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li in sitelen pona
li in sitelen sitelen
Pronunciation /li/
Usage 2023: Core (100% → )2022: Core (100%)
Book and era nimi pu
Part of speech Particle
Codepoint 󱤧 U+F1927

li is a particle used to introduce a predicate to a sentence. It introduces all predicates if the subject is not mi or sina.

Etymology[edit | edit source]

The word li is derived from the Esperanto third-person singular pronoun li[1], itself from Latin ille of the same meaning. Its functionality is derived from the Tok Pisin particle i, which introduces the verb except when the subject is the first- or second-person singular pronouns.[2][3][4]

Function[edit | edit source]

The particle li marks the start of a predicate. The predicate can be intepreted as a verb, noun, adjective, or prepositional phrase. The particle is omitted when the subject consists only of the word mi or sina.

ona li moku 

ona li moku.

They eat.

soweli li suwi 

soweli li suwi.

The dog is cute.

kili li moku 

kili li moku.

Fruits are food.

mi tawa tomo 

mi tawa tomo.

I'm going home.

sina pona lukin 

sina pona lukin.

You're pretty.

When the subject is anything other than the words mi or sina alone, it is followed by li. This can come about when multiple subjects are used in a single sentence with en, or when mi or sina either modify or are modified by another word in the subject.

sina en mi li lukin e sitelen tawa 

sina en mi li lukin e sitelen tawa.

You and I watch a movie.

moku mi li lon supa 

moku mi li lon supa.

My food is on the table.

mi tu li kama 

mi tu li kama.

The two of us arrive.

Multiple predicates[edit | edit source]

In order to introduce multiple predicates, the particle li is repeated for subjects apart from mi and sina.

ona li kama li tawa 

ona li kama li tawa.

They come and go.

soweli li kute e kalama li lukin e kasi 

soweli li kute e kalama li lukin e kasi.

Animals listen to noises and look at plants.

The book Toki Pona: The Language of Good advises that, when multiple predicates are applied to mi or sina, they should each be their own sentence, instead of repeating li.[5]

mi toki  mi moku 

mi toki. mi moku.

I speak. I eat.

Some speakers prefer to repeat a second li in this case.[6] This is referred to as "extended li style" in the Toki Pona Dictionary.[7] The earliest known appearance of this style is in December 2004, in the lessons by jan Pije, and would remain a part of these lessons until the lessons were made unavailable in 2020.[8]

mi toki li moku 

mi toki li moku.

I speak and eat.

This style can possibly lead to ambiguity, as in the sentence above. toki could be meant to be an independent predicate, or a modifier of mi. For example, the sentence above may be interpreted as "the language-related me is eating".

Edge cases[edit | edit source]

There are some edge cases where the style of the speaker may lead to differences in how li is used. The particle a in the sentence below is acting and modifying mi, but this may considered a special case and may not be counted. However, because it is still acting similar or even the same as a modifier, speakers might also use li similarly to with any modifier. A similar effect occurs with kin.

mi a wawa 

mi a wawa.

mi a li wawa 

mi a li wawa.

Misconceptions[edit | edit source]

li is not "is"[edit | edit source]

Beginners often have the misconception that li translates to "is", "are", or "to be". Notably, the series 12 Days of sona pi toki pona by jan Misali makes this claim[9], which was later corrected in his newer series toki pona lessons. The word "is" is a verb, whereas li is not. It is a particle that introduces a verb, regardless of whether the sentence would be translated with "is". For example:

mi pona 

mi pona.

I (›) am good.

ona li pona 

ona li pona.

They › are good.

ona li pona e ijo 

ona li pona e ijo.

They › improve » something.

It is more consistent to say that "to be good" and "improve" are both translations of pona. This pattern is true of all content words.

This is also why li cannot be used in a pi phrase. li is a particle that has higher priority than pi,[10] not a content word that could be used within a pi phrase.

sitelen pona[edit | edit source]

The sitelen pona glyph for li (󱤧) represents the head of an arrow symbol, facing rightwards along the standard writing direction.

sitelen sitelen[edit | edit source]

jan li pona. pona is inside a li container.
Reading order for jan li pona.

The sitelen sitelen glyph for li (li) is a simple container for the predicate with no decoration. It may be written as a circle or a rounded square or rectangle. As in spoken toki pona, the li container may be omitted if the subject is an unmodified mi or sina.[11]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Word Origins". Archived from the original on 8 August 2002.
  2. Franklin, Karl J. (1980). The particles ‘i’ and ‘na’ in Tok Pisin. Kivung. 12 (2): 134-144.
  3. Tung, Cindy (2014). Grammaticalization in Tok Pisin. Lingua Frankly. 2 (1). doi:10.6017/lf.v2i1.5419
  4. Verhaar, J. W. M. (1991). The Function of I in Tok Pisin. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 6 (2): 231–266. doi:10.1075/jpcl.6.2.04ver.
  5. Lang, Sonja. (25 May 2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. p. 56.
  6. jan Kita [@.hecko]. (21 September 2022). [Message posted in the #sona-kulupu channel in the ma pona pi toki pona Discord server]. Discord. Retrieved 6 March 2024. "which one of these do you do usually".
    Which construction do you prefer?
    Option Votes
    mi tawa. mi kalama
    (pu style)
    mi tawa li kalama
    (Extended li style)
    mi li tawa li kalama
    ("Loglanger" style)
    Which construction do you prefer?
    Option Votes
    mi lukin e ona. mi kalama
    (pu style)
    mi lukin e ona li kalama
    (Extended li style)
    mi li lukin e ona li kalama
    ("Loglanger" style)
  7. Lang, Sonja. (18 July 2021). Toki Pona Dictionary. Illustrated by Vacon Sartirani. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292362. p. 10.
  8. jan Pije. "Toki Pona Lesson 4". lipu pi jan Pije. Archived from the original on 7 December 2004. Retrieved 6 March 2024. "mi moku li pakala. This says, "I eat and destroy." While li is still omitted before moku because the subject of the sentence is mi (Look back over lesson three if you've forgotten this rule), we still use it before the second verb, pakala. Without the li there, the sentence would be chaotic and confusing. Compound sentences with sina follow this same pattern.".
  9. jan Misali. (14 December 2015). "12 Days of sona pi toki pona Day Two: Sentence Structure". jan Misali [@HBMmaster]. YouTube.
  10. jan Juli. (23 September 2022). "nasin toki pona". GitHub. Retrieved 10 November 2023.
  11. Gabel, Jonathan (n.d.). Basic Sentences. Retrieved 27 April 2024.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

Resources[edit | edit source]

Resources for historical usage[edit | edit source]

Dictionaries[edit | edit source]