The Great Unanswered Toki Pona Questions

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The Great Unanswered Toki Pona Questions

Postby janMato » Wed Dec 30, 2009 4:00 pm

Some one posted a list similar to this on the Na'vi board, which was very useful, not only as way of communicating with the language designer, but list of reminder of where language users might be skating on thin ice.

What is a great unanswered question? Essentially, something that is the language designers prerogative. Great unanswered questions can't be answered by appealing to linguistic univerals. They're not in the canon. It is probably about grammar more than content words. It is probably a question that made jan Kipo shrug and throw up his hands (not that I've ever seen him pass a chance to opine anyhow :-)

Probably not how to say "armadillo" because its the communities job to use the words we have to create phrases suggestive of armadillo. A great unanswered question isn't a list of defects, [e.g. Why doesn't toki pona have more cow bell? Language designer prerogative most likely]

Other great unanswered questions might deal with internal inconsistencies in canon, or violations of linguistic universals in the canon- not that violating linguistic universals is bad, in fact it could be quite fun.

Biggies (issues everyone is likely to run into)
  • How much does the "ala" negate? Preceding word, all the way back, head noun/head verb only (i.e. jumps the modifiers), or reader's choice?
  • What, exactly is canonical? As for the things Sonja didn't say or publish, it's up to community to embrace, reject or ignore. This may be ultimately an unfair question because the accounting and bookkeeping for a hobby enterprise is a lot of work.
  • What are the *right* metaphors for abstractions? i.e. is time a place with future forward? is time a discount store with occasional double coupon days? is business war? are discussions war?
  • What does reduplication of nouns, verbs, etc mean? i.e. e kala kala, li moku moku.
    This question excludes accidental reduplication, e.g. mi wile wile e sina, where the words have a different meaning.
    Another example of accidental reduplication with shifting meaning would be "e moku moku" edible food.
    Personally, I don't think that intensification, something being a genuine instance (jan jan, a real person), or other interpretations are obvious any more necessary than the other.
  • What do verb modifiers mean? What do sentence fragments int the "la" phrase do to the verb? Most community conjugation attempts use these two methods and have the odor of grammaticalizations.
  • What are the boundaries to use of loan words? names of people and countries are well established. Eponyms, suwi Mesiko (Chocolate) and the nimi "X" pi toki Inli construct could blow the lid right off the 123 root word vocabulary. We'd have a language with 123 words and 10,000 loan words with a nimi prefix. Are we to be quick to borrow, (like most language communities) or reluctant to borrow (like Icelandic and the France that the French Academy imagines exists)?
  • Can a prepositional phrase "modify"/refer to a word in a preceding prepositional phrase? Particularly a noun.

    jan kepeken nena sinpin suli. Man with a big nose. mi lukin e jan kepeken nena sinpin suli.
    Did I use a large nose to look at the man, or did I see the man with a big nose? Or reader's choice?
  • Do modified pronouns have any official status? mi mute seems to be well established, but in other languages the pronoun system is sort of grammaticalized. A simple example is that "sina mute" could mean "Sir" until you realize that is an Indo-Europeanism. If "sina mute" is questionable, what about the rest of the potential modified pronouns (e.g. the exclusive dual, ona tu li moku)
  • Given that part of speech reasoning is often made by analogies with other languages, are the part of speech notes in the canonical dictionary suggestions or strict rules? I.e. if something is noted as a noun, does that mean it is at least a noun, or at most a noun?

Biggies if we hold tp to the same standards as a general purpose language, i.e. could we get share a house with someone with only toki pona as our common language?
  • How do we punctuate direct quotes, verbal pauses, untransliterated words, independent clauses, do parenthesis play any role, paragraph breaks, etc.
  • How do we spell? moku -> em-oh-kay-you is only intelligible to English speakers.

The fuzzy line between culture, language and conculture.
  • How does one express enough polite phrases to avoid offense in a heterogenous, international, mostly internet based group of people? Not having content words or grammaticalizations for polite speech is highly unsatisfying to me, but I might be the strange one here. The mere fact that we have words for mije, meli, unpa, olin (restricted to human love) jan (separate from soweli) indicate toki pona is a language of humans and will be expected to have cultural universals, even if polite language isn't a lingusitic universal.
  • Is the philosophy of simplicity the conculture? Or just something that one could say in toki pona? Are canonical editorializations, such as telo nasa (which implies alcohol is for drunkeness) part of the conculture, or just examples of speech? [English has this too. Cigarrettes are cigarettes (little french cigars) or coffin nails depending on what you and your culture thinks about them]

Anything to add? Do I have anything on the list that already has a fairly non-controversial answer?

