Toki Pona: Paradoxes

Each word in toki pona has several possible meanings.  Words work like categories of similar semantic content.  “Nena” is a bump, ridge, mountain, hill, pile, protrusion, etc.  When you tack a modifier onto a word, you would expect the world of things under discussion to decrease.  “Box” means any possible box.  Bread box is a particular type of box.  “My bread box” is exactly one out the entire universe of boxes.

Modifiers Both Expand Meaning/Restrict Meaning

But in toki pona a triple means a lot more things than the single does, e.g.

  • poki – box, container 
  • poki moku – food box, food container, drink box, drink container etc.
  • poki moku mi – my food box, our food box, my food container, our food container, my glass, our lunchbox, my fridge, our cupboard etc. 

So a longer phrase doesn’t necessarily narrow down what you are talking about.

Sometimes, it seems it does narrow down the scope.

  • mi- I, we
  • mi mute – we, us
  • ona – he, she, it
  • ona mije – he
  • ona meli – she

So what gives here?  These modifiers are somehow different.  In writing less ambiguous toki pona, we’d want to favor the later type of modifier.

Are Modifiers Are Strictly Local, Modifiers are Global?

I keep making mistakes in toki pona where a prepositional phrase, adverbial phrase, adverb or adjective modifies too much or the wrong thing.  If I understand the rules correctly, prepositional phrases modify the entire preceding phrase back to the “la”  But the following example looks like a modifier goes in the opposite direction.  (Either than or my analysis is wrong)

pona la mi mute li sona e toki pona.  mi toki lon musi pi jan mute kepeken ona. Fortunately, we know (about) toki pona.  We speak it at parties.

The “mute” in “mi mute” modifies the preceding “mi” in the first sentence and the subject of the 2nd sentence. 

The alternative analysis is that repeating oneself if optional, the same way “li” is optional when immediately following sina or mi.

One thought on “Toki Pona: Paradoxes

  1. Your “paradox” about “poki moku mi” is a false one.

    “poki” is simply more vague. It can mean any container anywhere belonging to anyone. It could have been given as “box, can, cup, refrigerator, pocket, pouch, bottle, bowl, thermos, carafe, jug, pot, backpack, bag, sack, bucket, oven, cupboard, drawer, …”