Phatic expressions and social conventions

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A phatic expression is a word or phrase that serves a social function instead of exchanging information. English phatic expressions include "hello", "thank you", and "I'm sorry".

Toki Pona has very few phatic expressions, and actively tries to avoid them in favor of more explicit and context-specific expressions. Because phatic phrases are automatic, not only would they be a form of lexicalization, but they would ring hollow. Instead, experimentation is encouraged.

Politeness[edit | edit source]

Toki Pona is often described as "polite by default", because it has no modes of speech that automatically relay politeness. But a better description is that it's sincere by default. Speakers are expected to say what they mean and mean what they say. Being direct, clear, and sincere is what constitutes polite speech. Toki Pona is already vague, and when that's combined with phrases that talk around an idea rather than describe it honestly, it can cause confusion. Indirect or euphemistic speech becomes even more unclear.

Specific expressions[edit | edit source]

Greeting[edit | edit source]

An interjection often used for greeting is toki. This works especially well to begin a conversation. However, other phrases and sentences may work as well or better in different circumstances. Here are some examples:

Situation Possible phrase
Joining an existing group or conversation
mi lon

mi lon!

I exist!

Reacting to someone joining
sina lon

sina lon!

You exist!

Signaling your presence


When other people go mu
Getting people's attention
sina o

sina o!

Hey you!

ijo [ijo]o

[name] o!

Hey [name]! (if known)

No situation requires a greeting, so just jumping into the conversation is valid.

In practice, greetings tend to not be about the time of the day.

A good conversation starter is sina seme?. This works for "who are you?", "how are you?", "what are you doing?", "what have you been up to?", and more. Unlike in English, where you must reply to "how are you?" with "fine" even if you aren't fine, sina seme? is meant literally. Expect a real, detailed answer if you use it, and feel free to give one if you are asked.

Parting[edit | edit source]

When you are leaving a conversation, you can indicate this by describing what you are doing that will stop you from talking further. Some examples:

Situation Possible phrase
Leaving for somewhere else
mi tawa

mi tawa!

I go!

Taking a break or going to bed
mi lape

mi lape!

I sleep!

Beginning or resuming work
mi pali

mi pali!

I work!

Noticing that you should be getting food
mi o moku

mi o moku!

I should eat!

When your game starts
musi mi li open

musi mi li open!

My game started!

You can also just depart.

Often, others will respond to this indication with a related well-wishing—tawa pona, lape pona, etc.—or with a general one.

Well-wishing[edit | edit source]

Wishes can generally be formulated with o. They can also be expressed through a sentence fragment, often by adding pona at the end of a phrase.

Situation Possible phrases
Responding to mi tawa
o tawa pona

o tawa pona!

Go well!

tawa pona

tawa pona!

Bon voyage!

Responding to mi lape
o lape pona

o lape pona!

Sleep well!

lape pona

lape pona!

Good sleep!

Responding to mi o moku
o moku e moku pona

o moku e moku pona!

Eat good food!

o moku pona

o moku pona!

Eat well!

moku pona

moku pona!

Happy eating!

Gratitude and compliments[edit | edit source]

Often, the best way to express gratitude is by literally stating what you are thankful for. For example:

Situation Possible phrase
For someone's teaching
sina pona tan pana sona 

sina pona tan pana sona.

You are good because of giving of knowledge.

That someone gave a present
sina pana e ijo pona la sina pona 

sina pana e ijo pona la sina pona.

You gave something good so you are good.

A useful mindset to employ here is specific positive feedback. Vague praise is easily doubted or deflected as a platitude. You can give specific details to convince the other person that they are worthy of your compliment.

There are some common short phrases that can roughly correspond to "thanks". These include pona, sina pona, and pona tawa sina. Respectively, these mean "good", "you are good", and "goodness to you" (similar to "peace be with you").

Apologies[edit | edit source]

In English, "sorry" is used for multiple social functions. You can use it to apologize, but also to express sympathy with someone else's misfortune. Toki Pona has nothing that combines these meanings. Instead, you would express the idea more directly.

Expressing sympathy[edit | edit source]

Under construction: This section is empty. You can help us by adding to it.

Apologizing for small or insignificant errors[edit | edit source]

A common way is to recognize or mention your mistake, such as:

pakala mi

pakala mi!

My mistake! / My bad!

a mi pakala

a, mi pakala!

Oh, I messed up!

You can emphasize this by specifying what your mistake was:

a jan-pona mi o mi pakalatanni ijo pona o tawa sina

a, jan pona mi o, mi pakala (tan) ni: [reason]. pona o tawa sina.

Oh, my friend, I made this mistake / messed up because of this: [reason]. May goodness go to you.

"True" apologies[edit | edit source]

Some errors are not as insignificant and warrant a more detailed apology. In general, a more detailed apology should tell someone:

  • What it is that you did wrong
  • That you understand it was wrong
  • What you will do in the future

Although your friend may not forgive you entirely, apologies are a good step in the right direction towards healing.

pu phrase book[edit | edit source]

Original text related to this article:

Toki Pona: The Language of Good includes a "Phrase Book" section with some possible expressions for quick reference.[1] The following copy also includes the phrases written in sitelen pona, as they are often encountered in custom emojis and the like.

toki pona English
sitelen Lasina sitelen pona
toki toki hello!
pona pona great, thanks, OK
pona tawa sina pona tawa sina peace be with you
mi tawa mi tawa bye (said by person leaving)
tawa pona tawa pona bye (said by person staying)
mi wile (e ni) mi wile e ni please, I would like
ale li pona ale li pona all is well, life is good, don’t worry
ike a ike a oh dear, oh my
lape pona lape pona good night
kama pona kama pona welcome
moku pona moku pona enjoy your meal
seme li sin? seme li sin what's new?
sina pilin seme? sina pilin seme how are you feeling?
a a a! a a a ha ha ha!
mi kama sona e toki pona mi kama sona e toki-pona I’m learning Toki Pona
sina pona sina pona you’re cool, I like you[a]
mi olin e sina mi olin e sina I love you
tomo telo li lon seme? tomo telo li lon seme where is the washroom?

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. The Esperanto edition of pu adds a footnote to this (translated below):

    Note from the translator: sina pona is also often used to say "thank you", nowadays (in 2022) somewhat more often than just pona.

References[edit | edit source]