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Lojban is a constructed language, formulated around the principles of mathematical logic while being intended for actual everyday use by humans. One of its design goals is audio-visual isomorphism - i.e. that if you hear an utterance you should know how to write it, and if you read a passage you should know how to say it - with no loss of information in either direction. This is quite different from any natural language, in which body language and/or tone communicate information which the written form loses. In particular, the speaker of a natural language can express their emotions and attitudes to what they're saying much more precisely than can the writer.

This leads to well-known problems in written communication, particularly in the informal domain of the internet. How do you express amusement in a natural way - without actually saying "This amuses me"? How do you show uncertainty? And more importantly - how do you emulate that special tone of voice which marks sarcasm as opposed to belief? Or patience rather than anger? Simply writing down what you'd say, and assuming your audience will read it in the same intonation you wrote just won't do, and can lead to serious misunderstandings.

The best solutions years of email and IM have given us are the smiley, a crude tool at best; and /me's to actually describe the intonation and body language, which is far too verbose.

These just aren't good enough - perhaps not for written natlang conversations, certainly not for Lojban. So, the illustrious designers came up with a better system - one which allows precise description of the speaker's emotions and sentiments towards the text.

A brief tour of the Lojban attitudinal system

The basic attitudinal is simple diphthong or aspirated vowel pair (like the English "aha" - the aspiration is marked in lojban by an apostrophe, so "aha" would transliterate to "a'a"). The word can come at the start of the sentence - indicating that it applies to the whole sentence - or else immediately after almost any word or construct - and then it applies only to that part of the sentence. For example -

.ui do vi zvati
("wee doh vee zvARtee")
{Happy} you here at
(smile) you're here!

.ui indicates happiness, and is meant to equate to a smile. In fact, you can't say it without smiling, and if you're going to smile it's easy to say it. Similarly, u'i corresponds to laughter (it's very easy to chortle/snort through):

mi zgana le nu do sakli le badna pilka kei .u'i
("mee ZGARnar leh noo doh SARKlee leh BARDnar PEELkar kay oohee")
I observe the event-of (you slide on-surface-the banana-type-of cover) {amusement}
I saw you slip on the banana peel (and I find that event amusing)

There are 39 little words like these which cover the range of simple emotions along with more complicated things like competence (.e'e) and constraint (.e'i). Each of these defines a scale. The opposite is reached by appending "nai" - so ".uinai" indicates unhappiness, ".e'enai" (the feeling of) incompetence. In fact, each scale has nine positions, as indicated -

       .uicai             .uisai          .ui          .uiru'e
Intense happiness | Strong happiness | Happiness | Weak Happiness | 

            .uicu'i                 .uinairu'e       .uinai
Indifference w.r.t. happiness | Weak unhappiness | Unhappiness |

     .uinaisai           .uinaicai
Strong unhappiness | Intense unhappiness

We're up to 351 combinations so far, combinatorics fans. Which is quite possibly sufficient to cover everything we express in natural languages and more... but this is Lojban, so of course that's not enough. There are a whole host of further modifiers which can be used on any attitudinal. A choice few:

  • ro'a, ro'e, ro'i, ro'o, ro'u, re'e: these allow you to restrict the attitudinal to refer to one of six spheres - respectively social, mental, emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual. So, using ".oi", meaning complaint/pain, you might use ".oiro'o" if you've got a stomach bug, and ".oiro'e" when you've spent too long trying to figure out just what "naku nei" might mean...
  • se'i: indicates the attitudinal relates to yourself - so ".o'onai" just indicates anger, while ".o'onaise'i" means you're peeved with yourself.
  • dai: marks empathy. So if ".oisairo'o" means "Ouch!", then ".oisairo'odai" might mean something like "Ouch! That's got to hurt!".

There are quite a few more. In fact, enough to make 5265 possible combinations. Except that each can be modified by nai, cai, sai and re'u, so that's 47385. Except in fact, Lojbanic attitudinals are considered to act like vectors - they add up. So you can put any combination of these 47385 possibilities together to get new, complex attitudinals, giving a potentially infinite supply of meaningful phrases. In this way you can readily concoct some rather complex expressions of emotions you never even knew you could feel... and with a little practice they are as natural to say/write and understand as are the gestures and vocal modulations of natlang speech.

There's still a fair amount left to the system I haven't covered here, including the rather funky evidentials which indicate how you came to know what you're saying (by hearsay, postulation, culture, etc.), and others - including ways to distinguish between sarcasm and statement, rhetorical and non-rhetorical questions, exaggeration and understatement, and more. For more, please see -

John Cowen - The Complete Lojban Language, Chapter 13

By the way - lojban is of course the natural geek language, and *is* going to take over the world of People Like Us soon enough. What's more, the attitudinal system, being a discrete segment which can be inserted in natlang writing mu'a, and having a really good use in online conversation, is going to be the first to arrive. Trust me, it won't be long until you'll have to know the words to understand what the hell anyone's going on about, so you'd better .eidai start learning and using them now.

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