Toki Pona: Essential phrases

I plan to continue to update this with better translations, if you know of a variant, post it it the comments. Thanks.

  • Hello- toki!
  • Good morning- li tenpo suno sin
  • Afternoon- suno li anpa, li tenpo suno anpa
  • Evening — pimeja li kama
  • Hi ! toki!
  • My name is – nimi mi li ____
  • How old are you ? ….
  • Where are you from ? ma sina seme? ma tomo seme?
  • I’m from.. ma tomo mi li ____
  • Are you married ? sina jo e meli/ e mije
  • I’m .. mi jo e meli, mi jo e mije
  • I’m learning your language but do not speak it very well. .. mi sona e toki sina. mi toki ike e toki pona
  • Sorry Sir, I did not understand the word XXX. You see, I’m learning your beautiful language
  • Could you please write this word for me ? o sina ken la sina sitelen e nimi ni tan mi?
  • How do you say that in (name of your target language) ? sina toki kepeken nimi seme?
  • Can you please write it down? Can you please spell it? ken la sina sitelin e nimi ni? ke la sina sitelin e nimi ni kepeken nimi pi lili pini?

[I'm not sure about spell, so I said...(can you write this with words "completely small")]

I haven’t learned how to be polite in toki pona. Grammatical structures for politeness are not universal and as of yet they haven’t been defined in toki pona. I’ll have to write about that sometime in the future.

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Toki Pona: Pilin, nothing more than feelings!

Ok, how many two word combinations of [word] + pilin or pilin + [word], have reasonably obvious meanings?

pilin is abstract and I passed over some seemingly obvious translations, for example “blue feeling” only makes sense if your mother tongue uses the word blue to mean sad.  So far, the cannon hasn’t defined the cultural connotations for the colors.

pilin is used a lot where one would usually say “think”, but it isn’t one of the official English translations

For some of these words, my first impulse would be to use an “e” phrase instead of a verb modifer, 

 ona li pilin e nasa — He feels/thinks something crazy (nasa is the mental activity he is feeling)

ona li pilin nasa — He’s crazed, (nasa modifies the verb)

There worked out to be three words that look like they mean desire/to desire: pilin ijo, pilin jo and pilin wile

Overall, the list is shorter than when I did the same exercise for plants and fish.  There are just too many words that would be seriously idiomatic or obscure on first sight, like pilin ilo,mechanical feeling –huh?

  • alone- pilin weka
  • analytical- pilin nanpa
  • angry -pilinpakala
  • apathy- pilin ala
  • attentive- pilin kute
  • bloated feeling-pilin kon
  • bored- pilin tenpo
  • burnt out? Accomplished?– pilin pini
  • category: anger/hate/greed/etc– pilin ike
  • combative– pilin utala
  • conflicted– pilin mute
  • confusion? –pilin lukin
  • crazy– pilin nasa
  • depression–pilin anpa
  • desire (for goods)–pilin ijo
  • desire (for goods)– pilin jo
  • desirous (for anything) pilin wile
  • disagreement– pilin ante
  • enraptured –pilin sewi
  • equanimity– pilin sama
  • inspire/inspiration– pilin sitelen
  • fear–pilin moli
  • feeling isolated? gut feeling?– pilin insa
  • feeling oneness–pilin ale, ali
  • friendly (?) pilin jan
  • generous pilin pana
  • greed pilin mani
  • happiness pilin pona
  • horny pilin unpa
  • hungry? pilin uta
  • limerance/limerant pilin olin
  • megalomaniacal pilin wawa
  • montrous feelings pilin akesi
  • motivated pilin pali
  • nostalgia pilin awen
  • of two minds pilin tu
  • open minded?– pilin open
  • playful –pilin musi
  • refresh– pilin sin
  • righteous — pilin nasin
  • sensitive pilin ken
  • sleepy pilin lape
  • talkative pilin toki
  • think pilin lawa
  • to intellectualize pilin sona
  • togetherness–pilin kulupu
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Toki Pona: The Particle Pi

As show in several of my posts, when you are looking for a word you have a few strategies:

Oversimplification and omission. Translate it as one word

Pick a grammatical pattern than doesn’t require building a new word to convey the meaning you want to convey.

