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Cartouches in Egyptian hieroglyphs. sitelen pona and sitelen sitelen use similar shapes to enclose names.

In Toki Pona, names, also called proper names, proper adjectives, or proper modifiers, are a special type of content word. Traditionally, a name can be any phonotactically valid sequence of sounds, and usually only occurs as a modifier of a content word. Examples of names include jan Sonja and ma Kanata (Canada).

Headnouns[edit | edit source]

The head word of a name is commonly called a headnoun, though it can include earlier modifiers before the name or possibly even act as a verb.

The philosophy of Toki Pona is describing your thoughts in simple terms. Therefore, the headnoun indicates the basic nature of the thing being named. In jan Sonja and ma Kanata, the headnouns are jan and ma, respectively. They tell us that Sonja is a jan ("person"), and that Kanata is a ma ("land"), which might be just enough information to realize it refers to Canada.

Headnouns often also distinguish between multiple beings with the same name. For example, in English, "Sydney" could refer to a city, a person, a chatbot, or something else entirely. In Toki Pona, these would be ma Sini, jan Sini, and ilo Sini, respectively.

Headnouns other than jan[edit | edit source]

The most common headnoun for the vast majority of speakers is the word jan, meaning "person".[1] However, some speakers choose to use different ones for a variety of reasons. For example, someone who uses the headnoun waso could be:

  • An Otherkin or therian
  • A furry with an avian fursona
  • Someone whose surname is Finch
  • Wanting to disambiguate themself from someone else with the same name
  • Presenting with a bird avatar online
  • Currently paragliding (in some styles of speech)[2]
  • Casually using a fancy headnoun for fun

Depending on context, speakers with unusual headnouns may be referred to simply by their headnoun.

No headnoun[edit | edit source]

A name may traditionally occur without a headnoun when talking about the name itself rather than the thing it represents. This usage has existed since before the publication of Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Below is an example from pu:

nimi mi li [ale pona uta]

nimi mi li Apu.[3]

My name is Apu.

While it was used alongside other phrases, in the modern day, many speakers prefer to avoid this usage, such as by using the headnoun nimi or by using different expressions. Below is the more common expression nowadays for the same phrase:

mi jan [ale pona uta]

mi jan Apu.

I am [the person named] Apu.

Foreign words may also be introduced either without a headnoun or with the headnoun nimi, depending on context and personal style. Below is an example from lipu tenpo that uses both in the same text:

toki Inli la, nimi pi pilin mi li "grief". (...) kon pi nimi "grief" li seme?[4]

In English, the word for this feeling is "grief". (...) What is the meaning of the word "grief"?

Writing[edit | edit source]

Names are not specially marked in speech, potentially causing confusion when the name collides with an existing word (such as jan Luka). Many writing systems distinguish names in some way.

Latin script[edit | edit source]

In the Latin script, names are the only standard words written with an initial capital letter. This reflects that names are typically capitalized in other Latin-script languages. However, some speakers prefer to not capitalize names or any words at all, however, that is considered nonstandard.

sitelen pona[edit | edit source]

jan Sonja written in sitelen pona with the cartouche highlighted in red

Names in sitelen pona are written as multiple words whose starting sound match those of the name, wrapped inside a rounded rectangular shaped, called a cartouche, based off the word nimi and Egyptian hieroglyphs. The exact choice of words is up to the person being named, or, failing that, the writer. This can be used to convey extra meaning, for example, writing toki Inli (English language) as toki [ijo ni li ike] ("this thing is bad"). Some speakers use syllable- or mora-based approaches instead. nasin sitelen kalama is an attempt to formalize such names while increasing readability.

sitelen sitelen[edit | edit source]

jan Sonja written in sitelen sitelen with the cartouche highlighted in red

sitelen sitelen uses syllable glyphs, composed of consonant, vowel, and optional coda parts, wrapped inside a cartouche, inspired closely by Egyptian hieroglyphs.[5][6]

Tokiponization[edit | edit source]

Map of Europe with tokiponized names

Tokiponization is the process of converting a name to be compatible with Toki Pona phonology and phonotactics. The exact method of doing so varies between speakers, however, it is common to follow the guidelines written by jan Sonja.[7]

In the chapter "Proper names" in Toki Pona: The Language of Good, she outlines some basic principles and guidelines in order to tokiponize names. Firstly, it is advised to use the local dialect's pronunciation in the dominant language in an area rather than a name's spelling. It is also recommended to find a common root between a group of related words. Names are not required to be tokiponized if doing so would hinder understanding.

Phonetic guidelines[edit | edit source]

Names are prioritised in their acoustic similarity rather than how they are articulated.

