toki pona and Orwell’s NewSpeak

Wikipedia has for a long time said this nonsense:

This goal, together with Toki Pona’s deliberately restricted vocabulary, has led some to feel that the language, whose name literally means “simple language”, “good language”, or “goodspeak”, resembles George Orwell’s fictional language Newspeak.[6]

First off, what some people’s feelings are is about as encyclopedic as fart. What matters is what is defensible on some standard of truth, being it either sociological– (conlangs are things that people do, so lets study it)– or linguistics– (conlangs might even be languages the way French is, so let’s study it).

The “They don’t have a word for it” trope.
New Speak in the fictional world was for expressing fictional English Socialism and as a means of totalitarian mind control. Vocabulary was restricted on the probably defective idea that if you don’t have a word for something, you can’t think about it, or do it, e.g. revolution, resistance, protest, etc.

toki pona isn’t primarily or tertiarily trying to control thought or to prevent unhappiness by taking away the words for unhappiness. In fact, the language’s lexicon isn’t all that happy, with words for death but not life and other oddities. The only way that you could think that toki pona was created by a NewSpeakian process of removing words incompatible with a philosophy is to not actually look at the lexicon. toki pona’s lexicon comes from a choice process more akin to Basic English, where words of high frequency, highly polysemous are chosen and narrow ones are left out.

toki pona and the philosophy of simplicity
Something can express a philosophy and something can be inspired by a philosophy. The Wizard of Oz was inspired by the monetary philosophy of the gold standard. It does a lousy job of expressing it, most people don’t get the allegory. At a museum you might have a piece of art inspired by some philosophy, without a cheat sheet, I bet you’d be hard pressed to figure out what philosophy generated what art (short of obvious hints like crucifixes). toki pona’s design and recommended use was inspired by a philosophy of simplicity. It doesn’t express any philosophy in use. You can write any message you want in toki pona– they will all be equally difficult to read and equally verbose.

Which one resembles a language, which resembles an idea for a language
New Speak is an artlang that in the real world isn’t defined enough to do squat with it. So a linguist couldn’t really do much with it. toki pona, by dint of effort of it’s fans, is some percent on the way to being a language– people use it online for communication. No one uses New Speak for anything, except as a rhetorical device for criticizing the way people choose words to encourage listeners to agree with their political views.

toki pona is not an artlang. toki pona is not embedded in any fictional work and does not have a conculture associated with it. Also, unlike a typical artlang, fans are expected to and have memorized the words and practiced the grammar to the point that they can read and write texts for consumption by other people on the internet. toki pona’s foundational documents are pedagogical, not primarily entertaining reference grammars and entertaining dictionaries, although I suppose anyone could potentially find anything amusing.

Structural Differences
toki pona’s lexicon is closed except for proper nouns (aka proper modifiers). NewSpeak’s vocabulary is open for all technical, scientific words. I suspect the effect of this would be to make the basic vocabulary of people impoverished, but people would still have a huge vocab of scientific words. But we don’t know– there isn’t a complete spec for NewSpeak and there isn’t a community of people trying to speak NewSpeak into existence.

NewSpeak is derivationally agglutinative. toki pona is isolating.

NewSpeak is a condialect of English. toki pona might as well be apriori as it borrows little syntactically and the lexical borrowings might have well have been apriori as the mother tongue semantic range is irrelevant in use and is generally not helpful for recognizing what a word means should you speak the loaning language.

Phonetically, NewSpeak is English. toki pona phonetically, was designed the way an apriori auxlang designer might, by picking sounds that are globally common.

I recommend this fix to the wikipedia article:

This goal, together with Toki Pona’s deliberately restricted vocabulary, triggered some gaseous, flatulent airbag to fart that the language, whose name literally means “simple language”, “good language”, or “goodspeak”, resembles George Orwell’s fictional language Newspeak. In the meanwhile, other people know that this nonsequitor comment is irrelevant, unrelated, nonsense and detached from any serious analysis of toki pona as a small social movement or as a spec for a small language.[6]

(Why don’t we instead compare tp to Klingon– because Klingon’s vocab is in practice fixed because Marc Okrand only coins a few words every once in a while, or compare it to Lingua Ignota because the inventor had religion/philosophy on their mind at the time, or gah! why bother? There isn’t a tidy pair like “Esperanto is like Interlingua” Actually one fake language it is kind of similar to is Sona, but that isn’t a very parallel fit either, but since no one knows anything about Sona either, it wouldn’t be a very enlightening comparison in an encyclopedic article)

This entry was posted in toki pona. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.