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Analysis of first 1000 top-level comments on the video about Toki Pona by YouTuber Rob Watts (RobWords), demonstrating non-speakers' views of the practicality of the language

The practicality of Toki Pona for real-world use is debated, as it is primarily a philosophical artistic language. This extends to whether lack of fitness for various use cases would be a shortcoming of Toki Pona, thus devaluing it, or simply outside of its design goals.

Often, when people are introduced to the language, they voice concerns about Toki Pona being used in emergencies, or otherwise precise, risky, or jargon-heavy situations such as medical examinations.[1] Suffice it to say that a niche hobby constructed language is not being used in such applications, and most Tokiponists are not promoting it for such usage.

These concerns may stem from the assumption that Toki Pona has the same goals of global adoption as the Esperanto movement; in reality, Toki Pona is not an international auxiliary language, and many Tokiponists are against treating it as such.

pu[edit | edit source]

The book Toki Pona: The Language of Good, in the chapter "Limitations", claims the following:[2]

Such texts [as chemical textbooks and legal documents] are products of the complex, modern civilization we live in and are not suited for a cute, little language like Toki Pona.

Tokiponists have contested this[3] and created resources in Toki Pona for learning technical subjects, such as non-Euclidean geometry.[4] As a result, jan Sonja has retracted this statement.[5] Still, many Tokiponists have seen fit to keep using elements of Toki Pona that arguably limit its potential practicality, such as the limited number systems described in pu.

Emergencies[edit | edit source]

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As of 2024, Toki Pona is probably unsuitable for emergency situations due to the low number of speakers. Navigating emergencies in the language would be most likely to come up at a Toki Pona gathering. Instructions would ideally still be given multilingually, as often already occurs with natural languages. It remains to be seen whether Toki Pona will grow enough to become relevant in emergencies.

Some potential translations of "help" as a cry of distress include:

o awen e mi

o awen e mi!

Protect me!

o pana e pona

o pana e pona![6]

Provide goodness! / health!

mi moli

mi moli!

I'm dying!

Earthquake preparedness poster in Toki Pona,[7] meaning "Drop! Cover! Stay!"

While not standardized, emergency protocols could be given in Toki Pona. For demonstration, a reasonably detailed safety protocol during an earthquake might be:

o tawa anpa supa o len o awen e lawa sina o jo e noka supa

o tawa anpa supa. o len o awen e lawa sina. o jo e noka supa.

Go below furniture. Cover and protect your head. Hold the furniture's leg.

Jargon[edit | edit source]

Toki Pona can express concepts that are given jargon in English and other natural languages, although generally not as efficiently. It may demand deeper understanding of the concepts involved, but among professionals in a technical field, this would presumably be the case. Thus, issues with translating jargon would come down to lack of technical understanding or Toki Pona skill, rather than a shortcoming of the language inherently.

For jargon that is relatively international, while Toki Pona's philosophy prefers that concepts are explained in simple language, one could do as natural languages have and translate terms such as "HDMI cable" as linja HDMI, for example. (See also Names § Against names.) If this does not work, one would have to describe the subject or explain what it does in better detail, but this is still equally true of other languages.

Notably, very many such technical terms were not present in any languages until recently, so this seems like a flawed metric to measure a language's practicality, much less how worthwhile its existence and usage is. (For example, what is the term for "HDMI cable" in Latin?)

There is also an argument that the lack of jargon can be more practical. While jargon provides better information density, it risks not properly or fully conveying the information in the first place, limiting its practicality. The plain, transparent approach encourages sharing and building proper understanding, and discourages obfuscation tactics such as "bullshitting". As put by jan Lakuse:[8]

A person can't throw a million-dollar buzzword at you like antidisestablishmentarianism and expect you to know what they're talking about. They have to be curious about where you are and meet you where you're at. Instead of conversation starting with a buzzword, 'antidisestablishmentarianism,' it might start instead with, 'so how familiar are you with the Church of England?'

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. jan Sepulon. (2 February 2024). "Stats from the 1000 first top-level comments on Robwords' video on Toki Pona". Discord. Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  2. Lang, Sonja. (25 May 2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. p. 11.
  3. jan Telakoman, Gabriel Mizrahi (jan Kapu) [joelthomastr]. (30 November 2020). "jan li ken pana e sona ale kepeken toki pona" [A person can give all knowledge with Toki Pona] (in Toki Pona). lipu pi jan Telakoman. GitHub Pages. Retrieved 1 February 2024.
  4. jan Telakoman. (14 April 2021). "nasin pi sitelen ma pi jan Ekite ala" [Non-Euclidean geometry] (in Toki Pona). jan Telakoman [@jantelakoman]. YouTube. Retrieved 1 February 2024.
  5. jan Sonja [@sonjalang]. (28 January 2024). [Message posted in the thread in the #toki-suli channel in the ma pona pi toki pona Discord server]. Discord. Retrieved 1 February 2024. "i may have been wrong because plenty of people have proven me wrong. you can do non euclidian geometry and other topics".
  6. Lang, Sonja. (18 July 2021). Toki Pona Dictionary. Illustrated by Vacon Sartirani. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292362. p. 99.
  7. kili Melon (2 July 2021). "ma li tawa la jan o seme". In lipu tenpo nanpa suno (in Toki Pona). lipu tenpo.
  8. jan Sonja, jan Lakuse, et al. (8 April 2024). "Toki Pona: From Personal Art Project to Small World Language". University of Colorado Boulder. (transcript). p. 7.