Folk Functionalism in Artificial Languages: The Long Distance Reflexive vo’a in Lojban

Nick Nicholas 1
Author Information & Copyright
1University of Melbourne

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


A notion which underlies much functionalist thinking on language is that language is a system whose structure is engineered to solve problems in communication. Artificial languages are of particular interest in this regard,because such problem solving can be undertaken consciously on the part of both language planners and (to the extent that the language community allows it) language users,enabling the linguistic structure to adapt to their communicative needs. Such language users are applying lay intuitions about what linguistic features will be more effective in communication what might be characterized as ‘folk functionalism'.

An instance of such adaptation is considered here : the Lojban pronoun vo a, intended as a generic reflexive,has become a long distance reflexive in order to align with Lojban 's idiosyncratic pronominal system. In fact, this seems to have been done independently by the language planner and the language community. That the solution yielded is typologically unusual demonstrates that communicative and paradigmatic pressures can trump natural language habit,and even typological universals in a ‘perturbed’ grammatical system.

Keywords: functionalist; Artificial languages; language planners; folk functionalism; Lojban