"Why Toki Pona?"
by Sonja Lang, the creator of Toki Pona
Simple and Natural
Modern languages are cluttered with complex methods to express the simplest things.

What is a geologist but a person who studies the earth? Is there any useful difference between the words talk, speak, and say? Toki Pona breaks down all advanced ideas to their most basic elements. If you are hungry, you want eat. To teach is give knowledge.

This allows us to drastically reduce the vocabulary and grammatical structures needed to say what we have to say. Less is more.


A number of philosophies or principles have inspired me to create a language such as Toki Pona.

Toki Pona is semantically, lexically, and phonetically minimal. The simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect.

In many ways, Toki Pona resembles a pidgin. When people from different cultures need to communicate, they must focus on the concrete, simple things that are most universal to humanity.

Toki Pona follows the principles of Taoism, which advocates a simple, honest life and noninterference with the course of natural events.

I have also been inspired by anthropological primitivists such as Sahlins and John Zerzan, whose writings critique the totality of modern civilization, recognising the superiority of natural, primitive cultures.

Toki Pona can lead to an interesting game of semantic decomposition. Just as one can decompose a mathematical fraction such as 4/8 to 1/2, we can break down language to its most basic and tangible units of meaning and discover what things really mean.

According to reductionism, complex ideas and systems can be completely understood in terms of their simpler parts or components.

Since Toki Pona expresses things in their most natural and simple way, an inherent idea of goodness is transparent throughout the language. Health is good body. Happiness is feel good. Toki Pona itself means good language.

Above all, Toki Pona must be fun and cute. As everything seems to be oversimplified and ideas focus on the good, one could almost imagine a race of little cartoon creatures speaking in Toki Pona.


By being so general and vague, Toki Pona often lacks the ability to distinguish finer shades of meaning. For example, by lumping every possible bird species into one lexeme waso, we eliminate the need to learn hundreds of vocabulary items, however we are also left incapable of distinguishing between eagles and chickens. The closest translation might be an expression like waso wawa strong bird or waso nasa stupid bird.

Toki Pona has a rather narrow range of functions. Although it is very easy to communicate honest thoughts and everyday activities, it would be impossible to translate a chemical textbook or legal document in Toki Pona without significant losses. Such texts are products of the complex, artificial civilization we live in and are not suited for a cute, little language like Toki Pona.

It may very well be that Toki Pona is an oversimplification. As an experimental language with limited means of expression, it does not really strive to convey every single facet and nuance of human communication. However, the results that can be achieved with so few elements prove to be very interesting, if not amusing.

Although the vocabulary and grammar are very simple, the language does contain a few basic syntax rules that are essential in keeping the sentence structure together. For instance, one must learn that the word li is used to separate the subject from the verb.


The vocabulary was borrowed from other languages and adapted to the sounds of Toki Pona. The chief source languages are:

Tok Pisin
Acadian French
Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese)