The Tokiponasphere

Some of these are URL patterns.  Right now I’m too lazy to turn them into hyperlinks.  List generated by searching for toki pona words (which often are not words in any natural language).  You can search these sites at lukin. (but I probably should change the name to alisa or something like that)***

http://****** [extract linked pages] [extract linked pages] [extract linked pages] [extract linked pages] [extract linked pages] [extract linked pages] [extract linked pages]

Why are constructed languages successful?

Successful may be a strong word for a language phenomena that often has less than a dozen half fluent speakers.  But still, it’s an interesting question.

By looking at the frequency of keyword search, frequency of tagging on and the frequency of keywords in Googles newspaper articles, I’ve learned a few interestingthings.

An Interesting, Reasonably Easy Product

A constructed language will fail if it doesn’t have something to attract the professional linguists and hard core hobbyists.  ‘nuf said.  Just want to make sure no one thinks I’m saying toki pona is succeeding solely because of superior marketing. (That would be Esperanto… just kidding!)

(as for easiness and the success of Klingon and Lojban, see below)

Internet Supernodes and Bellweathers

Ms. Kisa is a talented internet networker and had a significant community of friends on livejournal before toki pona was invented.  It is no accident that in Russia, where livejournal is the social networking tool of choice, toki pona may even be better known and adopted than in North America.

From network theory, we know that many networks have supernodes, i.e. the person that knows everyone.   The classic example is Kevin Bacon, although there are more important supernode than Kevin Bacon in movie casts networks.

A personal demonstration of this was when I was talking to an acquaintance at the local UU Church about this crazy language I was studying.  And the other guy says, “Yeah, I know Sonja from the board game geeks website.”

The take away is that if you want your language or your favorite language, invest time into making lots of friends and acquaintances.  Sonja links in the livejournal, boardgamegeek, meetup, wikipedia, esperanto and other social networking forums were key to it’s success.

Traditional Media Drives Constructed Language Adoption.

Google says the first traditional media article for toki pona was about 2006.  Ms. Kisa’s language got a ton of attention in 2007, when interest peaked.     2007 was also peak time for bookmaking and most important of all: articles in the Google news archive.

My personal theory was that Wikipedia trying to delete the article for lack of published material was the spark for the publicity push and the subsequent wave of popularity.  So in a way, Wikipedia motivated people to make something significant and ironically, ultimately when they voted an article as needing deletion for irrelevance was turning the wheels to make it relevant.

Another significant component of toki pona’s success is it’s international recognition.  I attribute part of that to Ms. Kisa investing the time to keep the article up on Wikipedia.  Once an article it will eventually get translated in to many language, toki pona is up to 41 languages.  I found this in wikipedia, I suspect this means toki pona, I don’t really know:


Can you think of a better way to get your language definition translated into 41 languages?

Lessons from Lojban.

While researching the comparative popularity of constructed languages, excluding Esperanto and Klingon* (see below), Lojban is the most popular constructed language.  It has two books and an annual face to face conference.  This is something the toki pona community lacks.  Lojban as a language also has a bureaucracy behind it, not unlike the KLI.

Interestingly, traditional media has been important for Lojban, too with strong correlations with between delicious book marking and the # of articles per month/year in the google news archive.

Difficult Constructed Languages

A difficult constructed language needs to bring something interesting to the table and more importantly be interesting to talk about.   Also, by article, bookmark and search word counting, we might find out that a language is successful in the sense of attracting attention, but we’d know nothing about how successful it was in creating a community of people trying to use the language, instead of just talking about it.

Klingon, et al

Tracking the popularity of franchise derived languages, e.g. Qenya, Tlingan, Na’vi are going to be hindered by people searching for information about Elves and Klingons, and Na’vi and don’t necessarily care about the language.  So I’m going to have to note that this is an area in fake languages that fake linguists will have to do more research to make any conclusions.  Please sent all grant checks for me to work on this to my work address.

Thank you.

Are toki ponans from Qo’noS?

Tlingans dispense with all human-like formalities. After all they are aliens.  They don’t say hello, they say “What do you want?” They don’t say “Can I help you find anything today?” They say “Buy or die!”

