Toki Pona - The Language of Goodness
Updated: Feb 17, 2020
Do you know how to simplify your language?
Toki Pona is a language that I would recommend to everyone. I found it when I was looking for an easy language that could help me regain my confidence in language learning.
I think it's a brilliant constructed language by Sonja Lang. I also think it is a very interesting and important thought exercise, as it is designed to be a very basic, primitive-style language that forces you to think about what is most important.
The essence of Toki Pona
Toki Pona is not very well known, but it is the simplest language in the world. It is basically a language like unto what you would expect from a primitive caveman language. It is very simple and each word conveys multiple meanings, based on the core essence of that word or idea.
For instance, all heat or fire can be explained with the word seli. All food is moku. After all, if it's food, it's food. Everything good, simple, kind, lovely, or beautiful is pona; there isn’t a direct translation for the word pona, but it means every kind of good.
It's very interesting, because most of these words are very general and vague, and we don't actually have equivalents in English. We rarely have only one word that can convey so many meanings at once, like we have in Toki Pona.
The value of Toki Pona
While the language doesn't give itself to complexity, it is incredibly useful in simplifying your thoughts and communication. It is fantastic for day to day conversations, because you can focus only on what is important. Instead of having to say, “I’m going to go eat,” we can just say, “mi moku.”
Toki Pona is a minimalist language, so it's vocabulary is only approximately 120 words, and through those words, we can communicate almost any basic idea. I wouldn't want to talk about nuclear physics, mathematics, or human psychology using Toki Pona, but for basic conversation that you would expect a primitive human being to have, it is a very useful and straightforward language.
This language only takes about 30 hours of practice to learn. I've become fairly proficient in Toki Pona, even though I haven't yet had anyone to practice with and I haven’t studied it for that long.
I really like the mindset, because we often over-complicate our language and say more than is needed. Toki Pona helps us cut out this unnecessary information and stick to the key components of our thoughts. It also really makes you think about the true meaning of what you are saying, since the vocabulary is so limited. If I want to refer to my friend, I can say “jan pona,” meaning “good person,” or if I want to say someone got married, I can say, “jan tu li wan,” which translates to mean: “Two people became one.”
Now there are many disadvantages to such a simple language, which is why I would never recommend it as a first language or a primary mode of communication, but it's a casual, fun way to feel peace and simplicity. I think there is a lot of value in having a large vocabulary, but I also think that the mindset of Toki Pona is a fantastic thought exercise.
After all, why would you want something if you don't need it? Thus want and need are the same word. Why would something be good if it wasn't simple? Thus simple and good are the same word. It takes out all the complexities and irrelevant information we include in our sentences, so we can explain what is truly important in our thoughts.
Toki Pona has a book, a free online course, and a video series of lessons. Toki Pona also has hieroglyphs in its primitive fashion and a sign language (though I would more strongly recommend this version, as it makes more sense).
There's also a Toki Pona course on Memrise, which is helpful for learning the vocabulary, but not the grammar. I personally find Toki Pona Pal more helpful. I’ve requested Clozemaster and Duolingo to add it, but I don't know if that's going to happen.
I recently created a monologue to learn Toki Pona, which is basically a short story that contains every word in Toki Pona and most grammar forms to give you some contextual learning! I also have a hieroglyph version, a sign language version (Chris Huff's version), and an explanation.
In general, I would highly recommend learning Toki Pona. It's a very nice language. It's very easy to learn. If you've given up on learning a language and you really need a win in language learning, Toki Pona is a great language to start with.
I’ve found Toki Pona actually helps a lot with learning other languages, because in Toki Pona, since there is such a limited vocabulary, it takes a lot of logical thinking to explain a concept. You have to learn to talk around ideas, and how to explain yourself using base words in order to create the idea.
Thus Toki Pona has helped me with my Russian. With Russian, I would struggle to find a word and I used to give up right there. But after I studied Toki Pona, I would start explaining that idea I was trying to convey using the words I knew. As such, I have become fairly decent at expressing my thoughts in Russian, even if I have no idea what someone else is saying.
If you translate all the Toki Pona words into your language of choice, that gives you a base of words that can be used to describe most things. If you know how to say it in Toki Pona, you can kind of translate it to that language and explain what you're trying to convey.
For instance, if you want to say, “My hovercraft is full of eels,” in Toki Pona, you have to think about it a lot. Since a hovercraft is a flat structure that is meant for flying in the air, I could describe that in Toki Pona as: tomo tawa supa mi pi lon sewi (my flat moving structure of being in the air).
The sentence ends up translating to: tomo tawa supa mi pi lon sewi li jo e kala linja mute mute. This more directly translates to: my flat moving structure of being in the air contains many many linear fish. It’s somewhat vague, but you see we can still get the same points across.
This is incredibly helpful for both Toki Pona and other language learning. It's amazing how you can be very proficient in Toki Pona, but you still have to think, and logic through it. Personally, I can say almost anything I want to in Toki Pona, but I have to stop and think about it.
Check out Toki Pona! This video, by the Langfocus channel, is a really good introduction. Toki Pona a fantastic language, and it's something that I think can be a fun language for you to learn as a family, or with friends. If you'd like to have a little language that very few people speak, but you can communicate with each other and also if you just want to simplify your communication and make it so much easier to make requests, say things, or convey ideas to each other, it’s a great one to try out!