kepeken e

    From sona pona

    kepeken e is the site of contention in a debate about toki pona grammar. It is a "corner case" whose interpretation is uncertain: everyone agrees that it is possible to follow the preposition kepeken with the transitivizing particle e, but it is not clear what such a construction means, nor whether it should be used. After 2020, the spread of transitive prepositional phrases (that is, prepositional phrases that act as the predicate of a sentence and that take an object introduced by e) made this problem more complex. However, as of 2023 these constructions are still relatively uncommon, and the whole problem of whether e should follow kepeken remains of minor interest for those who are not specialists in the study of toki pona grammar.

    Transitivity[edit | edit source]

    Recall that toki pona verbs take a direct object introduced by the particle e. It is expected that the reader understand this point before they attempt what follows.

    The meaning of a transitive construction in toki pona is generally clear when the ordinary sense of the content word is verbal:

    soweli li alasa e waso.
    The kitty chases the bird.

    In this sentence, we can discern an actor (soweli), an acted-upon (waso), and some action or process that connects them (alasa). The particles li and e indicate which words play which roles in the sentence, along with toki pona's word order.

    In a sentence the head of whose predicate is ordinarily a noun, the sentence is typically glossed "apply to":

    mi luka e soweli.
    I pet the dog.
    lit I apply hand to the dog.

    In a sentence where the ordinary sense of the main word is a modifier, the sentence is typically glossed "cause something to be...":

    mi suwi e moku.
    I sweeten the food.
    alt I cause the food to be sweet.

    Now, typically the last case (that with a modifier as the head of a preposition) can be expanded thus:

    mi pali e ni: moku li suwi.
    I bring this about: the food is sweet.

    Intuitively, this makes sense of the general meaning of transitive predicates in toki pona: they are an action as a result of which the object acquires the properties of the predicate.

    mi loje e tomo la tomo li loje.
    ona li moku e kili la kili li moku.
    soweli li monsuta e mi la mi monsuta.

    Unfortunately, the theoretical purity of this transformation breaks down in practice. In certain cases, it is not clear whether the The ordinary values of toki pona words do not allow for this degree of freedom, so the meaning of the last sentence is completely ambiguous:

    soweli li monsuta e mi la mi monsuta.
    The animal frightened me, so I am afraid.
    I am a monster because an animal made me a monster.

    It is not clear whether this is tale of big bad wolf or of lycanthropy, since in the first case the word is interpreted as a modifier applied to the object, and the second as a noun into which the subject is transformed. This confusion is called the monsutatesu, the "monsuta test", since it is most clear with the word monsuta. However, monsuta is not the only word that behaves this way. Many prepositions are similarly ambiguous, particularly when used transitively.

    Lexemes[edit | edit source]

    In the beginning, kepeken was a transitive verb. It was also a preposition. It is not the only word that straddled both categories — at certain times "poka" could act as a preposition, though today it is definitively not able to do so — but it remains as of today the most contested.

    As a reminder, a preposition can introduce an indirect object to the predicate of a sentence:

    mi pali e tomo kepeken ilo.
    I build a house using tools.
    ona li moku sama soweli.
    They're eating like animals.

    Like the particle e, prepositions are followed by a noun phrase. A prepositional phrase can also be the head of a predicate:

    soweli li lon ma kasi.
    The mouse is in the field.
    jan lili li tawa tomo sona.
    The children go to school.

    The word kepeken, when at the head of a predicate, is variously treated as a transitive verb or as a preposition. In terms of surface features, the particle e is used by some and omitted by others:

    kulupu li kepeken ilo.
    kulupu li kepeken e ilo.
    The group used the tools.

    jan Lentan and jan Pije teach the latter style, and soweli Tesa and pu teach the former. ku gives official sanctions to both variants.

    Prepositions as content words[edit | edit source]

    One part of the differing interpretations is about what counts as being transitive: the verb or the predicate. Verbs are phrases consisting of content words, whereas predicates can be broader and include prepositions.

    (Sidenote: The term "predicate" gets described differently across different sources. While according to some descriptions, "predicate" could mean anything after the subject, or anything after "li", or anything after a preverb - all of which would include "e" phrases - this article uses it to refer to any phrase within the main clause in a verb position. For toki pona, this means any phrase immediately following "li" - or "mi" or "sina" or "o" - ignoring preverbs, and excludes any subsequent part of the sentence beginning with "e" or a prepositional phrase. A second "li" phrase would be a second, separate predicate.)

    Preposition words as content words[edit | edit source]

    Any word that is used as a preposition may also be used as a content word. While prepositions have a more grammatical function, they carry with them semantic information, which informs what the word could mean as a non-preposition. pu is explicit only about two of the prepositions, noting tawa as an adjective meaning "moving", and sama as an adjective meaning "similar". It additionally uses lon in examples to mean "to be present". ku also notes: "Many people also use prepositions as nouns."

    As a consequence, all preposition words as content words might not be completely universal.

    Derived meanings from prepositions mostly seem to be widely understood, with only some exceptions for edge cases such as the topic of this article.

    Conclusion[edit | edit source]

    The meaning for kepeken as a transitive verb breaks down into:

    mi kepeken e ilo la ilo li kepeken.
    I apply usage to the tool so the tool is a usage.
    I turn the tool into a usage, so the tool is useful.
    I make the tool use, so the tool is using.

    Prepositional phrases as transitive predicates[edit | edit source]

    Since a transitive predicate is interpreted as making the predicate apply to the direct object of the sentence, and a prepositional phrase can head a predicate, it is possible to transitively apply a prepositional phrase to a direct object, like so:

    jan lanpan li poki e ona li tawa tomo telo e ona.[1]
    The pirate put them in a cage can brought them to the boat.

