Toki Pona and Circumlocution: How a Minimalist

Toki Pona and Circumlocution: How a Minimalist
Constructed Language can Improve International

Author: Josh Brook

MS Date: 12-23-2022

FL Date: 04-01-2023

FL Number: FL-00008B-00

Citation: Brook, Josh. 2022. «Toki Pona and

Circumlocution: How a Minimalist
Constructed Language can Improve
International Communication.» FL-00008B-
00, Fiat Lingua, . Web.
01 April 2023.

Copyright: © 2022 Josh Brook. This work is licensed under
a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Toki Pona and Circumlocution:
How a Minimalist Constructed Language can Improve
International Communication

J.W. Brook

Universiteit van Amsterdam

105218036Y: Introduction to Interlinguistics

Prof. Dr. Federico Gobbo



This paper will analyse the potential benefits of learning Toki Pona, a minimalist

constructed language, to determine whether it can be used to improve certain as-

pects of global communication, acting as either an IAL or as a pedagogical tool,

used to improve second language acquisition skills. This paper examines how the

simplicity of Toki Pona (and Toki Ma, a Tokiponido which aims to extend Toki

Pona into a full IAL) can be both an asset and a disadvantage to its internationality

and auxiliarity, and explores how well the language does at meeting the goals and

requirements for modern IALs, which are also defined in a proposed framework.

In addition, this paper will examine and build upon previous research conducted

by Dr. Paolo Coluzzi, effectuated to explore whether learning Toki Pona can help

students develop the ability to express complex ideas using intentional circumlo-

cution, the simplification of complex ideas into simplified noun phrases. Coluzzi’s

research explores whether this skill, which is a necessity to speak Toki Pona, can

be transferred, in order to improve the ability to express ideas in natural languages,

such as Italian, when a requisite word is unknown to the speaker. In conclusion,

it is proposed that Toki Pona meets many of the requirements for modern IALs

and that it has much communicational value, due to its universality and simplicity.

Moreover, an in-depth analysis of Toki Pona’s propaedeutic value is presented, and

it is suggested that more research is needed to conclusively determine how best to

use Toki Pona as a pedagogical tool, perhaps a study completed in line with the

Paderborn method for second language acquisition.

Keywords: Toki Pona, Toki Ma, international auxiliary languages, circumlocution,

second language learning, interlinguistics


Table of Contents


Table of Contents


Toki Pona an as IAL

What Makes a Good IAL? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Linguistic Overview of Toki Pona . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Taxonomic Classification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Analysis as an IAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Toki Ma in Comparison . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Subjectivity and Ambiguity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Second Language Acquisition












Language and Thought . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

Propaedeutic Value of Constructed Languages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

Esperanto’s propaedeutic value

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Paderborn method . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Toki Pona as a Language Learning Tool

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Difficulties in L2 Communication . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

Potential Solutions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

Results of Coluzzi’s Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15



Future Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17







Toki Pona is a philosophical constructed language, created in 2001 by linguist Sonja

Lang, designed around the core idea of minimalism (Lang, 2014). The standard

form of this isolating language contains only 137 words and relies on grammatical

particles and heavy use of constructed noun phrases to express complex ideas. The

language was designed by Lang in order to facilitate the processing of complex, neg-

ative thoughts into positive, simplified ones, in line with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

(Kay and Kempton, 1984).

At first glance, it may seem absurd to consider a language as basic as this one

as a good candidate for an international auxiliary language (IAL), which often need

to be both elaborate and expressive, but its simplicity lends it to easily accomplish

one of the main goals for an IAL – ease and speed of learnability for people all over

the world, no matter their native language. This paper will address the necessary

traits and goals of modern IALs, proposing a new framework for analysing their

utility, as well as analysing both Toki Pona and Toki Ma (2020), a Tokiponido (an

extension or variation of Toki Pona, where ”ido” comes from an Esperanto word

meaning ”offspring”) which attempts to extend Toki Pona into a true IAL, in order

to discern whether either language makes an effective candidate.

In addition, the paper will build upon Paolo Coluzzi’s (2022) research, where Toki

Pona was learnt alongside Italian, in order to determine whether learning how to

deal with Toki Pona’s inherent constraints, which force speakers to simplify ideas in

order to express them, also helps with expressing ideas in Italian when the speaker

doesn’t know a requisite word.

