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page 7a - creating toki pona unofficial words

To learn how to adapt names into unofficial words, first you have to know how toki pona’s phonology works. The language’s words consist of a series of syllables assembled under a (C)V(N) system. This means that each syllable consists of an optional consonant, then a vowel, then an optional nasal (the “n” sound).

In addition, the sequences “ji”, “ti”, “wo” and “wu” turn into “i”, “si”, “o” and “u”.

Here’s a table of all possible syllables.

a e i o u an en in on un
a e i o u an en in on un
ja je jo ju jan jen jon jun
ka ke ki ko ku kan ken kin kon kun
la le li lo lu lan len lin lon lun
ma me mi mo mu man men min mon mun
na ne ni no nu nan nen nin non nun
pa pe pi po pu pan pen pin pon pun
sa se si so su san sen sin son sun
ta te to tu tan ten ton tun
wa we wi wan wen win

Another rule is that you can’t follow a vowel sound by a vowel soundand you can’t follow an “n” sound with an “m” or another “n”.

The rule about not following “n” with “m” or “n” is not mentioned in the official book, but all proper names for countries introduced in it happen to follow it (for example, Myanmar is “ma Mijama”, not “ma Mijanma”).

Consonant sounds that don’t exist in toki pona are replaced with similar sounds. For example, Rome (Roma) turns into “ma tomo Loma” and Jakarta turns into “ma tomo Sakata”.

consonant sounds it can represent
j y
k k, g, sometimes h, French r
l l, r
m m
n n, syllable-final m
p p, b, f, sometimes v
s s, z, j, ch, sh, zh, ts, x
t t, d
w v, w, sometimes r

To deal with several consonant or vowel sounds in a row, it’s best to remove one of them, but as an alternative, you can add an extra syllable.

If you’re adding a syllable for a vowel sound, it usually goes with a “j” or “w” consonant, since they make the least sound (examples: the continent of Asia is “ma Asija” and the country of Eritrea is “ma Eliteja”).

If you’re adding a syllable for a consonant, the vowel is either repeated from the last syllable or “u” (examples: Iceland(Ísland) is “ma Isilan” and Scotland is “ma Sukosi”).

For names of cities, it’s best to use pronunciations that people in that city would use. For example, the city of Toronto, Canada is transcribed in the official book as “ma tomo Towano”, not “ma tomo Tolonto”.

Names for countries can be derived from the genitive case or the forms used to refer to their country’s people or language. For example, the native name for Japan is pronounced “Nippon”, but the one for Japanese people and the language is “Nihonjin” and “Nihongo” respectively. The latter two are used to create the unofficial word “Nijon”. Similarly, the name for Sweden is “Wensa”, derived from “svenska” (“Swedish”).

If a country or city is often referred to by its abbreviation or initialism, an unofficial word can be derived from that. For example, Los Angeles (L.A.) is “ma tomo Ele” and the United Kingdom (U.K.) is “ma Juke”. This rule can be extended to other languages – say, calling the Soviet Union (СССР,“es-es-es-er”) “ma Sesesele”.

A rule some people use is that, if the resulting unofficial word sounds exactly like a native toki pona word, then the unofficial word is modified. For example, the name “Mary” (from which “meli” is already derived from) is typically turned into “jan Mewi” instead to avoid confusion.

There are other rules, and interpretations of them differ. The official book has its own list, which is shorter, but less exhaustive.

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