Conlanging With Toki Pona

By Max Woerner Chase

In this post:

Over the past week or so, I went over some Toki Pona tutorials. From looking over several sources, it kind of seems like people using Toki Pona just have to decide what makes sense, in that there's community drift, changes from Sonja Lang, reform proposals, and people accidentally(?) codifying their own weird quirks in reference documents.

All that said, it occurs to me that Toki Pona could be an interesting tool for conlanging. Suppose there's some linguistic feature you want to try using in a conlang, and you're like me, and don't have anything fleshed out enough to use as a base. If I'm going to make up a language from scratch, I'm going to reach for a word list and a sentence list, and build things up until I can try to incorporate whatever feature I was making it for in the first place.

But it looks to me like Toki Pona could function as a sufficiently fleshed-out base, to apply changes to. Just define the feature in question, figure out ways in which Toki Pona does not exhibit it, and what changes would be needed to get it.

I haven't gotten too far with trying this out, because I was doing stuff like obsessively refreshing ReadTheDocs to see when they'll roll out Python 3.7 support.

Anyway, ideas for features to try out, and details of how to notate the attempts...

I'm thinking when I get back to Linked Seas, I'll try to take this approach to create a proto-language, and do diachronic stuff. I believe the requirements for getting a language like this into a state where it's usable as an ancestor language, include redoing all of the roots. Basically, the commonly-used words in a typical language should occupy much narrower semantic fields than words in Toki Pona, so taking a language past the "syntax experimentation" stage requires interrogating the choice of semantic fields. But fortunately, there aren't many of them, so it's feasible to kind of refactor things on the fly.

I'm going to throw out a bunch of features I'd like to try building a language around, and I'll do this for a weekly project some time:

I've got some time. Let's see if I can put some sample sentences into that form.

The sun shines.
[suno (v)].singular.perfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative
The sun is shining.
[suno (v)].singular.imperfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative
The sun shone.
[suno (v)].singular.perfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative [pini (n)].plural.inessive
The sun will shine.
[suno (v)].singular.perfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative [kama (n)].plural.inessive
The sun has been shining.
[suno (v)].singular.imperfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative [pini (n)].plural.inessive
The sun is shining again.
[sin (v)].singular.imperfective [suno (v)].singular.imperfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative
The sun will shine tomorrow.
[suno (v)].singular.perfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative [tenpo suno kama (n)].singular.inessive
The sun shines brightly.
[suno (v)].singular.perfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative [ilo suno (n)].plural.comparative ("The sun shines like bright things.")
The bright sun shines.
[suno (v)].singular.perfective [suno (n)].singular.nominative [suno (adj)].singular.nominative
The sun is rising now.
[sewi (v)].singular.inchoative [suno (n)].singular.nominative [tenpo ni (n)].singular.inessive
All the people shouted.
[toki wawa (v)].plural.perfective [jan (n)].plural.nominative [ale (adj)].plural.nominative [pini (n)].plural.inessive (I believe I'm having "ale" function as a determiner here.)
Some of the people shouted.
[toki wawa (v)].plural.perfective [jan (n)].plural.nominative [ale ala (adj)].plural.nominative [pini (n)].plural.inessive

I don't know how the whole list would go over like this, but this seems promising. I'm really liking the unfinished feeling that I got from just kind of putting some vague words together. One thing I hadn't anticipated was that I started building up phrases in some of those, to create necessary high-level concepts, or narrow down meaning preemptively.

I'd like to try just one not on the sentence list before I wrap this up, because I anticipate it could give me some problems.

I drink a glass of water.
[moku telo (v)].singular.perfective [mi (n)].singular.nominative [poki (n)].singular.accusative [telo (n)].plural.genitive'[jo (adj)].singular.accusative

The basic idea is that possessive constructions, including quantifying a mass noun, require contractions: the possessing noun is put in plural genetive, then the vowels are removed, and the appropriate ending is added with [jo (adj)].

Also, [mi (n)] is probably actually something like '[wan ni (n)], but that's an implementation detail.

One more:

It's raining.
[mi (n)].singular.accusative [pana (v)].plural.imperfective [telo sewi (n)].plural.dative "I am given rains."

I'm liking this, this is really nice. I'll have to pick this back up later.