(Originally appeared in Lognet 97/2)

New Thoughts on a Loglan Speech Community

Part 2

By James Cooke Brown

During my visit with Alex Leith in France last summer, Alex and I developed a plan for putting Loglan on the map again that will, I think, please nearly everybody. In a way, it’s the product of our joint assessment of TLI’s current resources. Some of those resources have been growing, just as others have been diminishing.

Let’s take a look at the growing ones first. There has recently been rapid growth in (1) our tiftua group, our volunteers...most notably, perhaps, through the addition of Alex himself; for he is the new editor of LL and perhaps the most prolific writer that Loglandia has ever seen. But other new tiftua have also been coming aboard recently, among them Emerson Mitchell, our new consulting logician, as well as Steve Lyttle, both of whom have letters in this issue. Our tiftua are the labor force that keep our projects moving; so if you would like to join that force, please do. We have lots of work for you to do!

There’s also been substantial growth in (2) Loglan text. There is now a literature in L, to which—again—Alex’s own novelette “Nepo Neri Vizgoi la Loglandias” (“A First Visit to Loglandia”) is both the most recent and the most ambitious contribution. Again, if you would like to contribute to this growing literature, please do. There’ll be lots of room in the new LL for the works of a new crop of logla writers, however large.

(3) Our teaching materials have also taken a giant step forward with the completion of Steve Rice’s Master’s Thesis, Understanding Loglan, which The Institute is now publishing serially as Loglan 3. The first volume of a 3-volume set appeared this spring as the 2nd issue of LL; and I trust all of you received it. L3 is, at last, a real Loglan primer, a book that will take newcomers by the hand and lead them, first, through the simplest elements of the language, and then by easy stages, through exercises of increasing sophistication and complexity until the job is done. Many of us believe the publication of these three new volumes will lead to a new level of language-mastery among our logli.

Finally, there is something else very close to my own heart brewing in the wings that will, I believe, increase the practical appeal of Loglan enormously, once it is done, and that is (4) the Resolver Project that Bob McIvor and I have jointly and recently taken up again. As and when we find time for it, we are writing—or rather Bob is writing while I am preparing a test corpus for—a suite of software that will allow the production of machine-produced L speech from well-formed L text, as well as the machine transcription of L speech, given only that it, too, be well-formed. What an instrument that will be for teaching Loglan at a distance! And the hardware exists, of course, to implement our Resolver software whenever it is written.

Alex and I see these four new bodies of Loglan resources as coming together very effectively to implement a project first proposed to me many years ago by Reed Riner. Reed, as many of you know, is a professor of anthropology and the author of “Loglan and the Option of Clarity: A Genuinely User-Friendly Language for Humans and Their Machine” (Et cetera, Fall 1990, pp. 269-279). He is the futurist anthropologist at Northern Arizona University (NAU) who has been a supporter of Loglan from very nearly its beginning. It must have been twenty years ago when Reed first urged me to come to Flagstaff some semester and teach a course in Loglan under the aegis of his department. The support of the anthropology department for this enterprise was something he was then confident he could get...perhaps even the joint support of the math and engineering departments as well; for these, too, had Loglan buffs on their faculties then (and may still have).

That was in the late ’70s. But in those years, I couldn’t find the time to take Reed up on his invitation. But there was another reason I balked. At the time, there was no primer, no classroom textbook, to teach L with. I began the Primer Project myself about that time, partly to meet this need; but I never found time, in those busy years, to finish it. MacGram was then in its infancy; and GMR, the Great Morphological Revolution, was also then in progress. Now, nearly 20 years later, it is beginning to look like we finally do have the resources to teach L in the classroom...in particular, we have, or soon will have, that essential textbook.

But the picture is not all rosy. Just as we are growing in these several dimensions, we are shrinking in others. The number of people who pay dues, once fairly large, has been diminishing. This limits our publishing capabilities. Also, our senior people—for a long time, our busiest tiftua—are growing older. Bob and I, for example, are both in our 70s. So our energy budgets are shrinking with each passing year. Besides we both have other things we’d like to be doing with those smaller work budgets. For me, it’s writing a couple of other books and traveling. For Bob—although I haven’t talked with him recently about this—it’s probably other programming projects.

