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. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

toki pi kama pi jan kiwen *183*

jan Kaken en jan Lolen li pana e sin.  ona li tawa noka lon nasin lon ma tomo Metopoli li kute e a ni: "a. o pana e pona."  jan Lolen li tawa wawa tawa kalama ni.  jan Kaken li toki e ni. "mi tawa ilo toki li pana e sin tawa jan selo.  ona li kama  tawa insa pi tomo pi ilo toki la ona li weka e len ona li kama jan pana e sama tawa sewi li kama tawa tan a.

o lukin sewi.  ni li walo. ala. ni li tomo tawa kon.  ala. ni li jan kiwen

Thursday, February 23, 2017

tp FAQ 9 What is the point of toki pona?

What is the point of tp?

Well, first and foremost, it is fun and exhilarating.  You can learn a language in a few days and become a master at it in a few weeks! You are challenged to express yourself in new ways.  If you  meet those challenge, you have the thrill of triumph. If you don't, no harm done and try again.     Then challenged again to do it in ways that not only satisfy you but are understood by others.  You see new connections and new meanings in old experiences as you express them in a new language.  And, perhaps, you see more clearly and shed some baggage in the process.  All pleasant and exciting.

But once you get into the language, you want to work with it according to your personality and interests.  One common path, associated with writers and anthropologists in various ways, is to reconstruct or imagine the culture and life of the native speakers of the language, based on the language, surface and deep.  Different people may come up with different societies and lives, of course, but each has to account for various facts about the language.  For example, the negative words outnumber the positive  (ike, jaki, pakala, moli, monsuta versus pona, olin, musi, for one list).  Nature words are not very precise, but neither are the words of advanced technologies, nor even of agriculture.  Commercial words are limited to one that still means "flock" and another for barter. The family is present and apparently important but society beyond that is unclear, though the presence of coercion is suggested by 'wile', while other factors suggest egalitarianism.  Here, then, is a field for creative work (all the factors mentioned can be emphasized or explained away, for instance).  

Closely related to this use in theory but very different in practice is applying tp in everyday life here and now.  Try to describe and interact in your present situation using only the basics of tp.  In the process, you may notice that some things that seemed important in English disappear or that overlooked factors rise to prominence.  In particular, things stressed by social custom may be downplayed, physical realities may assume a more pressing role.  Or the opposite may appear.  In particular, your examination of your own role and actions may take on a new light, and, correspondingly, so may those of others toward you.   Generally, whatever it may be, your life takes on a new perspective, in which your action take on a different value, even different possibilities.  

Or, rather than an artlang or a pyschlang, you may think of tp as an engilang, designed to see how much one can do with how little content and structure.  The aim then is to be able to say in tp anything you can say in English (or whatever) and in a reasonably economical fashion.  This is not merely  -- or not even -- a matter of finding tp expressions for all English words.  It is rather a matter of saying in context in tp whatever can be said in a similar context in English and in a not too terribly more complex way.  This involves a long-term effort, for building a context for a particular piece often involves building at least the skeleton of a literary tradition (romantic poetry, quantum physics, crime reports, ...) on which to build the particular case. Presumably, one occasionally finds a brick wall that (at least for now) no one can see a way around.  One has then either to propose some addition to tp (large number -- bigger than three, say -- spring to mind) or set the topic aside as presently unachievable, and, in either case,  note the discovery of an (apparent) limitation.   

I pass over the use to tp as an auxlang, since no one seems to press for that and there obvious problems that offset it ease for learning.  

So, here are three uses for tp.

And fun, of course.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

FAQ 8 How does toki pona deal with large quantities?

Short answer: use 'mute'.  You can expand to 'mute mute' or 'mute suli'  but you don't need to. except maybe for comparisons.

Much longer answer:
Basic toki pona has two numbers, 'wan' and 'tu', from English.  Early on, it has two more, 'tuli' and 'po', also from English.  These were dropped very early, presumably as unneeded. It is not clear why the Daoist advice, "stop off at One," was not heeded, giving just 'ala'. 'wan' and 'mute' for quantities.  But 'tu' remains and anything larger than that is strictly 'mute'.

