jan Kekan San

jan Kekan San


toki a, jan ale o! mi jan Kekan San! mi wile pana e sona pi toki pona!

Hey everyone, I’m gregdan3, and today I wanna teach you about Toki Pona.

Today, we’re gonna be going over the function of e and pi, with a few bonuses thrown in about asking questions. This lesson assumes you caught my lesson last month about how li and modifiers work!

Also, remember that we’re doing the vocab as we go, instead of all up front. We’re focusing on the grammar and the feel of Toki Pona- and you can memorize the words on your own!

Let’s get right into it with an example, starting with, what is e, and what is pi?

We Know that we can talk about what the subject is doing or being with the word li.

The word e gives us a new tool: we can talk about what the subject does to somebody or something else! Here’s a basic example of what that looks like:

suno li seli e mi

This means “the sun heats me.” Interpreted literally, you might say “the sun applies warmth to me.”

With e, the subject changes the object. So the sun is changing “mi”, and that change is “seli”. So I could then say:

mi seli

I am warm.

But not every word is so clear as seli when used with e. Take for example, pona:

mi pona e tomo

We know the definition of pona to be good, positive, simple, or pleasant.

Since pona is in a new part of the sentence, we interpret a little differently to match.

Here, we might interpret it as meaning heal, help, repair, or improve.

But the meaning of pona is still the same. All that’s changed is the usage, and thus how we might translate it into English.

Case in point, you could also translate this as “I apply good to the building.”

In short, the core meaning of words is the same in the subject, object, and even as a verb- but you can think about it a little differently if it helps you understand!

Now that we’ve got the basics of e, let’s look at some more examples.

Just like with the subject before li and the verb after, we can put just about any word we want after e:

kulupu li wile e pali mi [draw way up the board]

The words after e can be people, places, things, actions, ideas, literally anything.

“pali mi” is an action here, referring to “my work”- this could be the act of working, a place of work, or a specific creation of yours described by the fact that you created it.

But this sentence is a little odd based on what we’ve learned- what does it mean to, interpreting literally, “apply want or need to my work”?

This is a context thing. It could mean “make my work want,” but you’d find most speakers don’t think of it that way. The work doesn’t begin to want- it becomes wanted.

More generally, there are a few words that work with e, but don’t necessarily change the object when they do it. wile is one of those cases- the subject does some thing, but the object doesn’t change.

To be clear, you could still say:

pali mi li wile

As in, my work is needed.

Or maybe:

ni li pali wile

As in, this is needed work.

And those are correct- but some speakers discourage or avoid this, because it can be a little confusing- the work doesn’t want, but the grammar of pali mi li wile implies it does, and the ni li pali wile hides the fact that something else is doing the wanting. Instead, as in the original sentence, it is most clear to have some other subject do the wanting or needing: kulupu li wile e pali mi.

Still, experiment and figure out what works for you. Toki Pona is the most fun when you know all of its rules, and try to break them in clever ways to communicate something.

Here’s another example of the object-doesn’t-change thing:

sina lukin e kili tu

Literally, this would be “You apply eyes or sight to the two fruits or vegetables.”

Again, this is a case where context and interpretation matter. This probably doesn’t mean “the two fruits become able to see.” It could mean “the two fruits become seen.”

But the most appropriate interpretation is to read it in the order it’s written: you look at two fruits. Implicitly, the fruits are unchanged.

Still, I need to stress that this is an interpretation- there are more! You could say “sina lukin e kili tu” and mean “you put googly eyes on two fruits”. “You apply eyes to two fruits.”

But otherwise, what we’ve learned is that e sometimes just describes an action that involves, but doesn’t change, the object. Sure!

As you practice, you’ll get a feel for this difference.

To help you out, the following words express this behavior often:

lukin. wile. sona. pilin. kute

Next, there’s the word pi.

mun li pana e sona pi toki pona

pi lets you make fancier modifiers, to any part of speech, using it and two or more words after.

Remember how with normal modifiers, all the words after the first modify the first?

pi changes that, but only a bit. The first word after pi is a new head, and then, the words after that modify that new head.