Translate as a word with a modifier

Translate as several sentences that slowly build up to the precise idea you are conveying.  For example, translating “nostalgia” with all it’s connotations might take five or six sentences.

Translate as a word with several modifiers

There are a limited number of single word modifiers.  A typical exercise with noun-modifier pairs shows that the results are either idiomatic (not obvious), generic (sometimes a red stick is just a red stick), useful, overly specific (translates very well as a very specific technical term).

Having exhausted substantive modifier pairs, we must move on to phrases with pi.

What does a pi phrase mean?

word 1 + pi + word 2 + word 3 = (word 1 ( word 2 (word 3) ) )

Word 3 modifies word 2

Word 2 and word 3, modify word 1

While I’m sure the above algebra is correct,

Pyramid Test for translating “bar”

Are the following supporting our intended meaning?

  • tomo– room, place — yes
  • tomo telo — water room, restroom **wrong**
  • tomo telo nasa — weird water room, weird restroom ** wrong**

So we add a pi and test again

  • tomo– room, place— yes
  • tomo pi telo nasa — place of booze, bar — yes

And telo nasa also has to pass the pyramid test

  • telo- water— yes
  • telo nasa- drunken water —yes

What does a “pi”-less phrase mean?

Each word and word phrase modifies everything that came before.

word 1 + word 2 + word 3 = ((word 1)  word 2 ) word 3)

word 3 modifies word 1 and word 2

word 2 modifies word 1

Pyramid Test for “your new black hat”, are the following true:

  • len — clothing
  • len lawa — head clothing, hat
  • len lawa pimeja – black hat
  • len lawa pimeja sin – new black hat
  • len lawa pimeja sin sina — your new black hat

Pyrmaid test for “smile”

lawa — head

lawa sinpin — front of head, face

lawa sinpin pona — good front of face


Illegal: [word] + pi + [word]

Often the best English translation of “pi” is “of”.  In English there is no problem with, “John of Akron”, but in toki pona, this isn’t grammatical, or so I’ve been told.

Tricky, but legal: [word] + pi +[word] + pi + [word] + [word]

pi may be followed by a word or a word phrase.  In other words, you need a pair of words to follow pi for the last two words of the phrase, but not the middle.

Stairs (downstairs)

Test without pi

  • nasin – path
  • nasin anpa – downward path
  • nasin anpa supa – flat-surface downward path
  • nasin anpa supa mute — numerous flat-surface downward paths. ***

The paths aren’t numerous, the flat surfaces are, so we need a pi to stop numerous from modifying downward or path.

nasin anpa pi supa mute — flat surfaces of the downward path

Testing again:

  • nasin anpa — downward path
  • nasin anpa pi supa mute — downward path of steps
  • anpa pi nasin pi supa mute — downward of path of steps

If we want the numerous flat things (supa mute) to describe nasin, and then “nasin pi supa mute” to describe … ouch my brain broke.  Sorry I’m going to have to update this later after I do some more research.

(Wouldn’t it be cool if more academic linguistics articles ended that way?)

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Toki Pona: Conlangs and the law

As far as I know, there is no explicit license for Toki Pona, except the copyright on Sonja Kisa’s website and any other rights she might have under Canadian or international copyright law or other intellectual property(IP) laws that apply to written works.

UPDATE: [I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice.  If you find yourself thinking or writing about the law, or medicine, or hair cutting without a license, please report immediate to the Department of Thought Crime for remediation.  We now return to BS'ing.

The point of this article, if it has one is that conlang writers and users are better served by explicit licenses than relying on the mind-bendingly confusing mess of unintelligible muck we call intellectual property law which can be arbitrarily used to harass, threaten or otherwise discourage people from using a language.]

Why should anyone care?

Out of the top conlangs, most are covered by some sort of property rights.  Conlangs are unique in that they frequently are the invention of an identifiable person.  Loglan and Quenya have been to court and fought over in the US.  I’m pretty sure Klingon has gotten as far as Paramount’s lawyers threatening legal action, but I only know what I’ve read online.  As soon as I’m a real lawyer (or a real academician) and have access to Lexis-Nexis I will cite real sources.

