Part-of-speech roles

From sona pona, the Toki Pona wiki

Under the part-of-speech analysis introduced by kala kala, content words are a single part of speech that unifies adjectives, nouns, and verbs.[1] Only a word's position in a sentence's syntax determines whether it takes on an adjective, noun, or verb role.

When a word is used in a different role than its original definition, there are fairly regular rules for deriving its new meaning.

Roles[edit | edit source]

Verb[edit | edit source]

A word takes on a verb role when it is the head of a predicate, the main word in the position after li (and after any preverbs).

Noun[edit | edit source]

A word takes on a noun role when it is the head of virtually any other phrase, such as a subject, direct object (after e), pi phrase, prepositional phrase, or context phrase.

Adjective or adverb[edit | edit source]

A word takes on an adjective role when it modifies a noun, and an adverb role when it modifies a verb. Within any phrase, this position is called a modifier.

Conversion rules[edit | edit source]

Adjectivization and adverbialization[edit | edit source]

Converting a word to an adjective (or adverb) is very simple and vague, merely indicating that the head has something to do with the modifier's original meaning.

This may mean a variety of things:

  • A physical property of the head, such as quality, size, shape, age, color, material…
  • A possessive relationship, "the [head] of [modifier]'s". This is often the meaning of pronouns and names used as modifiers (as in tomo mi, "my house"), albeit not always.
  • Proximity, origin, or purpose. These can be expressed more clearly with prepositions.
  • From a verb, an action habitually associated with the head. For example, jan sona ("person who knows") and tomo moku ("room for eating").[2]
  • From a preposition, the action that would cause that preposition to take place. For example, tawa as an adjective can mean "moving", and lon as an adjective can mean "real" ("existing at a given place").
  • Any other relation between the head and modifier

Nominalization[edit | edit source]

Converting a verb to a noun generally means "something that is [verbed]" or "the act of [verbing]".[2] For example, pana as a noun can mean "gift" ("something that is given") or "the act of giving". Prepositions, which can already double as verbs, can also be nominalized in this way; for example, tawa as "motion" ("the act of going to some place").

Converting an adjective to a noun generally means "that which is [adjective]".[3] For example, loje as a noun can mean "that which is red": either a given thing or set that is red, or the color red itself. ala as a noun can mean "nothing" ("that which is not").[3]

Verbalization[edit | edit source]

A word converted to an intransitive verb (without e) generally means, "to be [noun/adjective]".

A word converted to a transitive verb (with e) generally means, "to make [noun/adjective]"; that is, "to cause [the direct object] to be [noun/adjective]". For example, li pona e means "improve" ("to make good"), and li suli e means "enlarge" ("to make large").[3]

Verbalization is powerful; it is not always the case that a verb will have such a pithy English backtranslation.

There are arguably two main exceptions to the transitive verbalization method:

  • Words that can describe senses, such as pilin, lukin, and kute, can mean "to [sense] [the direct object]"; respectively, to feel, to see, and to hear.
  • Some other words (possibly chiefly those for body parts, but also telo), tend to mean "to apply [noun] to [the direct object]". For example, mi luka e waso means "I pet a bird" ("I apply the hand to a bird"). ona li uta e sina means "They kiss you" ("They apply the mouth to you"). jan li noka e sike means "A person kicks the ball" ("…applies the foot or leg to…").

Summary[edit | edit source]

To Meaning
Adjective "of or relating to [noun/verb]"
Noun "that which is [adjective/verbed]"
"the act of [verbing]"
Verb "to be or make [adjective/noun]"

Repeated conversion[edit | edit source]

These rules can be chained together to generate even more related meanings of a word. These meanings are sometimes less understood without context, such as using a word in a secondary role, then referring back to that usage of the word in a tertiary role.

Converting a word back into its original part of speech might transpose it from its original meaning. For example:

  • Toki Pona: The Language of Good defines moku as a verb, "to eat".
  • This can be used as a noun, "something eaten; food".
  • This in turn can be used as a verb, "to be food; to be eaten". As intransitive verbs, these two senses have opposite meanings (although as transitive verbs, eating something and causing it to be eaten are equivalent).

For verb senses, this phenomenon is called monsutatesu.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. kala kala [u/pisceyo]. (8 October 2019). "Toki Pona Analysis: Parts of Speech". Reddit.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lang, Sonja. (25 May 2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. p. 26.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Lang, Sonja. (25 May 2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. p. 29.