(A page from the Loglan web site.)

(From Lognet 91/4. Used with the permission of The Loglan Institute, Inc.)

Hu Logla Sanpa Toi?
(How Do You Say This?)

by Bill Gober

Loi Logla Stude.

First, I have some interesting trivia for you. As you may know, Loglan's grammar is specified using the same notation that's used for the grammar of computer languages. Since I'm a computer programmer and know several computer languages, I decided to see how complex their grammars are compared with Loglan's. A grammar for an old version of 'C' has 169 rules; one for Ada (Ada is a trademark of the Department of Defense Ada Joint Program Office) has 375 rules; the grammar for PL/M-86 has 207 rules; the Loglan grammar in Notebook 3 has 194 rules. (How about the latest grammar, #76?) What this says is that Loglan is about as complex syntactically as modern computer languages. This makes Loglan much less complex than natural languages, which have grammars that run to many thousands of rules.

The complexity of a language makes a big difference in how long it takes to learn it. After a year of studying Russian in college, I have a good foundation in the language, but I can't read or speak it at all well; after two years of German, I can speak it well enough to get by in Germany... if the natives will put up with my accent and funny diction. This sort of progress is considered normal for learning natural languages.

You're expected to learn a computer language a bit faster than that. In computer science, it's commonplace to take a 10- or 15-week course in which you're expected to learn a new language. This language isn't the topic of the course; it's just the tool you use to write the sample programs that show that you've learned the course material.

So Loglan is simple enough that you should be able to learn its grammar in a few weeks. Yet it looks to be as expressive as any natural language. I'm impressed! Of course, Loglan has a bigger vocabulary than any computer language, and learning that vocabulary will take a bit longer. In fact, that's the lament of Lo Nurvia Logla in LN91/3:12.

Well, I don't have questions from any of you. (Not that you've had time to send me any...I'm writing this on 1 September.) In the absence of questions, I get to choose the topic: Loglan words for body parts. No, not what the logli have to say about the motion picture Body Parts, but how we talk about (on the one hand) eyes, ears, noses and throats, and (on the other hand) the people they belong to.

In Loglan, you talk about the parts and the body together. Sorgu, for example, is defined as 'is an ear of..'; nearly all of the words for body parts are two-place predicates of just this form. These predicates don't discuss isolated objects: they talk about the relationship between the body part and its owner. If you say Ti sorgu 'These are ears', implicitly there's a ba at the end, which we could translate into English as '(of somebody). (Re-read Loglan 1, pp. 113-117, to review the general philosophy of predicates.)

So, how do we use these predicates for body parts? Here's a simple example. Back in the 70's, Reader's Digest ran a series of anatomy articles; a typical one was "I am Joe's Ear," which translates nicely into Loglan as Mi sorgu la Djos.

A commoner usage in English is of the form 'X has B', where B is a body part. For example, 'Yes, I heard it. I have ears.' We might render this, Ia mi pa hirti toi. I ba sorgu ia mi. Literally, 'Certainly I heard this. And something is ears, certainly, of me.' Or the second sentence could be rendered 'There are ears, certainly, of me.' Sometimes we may want to reverse the order of the arguments, that is, to put the owner first. To do that, we use the "first conversion-operator", nu. With this, 'I have ears' becomes Mi nu sorgu... Literally, 'I am eared by something.' In some cases, this converted form is the preferred one, because the unconverted form is awkward to use...for example, in vocatives: Hoi Nu Sorgu Gu, hirti "O those who have ears, hear!" (See L1 pp. 120-125 for the conversion operators; and pp. 299-302 for vocatives.)

Suppose we want to get specific: 'I have two ears.' This becomes Toba sorgu mi. Literally, 'Two-somethings are ears of me.' You can always combine a number with a variable in this way. For example, 'There are at least 100,000 hairs on my head,' becomes Sunemamoba herfa lemi hedto. The harried mother's complaint, 'I only have two hands!' becomes Mi nu hanco sitoba ia. The title of the movie The Man with Two Brains translates as Le mrenu ji nu berna toba. And we translate 'How many teeth do you have?' as Hoba dante tu? (See L1 pp. 209-216 for numbers; and pp. 312-313 for ho, the numerical question word.)

So that's how you talk about body parts in Loglan. Any questions? You ask, Why did I take up a whole column, just to show you how to use thirty or forty words? But I showed you how to use far more words than that!

There are many predicates defined as 'is a [part] of [whole]..', possibly with more places following. For example, banko 'is a bank of community..'. Of the 982 primitives supplied with MacTeach 2, at least 250 are like this. You can use the principles I've given you with all these predicates.

Nuclei are part of their cells (or atoms); the cells in turn belong to organisms, and organisms to communities. Leva munce ga nu manti ritianemomoba. 'That colony has several million ants.'

Family members and relatives belong to their families and relatives. Mi nu sorme toba, e nu brudi nibe. 'I have two sisters and no brothers.'

Hotels, schools and farms are part of their communities. Roba bilgra resra lemia sitci. 'There are many fine restaurants in our city.' Cities belong to the surrounding countryside. Countries, cultures and languages belong to their peoples, as do gods: Mi bi la Por, ja gandi tu. 'I am the Lord, who is your god.'

Rivers, mountains, coasts and other landscape features all are part of their landmass: La Minysotys, nu vlako nenimoba. 'Minnesota has 10,000 lakes.' Seas and continents belong to their planets. Satellites belong to their primaries: La Mars, nu lunfoa toba ja la Deimos, ze la Fobos. 'Mars has two moons, which (incidentally) are Deimos and Phobos.' Planets belong to stars, which in turn are part of galaxies.

So, you see, these usage rules cover an enormous number of words (at least one-quarter of the primitives) that predicate objects in a wide range of sizes, from the smallest in the universe to some of the largest. It's certainly worth a column to discuss them.

Hue Bil

Copyright 1991 by The Loglan Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

Send comments and corrections to:

djeimz AT megaseattle DOT com