It has been speculated that “polite talk” is one of the universals of human language.  So if a constructed language lacks the machinery for politeness, it isn’t a human language.

I came to this conclusion after running into a troll on the toki pona IRC channel.  I tried to say to the troll, “I understand you.” This has has multiple readings, because after all this is toki pona.  It can also mean, “I will improve you” or “I will teach you” and probably five more things.  The troll thought he’d been put in the one down position socially and started to get angry.  This persisted after I tried to say, well “mi sona e sina = I understand you”.  The troll thought I was correcting him and putting him in the one down position again.

I was working on saying, “Relax, sorry, I’m just shooting the breeze”, which in toki pona requires a circumlocution of several pages.  There is an abbreviated style of toki pona, but that isn’t the point, the point is that both abbreviated and wordy forms are ambiguous.  A common style for reducing ambiguity is to repeat the message over and over in various formats until at least 3 or 4 of them will likely be parsed the same way by the interlocutor.  My point is that when you are at the point of fisticuffs, you need to convey messages of low polysemy, i.e. diplomacy.

Before I could click send, the troll was already cursing me in several languages and trying to teach me proper toki pona (and get out of the one-down position).  I was already fed up with trolls and was left wondering, “Why me?”

Special note on politeness and “dropping unnecessary words”

This is “bald on-record” speech.  It is used in human languages for emergencies, commands in work situations, when the speaker doesn’t care about how the hearer feels, etc.  Examples from wikipedia: “Watch out!” “Gimme the hammer!” “Get back to cleaning the latrines!”

Lexical Polite Speech

The words, please, thank-you, mister, mrs, are pure polite speech.  Toki pona is in the awkward position of being a language of few words, so if a word was left out, then either a new word has to be added, a meaning assigned to an existing word, or new idioms, and finally grammaticalization

Idioms in toki pona are short noun phrases and verb given a first among equals meaning by the language designers fiat.  With out an official idiom, any noun or verb phrase you can think of is likely to contain many alternative meanings, most unintelligible, some polite and some insulting!

I think grammaticalization is the best hope for adding polite speech to toki pona because it already has 123 words, up about half a dozen since first publication.

Grammaticalization of Polite Speech.

You can’t talk about grammaticalization of polite speech without talking about Japanese.  Pronouns vary by politeness, so do verbs, etc.  Indo-european languages do as well, especially with respect to the two forms of “you”.

I’m not sure the language community has a lot of wiggle room here, the basic sentence structure is well established, and converting non-clitics to clitics (or content words to function words) is a language designers prerogative. The community has been been turning some words into prepositions, but so far we don’t have any wholesale grammaticalizations, or clitics that have any community acceptance.   Just as a crazy example, an idea to have three different vocatives for subordinates, equals and superiors would never catch on unless the language designer added it to the canon.  (That’s just an example, I’m not sure what grammaticalizations would get the most bang-for-the-particle)

Special note on “pona”/”mi tawa”

Pona means “good”.  I think it’s short for “li pona” or “ale li pona”.  Its an idiom for hello.  I really do no think it is a stand along replacement for any other polite phrases.  Besides, “pona” also is a valid intransitive imperative to “Improve!” which isn’t very polite.

“mi tawa” doesn’t translate very well either.  In English this is rude, “I’m out of here”.  In English, Icelandic, Russian the cultural equivalent is  “until we meet again”

“tenpo kama la mi tu li lukin e sama”.  We’ll meet again.

Some Possible Toki pona Phrases- Honorifics

jan pona o … O friend!  Too familiar for a stranger.  Doesn’t express “my good man!” any more either.

jan sama o … O my equal!  Useful.  Depends on your real culture as to if you’d use this or not.

jan sewi o … O God!  Well, this also means “higher person”, but “jan sewi” is an idiom for “God” so, among alternative meaning for “jan sewi”, “God” is first among equals.  The “jan sewi” phrase is completely useless for conversation now– you just can’t call your interlocutor “jan sewi”

jan pi ma tomo 0 … o man of the city! o citizen!

