[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

significant Lojban news! (???)

I am pleased to report what may be a major milestone in Lojban and
conlang history.  My daughter Angela has clearly learned some
significant design features of Lojban without being explicitly taught
them, thereby displaying some signs of "native language learning" of

A reminder that Angela is 7 years old, a native Russian speaker who is
learning but far from fluent in English after 10 months in the US.

The mark of something happening started to show up about a week ago (a
week after LogFest), I believe after we had a Monday night session.
Angela and her brother Avgust had been showing occassional new interest
in Lojban words for things since a week before LogFest, perhaps because
we were using it a little more around the house.  But this had been
limited to "what is Lojban for x" for many nouns - something they had
been doing for many months with no sign of ever actually learning the

Sometime after Logfest, perhaps about a week ago, though, Angela started
doing something different.  In what we thought was a little bit 'teasing
us', she started jabbering away in nonsense syllables several times
immediately after Nora and I spoke a little bit in Lojban (usually so
the kids wouldn't know what we were saying).  When asked she said that
she was "speaking Lojban" though of course there was no resemblence
between the jabbering and the language.

After several occurences of this happening perhaps every 2 or 3 days
(generally a couple of times close together when it happened), I
suddenly recalled that sometime during the first month after arriving in
the US, Angela had started spouting just the same kind of nonsense
syllables in apparent mockery of us, but at THAT time it was "English"
she was speaking, and it foreshadowed a rather sudden increase in her
rate of picking up English.

The kids have both continued to do similar "jabbering" in English,
especially when attempting to sing songs that they "know" but don't know
the words of.  Perhaps others can recall when they were kids or about
other kids, spouting nonsense syllables when "singing along" - my kids
have been doing this with most songs for the last year, since there are
few songs that they actually know and understand what the words mean
well enough to realize when what they are singing is correct and when it
is nonsense (but they sure do love to sing - at full volume, of course
%^).  For example, "Jingle Bells" in the car today (they don't yet
realize that you don't sing Xmas carols in July) went something like
"Jingle Bells, possly spells, forty nine oh eight" with even less
recognizable syllables afterwards, none of which sound like real words.

Realizing this similarity to their English learning, I started listening
more closely to see whether there were any Lojban words or anything else
recognizable in her jabbering.  Nothing familiar.

Until yesterday evening.  After a little of this nonsense game, I was
cutting Angela some watermelon - a 'round' slice of it when she
jabberingly pointed and said ".... cukla" where the cukla was the last
'word' in a string of syllables.  It was so clear that both my wife and
I noticed.  But I was the one who noticed that she said an APPROPRIATE
word since "cukla" means "round/circle/disk" and is exactly the word for
what she was pointing at (my wife recognized the word, even though she
didn't know what Angela was pointing at).  More surprising is that I
can't recall ever telling her that "cukla" meant, or using it
significantly in conversation in a context where it would be obvious.

I quickly told Angela that "cukla" was indeed the right word for what
she was pointing at and meant "circle".  She repeated it a couple of
times later in the evening and thus may be on the way to learning her
first content word of the language, given the sudden positive feedback.

On the other hand, using a word in what may have been pure coincidence
is NOT what really caught our attention.  With the positive
reinforcement of Nora and my complimenting and encouraging her on her
using a Lojban word correctly, Angela kept jabbering in "Lojban" while
eating her watermelon, and then in getting ready for bed.

But I noticed one thing about the jabbering last evening - there were a
lot of syllables clustered together in a way that it sounded like real
words rather than randome miscellaneous syllables.  I couldn't figure
out why, except that I noticed a lot of consonant clusters.  Nora
noticed why when I mentioned it, though.  Angela was speaking many many
syllables in such a way that they resolved into words by the Lojban
morphology system such that almost all of them would be gismu "roots"
with CORRECT PENULTIMATE STRESS.  That the stress was really penultimate
and not random with us just splitting the words according to the Lojban
rules was made evident by the ends of her "phrases/sentences" and
occassional single or double words, all of which ended with penultimate
stress.  None of these words actually "meant" anything , but it was very
clear that Angela has learned that all multisyllabic words of Lojban are
pronounced with penultimate stress, and that she is thus speaking
nonsense that has somewhat of a Lojban sound and rhythm to it WITHOUT
OUR HAVING TAUGHT THIS TO HER (I wouldn't have the vaguest idea HOW to
teach it, and certainly wouldn't start a 7 year old learning the
language by pointing it out).

I then noticed that not only were these "words" penultimately stressed,
but they were almost all of CVCCV form if spelled in Lojban, and used
only phonemes found in Lojban.  Nora noticed one further restriction on
this - she thought most of the words had a nasal in the consonant
cluster:  CVnCV or CVCnV.  This is interesting because "n" is indeed the
most common consonant in Lojban and is almost always found in the medial
cluster.  Ospace that we have actually used and this may be a little less
striking - maybe I should statistically analyze what percentage of
possible Lojban words with l/n/r in medial position are actually

Few of Angela's words had consonant clusters at the beginnings of words,
but the few that I heard all starreasonable rhythm,
correct penultimate stress, and a reasonable allocation of consonants
from within the Lojban phoneme set to match actual frequencies in words,
none of this having been taught to her, and with the other noteworthy
feature of absolutely none of the "words" other than "cukla" being real
Lojban words (a rate of non-success that struck me given the small size
of the gismu space, though I've since though about the percentage of
gismu space that we have actually used and this may be a little less
striking - maybe I should statistically analyze what percentage of
possible Lojban words with l/n/r in medial position are actually

Few of Angela's words had consonant clusters at the beginnings of words,
but the few that I heard all started with permissible initial clusters,
usually something+'r', again the most common initial cluster in the
language.  This may be less significant because 'Cr' is also one of the
most common initial clusters in English, and at least once she used an
"str..." initially (something like "streila", I think it was) which
would not be found at the beginning of a Lojban gismu (though it would
be valid in a Lojbanized name or borrowing).

Much more rare than consonant pairs at the beginning of words were the
occasional CV and CVV words - all unstressed - that sorted themselves
out of the speech stream - I distinctly picked out "kei" once, for
example.  They were never glued onto the following "gismu", so she isn't
making nonsense "lujvo" compounds.  Since gismu predominate in our rare
free Lojban conversation around the house, I wouldn't expect to hear
many words that sounded like lujvo if she was picking up patterns from
our speech.

I don't know how much of what we were noticing was because we were
attuned to listening for "Lojban" in here gibberish, and how much is
real patterns.  But her speech sure seemed decidedly non-random in the
stress and clustering, so she has clearly picked something up.  I will
be attempting to get a tape of some of her talking in the next couple of
days to see if it can be more dispassionately analyzed for phoneme
content and 'word' structure.  It might turn out that all of this was a
figment of our imaginations.

But it was sure exciting and inspiring when we were hearing it.