If you are not familiar with the constructed language “Toki Pona”, watch this video presentation of the language, before reading any further.
toki ni li suwi.
(language – this/that – PREDICATE MARKER – sweet/cute/candy) (This language is cute)
So, let me get this straight. There are no big issues in Toki Pona, if you use it as it was intended: as a philosophical language for simplifying thoughts and communication – an exercise in simplicity. (The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis – the weak version – says that linguistic categories and usage can influence thoughts and decisions, and the promotion of Toki Pona has been at times linked with concepts such as taoism, yoga, zen, simplicity, and positivity).
So, saying a simple Toki Pona sentence like:
mi wile e ilo moku.
(I – want/need – OBJECT MARKER – tool – eating) (I want/need a tool for eating)
when you want your friend to pass you a spoon (in a context of having a meal together) may be enough to accomplish this goal.
Unless, of course, he passes you a fork instead, but you can immediately remedy the situation by saying:
(Tool – different) (A different tool)
The issues start to pile up if you begin using Toki Pona to say more and more complex things (contrary to the purpose of this language). There is an inherent joy, though, in pushing things to the limit and seing how much you can get out of a language. It is akin to the joys of solving a crossword puzzle or sudoku. However, if you want to find out how much meaning you can “encrypt” into and “decrypt” from Toki Pona, using its grammar and vocabulary, you will soon have to face some problems/challenges.
I read somewhere that Toki Pona has two design flaws:
1) First, it does have the predicate marker “li” (which normally follows a subject), but drops it after pronouns “mi” (I/my/me) and “sina” (you/your). This irregularity supposedly makes parsing much more difficult for computers. But this is a minor issue, in my opinion, since Toki Pona was not designed to be analyzed by computers.
2) The other flaw is an extensive overlap between content and function words, more specifically, prepositions double as nouns or verbs. The classical example of this is the ambiguity of the word “tawa” (to/moving) in the sentence:
mi pana e tomo tawa sina.
(I – give – OBJECT MARKER – house/structure – to/moving – you/your)
which can be interpreted in two ways:
a) I give a house to you.
b) I give your car. (“tomo tawa” being a car, lit. a “moving structure”)
This issue can be partially fixed in writing by using a comma before prepositions, and in spoken word by inserting a bit longer pause before them. Then, the sentence:
mi pana e tomo, tawa sina.
can only be interpreted as option a) “I give a house to you”.
Obviously, this solution is not perfect, because when there is no comma there, you still do not know whether the meaning of option b) was intended, or whether the author simply forgot, or for some other reason did not write down a comma.
Comma shenanigans are not unique to Toki Pona; missing a comma or two in English can sometimes completely change the meaning:
I often dream about cooking, my family, and my dog.
I often dream about cooking my family and my dog.
What is unique to Toki Pona, compared to most languages, natural or constructed, is extremely limited set of root words, about 120–125. In order to somewhat compensate for this limitation, root words usually have multiple (but related) meanings and can function either as nouns, verbs, modifiers, or interjections, depending solely on context and the position in a sentence. There are no affixes in Toki Pona whatsoever, to help you to differentiate between those word classes.
Users of Toki Pona have also came up with some standard, though not “official” word phrases that function as independent lexical items and have to be learned separately, in addition to the root words. For example:
(person – good) (a good person, which is used for a “friend”)
(water/liquid – strange/silly) (strange liquid, which means “alcohol” or “alcoholic drink”)
and previously mentioned “tomo tawa” (“moving structure”) meaning a car (and not, let’s say, a camper trailer or something).
This way of compounding words is nothing unusual for a language. In English a “hot dog” is a type of a sandwich and you cannot deduce that simply from knowing the meaning of the words “hot” and “dog”. You have to learn it seperately.
But unlike many other languages, which often combine words together into a new word, Toki Pona phrases always remain seperate words. “tomo tawa” (a car) is never written as “tomotawa”, whereas in English a “hot dog” is sometimes spelled as “hotdog”. One can wonder, though, what would happen over time, if Toki Pona was spoken by a group of native speakers. All languages gradually change over time, so maybe “tomo tawa” would indeed first become “tomotawa” and then it would maybe even be shortened to “totawa” or “tomotaw”. However, that would no longer be Toki Pona as we know it today, but a descendant language with (probably) a lot more complicated grammar and a much larger vocabulary.
Toki Pona was designed for simple communication and is not particulary good for describing the nuances of the complex world we live in. It is actually amazing how much you can communicate with such a simple system, but it does have its limitations.
From what I could gather, it is far more difficult to read and understand Toki Pona than it is to write or speak it. This is the direct result of ambiguous nature of the language. While all natural languages have words with multiple meanings, Toki Pona is packed with them, so almost every sentence takes quite some mental effort figuring out the intended meaning. I am sure that with a lot of practice it is possible to become fluent in spite of this – and then it is not a big issue anymore – but that does sound like a lot of work for seemingly easy-to-learn language with a little bit over 120 words.
And we have not even mentioned the fact that you will often encounter grammatically invalid Toki Pona from people who speak it badly. Natural languages have a degree of redundancy built into them – your English grammar can be shockingly bad, yet you will still be understood for the most part. I do not know how similar is Toki Pona in this regard, but it sure does not help, if you also have to mentally correct the grammar while trying to deal with the deep ambiguity mentioned above.