Intentional circumlocution, this simplification of

complex ideas into longer noun phrases, which often describe the constituent parts


or characteristics of a certain noun, is a useful strategy to employ to avoid complete

breakdown of communication when a particular word isn’t known to the speaker

(Coluzzi, 2022). Coluzzi’s (2022) research showed that learning Toki Pona made

students marginally better at using intentional circumlocution when asked to trans-

late a sentence into Italian which contained one or more words they didn’t know,

while still remaining intelligible.

In sum, this paper attempts to answer whether Toki Pona’s inherent minimalist

nature can improve global communication, and whether it is worth adopting as an

international auxiliary language or using as a pedagogical tool for learning second



Toki Pona an as IAL

What Makes a Good IAL?

In this first section, I compare and contrast the goals set by Auguste Kerckhoffs

(1888) for Volap¨uk with those laid out for Esperanto in the Manifestos of Rauma

(1980) and Prague (1996), in order to understand what aspects are the most impor-

tant for modern IALs in general.

Kerckhoffs’ (1888) Abridged Grammar of Volap¨uk outlines the importance of in-

ternational neutrality, where Volap¨uk need act not as a vehicle for science and liter-

ature, but as a practical contact language between travellers, sailors, and traders of

”all the civilized nations of the world” (Kerckhoffs, 1888) which should facilitate in-

ternational communication and cooperation. He also explains the importance of an

IAL being easy to learn, with simplified grammar and phonology, as well as a pho-

netic writing system and reduced syllabic structure. Volap¨uk was the first successful

constructed a posteriori language, taking its vocabulary from existing languages –

another key ideal for IALs.

The Rauma Manifesto (1980) was created by the International Youth Congress

(IJK), a group of young Esperantists with the goal of redefining the Esperanto com-

munity as a ”stateless diaspora” based on freedom of association. This manifesto

outlined new positive values for Esperanto (and by extension, any IAL), consisting

of a) propaedeutics for second language acquistion, b) contact between ordinary

people, c) non-discrimination, and d) a new type of international culture. This new

distinction is important as it sets the stage for IALs to have their own culture and

identity, without having to actually rival English as an international language.


The Prague Manifesto (1996) expands on the goals of Esperanto (and again, IALs

in general) set 16 years previously. A focus is placed on the need for democratic,

egalitarian communication, effective global education (including propaedeutics), and

worldwide human emancipation, as well as putting a focus on Esperanto as a second

language, maintaining linguistic rights and diversity around the world. Taking all

of the above considerations into account, I now define five goals for modern IALs.

1. International Neutrality. An IAL should act as a contact language between

people all over the world and should be equally easy to learn for speakers of any

language. In addition, an IAL should be non-discriminatory, placing people of

all genders, nationalities, and social standings on an equal footing.

2. Simplified Grammar. An IAL needs a reduced phonemic inventory and

simplified phonotactic rules, as well as a regularised grammar, an a posteriori

vocabulary, and a phonetic transcription system.

3. Identity and Culture. An IAL should have its own culture and its speakers

their own identity. The language should be used as the community likes, but

should not be imposed onto unwilling peoples or states. This culture should

not be discriminatory or counter to any other cultures and should only take

the role of an auxiliary language, not a national one.

4. Propaedeutic Value. Learning an IAL should be beneficial to the speaker’s

linguistic development, aiding them to learn other languages and understand

other cultures more easily.

5. Linguistic Diversity. To speakers of an IAL, linguistic diversity should be

seen as an indispensable source of enrichment, meaning every language should

be viewed as valuable and necessary. An IAL is a second language and as

such, should not take precedence over any other language.


Linguistic Overview of Toki Pona

As previously mentioned, Sonja Lang’s 2001 conlang, Toki Pona, was designed to

promote simplicity and positive thinking by limiting communication to a small set

of words which can be regularly combined into complex ideas (Lang, 2014). Toki

Pona’s vocabulary is entirely derived from the vocabulary of natural languages,

taking inspiration from all over the globe, but words are often substantially altered

phonologically and broadened semantically. A large portion of the vocabulary comes

from Finnish, French, English, and Dutch, but many other languages appear too,

such as Croatian, Mandarin, and Swahili (Segers, 2021). Verbs are not inflected to

mark person or tense and nouns have only one form. In addition, Toki Pona has no

articles and there is no difference between adjectives and adverbs (Lang, 2014).