You’ve probably noticed from my own recent gallivanting that the length of my personal workyear is gradually shortening; for my wife and I have been increasing the time we spend traveling, and exploring other cultures. Moreover, my other scholarly projects—equally worthy, I fancy, of my diminishing worktime—are now demanding their due. Indeed these “other projects”—principally a book on utopian economics I’ve been trying to get off my desk for the last six years—have recently been taking larger and larger chunks of my shorter workyear. All this is time away from what both Bob and I used to give to Loglan.

So it seems particularly appropriate—auspicious, even—that a younger logli, a man with immense personal energy and talent, namely Alex, a man who has large personal resources (as indeed I have had since my middle 30s), should be coming along just now, ready and apparently willing to take over from me in at least two of my former roles.

One of those roles, of course, was being Loglan’s principal teacher. That was the personage that Reed Riner invited when he invited me to come Flagstaff those many years ago. I knew even then that the opportunity Reed was offering me was one that probably should be taken for the language...if I could just find a way to fit half-years at Flagstaff into my life. But I then had a teenage daughter to raise, who like all teenagers had deep roots in her local community of peers; and there was also an undermanned Institute in San Diego for me to look after. So it never happened.

But, now, if that option could be reopened—at NAU or elsewhere, it doesn’t matter—it looks very possible to Alex and me that The Institute could make it happen. This time Alex would be our “principal teacher”. With stacks of L3s under his arm, with audio tapes that he would prepare to teach the phonology of the language with in some university’s language lab, Alex himself—with me and other members of the Keugru as backup e-mail consultants—could actually make that first university class in Loglan happen.

For one thing—I’m not sure that Wes mentioned this about Alex in his brief LN 96/3 bio—Alex was a Berlitz teacher of English-as-a-second-language in his early years. Alex was, in fact, a director of a London Berlitz establishment for some time. So he not only knows Loglan almost as well as anyone else does—and that includes me—but he knows much more about teaching languages than the rest of us do. And he would be armed, not only with L3 and those language tapes, but with a respectable body of Loglan text with which to build his students’ reading skills. There are, for one thing, all those Lo Nurvia Logla columns of the last seven years. And there is now his own lengthening novella, which could serve as the literary capstone of his course.

No teacher has ever had so many Loglan materials at t’s disposal before. There has never been such a possibility of spreading Loglan skills around by actually teaching s in a classroom.

Who knows where it might all lead? NAU is not the only university with a futurist anthropologist on its staff. Near where Alex lives for six months each year is UC Santa Cruz, which also has its quorum of Loglan-alerted anthropologists. Nor is Alex the only potential teacher of our language. We are all potential teachers of Loglan, once we are given the leadership and example of a courageous and talented first teacher.

What do you think of all this, Logli? What do you think, Reed, of the revival-with-bells-on of what was originally your idea? And what do you think, Jim F, of finding a place for your neighbor Alex in your university?

[That was Step 1 of the plan we are developing. The next steps come from an earlier memo to Alex in which I continued a discussion—started on another visit by Alex to SD—of how to carry out the building of a real Loglan speech community, starting in each case, with class-room teaching, but then moving on, as Step 2, to the building of a Virtual Speech Community (VSC), a step which I discussed in my article “New Thoughts on a Loglan Speech Community, Part 1”, which appeared in Lognet 96/2 in June 1996. The rest of this paper is a continuation of that earlier article. You may wish to refresh your memory of its thesis before continuing. I assume you keep your old Lognets, soi crano!]

* * *

Visits are like arguments, I find. There are always afterthoughts...dialectically-generated thoughts which, I suppose, if they ever reach the wider world, become the elements of the historical dialectic that Hegel first described. Mine regularly take place in morning-after showers. Here’s one of them, still wet:

After a Step 2 Virtual Speech Community (VSC) composed of already engaged logli had produced its first dollop of “virtual speakers” (VSs), the scenario that then unrolls for me from that event slides naturally into an exciting, and, it may be, epochal, Step 3: the thing we were looking for in our first discussions of the Loglan Speech Community, but didn’t find. Let me describe this enticing Step 3 for you as I have just imagined it.

