I plan on rewriting this to either be smaller in scope (just talking about lanpan) or larger in scope (talking about the use of proposed words, often called "nimisin"). If you wish to influence how I do so, please talk to me about it! Contact information is in my about me.
Love it or hate it, lanpan is here to stay. Many people use it. So, I have decided, on this wifi-free flight back home to celebrate colonialism by eating birds, I shall write about lanpan.
There’s a lot of turbulence in this flight. But that’s good! I like turbulence.
Let’s begin. Where does lanpan come from? Well, if I recall correctly (and I can’t check now due to lack of wifi), it was created by several people including jan Inwin sometime in between 2018 and 2020. This was during a phase of experimentation. Inwin and others created many new words for toki pona, and others challenged their necessity. A few words from this era have ended up in widespread use or as nimi ku suli (such as soko), but most of them are still controversial.
I wasn’t around when lanpan was made, but I’ve heard accounts of people trying hard to define it to include things that didn’t count as a type of “kama jo.” It wasn’t designed to just mean “take” or “get.” So the questions I have now are:
How is lanpan used now?
What are the limits of its semantic space?
What motives exist behind people’s feelings towards this word, wether they be positive or negative?
Should toki ponists stop using lanpan?
What other words should toki ponists use instead of lanpan?
Once someone (and I’ve forgotten who) told me that lanpan could be used to describe systemic oppression. For example, sina lanpan e wawa mi could mean you are oppressing me. Others (in selective spaces, not everywhere) have recently used lanpan to mean “take control of.” These two evolutions of the word are particularly fascinating to me because they directly reference concepts we already have words for, in this case anpa and lawa.
This happens frequently with new word proposals: People notice a gap in toki pona somewhere. Sometimes they don’t try to fill this gap at all, and other times they try and fail to do so. Either way, many new word proposals arise from this, wether or not the gaps are just preceived or actually exist. Some of the most successful nimisin come from this. But in most such cases, these new words end up taking more than they give. For example:
puwa takes away from ko and linja. To a puwa user, a sponge is no longer ko because it’s now puwa. Nor is a cat’s fur “linja,” because now it’s puwa.
kiki takes away from nena and potentially open or pakala. When people use kiki, it’s very unlikely to see them use nena for anything sharp. nena gets this new idea of “blunt” added to its semantic space, and users begin to assume that if something is a nena it will be blunt. Furthermore, now instead of describing how things can damage skin or open wounds, people will use kiki.
taki takes away from ko’s semantic space, as well as awen’s. For a user of taki, ko is no longer used as often to describe adhesives, and the word “awen” is almost never used to describe something’s ability to keep something else in place, be it glue or a magnet.
There are countless other words just like these. Some are super obvious. kisa (a somewhat obscure word that means “cat”) and misa (an even more obscure word that means “rodent”) both take away from soweli’s semantic space, for example. And for most of these words, two things are true:
The person who made the word didn’t know how others talk about a concept, and
The word isn’t as necessary as they think it is
In the toki pona community, this is often a non-issue. Usually when a word like this gets proposed, people describe their methods of the same sentiment without having a specific word for it. It’s often a part of pedagogy. But when lanpan was created, this wasn’t the norm in some of the largest toki pona spacess, including the one that all of ku’s data comes from.
So what words does lanpan take away from? Let’s make a list! In my experience seeing lanpan used frequently, it’s always a type of one of these words:
jo. Or often, more specifically “kama jo.” It’s the act of coming to have something. This is probably the most obvious one. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a lanpan user ever put kama before jo—there’s just no distinction, so they opt for the version that uses one word.
lawa. Or, just like jo, often with kama before it. I’ve seen people use “lanpan” transitively to describe “take hold of” in a controlling sense. This is deeply odd to me. I consider it a calque of other languages.
weka. When you steal something from someone, you’re removing it from them, and for this I’ve been using weka for years. mi weka e kili sina - I stole your mango. People who use lanpan don’t use weka like that.
Now are people who use lanpan doing this on purpose? Of COURSE not. Nobody makes a new word intending to take away from other words, and in fact most will strongly defend their usage of the word as not doing that. Sometimes they’ll alter the semantic space of the word in order for it to seem more different, and often this will impact their own usage of the word. Perhaps this is a good thing! I’m not exactly sure.
At this point I mark two thirds into my journey. This is some of the most turbulence I’ve ever experienced in a flight. This is great and I’m having a lot of fun. I can feel the plane jerking forward and back, side to side, up and down, and it’s just like a roller coaster. I get really autistic about planes.
Hm can you lanpan e a plane? You can’t really carry it. But you can take control of a plane, just like the winds are now. The winds aren’t lanpan-ing e the plane I’m in, they’re just lawa-ing e ona. Or something. This actually ties into an important point about lanpan I want to bring up: It’s less specific than the words it takes from. You can kama lawa e a plane. You can weka e a plane tan someone. You can kama jo e a plane. All of these things are different, but for some reason lanpan can be any one of the three. lanpan specifically fails as a useful word because its usage actually makes toki pona more vague, to the point where it can end up being too vague.
What should you do if you use lanpan? Well, there are a few options.
Keep using lanpan! I will not stop you from using lanpan in your day to day speech. You do you when you toki pona, and it’s not like lanpan won’t be understood; it definitely will. But you won’t learn much from this method.
Keep using lanpan, BUT pay attention to which of the three words I mentioned (jo, lawa, weka) lanpan is stealing from. The more you pay attention to this the wiser you will get. This is my number one suggestion. You will find yourself learning more about what you’re saying and what it means, and you might notice some changes in your way of speaking, but those changes will come with the wisdom needed to understand them. If this leads you to stop using lanpan, that means you stopped using it on your own terms, and if not, then it means you have a newfound appreciation for lanpan.
Stop using lanpan! Go cold turkey! Supply all your friends with spray bottles so they can spray you if you use it. This option isn’t very fun, I’ll admit. You don’t learn much.
Because this topic is so nuanced and there are so many thoughts circling around the community, I’d like to start a dialogue. Please reach out to me on discord if you disagree with anything I say here.
Now, all that said, it’s starting to get dark! Doesn’t help that I’m flying away from the sun, not towards it, so it’s getting dark abnormally fast. I don’t know if it’s common to get jet lagged from a flight that only goes over one time zone, but it’s happened to me in the past!
Christ in a Giant Mango, this is 1,500 words long! (give or take.) Maybe I should do my homework instead next time.