    This can be interpreted:

    jan lanpan li tawa tomo telo e ona la ona li tawa tomo telo,

    which holds together. Ordinarily "tawa tomo telo" is interpreted as a prepositional phrase, and within this framework, it is perfectly reasonably applied to a direct object here and conforms to the observations on transitivity described above.

    Generally, all prepositions can also act as content words. In the sentence,

    mi lukin e sitelen tawa.
    I watched a movie.

    it is practically impossible to interpret the last word of the sentence as a preposition, rather than a modifier of the word sitelen. The phrase mi lon e ma has a completely distinct flavor from mi lon ma.[2] In the first, lon is a content word meaning "real, existing," and so the sentence means "I make the earth exist." The second sentence has lon as a preposition introducing ma, so the sentence means, "I am in place." The presence of the particle e serves to distinguish them.

    In the original toki pona lessons, tawa "acts as a preposition and never uses e."[3] Similarly, the meaning of lon as a transitive word is not discussed, though its use as a modifier is defined.[4] However, by 2002, the word tawa is used transitively:

    tan ma tomo Pape la jan sewi Jawe li tawa e jan tawa ma mute.[5]

    A word list from this period also confirms that prepositions could be used as content words by this period: tawa and kepeken, in particular, are used as transitive verbs.[6]

    However, using prepositions as content words makes certain sentences ambiguous. A classic example, coined on 2002-05-28 by Nikita Ayzikovsy on the toki pona forums will suffice:

    mi pana e tomo tawa sina.
    I give you a house. OR
    I brought your car.[7]

    This sort of sentence is necessarily ambiguous. Since tawa could be either a modifier or a preposition, and no feature of the language enables the speaker to distinguish the possibilities, both glosses above are equally plausible interpretations. The difference between them is usually described by saying that tawa is acting as a preposition in the former interpretation, and as a content word in the latter.

    Conclusion[edit | edit source]

    Generally, when a preposition heads a predicate it does not take the particle e with its object. However, since it is also possible to use the prepositions as content words, some interpretations of toki pona use follow kepeken by e when it heads a predicate, as though it were a transitive verb:

    mi kepeken e ilo.
    I'm using tools.
    sina wile kepeken e ilo.
    You have to use tools.
    mi kepeken e poki ni.
    I'm using that cup.[8]

    This style is not universally accepted as of 2023: pu does not use the particle e in this context, and some even argue that it is erroneous.[9] Others continue to teach and use it.[10]

    Transitive prepositional phrases[edit | edit source]

    Some speakers hold that prepositions are never used as content words, and that when followed by e they apply the preposition to the object. For example, jan Juli argues that

    kepeken is a word that does not exist in English. Its indirect object is the thing that's being used (to achieve something), not its direct object.[11]

    In this interpretation, a preposition at the head of a predicate followed by e is nevertheless a preposition:

    mi tawa e soweli
    I move the animal [towards an unspecified location].
    mi lon e kala
    I exist the fish (I make the fish exist) [in an unspecified location/time/way].
    mi sama e akesi
    I sameify the frog (I make the frog similar) [to something unspecified].
    mi tan e ona
    I make them be the result [of something unspecified].
    mi kepeken e ona
    I make them use [something unspecified].[12]

    However, this interpretation makes it possible to use an entire prepositional phrase transitively:

    "jan lanpan li poki e ona li tawa tomo telo e ona."[13]
    The pirate put them in a cage can brought them to the boat.

    This can be interpreted:

    jan lanpan li tawa tomo telo e ona la ona li tawa tomo telo,

    Ordinarily "tawa tomo telo" is interpreted as a prepositional phrase, and it is applied to a direct object here and conforms to the observations on transitivity described above.

    mi kepeken e ilo la ilo li kepeken.
    I use the tool so the tool is in use.
    I make the tool use [something] so the tool uses it.

    These two interpretations interrogate our intuitions about the word "kepeken": ultimately, is it a content word that acts transitively to produce a middle meaning, or is it a preposition acting transitively on the object? On the one hand,

    mi tawa tomo e sina la sina tawa tomo.
    mi tawa e sina la sina tawa.

    Seems to set a precedent for a prepositional interpretation, unless the latter is also interpreted as a transitive and intransitive verb. Since not all verbs are easily made one or the other, it is often more comfortable to analyze both cases as prepositional.

    Unfortunately, there is no correct answer: the ambiguity in latent in toki pona itself. However, a few lines of flight appear. First: must we cling to the notion of "prepositions"? These words do generally act strangely, in that they can introduce sub-sections of a sentence; this seems to be a property restricted to the five "prepositions". On the other hand, it is not clear that this would change their meaning when made transitive: though the possibility of transitive prepositional phrases remains, the interpretation of the words alone as heads of a predicate is unclear. Perhaps in circumstances like these, the "prepositions" are all content words:

    mi tawa.
    I'm going.
    sina lon.
    You're here.
    ona tu li sama.
    Those two are the same.
    telo li tan pi mi ale.
    We all come from water.
    lit Water is the source of all of us.
    jan li kepeken.

    References[edit | edit source]

    1. mijomi telo, page 3.
    2. jan Kekan San, "mi lon e ma."
    3. [1] toki pona original Lesson 4
    4. [2]toki pona Original Lesson 7
    5. [3]Religious Texts translated by Sonja Lang
    6. [4]toki pona word list with parts of speech
    7. Nikita Ayzikovsky, forum post.
    8. [5]jan Pije Lesson 6, circa 2004
    9. jan Kekan San kepeken vs kepeken e
    10. jan Lentan toki pona personal style
    11. [6]nasin toki how to use prepositions
    12. [7]nasin toki a comparative analysis of prepositions
    13. mijomi telo, page 3.

    External resources[edit | edit source]