Toki Pona/Printable version

Toki Pona

The current, editable version of this book is available in Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection, at

Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Demographic information

Name of LanguageEdit

The language is called "toki pona" which roughly means "good speech." It is abbreviated as tp, and is usually written in lower case according to the conventions of the language.


The people who use Toki Pona will be called users, since they generally don't speak it, but instead write it. At the moment, there is no fictional culture of fictional Tokiponans. Even if one is proposed, it's outside the scope of this document. Instead, we will be discussing the characteristics of the real life people that are using Toki Pona.


The language is used by constructed language fans, almost entirely in written messages across the internet. These fans are geographically spread across North and South America, Europe, Russia, Australia, Malaysia and Japan. Of these, Canada, the US and East and West Europe are most heavily represented. There is a notable lack of Toki Pona users in China, South East Asia and Africa.

Genetic AffiliationEdit

Toki Pona is a relatively new language created in 2001. It did not evolve from any previous language, except for the possible influence of the mother tongue of the users.

Previous ResearchEdit

Toki Pona has been referenced in a few journals. Because the language is small and well developed, a few researchers have used it instead of creating a language of their own.

The sociolinguistic situationEdit

Toki Pona is an online community, so it is lacking most of the features one would expect of naturally created creole or pidgin languages, that is, a new language based on a mixture of other languages. The speakers don't share a common culture outside of an interest in languages, new languages and participation in online communities. Unlike a creole, this language is not a mix of the speakers languages and there is nothing that remotely looks like the creole situation, where slaves or workers from many lands have to work together for a master or employer that speaks yet another language. Everyone using Toki Pona is voluntarily using it. Unlike a pidgin, this isn't a language born of any desperate need to communicate. Toki Pona can be spoken well or poorly. It has many more rules than a pidgin.


The user community is small enough that one can identify characteristics of ideolects, i.e peculiarities of the syntax of one person, but not large enough to identify dialects.

Morphological typology

Morphological TypologyEdit

toki pona is an isolation language. The morphological processes are limited to possible clitics. No content words inflect.

"A bound morpheme is a morpheme that must be attached to some other morpheme to be integrated naturally into a discourse." 1997 Payne

Bound MorphemesEdit

The following words cannot stand alone:

  • pi – a variety of meanings, including "of", "has", or a logical grouping operator
  • e – accusative clitic
  • li – verb phrase marker
  • lon, sama, kepeken, tan, tawa – These are the prepositions.

"A clitic is bound morpheme that functions at a phrasal or clausal level, but which binds phonologically to some other word, known as the host." 1997 Payne

More bound cliticsEdit

The particles pi, e and the prepositions are clitics that consistently have the same host. The pi always precedes a noun and no other word can go between the pi and the noun without changing the sense of the phrase. This is also true for prepositions. The pi and propositions apply to the entire following phrase.

How bound is pi? One test is to examine how pi reacts to conjunctions.

mi lukin e soweli pi ma Sonko

I saw the Chinese animals.

? mi lukin e soweli pi telo en ma. ? mi lukin e soweli pi ma en telo. I saw the animal of the land and sea.

The specs to date do not make it clear if conjuncted modifiers or pi-complements are legal.

How bound is e? en doesn't move e from its head noun, but anu does. mi lukin e soweli anu waso. mi lukin e waso anu soweli.

Less bound clitics- Grammatical ParticlesEdit

Auxiliary or serial verbs may go between li and the head verb. li marks the beginning of a verb phrase that continues until the e or first preposition.

Depending on how you parse the phrases with compound prepositions (lon + geographic word), lon can be split from its head noun.

soweli li lape lon anpa supa. The animal sleeps under the bed.

Periphrasal PatternsEdit

Because toki pona is strongly isolating, the equivalent of derivational operations do not involve binding morphemes. This doesn't mean that these processes don't exist, but instead they are clausal or discourse level operations.

There isn't any bound infixation, but at the phrasal level, plural markers can be inserted in the middle of the phrase.

tomo pi telo nasa / tomo mute pi telo nasa: house(s) of strange water/houses of strange water

jan pona / jan pona mute ? jan mute pona: good person(s)/good people

Stems or base words are never modified. Reduplication has no special meaning.

Note that singularity or plurality is not the default. "tomo" can both mean one building or multiple buildings.

Head/Dependent MarkingEdit

It isn't clear if the head or the dependents are being marked.

lipu jan The man's book.

lipu mute jan The man's books.

lipu mute pi jan mute The people's books.

Grammatical categories


Nouns are nouns primarily on account of where they appear in a sentence. Almost any content word can be used as a noun.

Individual nouns exhibit no internal structure. All noun operations with analogies in other languages are done at the noun phrase level.

The noun phrases has the following basic structure.

noun modifier possessor pi noun phrase

The following words are the pronouns

mi, sina These pronouns are worth considering separately because their meaning is resolved by context and doesn't refer to anything mentioned earlier. Both of these nouns at times take modifiers, usually mute, tu, or rarely suli.

ona This pronoun can be anaphora for anything mentioned, to be mentioned or in context. Unlike languages like Chinese, which use a similar pronoun, this word can't be dropped entirely. In Chinese, when the subject of the anaphora is clear, not only does the gender and number not need to be mentioned, the pronoun doesn't need to be mentioned. In toki pona, subject can never be dropped and objects usually are not dropped.

ona sometimes takes modifiers, usually mije, meli, mute

ni This is usually translated as "this" and is supposed to indicate the anaphora used when pointing, say with a finger. Because toki pona is almost never used in face to face situations, the word is used much the same as ona, except that ni can refer to an entire sentence, where as ona can't and primarily refers to a noun phrase.

  • * li lukin. It is always wrong to drop a subject.
  • ? jan li lukin. The man sees (something). This may be wrong if the speaker meant a transitive sense of the word.
  • jan li lukin e ijo. The man sees something. This is always correct.

Repeated Head Nouns When a head noun is repeated, it refers back to an earlier mention. These anaphora strategy can create ambiguity if it isn't clear that the repeated head noun is the same or a new player on the stage.

waso pi tawa wawa li lon ma Oselija. waso li suli li ken tawa ala kon. The emu is in Australia. It is large and flightless.


The verb phrase appears immediately after the li in a sentence.

Verbs have no internal structure. All verb processes are dealt with at the phrase level.

Verbs are intransitive, transitive, prepositional, and those that take unmarked complements. All verbs can increase their valence by adding prepositional phrases.

Intransitive. jan li suli. The man is making things big. | The man is big.

Transitive. jan li suli e kasi. The man is making plants big.

Predicative Prepositions of Motion. Most predicate constructions convey a static situation. The tawa prepositional phrase conveys a sense of motion.

  • jan li tawa ma ante. The man went to another country.

Prepositional. When prepositional phrases are used with a direct object complement, usually with tawa or lon, their meaning changes to mean move and place/affix respectively.

  • jan li tawa e soweli tawa ma ante. The man moves the animal to a different country.
  • jan li lon e ilo musi lon kasi kiwen anpa. The man places toys under the tree.

Verbs Taking Unmarked Complements The verb of talking are the most likely to be used this way, although it is more common that the complement be treated as a direct object.

  • mi toki pi pali mi. I speak about my work.
  • (more commonly) mi toki e pali mi

Serial/Auxiliary Verbs jan li ken pali. The man can work.

  • see mood for more on this

Serial verbs go between li and the head verb.

Verb OperationsEdit

Verb operations are entirely done at the lexical or periphrastic level.

verb agreement/concord. The verb phrase does not change to agree with the subject.

  • jan li pali. The man works.
  • jan mute li pali. The men work.
  • jan mute li pali mute. The men work a lot.
  • jan mute li pali mute e tomo. The men work on the houses a lot.

semantic role markers/applicatives. N/A ?

valence increasing devices. Valence can be increase by complementing a verb phrase with an unmarked noun phrase, a direct object or a prepositional phrase. The only thing barring a verb from taking a direct object or any of the prepositional phrases is deciding what those sentences might mean. Unmarked noun phrases are rare.

valence decreasing devices. Subjects are always obligatory. The direct object might be obligatory, it isn't clear yet.

  • 1) mi moli. I die.
  • 2) mi moli e jan. I kill someone.

It isn't clear if sentence 1) can mean "I kill someone"

Reflexive and reciprocals can't dispense with the direct object. It can be replaced with "sama" as anaphora.

  • jan li lukin e sama. The man saw himself.
  • meli en mije li lukin e sama. The man and the women saw each other.

tense/aspect/mode Tense is handled with la fragments, which are noun phrases followed by la, using the words pini, kama, ni for past, future and now respectively. The la fragment can also use a characteristic activity or quality of such a time to mark the time or tense.

tenpo ni la jan li pali. Now the men are working. tenpo pali la jan li pali ala. The men weren't working during their normal hours of work.

aspect is sometimes expressed through modifiers to the main verb.

