In linguistics, recursion occurs when a grammatical feature contains itself. For example, the English sentence "I know that you know that I know" contains the sentence "you know that I know", which contains the sentence "I know". Also in English, adjectives and adverbs can be used to recurse: the noun phrase "my friend's teacher" contains the noun phrase "friend's teacher", which contains the noun phrase "teacher", and so on.
Recursion exists in some natural languages, where there is controversy over whether or not it is universal. Recursion is one way in which language can be productive. There is no upper bound on the number of sentences that can be produced if the speaker can keep recursing indefinitely: "I know you know I know you know I know…", "my friend's teacher's cousin's pet's toy's…", "we really, really, really, … really, really, really want it", "I said, 'he said, "she said, '…'"'"
Is Toki Pona recursive?[edit | edit source]
Because Toki Pona tries to keep its grammar simple and easy to understand, a lot of the recursion strategies of other languages are either lacking, proscribed, or not very useful.
- Each basic part of a sentence can be added indefinitely by repeating the particle. However, this is discouraged in favor of multiple sentences.
- mi en sina en ona en… li pali (e lipu e supa e len e…) li musi (e tenpo e nasin e sitelen e…) li toki (e kon e mani e sona e…) li…
- Additionally, context phrases may be full sentences
- akesi li lon la suwi li lon
- Single modifiers can be stacked indefinitely. However, this can be incredibly vague, especially compared to English, because modifiers lack clarifying information like agent and patient role.
- ijo loje laso nasa kiwen suli mute ala…
- Phrasal modifiers generally cannot be stacked, because multiple pi are willfully ambiguous in their grammatical structure.
- Large numbers often have to go on for a long time. However, this is a design feature meant to discourage speakers from using them.
- tenpo sike nanpa ale ale ale ale ale ale…
- There are no relative clauses. Instead, sentences can be linked together with ni ("that"), which works for the "that" in "that one" and in "I know that you know". In sitelen pona, this use of ni (ni) is often rotated (ni>) to point at the next sentence. A nimi sin for relative clauses, ki, has been proposed, but many speakers dislike it and it remains obscure.
- sina sona ala sona e ni: ona li toki e ni: "mi pali e ni: tomo ni li kama jo sin e telo: ona li lon ma ni: … "?
- sina sona ala sona e ni> zz ona li toki e ni> zz mi pali e ni> zz tomo ni> li kama jo sin e telo zz ona li lon ma ni> zz ⋯