Chapter 15. Singled out: Isolating specific places

Table of Contents
Indirect questions
From sumti to abstraction: tu'a
Raising: jai
Answers to exercises

In this lesson, we look at three features of Lojban grammar which normally get relegated to the 'too-hard' basket. Each of them involves singling out a particular sumti from a bridi, as being somehow more special than the other sumti. The full logical machinery associated with these 'singlings out' can get rather formidable, which is why Lojbanists tend to regard these features with some degree of awe. Hopefully we'll present these concepts to you with a minimum of fuss, in enough detail that you can go about using them comfortably in your Lojban.

Indirect questions

A Lojban question word is a request to "fill in the slot", wherever it appears in a sentence. So

ma cilre la lojban.

is the question "Who is learning Lojban?" By the same token,

mi djica lenu ma cilre la lojban.

is the question "I want who to learn Lojban?" — or, in actual English (since English likes to have its question words at the start of the sentence), "Who do I want to learn Lojban?" And

mi pu cusku lesedu'u ma cilre la lojban.

is "I said who is learning Lojban?" — i.e. "Who did I say is learning Lojban?"

There's no reason du'u should behave any differently than nu, let alone sedu'u; so

mi djuno ledu'u ma cilre la lojban.

means "I know that who is learning Lojban?" — i.e. "Who do I know is learning Lojban?"

What it does not mean is "I know who is learning Lojban" — as in "I know the identity of the person learning Lojban." In a construction like that in English, you are not asking a real question; that's why this is called an indirect question. Instead, you are saying that you already know the answer to the question. You can tell that the word who in that statement is not a request for information, because it is not at the start of the sentence, there's no question mark (or questioning intonation), and the question word is not being emphasised.

Lojban does not use any of these workarounds; a question word is a question word in Lojban, wherever it happens to end up in the sentence. This means that mi djuno ledu'u ma cilre la lojban. can never be an indirect question: it is asking for an answer. (It is asking for an answer even if you're doing it rhetorically, although that's the kind of behaviour which Lojbanists — a level-headed bunch by most accounts, at least when they're speaking in Lojban — might not necessarily appreciate.) So what to do?

Well, let's look at what you do know. Let's say the person learning Lojban is Fred. If I ask you the question ma cilre la lojban., you know what value to fill in the ma slot with: la fred. So you could just say

mi djuno ledu'u la fred. cilre la lojban.

For whatever reason, however, you're not telling me the actual name — totally within your prerogative. In fact, I could say about you that "You know who is learning Lojban" — but because I don't know it, I have no name to fill in the 'who' slot with.

So you know that someone is learning Lojban: do djuno ledu'u zo'e cilre la lojban. And you can fill in the value of zo'e, even though I can't. What we want is some word that would tell us "the answer that goes here isn't being said, but it is known anyway." That word is the UI cmavo, kau. So we can say:

mi djuno ledu'u zo'e kau cilre la lojban.
I know someone is learning Lojban, and I know who it is.

do djuno ledu'u zo'e kau cilre la lojban.
You know someone is learning Lojban, and you know who it is.

kau says that the value of the word it attaches to is known — whatever that word might be. So in fact, you can put it next to a question word, and it will cancel out the question word's force. mi djuno ledu'u ma kau cilre la lojban. means exactly the same as mi djuno ledu'u zo'e kau cilre la lojban. — and it has the advantage of looking just like the indirect questions we're already familiar with.

Tip: Question words have the advantage that they are fairly devoid of content, so they don't make any presumptions you might not welcome. For example, if I know that no-one is learning Lojban, I can say mi djuno ledu'u makau cilre la lojban.; but I cannot say mi djuno ledu'u dakau cilre la lojban. — because da by default means 'at least one entity'.

Since kau belongs to selma'o UI, you can place it pretty much anywhere. In particular, anywhere you can put a question word in Lojban, you can turn it into an indirect question by adding kau. So you can say "I know how many people are learning Lojban", as

mi djuno ledu'u xo kau prenu cu cilre la lojban.

(Remember, xo is the question word for numbers.)

You can even make indirect questions of Lojban's more exotic question words. For example, in Lesson 11, the waiter asks Jyoti and Susan lanme je'i bakni "lamb or beef?" Once they answer, he knows whether they want to eat lamb or beef; in Lojban,

ba'o lenu la djiotis. .e la suzyn. spuda kei le bevri cu djuno ledu'u re ra djica lenu citka loi lanme je'i kau bakni



x1 is the direction of x2 (object/event) from origin/in frame of reference x3


x1 rolls/trundles on/against surface x2 rotating on axis/axle x3; x1 is a roller


x1 is a quantity of/is made of/contains rock/stone of type/composition x2 from location x3


x1 is apart/separate from x2, separated by partition/wall/gap/interval/separating medium x3


x1 is similar/parallel to x2 in property/quantity x3 (ka/ni); x1 looks/appears like x2

Exercise 1

Express the following indirect questions in Lojban. Use Lojban question words to translate the English question words.

  1. I want to know when you will talk to me.

  2. I don't know why you don't talk to me.

  3. I've said who I thought was a fool.

  4. Tell me where the beer is.

  5. You said who I should give the book to.

  6. Tell me how does it feel when you're on your own with no direction known like a rolling stone. (Not only is there a profusion of Dylan here, but this is kind of a trick question. But do translate it as an indirect one, anyway.)