Is it possible to play Scrabble in a language with only 123 words?

What is Toki Pona?

  1. Toki Pona: A small island in the Micronesia archipelago.
  2. Toki Pona: A delicacy amongst the tribal peoples of Tonga, consisting of broiled fish.
  3. Toki Pona: A constructed language of approximately 123 words.

If you chose number 3, you are correct!

Toki Pona is a constructed language that’s only been around for a decade or so. Hmmm...ok; who “invented” it, why did they, does anybody speak it - I mean, don’t we have enough languages as it is?

Actually, intense research on the internet (which means that it’s true) revealed that it’s estimated there are between 3,000 to 8,000 languages in the world. Make that 3,001 to 8,001.

New languages are quite unusual. Probably the most recent one would be the unspoken tongue of texting. LOL! BRB! TTYL! In fact, there’s a whole new branch of medicine forming focused on treating sprained thumbs!

Try using THOSE in a game of Scrabble! Hmmmm...Scrabble. Beloved and played by millions in many languages for decades worldwide! Could Toki Pona, with its 123 words possibly fit into the world of word games?

First, a little background on Scrabble.

Scrabble was invented by Alfred Butts, in 1938. He was an unemployed architect and he set out to design a board game.

Hmmm...setting out and being motivated - sounds just like what it takes to create a new language as well!

He decided to create a game that utilized both chance and skill, and using elements of both anagrams and crossword puzzles ultimately came up with Scrabble - which he originally called “Lexiko”. The key to the game was Mr. Butt’s analysis of the front page of the New York Times...he would calculate the frequency of each letter to determine how many letters he would include in the game.

The rest is history and there are now millions of Scrabble games sold every year. Alfred based his game on the English language, with it’s hundreds of thousands of words and their definitions - knowing proper usage is a huge component of being a top player! And now we have a brand new entry into the world of words - Toki Pona.

As I mentioned earlier, Toki Pona is a new constructed language, first published online in mid-2001. It was designed by a translator and linguist in Toronto.

Toki Pona is a minimal language. Like pidgin, it focuses on simple concepts and elements that are relatively universal among cultures. Toki Pona was designed to express maximal meaning with a minimal complexity. The language has 14 phonemes and 123 root words. It is not designed as an international auxiliary language but is instead inspired by Taoist philosophy, among other things.

The language is designed to shape the thought processes of its users, in the style of the Sapir - Whorf hypothesis in Zen - like fashion. The 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.

Wow - take that Mr. Butts! You only invented a game - albeit a fantastic one - the creator of Toki Pona invented a whole new language!

So - could Toki Pona, with its comparatively handful of words translate into a competitive game?

Our crack research and development team first took the Toki Pona word list and plugged them into a Scrabble help engine.

We then performed all sorts of complicated calculations and analyzed algorithms (playing each other).

We came up with the following conclusion: In life, some things are sometimes best left alone. Their simplicity, beauty and purity trump any attempt for exploitation or commercialization! And Toki Pona is such a creation.

And so, in the tounge of Toki Pona, and performed by James Brown...

.... mi pilin pona!


Back to main page