Language Intended Audience Owner
Esperanto Tourists, Internationalists No one, inventor died long time ago
Lojban Mathematicians, philosophers Used to be one guy, but it was re-invented to avoid restrictive licenses.
Ladaan Book readers Author & Publisher
Klingon Movie watchers Paramount Pictures
Mandol’a Book readers Author & Publisher & Lucas Films
Quenya The author, book readers Estate of JRR Tolkien

What rights are involved in using language?

Use. This is the right to use the language, at home, in public, on the airwaves, on paper, etc.

Name. The right to call it by it’s name.  This may seem obvious but Klingon could be subject to trademark law.

Modification. This is the right to proclaim new or different rules of grammar and the right to add new words.  Firstly, natural languages evolve, so there are serious practical challenges to denying users this right.  There are some practical challenges in trying to modify a language as well– there have been many attempts to create a better Esperanto, but of the people who do speak Esperanto, they have an incentive to stick to the standard.  Likewise, once a community of speakers has gotten used to one form or word, even the language inventor might not be able to rescind it.

The language inventor, may or may not be the standard bearer.  In the case of Quenya, the inventor is dead and Neo-Eldarin– the attempt of fans to complete the language– will probably become the standard.  As is the case in computer languages, the de facto standard is usually the most popular variant, not the de jure standard or the originator’s version.

Neologism and new rules of grammar are definitely a practical as well as  property right issue.  As people attempt to speak a language, if a word is missing it will be coined. If a grammatical construct is missing, it also will spontaneously form.  We can’t help that through error or intention our brains are wired to make language work for us, regardless to it’s original design.  If users do not have this right, then in practice they would have to avoid using it, except in a very careful, artificial fashion.

Commercialization.  This is the right to sell language learning materials, works written in the language, and so forth.  Commercialization could also mean the sale of the canonical works, that is, the defining materials made by the language inventor.

Ideally, these rights wouldn’t get in the way of each other, the same way that I can write a grammar of English and you can write a book in English and we don’t step on each other’s property right toes.  But if I invented English, then technically all books in English are derivative works subject to my copyright.

Risks Speakers Take in Using a ConLang

Explicit Licenses. If you agree to an explicit license agreement before using a constructed language, you might be sued for breach.  These licenses though often are contracts of adhesion (take it or leave it contracts) and have a higher standard to meet when it comes to enforcing one-sided terms.  Still, explicit licenses make it much easier for a language inventor win the argument to their liking.

Derivative work. If I write a grammar book for a conlang and you write a novel in that conlang, under copyright law I might be able to sue you for creating a derivative work.  If you create a dictionary or another grammar book, you also might be sued.

Fan Fiction. If I write a story and you write a conlang that is spoken by characters in the story, you might be subject to legal action under all the theories being used to fight fan fiction, such as trademark, trade dress, copyright and so on.


Explicit License. Getting a permissive license or explict permission to do what copyright law normally do is a good defense.  This is the best defense of all.

Relexification. Fans of Loglan relexified (picked new words) and created Lojban.  Lojban is still a popular conlang, as conlangs go, and Loglan has become obscure.   This is not a fun defense because it means you can’t use the popular language, you have to go invent your own that is different enough from the original that it doesn’t impinge on the original language owners property rights.

Inaction of the Author.  If an author doesn’t defend their property rights, then they can lose the right to assert them anywhere.  Actually, not sure what the rules are on abandoned copyrights, here is one discussion.  This is not a very good defense, however I am pretty sure a language creator can’t be selective in who they enforce your rights against, under copyright law one can’t let some people create derivative works but prohibit others.  So in that sense, if the language creator passively allow some users to write stories in their conlang, but tries to prosecute the first person to write a competing  grammar textbook or dictionary in your language, they might not be able to prevail. 

No $$$. Authors get actual damages for copyright violations.  If you conlang is commercially worthless, you may have to resort to community exhortation to get the community to respect how you think your IP should be treated.

Recommended Licenses for Conlangs

Creative Commons by Attribution, Share Alike.  Attribution provides a service to the users of the language, it helps point them to the standard.  If derivatives are prohibited, then one can’t really use the language without fear of legal action, especially if the language owner has deep pockets, like Lucas Films or Paramount Pictures.  If commercial use is prohibited, then no for sale magazines, newspapers or novels will be written in the conlang.

