Chapter 19: Putting It All Together: Notes on the Structure of Lojban Texts

3. Paragraphs: NIhO

The following cmavo are discussed in this section:

ni'o    NIhO    new topic
no'i    NIhO    old topic
da'o    DAhO    cancel cmavo assignments

The paragraph is a concept used in writing systems for two purposes: to indicate changes of topic, and to break up the hard-to-read appearance of large blocks of text on the page. The former function is represented in both spoken and written Lojban by the cmavo “ni'o” and “no'i”, both of selma'o NIhO. Of these two, “ni'o” is the more common. By convention, written Lojban is broken into paragraphs just before any “ni'o” or “no'i”, but a very long passage on a single topic might be paragraphed before an “.i”. On the other hand, it is conventional in English to start a new paragraph in dialogue when a new speaker starts, but this convention is not commonly observed in Lojban dialogues. Of course, none of these conventions affect meaning in any way.

A “ni'o” can take the place of an “.i” as a sentence separator, and in addition signals a new topic or paragraph. Grammatically, any number of “ni'o” cmavo can appear consecutively and are equivalent to a single one; semantically, a greater number of “ni'o” cmavo indicates a larger-scale change of topic. This feature allows complexly structured text, with topics, subtopics, and sub-subtopics, to be represented clearly and unambiguously in both spoken and written Lojban. However, some conventional differences do exist between “ni'o” in writing and in conversation.

In written text, a single “ni'o” is a mere discursive indicator of a new subject, whereas “ni'oni'o” marks a change in the context. In this situation, “ni'oni'o” implicitly cancels the definitions of all pro-sumti of selma'o KOhA as well as pro-bridi of selma'o GOhA. (Explicit cancelling is expressed by the cmavo “da'o” of selma'o DAhO, which has the free grammar of an indicator -- it can appear almost anywhere.) The use of “ni'oni'o” does not affect indicators (of selma'o UI) or tense references, but “ni'oni'oni'o”, indicating a drastic change of topic, would serve to reset both indicators and tenses. (See c19-§8 for a discussion of indicator scope.)

In spoken text, which is inherently less structured, these levels are reduced by one, with “ni'o” indicating a change in context sufficient to cancel pro-sumti and pro-bridi assignment. On the other hand, in a book, or in stories within stories such as “The Arabian Nights”, further levels may be expressed by extending the “ni'o” string as needed. Normally, a written text will begin with the number of “ni'o” cmavo needed to signal the largest scale division which the text contains. “ni'o” strings may be subscripted to label each context of discourse: see c19-§6.

“no'i” is similar in effect to “ni'o”, but indicates the resumption of a previous topic. In speech, it is analogous to (but much shorter than) such English discursive phrases as “But getting back to the point … ”. By default, the topic resumed is that in effect before the last “ni'o”. When subtopics are nested within topics, then “no'i” would resume the previous subtopic and “no'ino'i” the previous topic. Note that “no'i” also resumes tense and pro-sumti assignments dropped at the previous “ni'o”.

If a “ni'o” is subscripted, then a “no'i” with the same subscript is assumed to be a continuation of it. A “no'i” may also have a negative subscript, which would specify counting backwards a number of paragraphs and resuming the topic found thereby.