jan Kekan San

jan Kekan San

Instead of Phatic Phrases

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There is a lot of discourse about phatic phrases in Toki Pona. A phatic phrase is a short and polite turn of phrase which usually doesn’t convey deep meaning. Phatic phrases exist in Toki Pona. However, myself and others discourage their use, for good reason. Do you want to have the following conversation?

toki. sina seme?

mi pona. sina seme?

mi pona kin. (pini)

Not really. This doesn’t convey anything about either speaker, and it doesn’t give you anything to think about.

If a friend asks you how your day went, do you say “fine” and leave it there? It isn’t wrong to do so.

If somebody teaches you a new skill, do you tell them only “thanks” and end it there? Again, this is an acceptable way to express yourself, but wouldn’t your teacher appreciate you expressing all of their impact on you?

Toki Pona places an emphasis on simplicity and breaking down your thoughts into their important units. However, this does not encourage over-simplifying to the detriment of your conversations!

If you’re in a conversation, think deeply about what you do, especially that your listener cares about. Answer earnestly about how you feel, and what you appreciate in your friends, family, teachers, and others. You should answer honestly to the questions “sina seme?” or “seme li lon?”

toki. sina seme?

mi pona! tenpo pini la mi pali e lipu sona pi toki ilo

wawa a! lipu la seme li lon?

lipu li pana e sona ni: ilo li ken… awen

Toki Pona is more than a language. It is a philosophy too.

There is knowledge all around you. If you are excited to learn, you should ask for the knowledge!

And there is love all around you too. If you care about your relationships, show everyone that you care with your words.

Phrases and context

What follows is a sort of anti-phrasebook, suggesting continuations or replacements for specific phrases that would otherwise be phatic. Importantly, I provide context in alternative situations for these, as they change depending on what is currently happening!

Even then, this is far from everything that is possible. Keep your mind open and keep exploring!

sina pona

sina pona is the common shorthand for “thank you”, or “I appreciate you”, all in one. It literally means “you are good.” On its own, it is an appreciated gesture, but how can you answer more earnestly?

Each spoiler provides a casual interpretation, then a literal one.

To someone who taught you a new skill:

sina pona tan pana sona. sona la mi ken…

I appreciate your teaching! It has taught me to…

You are good because of knowledge-giving. In the context of knowledge, I am able to …

nasin sina li wawa a! mi sona la mi wawa.

The process you described is very effective! My understanding of it has helped me greatly.

Your method is powerful! If I understand, I am powerful.

To somebody who has given a gift:

ijo sin ni li pona tawa mi, li pona e mi!

This gift is fantastic for me, and made me feel better!

This new thing is good to me, and helped me!

mi tawa

mi tawa is the common-use phrase for “goodbye,” spoken by the person leaving. Its literal interpretation is closer to “I am leaving”, or “I am moving” which contextually means leaving. What if the kind of leaving you’re doing isn’t just about moving, such as quitting a video game? What if the importance isn’t on how you leave, but where you’re going?

You could express where you’re going:

mi tawa ma sin

I am leaving for somewhere new!

I go to a new place.

mi tawa pali I am going to work.
mi tawa tomo mi I’m going to my home.

mi tawa tomo pi wawa sijelo

I am going to the gym!

I am going to a body-power building.

Or you what you’re leaving to do:

mi tawa la mi moku

I’m leaving for dinner!

When I leave, I eat.

mi o pali

I have to do my job.

I should work.

Or talk about when you plan to come back:

mi weka lili, mi kama sin

I’m leaving for a short time, and I will come back!

I go away a little bit, and arrive again

mi tawa. tenpo kulupu kama la mi kama

I’m leaving. I’m coming to the next meetup!

I’m going. At an arriving group time, I’ll arrive.

tawa pona and well-wishes

tawa pona is the common-use phrase for “goodbye”, spoken to the person who’s leaving generally. However, it is a well-wishing statement. Many variations exist, including those spoken by the one leaving.

Toki Pona: The Language of Good notes a few well-wishing phrases. They are similar to commands led by o, but do not have the intent of instruction.

To somebody who is working:

pali pona!

Have a good time at work!

When you are leaving, and the others are staying:

awen pona!

While you’re staying, have a good time!

When others are playing a game when you leave:

musi pona!

Have fun!

To somebody learning Toki Pona (or anything else):

kama sona pona!

Learn well!

An expression in context

Imagine the following scenario:

You’re watching your friend race around a track, going for first place. You friend has been lagging just barely behind first or second throughout the race, but toward the end of the race, they get a second wind and manage to pick up their pace just enough to take the win! After the race, you rush up to them and say sina tawa pona a! In context, this phrase is just as much “You moved well!” as “You ran quickly!”


Phatic phrases are not all bad. But when speaking Toki Pona, have an open mind and an interest in deep conversations with those you’re speaking to, and you’ll discover how incredibly cool those others are! For that matter, have this open mind when you speak to anyone, in any langauge. Phatic phrases are okay- but long, truly fascinated conversations are the best kind.