Share alike ensure that the language isn’t picked up by someone who wants to re-issue it under a more restrictive license and try to restrict people who are already using it. Share alike is also viral (the customers of your customers of your customers will have to follow them), so some people might be discourage from using a restrictive share alike license lest they impose burdensome terms on their users.

MIT Open Source License.  The MIT license was intended for software, which is kind of like grammar. The MIT license is a liability issue. If you write a conlang for air traffic controllers and they use it, leading to a horrible 50 airplane disaster due to a misunderstanding, the MIT license says the language inventor isn’t responsible.  A less outlandish scenario would be if flame wars among conlang hobbyists lead to fires and mayhem, the language inventor wouldn’t be responsible.

Copyright on Canonical Documents.  Copyright protect against wholesale copying (and many other things as listed above, like derivative works).  For example, the most likely source of money for an invented language will be selling grammar guides and dictionaries.  While prohibiting other people from writing derivative works (ie. competing grammar guides and dictionaries) would be counterproductive, letting some people copy the work of others, word for word and then profiting from it isn’t fair either.

Restrictive License.  I guess if someone really wanted to maintain control over their language, they could issue it under a restrictive license, with royalty fees, trade secret non-disclosure agreements, etc.  This be the kiss of death for that language as an object of interest for almost anyone except for the conlang inventor.  A language isn’t like a DVD of Star Wars, a copy of War and Peace, or a copy of MS Word.  Using licenses meant for those radically different products is counterproductive for all.

Conlang Success

Imho, for a conlang to minimally successful as a living language it needs:

  • Highly motivated speakers
  • People willing to create a corpus of interesting texts
  • A means for growth, such as a standards or legislative body (like the Althing in Iceland, which issues by decree what the new Icelandic neologism will be), or at least some guidance on how to coin new words and a comprehensive grammar guide.
  • Incentives to expend the effort to learn a language

Applying restrictive intellectual property licenses to a conlang helps guarantee a dead language status, as it removes incentives to use, commercialize, and improve communication in the language.

An explicit license for a conlang helps it become successful as living language because it can guard the authors property rights to the grammar and dictionary guides they write and possibly sell, but do not leave users of the conlanguages in a legal no-mans land where they are technically violating IP laws.

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Toki Pona: Pronouns unleashed

At first sight, the pronoun system for toki pona looks rather meager.  The pronouns are mi, sina, ona for me, you, he/she/it and all variants thereof. It suffices for haiku writing and in person speech, when you have an opportunity to question your conversational partner until you understand what they are talking about.

Keep in mind the missing “li” for sentences with “mi” and “sina”.  A word following “mi” or “sina” could be a verb or a modifier of the pronoun. “ona” is not ambiguous in this respect.

  • mi mute — I am many.
  • mi mute — the numerous me, we

While specific modifiers for the pronoun are not required, it doesn’t look like they are specifically forbidden, hence we have a very expressive pronoun system:


  • mi mute– we, us
  • sina mute — you’all
  • ona mute – they


  • mi wan — Empahtic “I”
  • sina wan — you (singular)
  • ona wan – he/she/it (one person/thing)


  • mi tu — I (when spoken by siamese twins, people possessed by spirits, etc)
  • sina tu– you two
  • ona tu — they, them (two people, things)

Plural, but not including everyone

  • mi kulupu — us, excluding you
  • sina kulupu — y’all, (excluding someone)
  • ona kulupu — they, them (excluding someone)

Indefinite, Everyone

  • mi ale /mi ali- all of us
  • sina ale /sina ali– all of you
  • ona ale / ona ali – everyone, all of them, everyone of you


  • mi ala — no one, not me
  • sina ala — no one, not you
  • ona ala — nothing, no one


  • ona mije– he, you (masculine singular)
  • ona meli– she, you (feminine singular)
  • ona mije mute– we, you, them (masculine, plural)
  • ona meli mute–  we, you, them (feminine, plural)

There isn’t an obvious pronoun for a mixed gender group that distinguishes from a homogenous gender group.


