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tenpo kama la mi toki pona
2002-10-11 14:39:49

Eat the Interlingvo
If only Jake Busey knew how much we appreciated his art, I'm sure he'd drop everything and join us.
-- Johnnie Royale


So, yeah, this is the part of Pigdog where Mr. Bad rants incomprehensibly about Esperanto, the Official Language of Bad People of the Future. Or where other Pigdog authors put up links to harsh critiques of Esperanto, or where El Snatcher puts up Protocols-of-the-Elders-of-Zion-style incomprehensible Esperanto conspiracy slurs. So what's the news in Esperanto-land? toki pona.

Here's the deal: toki pona is a constructed language, or conlang. Conlangs are languages made up by kooks and shut-ins who read too much science fiction and have unspecifiably disturbing body odors.

These people make up languages for a variety of reasons. Like, say, ESPERANTO, which was created as an international second language for all the peoples of the world to get together and sing happy songs of peace in round. It also works for commanding armies of mutant slime zombies, for 0-gravity drug deals, and for instructing alien technicians in how to alter your laser switchblade to emit deadly neutron blasts.

Or, see, there's languages like LOGLAN, which was created by Heinlein readers so they could feel unjustifiably superior to everyone else. These people also created polyamory and privatized space travel. They are no good, and not even interesting.

But not all conlangs are like that. Most are just little private projects by people who think way too much about language and who don't want to learn one of the 50,000 natural languages that already exist. These languages are called "artlangs". They're all over the place, and most of them consist of a small on-line dictionary, a long treatise about the reason the language exists, and a backstory about the magical land of faeries and Elfin folke who use the language to collect nuts and berries and sing ballads and shit.

Conlangs are generally pretty diggable. It used to be that people who created artlangs had to hide their insane scribblings under the mattress so their mom wouldn't find it. Now, with the coming of the Innurnet, any nutjob can make a Web site about his artlang on the Web Squirrel. And they do. A lot.

I kind of like looking at them, and looking at all the ideas for creating a language, most of which is, like, "I like Celtic knots and Stonehenge so much I'm gonna piss myself! Ow ow ow! Learn my crazy Lllpthynnw language and we can invoke the Dragyn folke together! Oww oww oww!"

So anyways I'm looking at conlang Web sites the other day, and I run into this one called toki pona. Yet another SPACE ALIEN BUG LANGUAGE, I'm thinking, but on reading the introduction-slash-manifesto, I get kinda intrigued.

It turns out the language is actually intended to simulate a South Seas pidgin, like Tok Pisin or Bislama, used by overseers to boss around sugar cane cutters. For this reason, it's really goddamn simple. Instead of having words for hammers, shoehorns, arc welders or spoons, there's just one word: "ilo." There's no past, present, or future tenses, there's practically no verbs, there's only 3 colors and 2 numbers, there's just fucking nothing to this language.

The philosophy is that if you don't have words for hard, complicated things, you won't think about those things, at least for a while. I admire the aspirations to mind-control this implies on the part of the author.

Sure, it's got lots of saccharine primitivist mumbo-jumbo. And it's made up by this bad Canadian goth with a juvenile attachment to Daoism. I mean, anyone under 30 who even mentions the Tao Te Ching should be dismissed out of hand. Actually, anyone who's under 99 and doesn't have a 4-foot-long beard and skullcap and talks about the Tao Te Ching should be dismissed out of hand. It's the religion of painfully anti-social and contrary teenagers.

Despite all this, there's something about toki pona that caught my eye. Maybe the fact that the words "ketamine" and "oral sex" are part of the basic English-to-toki-pona dictionary. Maybe it's the fact that the goth guy also wrote the Speak Esperanto like a Restless Native guide, so he can't be a total lamer. I dunno.

But on a whim I click the link and start the on-line lessons. About 45 minutes later, I finish the lessons, memorize the 120-word dictionary, and I know toki pona. Woohoo! That was a breeze!

Now I'm just an unbearable toki pona lover. I keep sending mail to friends in toki pona, and then tell them to learn it, and then when they don't I berate them in toki pona. The thing's not usable for practically anything worth doing, and it's definitely no Esperanto, but you know what? Who cares. It's fun. I'm having a good time. So listen to my gooble-gooble chicken-scratch talk for a little longer.

I like learning languages; I know I'm weird that way. I like doing math problems, too. But if you've ever wanted to learn another language, annoy people you know by speaking in it incessantly, but you don't want to do any actual work to learn it, well, I recommend that there toki poni. Give it a shot; you've spent more than 45 minutes watching Nascar, and this is no less pointless a task.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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