Lojban.

The libretto, apart from the fact that it (almost/rather) gained its final shape, also went a long way in terms of language choice. The departure from the Polish original text is problematic for this piece of work. This is one of the most linguistically sophisticated texts written by Lem, in which we can see extensive archaising of the language, quite a significant number of neologisms, and an important issue of how the main character feels her gender that is expressed by language. The problems brought about by the last point in particular are clearly visible when one reads the paper entitled “Gendering the Robot: Stanislaw Lem’s The Mask” by Jo Alison Parker, published in 1992. In the context of the feminist interpretation and in the spirit of deconstruction in general, the author subjects the Lem’s approach to the topic of gender to criticism, raising that in The Mask [...] is played out in a narrative field of the male and the neuter”. However, she ignores the differences between the Polish and English languages in terms of syntax and grammar (the paper is based on the English translation), which are of huge importance as it comes to gender. In particular in the past tense that Lem uses here consistently from beginning to end. The phrase I was can mean both “I (the he) was” (Polish: byłem) and “I (the she) was” (Polish: byłam), as well as the neutral or androgynous “I (the it) was” (Polish neologism: byłom) (which Lem uses here several times), so the whole subtle sphere in the English translation is lost, or at least it is no longer so direct, as it requires more complex linguistic structures. By the way, it's both funny and terrible, in the context of all the fierce discussions that we are seeing today. The Polish language, to the horror of millions, could turn out to be exceptionally, profoundly gender-friendly. Or, on the other hand, to the joy of millions, it could turn out that the whole problem is caused by the deficiency of the language that is considered the contemporary lingua franca. Or, it might be best for me to shut up, because what do I know. As you get near your forties, it seems to me that the probability to assume that you know something grows exponentially.


Anyways, something told me to leave the Polish language behind. For a while, I thought this was due to the international character of the entire undertaking. The Adam Mickiewicz Institute is behind the entire idea, the ambassador institution; the premiere will happen most probably in Austria, so the choice of a language that is perceived as a more universal one than the Polish language seems very reasonable. But over time I realised that this is a deeper issue. Untranslatability, imperfection of communication, incomprehensibility, which also manifests in self-reflection – these are the main themes. Archaising of the language and vocabulary that is far from obvious – they are in turn more than a purely aesthetic tool. They add to the issue of alienation, incompatibility. Initially, I had the somewhat banal idea to use German and Russian together. It seems that Lem gained the greatest popularity in these two languages (apart from his mother tongue); these two languages are also quite distant from each other in many ways, like a man, and a robot, a woman and a praying mantis. For a while, I was tempted by an idea of assigning the Russian language to the man-sensitive girl, and the German language to the ruthless machine-mantis, but I gave up on it.


A complicated, chaotic surfing through the Internet and the books, through the recently mentioned Douglas Hofstadter, as well as Benjamin Lee Worf, Stephen Wolfram, the entire issue of the so-called artificial intelligence, machine translation and learning, artificial languages, participation of language in the formation of perception and consciousness, and so on, and so forth... led me to the phenomenon called Lojban. It is a language that has quite a long history, created with universal communication in mind – between people, but ultimately, maybe, between people and (widely understood) machines. It starts out as an a priori language (one that is not derived from any existing language), a very precise and unambiguous one (based on strict principles of logic), with a regular and exception-free grammar, simple spelling rules and clear pronunciation and articulation, but also flexible and offering extensive possible possibilities in terms of vocabulary. It turns out that Lojban also has an active and friendly online community. Feeling that this might be the thing I was looking for, but doubting whether I can find a translator, I wrote to Marek Rogalski, who is a kind of a representative of Lojban for Poland, asking him for guidance. He wrote back immediately, giving me contact details to discussion groups in Poland and abroad, and – what gave me most joy – giving me access to the source code of the English-Lojban translating programme. The software does not have a working version right now, but the source code makes it possible for you to develop your own app. The next step was to find a programmer who would be able to launch the app. Here I consulted a colleague of mine from high school, currently a lecturer at the Silesian University of Technology, who directed me to the Python programming language, in which the code was written, and then I've found Marcin Nowak (we are not related), a Python specialist, who responded to my message immediately, and what’s more, he developed a working version of an app and made it available within less than a week. That got me euphoric. Using the app and the Lojban dictionary online (because the dictionary base of the program itself is limited) I translated the libretto. I then wrote to John Cowan – of the world specialists, author of the first Lojban textbook, asking him for help in finding someone who could record this text – to have a full sense of pronunciation and prosody. Again, the answer came in minutes. Instead of contact information to a voice-over specialist, I received a full set of guidelines on pronunciation and stress, and suggestions of grammar corrections. And here I hesitated. I guess the machine-made translation of Lem’s text is imperfect in many ways. To me, this is not necessarily a flaw. As is well known, you do not need to understand the opera in real time. It is often impossible to do so. The original text (both the libretto and the entire storyline) is available. You can read it before, after, and follow it during the performance. While the Lojban layer, which would be absolutely incomprehensible to most, and also distorted by the machine translation process, is, in my mind, yet another level of reading the meaning of the entire story. We’ll see.


When I was little, I liked to make up my own language. It was supposed to sound exotic and mysterious. I spoke that language to myself and I found it strangely pleasing. As if I was a puzzle to myself. An alien. When I hear and try to pronounce Lojban, I have a strong impression of déjà vu or rather déjà entendu, or maybe déjà parlé - I think this childish foreign language sounded just like that. Everything that is already was. And it will be again. Over, and over, and over again.

(transl. Magdalena Małek-Andrzejowska)