Assume that the VSC produces some VSs, and that among these are some people—Alex Leith among them—who would be willing and able to serve as teacher/role-models in a “total immersion” type of learning experiment in which newcomers to L would be turned into “actual speakers” (ASs), the VSs also turning themselves into ASs in the process.

Let’s call the place where this could happen a “Total Immersion (Learning) Community” (a TIC); and let’s assume that a typical manifestation of one of these TICs would last anywhere from a month or two to three to six months, depending almost entirely on 1) how good those VSs are at, first, pretending to be, and, second, becoming, ASs, as well as managing the TIC; and 2) how easy—or difficult—L actually is to learn as everyday speech. (We really don’t know the answer to that question yet, of course. Our 1977-78 apprenticing experiments told us that L was speakable for short periods in a comfortable living-room setting with a dictionary on the table, but not much more.)

Then wouldn’t it be a good idea to attempt to demonstrate whatever degree of learnability L turns out to have, which is the issue that is now so a-muddle amongst us, and which, if the answer is favorable, could really boost L’s stock among the constructed languages of the world— as the potential Eurolanguage, for example, among other functions it might serve—by teaching it under these optimal conditions to a group of not particularly highly-selected learners (as all of us currently are) such as might be enticed to volunteer for the TIC from some local university student-bodies?

More concretely—but, of course, still entirely subjunctively—suppose you and X (and here I named a youngish and, at one time, passionate logli who happens to live in Alex’s Santa Cruz/Stanford neighborhood...so does Glen Haydon, by the way, as well as several other older logli) had both “graduated” with flying colors from some VSC experience, and were now certifiable as ASs. Suppose further that you both felt you could work together in teaching/example-providing roles, and that one of you (you) was self-supporting and that the other (X) could be supported while on leave-of-absence from his job (a programming job, I understand) by being supplied with a modest stipend. (I’m confident that TLI could finance such support through contributions from our wealthier logli.) So let’s suppose that, by these means, you and your assistant—I am still supposing he is X—would be enabled to play your roles, you as leading teacher and actual speaker, and X as your assistant and fellow actual-speaker, in providing “total immersion” experiences for others in the TIC.

It might turn out to be desirable for the leading teacher to have two assistants. That would depend partly on the size of the TIC, and be similarly financeable. But I suspect that one fellow role-model would do for a TIC of modest size. But sune is absolutely necessary. Trying to do such a thing by oneself—that is, to exhibit a language by oneself!—would wear one out, psychologically! (Alex, by the way, has had some experience in total immersion language teaching for the Berlitz people, in case you were wondering where the professionalism was going to come from!)

Ok. Let’s be really fanciful and imagine that three role-models are both needed and available—three being a magic number for statistical/perceptual purposes—and that Y (and I mentioned another youngish logli who is also self-supporting) could be got to contribute a 1-, 2- or 3-months slab of his life, too, and also came down from Z (Y’s West Coast city of residence) to work with you and X in running the first TIC.

Ok. All that arranged, what we would then need is a place: a big, old, unused house that we could rent, perhaps; or a bunch of tents in a meadow near someone’s existing house. Suppose you or Glen could supply the meadow and the house, the latter with the bathing, bathroom, cooking facilities that a tented group would need. Suppose further that, between Stanford and UC Santa Cruz, we managed to find student bodies both large enough and excitable enough to supply us with the guinea pigs...with several waves of such volunteer learners, perhaps, in which case we could line them up for several successive TICs.

What would motivate such volunteer student learners? Academic credit, of course. I have friends who teach at UC Santa Cruz; Glen has friends—many old colleagues, in fact—who still teach at Stanford; and between them and people like Reed Riner (at Northern Arizona University) working from afar, and other West Coast academics we know—for example, at UC Berkeley, where we have several readers of this journal—we could make the necessary arrangements with department heads and deans that could lead to credit-earning by our volunteers. Among the departments that might be very pleased to cooperate in such an off-campus but creditable learning experiment might be: a) computer science, b) logic & philosophy, c) linguistics, d) mathematics, e) foreign languages, f) anthropology, g) social psychology, etc., etc. There’s really no limit to number the academic tribes we might interest.

