Toki pona FAQ

By dkl9, written 2024-077, revised 2024-077 (0 revisions)


Whenever I start telling someone about toki pona, they ask at least some of these questions. So I compile the questions and my answers here.

Toki pona is a constructed language notable for having under 200 words. The strange writing that probably prompted you to ask me about it is sitelen pona.

§ How do you say anything with so few words?

You refer to most things with multi-word phrases, where some words act as adjectives or adverbs.

Toki ponaIdiomatic EnglishLiteral English
ilo tokiphonespeech tool
mi mutewe/usmany I/me
nimi mamasurnameancestral name
nasa sewimiracledivine oddity
sona nanpamathsnumber knowledge

Once you know all the words of toki pona, you can combine them to express anything, tho an accurate phrasing can get long.

§ Did you make it up?

Sonja Lang made it up in 2001.

§ Is it just a rearrangement of English?

Toki pona has a grammar of its own, which is similar to English, but also about as similar to Mandarin Chinese. Individual words in toki pona are vague compared to English, precluding trivial translation.

§ Does anyone actually use it?

Obviously I do, and enthusiastically so. Some ten thousand other people do, too, but they are spread around the world, and gather on the internet, rather than in any particular country.

§ That's so stupid.

Sure, but it works!

§ Why do you use it?

Mostly sith it makes for a very efficient shorthand. The minimal vocabulary also makes it opportune as an amusing mental exercise, and as a source of examples whenever I need a foreign language — it's my first fluent L2 language.

§ How does that writing system work?

Under sitelen pona, you write each word (in the order they'd be spoken) with a single logogram, and add punctuation like in English as you see fit. There are two main exceptions. You write the word "pi" with two strokes, joined like an L, surrounding the words it groups from the bottom left. You write proper adjectives (which toki pona uses instead of proper nouns) with logograms used phonemically in a box, or (in my idiolect) in their source language's script, marked with a vinculum above.