testers with a few dollars now and then, hoping that this will help them do in all our names what we can’t do ourselves. Do tell me if this is your response to this prospect. You needn’t commit any dollar-figure yet; just an expression of your interest in playing such a supporting role will be more than sufficient at this time.

As a matter of fact, supporting the LSC (“Loglan Speech Community”) financially should not be very costly; food, utilities, perhaps taxes, upkeep, house insurance, and of course those CompuServe fees to keep the LSC in constant touch with San Diego, Ottawa, Fairbanks, and other “guru-shelters” on the loglandian landscape.

I’d love to hear from anybody who has a reaction to this wild plan, positive or negative. What do you think are its prospects? What would you be willing to do or give to help make it succeed?

I did promise myself, you know, a shot at energizing that Whorfian experiment if the time ever seemed ripe, soi crano.

The time seems to be ripe. And certainly I am, soi clafo.

Copyright © 1993 by The Loglan Institute. All rights reserved.