(Originally appeared in Lognet 96/2)

New Thoughts on a Loglan Speech Community

Part 1

By James Cooke Brown

The following article—also an adaptation of an Institute memo—was first sent to all our tiftua, our eleven volunteer workers, on the occasion of Alex Leith’s February visit to San Diego. It is Part 1 of a three-part story about these“New Thoughts”. The next part of the story—perhaps the next two parts, if there is room—will be published in September’s Lognet 96/3.—JCB

During Alex Leith’s recent visit to San Diego, “A” (Alex) and I worked up a plan for building a “Virtual Loglan Speech Community” using computers, something we’ll call a “VSC”.

We see our VSC as eventually made up of a group of actually competent speakers of L by providing them with a sense of their community, of their accessibility to one another—of their “thickness on the ground”, as it might be called—through virtual means, i.e., by contriving an electronic community in which their speaking competence can grow.

We arrived at this conception after I told A that an actual speech community of logli—such as the one described in my 1993 article—was apparently quite impossible. I told A how few logli (one!) had actually responded positively to my 1993 invitation, and what I believed explained that dismal result, namely that our logli are in the main busy adult professionals currently making their own livings, and that only the retired ones among us, and the few independently wealthy ones who are also, in that sense, “retired”, have both the free time and the self-supported lives that would make that sort of commitment to a live-in community possible. (I also observed wryly that retired people are not exactly promising candidates for a “next generation” of anything. We’ll obviously have to do something to engage the young, or the community we are now will simply fade.)

A and I also confronted the fact that L at present offers no practical advantage to its learners, no present value to its speakers apart from the enjoyment of its linguistical and logical charm (which is what I gather motivates most of us). We also faced the saddest of all such facts, namely that even that charm is apparently only accessible to a very small percentage of the human race, uu. The result of these sad circumstances is that our logli community is mostly restricted to highly educated physical or formal scientists or engineers, and, unhappily, they are also mostly male.

With these in the way of sobering facts laid out in front of us, Alex and I began to think. What could we do, we asked ourselves, among and for such people that would enable them to create a “speech community” out of some subset of themselves? How can we at “TLI” (“The Loglan Institute”) give our present logli opportunities for voice-to-voice interaction with one another, plus the necessary instruction, that would together support their efforts to learn to talk, think, and eventually write creatively in L?

Largely through A’s awareness of an emerging computer-based communications system—one that was quite unknown to me—A and I came up with the following plan. We think it is at least one answer to all the above questions:

Apparently there now exist (a) computers—Power Macs among them—that have both microphones and loudspeakers built-in, as well as the internal hardware and firmware that makes use of these acoustic devices to produce, receive, and transmit intelligible speech ...apparently in the familiar telephone bandwith, and so quite understandably. There also exists (b) voice-conferencing software—apparently free for the downloading—that allows such advanced machines to transform the speech of an individual conferee into a digital signal, and then manages those signals in orderly fashion for whole groups of conferees. (A used a name to designate this software; but I’ve forgotten it, uu. Ask A.)

Given such individual tools, a group of modem-connected persons willing to schedule their interaction in mutually agreeable ways could interact with one another sufficiently frequently, and over a broad enough range of homely topics, to cause each of them to feel that he (or, more rarely, she) was a member of a community of logli...though individual pairs of them might be continents apart.

Through the social management of such virtual conversations, we, the members of this growing VSC, could learn to take turns with one another, not interrupt, spend a good deal of time listening to others, and come in with our own questions, corrections, and contributions as we felt them useful or needed...pretty much as a group of civilized friends in a living-room behave. Eventually, this virtual living-room could be “kept open” quite a few hours a day. People could come and go from it as they wished. Indeed, just as in a MUD, logli could make arrangements to meet each other there!

First, however, the essential speaking skills required in such living rooms have to be acquired. We had to find a way of nursing the eventual participants into being actual speakers and understanders of the language...and not just LOD-agile writers and readers of it, as some of us are, indeed, swiftly becoming today. These preliminary interactions, we knew, would have to be organized in slightly more structured, less fluid, more focused-on-learning ways.

