Little critics about Toki Pona

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Little critics about Toki Pona

Postby Aska » Tue Sep 20, 2011 7:49 pm

Hello everyone, I'm italian, 28, male, conlanger (i speak Italian, English, French, i know some german, chinese, japanese grammar, but i can't speak them and i love languages in general, the weirdest overall).
Btw, my english is not perfect, then sorry for any errors :P.

I was reading Toki Pona's wiki grammar and some critics poped up in my mind:
1. If people with different cultures and languages come into touch, why they should use another extra language? This is like to complicate things, because the easiest way to express simple concepts is using contextual languages: e.g. a French boy + an Italian boy, they can just talk a sort of italiench/frenchian, because their languages are really close and they don't need an extra language such as Toki Pona. Instead, Toki Pona required to use another grammar plus another set of words.

2. If I would like to express a simple concept like "There's an hotel here around? Hopefully near". In almost every part of the world I can just stop a person and ask him/her "Hotel?". Hotel is an international word and everyone knows it, why should I use words in Toki Pona like "house for foreigner" or such weird unilateral built words? That's, of course, needs to pre-learn another language.

3. Toki Pona aims to be simple, however is simplistic. As per alcohol, why should I use "crazy water"? As far as I know, no languages put together "crazy"-concept with "water"-concept to express "alcohol" (In some languages "fire"-concept is used with "water" to express "alcohol" = a water that burns your throat, a burning water!). However, almost everyone out there know the word "alcohol", while nobody can instantly understand the idiomatic "crazy water" (an "as-is" word for alcohol).

4. The word for "friend" (a part that "friend" is one of the famous word well-known in the world and u don't need Toki Pona in casual context to express friendship, just say "hey friend!" and everyone understand).
A "good person" could not be my friend, however if a person is good and he/she is not yet my friend, other contextual things can help to understand what I mean in a phrase like "He is a good person". However this could harden to express the concept of "good friend" vs "bad friend". Using "good"-concept is of course redundant with the word "friend", but in a more accurate analysis "good friend" is something like "a person that show me how really friend is". While, using "bad"-concept (apparently contraditory) means "a person that initially seemed good at me, but revealed their bad nature later".
That means that in Toki Pona, I can't simply express the concept like in the phrase "He's a good person, but he revealed to be a bad friend". Here u can state: "just say bad person!". Why? A bad friend is a bad person at all? And simplifying the phrase upon with "bad person" loses all the other concepts of revelation (or bad-ifiation) that the phrase carried.

5. A 2-minute sentence become a 5-minute sentence. Expressing easy and simple words or phrases in Toki Pona, required more time. In English a sentence like "I'm coming!" can be shorten with "coming!". However you can't in Toki Pona, cuz "crazy water" can't shorten with "water" (without moving its understanding in contextual environment). Or better, you can do it just in some cases, but if you are in a pub and you must be clear on wich kind of "water" (liquid) you want, it's hard to use 3-4 Toki Pona words for the thousand of different drinks a pub could have.

6. Redundancy. ALL languages have redundancy systems to reinforce the comprehension. Toki Pona doesn't. e.g:
Redundancy for the gender
(en) SHE is a good GIRL / HE is a good BOY
(it) LEI è unA bravA ragazzA / LUI è un bravO ragazzO
(fr) ELLE est unE bonNE FILLE / IL est un bon GARCONS

Redundancy for the number
(en) one friend IS / two friends ARE
(it) un amicO E' / due amicI SONO
(fr) un ami EST / deux amiS SONT

Just a little exemple in italian: "sono qui" means both "I am here" and "they are here" and just this little difference of meaning, in an weird context, can be misunderstood:

At the phone
- Hey Claudia sei lì a casa? Sono arrivati? - (Hey Claudia, are you there at home? They are arrived?)
- Sì ci sono - ("Yes, they are arrived" but also "Yes, I'm here")
- Ma chi? Te o loro? XD - ("Who? You or they? XD)
- Io! Loro devono ancora arrivare XD - (Me! They have yet to come XD)

Even monosillabic languages (such as Chinese) use grammatical particles, named classifier (i send you to wikipedia " for a deeply clarification).

