Friday, March 25, 2011

2. Oliver and Bill meet jan Oliwa en jan Pili li kama sona e sama (half draft)

O: toki
P: toki

O: mi jan Oliwa
P: nimi mi li nimi 'Pili'  sina tan seme?

O: mi tan ma tomo Montejale.  sina?
P: tenpo ni la mi tan ma tomo SanLuwi pi lon ma lili Misuli .  taso tenpo pini la mi tan ma tomo Ele pi ma lili Kaliponija. taso toki Inli li nimi seme e ma tomo Montejale

O:  nimi 'Montejale; li nimi 'Montreal' kepeken toki Inli..  sina pali e seme?
 P: mi pali lon tomo mani.

O: pona!  mi esun e ilo sona.  ken la sina kepeken e ona.
P: kepeken kin.  ilo mi li kepeken  nasin Winto.  sina esun ala esun e ilo pi nasin Winto.

O: ala.  ilo mi li kepeken nasin Linu
P: nasin ni kin li pona;  jan meli mi li kepeken ona.

O: mi wan ala.  jan meli ala li wile wan e jan pi ilo sona.
P: kin la ala.  ona li kama jo e mani mute li lawa e ma tawa tenpo kama.

O: lon.  taso mi pona lukin ala.  pakala!  mi wile tawa  kulupu pi jan esun,  mi tawa.
P: mi kin.  tawa pona!


I'm Oliver
My name is Bill.  Where are you from?

I'm from Montejale. You?
Now I'm from Saint Louis, Missouri.  But I used to be from L.A. California.  What do Anglophones call

'Montejale' is "Montreal" in English.  What do you do? 
I work in a bank.

I sell computers,  Maybe you use one. 
I do indeed.  My machine uses Windows. Do you sell Windows machines?

No. My machines use Linux.
That is also a good system.  My wife uses it.

I'm not married.  No woman wants to marry a computer person.
Surely not.  They get lots of money and are leading our country into the future.

True.  But I am not handsome.  Damn!  I have to go to a meeting with customers.  Goodbye.
Me, too.  Farewell.

This seems like a lot for a first lesson, but, if you understand the main things on this page, you know just about all you need to know about toki pona, except for learning the remaining 100 words or so.

 To begin with the title, jan Oliwa en jan Pili li kama sona e samaThis is a complete basic toki pona sentence of the only type there is.  Every complete bastc toki pona sentence begins with the subject, reference towhat the sentence is about -- in this case, Oliver and Bill  -- jan Oliwa en jan Pili..  Then comes the predicate, introduced by li here, kama sona e sama.  This consists of the verb kama sona and the direct object, introduced by e, sama.  The subjects, the verbs and the objects may change but this pattern remains the same: Subject li Verb e Object.  Actually, the object is only required with certain verb, transitive verbs, so the real core is just subject li verb. Of course, in certain situations, as we shall see, we may leave out other parts that are clear from context or we may add details, but the core holds.

The subject here is a conjunction of references to two different people, Oliver and Bill.  Their names are obvious from last lesson, though Oliver has changed the final e  to a and Bill has added li to the rather too short Pi.  But now notice that these names do not stand alone but follow the word jan, "person".  In toki pona, what we think of as proper names, names of individuals, are adjectives and must always come after a noun that specifies what kind of individual the named is, here people.  In other typical cases, the names follow indicators for countries (ma), cities (ma tomo) or companies (kulupu) or whatever can be individualized and named.  A name like Oliwa can never occur alone in a grammatical toki pona utterance (except, perhaps, to fill in a gap).

Notice, too, that Oliwa, though an adjective, comes after the noun.  In fact, in toki pona, adjectives always come after their nouns and, in general, modifiers follow what they modify.  This is, of course, just the opposite of English, so it will take some practice to not fall back into familiar habits.  But many lanhguages work this way and it doesn't seem to make any difference -- except in a particular language, where you have to do it a particular way.  So, here, adjective after noun.

Jumping ahead to the object, introduced by e.  It is the single word sama, which here means "one another" (like most toki pona words, it will be translated in different ways in different circumstances).  It refers back to the conjoined subjects and indicates a reciprocal action between them.