Toki Pona is comprised of only 9 consonants and 5 vowels, all of which are phono-

logically distinct and very common cross-linguistically (Blahuˇs, 2011). With only

one set of plosives, Toki Pona does not distinguish between voicedness or aspiration,

meaning [b d g] and [ph th kh] could be substituted as allophones of the ideal [p t k]

while still remaining mostly intelligible. Moreover, the syllable structure of (C)V(N)

is extremely restrictive, allowing only one consonant to precede a vowel and only

one nasal to follow it (Lang, 2014). Toki Pona’s simplified phonology allows it to

be written in a vast array of writing systems, including but not limited to: abjads

(e.g. Arabic, Hebrew), alphabets (e.g. Latin, Hangul, Cyrillic), and logographies

(e.g. Sitelen Pona, a script created by Lang and published in her 2014 book).

Toki Pona’s most distinctive feature is clearly its tiny vocabulary, meaning any com-

plex concepts must be expressed through expanded noun phrases created by process

of circumlocution. For example, one could call alcohol telo nasa (lit. strange/weird


liquid) or a banana kili palisa (lit. stick(-shaped) fruit). Even the name, Toki Pona,

means good language, but also simple language, as the words for good and simple

are one in the same, in complete agreement with the ideology of the language (jan

Misali, 2021). According to Lang, (2014) set noun phrases should be avoided, pro-

voking fluidity and changeability of speech, depending on the mood of the speaker.

Everything in Toki Pona is relative, meaning concepts are described by personal

interpretation. In an article for Atlantic, Lang explains this idea, positing the ques-

tion “What is a car? You might say that a car is a space that’s used for movement.

That would be tomo tawa. If you’re struck by a car though, it might be a hard

object that’s hitting me. That’s kiwen utala” (Morin, 2015). The idea behind this

relativity is to immerse the speaker in the moment, to force them to think about

what impact the world has specifically on them (Lang, 2014).

Taxonomic Classification

Prof. Dr. Federico Gobbo (2017) classifies constructed languages into three main

groups along the two axes of a cartesian plane. The x-axis represents publicity:

how accessible documentation on the structure of the language is, on a scale from

completely secret, where only the author knows the grammar of the language, to

entirely public, where the grammar is openly organised and published. The y-axis

represents purpose, where auxiliarity (effectively usefulness as an IAL) is given the

positive aux space, and languages planned for other purposes are given the negative

alt space. The aux–pub quadrant therefore contains IALs such as Esperanto and

Interlingua, while the alt–pub quadrant includes languages planned for fiction, such

as Star Trek’s Klingon and Game of Thrones’ Dothraki. The secr–alt quadrant

shows languages such Tolkien’s, for which formal grammars were not available when

his books were first published. Created as a philosophical language, the original

purpose of Toki Pona was not international communication, placing it squarely in


the pub-alt quadrant. However, as time has passed, Toki Pona has been used more

and more by speakers of various L1s, and is now one of the most-used conlangs online

(Morin, 2015). As it shifts further away from its original philosophical purpose, we

can categorise it closer and closer to the aux-pub quadrant. The following sections

will discuss whether it could be seen to cross the x-axis entirely.

Analysis as an IAL

As discussed previously, IALs need to have simplified, regularised grammar and

phonotactic rules, as well as a small, regularised phonemic inventory, allowing it

to be used easily by speakers of any L1. Toki Pona clearly accomplishes the need

for reduced phonotactics and phonemic inventory. The lack of any distinction by

voicedness or aspiration means Toki Pona’s phonology is as easy to use for Mandarin

speakers (whose stops are differentiated by aspiration) as it is for English speakers

(whose stops differ by voicedness). While many speakers might be put off by Toki

Pona’s vague nature, there is no denying that it is easy to learn. The grammar is

intuitive and regular, and the vocabulary is so minimal it could be memorised in

a single weekend of study (Morin, 2015). However, despite its simplicity and ease

of use, Toki Pona does, of course, have limitations as an IAL. Its small vocabulary,

although easy to learn, limits its expressive power. With only 120 root words and a

lack of any inflection or tense distinctions, speakers may struggle to convey nuanced

or complex concepts accurately, as Toki Pona’s method of constructing noun phrases

makes ideas inherently relative and often ambiguous (Morin, 2015). As such, it may

not be suitable for use in fields such as science, technology, or academia, where more

precise and specific terminology is often required. It may also be difficult to convey

subtle distinctions in meaning or to accurately translate from Toki Pona into other

languages, given its vague nature.


