rnd's website logotoki pona page 7 - interjections, questions, commands and names

The vocabulary for this page:

word meaning
a (emotional interjection)
anu or
mu (any animal sound)
o (addressing people, commands)
seme what? (for questions)
word meaning
kute listen, hear, obey, ear
nimi word, name
lawa head, control, own, rule, main
anpa lowly, humble, dependent, to conquer/defeat, to bow down
insa inside, contents, center, stomach

Vocabulary notes

The word "anpa"'s different verb meanings sound mutually exclusive, but the actual meaning changes depending on what word follows after that.

If "anpa" is used as a verb with "e" and an object following it, then it means "to conquer" or "to defeat":

  • jan wawa li anpa e jan utala ike. -- The strong person defeated the bad warrior.

However, if "anpa" is used without an object, or with a preposition like "tawa", then it means "to bow down":

  • jan pali li anpa tawa jan lawa. -- The worker bowed down to the boss.

By itself, the word "anu" means "or":

ona li pona mute anu ike mute. mi sona ala. -- It is (either) very good or very bad. I don't know.

Interjections and commands

The word "a" functions like a emotional interjection, used to emphasize or add emotion to the sentence. It is usually either added at the end of a sentence or functions as a sentence on its own.

sina suwi a! -- You are so cute!

More specifically, laughter is indicated with the sentence "a a a!" (ha ha ha!).

The word "mu" substitutes for any sound made by any animal.

The word "o" is used to address people and issue commands.

When used on its own at the beginning of a sentence, it turns the rest of the message into a command.

o kute e mi! -- Listen to me!

When used after a noun phrase, it addresses a person.

sina o! -- Hey, you!

jan ale o! -- Everybody!

Both uses can be combined.

jan pali o, kepeken e ilo awen! -- Worker, use protective equipment!

Questions

There are two ways to ask questions in toki pona.

If you want to ask a yes-or-no question, you phrase the sentence normally, but replace the word being questioned with a "[word] ala [word]" structure.

sina pona ala pona? -- Are you okay?

There are no words for "yes" and "no", so to answer positively, you repeat the word being used, and to answer negatively, you add "ala".

pona. -- Yes.

pona ala. -- No.

(From what I understand, this structure is similar to what is used in Mandarin.)

ona li pali ala pali? -- Are they working?

jan lili li moku ala moku? -- Are the children eating?

Alternatively, you can add "anu seme" ("or what?") at the end of the sentence instead.

sina pona anu seme? -- Are you okay?

For freeform questions, you start with a regular sentence and insert "seme" into the part you want to ask:

sina pali e seme? -- What are you (doing/working on)? ("You work on what?")

jan seme li pakala e ona? -- Who broke it? ("What person broke it?")

ijo ni li seme? -- What is this thing? ("This thing is what?")

sewi li laso tan seme? -- Why is the sky blue? ("Sky is blue because of what?")

Names (unofficial words)

So far, these pages only relied on native toki pona words to refer to things and people. But this is clearly not enough when you need to call someone by their name. For proper names, toki pona uses so-called "unofficial words". These are usually names of people, cities, countries, etc., taken from their native languages and adapted to toki pona's pronunciation rules. Unlike all toki pona words, they're spelled with the first letter capitalized.

Unofficial words are always treated as adjectives, which means that before them is always a noun or a noun phrase describing what is being referred to.

jan Mimi -- (the person) Mimi

ma Kanata -- (the country) Canada

toki Inli -- (the language) English

ma tomo Napoli -- (the city) Naples

Alternatively, the unofficial words can actually be used as adjectives:

jan Kanata -- a Canadian person

Since there are multiple ways of matching native names to toki pona sounds, there may ultimately be several different unofficial names for the same city or country's name. (Although there are dictionaries that include lists of toki pona names for countries, cities and languages that people can use.)

Also, people speaking toki pona are free to pick their own personal toki pona names, either by adapting the name from their native language or coming up with something new.

As you might have noticed, personal names are prefixed with "jan". People in the toki pona community may refer to themselves with their toki pona name even when using other languages, in which case they'll still add "jan" at the beginning.

The page 7a contains some more information about how unofficial words are created.

While this isn't the most correct option, it is okay in most cases to not use unofficial words and just pronounce or spell the name how you would do in your (or their) native language. For example, you can refer to a person named Robert as "jan Lope" or "jan Robert".

Examples

o toki ala a! -- Shut up! ("Don't talk!")

sina pali ala pali e ni? -- Did you do this?

mi jan San. mi lon ma Mewika. -- I am John. I live in the United States.

nimi sina li seme? -- What is your name?

jan lawa mi li ike mute. -- (My boss / our leader) is very bad.

jan Lopin o, toki! -- Hi, Robin!

Exercises

Now, try to figure out the meaning of these sentences.

  • jan Lisa o, moku ala e kili ni a!
  • kulupu Kensa li anpa e kulupu ale ante.
  • o toki insa ala e ni: jan pali li anpa tawa jan lawa.
  • sina pali e ni tan seme?
  • insa mi li pakala. o pona e mi a!

And try to translate the following sentences into toki pona.

  • I don't think gods exist.
  • Don't make noise in the library.
  • My boss tells me not to sleep in the office.
  • Your brother looks just like you.
  • Don't go outside.

Answers

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