Then, I think, a so basic simplification in Toki Pona doesn't bring an easier communication, but a simplistic one, full of potential misunderstanding in a daily life.

7. What else? Toki Pona aims a philosophical gaol: make easier the daily life. LOL how? It is not enough accurate for a non-basic communication (such as low philosophical exchanges like "not every bad person can't be friends (double-negation was intentional O_O)); it's hell for a specific area of language such as hypothetical medical terms or whatever other "specialistic jergon"; it is hard to use in context wherein you need to be "exact" (such as in a pub: a "black water" can be a "coffee" or a "black tea"? And how to express "Black Russian" in Toki Pona? XD); and at least useless in chance encounters wherein people just use the closest vehicular language they both already known or at least english.

I read somewhere studies about the impoverishment of words commonly used in a language (around 800 in italian, around 300 in english; just because english uses many verbs like "get in; get out, get off; get over; get down" and so on), but just 123 words are too few to have a normal communication in the daily life.

I'm sorry, but Toki Pona didn't convince me to be as good as it would like to be.

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Re: Little critics about Toki Pona

Postby janMato » Tue Sep 20, 2011 11:20 pm

I'll layout my biases, I'm a big fan of toki pona. But I'm also pretty aware of it's limitations in practice and some of the designers intentions.

Many of the objections you raise appear to assume that toki pona is an auxiliary language, with much the same goals and design agenda as Esperanto. It isn't an auxlang in most senses of the word. It's not really good for travel, conferences, diplomacy or picking up chicks. It is a quirk of the internet that it is being used by people who speak different first languages. The creator is an Esperantist and the early tp community had a lot of Esperantists in it & that is still true. The lingua franca is of the toki pona community is English, not toki pona. When we get to something to hard to say in tp, universally people revert to English, more rarely to Esperanto.

In practice, toki pona is a sort of word game. So you say, "I bet you can't say 'Black Russian'" and I say, darn tootin' I can:

jan pali pi tomo pi telo nasa o mi wile e telo ni: telo nasa li lon telo pimeja seli li tan ma Losi.

And I can say it in the "simple" style as well:

jan pali o pana e telo nasa pimeja pi ma Losi tawa mi.

Now if you say, "I bet you can't translate Alice in Wonderland" and I'll say... I could translate a page and after that the level of effort required to finish it would be monumental-- I'd have to innovate so often, it would be like writing a book and inventing a new language using tp as it's basis.

As for the philosophy & politics part of toki pona-- I'm skeptical that the language itself is daoist, or politically left leaning or anything. Many of the early fans definitely were and we still get a fan here or there that showed up to the toki pona party because of the daoism & philosophy. And there is that gender neutrality thing going on in toki pona. So far, the only Saphir Worf effects I've noticed is that in toki pona, you get used to seeing the world in very coarse, low resolution terms. As a toki pona speaker, one fails to make fine distinctions and one just gets used to it.

Toki pona does deliver on the promise of being quick to learn. You can learn all there is in about 30 hours of study (according to the survey on the forum). On the other hand, you get what you pay for, there are a lot of things that will be really, really hard to say. And reading is dramatically difficult than writing.

Toki pona has some promise as a therapeutic language-- there have been hints in the scientific literature that doing something that stimulates the brain, like learning a foreign language can help with depression. Also there is evidence that bilingual speakers gets some protection against Alzheimers. But we know that few people that attempt to learn a 2nd language succeed, so it would be kind of silly to ask a depressed person or someone with familial Alzheimers to invest 3000 hours into learning a foreign language.

Toki pona has actually been used as a research language, since it's small enough to teach people in an experiment (unlike a natural language --or large conlang-- that takes 1000s of hours to learn), especially if you want the subjects to produce the language before the grant money runs out. I couldn't produce Icelandic literally for a few years after I started studying.

Anyhow, I'd address more of the issues you've raised, but it's awfully late here in the US.

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Re: Little critics about Toki Pona

Postby Aska » Wed Sep 21, 2011 7:31 am

I thank you janMato for you reply.