That action is described in the verb, kama sona, "get to know".  kama indicates a change from before to the new state mentioned next.  That new state is knowing, sona, in particular, each of the pair, at the end, know the other a bit -- certainly more than before.

After this, most of what we will have to say is about words, for the grammar is largely done.  We will come back and go over it in more detail as the need arises. but mostly it is here.  And notice what we have not had to cover: in toki pona there are no tenses -- if differences in time are important we say exactly what we mean by saying "at such and such a time";  there are no cases -- subject and object are known by their positions, prepositional objects by being after prepositions; there are no relative clauses or relative pronouns or sequence of tenses or the like (although we will have to do some of the work these do in other ways).

Now to the dialog.  The opening words, toki from each is a conventional greeting and so essentially meaningless (what does "Hello" mean?).  However it does have deep roots.  toki means "talk, language, communication" so this greeting is an invitation to share in the community which communication engenders, to be a part of the toki pona community -- another look back at the small society of  Daoism, where everyone knew how to talk to anyone.

The next step is obvious, of course: introduce yourself.  Each speaker takes a different one of the two easiest ways.  Oliver takes the easiest, simply saying who he is "I am the person Oliver".  Note that here is a piece of the usual pattern omitted -- we don't use li after mi (I, me) or, as we'll see in a moment, sina (you).  Notice then that there is nothing corresponding to "to be" here, nothing which is directly related to "am" in the translation.  Again, this is generally true; li merely marks the beginning of a predicate, not a separate part of it -- it appears even when "to be" would be inappropriate, as in the title.  There is also nothing corresponding to "the" (nor "a"); in translation we may need them, but we can mainly fill them in from the context.  toki pona does fine without.

Bill is more roundabout, he tells you what his name is.  Here there is the li because the subject is not just mi but nimi mi.  Since he is talking about a word -- his name -- Bill will have to use a name of that name and correctly identify its class, names, of course.  He does this by using quotes around the name to get its name. Thus what he says is essentially the same form as Oliver's: what he is/what his name is.Simple identifications. The one temptation to avoid is to follow the easy pattern of English, adapted to toki pona apparently, and say the nonsensical nimi mi li jan San  (your name is not a person, nor are you a word).

Bill now makes the next obvious move. "Where are you from?", literally "you from what?"   sina mean "you", like English either singular or plural.  mi, by the way,  is also either singular or plural, but it is not uncommon to see it supplemented by mute "many" or a number.  You can do this with sina as well, but it is less common.
tan is basically the preposition "from" but here is used as a verb "be from", as it were.  But, like the preposition it is, it takes a noun after it directly, rather than a direct object, to say what the origin is.  In this case, the noun is seme', "what?", the only interrogative word in toki pona.  Since it clearly is asking about a place, we translate it "where?" (tan can mean other things -- as can almost all toki pona words -- so in a different context we might translate this differently).

Notice that, In English, we would say "Where are you from?"  But we cannot do this is toki pona, since there is a fixed order of parts: the subject must be first, followed by li and the verb, and the complement of a preposition has to follow the preposition.  This is the basic pattern again, with the additional information that, for certain verbs, a noun can follow immediately, not as a direct object after e.

Oliver responds to this question.  He could have said merely ma tomo Montejalema tomo is a standard expression for "city", meaning an area of land (ma) characterized by buildings (tomo).  tomo is a modifier, modifying ma, indicating a certain kind of land.  This whole is now modified by the proper adjective Montejale to pick out a particular one of these things.  The pattern here of a modifier modifying the word or words to its left is standard in toki pona.  Strings of this sort can be extended indefinitely as we shall see directly.

Oliver now asks the same question of Bill, using the short form because the rest is obvious from the context.  There is no sign of a question in this word; Oliver makes it one by the rise of his voice at the end.

Bill answers that he is from Saint Louis.  But he prefixes this by one of those things which can be added to the basic sentence structure, a condition, closed by la.  There are many kinds of conditions, but this is one of the most common, setting an event in time.  The event here is being from Saint Louis and the time it occurs is now, at this time, expressed by tenpo ni.  tenpo means "time" and ni is "this" or "that", pointing to something in the context of the utterance.  In this case, it is pointing to a time and the only one available is the present, so the whole means "now.".  Bill's word for St. Louis is not exactly what you might expect, but the modifications give it an appropriate French look.