  • ona sewi-  I  (God speaking here…)
  • sina sewi- You (Addressing God, King, the Warden)
  • ona sewi- He/She/It (Addressing, God, Goddess, Robot overlords)


  • mi jaki– me (said by people with self esteem problems)
  • sina jaki– you (referring to wife beaters and politicians)
  • ona jaki– he/she/it (referring to wife beaters and politicians)


  • mi lili  — little ole me
  • sina lili — yousy-woosy.
  • ona lili — little ole it.

Pronouns replace a specific noun with something generic.  Some of the remaining modifiers are comparatively specific compared to the word “it”, but I would think they would be used more often to reduce the cognitive burden of sifting through possibilities.

  • ona suweli/ona kalesi/ona kala/ona walo – he/she/it/they (various animals)
  • ona suweli li moku e mi.  It bit me!

Reflexive Pronouns

  • ona sama — myself, herself, etc.
  • ona mute li telo e ona sama.  They/we washed themselves/ourselves.
  • ona mije li moku e moku pi ona mije.- He ate his bread. 

Just like in English, it isn’t clear if he is eating his own or some other boy’s bread, but if we throw in a ‘sama’ it implies he’s eating his own.

  • ona mije li moku e moku ona sama.

Throw in an ‘ante’ and it looks to me like he’d be eating someone else’s.

  • ona mije li moku e moku ona ante.


Possessive pronouns can be avoided.

  • mi jo e suweli.  I have this cat.

If you don’t want to avoid them, “jo” makes sense.

  • ni li mi jo.  This is mine.
  • mi jo — mine
  • sina jo — yours
  • ona jo– theirs

Interrogative Pronouns

mi seme/sina seme don’t suggest anything to me.  A lot of interrogative pronouns can be made using the preposition + seme pattern, which I’ve coverd elsewhere.

  • jan seme– who
  • ona seme– what
  • ilo seme–what thing


All I can think of for reciprical pronouns is a two sentence pattern.  Not very expressive, but it gets the job done.

  • They don’t like each other.
  • ona mute li olin ala e ona ante. ona ante li olin ala e ona mute.


  • ona ni.  Them
  • sina ni. You here
  • ni  ante. There (?)

[I should do some more editing, but mi wili lape]

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Toki Pona: Plants, kasi

Another exercise of working through all the possible two word combinations for plants.

Very Specific Plants

These plants might have a different meaning if you are in a different biome.  These plants names are mildly idiomatic and many follow from the English common name

  • Kasi akesi—venus fly trap
  • Kasi jaki—stunk cabbage
  • Kasi jelo—black eyed susan, goldenrod
  • Kasi suno—sunflower
  • Kasi kala—seaweed
  • Kasi ko—chicle tree
  • Kasi kute—Shelf fungus
  • Kasi uta—oral plant.  Toothbrush tree
  • kasi tempo – Four O’Clock Plant
  • Kasi kon—Spanish moss, air plants, bromiliads – maybe vine?
  • Kasi kule laso—blue dye plant. indigo 
  • Kasi kule loje—red dye plant. Beet,
  • Kasi loje—rose
  • Kasi pilin—mimosa, sensitive plant
  • Kasi pimeja—ebony, kohl
  • Kasi lape—poppy, valerium, chamomile
  • Kasi pini—cactus
  • Kasi pipi—spider wort
  • Kasi poka—boxwood
  • Kasi mani– money wort
  • Kala kasi kulupu — communal plant aquatic-creature– coral
  • Kasi palisa—devil’s walking stick
  • Kasi mun—moon flower
  • Kasi seli—fireweed (grow where there was a recent fire)
  • Kasi noka—willow
  • Kasi olin—love grass

Plant Categories

The phenomena of words that can be translated into a dozen similar English words is so common it should have a name, maybe ‘category words’

