Toki Pona: What do you know? Not much. Sona.

I kept translating everything with “knowledge”. I guess some of these could be used as verbs,

  • He does economics
  • ona li sona mani”

Know Thyself

Hmm, at least Socrates might agree with me on these:

  • sona sama–self knowlege
  • sona ken– “knowing one’s limits” (?)
  • sona mi– my knowledge, personal information (?)

Academic Subjects (ologies)

  • sona a — phonology (?)
  • kesi sona — dragonology
  • sona ante– xeno-ology
  • sona ilo — engineering, technical knowledge
  • sona insa — interior design
  • sona jaki — grossology
  • sona jan — humanities, social science
  • sona jo — distribution economics
  • sona kala — ickythology
  • sona kalama– musicology, audiology
  • sona kama– futureology
  • sona kasi– botany
  • sona kili– fruit-ology (?)
  • sona kiwen –Geology?
  • sona ko –Chemistry? Organic Chemistry?
  • sona kon– Meteorology
  • sona kule– Color-logy
  • sona kute — Audiology
  • sona kulupu — Sociology
  • sona lape — Somnology
  • sona mun– planetary astronomy?
  • sona musi– musicology? Recreational science?
  • sona nanpa– math
  • sona nasa– abnormal psychology
  • sona nasin– philosophy, religion
  • sona nena– pornography (study of boobs)
  • sona pali– economics
  • sona lawa — law, political science
  • sona linja — linear algebra
  • sona lukin –vision, optics
  • sona ma — geography
  • sona mama — anthropology (on account of anthropologist being those who study
  • kinship and other things)
  • sona mani — finance, accounting, business, etc
  • sona meli — women’s studies
  • sona mije– men’s studies
  • sona moku– cooking
  • sona moli– black arts (black is a culturally dependent word, which hasn’t been
  • officially addressed)
  • sona nimi– linguistics, grammar, taxonomy, lexicography
  • sona sin– new knowledge
  • sona sitelen– art
  • sona sinpin– knowledge of cosmetic surgery
  • sona sona– epistimology
  • sona soweli– zo-ology
  • sona suno–astronomy?? (helio-ology)
  • sona supa–knowledge of furniture making
  • sona tawa– dynamics
  • sona telo– oceanography
  • sona tenpo– history
  • sona toki– linguistics
  • sona seli– physics of light, thermodynamics
  • sona unpa– porn, reproductive science, sexology
  • sona uta–dentistry
  • sona waso– ornithology
  • sona wawa– physics of energy
  • sona wile– psychology of desire
  • sona pipi– entomology (sp?)
  • sona pilin– psychology
  • sona sijelo– medicine

Ordinary Sounding Words

Finally, something that isn’t an -ology

  • sona ala –ignorance
  • sona ale, ali — omnisescene
  • sona ike — lies? misinformation?
  • sona len — sewing
  • sona lili– administrativia, academic (adj)
  • sona mute– genius
  • sona sewi– religion

Messing things up and knowing how

sona pakala– diplomacy, war (as a subject of study)
sona utala–war

No Clue What These Mean
sona anpa — ??
sona awen –?
sona ijo –??
sona jelo –??
sona lete — ??
sona lipu — ?
sona loje — ?
sona luka –?
sona lupa–??
sona monsi– ??
sona laso –
sona mu–
sona oko–
sona noka–??
sona olin– ??
sona open–??
sona palisa– ??
sona pana–??
sona pimeja–??
sona pini–??
sona poki??
sona pona –??
sona selo– ?
sona seme–??
sona sike–??
sona suli–??
sona suwi–
sona tan– learning?
sona tomo–
sona walo–??
sona wan–??
sona weka– ??

Toki Pona: Required Watching

jan Kipo’s Lecture on Semantic Primes (stuff you can’t describe with other words, but can use to describe other things)

A semantic prime language implies you can build any word if  you know the ‘atom’s of semantic meaning.

If you have a toki pona pair, the semantic meaning of a pair is not obvious.

