Minimalism

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The simplicity of Toki Pona is often described as minimalism, including in official material. This makes some learners sensitive to perceived inefficiencies, such as the color and animal words that could be replaced by other words and phrases. However, Toki Pona is not strictly minimalist.

Problems with minimalism[edit | edit source]

Toki Pona tries to be natural and focus on universals of the human experience, whereas conlangs that are engineered for minimalism often feel unnatural to use. Natural languages develop basic color words for light, dark, red, yellow, and grue, so Toki Pona has walo, pimeja, loje, jelo, and laso. It is natural for uta to be separate from lupa; after all, the mouth is seen and used constantly for many things like breathing, eating, gesture, speech, and art.

Redundancy is a failsafe, and such "inefficiency" can be a strength in language.[1] You could design a conlang with shorter words that still follows Toki Pona's simple phonotactics. But if taken too far, this would make it easier to miss words entirely, and it would create more sets of words that are confusingly similar.

Replacing words with set phrases would also be a form of lexicalization. For example, replacing the word jelo with kule suno (as suggested by the sitelen pona glyph jelo) would make it difficult to refer to the color of any light that isn't yellow.

Goals of simplicity[edit | edit source]

As the name suggests, Toki Pona is built around the concept of pona. It is only simple to the extent that its simplicity is pona. The separate animal words encourage discussing different kinds of animals, which can be therapeutic. Similarly, the word mu exists apart from kalama soweli because using an onomatopoeia is joyful.

This subject or style relates to Toki Pona: The Language of Good.

The philosophy of Toki Pona's simplicity is discussed in Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Simplifying complicated ideas provides new insights and "points to the centre of things". Contradictions obscured by specialized words and cultural baggage are exposed; "bad friend" might be translated as the oxymoron jan pona ike, or using a phrase without pona in the first place, revealing one's feelings about such a friend. These benefits do not require absolute minimalism, only sufficient simplicity.

The language's simplicity aims for a happy medium where things are not overcomplicated, but not too limited for speech, understanding, or fun.

References[edit | edit source]