jan - somebody, anybody, person, etc.
mi - I, me
moku - food
sina - you
suno - sun, light
telo - water, liquid
moku - eat, drink
pona - good, simple; to fix, to repair
suli - big, tall, long, important
li - separates a 3rd person subject from its verb (see notes below)
Sentences with mi or sina as the subject
Okay, one of the first principles you'll need to learn about Toki Pona is that there is no form of the verb to be like there is in English. For example:
- mi pona. = I (am) good.
- sina suli. = you (are) big/important.
Simply state mi or sina, then complete the sentence with a verb or adjective. These are the absolute simplest type of sentences in Toki Pona, but already you've come across something that you're probably not accustomed to: All those beloved words like is, was, and will be are gone. Say goodbye! Although this might seem strange to you, it's actually simpler, if you think about it. There are other languages that don't have a form of to be, so don't think this lack of to be is completely strange. It'll just take some practice to get used to the idea.
The Ambiguity of Toki Pona
Okay, now comes another concept which will probably seem odd to you. Do you see how several of the words in the vocabulary have multiple meanings? For example, suli can mean either long or tall... or big... or important. By now, you might be wondering, "What's going on? How can one word mean so many different things?" Well, welcome to the world of Toki Pona! The truth is that lots of words are like this in Toki Pona. Because the language has such a small vocabulary and is so basic, the ambiguity is inevitable. However, this vagueness is not necessarily a bad thing: Because of the vagueness, a speaker of Toki Pona is forced to focus on the very basic, unaltered aspect of things, rather than focusing on many minute details.
Another way that Toki Pona is ambiguous is that it can not specify whether a word is singular (There is only one thing.) or plural (There is more than one thing.) For example, jan can mean either "person" or "people". -- If you've decided that Toki Pona is too arbitrary and that not having plurals is simply the final straw, don't be so hasty. Toki Pona is not the only language that doesn't specify whether a noun is plural or not. Japanese, for example, does the same thing. So, if you learn the concept now in Toki Pona, you will gain some of the same skills in a much shorter time. That's a comforting thought, now isn't it?
And now we're going to study yet another thing that will probably seem weird to you. Observe these examples:
- mi moku. = I eat. OR I am food.
- sina pona. = You are good. OR You fix.
Once again, you can see the ambiguity of Toki Pona. Because Toki Pona lacks to be, the exact meaning is lost. moku in this sentence could be a verb, or it could be a noun; just as pona could be an adjective or could be a verb. In situations such as these, the listener must rely on context. After all, how often do you hear someone say I am food? I hope not very often! You can be fairly certain that mi moku means I'm eating. For sentences like sina pona, there is another way that will let you specify what you mean, but you'll learn about that in the next lesson.
The Lack of Tense
The "verbs" in Toki Pona have no tense.
- mi pona. = I am good. OR I was good. OR I will be good.
This is yet another example of the vagueness of Toki Pona. If it's absolutely necessary, there are ways of saying that something happened in the past, present, or future, but it will be a long while before you learn about that.
Sentences without mi or sina as the subject
We've already looked at mi and sina sentences, which are the simplest sentences possible in Toki Pona. For sentences that don't use mi or sina as the subject, there is one small catch that you'll have to learn. It's not very complex; it'll just take some practice to remember to use it. Look at how li is used:
- telo li pona. = Water (is) good.
- suno li suli. = (The) sun (is) big.
- moku li pona. = Eating/food (is) good.
li is a grammatical word that separates the subject from its "verb". Remember: It's only used when the subject is not mi or sina. Although li might seem worthless right now, as you continue to learn Toki Pona you will see that some sentences could be very confusing if li weren't there. So, try to practice using it whenever you get a chance until it becomes normal to you.
Try translating these sentences from English to Toki Pona. (Answers below)
People are good.
Water is simple.
The lake is big.
suno li suli.
jan li moku.
jan li pona.
telo li pona.
telo li suli.
The sun is big.
I’m important. / I’m fat.
Somebody is eating.