Lojban, Constructed Languages, and Linguistic Relativity
The other day, when I mused elsewhere about a de facto human language for programmers (or scientists, or any class of people who need to communicate precisely), someone brought to my attention a constructed language called Lojban. It’s interesting in that it is based on predicate logic, and was derived in the 1980s from a 1950s conlang called Loglan, which in turn was invented to explore an intriguing idea called linguistic relativity (Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), which is concerned with how language shapes or constrains cognition. Lojban’s vocabulary, at the time of its inception, was built from the six most widely-spoken languages: Arabic, English, Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish, and Russian. They were “chosen to reduce the unfamiliarity or strangeness of the root words to people of diverse linguistic backgrounds”, as well as to make the language as culturally neutral as possible.
The thing about natural languages is that it is difficult to communicate things precisely, and you have to be vigilant about word choice and other linguistic matters. Another difficulty is that it’s hard to make computers understand natural language, which is becoming more and more important (although they seem to be getting better all the time at that task). If your language is designed around formal logic, ambiguities and irregularities give way to precision and consistency. However, the difficulty to become fluent and communicate quickly with precision is a definite challenge.
Here’s a few other things I found interesting regarding linguistic relativity and constructed languages: In Orwell’s newly relevant 1984, “the authoritarian state has created the language ‘Newspeak’ to make it impossible for people to think critically about the government.” Also, there’s a conlang called ‘Láadan’, “specifically devised to explore linguistic relativity, by making it easier to express what [Suzette Haden] Elgin considered the female worldview, as opposed to Standard Average European languages which she considers to convey a “male centered” world view.”