Toki Pona: Talking about Grammar

Names are words, lexemes and probably also morphemes as well, although a morpheme would be better described as a “part of a word”.

  • nimi – name, word, lexeme
  • toki – speech, language
  • sitelen toki—picture speech – writing 

Reading is drawing or working, especially when the object is some sort of written document. Reading is either looking or understanding.

  • sitelin — write
  • pali – write (sometimes)
  • lukin – read
  • sona – read

Sounds,  Kalama

Word compounding uses metonomy, ie. you pick a feature of what you are describing to represent the whole.  For example, phonomes are sounds, parts of words, small, meaningless on their own, etc.  I translated it as kalama nimi, then I found another version on the toki pona wikia.

Sciences, Methodologies, Theories and the like

These usually get “lawa” or “sona”, (rules and knowlege) compounds

  • lawa nimi – rules of words – grammar
  • lawa pi kalama nimi  — rules of sounds of words – phonetics \
  • sona pi kalama nimi  –phonetics
  • sona pi kalama toki – phonetics
  • sona toki – linguistics, language arts, etc 

next three from wikipedia, I’m not sure these are immediately obvious

Some day I need to update the above when I know for sure what they mean.


I’m sure there will be more, but for now:

  • li toki kepeken toki X – to speaking using language X — to speak in a language


Sentences are community of words, phrases are also communities.  Verbs word, nouns are things.

  • kulupu nimi — community of words– sentence, phrase
  • nimi kama – action word – verb
  • nimi pali – work word – verb
  • nimi ilo – object (thing) word
  • nimi nimi – noun (I don’t like this option for some reason, probably because no one know what reduplication means for sure in t.p.)
  • nimi kama kepeken nimi ‘e’  — transitive verb
  • nimi ante – change word—modifier
  • nimi ante pi nimi kama – adverb
  • nimi ante pi nimi pali – adverb
  • nimi ante pi nimi ilo- adjective
  • nimi sinpin– front word – preposition
  • nimi wan — unifier word –  conjunction

Some word useful to conlang’ers

  • toki sin — new language — constructed language (it does not translate into Newspeak!  To say Newspeak in toki pona you’d need a paragraph to explain what 1984 was about)
  • sona pi toki sin — conlanging
  • nimi sin — new word — neologism —

Still more technical jargon

(thanks to jan Josan!)

  • nimi lawa — head word — subject
  • lawa pi kulupu nimi — head of phrase — subject
  • kulupu pi nimi ante– community of modifiers – adverbial clause
  • nimi pali pini — complete verb — intransitive verb
  • nimi “kama jo” — “get” word — direct object, indirect object
  • nimi poki — particle
  • nimi poki lili — small box word — particle

Particles, e.g. la, li, e, are distinct from phonemes, which is already used (nimi lili)

The gloss of “box words” is because toki pona sentences have rigid locations for putting words into, that they are like boxes.  This is a stretch and by the time toki pona is complete, I suspect there will be many more words that take a short story to explain them.

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