  • good hunter <> someone who hunts ‘good’
  • good hunter <> someone who good people
  • good hunter = talented hunter
  • together animal =?= cow (together with each other), or domestic animal (together with humans)

Even if you know that the 2nd tp word is the modifier is. At best, you have a set of possibilities.  Important to remember if you are using a word pair and expect someone to understand you.

[hmm, I guess if you have three words, you have one more modifier, but more total possibilities]

Making a semantic prime based language means you have to list all the characteristics of a word in that word, which is too long.  So we end up with extremely short conventions, i.e. idioms. These word combinations aren’t self evident and require memorization or at least a long story that goes with each word pair to explain why those semantic primes could mean something in particular.

One word can be used to describe one thing, even if we add or remove a lot of characteristics. Eg. Remove a leg from a dog, and it is still a dog, even if you had originally thought dog was a word that meant a four legged animal.

Semantic prime languages have a lot of dead space– combinations of semantic primes that have no obvious use what so every.  This commonly happens to valuable short words (phrases)

One theory (NSM) says you can reduce English or other natural language to semantic primes, somewhere between 14-67 primes.  Technique– paraphrase in simpler and simpler terms until you are down to the semantic primes.  Technique can be used to explain why some words translate poorly– words in natural languages are made up of different semantic primes (in this case, a list of propositions answering, what does this mean?).  Technique works well for emotions, the semantic meaning of declensions and conjugations.  Doesn’t work so well for particular objects, kinship, colors.

A successful conlang will have a ‘core’, i.e.  a central part of language that can be learned quickly and you could say just about anything.  Deals with the barrier posed by grammars that introduce too little vocab, or too much vocab in the initial language definition.

Factoid: toki pona only took about a week to write the base vocabulary.

Rule of thumb.  Beginner should be able to talk about most things with 12 sentences patterns -200 words, otherwise it is just to hard to attract any attention from the language learning community.

Toki pona: Insults

Having finished my post on pleasantries, time for insults. (UPDATED, originally written long ago, update 2011 to fix grammar.)


These are short and simple.

  • jan lili — petty person
  • jan pi sona ala — dummie
  • sona ala — stupid
  • jan ala — a nobody
  • jan ike — vile person
  • jan nasa — crazy person, drunkard
  • jan jaki — slob
  • jan akesi — monster (monster person)
  • ike lukin — evilness of appearance, ugly
  • o moli! — die!
  • o toki ala! — shut up!
  • ? wile pali ala– no desire to work
  • jan li jo e mani ala– poor man (You’d have to use a “sina li e (jan) ni:” sentence to introduce this

Broken, also one of the few invectives mentioned in the unofficial lists.

  • sina li pakala! You screwed it up!
  • lawa sina li pakala! You’re head is broken!

Analogies from foreign languages

  • sina li lupa pi ko jaki! You asshole!
  • sina li moku e jan! You cannibal!
  • o sijelo ike li kama tawa tomo sina! A plague on your house!
  • o ala sama moku ike! Go rot!


  • o tawa ma pi sewi ike! Go to hell!
  • o tawa ma anpa! Go to hell!
  • jan anpa! — devil! (person below)
  • jan pakala! — sinner!

The sexual insults will be dealt with another day.

Toki Pona: Pleasantries

In a constructed language if a word is missing or a grammatical construct is missing, you often can reason by analogy of other natural languages what might make sense.  You result may lead to heated arguments on mailing lists, but it has a hope of making sense.

For pleasantries, things are tougher.  Pleasantries vary from country to country, city to city, office building to office building.  What would be normally polite in one place would be mockingly effusive in another and rudely curt in a third.

So while we are reasoning by analogy, we are reasoning from analogies with other cultures.  It’s already considered bad form to attempt import one’s own mother tongues’ vocabulary and grammatical patterns into a new language, it isn’t as clear what to make of the ‘good manners’ issue.  I would make a wild, unscientific guess that ‘matter’s talk’ in, say, Japan would be more complex than say, New York City.