Despite these restrictions, Toki Pona meets the requirements for many of the pre-

viously defined goals for IALs. The goal of Simplified Grammar is clearly met,

though, as above, the oversimplification may lead to misinterpretation and ambi-

guity. Moreover, with no associated national or state affiliation, Toki Pona meets

the requirements of International Neutrality.

It is also non-discriminatory, hav-

ing gender neutrality ingrained in its core linguistic traits, by means of exclusively

gender-neutral pronouns, something that can’t be said for Esperanto (Gobbo, 2020).

The language also already has the beginnings of its own Identity and Culture, and

is used extensively as an internet-based contact language by people all around the

world (Coluzzi, 2022). Having one of the largest online conlanging communities, its

hard to refute Toki Pona’s growing cultural significance. Toki Pona also has no is-

sues with Linguistic Diversity, having no bias towards itself nor suggesting it should

be the world’s only language (Lang, 2014). Finally, Toki Pona’s propaedeutic value

should be considered, and will be discussed in more depth later in this paper, along

with a final overview of Toki Pona’s capacity to improve global communication.

Toki Ma in Comparison

Analysing Toki Pona as an IAL should not be done without also considering Toki

Ma, (2020)1 a Tokiponido – an offspring of Toki Pona – which attempts to serve as

a fully fledged IAL while still retaining the simplicity of the original language. Toki

Ma’s (“Toki Ma”, 2020) grammar is very similar to Toki Pona, with a few minor ad-

ditions, including verbal aspect, relative clauses, and comparatives. The vocabulary

is altered from the original language by restricting the semantic meaning (and thus,

vagueness) of many words and by adding ca. 100 new words, which include both an

1While hard to ascertain the exact identity of Toki Ma’s original creator, Reddit user
u/ShevekUrrasti appears to be the one to have first shared the language publicly in a 2020 blog
post (2020).


extended number system and an intuitive date system based on the words sun and

moon, used to represent days and months respectively (ShevekUrrasti, 2020). As

an IAL needs to be able to express anything that a natural language can, both of

these systems are important additions to Toki Ma, as the original only contains an

extremely basic number system with words for “one”, “two”, and “many” (Lang,

2014). Much of the new vocabulary is based on Minimal English, which attempts

to be “a highly reduced version of English which can ensure maximum translata-

bility without compromising intelligibility” (Goddard and Wierzbicka, 2017). This

new vocabulary (minimally) increases Toki Ma’s immediate intelligibility to speak-

ers of English (“Toki Ma”, 2020) Overall, Toki Ma does well to improve Toki Pona’s

standing as an IAL. By slightly reducing the inherent vagueness and by expanding

the vocabulary, it increases both the specificity and the expressive power of the lan-

guage, while retaining its simplicity. If Toki Pona were to be adopted as a full IAL,

the alterations made by Toki Ma should be incorporated. From this point forward,

when discussing Toki Pona, I include Toki Ma’s changes in its scope.

Subjectivity and Ambiguity

As a side note, understanding how to communicate about something in Toki Pona

involves determining one’s own personal beliefs about the concept. Therefore, the

word pona does not just mean good, but rather good as perceived subjectively.

Describing something as pona conveys that it is something one personally likes.

Previously, the issue that speakers might find Toki Pona too ambiguous has been

discussed, but as Youtuber jan Misali (2021) discusses in their introductory video

to Toki Pona, the language is vague, rather than ambiguous. It is not that a given

sentence could correspond to only one of many individual translations and there is

no way to determine which is intended, but rather that the meaning of a sentence

in Toki Pona is almost always broader than any possible translation.


Second Language Acquisition

Language and Thought

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a linguistic theory which suggests that the language

a person speaks can influence their thoughts and perceptions of the world. As such,

according to this theory, the structure and vocabulary of a language can shape

how a person understands reality (Kay and Kempton, 1984).

