Lojban Wave Lessons/14

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Lojban Wave Lessons: Foreword | ← Lesson 13 | Lesson 14 | Lesson 15 →

Lesson 14: Lojban sumti 1ː LE and LA

If you have read and understood the content of all the lessons until now, you have amassed a large enough knowledge of Lojban so that it doesn't matter in which order you learn the rest. As a result, the order of the next lessons will be a mixture of sorted by increasing difficulty and sorted by importance in ordinary Lojban conversation.

One of the biggest constrains on your speak now is your limited knowledge on how to make sumti. So far, you only know ti and lo SELBRI, which doesn't take you far considering how important sumti are in Lojban. This lesson as well as the following two will be about the Lojban sumti. For now, we focus on the descriptive-like sumti, the ones made with articles like lo

Articles are in lojban called gadri, and all the ones discussed in this lesson are terminated by ku, except the combination LA CMEVLA. We will begin by describing three simple kinds of descriptive sumti, and then immediately find that they are not so simple after all:

lo = gadri: generic, converts selbri to sumti.
le = gadri: specific and descriptive, converts selbri to sumti.
la = gadri: naming article, convert selbri or cmevla to sumti.

You are already familiar with lo and what it does. lo creates a sumti referring to what fits in the first place of the following selbri.

This may be contrasted with le, which is specific and descriptive. Saying le gerku says that you have one or more specific objects in mind, and you use the selbri gerku to describe it, so that the listener may identify those specific objects. This means that le has two important differences from lo: Firstly, it cannot refer to objects in general, but always refers to specific objects. Secondly, le gerku explicitly hints that the selbri is only meant to help the speaker identify what the description refers to, whether or not it actually satisfies the selbri. Perhaps the speaker is referring to a hyena, but is not familiar with them and thinks dog is a good enough approximation to be understood; however, this non-veridicality is perhaps over-emphasized in many texts. The best way to describe a dog is usually to describe it as being a dog, and unless there is a good reason not to, le gerku is usually presumed to refer to something which is also lo gerku.

In translation, lo gerku can be any of the dog, the dogs, a dog, some dogs, or dogs in general, while le gerku is the dog or the dogs. Even better for le gerku would be the dog(s)

Last of the three basic gadri, there is la, the naming gadri, which strips the following selbri of its usual meaning and refers to someone or something whose name is that selbri. If I in English refer to a person called Innocent by her name, I neither describe her as being innocent, nor do I state that she is. I only state that by convention, that object is referred to by that selbri or cmevla. Note that la and the gadri derived from it can convert cmevla to sumti unlike any other gadri. Also: Be cautious: Other texts do not mention that names can be formed from ordinary selbri using the gadri la. But those heretics must burn; selbri names are as good as they get, and many a proud Lojbanist have them.

la is a bit eccentric, since it always marks the beginning of a name. Unlike the other gadri, anything that can be grammatically placed after la and its sisters are considered part of the name. For example, le mi gerku is "my dog", but la mi gerku is someone or something called "My Dog".

These three basic gadri can be expanded with three more, which correspond to the previous:

loi = gadri: generic, mass of individuals
lei = gadri: specific and descriptive, mass of individuals
lai = gadri: mass of named individuals

These are the same as the first three articles in all aspects except for one: they wrap the sumti into masses. Masses are used to abstract multiple individuals into single entities for ease of expression. For example, a football team can be described as a mass of its members, or an animal as a mass of cells.

mivysle = x1 is a biological cell of organism x2
remna = x1 is a human

loi mivysle cu remna - "Masses of cells are humans". Again, none of the cells are humans. Indeed, the cells have very few human traits, but the cells considered as a whole makes up a human. This example also shows that the selbri following loi must be satisfied by the members of the mass, but not by the mass itself: a human isn't a cell either.

A mass made with lei, such as lei gerku, refers to a mass formed by a group of specific individuals, which the speaker refers to as le gerku.

It needs to be noted that regular sumti built using lo are usually sufficient even when a selbri is meant to apply collectively. Constructing masses is mainly necessary when talking about multiple groups of individuals.

sruri = x1 flanks/encircles/encloses x2 in line/plane/directions x3

lo prenu cu sruri lo zdaniPeople surround the house. The Lojban sentence shares the obvious meaning of the English one, namely that people are arranged around the house, not necessarily that individual people are stretched around it.

But what if we want to explicitly say that people surround the house from head to toe? In order to be explicit about a selbri distributing across individuals, one needs lo, le or la with an outer quantifier. The subject of quantifiers will be considered later, in lesson twenty-two.

Lastly, there are the (only two) generalizing gadri:

lo'e = gadri: veridical convert selbri to sumti. Sumti refers to the archetype of lo {selbri}.
le'e = gadri: Descriptive convert selbri to sumti. Sumti refers to the described/perceived archetype of le {selbri}.

Of which there is no la-equivalent.

So, what is actually meant by the archetype? For lo'e tirxu, it is an ideal, imagined big cat, which has all the properties which best exemplifies big cats. It would be wrong to say that this includes having a striped fur, since a big systematic subgroup of the members of the set of big cats do not have striped fur, such as the leopards and the jaguars. Likewise, the typical human does not live in Asia even though a lot of humans do. However, if sufficiently many humans have a trait, for instance being able to speak, we can say:

kakne = x1 is capable of doing/being x2 under circumstance x3

lo'e remna cu kakne lo nu tavla - The typical human being can speak.

le'e then, is the ideal object as perceived or described by the speaker. This need not be factually correct, and is often translated as the stereotype, even though the English phrase have some unpleasant negative connotations, which the Lojban does not. In fact, everyone has a stereotypical archetypichal image of any category. In other words, lo'e remna is the archetype which best exemplifies all lo remna, while the archetype le'e remna best exemplifies all le remna.

The eleven gadri can be seen in the diagram below.

Generic Masses Generalizing
Veridical lo loi lo'e
Descriptive le lei le'e
Name la lai does not exist

Note: Earlier, there was a word xo'e for the generic gadri. However, the rules and definitions for gadri were changed in late 2004, and the current set of rules on this topic, nicked xorlo has replaced the old way. Now, lo is generic, and xo'e is used as an elliptical digit (lesson nineteen). There are also gadri for building sets (lo'i, le'i, la'i), but they are exceedingly rare in post-xorlo usage.

Lojban Wave Lessons: Foreword | ← Lesson 13 | Lesson 14 | Lesson 15 →