Softening Requests.

ala la sina ken la pana e pan tawa mi?  If it is nothing, can you hand me the pancakes?


mi pana e pona tawa sina X.  This has been attested since 2005.   I give to you the good for your X. (which you just gave).

mi pilin e pona tawa sina tan pana sina.


mi pilin ike tawa sina.

Accept apology.

mi li kama jo e pilin sina.


pilin ike mi la o sona e ni: mi pakala tan lape mute. I feel bad, I want you to know that I made a mistake because I slept to late.  Sorry I’m late, I overslept.

Accepting Excuses

mi li lukin ala e pakala sina.  I don’t see your mistakes.

*not* mi li sona ala e pakala sina. I don’t know of your mistakes.  This also reads as “I don’t understand your mistakes.”:

Ignoring a Faux Pas

ni la sina pakala ala.

ni la mi lukin ala.  I didn’t see it.

Calling “Uncle”!  (giving in, primarily out of respect for rank)

pona kin la mi pali e ona. (unwilling)

…. (hmm how to say, “I’d be glad to do that”)

Swadesh list for Toki Pona

Some words are rated R.  Many words take a phrase to build up and after you built it, you can’t find a place to plug it on account of not having subordinate clauses.  Generating multi-word verbs is still a black art.

I – mi

you (singular) – sina

he – ona

we – mi, mi mute, mi ale

you (plural)- sina, sina mute, sina ale, sina suli (in the indo-european sense of honorific-you)

they- ona mute

this- ni

that – ni ante

here – ma ni, ni

there – ni ante (?)

who – seme, jan seme

what – seme, ijo seme

where -seme, ma seme

when- seme, tenpo seme

how- seme, kepeken seme

not – ale, ali

all – ala

many- mute

some – ale mute

few- lili,  nanpa lili

other- ante

one – wan

two – tu

three – tu wan

four – tu tu

five – luka, tu tu wan

big – suli, mute

long – linja mute (?)

wide – mute, lipu mute

thick – mute

heavy – mute

small – lili

short – lili

narrow – lili

thin – linja lili

woman – meli

man (adult male) – meji

Man (human being) – jan

child – jan lili

wife – meli

husband – meji

mother – jan mam meli

father – jan mama meji

animal- soweli, akesi

fish – kala, li kala, li pali kala, li pali e kali

bird – waso

dog – soweli

louse – pipi, pipi lili, pipi lili pi linja lawa

snake – akesi linja

worm – akesi linja pi ko ma

tree – kasi suli

forest – kasi suli pi nanpa mute

stick – palisa, li wan lon lipu (like glue)

fruit – kili, li pana e kili

seed – unpa pi pan kasi, li pana e kasi sin

leaf – lipu kasi, li pana e lipu kasi

root – noka kasi, li alisa anpa kasi suli

bark – selo pi kasi suli, li toki sama soweli pi tomo jan

flower- ilo unpa pi kasi kule, li pana e ilo unpa pi kasi kuli

grass – kasi linja laso jelo, ijo nasa pi kasi lipu nasa

rope- linja, li kama jo kepeken linja

skin- selo, selo jan, li weka e selo soweli

meat – moku pi soweli moli

blood – telo loje, telo loje pi sijelo insa

bone – kiwen pi sitelen insa, li unpa

fat (n.) – moku pi wawa mute, ilo poka pi sijelo insa

egg – poki walo

horn- ilo utala pi lawa akesi

tail – linja monsi

feather- ilo tawa pi sijelo walo

hair – linja, linja lawa

head- lawa

ear- kute

eye- oko, li lukin

nose- nena sinpin, li pilin kepeken nena sinpin (to touch/feel with the nose)

mouth- uta, uta lawa, uta sinpin,  li pilin kepeken uta sinpin

tooth- kiwen pi uta lawa, kiwen walo pi uta lawa

tongue- ilo toki pi uta lawa

fingernail- ilo kepeken ala pi luka jan

foot – noka, pini noka

leg – noka

knee- noka insa, li utala kepeken noka insa

hand- pini luka, li pana

wing – luka walo, li pali kepeken sona ala (to wing it)

