Phonotactics

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Toki Pona's phonotactics, that is the rules for putting sounds together, are well defined. Unlike its phonology, knowing the phonotactics is not needed to speak the language orally, since the main set of words already adheres to them. It is most useful for creating names and nimi sin. An asterisk marks a sequence that is not allowed phonotactically.

Rules[edit | edit source]

In the lesson "Proper Names", pu lists the phonotactic rules of Toki Pona in the following order:[1]

  1. (C)V(n) syllable structure: "Each syllable consists of a consonant plus a vowel, plus an optional n."
  2. Null onset is word-initial only: "The first syllable of a word does not need to begin with a consonant."
    As a corollary, every syllable after the first does need to begin with a consonant, thus is CV(n). There are no adjacent vowels or diphthongs. The sequence ana is syllabified as a‧na (2 morae), not an‧a (3 morae).
  3. No *ti: "The syllables [*]ti and [*]tin become si and sin."
    This rule concerns palatalization.
  4. No *wo or *wu: "The consonant w cannot appear before o or u."
  5. No *ji: "The consonant j cannot appear before i."
    These two rules cover the same thing. *wo, *wu, and *ji are disallowed because the semivowel in the onset, w or j, can be hard to distinguish from the vowel. The syllables would sound too close to o, u, and i, respectively.

At least one other rule is often noted:

  • No adjacent nasals.
    In sequences like *anna and *anma, the first syllable's coda -n would assimilate to the second syllable's onset nasal: respectively ana and ama.

Coda nasal[edit | edit source]

The coda nasal or moraic nasal is an archiphoneme, that is an underspecificied phoneme, written as /N/ and realized as [m ~ n ~ ɲ ~ ŋ] depending on context. It undergoes assimilation, that is it gets more similar to the following consonant, in words such as anpa, which may be pronounced as [ˈampa]; enko (an obscure nimi sin), which may be pronounced as [ˈeŋko]; and linja, which may be pronounced as ['liɲja].[2]

Palatalization[edit | edit source]

The syllable *ti is disallowed because of palatalization, a common sound change that has occurred in many languages. An English example is the suffix "-tion", as in "motion". The previous phonemes /ti/ have been palatalized to /ʃ/, so it sounds like "-sion" as in "mission". For the same reason, *ti is changed to si.

As the phoneme /k/ can also be palatalized, many languages merge [ki ti si]. There are no minimal pairs between ki and si in the 120 nimi pu and among all commonly used words, except for the word kin which can be mistaken for sin.

wuwojiti[edit | edit source]

Pronunciation /ˈwu.wo.ji.ti//j/ sounds like English Y, as in "fjord" or "hallelujah".
Usage 2023: Uncommon (22%  )
2022: Rare (13%)
Book and era No book (post-pu)
Part of speech Content word

wuwojiti is a mnemonic word for the disallowed syllables in Toki Pona phonotactics: *wu, *wo, *ji, *ti, and their equivalents with coda nasal. Some uncommon nimi sin flout this rule, often as a joke.

Disallowed syllable Alternatives
*wu(n) u(n)[a] wa(n)
*wo(n) o(n)[a]
*ji(n) i(n)[a] je(n)
*ti(n) si(n) te(n)

Syllables[edit | edit source]

The following chart shows all 92 syllables under Toki Pona phonotactics.

Null coda a e i o u Coda nasal an en in on un
j ja je jo ju jan jen jon jun
k ka ke ki ko ku kan ken kin kon kun
l la le li lo lu lan len lin lon lun
m ma me mi mo mu man men min mon mun
n na ne ni no nu nan nen nin non nun
p pa pe pi po pu pan pen pin pon pun
s sa se si so su san sen sin son sun
t ta te to tu tan ten ton tun
w wa we wi wan wen win

Number of possible words[edit | edit source]

The number of phonotactically allowed words, up to n syllables, is given by the following equation:

That is:

Syllables Range Count Running total
1 a–win 92
2 aja–winwin 6 624 6 716
3 ajaja–winwinwin 476 928 483 644
n

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Chiefly word-initially.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Lang, Sonja (2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. p. 37.
  2. jan Juwan [@juwan.] (9 October 2023). Informal poll posted on the #sona-kulupu channel in the ma pona pi toki pona Discord server. "how do you pronounce 'linja'? (multiple answers are fine)". Discord. Data retrieved 12 October 2023.
    Option Votes
    [ˈlin.ja] 42
    [ˈli.nja] 3
    [ˈliɲ.ja] 24
    [ˈli.ɲa] 20
    Other 4

See also[edit | edit source]