Table of Contents
How to Learn
This is a collection of philosophy notes, both for Toki Pona and for these lessons.
Toki Pona is a Real Language
Toki Pona is a real language. It has few words which you can easily memorize, but memorizing all the words is only the start. You learn much more through practice! For comparison, memorizing all the numbers from 0 to 9 won’t teach you Calculus, but it would let you start learning more math!
Simplicity in Toki Pona
Toki Pona values simplicity in statements and expression. If you find yourself making a long single phrase, think about breaking it up to restate it! Using more sentences with fewer words each is more clear than one sentence with many words. But don’t go too far with this- as you learn, you’ll find a comfortable balance between the two.
The definitions for words are examples, not comprehensive. The same goes for exercise translations. Words can refer to more than the examples, and be used in more ways than appear in the exercises. Be experimental, try many things as you learn!
If an exercise spoiler has bold text, there’s a lesson with the translation! Check for more info!
If you see a spoiler starting with “a note”, it is not necessary to read. But it might still be helpful!
These lessons are best experienced over a long period of time, reading through one page and regularly reviewing the content and exercises.
If you feel like you’re not getting it, take a break and come back later!
How to Read
If you know the International Phonetic Alphabet, Toki Pona is read like that. If you don’t, the vowels are like Spanish, Italian, or long vowels in Latin. If you don’t know the vowels in these languages, read the guide here.
The consonants are like English except
j which makes a
The first syllable of a word is stressed, and the others are not. Listen to Toki Pona to get a feel for this. Don’t worry about understanding!
A note for IPA-knowers and the curious
What I described above is good enough- but there’s more detail if you’re interested!
The sounds of Toki Pona can be subtly different in a variety of ways. For example, the nasal
n that can end syllables is intended to be in the same part of the mouth as the consonant that follows it-
[ilo Linku] becomes
/ilo Liŋku/ (
ilo Lingku). Additionally, Toki Pona: The Language of Good notes that some of the vowels are not exactly as in the International Phonetic Alphabet, such as
[a] actually being realized as
/ä/- but this book documents jan Sonja’s own use of Toki Pona, so don’t worry about it too much! So long as you speak clearly and consistently enough to be understood, you’ll be fine.
These are close but not exact. They may change because of accent too. Listen to Toki Pona to get a feel for the sound!
In Toki Pona, syllables can start with a consonant at any time, and can start with a vowel at the beginning of a word. Here are all possible types of syllable:
- a single vowel (esun)
- a vowel and n (anpa)
- a consonant and vowel (kala)
- a consonant, vowel, and n (tenpo)
And here are all possible syllables:
Each of these may be followed with
n as well.
These syllables are not allowed, and so not given:
- wu / wun
- wo / won
- ji / jin
- ti / tin
- You can’t have vowels next to each other.
- You can’t have
A note on banned syllables
The purpose of Toki Pona’s banned syllables is to make pronunciation easier for learners of many language backgrounds. The syllable
[wu] has become
/u/ in the development of some languages, and the same applies to the other syllables which all change in some way. Here’s the list:
[wu] -> /u/
[wo] -> /o/
[ji] -> /i/
[ti] -> /si/
[nn] -> /n/or a different second consonant
[nm] -> /n/or a different second consonant
As an example, the syllable を is generally written
[wo] in romanized Japanese text, but it is pronounced
/o/. This sound shift occurred a long time ago, but persisted in the written language.
Also, this distinction does not have to be written despite my use of brackets then slashes- the symbols used to represent the sound can also change or disappear as the sound of the language changes.
How to Write
sitelen Lasina - “Latin writing”
In the Latin alphabet (this one!), Toki Pona is written without capital letters. This includes the start of sentences, but there is one exception: the names of people, places, languages, and other named things. Example:
sina wile lon poka mi la mi tu li tawa ma Sonko
There are no punctuation rules, but speakers often end statements with a period
. or exclamation mark
!, questions with a question mark
?, and sentences referring to other sentences with a colon
:. It is also common to use a comma
, to indicate natural pauses. None of these are required though- some speakers use nothing but new lines or periods!
jan li toki e ni: seme li lon? ona li wile tawa, li wile lape.
Your intuition from English is close enough that you don’t need to worry.
sitelen pona - “good writing”
Toki Pona can be written with a system known as sitelen pona, or sitelen pona. It has one character per word, which is easy with few words! I provide each character with each new word, and use it for all the exercises.
In sitelen pona, speakers will use a big blank space, a new line, or an interpunct
・ at the end of sentences. No other punctuation is generally used, though anything familiar is fine to use.
jan li toki e ni: seme li lon? ona li wile tawa li wile lape
Proper nouns are written in a box called a cartouche, which is an enclosed square around a group of symbols. Everything inside the cartouche is read by only its first character:
sina wile lon poka mi la mi tu li tawa ma [kiwen alasa nasin sewi esun]
The reading of the cartouche is Kanse.
Lastly, symbols can be stacked or nested! Both are read from the bottom up, which is the same as reading from the outside in for nested symbols.
toki-pona li pona mute tawa mi! waso li jo e linja-suwi!
The first symbol is read “toki pona” and it is two nested symbols, toki outside and pona inside. The last symbol is “linja suwi” and it is two stacked symbols, linja below and suwi above.
Don’t worry about all this just yet! You’ll find what feels comfortable as you learn.
The font I’m using is called sitelen seli kiwen. Check it out here!
Try to pronounce the following words. The pronunciation is in a clip under the spoiler!
There’s a button labeled Toggle SP in the top right for mobile, and the bottom right for desktop. It switches sitelen pona for English letters and back. Try it out here!
If you struggled with some of these, don’t worry! A few of them were chosen to be tricky. Come back later and try the pronunciations again!
Remember to take breaks!