A Language Review

The nice thing about delaring one’s self a linguaphile is that one can be sure that one is, even if one doesn’t earn the lofty title of “polyglot”. In light of this, and as amateur(ist?) as it may be, I would therefore like to Review a constructed Language (conglang): Toki Pona. As I’m not very experienced with this reviewing business, I’ll try to keep it short.

Toki Pona is (famously) an extremely light (~120 word) language with minimal grammar. It’s made up of very few (very easy to pronounce letters) and can be learned relatively quickly. I would like to start by saying that I don’t speak/understand Toki Pona that well at all. However, I have studied the language a little, so I do have a little to say.

What I do like about the Language:

  • I like the lightness of the language. 120 words adjective/adverb/noun/verb interchangability. A regular/simple grammar. All these factors are very appealling.
  • More so than that, I thoroughly enjoy the constructive nature of concepts in Toki Pona: Is a house a “place for life”, or “four flatnesses that give light”? The creativity that this leads to is brilliant, and it has a lot of poetic potential.
  • I like the subtractive colour system in Toki Pona. It’s very elegant, and mathematical (In fact, it feels much more Lojban than the rest of the language).

What I don’t like:

  • The language sounds childish – I think the sound of a language means a lot. Natural languages seem to find their own personalities and ruts when developing, therefore obtaining their own coherent feel. However, Conlangs have to try and nail that “feel” straight away, so don’t generally turn out as well. Now why I don’t think Toki Pona suffer’s from Esperanto’s problem (trying to be so broad it’s consistently wierd), the sounds it does make, to me, sound rather childish. And I find this rather offputting. N.B. There is actually a solution to this, in that one could swap out the words, or play with the consonant flexibility that Toki Pona offers (e.g. swapping out all the “T”‘s for “D”‘s). I simply haven’t tried it.
  • My #1 gripe with the language: The word “Pona” means both “good” and “simple” – This desroys the language for me (in it’s original form anyway). The authors obsession with K.I.S.S. kills sublety (e.g. it’s equation of the animal text with “mu”) and goes so far to assert that the ultimate form of goodness is simple. I find this philosophically lazy and blind to the beauty of complexity. This is my single biggest gripe with the language, and for me, it seriously hurts what Toki Pona has going for it.

Yes, I could swap the words for better sounding words, and I could pick and choose definitions, but then it wouldn’t be Toki Pona (or atleast the one ye’re all familiar with)… would it?


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