2
Historical Background

When visiting Loglandia, it’s worth knowing something about the history of the country. In the days before the Founder, before that small but charming region became Loglandia, it was called ... well, I can’t very well tell you, because the name is unpronounceable, and cannot in any informative way be transliterated. I shall just refer to it as Xia, and its language as Xlang. The fact is that the inhabitants, for untold generations past, had been both blessed and cursed with what was universally acknowledged to be the world’s most difŪcult language. Nobody outside the country spoke it.
Well, there is reputed to have been a cardinal at the Vatican several hundred years ago who spoke two hundred languages, and he is supposed to have included it in his repertoire. But generally speaking, it was unlearnable.
The pronunciation required such gyrations of the tongue and soft palate that speaking its sounds could result in violent nausea. The grammar of Xlang was contorted in the extreme, being both highly inßected and agglutinative, with a whole array of honoriŪc and attitudinal variations. And worst of all, it was impossible to say what you meant. The semantics of Xlang were as slippery as a greased eel.
By the time the people of Xia had gained the ability to conduct their daily lives in this impossible language, there was little time or inclination left to study other tongues. What contact there was with their neighbours at an ofŪcial, ambassadorial level was conducted in Latin; an interpreter was still needed, since the Xian pronunciation of Latin was incomprehensible to the outsider’s ear.
The blessing of Xlang, for the people of Xia, was that the outside world left them very much alone. There’s no point in invading a country where you can’t tell the people what to do. Oh, a few itinerant tinkers and carpet merchants drifted through, doing their business by sign language and smiles. And the Romany caravans passed through regularly, leaving a rich heritage of violin music. It was so much easier to play gypsy Ūddle than to talk.
It was the language, too, that prevented internal strife in Xia. How could you take offense at what someone said when you couldn’t be sure what they meant? So it came to be the custom to regard any perceived slight as due to one’s own misunderstanding, to smile and pass on with a cheerful good wish.
Apart from the diplomatic Latinists, a few Xian scholars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries learned to read English and German. This permitted Xia to keep up with scientiŪc and technological developments. They had electrical power, generated at what are now called Reichenbach Falls, they had a telephone system, and later two channels of TV, showing mostly sport and dance programs.
Those scholars, at what is now known as Quine University, subscribed to a wide range of scientiŪc journals. One of these was ScientiŪc American, and so it was that in 1960 the semantics department of the university became aware of Loglan. This department had for more than a century been hard at work on the project of a Dictionary of Xlang. They had got as far as the letter ... well, the third sound in the National Anthem, which was how the Xians kept track of letters. Written communication in Xia was largely by pictograms, which people tended to invent as and when they needed them. Consequently Xlang had hundreds of thousands of letters, most of them originating in the mysterious and distant past.
The semanticists were immediately delighted by the idea of an unambiguous language with only 26 letters, and it was quickly adopted in the school system. Parents with children at school were taught by their offspring, with the aid of a Loglan tutorial TV program, and of computer tutorials that were quickly created for this purpose. As soon as young adults had some ßuency, they taught their babies Loglan as their Ūrst language.
As you may imagine, the advent of a language in which you not only could, but were compelled to say what you meant, produced a cultural revolution in the country of Xia. Indeed, now for the Ūrst time were they not only able to say what they meant, but actually to know what it was they were trying to mean. In a very short time, the king proclaimed Loglan the ofŪcial language, and the name of the country Loglandia.
Loglan has, of course, changed and developed since its early days. Each advance was received with delight in Loglandia, as it enabled the Loglandians to say more, and to say it more precisely. Loglanders nowadays speak the most recent version, although they can understand all earlier versions; some old folk, indeed, have chosen to keep to Loglan as it was Ūrst introduced. But in general, new terms are enthusiastically welcomed, with a eureka feeling, of: ‘Aha, I knew all along that there was something like that in the world; now I can think about it !!’
Such respect does the Loglan Institute hold in the hearts of the Loglanders, that the second best suite at the MacIvor Arms Hotel is reserved for visiting members of the Purmaogru. The best suite, of course, is held in constant readiness for the Founder.
You’d think that the Loglanders themselves would be working to extend the language, and this has recently begun to happen. (Words like ‘bulva’ [boulevard] have been adopted. But for most of the time they have been speaking Loglan, they had no way to deŪne those concepts which they might have vaguely felt the need for. There were ‘holes in the language’, holes whose shape they could not determine by themselves.
Few Loglanders learn other languages. The insecurity of once more not being able to say unambiguously what they mean gives rise to a condition known as ‘ice-tongue’. A whole ward in the hospital is devoted to the treatment of this unfortunate condition.
The only area in which the Xians achieved unambiguous communication was with their dogs. Using hand-signals and whistles, the Xians became masters of the art of dog training. Now that they are Loglanders and have more possibility of contact with the outside world, they are content to remain in their customary isolation. Loglandia, as was Xia, is self-sufŪcient in food and energy. Contact with other countries has developed in only three ways—with the Loglan Institute and with Loglanists world wide, on linguistic matters; by welcoming tourists (who naturally have to be Loglaphone); and in the export of specially trained dogs, such as seeing-eye dogs, dogs for the deaf, and recently, dogs trained to educate and socialize autistic children.
It was, as I mentioned, the king of Loglandia who proclaimed Loglan the ofŪcial language. The Loglandian kings go back well over a thousand years, but there has never been anything that you could call a dynasty. For on the death of a king (or queen, for women have always been equally entitled to the throne) his or her successor was chosen by public acclaim from the most beautiful, gracious and charming eighteen year-olds in the kingdom.
The duties of the King of Xia were not particularly demanding. The sovereign had mostly ceremonial duties: to lead in the observance of festivals, to confer honours on outstanding citizens each year, to ride in the State Coach in parades. The Sovereign would also promulgate Edicts—adding to the corpus of Loglandian law. But thanks to the nature of Xlang, nobody could Ūgure out exactly what any Edict meant, so nobody paid any attention to them. The Xians, and now the Loglanders, just went on being nice to their neighbours, tending their gardens and training their dogs.
There are three native Loglandian breeds of dog. The Ūrst breed is called a Crosstail. They are the size of a large German Shepherd, light golden brown in color, with a black mask and ßoppy ears. They have a very long tail, with a distinctive cross-shaped black mark near the top, and a white tip. The second breed, the Otter-dog, seems to have been generated by crossing an otter with a dog. They are skilled at catching Ūsh, and pine when they do not have constant access to water. The third (“Dunno-which-way”) are quite small, with such a long curly coat that they resemble a mop; one can only tell which end is the head when they are running.
The old Xlang language survives in Loglandia in the national sport of tongue-wrestling. This, like the Kings of Xia, originated in the mists of antiquity. It is rather like the game of “I packed my bag, and in it I put...”, in which each player repeats a list of words, and adds a new one at the end, and the word list grows in that manner. The winner in tongue-wrestling is the last player to repeat the list correctly, and without gagging. Nowadays the sport is simply a matter of oral agility, and the participants have little or no idea of the meaning of the words they use. (Not that players in Xia had much idea either.) Loglandian adolescents, of course, interpret tongue-wrestling in a rather more physical way.
Now that I have given you some background in Loglandian ways, I shall in my next communication return to the account of my visit there.