Saturday, 10 August 2013

Toki Pona

I'm interested in languages, although just now I give no time to learning any. Nor am I very successful when I try - although that might depend on motivation and the teaching method. I dare say that if suddenly plunged into a very different society I'd quickly master the verbal essentials. And if obliged to spend the rest of my days in a new place, possibly because I'd been forced to become a refugee, I'd make it my business to learn the language as thoroughly as possible. I'd want to blend in, of course; but I'd also want to learn the language properly, out of respect for my new friends and neighbours and their culture.

I regard all languages as equal. All are perfectly suited to the everyday needs of their speakers. Some languages are of course dominant in the modern world, English among them, and it would be foolish not to understand one of those. But a language redolent of hearth and home, of kinship and close friendship, that doesn't have to embrace science and technology and international preoccupations, is as valid as any other.

When young, and quite in ignorance of the invented languages of (for instance) J R R Tolkien, I used to concoct languages of my own. As with most of my childhood endeavours, this was a secret passtime, and I was mortified when Mum found my notes and told me she'd seen some 'gibberish' in my cupboard. This effectively stopped me doing anything more in that direction. But I could still get immersed in other people's efforts. You can imagine that I was utterly enthralled by Tolkien's linguistic world.

And I could still draw detailled maps of imaginary places, places where English was not necessarily the local vernacular. It was an exercise in juvenile draughtsmanship - but influenced by examples of real-life town and country planning that I'd lately become aware of. None of this cartography survives, but I remember that I liked to map beautiful islands, full of lakes and mountains and lovely bays. There would always be one big city, with expressways and a rail-based rapid transit system. No sign of industry, nor any way at all for the inhabitants of this island to earn a living. It was purely residential, although the motorways and rail routes implied a sophisticated, restless population always on the move from beach to beach. Perhaps reminiscent of the urbanised island of Oahu in Hawaii. It was certainly nothing like the rustic Shire in Lord of the Rings.

Mention of Hawaii brings me back to languages and my lifelong interest in them. Hawaiian is a Polynesian language very different from English, and related to Maori. Before me are two of the books that I bought in New Zealand when holidaying there in 2007. One is called Pronounce Maori with Confidence by Hoani Niwa, with a CD, and the other is about part of Maori culture, entitled Te Marae - A Guide to Customs & Protocol by Hiwi and Pat Tauroa. The Marae is a dignified meeting of all villagers in a special building, in accordance with set customs. If an outsider is invited to participate, it would be vital to know how to behave and what to do. In real life, all the Maori persons that M--- and I spoke to were very pleasant and welcoming to us; and in a spot called Tiki Tiki on the remote east coast of North Island we very nearly had the chance to join the congregation of a church in an after-service meet in the Marae. We were not dressed appropriately for the occasion, and anyway had to press on with our travelling for the day, and so we politely declined; but it's something I now wish I'd witnessed, especially as I may never now return to New Zealand. But at least I have these books.

Some of the traditional Maori world: wood carvings of tattooed warriors; houses for worship; the language; a painting to convey the meaning of the Iwi, the people of a tribe; and a mysterious cave entrance, connected with some coming-of-age ritual I'd say. I'd want to get into the Maori mind somehow, and the language would be one of the keys. 

But even if travel and language-learning has become problematical, and I am never now likely to travel to where they speak Navajo or Hopi, it doesn't matter. Given the Internet, and cultural exhibits in museums, the world behind these and other languages can be glimpsed. And the possibilities of one's own native language, English in my case, seem inexhaustible and forever open to exploitation.

So what is Toki Puna? It's an invented language with a social purpose. See, and, and, to get the idea. Basically it's designed to express thoughts and feelings in a very, very simple way, without the baggage of ordinary languages. The sort of language two strangers full of friendly intensions, and in touch with a natural existence, might use to reach out to each other. It has enormous appeal. If only it were universally known and used!


  1. Have you tried 'Lern yerself Scouse'? LOL

    Shirley Anne x

  2. Hmmm...I don't think you understood the deeper meaning of my post, Shirley Anne!


  3. Are you joking? I don't understand why you would poke fun at an interest in language and foreign cultures. Nor at an attempt to construct a very simple language for socially good purposes.


  4. I am not poking fun at your interest in language and foreign cultures Lucy. I did understand what you were saying but a deeper meaning? I cannot see one. All languages are invented by the way, they begin with the basic need to communicate and develop from there. There is nothing new in that. The languages we have already are surely enough for socially good purposes without the need to develop new ones. Our language and culture is just as interesting as any other. Unless one wishes to live in foreign places, I say live rather than simply visit, there is no real need to get too deep into the culture. That is what I meant by 'is there a point'?
    You certainly don't have a sense of humour do you?
    Shirley Anne x


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