Toki Pona: Hyphens

The canonical toki pona has the period and colon.  The colon is used to clarify clauses.  The period ends sentence.  [The comma seems to have some special rules, too]

Since it will be a while before someone translates “Eats Shoots and Leaves” into Toki Pona, I’ll add at least one suggestion for punctuation– the hyphen, especially for compound words.

A compound word has a more restricted meaning than its elements.

sinpin — front

sinpin lawa — head’s front, front of one’s mind, etc.

sinpin-lawa — face

In English, the compound word is written either with no space, a space or a hyphen, generally without much predictable pattern. However, there are some guidelines that copy-editors and prescriptive grammarians use.

Two words, and last letter of first is the same as the first letter of the second, e.g tool-like

miji-ike — “bad woman”, bitch

Phrases used as a single word, eg. merry-go-round.  In fact, tons of toki pona constructs fall into this category.

toki-pona — Tokipona.

telo-nasa — booze (with hyphen)

telo nasa — strange water (no hypen)  Maybe the water has an off flavor.

If people have the urge to pause longer between I would have a stronger argument for hypens on word pairs that are idiomatically being used to indicate what in English (or any other language) would almost certainly be a single word.

Emphasis on what modifies what.  E.g. twenty-odd people vs twenty odd people

This is an adjective – adjective – noun pattern in English.

This is a bit like the way pi helps us take a triple of words and narrow down what is modifying what.

tomo telo nasa — Either weird bathroom or room for booze.

tomo-telo nasa –  visually less ambiguous, “Weird bathroom”

tomo telo-nasa  — “Room for booze”

tomo pi telo nasa — visually and audibly less ambiguous.  “Bar”, could also mean room for weird water. Nasa modifies telo, not tomo.  telo nasa in turn modify tomo

tomo pi telo-nasa — This is least ambiguous of all, as telo-nasa as one word means booze, pi already prevents nasa from modifying tomo.

“To be” with multiple adjectives, eg. It is blue-green.

ona li laso. It is blue-green. Hmm, not  good example.

ona li laso-seli.  It is hot-blue. It is a neon blue.

* Modifiers of proper names.  E.g. anti-Darwinian

jan Peterson — “Mr. Peterson”

jan-Peterson — not much improvement unless Toki Pona became more agglutinative and we wanted to avoid Janpeterson (capitalize the first letter?) or janPeterson (capitalize the first letter of the root proper name?)

Phonetically, we could get some direction if we could hear how pronounced the stop between words was.  I suspect that if Toki Pona was a living language, the particles would glom onto the verbs in an agglutinative fashion.  This is not a big difference from Toki-pona today, except that some spaces between words would disappear

ona li moku e kili — full stops “he eats fruit”

* ona limoku ekili  — agglutinative version

ona mute li toki– full stops, “they talk”

* onamute litoki– agglutinative version

The plain and the idiomatic and the contextual toki pona

Toki pona is by design ambiguous.  The ambiguity has to go away somehow, or we can only make probalistic statements about what someone is saying.

The first strategy is context, which is like an unspoken namespace.  *(name space is programming jargon for a explicit name for the context of a given word)

pona!  — Good!  (in the context of a situation where praise is likely)

pona! — Hello! (in the context of meeting)

pona! — Repaired! (in the context of fixing cars)

The next strategy is common idioms, which allow us to distinguish from the plain reading.

kulupa-mama — Family.  lit. parental community

Because kulupa-mama is well know idiom, we don’t have to think much about the root words, any more than we think about he root words of television (far see!)  These common idioms are the best candidates for hyphenation.  I wouldn’t want to make them into compound words by removing the space on the odd chance that the split between the root words would become ambiguous, e.g.

ilo nasa wawa– energetic strange thing– Plain reading, maybe something you’d hear on Star Trek in the literal sense.

ilo-nasa wawa– energy drug — idiomatic reading, something you’d hear in everyday speach.

* ilonasawawa — hard to read, could be split as i-lon-asa-wawa, which doesn’t mean any thing.

What I’m trying to illustrate here is that hyphens make it obvious what is being used idiomatically and what is meant to be read as a the plain reading.

Glotal Stops

cvcv + vccv is going require a glottal stop or some fancy footwork with the vowel, which you can’t do in Tokipona, it doesn’t have enough vowels to start with.

tomo-unpa – bedroom.

* tomounpa — visually, it looks like ou should be pronounced as one sound.

[bona.   tenpo ni la mi wilie mute lape]

2 thoughts on “Toki Pona: Hyphens

  1. “tomo unpa” doesn’t seem to present a difficulty when you consider that all words in Toki Pona are accented on the initial syllable. A glottal stop is not needed.

  2. Point taken. Short of comparing graphs of what noises people make between words, I’d be hard pressed to say for sure if I’m hearing between the words no pause, a pause but not a glottal stop, or a glottal stop, or something else.

    If it is important to not have a glottal stop, then the challenge for English speakers will be to surpress the glotal stop, since my first reaction is to put a glottal stop before the u in tomo unpa.

    Either way, I don’t think people will be confused even by a very thick accent, since not many words have n and p in the middle. So I guess one could screw up all the vowels and still be understood half the time.