In 2010, researchers at Google estimated that a total of 1,022,000 words existed in the English language and that the number grows by around 8,500 every single year. It all seems a bit much. Could it be possible to communicate effectively with, let’s say, just 120 or so words?
That’s the idea behind Toki Pona, a philosophical project/constructed language that was developed by Canadian linguist Sonja Lang. Drawing upon Dutch, English, Finnish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and other languages from around the world, it’s an attempt to create a super-simple language that maximizes meaning while minimalizing complexity.
As Lang explains on the official website of Toki Pona: “Toki Pona is a human language I invented in 2001. It was my attempt to understand the meaning of life in 120 words. There are now thousands of speakers and 137 essential words.”
The strange world of Toki Pona is the subject of a new video by the YouTube channel RobWords, aka journalist Rob Watts, which explores all kinds of etymology oddities.
Within his deep dive, Watts speaks to a couple of Toki Pona speakers (including a musician who makes songs in the constructed language) to better understand this fascinating system of communication.
He also touches upon the fundamental question: can Toki Pona be considered a language or is it just a “linguistic toy”?
Mi tawa! (as they say in Toki Pona).