mi li and sina li

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The phrases mi li and sina li are generally considered to be ungrammatical. If a sentence starts with mi or with sina as the only word in the subject, the predicate immediately follows after.

Why no li?[edit | edit source]

Learners sometimes wonder why li gets added for everything else, but not for mi and sina. Because the underlying confusion, or curiosity, can have different causes, there are many possible answers.

  • Because this is how the language works, and how it has worked from the very beginning. After decades, only a minority of speakers use li differently, if any.
  • The particle li introduces a verb to a subject more complicated than only mi or only sina. It's commonly said that li is "omitted" after mi or sina, or that there is a "hidden" li. This could mean that Toki Pona likes to concentrate on mi and sina being more immediate subjects. They hold such importance in the language that anything else is more complex or more external to an immediate experience so that it needs an extra separation by a particle.
  • Etymologically speaking, li is a third-person marker. It is derived from the Esperanto third-person singular pronoun li[1] and functions similarly to Tok Pisin's particle i, which introduces the verb except when the subject is the singular first or second person pronoun[2][3][4]
  • In terms of practical benefits, omitting li after mi makes it less likely to be confused with ni. It also makes sentences shorter and slightly more varied in terms of word distribution.

When to add li anyway[edit | edit source]

The relationship li has to mi and sina is often overly shortened to "no li after mi or sina". However, taking this abbreviated explanation at face-value can lead to confusion for learners, in some cases where the word li follows mi and sina.

li is not added if mi is the only word in the subject or if sina is the only word in the subject. With en, there are now two subjects, so li is added.

mi en sina li pali 

mi en sina li pali.

li follows mi and sina when used as modifiers. In the sentence below, sina is not the subject, it is only part of the subject.

soweli sina li pona 

soweli sina li pona.

li is still used if mi or sina are modified.

mi tu li kama 

mi tu li kama.

Multiple predicates[edit | edit source]

pu says that when multiple predicates are applied to mi or sina, a new sentence should start.[5]

sina pali  sina wawa 

sina pali. sina wawa.

Some speakers use a second li in this case. This is referred to as "extended li style" in ku.[a]

sina pali li wawa 

sina pali li wawa.

Edge cases[edit | edit source]

In some cases, speakers' styles may lead to differences in how li is used. The word a in sentence below is seen as applying to mi, but it is a special case that leads to li not factoring in because of the nature of the word a. However, because it is still acting similar or even the same as a modifier, speakers might also use li just like with any modifier. A similar effect might happen with kin.

mi a wawa 

mi a wawa.

mi a li wawa 

mi a li wawa.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. This has a parallel in Tok Pisin's particle i, where a second predicate to the same subject gets introduced with it.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Word Origins. Archived from the original on 2 November 2019. Toki Pona.
  2. Franklin, Karl J. (1980). The particles ‘i’ and ‘na’ in Tok Pisin. Kivung. 12 (2): 134-144.
  3. Tung, Cindy (2014). Grammaticalization in Tok Pisin. Lingua Frankly. 2 (1). doi:10.6017/lf.v2i1.5419
  4. Verhaar, J. W. M. (1991). The Function of I in Tok Pisin. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 6 (2): 231–266. doi:10.1075/jpcl.6.2.04ver.
  5. Lang, Sonja. (25 May 2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. p. 56.