In the context of

learning Toki Pona, because it has a limited vocabulary and focuses on fundamental

concepts, learning it may encourage speakers to think in a more simple and direct

way. Lang (2014) reports that this was one of the motivations behind creating Toki

Pona, to help herself deal with negative thoughts by linguistically reframing them

in her mind.

Propaedeutic Value of Constructed Languages

Using IALs to assist the process of learning natural languages is not a new idea, and

it has long been shown that learning one second language will help you learn another

(Reagan, 2010). The most obvious factor at play here is that if two languages are

similar, either in vocabulary or grammar, knowing one will make learning the second

simpler, as less unfamiliarity has to be overcome (Reagan, 2010). In addition, the

process of learning a second language can also be optimised, and by learning a

second language, one can familiarise themselves with techniques that suit their own

particular learning style. Learning a second language also increases brain plasticity,

which helps to associate new words with known concepts, aiding one to understand

the inherent flexibility of language (Reagan, 2010). All of these traits are considered

propaedeutic values, and have long been studied, especially in regard to Esperanto.


Esperanto’s propaedeutic value

According to Dr. Timothy Reagan (2010), Esperanto has a wide variety of propaedeu-

tic values which lend it to be worth using as a tool to learn natural languages.

1. Esperanto is both easier and faster to learn than most natural languages,

meaning learning it doesn’t take up too much time that could be spent learning

the target language.

2. As Esperanto strives to avoid the “irregularities, inconsistencies, and complex-

ities” (Reagan, 2010) which plague natural languages, it can be taught more

efficiently and explicitly, allowing non-inductive teaching methods which fo-

cus on learning linguistics as well as the language, helping students to better

understand languages in general.

3. As learning Esperanto is easier than most languages, students can quickly be-

gin to feel more competent and empowered, resulting in more self-confidence,

which can be channelled into overcoming the struggle of learning more chal-

lenging languages. In addition, it has been shown that students with learning

disabilities retain greater interest and find greater success with learning Es-

peranto than with other subjects (Reagan, 2010)

Paderborn method

The Paderborn method is a proposed technique designed to improve second language

learning, which involves learning a bridge language which facilitates simpler learning

of the target language. By learning the bridge language first, students can develop

basic language skills and gain a more intuitive understanding of language structure,

which can then be applied when learning the target second language. There was

historically some debate about the effectiveness of the Paderborn method, but in the

late 1970s Dr. Helmar Frank, professor at the Paderborn Institute of Cybernetics,


successfully proved its effectiveness, by teaching Esperanto to German speakers as

the bridge to learn English, demonstrating that the Esperanto learners gained higher

proficiency in English then those who only studied the target language (Frank, n.d.).

Due to Esperanto’s simplicity, students were able to learn it faster than any natural

language, providing them with a positive attitude toward language learning in a

short timespan (Frank, n.d.).

Toki Pona shares many of these advantages with Esperanto and, as it can be quickly

and easily learnt, with regular grammar and minimal vocabulary, it could provide

the student with both more linguistic understanding and higher self-confidence in a

short span of time (Coluzzi, 2022).

Toki Pona as a Language Learning Tool

Dr. Paolo Coluzzi (2022) believed that learning Toki Pona would help his students

who were learning Italian gain more confidence in their speech, as well as teach

them to simplify unknown words into their constituent parts, allowing them to

avoid complete breakdown in communication. Coluzzi’s (2022) research focused on

testing the ability of six of his students to make circimlocutions in Italian when

a word was unknown to them, before and after four classes on Toki Pona, which

they took alongside their regular Italian classes. In these classes, basic Toki Pona

grammar was introduced, and extensive time was spent discussing the vocabulary

and the unique way in which Toki Pona creates noun phrases. Before starting the

Toki Pona classes, each student was given ten sentences in English to translate into

Italian. The sentences each included two or three “difficult” lexical items which

Coluzzi thought the students shouldn’t know, given their level. The words were

chosen to be relatively easily paraphrased, and the students were instructed that

they should do their best to get the meaning across no matter what.


Difficulties in L2 Communication

Based on Coluzzi’s (2022) research, I have identified three core facets of language

which I believe are likely to cause issues for second language learners.

