Chapter 19: Putting It All Together: Notes on the Structure of Lojban Texts

5. Questions and answers

The following cmavo are discussed in this section:

xu  UI  truth question
ma  KOhA    sumti question
mo  GOhA    bridi question
xo  PA  number question
ji  A   sumti connective question
ge'i    GA  forethought connective question
gi'i    GIhA    bridi-tail connective question
gu'i    GUhA    tanru forethought connective question
je'i    JA  tanru connective question
pei UI  attitude question
fi'a    FA  place structure question
cu'e    CUhE    tense/modal question
pau UI  question premarker

Lojban questions are not at all like English questions. There are two basic types: truth questions, of the form “Is it true that … ”, and fill-in-the-blank questions. Truth questions are marked by preceding the bridi, or following any part of it specifically questioned, with the cmavo “xu” (of selma'o UI):

✥5.1  xu do klama le zarci
[True or false?] You go to the store
Are you going to the store/Did you go to the store?

(Since the Lojban is tenseless, either colloquial translation might be correct.) Truth questions are further discussed in Chapter 15.

Fill-in-the-blank questions have a cmavo representing some Lojban word or phrase which is not known to the questioner, and which the answerer is to supply. There are a variety of cmavo belonging to different selma'o which provide different kinds of blanks.

Where a sumti is not known, a question may be formed with “ma” (of selma'o KOhA), which is a kind of pro-sumti:

✥5.2  ma klama le zarci
[What sumti?] goes-to the store
Who is going to the store?

Of course, the “ma” need not be in the x1 place:

✥5.3  do klama ma
You go-to [what sumti?]
Where are you going?

The answer is a simple sumti:

✥5.4  le zarci
The store.

A sumti, then, is a legal utterance, although it does not by itself constitute a bridi -- it does not claim anything, but merely completes the open-ended claim of the previous bridi.

There can be two “ma” cmavo in a single question:

✥5.5  ma klama ma
Who goes where?

and the answer would be two sumti, which are meant to fill in the two “ma” cmavo in order:

✥5.6  mi le zarci
I, to the store.

An even more complex example, depending on the non-logical connective “fa'u” (of selma'o JOI), which is like the English “and … respectively”:

✥5.7  ma fa'u ma klama ma fa'u ma
Who and who goes where and where, respectively?

An answer might be

✥5.8  la djan. la marcas. le zarci le briju
John, Marsha, the store, the office.
John and Marsha go to the store and the office,
    respectively.

(Note: A mechanical substitution of ✥5.8 into ✥5.7 produces an ungrammatical result, because “* … le zarci fa'u le briju” is ungrammatical Lojban: the first “le zarci” has to be closed with its proper terminator “ku”, for reasons explained in Chapter 14. This effect is not important: Lojban behaves as if all elided terminators have been supplied in both question and answer before inserting the latter into the former. The exchange is grammatical if question and answer are each separately grammatical.)

Questions to be answered with a selbri are expressed with “mo” of selma'o GOhA, which is a kind of pro-bridi:

✥5.9  la lojban. mo
Lojban [what selbri?]
What is Lojban?

Here the answerer is to supply some predicate which is true of Lojban. Such questions are extremely open-ended, due to the enormous range of possible predicate answers. The answer might be just a selbri, or might be a full bridi, in which case the sumti in the answer override those provided by the questioner. To limit the range of a “mo” question, make it part of a tanru.

Questions about numbers are expressed with “xo” of selma'o PA:

✥5.10    do viska xo prenu
You saw [what number?] persons.
How many people did you see?

The answer would be a simple number, another kind of non-bridi utterance:

✥5.11    vomu
Forty-five.

Fill-in-the-blank questions may also be asked about: logical connectives (using cmavo “ji” of A, “ge'i” of GA, “gi'i” of GIhA, “gu'i” of GUhA, or “je'i” of JA, and receiving an ek, gihek, ijek, or ijoik as an answer) — see Chapter 14; attitudes (using “pei” of UI, and receiving an attitudinal as an answer) — see Chapter 13; place structures (using “fi'a” of FA, and receiving a cmavo of FA as an answer) — see Chapter 9; tenses and modals (using “cu'e” of CUhE, and receiving any tense or BAI cmavo as an answer) — see Chapter 9 and Chapter 10.

Questions can be marked by placing “pau” (of selma'o UI) before the question bridi. See Chapter 13 for details.

The full list of non-bridi utterances suitable as answers to questions is:

any number of sumti (with elidable terminator “vau”, see Chapter 6) an ek or gihek (logical connectives, see Chapter 14) a number, or any mathematical expression placed in parentheses (see Chapter 18) a bare “na” negator (to negate some previously expressed bridi), or corresponding “ja'a” affirmer (see Chapter 15) a relative clause (to modify some previously expressed sumti, see Chapter 8) a prenex/topic (to modify some previously expressed bridi, see Chapter 16) linked arguments (beginning with “be” or “bei” and attached to some previously expressed selbri, often in a description,see Chapter 5)

At the beginning of a text, the following non-bridi are also permitted:

one or more names (to indicate direct address without “doi”, see Chapter 6) indicators (to express a prevailing attitude, see Chapter 13) “nai” (to vaguely negate something or other, see Chapter 15)

Where not needed for the expression of answers, most of these are made grammatical for pragmatic reasons: people will say them in conversation, and there is no reason to rule them out as ungrammatical merely because most of them are vague.