And nothing beyond that credit plus board-and-room, and the promise (and later the reputation) of the “mind-blowing” character of the experience itself, I’ll wager, would be necessary to motivate a stream of student subjects among whom we could pick our volunteers on some scientifically defensible statistical basis.

What would this do for L? Well, if it worked—if we’re wrong and L is not “impossibly hard” to learn, if what has made it seem so is 1) our thinness on the ground and consequent lack of face-to-face experience with one another, and 2) the unceasing (but perhaps now slowing) growth of the language, but that, in a more natural teaching setting, L turns out to actually go into the human head as slickly and as swiftly as I designed it to do in 1955-60, and then re-engineered it to do in 1978-89, then that discovery would in itself inaugurate a bright new day for the language. And perhaps for humans as well.

Talk about karma! Worth trying, don’t you think?

It would take money, of course. But not a lot. Much less than has already been put into this costly, still only charming, but potentially beneficial project. And I think we know, now, how to motivate our wealthier logli—and perhaps even the Federal government—to help us do such potentially karmic things.

Indeed, this memo could well turn out to be a useful zero-th step in that direction.

Hu nu jupni tu tio na, ue?

[My last memo on this topic was written a few days after hearing from Alex that he thought my“Step 3” idea, as outlined above, was not only feasible but personally quite challenging! He even proposed that, given the “Mia System” discussed in LNs 96/2 and 97/1, talk about Step 3 could now be classified as “connectable to this world”!]


You’re very kind; but I’m not sure it is a “this world” scenario yet. Remember, Step 3 is firmly premised—at least in my mind—on our successful performance of Steps 1 and 2: the making of a few potential speakers in a classroom environment followed by the production of some actual speakers in a virtual community environment. Step 3 relies essentially on the prior generation of a lively group of such speakers...though their “birth” took place in a virtual world.

(The magic of this virtual stuff is apparently that actual results can be obtained in it. Airplane pilots can be trained by virtual emergencies, first, to avoid virtual crashes, and then to avoid actual ones! So the step from a virtual to an actual speaker of L does not seem to be an outrageously large one.)

Among the actual speakers emerging from Step 2 might indeed be, in addition to Alex Leith, X, Y, Z, and W (all nameable persons who also live in the Santa Cruz-Palo Alto area, whom I shall, out of respect for their uncommittedness as yet, leave anonymous here; but all are readers of this journal). Or it might be an entirely different set of teacher/role-models who actually emerge from the VSC and make themselves available to us for Step 3.

This is all per hypothesis, of course. But it’s a lively one for the Santa Cruz-Palo Alto area, which is from all indications a promising area for a Step 3 Loglan experiment in TIC-learning. There are people on the ground there, in all of the several local universities, who could help us oil the wheels of academic credit-giving; and earning credit toward university degrees is the only practical advantage I can think of that we can offer young people who might volunteer for our TICs...recognizing that being charmed by Loglan probably does not count as a practical advantage for anyone yet!

But the whole thing—the entire Step 3 scenario—could also be played out in any number of other venues: the Harvard-MIT area, for example (where we have plenty of logli and some loyal patrons still); the University of Florida at Gainesville area (where I still have many academic friends); the Northern Arizona University (NAU) area (where we have our formidable futurist, Reed Riner, and all his students and friends); and there are, I imagine, numerous surprising elsewheres! How about Germany? Hungary? Denmark? Iceland? Beijing, for goodness sake!

The point is, that it is university communities above all that contain those populations of intellectually engagable young people who move regularly and in large numbers through their streets and hallways. Students are, indeed, the data-providers of all the experimental behavioral sciences, from economics to psychology. Some U.S. university departments actually require their majors to put in a minimum number of hours as subjects of such experiments! Our TICs would qualify handsomely as such experience-giving experiments. And it is, after all, only such persons whom we can reasonably hope to attract as subjects in our learning experiments...even though the experience we give them proves to be rewarding in other ways after the fact.