Forms of address

  • jan [Proper Name] = Mr/Mrs/etc, humans.
  • suweli [Proper Name] = Mr Ed (the horse)
  • jan [Proper Name] o.  You have the opportunity to use someone name and the imperative.  jan Mato o pali.  Matt, work!  Using both is probably more polite.

Requesting, giving and receiving

Outside of the vocative and imperative, I don’t see any way to soften a request.

  • jan [proper name] o pali  –please do some chore
  • jan Mato o pana — please give (something)
  • thank you – pona
  • you’re welcome – pona

I suppose “you’re welcome” could also be translate like “it was nothing”, “don’t think about it”, etc.

  • li ale.  It was nothing.
  • o sona ala e ni. Don’t think about this.


  • toki — hello
  • mi tawa — I go, good bye

In a natural language, there is a certain range of typical phrases.  When we say good bye, we don’t think up on the spot something that expresses everything we feel upon departure.  We just grab a phrase from our memory.  In a conlang, without extensive explicit guidance from the official corpus, I suppose we could invent any phrase that expresses what we feel at the moment and is grammatical, hence:

  • o tawa kepeken jan sewi.  Go with God.
  • ken la jan sewi tawa kepeken sina. May God go with you.
  • mi toki tawa sina e ni: sina o tawa pona.  I bid thee to fare well.
  • o tawa. o kama ala tawa ni.  Go and don’t come back.
  • o tawa weka ala e mi! Don’t leave me!

and so on.

Toki Pona: Negatives

Negatives follow the verb, noun or preposition it modifies.

Tacking “ala” should create polar opposites like “mal” in Esperanto, but doesn’t always.  Just as with words in the positive,  “ala” could negate any quality of the noun.

Here is an example of putting the negative after the auxiliary verb.

  • “sina ken ala tawa kepeken nasin ni.”– jan Pije
  • [you] [omit verb marker] [aux verb:able] [not] [verb: go] [Prep: with/using] [road] [this]
  • You are not able to go on this road.

Here is an example from the same page showing how the negative is used to ask a question expecting one of two opposite responses (i.e. a yes/no question)

  • “sina wile ala wile kama?”
  • [you] [0] [verb:want] [not] [verb:want] [to come]
  • Do you want to come?

Negatives for prepositions.

When I first read this, I thought ala modified the preposition.  Then I saw the “e” and thought “kepeken” must be modifying the verb and “ala” modifies “lon kepeken”

I don’t know if this is legal, but if it was, there would be six more prepositions in the language,kepeken ala being the easiest to translate into English as without.

  • “nasin pi lawa ala la jan li lon kepeken ala jan lawa.”
  • the way of no leader is where people exist without a leader.

Toki Pona: Thesaurus

This is incomplete. Each toki pona word can have many meanings, there might be a different synonymous noun or verb phrase for each, especially for different parts of speech. Some synonyms would really be alternative grammatical forms for expressing the same semantic meaning–I’ll do those later. Numbers, pronouns, grammatical particles, prepositions, conjunctions do not have obvious lexical synonyms.

I tried not to create synonyms that used the word as part of the synonym. This time around I was looking for phrases that could replace the word in a sentence. Some of these synonyms are no better than the main word, sometimes though they have a narrower meaning than the main word, so they could help reduce ambiguity.

A good chunk of these are [word] + ala patterns, which I’m not sure are very useful, except if you are looking for antonyms.