But, against one sort of toki pona philosophy, people would notice and be concerned with details: four is more than three and five more than either, not differences to be lost in 'mute'.  So toki pona came to allow strings of numbers which together made new numbers.  In particular, 'tu's could be strung out, with a 'wan' at the end for odd numbers, to designate the sum of the string: 'tu wan' 3, 'tu tu' 4, 'tu tu wan' 5, and so on.  In print, this technique can eventually represent any number, of course, but practically, and especially in spoken language, the intelligible limit, under the best circumstances, is 14 (max 5+/- 2 'tu's), not enough for a toki poner to give their age, even.

As a result, in this already suspect idiom, larger units were adopted.  The first, from very early, was 'luka' (relevantly "hand") for 5.  This usage is totally standard, tough officially deprecated occasionally.  In the construction of new numbers, the 'luka's come before the 'tu's, with the lone 'wan' still at the end, if at all (but no longer uniformly marking odd numbers). This extends the reasonable numbers to 35, though 33 and 34, don't quite make the limit.   This covers most toki poner's ages now, probably, but leaves little room for growth or geezers.

Aside from its historical allusions, the choice of 'luka' was wise, since 'luka', as "foreleg, hand"  would never in the normal run of conversation appear in a place where numbers do. Thus, no ambiguities were added in effect.  But the proposed solution to the limits of the 'luka' system, adding 'mute' 20 and 'ale' 100, immediately adds ambiguities -- and ones context often cannot readily break, since both these words are already quantity expressions, going exactly where numbers might also go.  But, in fact, they generally occur as numbers in strings of numbers, where "all" and "many" would not go, so the effect is actually rather minor.  These additions bring reasonable numbers up to 140 and then 700, now with several gaps in each case.  The order is still from largest to smallest: 'ale mute luka tu wan'.  This is as far as official or even generally agreed expressions go.

So, here speculation begins -- and has been going on since 'luka's earliest days.  One can, of course, keep proposing new words for ever larger quantities ('pipi' for 1,000, 'kala' for '10,000 or 1,000,000, say).  But the results are always unsatisfying and, in particular, clunky, according to the speculators.  The problem is generally conceded (by those involved) to be that additive increases make for too long expressions in general.  The internal structure of number strings needs to be opened up.

The first obvious suggestion is to bring multiplication in.  It gets bigger numbers faster and yet is still familiar enough to not require a lot of calculation at each step. Just how to bring multiplication in has led to several ingenious schemes.  One can, for example, take numbers out of their canonical order to mark a product: so 'luka tu' is 7 (canonical, additive), but 'tu luka' is 10.  Or one can move the additive features over to 'en' and use standard modification for multiplication: 'luka en tu' is 7, but 'luka tu'  is 10, "two 5s".  Or one can add an explicit multiplier ('mute' suggested, so back to the 'luka' system, apparently) 'luka tu' is still 7 but 'luka mute tu' is 10.    All of these require some further rules about grouping ('pi', for starters) and various details.  Each of them presents some problems with the transition from the current language -- or even the old 'luka' system.  And, according to some speculators and many contented current users, the results is always a tangled mass of pluses and times (and minuses, even), that is hard to comprehend at a glance (so moving away from an optimal seven item number).

No one (I think) has suggested using exponentiation directly in number string structures.  But the more practical side of that, place notation, is the other obvious way to open number string structue.  Each number in the string is to be taken as a multiplier of a different power of the base of the system and the resulting number is the sum of these products: wyz in base b is  (w x b^2)+ (y x b) + z.  For toki pona, the obvious base is 3, since it has three numbers (counting 0).  So, 'tu tu' is 8, 'tu wan ala' is 21, and so on.  Of course, there is no longer a use for 'luka' ('wan tu').  And reasonable numbers even include this year.  To be sure, learning a new number system is a bit of a pain, but not nearly as bad as it seems in prospect, though decoding the year is a task (2016 is 2201221).

