Thursday, July 7, 2011

The History of Ceqli

Many years ago I heard about Loglan.  I think about thirty years ago.  I got hold of the books and was fascinated with it as an entirely new approach to language construction.  I even did that logo over there for them.  And a bunch of other drawings.  But after awhile I got annoyed with some of its flaws.  You can learn all about Loglan at I recommend it.  Anyhow, all Loglan content words (not grammar particles) were in the form CCVCV or CVCCV, where C is a consonant and V is a vowel.  This meant that all root words were two syllables.  And compounds were formed by wedging the two together into one 5-letter word.  So you couldn't tell whether you had a root word or a compound.  Clumsy.  You could also replace the last letter of the first with a Y, pronounced schwa, and then just put them together.That made for words that were too long, so they changed that, and made allomorphs for compounding.  For example:
tarci (star) + sensi (science) > tarsensi (astronomy)
Not too bad, but three syllables, and the first morpheme is a little fuzzy.  Then, to make a shorter compound, we get:
traci (travel) + veslo (container) > racveo (luggage)
Clumsy.  You have to learn the word, plus a shortened combining form, or allomorph. But sometimes they don't fit together, so some words have two or three combining forms.  Ridiculous.
So I proposed a reworking of the language, using the 26 letters of the alphabet, but splitting them not between consonants and vowels as they're traditionally considered, but rather to redefine ywlmnrq as vowels, and making the rule for a morpheme shape to be nCnV, that is, one or more consonants followed by one or more vowels under the new definition.  That way, words that are often used in compounds could be very short, and allomorphs would be unnecessary. It went over like a lead balloon.

So I decided to basically do a language of my own, based on that new morpheme shape, and you have Ceqli.  Of course, I made other changes I thought necessary.  Loglan makes me think of Gödel's theorem, in that it tries to be perfect, and can't.  Too much cutting and pasting to make things fit.  I changed the Loglan idea of proper names, the rule for which was just that they must end in a consonant, which means you have to pause after a name to avoid it being interpreted as part of the next word, and created the suffix -zo, which simply means that the suffixed word is to be understood as a proper name.

Go jan.  I know.   Janzo jan.  John knows.

But I'm trying hard not to lose the good parts of Loglan.  It has the feature that any sentence can be understood unambiguously, as far as grammar is concerned, and that's a good thing, but it all too often leads to overcomplex sets of little grammar particles.  So in Ceqli, you can have unambiguity, but you don't have to.  I call it precise Ceqli and terse Ceqli.  Precise Ceqli:

Go ciq ke zi danho.   I invite that you in-come.


Ciq danho.   Invite in-come.

If you're talking to a computer or Martians, or writing laws or legal briefs that must be unambiguous, use the first.  Talking normally you use the second.

I first thought of this when, while being enchanted by the unambiguity of Loglan, I was struck by the terseness of languages like Mandarin and informal English.  So I thought, why not have both?

Another difference is that Loglan root words were formed by taking the sounds from the words of the eight biggest languages, and statistically getting as many of them into the 5-letter word as possible.  A clever, interesting idea.  Example:

djano - to know

from three languages, thus:

2/2English 'know'/no/2/2 X .28 =.28
4/4Hindi 'jan-na'/djan/4/4 X .11 =.11
4/5Chinese 'j dao'/djdao/4/5 X .25 =.20
Total R-Score:.59
Ceqli just takes "jan" from Hindi.

Another is likta, meaning week, formed from

2/3 ofEnglish 'week'/uik/ yielding2/3 X .28 =.19

3/5Chinese 'li bai'/libai/3/5 X .25 =.15

3/7Japanese 'isshukan'/iscukan/3/7 X .06 =.03

2/5Hindi 'saptah'/sapta/2/5 X .11 =.04

3/9Russian 'niedielia'/niedielia/3/9 X .10 =.03

Total R-Score:.44

Ceqli just uses the compound cildeygu 

 "seven day group."

The theory is that such words make it easy for speakers of the eight big languages to learn vocabulary.  I have my doubts.  I'd rather have some English words like 'grin' (green) or 'cer' (chair) and then learn some foreign words like Russian 'dom' for house or Japanese 'hana' for nose.  It's even more 'neutral' than Loglan, because I don't limit myself to the Big Eight.

And now you know.


  1. I encountered Loglan in 1975 and was taken by it much as you were. I eventually considered its formation of compounds to be a no-man's-land: prescriptive yet insufficiently rigourous. In later years I've decided that "blended words" (which is what I used to think compounds were) do not have to be productively decomposable, and that languages only need a modest number of productive particles (like English "-ly" for adjective-to-adverb).

    My other big quibble with Loglan is the predicate place system, which is overwrought; I just don't see humans mastering 5-place valencies. (To be fair, Loglan was DESIGNED to break the rules of language formation.) But that's easily addressed with a modest number of particles, as Ceqli does.

  2. I'd just like to say that I consider Ceqli to be 'best of bunch' of IALs. I have only the deepest admiration for you!