  • Kasi anpa—ground cover
  • Kasi ante—exotic, non-native plant
  • Awen kasi—root, tuber
  • Kasi insa— houseplant
  • kasi tomo – house plants
  • Kasi kiwen—iron plant (household plant)
  • Kasi len—cotton, flax, jute
  • Kasi lete—artic flora, moss
  • Kasi lili—algae
  • Kasi linja—vines
  • Kasi laso—blue-green alage, evergreens, blue pines, spruce
  • Kasi lawa—red wood, sequoya
  • Kasi moku—broad category, edible plants
  • Kasi moli—category of poisonous plants
  • Kasi luka—vine of some sort
  • Kasi lupa—house plant? Window plant?
  • Kasi ma–  Wild plants, uncultivated
  • Kasi mama– plants with genders (technical botanical jargon)
  • Kasi sewi—holly, oak (norse holy tree)
  • Kasi suno – sunflower
  • Kasi suwi – sugar cane
  • kasi tan – Yggdrasil
  • kasi tawa— Plants of the Parthenocissus  family, e.g. Virginia Creeper
  • kasi telo— lilly, or other plant that grows on top of water

Mildly Idiomatic

These words a reasonably smart person would be able to make up on their own and a reasonably smart listener could understand on first use.

  • Kasi jan—garden
  • Kasi suli—tree
  • Kasi kili—fruit tree, berry bush
  • Kasi kulupu—paracitic plant
  • Kasi mute—grass
  • Kasi pakala—invasive, weed
  • Kasi pana—fruiting plants, category
  • Kasi nena-plants that grow in mountains

Plant Parts

  • Lalwa kasi—terminal bud
  • Lipu kasi—leaf
  • Luka kasi—branch
  • telo kasi — sap

Strongly Idiomatic

These either are no more suggestive than the plain reading, eg. “kasi pona” good plant.  Or these are just not immediately suggestive of any particular plant, outside of arbitrary convention.

  • Kasi lipu– page plant, sheet plant, sheet tree, etc.
  • Kasi meli– female plants
  • Kasi mije– Male plants
  • Kasi monsi– Posterior plant
  • Kasi musi–  amusing plant
  • Kasi nanpa–  numerical plant
  • Kasi nimi– Name plant
  • Kasi oko–  eye plant
  • Kasi open- open plant
  • Kasi pali–  work plant
  • Kasi pona– Good plant
  • Kasi sama — Same plant
  • kasi toki – talkative plant
  • kasi tu—dual plant
  • Kasi unpa—sexy plant
  • Kasi utala—fighting plant
  • Kasi walo – white plant
  • Kasi wan – unified plant, singular plant
  • Kasi waso—birdy plant, avian plant
  • Kasi ijo– thingy plant, thingy tree
  • Kasi ilo – tool plant, mechanical tree
  • Kasi wili – desirable plant
  • Kasi wawa—powerful plant
  • Kasi kalama– noisy plant, musical plant, musical tree, etc.

I’ll work on filling in the missing thematic words later…interesting how a lot of common stuff looks like it will require a long word phrase and how some super rare, specific plant names have very obvious short two word names.

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Toki Pona: What’s a word?

While reading the zompist, I found these definitions:

    • a phonological unit– e.g. something with one stress accent or one pitch contour; or a unit within which intervocalic stops get voiced.
    • the abstraction underlying a set of morphological forms (e.g. write underlying write, writes, writing, written, wrote).
    • an element which can stand alone (e.g. in response to a suitably chosen question), as suffixes or bound morphemes cannot.
    • a morphological unit you can’t insert other morphemes into (e.g. black dog is not a word since you can change it to black, tired dog; but you can’t turn blackbird into blacktiredbird)
    • an expression with a conventional meaning– something that has to be defined in the mental lexicon (this sense is also called a lexeme).

So are certain noun phrases in toki pona words or phrases?

Phonological unit: No, but they might be if people had to speak toki pona for real everyday.  Toki pona word phrases can get very long.  To say anything (specific, not in the vague-drop-all-connotations-style), people would probably say entire noun phrases in a single breath, without pauses in between lexemes.

Writing unit: No.  Toki pona clearly has spaces between the lexemes.

Can stand alone:  Yes.  But entire sentences can stand alone, too.  In toki pona, it is the letters and syllables that can’t stand alone and that isn’t really what I’m trying to figure out.