But, so the argument goes, so long as we accept the notion of place notation, why not use the familiar -- virtually universal -- one, decimal?  We could allow 'luka' and use base 6 (Happy 13200!) but that has all the relearning problems of base 3 and no real advantages.  The problem now is to find new words for the missing digits, assuming we would keep 'wan' and 'tu' and 'ala' -- or a whole new set, if not.  Starting from 'luka' as exemplar, the suggestions have focused on body parts, from 'sewi' to anpa' or some subset, or on living types, from 'jan' to 'pipi' or 'kasi' or, on another tack, the first word of each of the nine consonants.  And so on.  Or just a bunch of new words, from wherever, just for numbers.  This last is clearly not toki ponish, which tries to keep the wordlist small.  One cute intermediate suggestion was based on abacus numbers -- how many beads up to the bar and whether or ot one is also down to the bar -- so adding in 'si' ('tuli' is ungainly) and 'po' and then, with the drop,
luka, luwan, lutu, lusi lupo'.  A lesser change than a whole new set.  And, of course, 'luka' can be reanalysed as 'bar and 0' giving a new word for 0 and getting rid of the 'ala'/'ale' muddle.

But none of these are going to get acceptance on their own terms; even 'luka' and certainly 'ali' and 'mute' are still provisional.   So why this drive to get a number system that includes large numbers?  Because large numbers are important in our ordinary lives.  Or so it seems.  But we don't spend much of our lives (most of us) counting things or doing arithmetic.  I do arithmetic maybe twice a week (balance a checkbook, figure out what pan to use), but I use big numbers constantly: PINs, credit cards, telephone numbers, IP addresses, ZIP codes, order numbers, and so on.  But the joke is that none of these are numbers in a strict sense; they are neither cardinal nor ordinal, they don't add or multiply in any meaningful way.  They are, in fact, names, which just happen to be built of digits rather than letters (letters would actually be more efficient, but somehow harder to use). Some of them have an inner structure, not unlike given names, others are just distinctive strings, with no internal structure beyond the order of the digits. Even the few numbers of this class that are numbers in some usual sense, dates, for example, fall easily over into the class of more structured indices.

So, if this is a major driving force in the look for a better number system, we are looking in the wrong place.  We don't need to expand upon 'wan', 'tu', and whatever others we allow nor upon the combination rules.  We need to introduce some system into the realm of Unofficial Words (i.e., proper names).  We need some (quasi) official names for digits (and for letters as well, I would insist).  Then all these problems disappear: mi jo e ilo toki [new name] e ilo sona [another new name] e lipu mani [yet another, longer name].  Where to go for these names (other than the toki pona numbers, of course) will no doubt keep the discussion flowing for a while, but some consensus is surely possible here, where it was not with numbers, so near the core of toki pona.

And, once we have a way to deal with dates and debit cards, someone will figure out a wa y to apply this idiom to counting sheep.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Subordinate clauses

English -- and most familiar languages -- have a variety of subordinate clauses, chunks of language that are almost sentences but cannot stand on their own as fully meaningful.  toki pona has no such chunks of language, everything that is like a sentence is a sentence.  And yet, subordinate clauses play several important roles in English and these roles need to be played in toki pona as well.  This paper is about how toki pona covers these roles.  Most of it is familiar; on the context and bringing them all together is added.

The easiest -- and most familiar -- case is indirect discourse.  This presents the gist of what someone said (or thought or wrote or ....) without actually quoting it verbatim.  In English, it typically involves a clause that begins with "that" (apparently a special one, just for this purpose). and involves several shifts of reference, in pronouns and times, especially.  If someone actually says "I will be there tomorrow", this may be reported as "He said that he would be here (or at the place) today (or on the Snext day)" where the variations depend on when and where the report is made (Sorting out the time shifts are a large part of the gramar of many familiar languages, the "sequence of tense" and the various forms that this requires.) .  In toki pona, the same move is made using the ordinary 'ni "that"', a deictic pronoun pointing to the following sentence, which is just the sentential part of the English version, complete with referential shifts as needed (but not usually tense, of course).  ona li toki e nimi 'tenpo suno kama la mi lon ni' become 'ona li toki e ni: tenpo suno ni la ona li lon ni'  (or as required).