It’s a lovely little language to play with, just be aware that it becomes difficult and impractical if you want to express complex ideas in it. At that point, you may as well switch to another language.
toki wan li pona.
toki tu li pona mute.
(language – one – PREDICATE MARKER – good)
(language – two – PREDICATE MARKER – good – many/more)
(Two languages are better than one)
Last year I mentioned here a book called “Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue.”
A documentary film based on that book is now in production, and the authors just launched a KickStarter crowdfunding campaign to finance it.
I personally chipped in with a donation, because I find this topic extremely important and I applaud Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz for engaging in their conversations.
If you want to check the film’s KickStarter page, here is the link:
Islam and the Future of Tolerance: The Movie
One of the more important books that came out last year was a book collaboration between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, titled “Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue.”
Sam Harris, a famous atheist, and Maajid Nawaz, a former radical Islamist, joined forces in order to have a conversation about Islam without “devolving into bigotry or caricature.”
The video below presents a few clips from a Harvard forum, a panel discussion with the authors.
I recently had an opportunity to peak into the mind of an attractive woman – let’s call her Lorraine – who honestly discussed with me the issues she is getting around men.
I met her on a hospitality exchange website and spent some time hanging out with her. We had a take-away meal together, took a walk, and went for a coffee/ice cream over the course of two days. It definitely wasn’t just a quick chat.
She confessed that men she meets on that website are frequently falling in love with her, which expresses itself in an odd behavior such as trying to give her frequent (unwanted) massages, crawling into her bed to snuggle, or just generally going gaga over her. She said that none of those men she considered dangerous, nonetheless I can understand why she is averse to that kind of behavior. It can be pretty annoying if someone you barely know is constantly all over you.
Attractive women inevitably get trained from a young age on how to deal with stuff like that and acquire a sixth sense for the bullshit. She said she knew within walking into someone’s home if he will bother her like that or not.
I said to Lorraine that I’m not surprised that she has that kind of effect on men, because she obviously is attractive, but I acknowledged that they shouldn’t be doing that to her. I mean, there is nothing wrong if someone just tries to flirt with another person, however it becomes objectionable if that leads then to harassment. Especially uncool is to do that as a host and harass a guest of yours.
She couldn’t understand, though, why a man would fall for a woman he has only just met, even though she is attractive. What about first establishing a connection with a person? Obviously, that was her female brain speaking. On the other hand, men are primarily visually stimulated, and although looks are not everything, they can give an attractive woman a huge initial advantage, partially due to the halo effect.
The halo effect is a cognitive bias that induces you to have a positive predisposition toward a certain thing if you happen to like one aspect of it. For example, if you find someone attractive, you may also perceive them to be trustworthy and friendly, even though you don’t know anything about them.
I guess that somewhat explains the origin of the so–called “bitch shield”, a front women will sometimes put up in the presence of men, if they don’t want to be hit on. They will act like cold bitches in an effort to neutralize the halo effect and be left alone. Not that any of them is normally aware of what they are doing – they have just internalized appropriate behavior by trial-and-error and watching how other women deal with men.
Lorraine didn’t act bitchy toward me at all (it would make little sense to do that in a hospitality exchange, and could potentially lead to a bad reference on her profile), but she did eventually confess to me that she was being a little stand-offish toward me, as she didn’t want me to fall in love with her like so many others. I found that quite amusing.
She has another challenge, though. In addition to many men who are acting obsessive when in her presence, some of the men out there are being emotionally indifferent toward her. She lamented that it just doesn’t seem that a healthy middle ground exists.
I don’t know enough about Lorraine to speculate whether or not she has a pattern of being attracted to the wrong people – i.e. players who have no desire of being in a relationship – or whether she just has a bad luck with men. Or something else entirely.
She said that she can never know if guys really want her because of her or because of how she looks. She thinks that less physically attractive women are better-off, as they don’t have to deal with this kind of problems.
Maybe she has a valid point here, I don’t know. I certainly don’t agree that unattractive women have an advantage over attractive ones (quite the opposite), but maybe being a cute, average looking woman is in fact emotionally healthier than being a super hot one.
Speaking of hotness: Mark Manson, a former dating coach, once wrote in his book that men should ditch any sort of rating scale for women (e.g. 1 to 10), as it is toxic, because it induces men to treat really beautiful women differently for superficial reasons. He recommended men to use a binary system: either you’re interested or not. Nothing else should matter.
His book got revised in 2016, but you can read my review of the book from the previous year. I highly recommend this book to anyone, man or woman. It is arguably the best book on dating on the market.
Click here for the review of his book “Models – Attract Women Through Honesty”.
There is no easy answer to this conundrum, though. Even if all men would internalize the principles laid out in this book and would be able to hold a normal conversation with a very attractive woman without reverting to obsessive behavior, the fact remains that she will still have more potential suitors than an average girl, due to the fact that more men find her attractive.
So, I guess attractive women will always be a little stand-offish for a simple reason that they can’t possibly give attention to all the men who would want to talk to them. There simply isn’t enough hours in a day. That’s the price of living in a high population density world of today.
But maybe we can all seek to understand each other better and not take things personally.