His place name is extended, however, by pi ma lili Misuli.  This is a further modification of the string ma tomo SanLuwi, but the pi indicates that, rather than adding new modifiers one by one, we take a block of several words and treat that whole as a single modifier.  So, the whole ma lili Misuli modifies ma tomo SanLuwi, explaining which St. Louis is meant.  This block is itself built up just like the first one, except that we now have a name for a state (ma lili) rather than a city.  ma lili means "state" here, literally "little country" -- little only relative to a whole nation, which would be just ma usually.  Bill might have also called the state Misuwi, but he apparently doubts Sonja's characterization of American pronunciation.

But Bill now asks -- in one of the many possible ways -- what the heck Montejale is toki pona for: "The English language calls Montejale what?" This underlines again the problem of working back from a toki pona name to a more familiar one. Bill begins with the subject, using toki to mean "language" here and Inli as the standard name for English.  The verb here is nimi which we met earlier as a noun meaning "name" now appears as a verb meaning "call, give a name to".  The name you give can occur as a complement after nimi, essentially the pattern we have seen already, but here modified to take account of the fact that we have a transitive verb here and so are talking not about what the name of a thing is, but what someone calls it. And, what someone calls it is what we want to know, so the space where the name would go gets the question word, seme.  The direct object, after e, refers to what it is whose name we seek, the city called Montejale in toki pona.

Oliver could have replied simply "Montreal" or followed Bill's pattern toki Inli li nimi 'Montreal' e ma tomo Montejale or, because people find those noun phrases after a verb distracting when there is also a direct object, toki Inli li nimi e ma tomo Montejale kepeken e nimi "Montreal", "The English language refers to (names) the city Montejale by using the word "Montreal""  In this we see another addition to the basic sentence pattern, prepositional phrases, again in a fixed place, at the end.  kepeken means "use" as a verb but is here being used as a preposition meaning "using, by means of as a tool".

But Oliver uses a different pattern: "The word 'Montejale' is (the same as) the word "Montreal" in English", back to Bill's pattern for identifying with the addition of the phrase identifying the language involved.  By the way, the kepeken phrase is the standard way of telling what language is being spoken for a particular situation: tenpo ni  la mi sitelen kepeken toki pona.   sitelen means "write" in this situation.

At this point, these detailed discussions are probably not necessary  (they are in the back of the book just in case, however)  For the next bit, you need to know that pali means "work, do, make"  Inn the context, the last doesn't seem to enter,  tomo means a building and mani means money.

In Oliver.s rejoinder, esun means "exchange, buy, sell" and we have to take the probabilities here that there are few computer buyers and fewer exchangers but many sellers.  ilo is a tool, a machine and sona means knowledge.  There are several other expressions for computers but this seems the most general.  ken means possible, so as a condition it means something like "maybe".  ona is the third person pronoun and means the same as some expression earlier in the discussion.  In this case, the only candidate is ilo sona, since sina wouldn't give a third person pronoun.  kepeken is a transitive verb here and so has a direct object.

kin comes after a word to stress it, here vigorously asserting that he uses computers (notice, we don't need the full name here, there is only one kind of machine being discussed).  nasin is a word for, among other things, like "road", a word for systems, here a widely used operating system for computers

The yes/no question is here expressed in the usual way by repeating the verb and and sticking ala  "not" between them.  The correct standard reply. would be ala or esun ala for "No" and esun for "Yes".
Linux is another well known operating system.  kin here means "also, too" contrasting with the earlier nasin Winto.

jan meli mi is standard for "my wife", meli means feamle of any species, hence the jan but context usually covers it (although here meli mi alone might mean a secretary or someone in the office pool at the bank.  It might even with jan, come to that; we go with the unlikelihood that a secretary uses a system othr than the rest of the business).

wan means "one" but can be extended to include the act of getting married ("becoming one") and hence to mean "maried."