  • a – mu jan, kalama jan
  • akesi- suweli ike
  • ala – mute ala en wan ala (not many, not one)
  • ale, ali -
  • anpa – ante ala
  • ante – anpa ala
  • anu – en ala
  • awen – tawa (wait/go) weka (keep/get rid of)
  • e – not applicable
  • en – anu ala
  • ijo – ?
  • ike – pona ala, suwi ala
  • ilo – kepeken e ijo (use something)
  • insa -selo ala
  • jaki – pona ala mute, suwi ala mute
  • jan – suweli
  • jelo – suno kule (sun colored)
  • jo – kama pini (got, obtained)
  • kala – akesi telo, suweli telo (animals of the water)
  • kalama – mu ijo (the noise made by inanimate things), mu jan
  • kama – tawa e ni (go to here)
  • kasi – akesi jelo laso (green creature)
  • ken – ?
  • kepeken-?
  • kili – kala moku (edible plant)
  • kin – n/a
  • kiwen – ma wan lili (little part of earth)
  • ko – ?
  • kon – ? ma en telo ala (not land or water)
  • kule- jelo en kule en waso en laso en pimeja
  • kute – pilin e kalama (sense the sound)
  • kulupu – jan pona mute (many friends)
  • la — n/a
  • lape – pali ala
  • laso -??
  • lawa- seji jan (top of person)
  • len – ilo pi seli jan (personal heating device)
  • lete – pali ala
  • li – n/a
  • lili- suli ala (not big) sewi ala (not important)
  • linja – palisa lili (skinny stick)
  • lipu- ?
  • loje – kule [foo] (where [foo] is typically red item)
  • lon- ?
  • luka – noka sinpin (front legs)
  • lukin – kepeken e oko (use the eyes)
  • lupa – uta sijelo (mouth of the body)
  • ma – kon ala (not sky)
  • mama – tan jan (origin of person)
  • mani – ilo pana (device of transfer/giving)
  • meli – mije ala
  • mi -?
  • mije – meli ala
  • moku – kepeken e uta (use the mouth)
  • moli – awen ala
  • monsi – sinpin ala (not front)
  • mu – akesi toki/suweli toki
  • mun – suno pi pimeja tenpo
  • musi -?
  • mute – wan ala
  • nanpa – wan anu tu
  • nasa – ?
  • nasin- pilin ilo (way of thinking about something), linja tawa (line of going)
  • nena- lipu ala (not flat)
  • ni – n/a
  • nimi – ?
  • noka – luka monsi (rear arms)
  • o – not applicable
  • oko – lukin ilo
  • olin – wili jan
  • ona – not applicable
  • open- pini ala (not finshed, not closed)
  • pakala – pona ala (un-mend)
  • pali – lape ala
  • palisa – linja suli (fat line)
  • pana – weka e ijo
  • pi – not applicable
  • pilin – kepeken e lawa
  • pimeja – walo ala (not white)
  • pini- open ala (not started)
  • pipi- akesi lili
  • poka- tomo ijo (room for things, container for things)
  • poki- ??
  • pona- ike ala, (not bad)
  • sama – ante ala (not different)
  • seli – lete ala
  • selo- insa ala (not inside)
  • seme -n/a
  • sewi- lili ala (not small), ike (evil)
  • sijelo- ?
  • sike- selo suno (sun shaped), selo mun (moon shaped)
  • sin- ?
  • sina- n/a
  • sinpin – monsi ala (not the back)
  • sitelen- toki kepeken lipu (speaking with pages)
  • sona- ?
  • soweli- suwi akesi (cute beast)
  • suli- lili ala (not small)
  • suno- mun pi tempo seli (moon of warm time)
  • supa- ?
  • suwi- ? moku ike ala (not bad tasting)
  • tan- ?
  • taso – n/a
  • tawa -?
  • telo – ma ala (not land)
  • tenpo – nanpa sike (numer of cycles)
  • toki – kalama jan, mu jan
  • tomo- poki jan (box for people)
  • tu – wan en wan (one and one)
  • unpa- olin sijelo (physical love)
  • uta- lupa lawa, lupa moku (head opening, food opening)
  • utala – ?
  • walo – kule mun (moon colored), pimeja ala
  • wan – ?
  • waso- suweli kon, akesi kon (animals of the sky)
  • wawa-?
  • weka-?
  • wile- olin ijo (love of things)

Toki Pona: Computer Jargon

Machines are ilo, so most devices are going to be ilo + [mod.] or ilo + mod + mod

  • ilo nanpa — numerical machine, calculator, computer
  • nasin pi tu nanpa — the way of the number two, binary
  • ilo pi palisa luka — keyboard
  • ilo sitelen tan oko — image machine for the eyes, monitor (?)
  • ilo kalama tan kute– sound machine for the ears, speakers (?)
  • len pin ilo nanpa — internet, computer network
  • sitelen toki ilo — written language of machines–  programming language
  • toki ilo — phone

More as I find them…

Toki Pona: Hidden prepositions?


sewi is not officially marked as a preposition, but here in the unofficial texts, it is pretty clearly being used as one, unless it is really an adverb, i.e. modifies the verb.  Let’s check.

