toki pona is a lot of things, and I go into detail about what it is below in one of my essays. But why am I making this webpage to talk about it? The answer is simple: I didn’t think there were enough sufficient resources online that talked about the philosophy of toki pona, so I decided to make one.
These are all of my essays that I’ve written with short descriptions of what they talk about. None of these are final products and are subject to change at my discretion.
direction this essay explores how toki pona describes direction and gives relevant advice to learners
what is pona this essay describes descriptively the concept of "pona" and what it means to dozens of tokiponists surveyed
what is toki pona this essay tries to describe in depth what type of a language toki pona is, and what that means for its speakers.
semantic spaces Every content word in toki pona has a semantic space that interacts with context. This essay discusses the problems with most written defintions of toki pona words, and a possible solution.
lupa rambles Some random rambles I did about lupa, very cool and interesting
lanpan and nimisin Some random rambles I did about lanpan and nimisin in general.
toki pona cookbook manifesto This project lays out some design goals for a hypothetical toki pona taso cookbook.
FAQ This resource includes a lot of the questions beginners might ask about toki pona. It helps clear up a lot of misconceptions.
These are my essays/projects that have not been completed yet. I'm still working on them, but my drafts are available for everyone to see so they can offer criticism.
toki pona dictionary This project is not complete. I don't have very many definitions yet. My goal is to create useful descriptions of the semantic space of every toki pona word. Stay tuned!
descriptivism in toki pona This essay dives into what descriptivism means for toki pona and how to use it to the greatest effect. This essay is in its second draft and feedback is appreciated.
my deviations In this document, I will record all of the things I do in my nasin that are considered weird or not normal and attempt to justify them without advocating for their widespread use.
These are my essays-to-be, the essays that I'm going to write eventually but haven't yet. I'll include short descriptions here for each one. There's a chance I might never write some of these. Perhaps these small paragraphs are enough to get across what I want to say. If there are some of these that you think deserve to be expanded on or have nuance I'm missing, please let me know and I'll respond open-mindedly. In essence, these are thoughts I've had that I think other people should see, and that I might expand into full essays.
These are opinion pieces. Others might disagree with them, but I still feel that my opinion is worth sharing. Starting a dialogue with me before I write them might make me change my opinion so feel free to dm me on discord or something if you disagree.
problems with using english as a tool to analyze toki pona: This essay will focus on problems that I’ve noticed in analysis where English speakers will make assumptions about toki pona based on the English words they use to describe it. Once I’ve identified the problem, I’ll offer examples and solutions.
why kipisi isn’t needed: kili can mean “apple slice”: This essay will focus mostly on alternatives to the word “kipisi” and why using it in the first place can be reductive. As the title points out, a slice of an apple fits within the semantic space of kili. Likewise, a part of a tomo (house) is a tomo (room), and a part of a room is an abstract concept that can be explained in context (for example, describing drawing a line between different places in the room, or actually doing that with chalk or something). Recursive semantic spaces (where some objects in the semantic space are pieces of other objects in the semantic space) are everywhere in toki pona, and those are just two examples. With enough examples, I hope to give the reader some creativity to help them when they try to explain the concept of “part of something.” (Also “tu” or “mute” can mean cut/separate/make into many parts)
the line between lexicalization and context: Here I hope to talk about how languages derive narrow meaning and show that English and many other natural languages use lexicalized phrases and context to narrow down meaning, while toki pona only uses context. This essay will serve as a guide to explain what “context” actually means in the context of toki pona, and how to start using it as a tool to derive narrower meaning in the absence of lexicalization. I’ll also define these terms so they make sense to the average reader who’s looking to improve their toki pona without having to research jargon on their own.
attitudes towards beginners and toxicity in the online toki pona community: I feel that this is a very important topic to tackle. Something that I’ve noticed a lot is that there seems to be a barrier in the toki pona community between the “speaker” and the “learner.” It’s a hierarchy of sorts. But instead of saying that that’s bad and moving on, I want to talk about the harm that this does to learners of the language and how it reflects poorly on toki pona’s speakers. While the concepts of speaker and learner are useful, the art that learners make is treated as lesser than the art of a speaker. Of course, from an objective perspective, an experienced speaker will be better at speaking toki pona and will therefore be able to make higher quality art, but that shouldn’t discourage learners from making things. Plenty of times I’ve seen a learner make something really cool and thought “oh, I don’t know who this is, let me ignore this.” This kind of line of thinking is bad and makes learners scared to start making art, which is what they must do to become speakers who are good at making art.
toki pona when analyzed as a naturalistic language: toki pona has a lot of naturalistic qualities, and I’ll talk about the beauty of the lexicon as it is and how toki pona’s irregularities are what make it so precious. I’ll also explain why I don’t use many nimisin: they fit poorly into toki pona’s existing framework and vibes. However, I’ll talk about why I use the nimisin that I do use from time to time, and I’ll illustrate the ways that speech differ between speakers besides just nimisin. OR maybe I’ll write a DIFFERENT essay about nimisin because that could totally be a completely different essay.
toki pona, numbers, and anticapitalism: In this essay I hope to go over the reasons why toki pona doesn't need numbers, and why some speakers might feel the need to add them (and why that's bad). It mostly comes down to thinking about what situations a toki pona speaker might feel the need to use numbers in the first place. As as it turns out, those cases are usually cases created by capitalism. Why is the day segmented into hours, and why are those hours so important to when we do things? capitalism. Why do we need to use specific amounts of fiat currency when trading it for goods and/or services? capitalism. I think those are the only two consistent cases where numbers come up in my life that I can think of but I could be wrong. Maybe it's worth it to talk about calendars too. But in essence, toki pona functions very well in an anticapitalist perspective, and often when using toki pona to talk about stuff like numbers it's best to thnk about how to not talk about numbers.
