Nineteen Eighty-Four

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Book cover of a Soviet edition

Nineteen Eighty-Four or 1984 is a dystopian novel by George Orwell. In the book, a totalitarian surveillance superstate (Oceania) enforces Newspeak, a simplified controlled language with a limited vocabulary, to suppress free and critical thinking. Hasty comparisons to Nineteen Eighty-Four are very common,[a][1] to the point that an obscure nimi sin, owe ("Orwellian"), has been coined to joke about it. Whether Newspeak portrays government propaganda realistically in the first place is debatable. The strong Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is generally discredited, and Toki Pona calls into question whether a language can be used to constrain expression.

Differences between Toki Pona and Newspeak[edit | edit source]

Graffiti depicting Big Brother
"Big Brother is watching you"… but Sonja isn't.
  • Toki Pona is learned by choice, not by force. It is meant for self-control, not controlling others. It is specialized and is not an international auxiliary language (IAL); it is not meant to displace any other language.
  • Newspeak would only be practical as the speaker's only language; through their other languages, a polyglot would know concepts that Newspeak intends to destroy. Toki Pona is meant as a temporary reprieve from other languages. The community specifically does not support raising a child as a Toki Pona monolingual, considering this language deprivation, mainly because not being able to use Toki Pona with most people would cause the child to miss the critical period to acquire language faculty.
  • While Toki Pona is designed to reflect a certain ideology, it is possible to speak in ways that are incongruous with it. For example, the word kijetesantakalu contradicts it, yet is in widespread use. While Newspeak would work to deprecate such a word, Toki Pona has officially endorsed learning about it. Similarly, while Toki Pona's ideology is one of peace and simplicity, it is entirely possible to use Toki Pona to advocate for war, needless complexity, or even hateful ideologies. Toki Pona's ideology also has no political goal and is not authoritarian.
  • Newspeak is a thought experiment with no known speakers. It only has a limited description in Nineteen Eighty-Four and its appendix, "The Principles of Newspeak". Without making noncanonical additions, Newspeak cannot be realized to the extent that its fictional speakers use it. You may take Orwell's word that Newspeak would have the effects described in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but this is speculation. Toki Pona is a full, real, well-defined language with a speaking community, so it is possible to conduct actual, safe research on its effects.

Vocabulary[edit | edit source]

  • Newspeak has a continually diminishing vocabulary. Toki Pona's vocabulary has expanded since (and even with[2]) the publication of the book Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Words made and revived by the community have entered widespread use. 17 such words, the nimi ku suli, are officially endorsed in the Toki Pona Dictionary.
  • Words "that could be dispensed with" are removed from Newspeak. Toki Pona has many redundant words, including antonyms: ike ("bad") instead of pona ala ("ungood"). Styles of Toki Pona that experiment with removing words are generally not motivated by minimizing redundancy.
  • Newspeak words have "rigid", "exact and often very subtle" semantic spaces. Most Toki Pona content words are extremely broad in meaning, covering physical and abstract concepts, and so are able to express various shades of meaning depending on context. The goal is to express as much of universal human experience as possible in a low amount of words. With enough practice and effort, you can say anything in Toki Pona.
  • Newspeak is famous for compound words with fixed meanings, such as "facecrime" and "oldthink". Toki Pona tries to avoid letting phrases solidify like this. Where Newspeak narrows meaning down, Toki Pona allows a combinatorial explosion of meaning.
  • In Newspeak, many words and phrases mean the opposite of what they appear. Toki Pona tries to draw attention to apparent contradictions and encourage speakers to investigate them more deeply. For example, translating "bad friend" as jan pona ike ("bad good person") could motivate you to rethink a friendship. utala li utala ala ("War is peace") would have a similar effect.

Expression[edit | edit source]

  • It is trivial, and perfectly allowed, to construct Toki Pona phrases that contradict Ingsoc orthodoxy. nasin pi lawa ma li ken ike. "A government's ways can be bad." sona ala li wawa ala. "Ignorance is not strength."
  • Toki Pona encourages critical thinking because of its limitations. To discuss something well, you must understand it well and figure out an informative way to describe it. This provides new insights and makes it clear when there is an opportunity to learn more about the world.
  • By giving practice with circumlocution, Toki Pona can improve your faculty with other languages, rather than erode it. This makes it easier to define terms, and to give descriptions in place of unknown, forgotten terms.
  • Unlike Newspeak, Toki Pona avoids euphemism. The English "downsized for profitability" might be rendered lawa esun li wile awen jo e mani mute li weka e jan mute ("The head of the business wanted to keep having a lot of money and removed a lot of people"; "mass firing for greed"). Even if you do find a way around saying what you mean directly, it may be considered rude to obscure the true meaning.

owe[edit | edit source]

Caution: The subject of this section is just for fun. It might not be meant or appropriate for serious use.
owe in sitelen pona
Pronunciation /ˈo.we/
Usage 2023: Obscure (5% → )Caution: Most speakers don't understand this word.2022: Obscure (5%)
Book and era No book (post-pu)
Part of speech Content word

owe is an obscure joke word used to satirize Orwellian and totalitarian concepts and accusations. It was coined by nano in 2021.[3] Its sitelen pona glyph (owe) is derived from the glyph for lukin with emitters above, representing the global surveillance of the fictional Oceanian government in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

As a number word, it may refer to the quantity of 1984, especially when referring to the year, as in tenpo sike nanpa owe.[4]

It may be considered an antonym of another obscure word, kamalawala.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. In general, but also about Toki Pona specifically.

References[edit | edit source]

English Wikipedia has an article on
Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  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). pp. 26–27.
  2. Clifford, John E.. (21 August 2014). "Customer Review". Amazon. Retrieved 6 April 2024.
  3. nano [@nano?]. (26 February 2021). [Message posted in the #ijo-ante channel in the ma pona pi toki pona Discord server]. Discord. Retrieved 20 December 2023.

    new word: owe
    means 1984

  4. jan Sonja [@sonjalang]. (1 January 2024). [Message posted in the #pali-musi channel in the ma pona pi toki pona Discord server]. Discord. Retrieved 2 January 2024.

External links[edit | edit source]