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pu-rism (/ˈpuːɹɪzəm/) is a style of Toki Pona that tries to closely match pu, the book Toki Pona: The Language of Good. An adherent to pu-rism is called a pu-rist. Some speakers have tried to prescribe pu-rism, hence the pun on linguistic purism. pu-rism has been the core of a main tension in the Toki Pona speaking community.

pu-rism can involve any feature of Toki Pona, from the set of words used, to features with no formal rules laid out in the book. An example of the latter is punctuation style. pu contains no punctuation guidelines, but jan Sonja's punctuation style at the time of writing pu can be determined by studying the example sentences in the book.

Motivations[edit | edit source]

pu-rism tends to align with the following forms of linguistic purism.

  • Archaizing: Upholds pu as the "completed form" of Toki Pona that respects the creator's original vision
  • Democratic: Keeps Toki Pona intelligible to more people by resisting deviations from the established resources. Naturally, pu is the most established resource; before ku, most accepted modern courses were solely based on pu to avoid using outdated forms of the language.
  • Defensive: Protects Toki Pona from conflicting philosophies and sources of complexity, viewing them as threats to the value or goals of the language. An argument for this is that, if an un-pona feature is widely adopted, pu-rists will have to adopt it in spite of what they like about Toki Pona to be able to understand other speakers.
  • Lexical: Generally keeps the 120-word lexicon intact, or else some only slightly larger delineation of the nimi pu. This resists the introduction of new words altogether, to retain the low vocabulary size that Toki Pona is best known for.
  • Regressive: Rejects pre-pu words and features, viewing them as extraneous to the nimi pu, thus retroactively "not Toki Pona"
  • Syntactic: Conserves the syntax presented in pu, rejecting earlier grammar analyses and later experimental particles to keep a low amount of grammar rules

Justification[edit | edit source]

pu-rism is implicitly argued to be more acceptable than cases of prescriptivism and purism in natural languages. The features of natural languages form arbitrarily and are handed down by tradition, and the dominant forces in a culture determine "correctness" as a form of oppression. In contrast, constructed languages tend to come with known, specific, and well-researched intents and exacting documentation, and do not carry such social effects if they are not widely adopted. Toki Pona is not yet well established in any ethnic heritage.

To many speakers, the appeal of Toki Pona is in its philosophy and simplicity. The introduction of new terms and grammatical features could change these aspects. This line of thinking arguably contrasts with xenophobic purism because new features need not come from other languages: many words and features are coined a priori, and new phrases can fossilize without direct influence from specific languages.

In many ways, conventions, words and grammar found outside of the book often present a way to ease communication. As a result, sticking to a more basic approach to the language could be seen as a kind of self-imposed challenge. However this is not exclusive to pu-rism.

Criticisms[edit | edit source]

Prescriptivism[edit | edit source]

Prescriptivism in general is often criticized in linguistics, and this carries over to the conlang community, especially for those who view Toki Pona like a living language. Some words like pali have undergone semantic drift from what their pu definitions suggest, and because pu-rism is not descriptive and concerns a fixed point in time, it cannot adequately acknowledge this.

Authorial intent[edit | edit source]

pu notably contains very few examples of certain features. Invoking pu-rism with such features is criticized for using too low a sample size to accurately read into the intended style.

jan Sonja attempted to discourage what ultimately became staunch pu-rism within pu itself. According to its preface, pu presents "the way [she] use[s] Toki Pona". Its final lesson ("The Frontier") encourages speakers to "[c]reate, play," and "enjoy [themselves]" with Toki Pona. She has since affirmed this more clearly, most notably in the following book, ku:[1]

The first book serves as a snapshot and reference point of one key person's way of using Toki Pona at one key moment in time. This foundation is paired with the invitation [in "The Frontier"].

jan Sonja has also contested some decisions she made for pu, such as merging words and presenting them as "synonyms".

All of this challenges the archaizing form of pu-rism meant to uphold authorial intent. As far as pu-rism has mischaracterized jan Sonja's intent with Toki Pona and its philosophy, this also challenges the defensive motivation.

Inaccuracy and misleadingness[edit | edit source]

As a prescriptive style, pu-rism is inaccurate to any agreed-upon shifts in usage by the speaking community.

Some rejections of pu have also become widespread for practical reasons. For instance, proficient speakers generally assert that pi is not "of" to prevent common misconceptions, even though pu itself defines it as "of". Another instance is the meli Sonko example.

Exclusivity[edit | edit source]

pu-rism may keep toki pona from becoming an inclusive language. Speakers have coined words like tonsi and eliki to describe marginalized experiences that the vocabulary in pu alone leaves difficult to express. To get around this, tonsi has been positioned as an honorary nimi pu to encourage more speakers to accept and adopt it.

Lexicalizations[edit | edit source]

Some translations and expressions for specific concepts are displayed in the book. Putting these word combinations as more acceptable than others, and expecting them to be used for the concepts in question, adds to lexicalization.

Since the Toki Pona Dictionary[edit | edit source]

In a review of Toki Pona Dictionary, jan Po of the channel seme li sin? argued that the dictionary resolves the conflict between pu-rists and experimental speakers by aligning "the will of the creator" with linguistic descriptivism.[2] However, the semi-canonization of the nimi ku suli has had latent functions that conflict with this. For example, some speakers resent that several quickly dated nimi sin are labeled as "essential words".

This has inspired a less combative form of pu-rism. Its adherents accept deviations from pu when used selectively, but discourage others (mainly learners) from adopting every single experimental feature they come across.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Lang, Sonja. (18 July 2021). Toki Pona Dictionary. Illustrated by Vacon Sartirani. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292362. p. 5.
  2. jan Po. (6 August 2021). "Review of Toki Pona Dictionary Compiled by Sonja Lang". seme li sin? [@semelisin]. YouTube. Retrieved 30 April 2024.