I didn't know that close core between Esp. and TP.
Maybe I can state (my mere opinion) that TP "fails" because it uses the same "word-building" used by Esp. (Mainly cuz the creator is an Esperantist).
I mean Esp. gets words from this or that languages in a more-or-less scientific/statistic method and "esperantize them" in its phonology. Thus, TP does the same with its simpler phonology, but, instead of Esp., TP reduces the language flexibility (here its limits).

Thus, speaking about language flexibility, Chinese comes to my mind. It's a tongue with very poor consonants, more vowel-sounds but still not enough to increase word variety (words are CV+ opened /+nazalized (-n) / +full-nazalized (-ng)). That brings unfortunately a huge amount of homophones. As many people knows, Chinese tends to be bisyllabic (like TP does) and use associations of ideas to increase flexibility e.g.:

1. "sword"-concept + "shield"-concept = "contrast"-concept (such as contrast, war... and so on).
2. "iron"-concept + "dragon"-concept = train (a long dragon maden by iron).

The first association system is named juxtaposition (2 different ideas that merge together for a new concept), the second concept is a sort of specification: the second term (dragon) is the basic/radix, the first term (iron) semantically collocates the word in another area. There's also another association system, unfortunately I don't have any samples in mind at the moment, however it's a sort of association by meaning. A roughly exemple could be - I'm invent words on the fly - "cha" = clap (but-not-only) and "pof" = hit (but-not-only), thus an hypothetical "pof-cha" = hands clapping => approval/agreement/consensus.

I perceive TP more adaptable for a chinese-style of word-creation, much more functional for a simple/poor language. Plus, an idea association game comes from that system, and maybe could increase the the brain activity for those therapeutic aims you exposed.

E.g. Words between " " stands for monosyllabic radical word in an hypothetical language. So we can have:
"crown" + "person" = king, president, boss, "the one that decides/rules"
"crown" + "cat" = lion
"cute" + "cat" = kitty
"cute" + "person" = cute, kind, good-looking young boy/girl
"person" + "verbalizer" = personificate, interpretate the role of
"person" + "adjectivaler" = personal, related to person
"person" + "abstract-er" = personality
"crown" + "verbalizer" = make someone to be the ruler

"mind" + "abstract-er" = mind
"mind" + "verbalizer" = remember
"mind" + "causative-verbalizer" = remind
So, people can just learn the compound word (the bisyllabe one), but can analyse the parts and use them to express other concepts.

That could be a good idea to keep a language easy, flexible, with a simple-learning dictionary (few amount of monosyllabic basic word), but with an higher richness of concepts, plus if you can't instantly understand or remember what "cute-person" means you can simply interpretate it by its compounded parts (the syllable for "cute" and the syllable for "person"). And maybe this language could be more practical in the role of daily life auxiliar language.

As per conlanger, I want to try to make that language :P using TP as basic.

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Re: Little critics about Toki Pona

Postby janMato » Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:41 am

I would quibble about tp using the same word building as esperanto. Esperanto borrows words from a variety of languages, adapts the pronunciation some, but not much and then creates new similar words by tacking on prefixes and suffixes, as you say said yourself.

toki pona borrows words, but with less than 123 borrowing, this is a trivial feature. The borrowings are then warped beyond recognition. I wouldn't have guessed most of the English borrowings and I often can't guess the names of countries or names of languages. Losi and Kanse are particularly opaque to me. Next, toki pona has no morphology going on at all, and only marginally some clitics. "word building" becomes a misnomer and the main way to deal with the need for new words is to create phrases, syntactical strategies and sometimes discourse patterns (multiple sentences).

So don't let the fact that there is a country of origin for each word in toki pona-- it's might as well be flavor text because it has about zero impact on the language. (Unlike esperanto, where borrowings make the language somewhat easier for speakers of the lending languages to learn it)

Re: toki pona derivatives
I think the best thing toki pona has to offer the conlang community is that you can get fans if the core of the language is small enough. If you have a formal grammar that has less than 30 -60 rules, if you have a small *closed* vocabulary -- maybe not as low as 100 words, but 500 to 2000 seem like the upper and lower bounds to be able to discuss arbitrary things without extraordinary effort.

Lemme re-emphasize here that a small easy language ought to have a closed vocabulary otherwise the language is a small language waiting to explode into a huge one as soon as people start adding new words. Then it is only a temporary easy language.

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