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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