belly- sijelo insa

guts- ilo jaki pi sijelo insa

neck- anpa  lawa,  li unpa kepeken uta lon anpa lawa  (to neck)

back- monsi, monsi sewi,  li pana e mani tawa esun (to back an enterprise)

breast- neni, neni meli, sinpin pi sijelo meji

heart- insa, ilo tawa pi telo loje pi sijelo insa

liver- ilo pi kepeken sona ala pi sijelo insa

drink- li moku (verb), telo (noun)

eat- li moku

bite- li moku

suck- moku kin e kon, moku kin e telo

spit- li pana e telo tan uta (?)

vomit- li pana e moku tan uta (?)

blow- li pana e kon tan uta (?), li unpa e palisa meji kepeken uta sinpin

breathe- li moku e kon

laugh- li a a a, li toki e a a a,

see- li lukin

hear- li kute

know- li sona

think- li sona

smell- li sona e kon

fear- li pilin wili ala ???

sleep- li lape

live- li lon, li ali (but even though “li ali” is/was in the cannon, if find in hard to read)

die- li moli, intransitive

kill- li moli e (somthing), transitive

fight- utala

hunt- alasa

hit- ??

cut- li weka

split- li tu

stab- li pakala kepeken palisa

scratch- li pana e linja kepeken ilo

dig- li uta, li pali e uta, li pana e uta

swim- li tawa lon telo

fly (v.)- li tawa kepeken ilo waso

walk- li tawa

come- li kama

lie- li kama e sijelo lon ma

sit- li kama e monsi lon ma

stand- li kama ala (not go anwhere), ??? (stand on two feet)

turn- ??

fall- ??

give- li pana

hold- li jo

squeeze- li jo kin kepeken luka

rub- ??

wash- li telo

wipe- li telo kepeken len

pull- ??

push- ??

throw- li weka

tie – li kama awen kepeken linja

sew- li pali kepeken linja len, li kama awen kepeken linja len,

count- li toki e nanpa

say- li toki

sing- li toki musi

play- li musi

float- li tawa sewi telo

flow- li tawa, li tawa sama telo

freeze- li lete, li lete pini

swell- li pona e sijelo

sun- suno

moon- mun

star- suno pi ma ante

water- telo

rain- telo pi sewi laso, telo lili pi suli laso, telo oko pi jan sewi, telo jaki pi jan sewi

river- telo linja

lake- telo pi ma uta, telo tawa ala pi ma uta

sea- telo mute, telo suli

salt- ijo walo pi telo suli

stone- kiwen, li kiwen

sand- kiwen lili lili

dust- kiwen jaki lili lili

earth- ma, ma suli

cloud- kon, kon telo, kon telo walo

fog- kon telo pi kule mun

sky- suli laso

wind- kon, kon tawa

snow- kiwen telo pi suli laso, kiwen pi telo jelo pi jan suli

ice- kiwen telo

smoke- kon pimeja, li moku e palisi moli

fire – seli, li seli

ashes- ilo pi kule mun pi seli moli

burn- li pakala kepeken seli

road- nasin, linja tawa

mountain- ma neni

red- loje

green- laso jelo / jelo laso

yellow- jelo

white- walo

black- pimeja

night- tenpo pimeja, tenpo pi suno ala, tenpo mun

day- tenpo suno

year- tenpo pi suno sike

warm- li seli

cold- lape

full- ???

new- sin

old- sin ala

good- pona

bad- ike

rotten- moku kepeken akesi mute lili lili

dirty- jaki

straight- ???,  unpa ante

round- sike

sharp- sama ilo sin pi kama tu

dull- sama ilo pakala pi kama tu

smooth- sama lipu

wet- kepeken telo lon selo

dry- li jo ala e telo

correct- pona, li pona

near- lon ni

far- lon ni ala

right-  luka ante (if you can’t tell anyhow), poka mi/poka sina (e.g. if in a car), nasin pi jan mani

left- luka ante  (if you can’t tell anyhow), poka mi/poka sina (e.g. if in a car), nasin pi jan pali

at- lon (but varies depending on grammatical construction)

in- lon (but varies depending on grammatical construction)

with- kepeken (but varies depending on grammatical construction)

and- en (but varies depending on grammatical construction)

if- la  (but varies depending on grammatical construction)

because- tan  (but varies depending on grammatical construction)

name- nimi, nimi ilo, nimi jan, nimi toki, etc.