Almost equally straightforward are cases of non-restrictive relative clauses, which add new -- but relatively less salient -- information about someone already identified.  These are marked by the occurrence of a relative pronoun (who, what, which, that, ....) in place of some significant noun in what would otherwise be a sentence.  Usage -- and especially "good usage', e.g., in style books -- varies all over the place on these, depending on country and year and tone and what have you.  Apparently, the current "best" American usage is to set such clauses off with commas and to use the wh pronouns.  "John, who has a dog, is going to Italy", where it is the trip that is the focus and the dog just enters in as interesting side information.  In toki pona, the corresponding structure is just two consecutive sentences, the less central one second, with a pronominal phrase adequate to insure identification:  'jan Jon li tawa ma Italija. ona (mije/ jan ni) li jo e soweli tomo.'

Mention of non-restrictive relative clauses raises immediately the issue of restrictive relative clauses.  These function to further identify a vaguely specified object  which then plays a role in the main line of the text.  In English, these are again marked with wh relative pronouns (which look just like interrogative ones) or 'that".  Current fashion seems to be to prefer "that" as the connector and to not use commas to set the clause off: "The man that came to dinner stayed a month" (in was "the man who came" when the play was written in the 1930s).  In toki pona the pattern is to use two sentences and always use 'ni' somewhere.  Generally, the sentence corresponding to the relative clause is first and the main clause is second, with the 'ni' occurring at the appropriate place in the second sentence. But there is some variations on both which sentence comes first and where the 'ni' goes. The proposed pattern seems clearest (to me, today): 'jan li kama. tawa moku. jan ni li awen. lon tenpo mun.'  

Somewhat more remote from ordinary full sentences (and so, sometimes not considered clauses at all) are expressions where the verb is an infinitive (introduced by a special "to") and the subject, if present at all is either in the direct object form (when detectable) or introduced by "for" or the like.  These are generally associated with intentional verbs (wanting, intending and the like) and related prepositions ("in order", 'because", ...).  "She wanted him to go" ("She wanted for him to go" in some cases, "She wanted to go herself" when she is also the subordinate subject) .  The tp solution is again 'ni' in the appropriate object slot (for the verb or preposition) and the subordinate sentence as that indicated by the deixis:  'ona meli li wile e ni: ona mije li tawa' ('ona li wile e ni: ona li tawa' collapses as 'ona li wile tawa' as English does to "She wanted to go").  [Although the tp sentences are grammatically separate, a semantic/pragmatic/logic subordination persists, to prevent the word from being populated by wished-for horses. If 'mi jo e soweli tawa' is true, then so is 'soweli tawa li lon'  but if 'mi wile e (ni: mi jo e) soweli tawa' 'soweli tawa li lon' does not follow.]

There are probably more cases to consider, but these are the main ones.  Please call my attention to further cases.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

kalama pi toki pona

toki pona has 14 (segmental) phonemes, all defined as the IPA standards.  When actually spoken, however, these phonemes are realized in a variety of ways, both predictable and not.  And, in each case, a number of factors enter in that may affect the pronunciation of a particular person on a particular occasion.

To begin at the more predictable end of things.  tp does not have either length of vowels or diphthongs.  But, in practice, stressed vowels are somewhat longer (and usually slightly differently located) than unstressed.  Taking English examples -- which is a bad idea, given the muddled English vowel system, stressed /i/ is probably, in fact,  the diphthong /iy/ while the unstressed is the lower /i/ of "bit".  Similarly with /e/ (/ey/, "bet") and maybe /u/ (/uw/, "hood").  Unstressed /a/ is a schwa (the /a/ in "sofa") and, indeed, unstressed /o/ and /e/ tend that way as well.  Unstressed /o/ moves toward the open o sound but that is often collapsed in English to /a/ and so shift goes on.  Stressed /a/ also often gets (not regularly, apparently) the pronunciation of the /a/ in "hat".  Other substrate languages (and, indeed, other dialects of English) probably have other patterns of difference.  Except in the rare cases where the variation of one vowel goes into the range of another (I live with a speaker who does not reliably distinguish "pin" and "pen" and 'pen" and "pan"), none of these variations are significant for tp.

Much the same is true of the consonants.  The standard for the voiceless stops is unaspirated, but English speakers pretty regularly aspirate word-initial and stress-initial stops.  The standard for /t/ is dental, but English speakers regularly use alveolar.  And so on.  And, again, other languages have other variations.  In particular, an L1 substrate that has nasalized vowels (French, Portuguese, come to mind) will appear in nasalization of word-final /n/ -- and maybe stress-final as well.  Again -- so long as the nasal component remains -- this is not a problem.