Then, the whole thing goes on to modify the head of the current phrase.

[direction: draw arrow from pona to toki, then pi toki pona to sona]

Altogether, our interpretation of this sentence is something like “a star gives Toki Pona knowledge.” Hey, that sounds familiar!

But this is new to us, so let’s try another example:

akesi pi selo kiwen li moku [draw this way up the board, do not erase yet]

Here, the word akesi, reptile or amphibian, is the head of the subject.

Then pi comes, and turns selo, skin, wall, boundary, into another head.

kiwen modifies that like normal- so we have selo kiwen, tough skin.

And putting it all together, we have akesi pi selo kiwen- a tough-skinned lizard!

[direction: draw arrow from kiwen to selo, then pi selo kiwen to akesi ]

Again, everything after pi is one big, fancy modifier for the head of the phrase. Otherwise, it works just like normal modifiers!

Quick note: Using one pi is almost always enough. Using two pi comes up rarely.

Any more than that, and you might want to take a step back and rethink your sentence. In fact, do that even for two pi.

The same applies to any complex sentences or phrases- if you have one phrase with more than four words, or lots of extra use of li or e, you might be cramming your sentence, making it hard to understand!

Toki Pona focuses on simplicity for a reason. Lean into it! Practice having shorter, more focused sentences, especially ones that only talk about one or two things at a time.

We’re gonna try that idea with the previous sentence!

akesi ni li jo e selo kiwen

And then a second sentence:

ona li moku

Now, you might complain that the new first sentence is longer than the entire original sentence.

But it actually gives us more information, and more clarity, at the same time. The extra length is helping us, and our listener- without confusing things.

The first sentence no longer has to cram the description of the akesi into modifiers to make space for what the akesi is doing. Instead, a full sentence is used to clearly describe the akesi, and a second one is used for what it’s doing.

This first sentence is also more clear that the selo kiwen is the akesi’s- instead of maybe a rocky wall the akesi is near.

Then the second sentence is nearly the same as the original, but the subject can be just “ona” because we just talked about the akesi. There’s more breathing room, and it’s easier to follow.

The takeaway here is that the grammar is there to help you. It helps you organize your thoughts. pi is helpful, but sometimes it obscures the benefits of the rest of the grammar. If you wanna get really good at Toki Pona, practice removing pi from your sentences!

By the way, if you remember our bonus from last time about asking questions with seme, you can do that with pi too:

sina pali pi wawa seme?

This is something like “You’re working with what strength?” Or interpreting a little more, maybe “How hard are you working?”

seme can go wherever you need it to!

I’d like to end this lesson with another bonus: we’re gonna ask questions, but this time with verb doubling.

If you’ve looked over the word list for Toki Pona, you might have noticed that there aren’t any words for yes or no.

What we do instead is double the first word after li, then put ala between the two.

supa li lete ala lete?

This is the closest thing to a yes-or-no question in Toki Pona.

Interpreting this one literally, you might say “is the floor cold or not cold?”

And to answer, you repeat the verb for yes: lete

Or you’d say ala for no. You could also repeat the verb and add ala, as in lete ala.

Let’s try another:

kala li kute ala kute e mi?

Now, we’re doubling the first word of the verb, but this could be asking about anything in the sentence.

This could be asking “Did a fish hear me?” or “Did the fish hear me?” or “Did the fish hear me?”

All of those are distinguished by emphasis in English.

In Toki Pona, you’ll rely on context to know exactly what’s being asked about!

One last bit, a little related to the questions we just covered!

Something fun about Toki Pona is that you’ll hear speakers repeat what eachother say. For example:

kasi ni li suli a

And then a second speaker says:

suli wawa a!

The closest translation in english might be saying:

This tree is huge!

Woah, it is!

This is a lot like how answering questions works, but it’s now for acknowledgement and agreement rather than confirmation of a question!

I encourage you to experiment with this- if nothing else, it’s a really fun way to express yourself!

That’s all for today’s lesson! Thank you all so much for listening, and for learning.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me here, or on Discord!

I’m gonna get this recording up on YouTube, so be sure to check it out when it goes up!