(Originally appeared in Lognet 94/2)

Profile of James Jennings

By Wes Parsons

James is 35 years old, and lives in Seattle, Washington. He has been married to Linda White for 13 years. Both he and Linda grew up in Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where they met, and they were married just before James entered graduate school. James received a Ph.D. in physics (but, he implores, ‘Please don’t call me “Doctor”’) from UCLA in 1987. Since then James has been more of a computer programmer (Macintosh preferred) than a physicist, although he still dabbles in physics and takes in lectures at the University of Washington.

Linda is a Braille transcriber and edits two newsletters for the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library. She and James are musically inclined. She plays the piano, guitar, and Celtic Folk harp, and James plays flutes (the usual “Boehm” style, and also Irish and Shakuhatchi). They occasionally play duets.

James claims that he and Linda moved to Seattle for the weather. “We really do like the rain. During the summer, when we can get several weeks of straight sun we get rather antsy.” They live in a neighborhood known as “Capitol Hill,” which is located near downtown and the University of Washington. Volunteer Park, which has a Conservatory and the Seattle Asian Art Museum, is only a few blocks away. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were built around the turn of the century, and James and Linda have developed an appreciation of the local architecture. James and Linda also enjoy browsing the used bookstores, both at home and when they travel. “I’ve heard that Seattle has more bookstores per capita than any other city in the country,” James says.

James juggles with a local juggling club (he can do a passable four-ball cascade, but prefers passing clubs), and is a student of Tai Chi Chuan. He has just started leading a Programmer’s Workshop that’s part of a Macintosh User’s Group. He reads a lot, mostly computer programming, science, science fiction, and Eastern philosophy. He particularly enjoys hard science fiction, and his tastes have evolved from Isaac Asimov toward Charles Sheffield (a fellow physicist), James Hogan, and Daniel Simmons. He occasionally attends a science fiction convention and has always been a Star Trek fan.

James recalls hearing about Loglan from a fellow member of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1976, and was reading Loglan 1 by 1977. His first letter to Jim Brown asked how one distinguished between five, fifty-five gallon cans and fifty-five, five gallon cans in Loglan. (For the answer, which appears in the fourth edition of Loglan 1, see below.) He subscribed to The Loglanist, but it wasn’t until years later, when he became involved in the dictionary work and acquired an e-mail address, that he has become an enthusiastic and active Loglanist.

James’ interest in Loglan stems from a fascination with how people think, and he wonders what the alternatives to human thought might be like. Many of his interests, including artificial intelligence and Eastern philosophy, are guided by this wonder. James has pondered in what manner a machine intelligence might think differently than humans. And Eastern philosophy often appears, to Westerners, to incorporate alien and incomprehensible thought patterns. The possibility that men and women might think differently has guided James’ reading on feminist issues. James admits that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis fits comfortably into this view of human thought, and the idea that a different language will lead to different thoughts is appealing to him, although he takes claims that Loglan will lead to better thinking with a grain of salt. James cautions, though, “For the record, I have not found any clear indication that there are different ways to think.”

James’ exposure to Loglan gave him an insight into language that he never received from formal education. He no longer takes the expressive power of English for granted, and he has started to see all sorts of things as manifestations of language. Getting a B.S. in physics, James notes, seemed to be largely a matter of acquiring the vocabulary and the experiences it describes in order to talk to other physicists. Every computer language has its own set of “idioms” so that persons fluent in one language (such as Fortran, say) will feel hampered by another language (such as Pascal) if they don’t know the idioms.

James likes the puzzle of rendering an idea into Loglan. He is not particularly interested in extended discussions on whether or not to include a minor feature in an odd corner of the language. He enjoys grand, simplifying patterns (“everything is a predicate” for example), and does not like ad hoc work-arounds, even though many of the work-arounds in Loglan seem to be necessary. James’ perspective on Loglan manifests itself in his work on case tags. He likes them because they give the otherwise somewhat arbitrary vocabulary list some structure. After reading “Woman, Fire, and Dangerous Things” by George Lakoff, James came to realize that case tags reflect some of the fundamental ways we categorize concepts and relationships.

James believes that what Loglan needs now is a large collection of useful idioms, quasi-traditional methods of saying various things. That requires lots of people trying to communicate any way they can about anything that comes to mind. James also believes that anaphora mechanisms can be improved. Natural language has all sorts of powerful tricks to reduce the number of words that need to be spoken. Loglan only has the logical operators and a simple pronoun-like system. Loglan could do better, James maintains, although he doesn’t know how yet.

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ANSWER: The five, fifty-five gallon cans = Le fe, fefera galno veslo and is spoken /leFE.feFEraGALnoVESlo/ while The fifty-five, five gallon cans = Le fefe, fera galno veslo and is spoken /leFEfe.FEraGALnoVESlo/. As in carefully spoken English, the pause—in Loglan, called the “pause-comma”, for it is written as well as spoken—is required to separate the quantifier from the numerical predicate. 

Copyright © 1994 by The Loglan Institute. All rights reserved.