Toki Pona Check List, Public Draft 1

Toki Pona Check List

  1. - Does it have a “li” somewhere? If not, is the subject mi or sina?
  2. - Does mi or sina have modifiers?  Check if the modifiers could be intelligble confused with verbs.
  3. - Is a question, does it have “li” (verb) anu (verb)  or an “anu seme” tag?
  4. - Do all the “pi” phrases have 2 words after it?
  5. - If you have 3 or more words in a noun phrase, does it need a “pi” to reduce ambiguity?
  6. - Do you have an “e” before the object?  (Droping accusative markers is an Anglicism)
  7. - Do you have a “tawa” before indirect objects? (Droping dative markers is an Anglicism)
  8. Are nouns first and modifiers second?
  9. Did you put a tan phrase in the la phrase? If so try to move the tan phrase to the end.

if a then b  —> a la b

wrong* because of a then b  –> tan a la b

b because a  –> b tan a

  1. - Do proper modifiers have something to modify?
  2. - Are prepositional phrases at the end?
  3. - Can you move anything to the “la” phrase to simplify the main sentence?
  4. - Do you have two direct objects? Use the e (noun) e (noun) instead of e (noun) en (noun)
  5. - Do you have two verbs? Use the li (verb) li (verb) instead of li (verb) en (verb)
  6. - Are you talking to somone? Did you forget the vocative exists? (Dropping vocatives is an Anglicism)

Sticklers Check List

  1. - Are prepositions officially propositions in the canon?
  2. - Is that verb officially transitive (i.e. can take an “e” phrase)
  3. - Is that officially a verb, noun or modifier?

Spelling Check List

  1. - Did you confuse any of the minimal pairs? ale/ali, ilo/ijo, ko/kon, meli/moli, pini/pipi, kin/ken
  2. - Did you confuse the “e” and “i”  (in naive English pronunciation, many i and e’s in toki pona are pronounced as e.  E.g. kin, “next of kin”.  Ken, mans name, “beyond my ken”)
  3. - Did you confuse any final vowels? You brain knows that the final and internal vowels are superflous in most words, so expect mispellings there.
  4. - Are antecedants obvious? If not consider repeating the head of the noun phrase.

jan Mato en soweli pi linja uta li lon ni.  mi lukin e ona.   –>  jan Mato en soweli pi linja uta li lon ni.  mi lukin e soweli.

Style Check List

  1. - Are scales intellible (phoneme -> syllable -> word –> phrase –> sentence –> paragraph) is often expressed by larger and larger “kulupu nimi” and “kulupu kalama”
  2. - It can be parsed more than one way. Are there too many plausible ways to parse the sentence? Test by translating back into English after a day.
  3. - Is the sentence long? Can you break it into with “e ni” or “la” or a new sentence?
  4. - Does the preposition require a metaphor? If a less metaphorical preposition exists, use that. E.g. prefer a phrase with “pilin” over a metaphor for “EMOTION IS A PLACE”, e.g. “mi lon pilin ike”  (I’m *in* a bad mood)
  5. - Is a noun pair using synecdoche (part means whole) or metonymy (whole means part)?   Can you be less clever and refer to what you mean?
  6. - Is a noun phrase a convention or adapted to the current context?  a “friend list” on facebook can be translated with “jan pona” (good folk) or more descriptively “lipu mute pi jan mute” (pages of people)
  7. - Are you using eponyms? Can you use root words instead. Favor “telo pi lape ala” over “telo Sutobaku”
  8. - Would pronoun modifiers clarify anything?  If you do use pronoun modifiers are you introducing PIE-isms? (i.e. “mi li kute e sina mute” to mean, “I hear you, Sir” is a PIE-ism)
  9. - Would adverbs clarify anything?  Adverbs will make the verb phrase longer or end up in the “la” phrase.  Adverbs in the verb phrase can be confused with auxillary verbs.

