← Back

toki pona li pona mute a!

toki! mi jan Lapi li kama sona e toki pona!

“Hi! I’m Robbie, and I’m learning toki pona!”

toki pona is a fully usable constructed language with just 120 created words by Sonja Lang in 2001 that has since grown to 137 essential words with thousands of speakers and writers around the world! I wanted to try learning toki pona ever since I first heard about it, but I never had any particular reason to (the same reason most of my language learning endeavors have stalled in the past). But now I’ve decided to ignore my ingrained apprehensions about its practicality and just learn it for the sake of knowing it.

This is notable because I very rarely consider learning to use a conlang, including any of my own! Conlangs have always been an intellectual interest for me—I love seeing how people choose to communicate different things and what kinds of sounds they use to do it. It comes from the same roots as my interest in linguistics and how languages work and are formed even though I don’t often go out and try to learn a new language. But toki pona is special… And only 137 words.

There are now 2 books written and compiled, respectively, by Sonja Lang for learning the language, Toki Pona: The Language of Good and Toki Pona Dictionary, but there are so many excellent resources for learning the language available online that these books are essentially just insightful resources for further understanding the language. Toki Pona Dictionary was released in July 2021 and contains around 400 pages of toki pona phrases that have been used by the community and references for how various English phrases can be communicated in toki pona.

Here is an example of what toki pona looks like:

mi kama sona e toki pona la, mi kepeken e toki pona lon tenpo ale tawa ijo lili. kin la, jan ale li wile toki e toki pona tawa musi!

It says, “When I learn toki pona, I will use it all the time for little things. Indeed, everyone should speak toki pona for fun!” I’m still working on learning the grammar and vocabulary, but I’m pretty sure I got it roughly correct.

Anyway, it’s a fun language that forces you to simplify how you think in order to communicate what you want to say. There is no distinction between happy, satisfied, content, or fine—it’s all pona, “good.” There’s no distinction between sad, depressed, angry, or evil—that’s all ike, “bad.” At the same time, the words and how you combine them do a lot of interesting things together that can communicate a lot. Perhaps you can’t directly say that you’re sad, but you can say that you’re pilin ike, “feeling bad.” Suppose you’re not sad, but your stomach hurts? You could still say you’re pilin ike, or you can specify that insa mi li pilin ike, “my stomach feels bad.”

See what I mean? It’s a little puzzle to figure out how to communicate, and context is king. You need to know at least a little bit of context to know exactly what’s being communicated in many cases. That’s what I love about it though. You can’t talk about advanced programming topics or math, but you can talk about your day or things you did in a simplified way.

The Master List

When I decided I wanted to learn toki pona for real, I started watching a very good video lesson series by jan Misali on YouTube that introduced 10 words at a time with grammar rules in roughly 3-minute chunks, and it was very helpful for getting me up to speed very quickly (with lots of pausing to copy down words). I have since gotten a copy of Toki Pona: The Language of Good (called pu in toki pona), and I learned that the Toki Pona Dictionary (called ku in toki pona) was released just a couple months before I started learning! In doing research on that, I learned (from this video by the same person who did the lessons) that 17 new words were made official to the language!

Unfortunately, it’s so new that all of the dictionaries online were only of the “classic list” included in pu plus a small handful of other words that were somewhat commonly used. So I set out to compile a master list of all 137 official words that also included some helpful word combinations to help me study. Using the dicitonary in pu and 2 other websites that had expanded and altered word meanings, I compiled the ultimate toki pona word list! (Those lists are from tokipona.net and devurandom.xyz/tokipona plus this page from the same site, in addition to some definitions from jan Misali’s video on ku linked above.) Using my sources, I jammed every meaning and part of speech into the list to help make sure I knew not just the meanings of the words but also certain nuances on them.

Once it was compiled into a text document, I went through and copied all the words and definitions into the only flash card study app I could find for iOS that was fully free, flashcards.io. Lucky for you, the app is primarily web-based, so if you want to study toki pona vocabulary with all of the words, you can check out the flash card deck here:

toki pona ku (en nimi ilo) on flashcards.io

Unfortunately when I checked on the link above a month after posting this, the link no longer appears to work! So I went ahead and moved it to Anki, the most popular flash card app that I know of, which may be more helpful for you:

toki pona ku (en nimi ilo) on Ankiweb
(Note: Only the desktop and Android versions of the Anki app are free, but if you create an Ankiweb account, you can sync your progress with the desktop app and access your decks from your iPhone for free in the browser!)

I intend to expand the list as I learn more toki pona and common word combinations, but the official 137 words are in there, and they won’t change.

So go learn a new little language! o tawa kawa sona e toki pona!