Can’t insert other morphemes: Maybe. 

e.g. tomo pi telo nasa.  building of drunken water, bar.

e.g. tomo nasa pi telo nasa. weird building of drunken water.  = weird bar? or does this new phrase lose the meaning of bar?

I still haven’t reverse enginered the “pi”.  If you have to set modifiers off from a noun phrase with pi, that implies to me that you might be dealing with a compound word that is a full blown word.

Has a conventional meaning, needs to be memorized.  Yes.

e.g. jan pona — good person = friend

jan sama — sibling.  One definitely would have to hear this in context before you could reliably understand and use this word to mean anything other than “the same person”

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Toki Pona: Archaic Words

  • iki – he/she/it, use ona instead.
  • kan – the word for “with” or “among.” use poka instead
  • kapa – hill, mountain, or a button, use nena instead.
  • kapesi – brown, grey, use pimeja instead
  • leko – stairs, square
    • for stairs, use “anpa nasin pi supa mute” or ”anpa pi nasin pi supa mute”, or nasin (tawa anpa / tawa sewi)
    • for square, use “selo pi linja tu tu” or “selo pi poka tu tu”, four lined shape vs four sided shape.
  • majuna -  old, use sin ala instead.
  • pasila – good, easy.  Use pona instead.
  • pata – sibling, brother, sister. Use jan sama
  • po – four.  Depending on how you strongly you feel about numbers, either there is no replacement or there are several competing replacements, including tu tu
  • powe – unreal, false, untrue, pretend, deceive, trick, use [what?]
  • tuli – three.  See explanation for ‘po’, use tu wan or some other competing numbering system.
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Toki Pona: Prepositions, Particles

Toki pona uses Prepositions (also called adpositions).  Some languages use inflection, or declension for the same semantic purpose.  The difference is that prepositions are detachable from the word.  Picking which to use is going to be tricky.  In one language you might use the accusative to mean motion into something, and use the locative for being in one place.  Or in English we might use the same preposition for both, eg. “He walked in the room”  Now if we have to reason by analogy using our own language, we have no strong guidance on which word to use.  At least there are only 10 choices so you will always be right at least 10% of the time.  Here is my categorization of the prepositions.

[Warning this isn't complete...I just like to publish early...edit later]

    • Instrumental. kepeken ilo  — with a tool
    • Locative. lon tomo — at the room
    • Proximity. poka poki — along side the box
    • Similarity. sama suno — like the sun
    • Causation. tan pali ona – because of his work
    • Dative/Indirect Object: tawa sina — to you, indirect object
    • Accusative/Object: e tomo — this is shown by position in English
    • Genative/Possessive: pi suno — of the sun
    • Vocative: o sina — hey you!
    • Nominative/Subject: tomo — shown by position in English

But, you probably won’t be able to rely 100% on analogous thinking using your own language as an analogy for toki pona–you’ll just have to see what emerges in the texts. 

    • mi lukin lon nimi. I’m looking at words.
    • mi lukin e nimi. I’m examining words.
    • mi lukin e nimi lon lipu nimi. I’m examing words on the page.
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Toki Pona: Compound Words–again

Aside from the fact that some people think that there are only noun phrases in toki pona, I’m going to look at some compound word creation strategies

The mechanics of compound words are pretty straight forward:

  • n + n  –It seems perfectly reasonable to have one noun modify another
  • n + mod 

So start with a word, e.g. suweli.  It already give you some obvious context, like animals.  If that is the context, we can list all the words of the pattern suweli + [modifier], then we repeat the process with [noun] + suweli

I think we get these categories of combinations:

    • simple meanings, no obvious additional interpretation – suweli mute, lots of animals
    • (nearly) obvious meanings — suweli poki– box animal, turtle
    • completely non-obvious meanings — suweli sewi /sewi suweli — holy animal? animal religion?  Huh?  Many of these combinations sound poetic, but I suspect if we surveyed people about what it might mean, we’d get a lot of “don’t know”s
    • tricky meanings — suweli moku/moku suweli, animal food/food animal, ie. food made of animals/edible animals.  Or is it animal feed and cattle respectively?  There might be a right answer, but it is tricky, at least for me.
    • undefinable meanings — suweli suweli — a true beast? kind of beasty? A real animal? Very beasty?  Beasts (plural)?  This is undefinable because there isn’t any official ruling on reduplication and there isn’t much reduplication in the current corpus of toki pona texts online.
    • trivial meanings — suweli suweli — beastly beast.  This just makes a verbose language more so.

