A garden path sentence is a sentence whose beginning suggests one parsing which is invalidated as the whole sentence is read and then re-parsed. Some examples in English (from fun-with-words.com):

Fat people eat accumulates.

When Fred eats food gets thrown.

The girl told the story cried.

It is claimed that Lojban is a syntactically unambiguous language. Does that mean that garden path sentences cannot be constructed in Lojban?


1 Answer 1


Lojban's official formal grammar is written in YACC, which is a LALR(1) parser generator. Since this means that the parser only ever "looks ahead" a maximum distance of one token while parsing, garden path sentences are impossible in the traditional sense.

This just means that the parse tree can't be drastically transformed during the sentence—it doesn't mean that the meaning of sentences can't be changed signficantly later on within them. The first example that comes to mind is the song NA KU from Djemynai's ZA'O, which contains the chorus "pu ku zvati fa do .ije ca ku zvati fa do... na ku." This glosses roughly as follows:

pu-ku zvati   fa-do
PST   present 2sg.NOM
You were here.

.i-je ca-ku zvati   fa-do   na-ku
and   PRES  present 2sg.NOM NEG
Now you are not here.

Note that the use of ku allows the negation particle to be moved to the very end of the sentence. This does not affect the parse, so it's not a traditional garden path sentence, but it still allows the creation of a surprising effect, which is similar in some senses.

  • Is negation always at the end, or only when -ku is suffixed to na?
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 8, 2018 at 16:11
  • 1
    @curiousdannii The ku particle allows moving na to a different position in the sentence, yes. A more "typical" way of writing it would be do ca na zvati.
    – Doorknob
    Feb 8, 2018 at 17:48
  • See also joiku, a phrase where you need more lookahead in the grammar to parse. This is forbidden under the official grammar, but widely used parsers don't require ku due to using a PEG parser instead. Mar 18, 2018 at 0:34

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