Let’s take this potentially sexist phrase:

  • mije li lon sewi meli.  Man exists above woman.
  • [noun] [verb marker] [exists] sewi [woman]

So is that an “abovely” exists, “superiorly” exists, “formally” existence, “holy-ly” exists?  I don’t think Sonja meant men’s existence is superior to women’s.

Or is it “above the woman”?  Yeah, that’s more likely.

This would raise the preposition count to seven and provide a more specific counterpart to “poka- along side”, “lon” at.


insa is not an official preposition.

ona li pali insa tomo pali mi.  He works inside my office. (insa as preposition)

Reading “insa” as a preposition makes more sense than reading it as:

ona li pali insa e tomo pali mi. He inwardly work my office. (insa as adverb)


selo is not an official preposition.

mi pali selo tomo pali mi.  I work outside my office. (selo as preposition)

mi pali selo e tomo pali mi. I outwardly work my office. (selo as adverb)

Toki Pona: Verbs, "Compounds" & Adverbs

There are some 50 or so official verbs in toki pona. (By that I mean, they are on the official list, listed as verbs and are one word long)

I’m in your dictionary verbing your nouns.

  • mi li [word].
  • mi li nimi e sina. I am naming you.
  • mi li kali e kali. I am growing/planting/farming the plant.

Auxilary Verbs

kama. Put this before many words to indicate something is being made to happen.

  • sona – know
  • kama sona – learn
  • kama. come
  • kama jo. receive

These three have official status

  • kama + verb– something is becoming something, becomes…
  • wili + verb = want to …
  • pilin + verb = I feel like …, I think that…, etc.

Can other words act as auxillary modal verbs? Dunno.

jo + verb = come to have the ability to… get to…(?)

ken + verb = able to …

Reference for above at Eloto, “mi ken pali e ike” I am able to work evil (deeds).

li tawa

As soon as I see an “e” or a preposition, I know I have moved out of the verb and it’s modifiers. Except for “li tawa”

  • ona li tawa sewi kiwen
  • [he] [goes] sewi [rock]
  • He goes stiffly, upwardly. (interpret words after verbs as modifiers, not an official POS for this word)
  • He goes – top of rock. (blank where we’d expect a preposition)

There was a discussion on the mailing list about tawa/lon. Some people think it is clearer to think of this as a special sort of verb where the complement of it doesn’t take a preposition or “e”. I prefer to think of it as sentences that normally would have “tawa tawa” (go to) or “lon lon” (be at) and they got collapsed into one, or alternatively, where the verb is dropped. Either way, the result is the same– the stuff that follows the verb is not an adverb, but doesn’t take “e” or a preposition. The extra lon or tawa pops back up when there is a modifier to the tawa or lon.

Officially, “sewi” is a noun. I think this is another hidden preposition.

If I had to translate, “he’s going up the rock”, I’d use:

  • ona li tawa sewi e kiwen.
  • He climbs the rock.

[But "ona li tawa sewi kiwen" sounds fine as long as I can use sewi as a proposition everywhere else, too, but so far there are only six prepositions]

Verbs with modifiers (looks like compound words to me)

A verb plus a modifier could be used literally or ‘idiomatically’, like compound word.

  • moli mute – slaughter. mi mute li moli mute e jan utala mute. We slaughtered the army. I wouldn’t translate mute as ‘really’, ‘numerously’, etc.
  • lape kalama – snore. ona li lape kalama. He noise-slept. He snored.

Verbs with modifiers are tricky, because there are several other ways to express the same thing, and so far, I don’t see that it is wrong to use the alternatives. For example, instead of a modifier to the verb, we could use an accusative, adverbial phrase, one of the prepositions, etc.

