Thursday, July 27, 2017

FAQ 11 How do you say directions in toki pona?

The basics are easy.
"in front' is 'lon sinpin'
"behind" is 'lon monsi'
"above" is 'lon sewi'
"below" is 'lon anpa'
"to the side" is lon poka'

Ah, but which side, left or right?  For most of the history of tp, the argument has raged between the heart people and the hand people.  The hand people want to name "right" for the dominant hand, 'luka wawa' or 'luka lawa' or even 'luka pona' and "left" getting the negation (or 'ike' in the last case).  Lefties are not too fond of this and are a sizable portion of the population, so they object.  Heart people want to name left for the crucial organ that is (more or less) on that side:  'pona pilin' or 'pona ilo' or some other word for "heart" (all equally dubious).  But dexterocardia, while not as common as left-handedness, is still significant and those people objected to getting left with the negations again.  Some other suggestions were offered, but they all turned out to be disguised forms of one of these ('open' for"right" because I is the side you start on -- but the is because you are right-handed, for example).  Or totally arbitrary, like 'akesi' for "right" and 'wile' for "left" (or the other way around).

What was needed was something universal in tp culture by tied to the two sides.  But tp doens't have much culture, let alone universals.  Except that it is written from left to right in (a part of)  the Latin alphabet.  So, the left hadn't side is the side where writing starts, 'open', and the right is where it ends, 'pini' and no one is offended  (To b sure, there are codes for tp which run in other directions, but they are just that, codes, not the language itself.)  So,
"on the left" = 'lon poka open'
"on the right" = 'lon pona pini'
(USA users will note that this fits with the rule of thumb "Righty tighty, lefty loosy" for faucets.  It doesn't always work elsewhere.)

If we move from personal orientation to geographical, we again have some easy cases:
"East" = (ma pi) kama/open (suno)
"West" = (ma pi) weka/pini (suno)
('suno sin' had some traction for "East", but 'suno pi sin ala' seemed to long for "West"

Given the fuss about "left" and "right" and not offending anyone, one would expect "North"  and "South" to be problems.  But from earliest times the equation has been the boreocentric
"North" = 'lete'
"South" = 'seli'
Antipodeans, be damned!

These words are now so entrenched in the corpus that there seems little hope of uprooting them.  Nor has there been a real clear plan to do so, despite the objection to this situation.  Probably the best was to use the (far from universal) mapping convention, making North the top of the map ('semi/lawa') and South the bottom ('anpa/noka'). "But Chinese maps...".  (There was a version of this for the left/right problem, getting "left" from "West" and "right" from "East" -- another source of 'open'"right" suggestion and as flawed.).  A rather more elaborate scheme, a version of "the Deccan is on the right facing the rising sun", was to align the map 'open' and the personal one and then read "North" ('monsi') and "South" ('sinpin') off that.  Clever and coherent, but it means that the words for "North" and "South" are already direction words and the possibility for confusion is enormous.  Is 'tawa sinpin' "straight ahead" or "south"?  No other proposal has fared as well. 

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