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Toki Pona: the holy grail of conlangs - Toki Pona Forums

Toki Pona: the holy grail of conlangs

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frpeterjackson
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Toki Pona: the holy grail of conlangs

Postby frpeterjackson » Sat Jul 03, 2004 9:53 pm


I've done a few posts now in TP, but now I want to fall back on Eng.
for a moment to share some thoughts. (My apologies to those who don't
read Eng. I could try Esp., but I don't think my Esp. is good enough.)

I came across TP a week ago, and I must say I am impressed. It's
taking over my life, I admit. Every time I hear something, I try to
mentally translate it into TP to test its limits. I am constantly
delighted to find how flexible, applicable and robust it is. Of
course, it has its limits. We all know this, and we also know that
these limits have been intentionally imposed. But to think: here is a
language -- not a slang, not a code, not a "Euroclone" -- but a
functional human lang. w/grammar, phonology and a morpheme inventory
of ... 118! Of course, there are things you can express in, say,
Esperanto, that you can't say in TP. But to think that you can
actually learn TP in one day. The pronunciation is easy, the grammar
is straightforward and even intuitive, and the dictionary fits on a
sheet of paper. And then go on to converse not just at a mundane
level ("moku li pona!"), but even at a truly philosophical one ("mi
weka e ike jan, la mi weka e ike mi.") It is no exaggeration to claim
that two people on this earth from vastly different cultures and
languages could each learn this language in one day (okay, give them
a week) and then dialogue about the meaning of life. Esperanto can't
give you that.

After stumbling onto TP, I spent all of this past week following
every Google link on TP and then reading every post on this list.
I've discovered a few things.

1) After reviewing scores of conlangs, none comes close to the sheer
genius of TP. The key to its genius is keeping the vocabulary under
150. There's a fine balance between making the morpheme inventory too
unwieldy on the one hand and reducing it to the point of
incommunicability on the other. But I never would have guessed that
118 words could do so much. (Apparently no one else has, either) I
would have thought at least 500 would be necessary. I did come across
Sona, invented in the 1930's, which has only 350 roots and certain
affinities w/TP. (Of course, 'sona' is a TP word.) But its morphology
and even its phonology are just needlessly complex. You look at it
think, "Why bother? I'm not gonna do this!" And conlangers like me
are actually motivated! What about normal people who aren't? My
linguistically-challenged son has had his interest piqued by TP. And
that means a lot.

2) TP just sounds so lovely. I speak it all the time. Mostly to my
dog. Today she wouldn't come until I said "o tawa". When my wife gets
back from her trip, she's gonna be ticked. ('soweli li pakala!') But
I digress. The CV(n) structure is just delightful. It's fun to speak.
And I love how the phonemes have so much elbow room as far as
allophony. Not so rigid. It's a laid-back phonology! Ali li pona! (Or
should I say "ale li pona." Oh, that's right. I'm free to say either!
Yay!)

3) Looking back at my postings, I realize that I've had to let my
mind adapt to the "nasin pi TP". It's one thing to absorb the vocab.
and grammar. Quite another to gradually appreciate the Sapir-Whorfian
implications. I see now that I have been too uptight about being
exact and specific. Instead, a speaker should let the context do the
heavy lifting. Go with the flow.

4) Some people -- even on this list -- sell TP short, IMO. Yes, it
has its limits, but it's not crippled. I decided to select a reading
at random (I picked up the latest issue of Philosophy NOW) and tried
to translate the first few paragraphs. I worked out (I think) ways to
render "wonder", "dissolve", "horror", "unfold", "bow and
arrow", "marriage", "habit", "bound (= jump)" and "suffering". I'll
post the passage later (in TP and Eng.) for everyone to critique.
This is actually a very sophisticated language. I know that the
operative word at its conception was "cute", but I can't say I know
what that means, really. Maybe TP's cute _and_ sophisticated. Or
maybe by exploring its possibilities we're all helping it to grow up.
(Not change, though! That's certainly not what I mean.)

5) Most of the posts here have been in English. Let's get some more
TP texts out for all to see, okay? I was pleased to see that May 2004
was the most active month ever on this list. Let's get on a roll
here. And let's promote this project. Personally, I think it would be
a great tool for any intro linguistics class.I'msure that many of you
who have cut your teeth on TP have never formally studied
linguistics. I was amazed to find how young many of you all are. I
thought this was the fruit of a bunch of elderly cranks in a toolshed
somewhere. But I'll tell you that by just playing w/TP you've learned
more linguistics than you realize. Pije, you could get a master's in
linguistics by pretty much just forwarding your website to the
linguistics dept. of any university. (I assume someone like Sonja
already has some kind of ling. degree...)

So my hat's off to Sonja and everyone who has a hand in this.

One question before I close: What other one- or two-word la-phrases
have been devised? I know 'ken la' from the lessons. I've seen 'kama
la' in the posts (jan Eleni's? I don't remember.), but I don't know
what it means or even if it's permissible. Does it work to use 'lon
la' to mean 'really/truly/actually'? How about 'lon mi la' (or even
just 'mi la' to say 'as for me/as far as I'm concerned'?

Happy Canada Day and Happy 4th!

(mi wile) e tenpo suno pona pi ma Kanata li tenpo suno pona pi open
pi ma Mewika!

kepeken pilin pona tawa sina mute ali,

jan Pita


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