  • mi lape e kalama. I slept a noise. I snored. (accusative)
  • kalama la mi lape. Noisely, I slept. I snored. (adverbial phrase)
  • mi lape kepeken kalama. I slept “with” a noise (preposition)
  • mi lape poka kalama. I slept accompanied by noise. (preposition)

Verbs + Prepositions & Particles

There are six prepositions and one particle in toki pona. In many languages, one preposition often ‘goes with’ a particular verb.

Given that there are so few of them and there are only 50 or so one word verbs one probably could check all of them to see if they made sense. One of the challenges of tp (and I guess of any language) is that many of these prepositions could convey the same general thing.

  • mi pana. intransivite, not sure that this means anything. I gave.(?)
  • mi pana e ilo. I gave a thing.
  • mi pana kepeken ilo. I gave using a thing.(?)
  • mi pana lon ilo. I gave at a thing.
  • mi pana poka ilo. I gave along side a thing.(?)
  • mi pana sama ilo. I gave like something (gave).(?)
  • mi pana tan ilo. I gave because of something. I gave until something. (?)
  • mi pana tawa ilo. I gave to a thing.

I guess one test for deciding if a verb takes a particular preposition is to combine them.

  • mi pana e ilo kepeken ijo lon ma poka tomo sama jan tan tenpo suno sewi tawa sina. –I gave a thing to you using a device in the country like that person (did), because of the holiday.

Another example

  • mi mute li utala e jan ike kepeken ijo utala lon ma ante poka tomo linja sama akesi tan jan lawa tawa moli. We fought the enemy to the death, like vicious animals, for the king, in the foreign country, along the river.

Metaphors, Prepositions and Particles.

We can’t escape our metaphors. This is strongly illustrated with sentences like, “I speak in French” This implies that we are using a metaphor, “LANGUAGE IS A PLACE” Toki pona does use metaphors, (government and good God’s are UP), but some metaphors are likely to be dependent on your culture. Since toki pona has an international audience, you can improve your audiences comprehension by avoiding metaphors, either by restructuring the sentence to not use a preposition at all, or by choosing sucessively more generic prepositions.

  • toki mi li Inli. My language is English. (Avoid the whole question by restructring the sentence.)
  • mi toki kepeken toki Inli. I speak with English (as if it was a tool)
  • mi toki e toki pi toki Inli. I speak the talk of English. (“pi” is a very generic, almost semantically empty particle. It just means a set of words modifies another set of words)

Conlangs: How people use them & does it violate copyright

Using toki pona as an example, should anyone care about property right law and con language?  For example, in music, it is a final work and people tend to pass it around without modification, rarely creating derivative works, sometimes doing public performances.  What do people do with conlanguages and how do they fit in with the issues that copyright and creative commons address?

Sorry this isn’t a well thought out post, someday when I’m a lawyer I’ll improve on it.

The point of the list is to show there are two kinds of activities in a conlang– those that are likely to reduce likely sales of the con lang author’s books and those that are likely to increase the sales of the authors book (eg. people trying to write and publish works in tp)  The former should be discouraged and the latter encouraged. Imho.


  • doesn’t archive it on account of the norobots.txt
  • Several copies of the PDF can be found and one or two copies of the original grammar can still be found.

Attribution. Usually happens, not always.

Commercial use. 

  • Strong sense of the word: Copies of website guides for sale, None
  • weak sense of the word: Lots of ads, e.g. Wikipesija has ads, ads on Livejournal blogs, ads on Yahoo group emails, etc.
  • about language – for sale Grammar, Dictionary, none yet
  • in language, Complete novels, magazines, etc, in tp, none yet.

(although a there is some probably illegal translations of copyrighted works in tp)


  • Strong sense of the word– lots of copying, translating of website.
  • Weak sense of the word– lots of usage of the language.

Share alike.

                n/a, derivative works and copies are a bunch of copyright violations without explicit permission from author, so they can’t possibly have the same license as the original (because there is no license!)