1. Vocabulary. One of the main problems faced when to learning natural lan-

guages is the sheer amount of vocabulary which must be memorised (Morin,

2015). Different IALs address solving this issue in various ways. Esperanto

reduces the vocabularic burden by regularising many parts of speech; for ex-

ample, adjectives can be created from nouns with a standard suffix-appending

rule (Gobbo, 2020). Interlingua takes a different approach; by being comprised

of vocabulary taken directly from Romance language roots, most of the lexi-

con should be instantly recognisable to speakers of these languages, meaning

they have less to learn in order to recognise a piece of text (Gobbo, 2020). It

can be seen from this that Esperanto prioritises learnability and Interlingua

prioritises intelligibility, but both languages aim to reduce the amount of vo-

cabulary needed to be learnt (Carlevaro, 1987). Toki Pona, of course, takes

this to the extreme, reducing the vocabulary enough to make memorisation

almost trivial (Morin, 2015).

2. Grammar. Accurately applying numerous grammatical rules during speech

production is one of the main problems which L2 speakers face (Blahuˇs, 2011).

Toki Pona aims to reduce this by regularising all of its grammar, reducing its

complexity by a large factor (Coluzzi, 2022). Dr. Paolo Coluzzi does not

explore in much depth how Toki Pona’s simplified grammar may also help L2

learners construct more accurate sentences, but this is a significant research

gap which could be covered in the future.

3. Pronunciation. The further a language’s phonemic inventory is from one’s

own native language, the harder it will be to speak. As an example, English


speakers regularly struggle with the rhotic sounds of many other languages,

like the Italian [r] and the French [K]. One of the main criticisms of Esperanto

is its phonemic inventory, which contains all the sounds of Polish, but requires

speakers of some of the world’s most spoken languages to learn how to pro-

nounce new sounds, like [

ţ], [h], or [x] (now archaic). In addition, languages

with open phonotatic rules, like English, which allow large consonant clusters

due to extensive syllable structure (e.g. ”strengths” [s

trENkTs]) can be difficult

to pronounce.

In comparison, Toki Pona has simple phonotactic rules and

a small phonemic inventory comprised of common sounds, making it easy to

learn and hard to mispronounce.

Potential Solutions

Coluzzi (2022) also provides examples of the variety of ways his students dealt with

the communication issues listed above.

1. Paraphrase: Use of an alternative word or structure which shares enough

semantic features with the intended idea to convey a similar meaning.

2. Coinage: Creating new words spontaneously, often amalgamations of existing

words or application of known grammatical rules in an attempt to guess the

correct form of a word (e.g. transforming a noun into an adjective).

3. Borrowing: Taking vocabulary from another language which may be partially

known to the listener in order to convey the intended idea.

4. Circumlocution: Simplification of complex ideas into longer noun phrases

describing their constituent parts or characteristics. This was the main re-

search area of Coluzzi’s work – does Toki Pona’s inherent reliance on circum-

locution to describe complex ideas help prevent communication breakdown in

a second language when a requisite word is unknown to the speaker?


Results of Coluzzi’s Research

Unfortunately, the results of Coluzzi’s research were ultimately inconclusive, with

minimal change in the amount of circumlocutions used between the two translation

tasks. There were, however, more attempts made to avoid leaving the words in

English in the second task. Coluzzi (2022) hypothesises that this may have been a

result of learning Toki Pona, by raising the students’ confidence in the possibility

of completing the task using only the available resources. The rate of dictionary-

accurate translations was also higher, perhaps due to the students own interest in

learning the words they didn’t know or solely the extra month of Italian study

(Coluzzi, 2022).

In addition, some of the circumlocutions were improved in the

second task, and others were simply replaced by a dictionary form as noted above,

meaning that if only the cases when a circumlocution was used the second time but

not the first, or was improved upon are considered, a slight increase in circumlocution

use and ability can be found (Coluzzi, 2022). As Coluzzi (2022) concludes, although

the results of this initial study are inconclusive, they do suggest that teaching Toki

Pona to second language learners may enhance their ability to use circumlocutions,

and improve their communication skills in general – especially useful for beginner

students, allowing them to start communicating more easily before they gain a

complete vocabulary.