Thinking hard about this early stage of the VSC, we envisaged learning groups of not more than five or six learners, each group having a “designated leader”. At first these leader/teachers would be learning to speak too, of course, but we’d try to select them, and set them up with groups, in such a way that they’d always have a broader understanding of the structure of the language than their particular group of “pupils” had. Later, these group leaders might well become real teachers, and as such, volunteer to lead newly-formed, even face-to-face groups into the VSC.

In either case these learning groups would not be the VSC, but feeders of members to it. Once a person had graduated from one of these groups, he or she would not only be eligible for membership in the VSC, but, more important, able to conduct him- or herself as an active speaker in it. While they were still learners these logli might meet with their group for, say, one hour each day for a period of anywhere from 30 to 60 days. From my own experience with apprentices, I’d guess that as few as 30 days of that kind of daily exposure might just be enough to produce the amount of speaking/listening competence that “threshold participation” in the VSC would require. But I’d think that a 45-day commitment on the part of a group of learners would make a safer bet.

So much for the idea of slowly building up a VSC by growing its “virtual speakers” in smaller learning groups...how, in short, we could nurse such a community into being. As for the physical tools we’d require to arm those learning groups, apparently computer-based voice-conferencing can take place right now. A and I discussed how members of these learning groups could all be supplied with Power Macs (and who knows what IBM compatible products would also serve; I don’t, for I do not use DOS computers any more), as well as with this voice-digitizing software of which A knows; and how those of us involved in this community-building could be doing all this conferencing at network speeds and costs, thus avoiding what would be the insupportable cost, to a small non-profit corporation like ourselves, of telephone conference calls.

Thus, through these new, technological means, A and I discovered, we could appeal first to those who are already charmed by L (and may not need other blandishments to seize this opportunity to learn it). And through these same hypermodern devices we could then create that virtual community of Loglan-speakers even though we are still “thin on the ground”.

Moreover, if A and I are right about this, we can built this virtual community in a way that will prepare a subset of us to become an actual community of L-speakers, a pool from which can eventually be drawn those role-models we’ll need to man the Whorfian experiments. In the meantime, these actual speakers can also function as face-to-face teachers of L by offering their services to local groups who have not been presold on the language. Both of these consummations are, of course, devoutly to be wished. And I’ll deal with both of them in the next two parts of this paper.

• • •

Alex and I also talked about how to finance this training for the VSC: how to buy and loan the Power Macs, for example, or the equivalent DOS computers, for and to people wishing to join these early learning groups. In other words, how we can help people who might wish to become fully-fledged members of such an emerging VSC, but who do not (now? yet? or ever?) have the spare money to make such large personal investments in new computers themselves. There’s also the question of how to pay for the massive use of network time that a large and active VSC and its satellite learning groups could well consume.

Alex has some very good ideas about how TLI can get help in buying a set of “loaners”...even, perhaps, how to help TLI pay for a fair portion of the VSC network time. Anyway, the big investment will be in those loaners; and those, A tells me, he knows how to help us acquire.

Hu nu jupni tu tio na, ue?

• • •

There are, of course, some very practical and immediate questions that we’ll need survey data on before we can embark on what I’ll call “the VSC Plan”. Eventually we’ll need to survey the whole body of logli...those who are e-, and those who are not e-, connected. But I proposed to A that we start with the eleven of us who are already “employed’ by TLI as offering-workers (tiftua). For example, how many of our eleven current tiftua already have such machines? I hazarded the guess that, among the eleven, James Jennings, Alan Gaynor, and Bob McIvor, at least, already have Power Macs or more powerful Apple machines; for I think I’ve seen them! But does anyone else have such a machine? (I don’t; but may be able to spring for one this summer “when my boat comes in”...actually, when it goes out to a new owner!) Or an equivalent DOS computer with respect to this voice-conferencing function? Do let Alex know if you do. Then, if things look promising, we’ll broadcast our plans (well, of course, this is that broadcast, isn’t it?...or the first installment of it) and in that way come to know what our needs and prospects are.

So we agreed. A’s the one who’ll be setting up the early, feasibility trials. So if any of you have the necessary computing machinery now, and would like to participate in these early group-learning trials, please let A know. Then we’ll try to match up groups with spuro ditca (expert teachers) and see how things turn out. A’s e- and street addresses are on the backs of all Lognets now.

Copyright © 1996 by The Loglan Institute. All rights reserved.