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The concept of politeness differs between cultures. Toki Pona does not have a polite speech register, but its design philosophy encourages a microculture that treats directness and clarity as polite.

"Polite by default"[edit | edit source]

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Originally copied from "Phatic expressions and social conventions"; may need reworking to fit this article's topic

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Toki Pona is often described as "polite by default". Because it has no modes of speech that automatically relay politeness, and no words that are more polite than others, speakers generally make a reasonable assumption of politeness.[1]

A more precise description might be that Toki Pona is 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.

Functions of politeness[edit | edit source]

General functions of politeness include being helpful, acknowledging others' autonomy and personal boundaries, deferring to others when feasible, and trying to create a positive relationship (whether friendly or merely civil). These can all be accomplished in Toki Pona. It is good to examine the strategies you use to fulfill these functions in other languages, as they may or may not be effective or proportionate in Toki Pona.

Some forms of politeness can be stated literally, such as hedging an optional request, or apologizing by showing understanding of a wrongdoing and a plan to address it. Another example is gratitude; even though Toki Pona has no word for "thanks", you can tell someone that their efforts are good, valued, or worthwhile, that they are a good person for doing so, or that their actions have had a specific positive impact on you. All of this is just another application of the vocabulary and grammar used throughout the language.

Expressions taken as polite or impolite[edit | edit source]

Learners, and more rarely experienced speakers, may interpret certain expressions as polite or impolite:

  • Learners might worry that commands with o will come across as bossy without the use of softening language. Maybe this could be true if one gives many commands that are uncalled for, but it is also common to interpret a command with an implied "please" if it can be taken in good faith.
  • In questions, some speakers consider anu seme less polite than the verb ala verb structure—or at least more casual, making anu seme less polite in formal situations but more polite in other cases. Other speakers consider the connotations of anu seme and verb ala verb to be equivalent.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. jan Sonja, jan Lakuse, et al. (8 April 2024). "Toki Pona: From Personal Art Project to Small World Language". University of Colorado Boulder. tokipona.org (transcript). p. 7.