Triples and Phrases

I don’t like triples (and quadruples) as much as I like two word compound words.  The modifiers in triples can swap position:

  • kala lete pimeja anpa — deep dark cold fish– deep sea fish.
  • kala pimeja lete anpa — deep cold dark fish–deep sea fish
  • kala anpa lete pimeja — dark cold deep fish– deep sea fish

It would be less work to get everyone to call deep sea fish “kala anpa”.

It isn’t always obvious if the pi is necessary or not

  • kala pi lete pimeja — fish of the dark cold
  • kala pi pimeja lete — fish of the cold dark
  • kala pimeja lete — cold dark fish

Two word compound words don’t need “pi” since the modifier is obvious, although the semantic intent may be less obvious than a long string of modifiers and “pi”‘s

In rapid speech, I have no idea how people are going to be able to decide where to put the “pi”. 

  • Cold dark tea time of the soul — with an ‘of’
  • the soul’s cold dark tea time — no ‘of’
  • tenpo telo wawa pimeja lete kon – the soul’s cold dark powerful water time
  • tenpo telo-wawa pimeja lete kon – soul’s cold dark time of tea

so far things make sense, so do we need some “pi”‘s?

tenpo pi telo wawa pimja lete kon — soul’s cold dark (powerful water) time

Or how about something I found on the web

  • telo nasa pi wawa ala– without power drunken water, week booze
  • telo nasa wawa ala– powerless drunken water, week booze.  [Unless there is some popular alternative meaning for nasa wawa, I'm not sure how the "pi" helps me]
  • tomo pi telo nasa — room of drunken water, [wait! double take time!]
  • tomo telo nasa– weird bathroom

Sigh.  Honestly, I plan to leave out the “pi” except when I say something and do a double take.


In English is is pretty easy to take a long phrase and plug it into the place of a noun. 

I saw a fish. 

I saw that which you describe as an animal which swims through the water, doesn’t breath air and has shiny scales.

Toki pona has a much narrower set of valid nominals/noun-phrases.  I’ve already covered noun + modifier, and noun phrase + pi + noun modifier. 

You can use the conjuction

kala en moku — fish and food, maybe a fish sandwich

You can use a predicate, which is a noun phrase + a prepositional phrase

kala loje lon linja telo  — red fish of the river, salmon

But that is 9 syllables for what could be said with two syllables in English, and four if we used “kala loje” exclusively for salmon and some other word pair to describe red snapper with “kala uta”

What is simpler?

  1. mi lukin e kala loje lon linja telo.  I see a red fish from the line of water. (I’ve got breath to spare, I’ll talk until you understand me.)
  2. mi lukin e kala loje. I see a salmon.  (Hope you’ve heard this word pair before in this context, if not look at me with a puzzled look so I can explain)
  3.  mi lukin e kala loje.  I see a red fish or a red snapper or a salmon (I’m not sure which, I’m not sayin’ either, but it’s one of these options, I’m being ambiguous today.)
  4. mi lukin e kala (loje).  I see a fish. (I don’t really care if you understand me.  I don’t think you care what I’m saying either. Actually I might be talking about some red colored pond scum. I’m being knowingly ineffective in communication.)

3 and 4 both are simple in the sense of economy of words and not requiring an extensive knowledge of idiomatic toki pona or non-obvious compound words.  But they are both kind of hostile.  That conflicts with the “pona” part of the toki pona philosophy.

On some mailing lists, I imagine #1 would be considered ike mute, i.e. overly complex.  Unless one wants to be ineffective at communication to the point of hostility, we can either resort to using non-obvious compound words (or idiomatic noun phrases if you like), or be verbose.


Make your context clear.  Use obvious compound nouns when possible. Use non-obvious compounds in preference to circumlocutious phrases, but be sure to use them over and over so your reader can learn them.  If you don’t think your listener has heard your particular compound word before, use it in part of a verbose phrase before using it as a simple two word phrase.

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