Toki Pona: Kiwen steady, Kiwen mi Amadeus!

Here is just about all the pairs of noun+ modifier you can make using kiwen.  I leave as as exercise to you all the triples, triples with pi, quadruples and quadruples with pi, adverbs and verbs that use kiwen.

kiwen akesi – monstrous metal/rock

kiwen ale – universal rock/metal

kiwen anpa – lower rock (earth’s crust? mantle?)

kiwen esun – store made of rocks/metal (hardware store?)

kiwen ijo – rock thingy

kiwen awen – permanent rock/metal (bedrock?)

kiwen ike – bad rock/metal

kiwen insa – inner rock/metal

kiwen jaki – filthy rock. Coal

kiwen jan – troll that’s seen the light of day (Icelandic reference)

kiwen jelo – sulphur, gold, etc.

kiwen kala – fishy rock/metal

kiwen kalama – rock music ? Too culture specific?

kiwen kasi – vegetable rocks/metal.  Wood.

kiwen kili – fruity rock/metal. Pit or seed.

kiwen kiwen – The meaning of reduplication has not been establish in toki pona.

kiwen kon – vaporized rock/metal.  Metallic vapor like you’d find on planet Venus.

kiwen kule – colorful rock/metal

kiwen kute – audible rock/metal

kiwen kulupu – communal rock/metal

kiwen lape – sleepy rock

kiwen laso – corroded copper,turquoise

kiwen lawa – chief rock

kiwen len – cloth rock, asbestos

kiwen lete – cold rock

kiwen roje – ochre, rust

kiwen linja – ductile metal, wire

kiwen lipu – aluminum foil, malleability metals

kiwen luka – straight arm

kiwen lukin ala – invisible rock, glass, diamond

kiwen lupa – “hole”-y rock, pumice

kiwen ma – land/national rock

kiwen mama – mother rock

kiwen mani – silver/gold/copper, but also sea shell if we don’t want to culture specific.

kiwen meli – feminine rock/metal

kiwen mije – masculine rock/metal

kiwen moli – deadly metal (mercury, arsenic, etc)

kiwen monsi -posterior metal

kiwen mun – moon rock

kiwen nasa – crazy rock, weird rock

kiwen nasin – systematic rock

kiwen nena – bumpy rock

kiwen nimi – named rock

kiwen noka – leg rock

kiwen oko – eye rock

kiwen olin – lovable rock

kiwen pakala – broken rock. Gravel.

kiwen pali – working rock

kiwen palisa – stick rock/metal.  Nail, screw or dowel.

kiwen pan – day old bread

kiwen pini – finished rock

kiwen poka – neighboring rock

kiwen sama – similar rock

kiwen selo – superficial rock

kiwen sewi – super rock

kiwen sijelo – body rock (calcium for bones?)

kiwen sike – round rock

kiwen sinpin – facial rock

kiwen sitelen – pictoral rock

kiwen sona – knowlegeable rocks. ?

kiwen soweli – cute critter rock

kiwen suno – shiny rock/metal.  Officially kiwen is a rock, but “kiwen suno” sounds more like metal to me.

kiwen supa -horizontal rock

kiwen suwi – sweet rock — rock candy

kiwen tawa – mobile rock

kiwen telo – liquic rock — lava, mercury, molten rock during smelting, coal slurry

kiwen toki – talking rock (!)

kiwen tomo – urban/house rock (asphalt? brick? concrete?)

kiwen unpa – erectile tissue

kiwen uta – oral rocks (teeth)

kiwen utala – war rock/metal.  Volatile explosive metals, such as calcium?

kiwen walo – white rock

kiwen wan – one rock

kiwen wawa – powerful rock/metal.  Uranium?

kiwen weka – mining

kiwen wile – desirable rocks- gems, precious metals.