EDITS: 12/31 Working on incorporating feedback from jan Kipo. Not done yet.
Last edited by janMato on Thu Dec 31, 2009 11:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Great Unanswered Toki Pona Questions

Postby janKipo » Thu Dec 31, 2009 12:00 am

Thanks for the list. A mixed bag, many unanswered p-- or answered badly -- some even great, all good to look at. S0, (says he as inevitably as death in Texas)

Don't knock worry about armadillos, they may not be great questions but the are real -- and usually solvable. And sometimes they bring good things to light: look at kinkajous!

Scope of 'ala' A great one, usually dealt with by "context will tell." But it often doesn't and it makes for real problems when there are quantifiers or conjunctions around and we have to work out how many whatsis do what or not. There are some clear cases (second word after 'pi', for one) but after that it is all variable at some level.

Canonical. What Sonja says (too seldom, alas, and not a lot lately), what Pije said generally, what others have said and not been successfully challenged on, what someone can argue for until the opposition gives up. (no names). Oh, and the latest version of Setepo's PSG, though that is known to be incomplete and occasionally inaccurate. Preetty much answered and yet fairly important still

The "right" metaphors for abstractions. "There are nine and ninety ways of writing tribal lays and every single one of them is right" (Kipling) Ditto for metaphors for whatever. It would be nice to come up with coherent patterns and that without just copying English or Swahili or whatever, but what we really need is some decisions, rather than wandering around, each following his own light. I like 'pini' and 'kama' and maybe 'awen' for time, but that is just my light and others have spatial or some other sorts of metaphors. Let's decide (or get a bull from Sonja). Unanswered and at least moderately great

Reduplication. By law, as it were, two adjoining content words are modificand and modifier. In the case of 'wile wile' we don't really have that but close enough that we can say "there is a change of realm here" "need to want" or some such. For 'kala kala' we know it will depend on context and we can even imagine various contexts for it: to distinguish "real" fish from whales and lobsters and whatever else may be counted as kala, for example.

Limits of loan words. So far it is supposedly clear (but rapidly being violated) that these are proper names and that they can enter only as adjectives to tp nouns. This seems to me to be failing fast: I expect that 'suwi pimeja Mesiko' is accepted in place of 'suwi pimeja pi ma Mesiko' even though the chocolate bar is not called "Mexico."
And it appears that quoted expressions are rapidly losing their 'nimi ni' (though that may be a different phenomenon). Whether this is a disaster or just an inevitable evolutionary step, I don't know, but it does open doors that we may not want to open, certainly not inadvertently. So, great, though officially answered. Some how, kulupu sona pi toki pona doesn't look like a real contender for a functioning group.

Punctuation. Probably trivial, but interesting anyhow. We want 1) to reproduce in writing some of the information that is given in speech by non segmental phonic effects. Now, in tp most of the major such places are already covered by explicit words (la, li, e). The most obvious one that is not -- and that creates problems -- is the final prep phrase(s), which might usefully be set off by a comma, at least some times. The others, like the end of 'pi' constructions and the scope of following modifiers seem to complex to deal with (no good device exists except parens and we just aren't going to use them at a bet -- we often don't really know or care where the scope really is). As for quotes, well, they are officially proper adjectives (modifying 'nimi' or the like) but, as noted, that connection is weak. I suppose we will continue to use quotes so long as there is someone with only a fixed font keyboard. As for other things one might want to do, stress has 'kin,' though not reliably, and then we fall back on all those other characters: caps, itals, bold and underline (etc., depending on the resources of your program).

