jan Kekan San

jan Kekan San

Predicate is better than Verb (scrap)

[in response to an analysis of Toki Pona’s grammar, calling the li-phrase a “verb”]

So first, I had to look up a couple of these words! That was a fun time, a a a. I’ll be up front in saying, I’m not strongly familiar with how formal analysis of grammar works.

That said, I don’t disagree with this analysis at all! Calling that position a verb isn’t necessarily wrong- it fits all the possible functions of a verb. But using the word “verb” brings on an English understanding of grammar that I want to avoid when teaching- and this is exemplified with your explanation/analysis. Analyzing the intra-li-e-pred with the name “verb” conflates position, the thing you’re trying to label, with function. In this case, your argument is that the function of Toki Pona’s predicate can be correctly analyzed as a verb- and it’s valid. But your analysis is accomplishing something different from mine.

One of the biggest learner struggles I see is conflating the position “verb” (as it is used among the community, intra-li-e-preds) with the function “verb” (informally: actions, not descriptions). Learners from an English background will point at “loje” in “soweli li loje” and say “adjective”, then be confused when you say it’s a verb. “li” looks like the copula “is” if you name that position “verb.” The trouble comes from analyzing Toki Pona words with English functions- you can produce analyses that let you put Toki Pona’s words into English’s positional/functional boxes, and those analyses will be valid, but they won’t necessarily mesh with a learner’s pre-existing understanding of English’s grammatical positions and functions.

My analysis puts the understanding of learners before anything else. To that end, I chose “predicate” over “verb” because “predicate” makes no claim about function- only about position. And the “predicate” is the intra-li-e-predicate, without any specific implication of what belongs there (aside from, not the subject and not the object) since that explanation belongs to the lesson!

I’ve thought about pre-pred extensively

Here’s a defense of it, and a few notes about use of the term

  1. It follows from labeling the “verb” of the sentence as the “predicate”, of course. Predicate is unambiguously better than verb, which I don’t believe I need to defend at this point? But here you go:
  2. When an English speaker sees verb, they assume Action. This isn’t strictly wrong, but obviously toki pona’s predicate can be much more than just actions (even though it makes no grammatical distinction in action/description). Predicate doesn’t make a claim about function, only position, which is ideal. (I have written a lot about this point)
  3. Predicate is more familiar to our audience (primarily English speakers) than Auxiliary - which gets at another huge benefit of predicate over other terms:
  4. Learners often already have a concept of what a predicate is, which is reliably correct. You can lean into that, reducing your explanation workload. Learners can extrapolate the meaning of pre-pred/pre-predicate from predicate. They cannot do this with auxiliary unless they know the term independently.
  5. Points 3 and 4 are much stronger given that you’re trying to propose a consistent set of terminology for our teachers to use. We should choose as few new terms as possible, relying on a learner’s existing understanding of grammar as much as possible. Let them focus on the language, not the terminology surrounding it!

Notes about usage: