3.9. Syllabication and Stress

A Lojban word has one syllable for each of its vowels, diphthongs, and syllabic consonants (referred to simply as vowels for the purposes of this section.) Syllabication rules determine which of the consonants separating two vowels belong to the preceding vowel and which to the following vowel. These rules are conventional only; the phonetic facts of the matter about how utterances are syllabified in any language are always very complex.

A single consonant always belongs to the following vowel. A consonant cluster is divided as far left as possible. Apostrophes also represent syllable breaks and belong to the following vowel. Syllabic consonants occur as the last consonant of syllables that are two consonants long.

It is permissible to vary from these rules in cmevla. For example, there are no definitive rules for the syllabication of cmevla with consonant clusters longer than three consonants. The comma is used to indicate variant syllabication or to explicitly mark normal syllabication.

Here are some examples of Lojban syllabication:

Example 3.15. 

  • pujenaicajeba

  • pu,je,nai,ca,je,ba


This phrase has no consonant pairs and is therefore syllabified before each medial consonant.

Example 3.16. 

  • ninmu

  • nin,mu


This word is split at a consonant pair.

Example 3.17. 

  • gastro

  • ga,stro


This word is canonically split before an initial consonant triple; another acceptable pronunciation is gas,tro.

Example 3.18. 

  • fitpri

  • fit,pri


This word is split at a medial consonant triple, between the first two consonants of the triple.

Example 3.19. 

  • sairgoi

  • sair,goi


This word contains the consonant pair rg; the r may be pronounced syllabically or not. The non-syllabic version is canonical.

Example 3.20. 

  • klezba

  • kle,zba


This word contains the permissible initial pair zb, and so may be syllabicated either between z and b or before zb. kle,zba is canonical.

Stress is a relatively louder pronunciation of one syllable in a word or group of words. Since every syllable has a vowel sound (or diphthong or syllabic consonant) as its nucleus, and the stress is on the vowel sound itself, the terms stressed syllable and stressed vowel are largely interchangeable concepts.

Most Lojban words are stressed on the next-to-the-last, or penultimate, syllable. In counting syllables, however, syllables whose vowel is y or which contain a syllabic consonant (l, m, n, or r) are never counted. (The Lojban term for penultimate stress is slaka da'a moi nu basna.) Similarly, syllables created solely by adding a buffer vowel, such as [ɪ], are not counted.

There are actually three levels of stress – primary, secondary, and weak. Weak stress is the lowest level, so it really means no stress at all. Weak stress is required for syllables containing y, a syllabic consonant, or a buffer vowel.

Primary stress is required on the penultimate syllable of Lojban content words (called brivla). Cmevla may be stressed on any syllable, but if a syllable other than the penultimate is stressed, the syllable (or at least its vowel) must be capitalized in writing. Lojban structural words (called cmavo) may be stressed on any syllable or none at all. However, primary stress may not be used in a syllable just preceding a brivla, unless a pause divides them; otherwise, the two words may run together.

Secondary stress is the optional and non-distinctive emphasis used for other syllables besides those required to have either weak or primary stress. There are few rules governing secondary stress, which typically will follow a speaker's native language habits or preferences. Secondary stress can be used for contrast, or for emphasis of a point. Secondary stress can be emphasized at any level up to primary stress, although the speaker must not allow a false primary stress in brivla, since errors in word resolution could result.

The following are Lojban words with stress explicitly shown:

Example 3.21. 

  • dikyjvo

  • DI,ky,jvo


(In a fully-buffered dialect, the pronunciation would be: ['di.kə.ʒɪ.vo].) Note that the syllable ky is not counted in determining stress. The vowel y is never stressed in a normal Lojban context.

Example 3.22. 

  • .armstrong.

  • .A,rm,strong.


This is a Lojbanized version of the name Armstrong. The final g must be explicitly pronounced. With full buffering, the name would be pronounced:

Example 3.23. 

  • [ˈʔa.rɪ.mɪ.sɪ.tɪ.ro.nɪ.gɪʔ]


However, there is no need to insert a buffer in every possible place just because it is inserted in one place: partial buffering is also acceptable. In every case, however, the stress remains in the same place: on the first syllable.

The English pronunciation of Armstrong, as spelled in English, is not correct by Lojban standards; the letters ng in English represent a velar nasal (IPA [ŋ]) which is a single consonant. In Lojban, ng represents two separate consonants that must both be pronounced; you may not use [ŋ] to pronounce Lojban ng, although [ŋg] is acceptable. English speakers are likely to have to pronounce the ending with a buffer, as one of the following:

Example 3.24. 

  • [ˈʔa.rm.stron.gɪʔ]

  • or

  • [ˈʔa.rm.stroŋ.gɪʔ]

  • or even

  • [ˈʔa.rm.stro.nɪgʔ]


The normal English pronunciation of the name Armstrong could be Lojbanized as:

Example 3.25. 

  • .armstron.


since Lojban n is allowed to be pronounced as the velar nasal [ŋ].

Here is another example showing the use of y:

Example 3.26. 

  • bisydja

  • BI,sy,dja


This word is a compound word, or lujvo, built from the two affixes bis and dja. When they are joined, an impermissible consonant pair results: sd. In accordance with the algorithm for making lujvo, explained in Section 3.1, a y is inserted to separate the impermissible consonant pair; the y is not counted as a syllable for purposes of stress determination.

Example 3.27. 

  • da'udja

  • da'U,dja


da'U,dja and da'UD,ja sound the same to a Lojban listener – the association of unbuffered consonants in syllables is of no import in recognizing the word.

Example 3.28. 

  • e'u bridi

  • e'u BRIdi

  • E'u BRIdi

  • e'U.BRIdi


In Example 3.28, e'u is a cmavo and bridi is a brivla. Either of the first two pronunciations is permitted: no primary stress on either syllable of e'u, or primary stress on the first syllable. The third pronunciation, which places primary stress on the second syllable of the cmavo, requires that – since the following word is a brivla – the two words must be separated by a pause. Consider the following two cases:

Example 3.29. 

  • le re nobli prenu

  • le re NObli PREnu


Example 3.30. 

  • le re no bliprenu

  • le re no bliPREnu


If the cmavo no in Example 3.30 were to be stressed, the phrase would sound exactly like the given pronunciation of Example 3.29, which is unacceptable in Lojban: a single pronunciation cannot represent both.