I think we should focus on that. If we should ever actually get round to Step 3-ing, we should confront the fact that that’s what we’re up to. We’d be using those student volunteers. To be sure, we’d be giving them quite a lot in return: some college credit; the intellectual excitement of the L experience itself; the lasting benefits of increased logical and linguistical awareness; and we would be embarking some of them, at least, on that state of lifelong fascination with a wondrous object that seems permanently to have gripped most of us.

But in practical terms, we would only be giving them credits toward the completion of some university degree. We should face that fact. The utility of those student volunteers to us, as TLI workers, is that they are potential human soil—and reasonably unbiased soil, at that, because of their essential disinterest in L itself, paradoxically—in which the L seed can be planted and, if we’re lucky, shown to sprout. If we’re very lucky, that seed will be shown to produce logical fruit as well. That is the result we’re after, of course. And we should honestly recognize that bias in our interest. In doing Step 3, we would not be doing science but demonstrating the existence of an interesting phenomenon. But it is often from just such preliminary demonstrations of the existence of a suspected phenomenon that good science comes.

So the more rigorously controlled Whorfian experiments can come later. They’d constitute Step 4. The experiments described in L1’s Chapter 7, or even better ones, could easily be run—and probably be easily funded as well—once our Step 3 TICs had paved the way. (I am aware—not particularly sadly—that the Step 4 experiments are likely to take place after my death if at all. So I’m not going to worry about them. Let others do that.)

It will be alright, of course, if the Step 4 result we all wish for doesn’t happen: if, from its TIC, we find that L is, say, impossibly difficult to learn...even under the optimal circumstances we’d have contrived. For that negative result would, in itself, be an important finding...as I’ve argued in a scientific paper elsewhere (in the proceedings of LOS, the Language Origins Society). But once found to be a super-difficult language, L then becomes a scientific curiosity, an anomaly among languages: one that, from every formal point of view—size, simplicity, regularity, lexical learnability, etc.—should have been easy to learn but wasn’t. The fascinating question then becomes: Why?

As a scientist, I am fascinated by that possibility and that question. For what it would then mean about the evolution of the human mind is not only devilishly interesting—and surprising!—but potentially important for human self-knowledge as well. It might help us explain to ourselves why we are such duds at thinking. How it is that even the most favored of us sometimes “can’t think our way out of paper bags”, given any sentimental, economic, or political interest in the outcome! War; corruption; greed; over-breeding; our fondness for self-delusion; our fascination with illusory systems of thought; our inability to see beyond short-term satisfactions...all of which lead us to our reckless overuse of our limited planetary resources. For none of these familiar human phenonomena speaks well for the human capacity for rational thought. The question that Loglan would help us answer about ourselves is not whether we think well; in most departments of our lives, we don’t. But from what feature of our biological natures these habitual failures spring.

As a still-hopeful provider of possible benefits to the human race—as a firm believer still in the benefits for humankind of fact-facing human thinking—I should personally be saddened by such a negative result. But it could nevertheless be a very useful one to the fact-facers who come after us.

For what that result would mean is that, while L was formally a potential head-clarifier for humans (as symbolic logic itself formally is, given classroom discipline in which to learn it), L cannot actually perform that head-clarifying role for spontaneous human learners because there won’t be many. Apparently this would be because the inherent difficulty we humans experience in learning to handle the logic that has been built into Loglan, as well as the baffling character of its metaphysics, will keep humans from doing so in large numbers.

This is a watershed sort of question, isn’t it? Given one answer to it, we logli will roll off merrily downhill in one direction; given the other, we will roll off not so merrily in another. We need to answer that question. We need to know what L is good for. Will the answer to it be bad news? Or good?

I hope that even a scientifically preliminary Step 3 will help us answer that question. But, in the meantime, we have Steps 1 and 2 to take.

Let’s gird our loins for those, and take them!

Copyright © 1997 by The Loglan Institute. All rights reserved.