What has been displayed so far
1.  The pattern of toki pona sentences is Subject li Verb
2.  This pattern can be extended by
      a  adding a condition in front followed by la
      b  adding a direct object after the verb, preceded by e
      c  placing a prepositional phrase at the end (after the direct objects if there are some)

3.  Words can be modified by adding word, one by one to the right
4.  A block of words can count as a single modifier if it is preceded by pi

5.  Wh-questions are formed by putting seme in place of the wanted word.
6,   Yes/no questions are formed by repeating the verb with ala between.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Introduction (draft)

toki pona is a language developed over the last decade by Sonja Elen Kisa (a great toki pona name, by the way), a Canadian language professional.  It is meant to be a very small language, easy to learn and master. To understand how it is more than that, we need to look at the philosophy and the problems that lie behind its creation.

The central concept underlying toki pona is simplicity ("toki pona" means, among other things, "simple language").  The importance of this concept to Kisa ("jan Sonja" among the users of the language)sprang from three sources: Daoism, mental distress, and the linguistic chicanery of the modern world.  Daoism and a language which incorporated some of its teachings were seen as a possible answer to the other two factors.
Daoism is an ancient (-5th century) Chinese philosophy which stressed a return to a simpler style of living and a simpler society, one without distinctions of rank and wealth.  And part of the path to this society was (as in all ancient philosophies) the rectification of names, calling a spade a spade and a dictator a murdering.   maniac.  Once things were called by their proper names, then people would not be confused (and bamboozled) by the tricky slogans.  And then most of the mental problems would disappear, since they are caused by the disconnect between what the hype says -- the expectations -- and what actually follows.  To be sure, some significant portion of mental distress arises simply from the complexities of the modern world, even without its use to conceal chicanery, so simplifying life -- at least the things that we need to heed -- makes a further contribution to mental health. 

Although we cannot, by and large, go back to the primitive, agrarian society of even more ancient China, we can take advantage of some parts of Daoism even today.  We can come to use -- in our private observation of the world, definitely, and in society insofar as the language spreads -- a language with a small number of words and express all that is significant in our lives in terms of these few words.  Thus we need focus on only a few factors and to treat anything more complex as built up from those factors in an intelligible way, a way that allows us to go back to how they affect our normal life.  If we can't do that with some notion  (credit swaps, say), then it is not a part of real life and is to be avoided. 

For such a language, the choice of those few words is important: too many and complex notions fit in, too few and you cannot say all you want.  And this last problem arises, too, if the words chosen do not fill the world adequately.  toki pona has about 120 words and, while I do not know how they were selected, jan Sonja claims them to be appropriately small and experience has shown them to be appropriately broad, covering a wide variety of circumstances.  Whether the vocabulary needs changes is something that only further experience with the language can tell.

So far, the explanation of the origins of toki pona has made it sound like a very deep study indeed.  But, while we can hope that you derive some advantages from learning it well -- in terms of mental health and a more effective bullshitometer, the real reason for learning toki pona is that it is and easy-to-learn, fun language, that has enough of a community (only on the internet, alas) to allow you to develop some (virtual) friendships and acquire some expertise in a new language, always a thrilling experience (if done outside the horrific teaching methods of many schools).  So join us as we turn to the basics of toki pona (and, happily, there is not much beyond the basics).

[ Pedantic footnotes.
"Kisa" is the tokiponization of the Acadian French name Richard (does anybody still remember Maurice and Henri, the Rocket and the Pocket Rocket, who led the Habs in the NHL from the 1940s into the '8os?).

There is a lot more to Daoism than what is described above.  In particular, it holds that ultimately all words are useless and all distinctions should be lost so that we live entirely in accord with nature, without any artificiality at all.

"on the internet, alas"  toki pona is a language for face to face communication, in contexts available to both interlocutors, for much of the conveyance of messages is done by using features of the context.  The toki pona seen on the internet is excessively elaborate because the users have to fill in large parts of the context.  Thus, internet toki pona tends to have fairly long noun phrases -- a head noun and a long string of modifiers -- where face-to-race toki pona could usually do with only the noun and perhaps a simple modifier, since it only has to pick something out from the limited context, not from the whole world. ]