Pieter Jansegers

Pieter Jansegers at

Toki Pona Translation 2005-01-31 Toki Pona is a small invented language that I wrote about recently in a fairly critical manner. I therefore had to expect that the Law of Criticising Invented Languages, which dictates that someone will reply to you in that language in the attempt to force you to learn it, would be upheld, and it was. Someone calling themselves Jan Wasolitawa replied to my essay with the following: mi pilin e ni: sina toki ike e toki pona. ni li ike. "waso telo" li nimi pona. tan seme la sina wile e ni: nimi mute pi waso? ni li pakala. mi pilin e ni: sina sona ala e nasin pi toki pona. mi toki e ni: nasin pona li pona. sina sona ala sona e toki mi? P.S. toki pi nanpa suli li ike mute. o weka e nanpa suli. ni li nasin mani! nasin mani li ike! ni li pakala! — Jan Wasolitawa Thankfully I have a friend who's learning Toki Pona, and this was a good opportunity for him to test his skills. At the same time, I decided to race him by attempting an automatic translation using a couple of Python scripts. He beat me both in speed and quality, but we still think that the script is close enough to Babelfish quality to warrant release, so I've made a Toki Pona to English Translation Service using it (with source and nimi). Here's one of the ways in which it translates the comment I got: I emotion such that: you your language negative such language good. this is negative. "bird liquid" is name simplicity. from which it's said you your to want such that: word very belonging to winged animal? that is blunder. I emotion such this: you your knowledge no such way belonging to talking good. I language such that: manner good is simplicity. you your wisdom not knowledge such language I? P.S. language belonging to number -th tall is negative many. O hey! away such number -th tall. that is way material wealth! way money is bad! that is blunder! — People Wasolitawa It actually came out much better than I expected. Toki Pona's ambiguity is through the roof, so it's only possible to get a summary understanding even if you speak the language. That's the nature of the beast. As Cody put it: In order to speak Toki Pona correctly, you have to imagine yourself on an island, totally separate from all civilization, roughing it jungle style and such. Thus a flashlight would really be a "box of light". — Jan Nasacody (Cody Woodard) As for the comment itself, our combined understanding of it from both manual and automatic translations is that J. Wasolitawa doesn't like my criticism of the language and thinks that I want too much from it. One of the best bits of translation was Cody's "there's been a clashing of zens"; my zen isn't the same as Toki Pona's zen. Well I refute that: I think that the concept is fine, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired, as can hopefully be seen from our combined translation effort. The fact remains that English allows one to get much closer to Toki Pona nature via its expansive vocabulary, because in Toki Pona you have to be circumlocutionary, whereas in English you can use words such as "circumlocutionary" to sum up what'd be a whole paragraph of repeated words in Toki Pona whilst still missing the point. And we think the P.S. is something to do with numbers being a nasty side-effect of commerce. Which is just wonderful. How else can one count how many butterflies have been seen on a particular day but with numbers? If I've misunderstood the Toki Pona way and that way is actually to eradicate every single thing of meaning and value to us, then perhaps there is a clashing of zens after all. After all, as D.T. Sukuki said, "Zen is not nihilism". But I don't think Toki Pona is either: it's quite pretty sometimes.


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