? jan li pali pini e pali ona. The man completed his work.

mood is usually expressed through auxiliary verbs which precede the main verb.

  • jan li ken pali. The man can work.
  • jan li wile pali. The man wants to work.
  • jan li lukin pali. The man tries to work.

mood, in some cases, can be expressed with adverbs which go after the verb.

  • jan li lape ken. The man might sleep.

subordination/nominalization By placing a prototypical verb in a noun phrase, it means "such activity." or the English "ing." There are some set phrases with the prototypical object as a modifier compliment. There are also set phrases with a noun and a prototypical verb in modifier position.

  • pana sona - teaching "giving knowledge"
  • pana pi sona nasa - teaching weird stuff "giving weird knowledge"
  • in a full sentence: olin soweli li pona - loving animals is good.

verb negation Verbs are negated by placing ala after the verb.

Amounts and NumbersEdit

There are many competing number systems, none of which are in wide usage. There are a few official ones The most common is 0/1/2/5/20/100:

  • ala - 0
  • wan - 1
  • tu - 2
  • luka - 5
  • mute - 20
  • ale | ali - 100

There are also a couple of approximant amounts. These are extremely common and appear more often than specific numbers.

  • lili - few, little, not many
  • mute - many, multiple, several
  • ale | ali - all, every, whole; bountiful, plentiful


Adverbs are rarely used. The most common are suli, lili, wawa, mute, ken, and ala. Adverbs go directly after the verb.

jan li pali wawa. The man built fast. jan li pali wawa e tomo. The man built the house fast.

Instead of putting the adverb right after the verb. You can put it at the beginning followed by the word, "la."

wawa la mi tawa. quickly, I moved. ken la mi lape. possibly, I will sleep.


Constituent order typology

Toki Pona is an SVO, nominative-accusative language. There are no signs of ergativity of any sort. It is a rigid constituent order language that leaves very few phrases free with respect to word order.

Noun PhraseEdit

Modifiers can be arranged in any order, but the order is significant. Later modifiers affect the whole preceding phrase.

Modifier Order sometimes doesn't significantly affect meaning.

  • 1) soweli suli wawa - a powerful large animal (a large animal that is also powerful)
  • 2) soweli wawa suli - a large powerful animal (a powerful animal that is also large)

Adpositional PhrasesEdit

Toki Pona has prepositions. They are closer to clitics or cases because they attach before the head noun and nothing else can go between the preposition and the head noun.


Toki Pona uses discourse to express comparatives. It doesn't have a construction that easily matches the standard-marker-quality pattern found in some languages.

soweli li suli mute. waso li suli lili. The animal is very large. The bird is 'small-ly' large. I.e., The animal is larger than the bird.

Question particles and question wordsEdit

Yes/no questions are asked using the V-ala-V pattern.

  • jan li moli ala moli e jan utala? Did the man kill the soldier?
  • jan li suli ala suli? Is the man great?

seme is the question word and it appears where the unknown piece of information would appear.

  • 1) seme li moli e jan? Who killed the man?
  • 2) jan li moli e seme? The man killed who?
  • 3) jan li moli seme e jan? How did the man kill the other?
  • 4) ? jan li seme e jan? What did he do to the other man?
  • 5) tenpo seme la jan li moli e jan? When did the man kill the other?
  • 6) jan li moli e jan kepeken seme? What did the man kill the other with?

There is no obvious pattern in predicate sentences.

  • 1) jan li seme?
  • 2) seme li jan?

Greenberg's ParametersEdit

  1. Main clause V-O
  2. adpositions prepositions
  3. genitive and head noun - N-G
  4. head noun and modifier N-M
  5. relative clauses and head noun- Not entirely applicable, but the sentence with the head noun is first and is followed by the sentence that describes the other noun. jan li lukin e ni: jan li pali.
  6. comparatives- Not applicable
  7. Inflected Auxiliary- not entirely applicable, but Aux-V
  8. Question particles- No question particle.
  9. Question words- Not sure.
  10. affixes - Not entirely applicable, but clitics precede their phrases.

So with few exceptions in the cases where Toki Pona doesn't have the exact same sort of construction, Toki Pona fits the patterns of Greenburg's parameters.



Toki Pona is a language of very minimal sounds, in order to be easily pronounced by the greatest number of people. Its consonants lack voicing, gemination, and clusters, while vowels are only monophthongs and do not register length.


In Toki Pona, you use the same five vowels, but they are they only have one strict pronunciation, similar to Spanish or Japanese vowels.

Vowel Pronounced Like...
a father
e met
i peel
o bone
u mood


Excluding j, the phonetic sounds of the nine consonants used in Toki Pona are the same as English, and there is flexibility in how one can pronounce it.

Consonant Pronounced like...
k kill or gills
l let
m man
n near
p poke or boat
s salt or zoo
t talk or dog
w water
*j yet


Official Word ListEdit

Total 123 words from the official word list in the book at [1].

interj ah, ha, uh, oh, ooh, aw, well (emotion word)
n non-cute animal, reptile, amphibian
mod no, not, none, un-
n nothing, negation, zero
interj no!
vt gather, hunt, forage
ale, ali
n everything, anything, life, universe
mod all, every, complete, whole
n bottom, lower part, under, below, floor, beneath
mod low, lower, bottom, down, lowly, humble, dependant
n difference
mod different
conj otherwise, or else
vt change, alter, modify
conj or
vi stay, wait, remain
vt keep
mod remaining, stationary, permanent, sedentary
sep (introduces a direct object)
conj and (used to coordinate head nouns)
n market, shop, business, trading, selling, buying
n thing, something, stuff, anything, object
mod of something
vt objectify
mod bad, negative, wrong, evil, overly complex, (figuratively) unhealthy
interj oh dear! woe! alas!
n negativity, badness, evil
vt to make bad, to worsen, to have a negative effect upon
vi to be bad, to suck
[sounds like icky]
n tool, device, machine, thing used for a specific purpose
n inside, inner world, centre, stomach
mod inner, internal
mod dirty, gross, filthy
n dirt, pollution, garbage, filth
vt pollute, dirty
interj ew! yuck!
n person, people, human, being, somebody, anybody
mod human, somebody's, personal, of people
vt personify, humanize, personalize
mod yellow, light green
vt have, contain
n having
kama receive, get, take, obtain
n fish, sea creature
n sound, noise, voice
vi make noise
vt sound, ring, play (an instrument)
vi come, become, arrive, happen, pursue actions to arrive to (a certain state), manage to, start to
n event, happening, chance, arrival, beginning
mod coming, future
vt bring about, summon
[come up]
n plant, leaf, herb, tree, wood
vi can, is able to, is allowed to, may, is possible
n possibility, ability, power to do things, permission
vt make possible, enable, allow, permit
cont it is possible that
vt use
prep with
n fruit, vegetable, mushroom
mod also, too, even, indeed (emphasizes the word(s) before it)
n part, partition
vt split, cut, divide
mod hard, solid, stone-like, made of stone or metal
n hard thing, rock, stone, metal, mineral, clay
n semi-solid or squishy substance, e.g. paste, powder, gum
n air, wind, smell, soul
mod air-like, ethereal, gaseous
n colour, paint
mod colourful
vt colour, paint
n group, community, society, company, people
mod communal, shared, public, of the society
vt listen, hear
mod auditory, hearing
sep (between adverb or phrase of context and sentence)
n, vi sleep, rest
mod sleeping, of sleep
mod blue, blue-green
n head, mind
mod main, leading, in charge
vt lead, control, rule, steer
n clothing, cloth, fabric
n cold
mod cold, uncooked
vt cool down, chill
sep "(between any subject except mi and sina and its verb; also used to introduce a new verb for the same subject)"
mod small, little, young, a bit, short, few, less
vt reduce, shorten, shrink, lessen
n long, very thin, floppy thing, e.g. string, rope, hair, thread, cord, chain
n flat and bendable thing, e.g. paper, card, ticket
mod red
prep be (located) in/at/on
vi be there, be present, be real/true, exist, be awake
n hand, arm
vt see, look at, watch, read
vi look, watch out, pay attention
mod visual(ly)
n hole, orifice, window, door
[sounds like loop]
n land, earth, country, (outdoor) area
n parent, mother, father
mod of the parent, parental, maternal, fatherly
[sounds like momma]
n money, material wealth, currency, dollar, capital
n woman, female, girl, wife, girlfriend
mod female, feminine, womanly
n I, we
mod my, our
n man, male, boy, husband, boyfriend
mod male, masculine, manly
n food, meal
vt eat, drink, swallow, ingest, consume
n death
vi die, be dead
vt kill
mod dead, deadly, fatal
n back, rear end, butt, behind
mod back, rear
interj woof! meow! moo! etc. (animal noise)
n moon