The Toki Pona Homeland

Using the same techniques and the proto-indo-european reconstruction linguists, it is time to find out where the toki pona homeland is.

General Principles
- Root words aren’t accidental, they are culturally significant
- While lacking a word for something doesn’t mean they didn’t talk about, it does mean they probably didn’t care to talk about it.
- The language’s place on the family tree of languages can tell you when and where the people lived
- You can run phonetic change rules in reverse to discover what a word sounded like in the proto form. The technique works  best when you have many daughter languages.

Source of languages.  The presence of so many PIE words, 66% or so is a clear sign that this is a European language with loan words.  So the tokiponan homeland is probably West Europe,  North America or Australia.  There we presume that the French words are Acadian, then obviously the toki pona homeland is in modern Canada, a country with significant French and English speaking populations as well as lively immigrant communities from around the world.

Plants and Animals.  Tokiponans had plants animals in their environment, waso, akesi, soweli, kala,  kasi and alasa.  ~4% of words.  No root words for cows, horse, sheep or wool, so I don’t they existed in the time of the Indo-Europeans.  The late appearance of the word alasa may have to do with hunting in the sense of searching for animals, killing them and eating them. Given the high ratio of animals to plants, I guess it makes sense that the tokiponans were hunters.  In English, “to hunt” also means to search for something– it isn’t clear if alasa has the narrow meaning.  Toki pona also has “lukin”, look out for.  Lukin entails visually looking for anything.  “kama jo”, come to have/find, which implies I’m search with the intention of acquiring the possession.

Material Culture. Toki ponans used tools (ilo), wove cloth (wen) and made and ate bread (pan) and use monetary tokens (mani) at the store (esun).  We can infer they also had some sort of economy based on the cultivation of grains.  This clearly places the toki ponans well after the bronze age or iron age. In fact, I dare say the toki ponans were a people of the industrial revolution on account of the word ilo, although one could argue that even homo habilis may have had a word for tool.  If a culture used very few tools, I suspect they’d use one or two specific words for the tools instead of a broad category or root word.  Coins weren’t introduced until Greek times, so if the toki pona people existed before the Greeks, then mani means “luxury barter goods” as well.  In Old Europe Spondylus shell was a common barter item, so mani might also means Spondylus shell.  I think modern toki ponans would probably call spondylus shell “mani pi kala poki,” or “money of the fish in the box”.

Society, Morality, Ethics, Etc.  As noted before, there is mani and esun.  “To have” is “jo” which is separate and distinct from “poka”.  In cultures without a strong sense of property laws, possession is indicated by a preposition that conveys the sense of physical proximity, e.g. Russian that uses “by me” to mean “I have/I own”.  A specialize verb indicates the society probably observes property rights.  I don’t think cultures that use proximity as a metaphor are more progressive, just probably too poor to make a big deal out of keeping track of who owns what.

We can learn some about the words used for negative things.  Ike means bad, jaki is impure, filthy stuff. This is a very European idea if you look at the various pre-Christian and Christian religious that used lots of impure/cleansing metaphors.  The only word for wash is “telo”, which in particular means wash with water.  This contrasts with things like Buddhism, where the bad stuff is “unskillful.”  So an evil man in a Buddhist world is incompetent.  An evil man in Old Europe needed a metaphorical scrubbing.

“Unpa”, sex is differentiated from love, “olin”.  There are words for male and female, “mije” and “meli”, but grammatical gender markers are optional for the animate and irrelevant for the inanimate. This is an egalitarian society with pair bonding and families.  How this squares with the toki ponans being mostly an animal hunting society with some but not a lot of agriculture– I don’t know.  I’ll have to go read up on how often hunter-gatherer societies were egalitarian on gender terms.

Proto-toki-pona.  If we didn’t have an inventor of toki pona who specifically said what words they had in mind, I dare say we’d have hard time pinning down where much of toki pona came from.  I’ve wondered if things like Grimm’s law apply to all languages, or if they only apply to PIE languages.  If we had enough dialects of toki pona, we’d be able to reconstruct proto-toki-pona and I suspect we’d get something like proto-polynesian.  Why? Because Polynesian has that consonant-vowel alternating phonetic structure and I bet cvcv languages share similar phonetic shift rules.

