4.2. cmavo

The first group of Lojban words discussed in this chapter are the cmavo. They are the structure words that hold the Lojban language together. They often have no semantic meaning in themselves, though they may affect the semantics of brivla to which they are attached. The cmavo include the equivalent of English articles, conjunctions, prepositions, numbers, and punctuation marks. There are over a hundred subcategories of cmavo, known as selma'o, each having a specifically defined grammatical usage. The various selma'o are discussed throughout Chapter 4 to Chapter 4 and summarized in Chapter 4.

A cmavo is composed of a vowel or y, with optionally a consonant or glide before it and any number of 'V, 'VV, or 'y syllables after it. Here are some cmavo of various shapes:

.a di .oi iu .u'u fau mi'o ja'ai by.

In addition, there is the cmavo .ybu, the only one of its shape.

There are some conventions by which a cmavo's shape can hint at its grammar or meaning: for example, cmavo beginning with vowel letters are usually attitudinals. In general, though, the form of a cmavo tells you little or nothing about how it is used.

All cmavo longer than two syllables, and most two-syllable cmavo containing diphthongs, are not officially defined and are reserved for experimental use. Experimental use means that the language designers have not assigned any standard meaning or usage to these words. Experimental-use provide an escape hatch for adding grammatical mechanisms (as opposed to semantic concepts) the need for which was not foreseen.

Cmavo of the form Cy, a consonant followed by the letter y, together with bu and .ybu, represent letters of the Lojban alphabet, and are discussed in detail in Chapter 4. Sequences of cmavo ending in y need to be separated from other words following them by a pause.

Cmavo clusters are sequences of cmavo attached together to form a single written word. Cmavo written together are always identical in meaning and in grammatical use to the corresponding separated sequence of simple cmavo. These words are written in compound form merely to save visual space, and to ease the reader's burden in identifying when the component cmavo are acting together.

Cmavo clusters, while not visually short like their components, can be readily identified by two characteristics:

  1. They have no consonant pairs or clusters, and

  2. They end in a vowel.

For example:

Example 4.1. 

  • .iseju

  • .i se ju


Example 4.2. 

  • punaijecanai

  • pu nai je ca nai


Example 4.3. 

  • ki'a.u'e

  • ki'a .u'e


The cmavo u'e begins with a vowel, and like all words beginning with a vowel, requires a pause (represented by .) before it. On the other hand,

Example 4.4. 

ki'au'e and ki'a'u'e


are both single cmavo reserved for experimental purposes.

Example 4.5. 

  • cy.ibu.abu

  • cy .ibu .abu


Again the pauses are required (see Section 4.1); the pauses after cy. and before .ibu merge together (pause length is not phonemic).

There is no particular stress required in cmavo or their compounds. Some conventions do exist that are not mandatory. For two-syllable cmavo, for example, stress is typically placed on the first vowel; an example is

Example 4.6. 

  • .e'o ko ko kurji

  • .E'o ko ko KURji


This convention results in a consistent rhythm to the language, since brivla are required to have penultimate stress; some find this esthetically pleasing.

If the final syllable of one word is stressed, and the word following it is a brivla, you must insert a pause or glottal stop between the two stressed syllables. Thus

Example 4.7. 

lo re nanmu


can be optionally pronounced

Example 4.8. 

  • lo RE. NANmu


since there are no rules forcing stress on either of the first two words; the stress on re, though, demands that a pause separate re from the following syllable nan to ensure that the stress on nan is properly heard as a stressed syllable. The alternative pronunciation

Example 4.9. 

  • LO re NANmu


is also valid; this would apply secondary stress (used for purposes of emphasis, contrast or sentence rhythm) to lo, comparable in rhythmical effect to the English phrase THE two men. In Example 4.8, the secondary stress on re would be similar to that in the English phrase the TWO men.

Both cmavo may also be left unstressed, thus:

Example 4.10. 

  • lo re NANmu


This would probably be the most common usage.