This is an email from If You Only.
Despite being barely competent at one language, I am a sucker for stories about all the other ones in the world — particularly the ability to express ideas and thoughts in one language that are inexpressible in English. So when I stumbled across this Atlantic story, I was smitten.
Toki Pona, a constructed language by Sonja Lang with a tweet-friendly number of words, manages to boil everything down to its essence.
“I didn’t realize how complex other languages are until I started speaking Toki Pona,” Krzeminska added. “There are so many different things you have to say before you actually get to say what you want, and there are so many things you’re not allowed to say even though you mean them.”
Roc Morin, The Atlantic
The Inside Story
There’s also a great little section in the piece which describes another language, Ithkuil (“Combining 58 phonemes within an exacting grammatical framework, Ithkuil is designed to precisely express all possible human thoughts. It is so complex that even its creator often requires 10 minutes or more to assemble a single word.”). That made it clear to me that the author hadn’t just stumbled on a single example. So I ask Roc to explain how he came across the story:
“I came across Toki Pona during a larger exploration of constructed language enthusiasts. The first thing to that came to mind when I heard about Sonja’s attempt to reduce language to its most basic elements was the dystopian novel 1984. In the novel, a totalitarian government undertakes a similar mission. Their intent is to limit unnecessary and rebellious thought by culling words that would give those thoughts expression. I was intrigued that Sonja had the opposite intention, to make Toki Pona speakers more aware of what they were experiencing. My own experiments with Toki Pona confirmed that. There is a playfulness to using it that requires dedicated attention.
“In addition, the simplicity of the language itself seems capable of becoming a credible lingua franca allowing people from different countries to communicate in a meaningful way. Other attempts at similar international auxiliary languages, most notably Esperanto, require a large investment from the learner, which seems to be the primary barrier to wider adoption.
“Requiring only a few days to learn, Toki Pona greatly reduces this barrier. Obviously, it would not replace natural languages or be used in any technical capacity, but if its limitations are embraced, I believe it has a great potential for bringing people together.”
Huh. Thanks, Roc. Lukin pona.
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