A thought experiment: how might one use a toki pona reference document which only uses sitelen sitelen?

Here’s an exploration: nasin sitelen tawa lipu pi nimi ale

sona (background info)

sitelen sitelen is one of the many orthographies of toki pona.

It is a beautiful and creative writing system! But its inherent flexibility can be challenging to navigate, and can make it difficult to recall the definition of a glyph.

As a beginner to toki pona who was fascinated by sitelen sitelen, I was looking for many source documents to see how different people drew the glyphs. I then found myself wanting a method of defining a glyph based on its visual appearance, not knowing its pronunciation, and with only a rough understanding of sitelen sitelen (or even the language’s vocabulary).

This reminded me of studying Mandarin, and using Chinese dictionaries organized by radical and stroke count — and I wondered if something similar (but also pona!) were possible for sitelen sitelen

nasin (method)

There are 26 “roots” (visual components);
The roots are in a particular order;
Each glyph has a unique set roots associated with it;
Each glyph is sorted according to its root-order.

This allows a dictionary user to quickly locate an unrecognized glyph within an arbitrarily-sized list of otherwise “difficult-to-order” glyphs, with only a rough understanding of the roots and ordering necessary, and without depending on any knowledge of pronunciation (of either the glyph or the patterns/motifs common to sitelen sitelen glyhs).

  • The most significant aspect of the glyph is designated the primary root. All glyphs have a primary root.
    • The “most significant” aspect could be the center or the largest portion of the glyph, or a unique component compared to the remainder of the glyph.
    • The primary root will determine the broad location of the glyph.
  • Remaining aspects of the glyph may be designated additional roots.
    • Additional roots are not necessary (i.e. some glyphs have a primary root and no additional roots);
    • These tend to follow a pattern of “next most significant”, with allowances so that glyph sequences are unique.
    • The sequence of additional roots will determine the fine-grained location of the glyph.

ijo (roots)

My goal is to have the “roots” be roughly from simple-to-complex, and to use the established sitelen sitelen phoneme glyphs as a starting point.

The five vowel “infixes” are prominent in many of the full glyphs, so I’ve chosen to use them as the very beginning. The order is roughly: mouth; basic eye; complex eye/s; full face.

The nine consonant “bases” are next, in this rough order: dots; wrinkles; bumps; different structures.

The above fourteen phoneme glyphs don’t quite cover all the existing full glyphs, so I’ve identified some more shapes (drawing from existing sitelen pona glyphs) as common roots. These are ordered from simple/geometric to complex/anatomical.

Last but not least, two “meta” roots, notable for how they’re placed in relation to other self-contained glyphs: the “cartouche” container shape; and the “plinth” supportive-base shape.

The specific roots and order are still subject to change.

root visual description
tongue — a long/tall bump with a line; a tongue with septum
eye — a circle (perhaps with dot in center); a basic eye
eye & brow — a dotted circle with supporting line; an eye with eyeball and orbital cavity
closed eye — two perpendicular lines intersecting; a plus, X, crossed lines
anterior face — a line with dots on either site; a nose and two eyes facing the reader
crease? — two/three short roughly-parallel lines, adjacent to a larger feature
dots — two or more dots, perhaps with a nearby line/crease
lips? — a line intersecting (not crossing) another line
bucktooth? — multiple bumps with one in front of the rest
downward buds — multiple bumps at the bottom, with a crease
upward buds — multiple bumps at the top, with a crease
tailfan — multiple bumps at the top or side, without a crease
cob — a tall / narrow shape
stack — three stacked circles / shapes
linja a long line, perhaps slightly curved
Ƨ a backwards “S” or curvy “Z”; a swirly reversing (but not closed) line
sama two (or more) parallel lines
weka three (or more) short non-parallel lines emanating from a shared vanishing point
nena a bump / curved protrusion
leko a square / right-angled shape
monsuta a sharp point / acute angle
a hole; depth (along the dimension perpendicular to the plane containing text)
uta a mouth
a hand with fingers / a foot with toes; an extremity with digits
poki (meta) containing structure; shape which contains / surrounds full glyphs; cartouche / quotation
_ (meta) supporting structure; wide-and-short shape which often appears under full glyphs; plinth

o kepeken e ilo ni a (try the dictionary!)

Try it out at: alxndr.github.io/nasin-pi-lipu-nimi

The first row of glyphs are the roots. Pick one or more of them, and the big list of glyphs below will update to filter and show only the glyphs which include the root(s) you’ve selected.

Then you can click on a glyph to get more info about it: pronunciation, definition, sitelen Emosi!

jan pi pona tawa mi (acknowledgements)

ilo pi pali mi (colophon)

Definitions in the dictionary are from linku.la.

Unicode characters were identified using Shapecatcher.

Fonts / glyphs:

  • The sitelen pona glyphs/roots here are Lipamanka’s linja lipamanka font. These glyphs are also used in the dictionary.
  • The SVG sitelen sitelen glyphs in the dictionary are Sumpygump’s ported SVGs of jan Same’s glyph vectors.
  • The hand-drawn sitelen sitelen glyphs are from jan Josan’s page of sitelen nimi ale.

The dictionary (and this blog) are hosted on GitHub Pages.