mu

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mu in sitelen pona
mu in sitelen sitelen
Pronunciation /mu/ 🔊 🔊
Usage 2023: Core (99% ↗︎ )2022: Core (97%)
Book and era nimi pu
Part of speech Content word
Codepoint 󱤹 U+F1939

mu is a core and content word relating to animal noises and other onomatopoeia.

Etymology[edit | edit source]

The word mu is derived from an onomatopeia,[1] likely either from a cow or cat sound.

Semantic space[edit | edit source]

The semantic space of mu varies wildly between speakers. It is very common to refer to some noises that are not animal vocalizations as mu. Some factors may be more or less important to a speaker, but a multi-dimensional spectrum is possible for how mu gets distinguished from kalama, with overlap between the different factors.

Widening the semantic space of mu can involve asking "why and how do animals make noises, and when might non–animals behave similarly?"

On platforms like Discord, mu is sometimes used to describe @mentions, which cause the application to make a notification sound. Thus, o mu e mi ("ping me") can be taken as short for o mu ilo e nimi mi.

pu[edit | edit source]

In the "Official Toki Pona Dictionary" section, the book Toki Pona: The Language of Good defines mu as shown below, calling it a particle. However, in the example sentences, it is clearly treated as a regular content word.

PARTICLE  (animal noise or communication)

In the second part of the book, it translates Al-Naml, a chapter from the Qur'an, where a bird reports to Solomon about the Queen of Sheba, as the single word "mu!".

ku[edit | edit source]

For Toki Pona Dictionary, respondents in ma pona pi toki pona translated these English words as mu:[2]

woof5, meow5, animal vocalization5, ribbit5, purr5, neigh5, cock-a-doodle-doo3

Proposed axes and qualifiers[edit | edit source]

mu alignment chart

Origin[edit | edit source]

The pu definition clearly lists the origin as being from an animal. Nonetheless, this can be expanded on or even ignored. Animals, or beings and things that are close to the concept of animals, may make sounds which are mu.

What if a sound does not come from an animal and shares some characteristics with other representations of mu? What if the origin is not an animal, but shares something in common with animals?

Animacy[edit | edit source]

While animacy might not be an inherent concept to all or most words in Toki Pona, speakers might still attribute mu to living things, or emphasize that the origin might be alive, or things that are close in concept to living—such as machines, fire, or anything with googly eyes on it.

Duration[edit | edit source]

A noise going on forever tends to become background noise, whereas short noises are more likely to catch our attention and become mu.

Identification[edit | edit source]

mu sounds tend to be specific to the point that they may be connected to a unique concept of origin when heard without seeing the origin. Unless you have the experience, the sound of a tree falling in a forest can make all sorts of sounds that may not be characteristic enough to tie them to the tree, but an alarm clock noise and ribbits are much easier to get a connection with.

Intent[edit | edit source]

Changes in our soundscape often demand our attention. While most living things are able to make a noise of some form, not all sounds are produced with a goal to be perceived. If such a goal seems to exist, it might be a mu. In the technological world, many sounds have been created with the goal to be perceived. The exact source of the agency may be blurry. Echoes are reflections of sounds from boundaries, but you may be the one causing the echo, and even if you didn't intend there to be an echo, you'll hear your intent to cause a specific sound getting reflected back. A warning sound on your computer might not be something you think of the computer willing into existence, but the intent comes from the programming of the device, which a programmer put decisions into.

Message[edit | edit source]

While mu denotes sounds that aren't language on their own, they're still a form of communication. So if a message can be understood, it may be a mu. The most basic things of what mu can communicate are presence and a more precise location.

Messages may be derived despite of lack of actual meaning. A rock falling into water and making a funny noise may still tell you something about the comedic effect of that specific sound, or you may imagine the water making silly sounds on purpose as if it likes to tell jokes.

Melodicity[edit | edit source]

Some speakers prefer to think of mu as being sounds that are distinct tones or even progressions of tones. Here, pure white noise would tend to not be mu, but an electronic buzzer with a specific frequency would roughly get closer in form to how a birdsong sounds.

sitelen pona[edit | edit source]

The sitelen pona glyph for mu (󱤹) represents an animal's face, with two circular ears in the upper corners, and a nose or mouth at the bottom of the head.

Related words[edit | edit source]

Caution: The subject of this section is just for fun. It is not meant or recommended for serious use.

jonke[edit | edit source]

jonke in sitelen pona
Pronunciation /ˈjon.ke/ 🔊/j/ sounds like English Y, as in "fjord" or "hallelujah".
Usage 2023: Obscure (5% ↗︎ )Caution: Most speakers don't understand this word.2022: Obscure (3%)
Book and era No book (post-pu)
Part of speech Content word

jonke is an obscure joke word for a goose sound. It was coined by cyanidesDuality in 2021 and is derived from the sound produced by geese (usually transcribed as "hjönk"), inspired the game Untitled Goose Game.[3]

The sitelen pona glyph for jonke is derived from the glyph for waso with angry eyebrows and emitters on the side. It was designed by cyanidesDuality in 2022.[4]

nja[edit | edit source]

nja in sitelen pona
Pronunciation /nja/ 🔊/j/ sounds like English Y, as in "fjord" or "hallelujah".
Usage 2023: Obscure (9% ↗︎ )Caution: Most speakers don't understand this word.2022: Obscure (5%)
Book and era No book (post-pu)
Part of speech Content word

nja is an obscure joke word for a feline sound, such as a meow. It was coined by jan Kita in 2019 and is derived from the Japanese onomatopeia ニャ (Hepburn: nyā).[5]

The sitelen pona glyph for nja represents a face, with a cat ears and mouth. It was designed by cyanidesDuality in 2022.[4]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Word Origins. Archived from the original on 2 November 2019. Toki Pona.
  2. Lang, Sonja. (18 July 2021). Toki Pona Dictionary. Illustrated by Vacon Sartirani. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292362. p. 288.
  3. cyanidesDuality [@cyanidesDuality#9559]. (1 April 2021). [Message posted in the #jaki channel in the ma pona pi toki pona Discord server]. Discord. Retrieved 2 December 2023.
  4. 4.0 4.1 cyanidesDuality [@cyanidesDuality#9559]. (8 April 2021). [Message posted in the #pana-sona channel in the ma pona pi toki pona Discord server]. Discord. Retrieved 2 December 2023.
  5. jan Kita [@.hecko]. (10 March 2021). [Message posted in the #toki-pona channel in the ma pona pi toki pona Discord server]. Discord. Retrieved 2 December 2023.

Further reading[edit | edit source]