Phonemes are often matched to the closest place of articulation. labials become /p, m, w/; coronals become /t, n, s, l/; and velar, uvular, and pharyngeal consonants become /k/ (e.g. français [fʁɑ̃sɛ] > Kanse). In particular, the voiceless labiodental fricative /f/ becomes /p/, and its voiced counterpart /v/ becomes /w/, the same applies to similar sounds.

The manner of articulation more closely matches the phoneme. Affricates generally become fricatives. Due to their acoustic similarity to lateral fricatives, it is recommended that voiceless laterals become /s/. Nasal consonants and nasal vowels in final position become coda /n/ to follow Toki Pona's phonotactics.

Voicing tends to match the closest phoeneme found in Toki Pona, that is, devoicing for plosives and fricatives (/b/ > /p/, /d/ > /t/, /ɡ/ > /k/) or voicing for nasals and approximants.

In consonant clusters, the "dominant" plosive may or the head consonant of the following syllable is kept. In clusters with the approximants /j/ and /w/, these may be either removed (/swe/ > /se/) or an extra syllable with /i/ and /u/ may be added to link them (/swe/ > /suwe/).

It is suggested keeping the same number of syllables when tokiponizing, dropping a consonant rather than inserting a vowel. However, the order of phonemes may be switched to save consonants from being dropped. For example, Lubnān (لبنان, "Lebanon") becomes Lunpan rather than Lupan.

Vowels are matched to the closest one in the vowel space. The schwa may be turned into any vowel. Approaches for this include matching adjacent vowels, using vowels that schwa is perceived as similar to in the source language, matching vowel sounds from cognates in other languages, and matching orthography.

Principles[edit | edit source]

Self-determination[edit | edit source]

In the philosophy of Toki Pona, names ought to be determined by the person or group that they refer to. For example, if Canadian Tokiponists broadly agreed that Canada should be tokiponized differently, people should use that tokiponization. If the referent has not determined their own name in Toki Pona, it is recommended to make an educated guess at what it would be, such as by using endonyms and native pronunciation. For example, the most common tokiponization for Toronto is ma Towano, rather than ma Tolonto, matching the local pronunciation of the name ([tʰəˈɹɒnow]).[7]

Standardization[edit | edit source]

The tokiponizations of place and language names given in pu are described as "suggestions".[8] According to a subdomain recounting a 2022 Montreal meetup, place names are in free variation, and slightly different realizations are readily understood, with "no effort or need to choose one Tokiponization as the central or standard one."[9]

Against names[edit | edit source]

There are people who believe that names either do not belong in Toki Pona or are overused. They may see them as a dependency as to bypass the principle of circumlocution or believe that a hypothetical native Toki Pona culture would only apply proper names to foreigners. To some extent, jan Sonja argues against the use of names in the first line of her guidelines:[7]

It is always better to translate the "idea" of a foreign word before attempting to create a new phonetic transcription that may not be recognizable by everyone. (Example: Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada, becomes jan lawa pi ma Kanata, rather than jan Kesijen)

Experimental styles[edit | edit source]

Caution: The subject of this section is an experimental or hypothetical style that is not understood by most speakers, or is used only in specific small communities. Learners should avoid using it.

As with all parts of Toki Pona, tinkerers love to exceed the boundaries of what's considered a name. Examples include:[10]

  • intentionally using disallowed sound groups
  • using non-Toki Pona sounds in an otherwise tokiponized name
  • using a nimi sin as a headnoun and/or in lieu of a name
  • not using a headnoun at all, or leaving it up to the speaker
  • in sitelen pona, using a custom "name glyph" that may or may not indicate pronunciation

References[edit | edit source]

Original text related to this article:
  1. jan Tamalu. (17 July 2022). "Results of the 2022 Toki Pona census". Toki Pona census. Retrieved 13 February 2024.
  2. lipamanka. "my weird deviations in toki pona".
  3. Lang, Sonja. (25 May 2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. "nimi mi li Apu. / My name is Apu.".
  4. jan Kamute. (24 August 2023). "sona nasa pi kulupu lili - kulupu pali pi jan insa sin Tupa" [Unusual knowledge about a small group - tulpamancers] (in Toki Pona). lipu tenpo. No. ma. ISSN 2752-4639.
  5. Jonathan Gabel. "Syllables Part 2: Combining Syllables and Writing Names". Retrieved 25 January 2024.
  6. Jonathan Gabel. "sitelen pi kalama lili ale - syllable glyphs". Retrieved 25 January 2024.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Sonja Lang. "Proper Names". lipu pi jan Ne.
  8. Lang, Sonja. (25 May 2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. p. 112.
  9. jan Sonja. "nimi ni li pona tawa jan pi kulupu ni / Preferred Endonyms in Toki Pona". Archived from the original on 7 April 2024. Retrieved 7 April 2024.
  10. lipamanka. "lipamanka's essays". Retrieved 13 February 2024.