mod lunar
n fun, playing, game, recreation, art, entertainment
mod artful, fun, recreational
vi play, have fun
vt amuse, entertain
mod many, very, much, several, a lot, abundant, numerous, more
n amount, quantity
vt make many or much
n food additive, accessory, something extra
vt season, embellish, stimulate
n number
oth -th (ordinal numbers)
mod silly, crazy, foolish, drunk, strange, stupid, weird
vt drive crazy, make weird
n way, manner, custom, road, path, doctrine, system, method
n bump, nose, hill, mountain, button
mod this, that
n word, name
n leg, foot
sep O (vocative or imperative)
interj hey! (calling somebody's attention)
n eye
[similar to oculist]
n love
mod love
vt to love (a person)
n she, he, it, they
mod her, his, its, their
vt open, turn on
n blunder, accident, mistake, destruction, damage, breaking
vt screw up, fuck up, botch, ruin, break, hurt, injure, damage, spoil, ruin
vi screw up, fall apart, break
interj damn! fuck!
n activity, work, deed, project
mod active, work-related, operating, working
vt do, make, build, create
vi act, work, function
n long, mostly hard object, e.g. rod, stick, branch
n grain, cereal
vt give, put, send, place, release, emit, cause
n giving, transfer, exchange
sep of, belonging to
n feelings, emotion, heart
vi feel
vt feel, think, sense, touch
mod black, dark
n darkness, shadows
vt darken
n end, tip
mod completed, finished, past, done, ago
vt finish, close, end, turn off
n bug, insect, spider
n side, hip, next to
prep in the accompaniment of, with
mod neighbouring
n container, box, bowl, cup, glass
n good, simplicity, positivity
mod good, simple, positive, nice, correct, right
interj great! good! thanks! OK! cool! yay!
vt improve, fix, repair, make good
(yet undefined entry in the official word list)
mod same, similar, equal, of equal status or position
prep like, as, seem
n fire, warmth, heat
mod hot, warm, cooked
vt heat, warm up, cook
n outside, surface, skin, shell, bark, shape, peel
oth what, which, wh- (question word)
n high, up, above, top, over, on
mod superior, elevated, religious, formal
n body, physical state
n circle, wheel, sphere, ball, cycle
mod round, cyclical
mod new, fresh, another, more
vt renew, renovate, freshen
n you
mod your
n front, chest, torso, face, wall
n picture, image
vt draw, write
n knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, understanding
vt know, understand, know how to
vi know, understand
kama learn, study
n animal, especially land mammal, lovable animal
mod big, tall, long, adult, important
vt enlarge, lengthen
n size
n sun, light
n horizontal surface, e.g furniture, table, chair, pillow, floor
n candy, sweet food
mod sweet, cute
vt sweeten
prep from, by, because of, since
n origin, cause
mod only, sole
conj but
[that's all]
prep to, in order to, towards, for, until
vi go to, walk, travel, move, leave
n movement, transportation
mod moving, mobile
vt move, displace
n water, liquid, juice, sauce
vt water, wash with water
n time, period of time, moment, duration, situation
n language, talking, speech, communication
mod talking, verbal
vt say
vi talk, chat, communicate
interj hello! hi!
n indoor constructed space, e.g. house, home, room, building
mod urban, domestic, household
mod two
n duo, pair
vt double, separate/cut/divide in two
n sex, sexuality
mod erotic, sexual
vt have sex with, sleep with, fuck
vi have sex
n mouth
mod oral
n conflict, disharmony, competition, fight, war, battle, attack, blow, argument, physical or verbal violence
vt hit, strike, attack, compete against
mod white, light (colour)
n white thing or part, whiteness, lightness
[sounds like wall, which is often white]
mod one, a
n unit, element, particle, part, piece
vt unite, make one
n bird, winged animal
n energy, strength, power
mod energetic, strong, fierce, intense, sure, confident
vt strengthen, energize, empower
mod away, absent, missing
n absence
vt throw away, remove, get rid of
vt to want, need, wish, have to, must, will, should
n desire, need, will
mod necessary

Parts of SpeechEdit

  • n head noun
  • mod modifier (adjective or adverb)
  • sep separator
  • vt verb, transitive (normally used with e)
  • vi verb, intransitive
  • interj interjection
  • prep quasi-preposition
  • conj conjunction
  • kama compound verb preceded by kama
  • cont context word used before la
  • oth special, other word