on choosing a name in toki pona: Often when learning a new language (but not always) a beginner will desire to choose a new name in that language. No other language I've encountered yet has as complex a culture around this process as toki pona. I've introduced toki pona to many people, and a surprising lot of them open with "how do I choose my name?" and I realize, there's no good way to choose a name that early on. There are so many choices that have a steep learning curve behind them - knowing all the content words so one can choose a head noun, knowing how to tokiponize and loan words from other languages so one can try out multiple options. I feel that often learners are rushed into choosing these things which are really not easy to choose. A possible solution to this is to provide a list of contrastive examples of names that use all sorts of methods. Here's a non-exhaustive list that uses respected/well known toki ponists:
- jan Tepo - this is just a tokiponization of a name that is not from toki pona, nothing extra
- jan Misali or jan Ke Tami - these are examples of two different methods of taking a full name (first and last) and tokiponizing it as either one word or two words
- jan Deni - this is an example of someone using a word that doesn't fit the rules of toki pona as a name, something that is allowed
- soweli nata - an example of someone using a head noun that isn't jan. this is like super common
- kulupu kasi - here's an example of a "name" that doesn't really function as a name, rather it functions as a descriptor, in a trend that a lot of speakers like to use
- api Masewin or **jan Kekan San** - these show examples of people using nimisin as head nouns or parts of proper names
- lipamanka - this is me lol I don't use a head noun or capitalize my name
one thing I've noticed a lot of beginners try to do is take words they think represent them and mush them together, like "jan Tonki" as a mashup of toki and tonsi, because someone is a trans linguistics nerd and wants to include that in their name. While there's nothing inherently *wrong* with doing that, I feel that it misses the trends above that are used by speakers. If I'm going to flesh out this guide as a resource eventually I'd need to collect consent and examples/testimonials from well respected/well known community members about how/why they created their names and chose what they chose so a beginner can have examples. There are rules to choosing a name, but you're allowed to break them in any way you want. But laying out what those rules are *in practice* could be invaluable to learners. Another thing to mention is that there are a lot of words to choose from when it comes to your head noun. Choosing one is really hard when you don't know any of them yet. encouraging people to interact with community members and wait to choose a head noun/be flexible might be useful as well.
These essays focus on the semantics (meanings of the words) and pragmatics (how toki pona is used by its speakers). I’ll compare semantic spaces and usage and talk about what aspects of toki pona I think are beautiful and what I do to keep them beautiful like that.
poki, tomo, selo, and len: Often learners ask: what is the difference between poki and tomo? In this essay I’ll explore and contrast the semantic spaces of not just poki and tomo, but also selo and len. I think the four of them would be very interesting to compare and contrast. I’ll talk about the ideas of animacy, protection, containment, and concealment and how the semantic spaces differ, as well as a reminder that this isn’t an exact science - these words can never be categorized to such a degree as described here.
what makes some modifiers special? an overview: ala, kin, and taso don’t work like other modifiers. Here I’ll explain how that works.
order of modifiers: In this essay I’ll explain how toki pona doesn’t have a default order of modifiers and why mixing up the order of modifiers intentionally is usually a good idea to keep this true. toki pona lacking a clear order of modifiers is a good thing and helps add to the naturalism. I’ll also explain some examples where in practice some words show a strong tenancy to appear at the end of the order of modifiers and evaluate weather or not that’s good.
tenpo dropping is not a thing: For this one, it boils down to suno’s semantic space (and the semantic spaces of some other words, like mun). “tenpo dropping” is the practice where in a phrase like “tenpo suno” or “tenpo mun” or even “tenpo esun” or “tenpo pini” the speaker drops the tenpo and keeps only the modifier, which becomes the new head of the phrase. I think that in reality, things like dropping the “tenpo” in “tenpo suno” is really just using “suno” on its own to mean day, analyzing a day as a type of suno instead of a type of tenpo. This also explains why “dropping tenpo” doesn’t necessarily work for some other words, like for esun or pini. Can a week be a type of esun? Not really.
ownership and control: In this essay I’ll talk about jo, esun, lon, and lawa, among some other words possibly? idk. But basically this essay will evaluate the extent to which the concepts of ownership and control exist in toki pona, and how they exist, in what words they exist, and what’s the best way to use them, perhaps with the goal of avoiding Eurocentric ideals.
animacy in toki pona: I’m not sure if I’ll end up writing this one, but the words “tomo,” “mu,” and “moli” seem to contrast with “poki,” “kalama,” and “pini” in the animacy of objects they are related to. In this essay I’ll explore the extent to which the concept of animacy exists in toki pona, which words allude to it, and why the analysis is useful. If the analysis isn’t useful, I won’t publish the essay.
senses in toki pona: Here I’ll talk about the senses in toki pona. I’ll talk about internal and external senses and what words are used for each, and why. The words for body parts are also the words for the senses associated with them. In my opinion, the best way to describe emotions in the framework of toki pona from an English perspective is to analyze them as a type of internal sense. That kind of bridges the gap between the “touch” and “feel” meanings of pilin.
ko and wetness: This essay will explore the semantic space of ko in more detail and talk about why toki pona doesn't have a separate word for powder or a separate word for a mushy, sticky substance. The reason why this is is pretty simple actually. toki pona doesn't distinguish between these substances by how much moisture is in them. For example, if you add water to most powders, they will become moldable substances like clay, and likewise if you dry out clay like substances, they will become powdery. I think that this is just a really interesting lexical decision to make and it makes sense to me. I think when speaking toki pona, the way I think about substances that exist within the semantic space of ko changes - suddenly I see powder, clay, and mud as far more connected than when I was speaking in english, and I think that's an interesting bit of linguistic relativity to think about.