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The philosophy of Toki Pona is the set of goals and attitudes that inform its development, and that speakers are expected to align themselves with in order to use the language effectively. It is partly inspired by Taoism,[1] and is originally described in Toki Pona: The Language of Good.

Not all varieties of Toki Pona have a consistent philosophy. Especially as of its entrustment to the community as of Toki Pona Dictionary, Toki Pona is simply a language whose philosophy, if any, is whatever its speakers make of it. Nonetheless, many tokiponists have expressed an interest in preserving the philosophical elements set during Toki Pona's original development.

Simplicity[edit | edit source]

Semantic reduction in the case of Toki Pona refers to expressing a concept in simplest terms should point to its central meaning and make it easier to work with. In The Language of Good, it is is likened to fractional reduction, simplifying to .[2] This reduction can provide new insights and even expose contradictions, such as attempting to translate "bad friend" as jan pona ike, meaning "bad good person".[1]

Concepts do not always reduce to a word or short phrase, as terms must often be linked with basic operators, particles, to indicate the relationship between them. There is also naturally a point of oversimplification, where a concept is reduced too much to tell what is being discussed. Toki Pona aims for a happy medium between oversimplification and overcomplexity; it is just far closer to simplification than may be assumed feasible. This aspect of the philosophy is why pona is often translated as both "good" and "simple".

Universality[edit | edit source]

Toki Pona tries to "focus on the elements that are most universal to our human experience",[2] cultural universals. It blurs the line between mentioning and explaining a complicated concept, so that everyone is sure of what is being discussed.

Many content words are similar to semantic primes, and many are extremely broad in semantic space. For example, lipu covers many specific words like "book" that seem simple, but the meaning is closer to "document", a broader concept that English absurdly treats as more technical. Toki Pona mostly eschews words for specific concepts, even those that currently seem common. If a concept has multiple relevant facets, it should take multiple sentences to introduce.

For example, a car is a highly specific mode of transportation that emerged recently and requires hundred-billion-dollar mass infrastructure and training just to support its existence. Thus, it does not have a dedicated word or phrase. However, the general concept of movement is a semantic prime, hence the word tawa, and this can often be used in descriptions of cars.

Toki Pona also makes it easier to describe something than to refer to it only by a proper name, which may be more specific but is meaningless if not already known. Following this, all standard names are adjectives, preceded by a headnoun that gives a basic description of what is named.

Narrowness[edit | edit source]

Inversely, Toki Pona is narrow in function and does not try to do everything. The Language of Good alleges Toki Pona to be unfit for technical writing "without significant losses",[3] or at least without heavy preamble to offset the lack of jargon.

Large numbers are intentionally inconvenient to express; the difference between 1001 and 1002 is abstract and difficult to think about, compared to that between 1 and 2.

Contextuality[edit | edit source]

As a result, Toki Pona is highly contextual. Speakers should identify the relevant features of their surroundings and find ways to specify them within the current context. Different phrasing should be used for the same entity depending on how it is relevant to a certain conversation.[1]

Joy[edit | edit source]

Toki Pona tries to promote positive thinking by filtering out excess thoughts and reducing any given issue to its core. It also tries to promote mindfulness, being "fully aware of the present moment", through contextuality.[1]

There is also room in Toki Pona to have fun, even at the slight expense of other aspects of the philosophy. For example, there are words for many different kinds of animals, and another for animal sounds, even though these could be reduced to their underlying concepts. Toki Pona's ideal of minimalism is not a strict one.

References[edit | edit source]

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