Toki Pona

July 22, 2011, by A. U. Crawford

Sonja Elen Kisa

Sonja Elen Kisa

Ever heard of Toki Pona. It’s a language created by translator and linguist Sonja Elen Kisa, and was first published online in mid-2001.

Inspired by Taoist ideals, Toki Pona was designed to express maximal meaning with minimal complexity by making use of only 14 letters and 120 root words. It’s structure is based on the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which states that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers are able to conceptualize their world.

To me this sounds very efficient and logical. As my motto states, clearity in simplification. It’s a good study on how to think about language and society.

toki pona logo

Cute Toki Pona Logo reflects the upbeat nature of the language.

Of course there are set backs to a language as simplified as Toki Pona. For one it is difficult to express complex ideas. Even english struggles with this. Just try to explain what that pain in your shoulder feels like. Not so easy.

Also the number system of Toki Pona is basically 1, 2 and more. if you want to say 3 then you would say 2 1 etc. You might also say “hand” meaning 5 but that’s not as it was intended. Which brings me to the third draw back. Toki Pona is not meant to be added to. A natural language will grow and contract with use.

This is not meant to be a critique of Toki Pona or of Sonja Elen Kisa. In fact she’s a personal hero of mine. I love the fact that this language is so well thought out. We all have our projects that we nurse over time hoping that it will one day be a mature enough idea to show to the public. Sonja has done it.

Inventing a language is not an easy task. Sonja knows several languages herself, including esperanto.  She’s a translator and, studies speech language therapy.  It took her over a year to put the language together. That’s a labor of love if you ask me.

Learn more from her optimally designed website and the Toki Pona Wiki.

4 thoughts on “Toki Pona

  1. Ani Post author

    I agree. It’s beautiful in the simplicity. The easier it is to do or learn something the more likely it is that people will take the time to do it.

  2. Dave Raftery

    Good summary. I have been involved with toki pona for 2 years now. It is easy to learn; takes about 30 hours for most people. Toki Pona is easy to write; the hard part is understanding other people’s writing.

    You are correct about numbers in toki pona; large numbers go against the philosophy of toki pona. That said, Sonja gave us the use of ‘advanced numbers’ last year: luka = 5, mute = 20 and ale/ali = 100. See Sonja’s page:

    I would highly recommend learning toki pona, especially to those people who only speak one language.


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