But then there are some general phonetic principles in operation which may affect the sound of words.  One is the tendency for consonants between vowels to become voiced, so 'toki' comes out /togi/.  Still not a problem, since there are no voiced-voiceless contrasts in tp.  There is also a (weaker) tendency for stops between vowels to become fricatives, and this could be a problem, if 'mute' came out /muse/ and so fell in with 'musi', say.  So far, I have not heard of a 'p' becoming /f/ or a 'k' becoming /x/, but these would not be problems.  (Well, it might take a minute to get used to the difference from familiar pronunciations, but that is common to all meetings with new people.)

Somewhat harder to cope with -- and potentially more damaging -- are the random changes that apply to just one word at a time.  These tend to be idiosyncratic and based upon experiences unrelated to tp. I offer here just a few examples from my own idiolect and those I have heard:
'lon' pronounced like the name "Lon", tp 'lan', just because of the familiarity
'pona' as /bona/ probably etymological
'pini' as /fini/ also etymological
'musi' as /muzi/ even without general voicing.

Outside of the segmental phonemes, there is one common shift worth mentioning.  It sounds odd but it is not really a problem.  Because of the stress accent patterns of many languages, there is a tendency to take "stress on the first syllable" to mean "stress on the next to last syllable", as it does in most tp words.  As a result, the few three-syllable tp works are pronounced  /-'-/ rather than /'--/.  In at least the case of 'kepeken' this is reinforced etymologically. On the other hand, most three-syllable tp words look Finnish, which reinforces the first syllable rule.  One can imagine cases where this would make a difference, but I have never been able to construct a real one.  

Friday, March 18, 2016

tp FAQ 7 How different are the "dialects" of tp?

Not very; less than American and British English, probably less than Northern and Southern American English. You can read and write for a long time without knowing or showing which dialect you are in.

The least substantive issue is whether to use a comma with 'la. And, if you decide to use one, whether to put it before or after the 'la'. Commas also play a role in more substantive issues, but even here they are usually still considered optional (though occasionally appreciated). The most common place for them is before the terminal prepositional phrases, after the DO, where they prevent the preposition from being asorbed as a modifier in the DO: 'ona li pana e tomo tawa mi' (“He gave my car”) vs 'ona li pana e tomo, tawa mi' (“He gave me a house”). Other possible places are in modifier strings, to prevent new modifiers being caught up in earlier 'pi' phrases, and in 'la' strings, to separate out left grouping ones from the usual right groupings. The PP commas are actually a rule in one dialect (Lope's), the others are just occasional uses for some people.

The most substantive differences are in vocabulary. There are about 118 words that all dialects accept and understand essentially the same way. Then there are about half a dozen words which some dialects have but other lack or treat as mere variants of other words. The not firmly fixed words are 'esun' “shop”, 'kin' [emphasis], 'kipisi' “cut”, 'monsuta' “fearsome” 'namako' “excess”, and 'oko' “eye”. A few people have occasionally also revived an old word for a particular purpose.

In addition, there are a number of variations on how generally accepted words are used: some allow only 'wan' and 'tu' as numbers; some allow 'luka' (5) as well, some even allow 'mute' (20) and 'ale' (100). Some people use 'lukin' for “look for, seek”, others prefer 'alasa'. Some take 'kute' to mean “obey”; others don't. And there are probably others of this sort.

There are even a few variations in grammar. As noted (FAQ 3), some people still take 'kepeken' to be a verb (with 'e' before the DO) when in the verb position. Others take it as a preposition everywhere. Despite very different descriptions of how 'pi' works (FAQ 5), most people deal with actual cases about the same way. The most common difference is over whether prepositional phrases as modifiers need 'pi'.

Since there is no readily available good source of idioms (compound words) , some people will know some that others do not, with inevitable loss of communication for the moment. In a few cases – those around 'toki' being the most common (FAQ 4) – alternate idioms are fairly common.

But, for the most part, people know of the variations (or simply don't notice them) and get on with the substance of what is being said.