6.3. Individuals and masses

The following cmavo are discussed in this section:



the mass I describe as



part of the mass of those which really are



the mass of those named

All Lojban sumti are classified by whether they refer to one of three types of objects, known as individuals, masses, and sets. The term individual is misleading when used to refer to more than one object, but no less-confusing term has as yet been found. All the descriptions in Section 6.1 and Section 6.2 refer to individuals, whether one or more than one. Consider the following example:

Example 6.16. 

le prenu cu bevri le pipno
One-or-more-of-those-I-describe-as persons carry the piano.

The person(s) carry the piano.

(Of course the second le should really get the same translation as the first, but I am putting the focus of this discussion on the first le, the one preceding prenu. I will assume that there is only one piano under discussion.)

Suppose the context of Example 6.16 is such that you can determine that I am talking about three persons. What am I claiming? I am claiming that each of the three persons carried the piano. This claim can be true if the persons carried the piano one at a time, or in turns, or in a variety of other ways. But in order for Example 6.16 to be true, I must be willing to assert that person 1 carried the piano, and that person 2 carried the piano, and that person 3 carried the piano.

But suppose I am not willing to claim that. For in fact pianos are heavy, and very few persons can carry a piano all by themselves. The most likely factual situation is that person 1 carried one end of the piano, and person 2 the other end, while person 3 either held up the middle or else supervised the whole operation without actually lifting anything. The correct way of expressing such a situation in Lojban is:

Example 6.17. 

lei prenu cu bevri le pipno
The-mass-of-one-or-more-of-those-I-describe-as persons carry the piano.

The person(s) carry the piano.

Here the same three persons are treated not as individuals, but as a so-called mass entity, or just mass. A mass has the properties of each individual which composes it, and may have other properties of its own as well. This can lead to apparent contradictions. Thus suppose in the piano-moving example above that person 1 has fair skin, whereas person 2 has dark skin. Then it is correct to say that the person-mass has both fair skin and dark skin. Using the mass descriptor lei signals that ordinary logical reasoning is not applicable: contradictions can be maintained, and all sorts of other peculiarities may exist. However, we can safely say that a mass inherits only the component properties that are relevant to it; it would be ludicrous to say that a mass of two persons is of molecular dimensions, simply because some of the parts (namely, the molecules) of the persons are that small.

The descriptors loi and lai are analogous to lo and la respectively, but refer to masses either by property (loi) or by name (lai). A classic example of loi use is:

Example 6.18. 

loi cinfo cu xabju le fi'ortu'a
Part-of-the-mass-of-those-which-really are-lions dwell-in the African-land.

The lion dwells in Africa.

Lions dwell in Africa.

The difference between lei and loi is that lei cinfo refers to a mass of specific individuals which the speaker calls lions, whereas loi cinfo refers to some part of the mass of all those individuals which actually are lions. The restriction to some part of the mass allows statements like Example 6.18 to be true even though some lions do not dwell in Africa – they live in various zoos around the world. On the other hand, Example 6.18 doesn't actually say that most lions live in Africa: equally true is

Example 6.19. 

loi glipre
Part-of-the-mass-of-those-which-really are-English-persons
cu xabju le fi'ortu'a
dwell-in the African-land.

The English dwell in Africa.

since there is at least one English person living there. Section 6.4 explains another method of saying what is usually meant by The lion lives in Africa which does imply that living in Africa is normal, not exceptional, for lions.

Note that the Lojban mass articles are sometimes translated by English plurals (the most usual case), sometimes by English singulars (when the singular is used to express typicalness or abstraction), and sometimes by singulars with no article:

Example 6.20. 

loi matne cu ranti
Part-of-the-mass-of-that-which-really-is a-quantity-of-butter is-soft.

Butter is soft.

Of course, some butter is hard (for example, if it is frozen butter), so the part-of implication of loi becomes once again useful. The reason this mechanism works is that the English words like butter, which are seen as already describing masses, are translated in Lojban by non-mass forms. The place structure of matne is x1 is a quantity of butter from source x2, so the single English word butter is translated as something like a part of the mass formed from all the quantities of butter that exist. (Note that the operation of forming a mass entity does not imply, in Lojban, that the components of the mass are necessarily close to one another or even related in any way other than conceptually. Masses are formed by the speaker's intention to form a mass, and can in principle contain anything.)

The mass name descriptor lai is used in circumstances where we wish to talk about a mass of things identified by a name which is common to all of them. It is not used to identify a mass by a single name peculiar to it. Thus the mass version of Example 6.9,

Example 6.21. 

lai cribe pu finti le vi cukta
The-mass-of-those-named bear [past] creates the nearby book.

The Bears wrote this book.

in a context where la cribe would be understood as plural, would mean that either Tom Bear or Fred Bear (to make up some names) might have written the book, or that Tom and Fred might have written it as collaborators. Using la instead of lai in Example 6.21 would give the implication that each of Tom and Fred, considered individually, had written it.