Spelling. Well we need words for the letters (but of what alphabet after all?) for the same reason we need names for the numerals: for addresses and the like. Presumably, these can be used for spelling as well -- though spelling bee in tp are not going to be very interesting. Unanswered yet, but minor.

tenpo 22 li kama. mi wile lape. tenpo suno kama mi awen sitelen e ijo pi toki ni

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Re: The Great Unanswered Toki Pona Questions

Postby janKipo » Thu Dec 31, 2009 6:21 pm

"pakala! ona li kama sin"

Prep phrases. I don't know the problem listed here, except as maybe a special case. My problems are 1)can prep phrases modify nouns and 2) if they do, do they need 'pi'?
To 1) the response is that 'pi' itself (or the modification relation generally) already covers all that any prep can express -- and more. But it does so without any of the details: 'pi' may be comes from or owns or dreams of or ...., whereas a prep will be (at least relatively) precise. Of course, it you want to be precise, the standard tp advice is to put it in another sentence (a relative clause, in effect). But that gets prolix. But prolix is better than complicating the grammar. But... . But ... . And so on. If we do decide that prep phrases can modify nouns, then, I think, it is automatic that they require 'pi' since they are a right grouping or at least two words in a left grouping structure. Of course, that raises again all the problems with 'pi' but no new ones. Unanswered and at least significant, if not great.

Modified pronouns are just cases of modification and, as such, are always legitimate in tp. It seems likely that their meanings are simply derived from their components in the usual (slightly fuzzy) way: 'mi mute' means "the several people for whom I am speaking," 'sina mute' is "the several people to whom I am speaking" and so on. tp isn't into rank distinctions at all there is no room to either tutoir or its opposite (not I-E btw but just a casual way for some hierarchical societies to do it: Spanish uses third person forms -- admittedly derived from plural seconds, some non I-Es use the pluralizing devices, some I-Es don't -- English actually uses the singular for the highest rank, God. Most cultures that go in for this nonsense use other devices altogether.) tp also doesn't seem to get into the "you and me but not them" or "me and them but not you" sorts of devices. They don't fit with the ethos here. Probably answered, not significant.

POS. At the moment, calling something a noun in the dictionary means one of two thing: on a particular translation, it means that is what the word means as a noun; on a general entry, it means that the various uses of the word are most easily explained by starting with it as a noun. Thus, for example, the uses and the grammar of 'tawa' are most easily explained if we start with it as a preposition, the uses of 'moku' are easiest to explain if we start with it a a transitive verb. And so on down the line. One of the things that is often easy to explain in this ways is the possibility -- or lack thereof -- of a word going into such and such further categories of use. Largely answered, but great.

Politesse. Again, this doesn't seem to be a big tp thing. Or, perhaps better, it is all of what tp is about. Simple speaking is always the correct form to use, regardless of the degree of intimacy between the conversants. We can ape the euphuistic style of the Courts in tp, but it will always be as obviously artificial as it is. Using it for real would be either ridiculous or, possibly, insulting. Nothing.

Sancta Simplicitas. I can't speak in depth for or about Sonja, but, as I understand it (filtered through my own psycho-spiritual life, no doubt), what the aim is for tp is the cultivation of a certain frame of mind, one unconcerned about the fine details of things, indeed, with things at all. So, the idea of the language is not to be able to express everything we want to say, but to get us to want only what we can say easily in the language. In line with this, idioms are formed as simply as possible, picking out the obvious and practical features: so alcoholic drinks are distinguished by their inebriating quality (can you think of another that would explain why we drink them? -- note that 'nasa' is descriptive, not pejorative) and cigarettes, if we had a word for them, would be similarly described (hmmm - palisa pi moku ko?) Great, but answers abound, often contradictorily.

One quest, mentioned occasionally above, might go on this list: Can we find a way to make clear the back scope of detached modifiers -- one that come after a 'pi' modifier is (maybe) done: 'tomo pi jan pali mute' may mean "buildings(s) for many workers" or "many buildings for workers" and if we allow repeated 'pi's (as we pretty clearly do) it just gets worse, since the final bit can hook on any head all the way back.

Oh yeah, and the problem of internal conjunctions: ' jan meli en jan mije suli' Who is big/important? 'jan li open li pini e oko ona' "blinked" or "opened (something) and closed his eye(s)"? And so on. Both of these are fussy points of advanced grammar and are properly countered by saying simply "Don't do dat" but we will anyhow, so we might well figure out how to meet it when it comes (as it has, already, I think).

Back to aardvarks or so. How to say "talk(think, see/hear/... about"

o sike suno sin li pona tawa sina ali

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