I recently came upon the world’s smallest language, which only has 123 words and 14 letters. It is called Toki Pona. Toki Pona (which draws roots from a mix of English, Finnish, Georgian, Dutch, Coratian, Chinese) was created by linguist Sonja Lang in an attempt to express maximal meaning with minimal complexity.
With only 123 words in the language that represent the most basic elements, Toki Pona speakers say it is really all you need to communicate almost anything. For words that don’t exist, Toki Pona speakers just use other existing words to describe what they mean. For example, there exists only 5 words for colors (loje – red, laso – blue, jelo – yellow, walo – white, pimeja – black). But what if you wanted to say orange? Well like an artist, you would combine the colors. Loje jelo for orange.
The creative circumlocution that people engage in to communicate with others using Toki Pona can offer insight into how people think and view the world and situations.
For example, take coffee. There is no word in Toki Pona for it – but what can be said if someone describes coffee in Toki Pona as “my morning cup” and another “bad brown liquid”?
Metaphors are great insight into the human mind, and Toki Pona allows for that.
Non-verbal communication is also important to understanding others in Toki Pona. There is no word for formal niceties, such as please and thank you. Toni Poka speakers, however, started naturally making up for the lack of these niceties with polite gestures, such as asking for something with a Japanese-like head nod. Tone and nonverbal gestures could make the same exact statement come out differently. Give me that (with a low nod). Or Give me that! I would think that Toki Pona speakers would be great at observing and picking up intention from cues other than verbal. An attribute that is also valuable in insight work.
So what if everyone, in addition to their native language, spoke Toki Pona? Toki Pona filters out the noise of excess thoughts and gets straight to the heart of things. I feel like people would become more mindful communicators and listeners, and gain deeper insight into their conversations with others.
Collectively Toki Pona speakers say it takes an average of only 30 hours to learn. Compare that to the hours of Rosetta Stone classes people take to learn their second language. I’m going to take the challenge and learn Toki Pona with my sister over the break to experiment to see how that strengthens my own insight skills. I’ll let you know how it goes!