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)

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