Toki Pona has demonstrated potential as an IAL, due to its simplicity, international

neutrality, and propaedeutic value. Its small vocabulary and regular grammar make

it easy to learn and use, and it has already developped the beginnings of a unique

culture and identity among its speakers. It must be addressed, however, that its

recognition as a useful IAL is a subjective matter, where some will always praise its

strengths while others lament its weaknesses.

Nevertheless, I believe that it may be worthwhile for individuals interested in learn-

ing an IAL to consider Toki Pona as a good introductory option. The language serves

as an easy way to dip one’s toe into the wider world of IALs and the ever-growing

field of interlinguistics, providing speakers with linguistic insights and knowledge,

gained through overcoming the mental challenges which come with learning any lan-

guage. Toki Pona allows learners to quickly gain both knowledge and confidence in

its use, which acts as an invaluable source of both entertainment and education.

It must be acknowledged that Toki Pona may not, of course, be a perfect solution

for achieving widespread use as a global communication tool – but as previously

mentioned, the goals for modern IALs are far less lofty and idealistic than those of

the past (Gobbo, 2020). These days, it is key for IALs to be useful, useable, easy

to learn, and to facilitate international communication, nonetheless, it is becoming

more important than ever that IALs are learnt for enjoyment, self-expression, and

personal development, rather than as universal, perfect forms of communication.


Future Work

In addition to achieving many of the qualities of a modern IAL, the minor success

of Coluzzi’s (2022) research provides enough evidence to warrant a study on Toki

Pona’s transferable circumlocution skills being repeated on a larger scale. Expand-

ing the sample size and conducting the experiment in accordance with the Paderborn

method discussed above should provide more robust and conclusive results. Based

on the success of Esperanto, which was learnt over the course of two years in Dr.

Helmar Frank’s (n.d.) original experiment, I posit that Toki Pona could have great

success in a shorter amount of time, as it is a much simpler language to learn.

A focus should be put on the unique linguistic aspects of Toki Pona in compar-

ison with the students’ native language, in order to display the great differences

that languages can have, as well as to focus on how important its constructed noun

phrases are. Additionally, it would be interesting to study the effects of learning

Toki Pona on students’ communication skills in general, as well as the potential

cognitive benefits of learning a constructed language like Toki Pona. Research has

shown that learning a second language can have positive effects on executive function

and problem-solving skills (Bialystok, 2002), and it is possible that the simplicity of

Toki Pona may make it particularly well-suited for this purpose. Further research

is certainly needed to fully understand the potential benefits of learning Toki Pona

and IALs in general.



In summary, Toki Pona does meet many of the goals and requirements of a mod-

ern IAL, and appears to have significant propaedeutic value. Learning a second

language is usually positive for one’s personal development, and Toki Pona is no ex-

ception (Coluzzi, 2022). Learning Toki Pona is both interesting and relatively easy,

especially compared to any natural language, and both the self-confidence and the

linguistic insight gained by studying it could be beneficial for the study of other lan-

guages, increasing learners global communication skills either way (Reagan, 2010).

As discussed by Dr. Federico Gobbo (2020) in the final chapter of his book, Intro-

duction to Interlinguistics, the aftermath of the Second World War saw the victory

of English as an international non-auxiliary language and the rise of linguistic de-

scriptivism. The glory days of the classical ideological interlinguistics period have

now passed, with most IALs being used for artistic expression or communication

between small groups of dedicated fans, rather than by a grand international com-

munity (Gobbo, 2020). The new generation of interlinguists is no longer interested

in creating an perfect ideological linguistic landscape, but in the pragmatic func-

tion, utility, and pure enjoyment of studying both IALs and all the other methods

by which we communicate on an international scale. The recent prevalence of lan-

guages planned for media, like Game of Thrones’ Dothraki and High Valyrian (which

is now on Duolingo) has also greatly contributed to the normalization of constructed

languages, and, as time goes on, more and more people are becoming acquainted

with and interested in interlinguistics (Gobbo, 2020). Toki Pona is a subjective

language, and whether or not it should be considered a good IAL is subjective too,

but no matter what, learning and using the language is positive for both one’s own

development and the field of interlinguistics at large. sona toki li musi!



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20Toki Pona and Circumlocution: How a Minimalist image

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