Post-toki-pona. Post-toki-pona (the future tokipona) is a bit easier to talk about.  Languages tend to evolve by fusion and erosion.  The particles all risk fusion and the final vowels are often unneeded for clarity. For example, kil, kin, kul, kulup obviously mean fruit, emphasis, color, community.  janpona risks losing internal consonants  like the n, and final vowels, which would yield a new word, japon.  Long words risk being re-analyzed.  For example kepeken means use, but if some speaker re-analyzed it as kepe-ken (use-possible), then we’d have new word “kepe” to mean “use” and kepe-ala (unusable).  Given that toki pona is a strict cvcv language, one could argue that the new words would continue to be cvcv, when I have a chance to study how proto-Japanese became modern Japanese, I’ll let you know.

The State of Toki Pona

How’s it doing? Toki pona hit peak popularity in 2007, when there were more google searches for “toki pona“, more posts to the yahoo mailing list than any an other year since it was invented in 2001.  It’s a top 500,000 website according to Alexa.  According to the way back machine, the website got the most updates in 2003.   Toki pona has 400,000 google hits vs  845,000 for Klingon, 890,000 for lojban, 309,000 for Sindarian and 29 million for Esperanto, at least as of late 2009.

I’m baffled by the lojban hit number.  Lojban is considered barely speakable.  People must be using these subliminal, “Learn Lojban” CDs from Amazon. (I’m not kidding, click the link!)

For small languages people study whatever happens to have materials available. Rumor is that the long awaited book is on the way.  I sure hope so, because up to now, you often had to scrounge for content to read and many questions of the language’s definition were addressed in an authoritative source.

In my spare time I study Icelandic.  I’m just as unlikely to run into anyone who speaks Tocharian or Faeroese as Icelandic, but Icelandic happens to have better study materials and I can find reading material on the internet.  I think the same is true for conlangs, people study what there is materials for.

Toki Pona Word Generation

Never forget tp is about polysemy, so a tp phrase can be parse many ways– one word at a time, or by assuming that a pair of words has a conventional meaning.


jan suli,  big guy or god.

telo nasa, crazy water, booze

tomo telo, water room, restroom


telo nasa  jelo,  yellow crazy water, yellow booze, beer

telo mama soweli, female cute-animal water, water of cow, milk

Triples with pi
tomo pi telo nasa, room of cray water, bar

toki pi wile sona, talk of wanting knowlege.  talk of curiosity.  Question

Quadruples -

telo nasa wawa ala – not powerful crazy water.   Maybe distilled water?

mama mama mama mama – great-great-grandmother

Quadruples with pi –

telo nasa pi wawa ala – crazy water of no power.  Non-alcoholic beer.

Word Trains

In English you can write a sentence that end in five prepositions, e.g. “What did you bring that book that we didn’t want to be read to out of up for?”

Similarly, in tp. you can have phrases of 4+ words without a function word (e.g. pi, li, e, la, ni, kepeken, etc), but the cognative burden of parsing such a phrase is very high.

mi li wile e ilo mute jelo suli pona Epanja.

I want many, yellow, big, good, Spanish things.

I want good Spanish lemon-yellow bundles.


You can’t tell if we have two word modifiers or what going on.  Obviously breaking up word trains with function words would probably make the sentence clear.

Is Toki Pona a PIE daughter language?

My back of the envelope calculation is that toki pona is 67% Indo European. The rest is Uralic (Finnish),  Kartvelian,  Altaic (Japanese), Niger-Congo, Afro-Asiatic (Swahili, although Swahili itself has a lot of IE loan words), and Austronesian.

Croatioan 10%
Dutch 8%
Esperanto 12%
Welsh 1%
English 12%
Tok pisin 14%,
Acadian French 10%

Further investigations will be required to identify the toki pona homeland, however, it is clear the  toki ponans started out in Europe, hung out with all sorts of people, especially Canadians and ate bread.