Toki Pona Sign Language

In 2013 I made a full sign language for a minimalistic language called Toki Pona (Wikipedia). It’s the same language I later presented on at the Polyglot Gathering in 2014 (Click here for that presentation on YouTube).

Here are some people talking about the sign language I made.

The full sign language is presented below as published in 2013:


jan Sonja pali ala la mi wile pali e toki luka pi toki pona.

Sign Language for Toki Pona

Since jan Sonja hasn’t published hers yet (ni esperas!)*, I wanted to create a sign language form of toki pona. [2017 edit: Sonja has published her own sign language, in her book Toki Pona: Language of Good]

To keep simplicity, all signs are formable with one hand. This also enables two-sign phrase-building with subsequent two-handed signing for phrases, as well as simultaneous two-handed signing for phrases like mute mute to carry additional spatial meaning (the doubling effect).

The Sign Language Toki Pona Lexicon

(The signing alphabet is the same, and really much easier, since so many letters will go unused. Fingerspelling is appropriate when signs are forgotten or to spell unofficial words, i.e. names. I have included with each entry both Theiling.de’s images and the two-letter abbreviations I have mentioned before.)

  1. a “shaking motion,” as one does in greeting, with five-hand palm facing outward, rotation at elbow from side to side. Since it’s an emotion word, try to accompany with a suitable facial expression. (optionally, length of side-to-side motions could contribute meaning: long motions meaning a in the sense of amazement or emotion, very short motions meaning in the sense of surprise/alarm.) 

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    The ‘a a a’ of laughter can be well expressed by simultaneous two-hand a-signs and a big smile.

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    Hand position can change with expressions like ‘ike a,’ where at the finish of ‘ike,’ to express ‘a’ one can simply shake the five-hand in palm-down position

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  2. akesi Bend two fingers and thumb in 3-shape multiple times to simulate fangs, palm out

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  3. ala Starting from five hand shape, close fingers and thumb into O-shape (adapted from ASL for “not”)

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  4. ali Flat hand palm away from self and thumb down, rotate down so palm faces self (borrowed from ASL for “all”)

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  5. anpa Opposite of ‘sewi’ sign. Starting with bent hand, begin at normal level and move bent hand downward to end at lower level with same hand shape (borrowed from ASL for “bottom”)

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  6. ante Forefinger pointed outward with palm down, rotate to palm up (original)

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  7. anu Y-shape, palm away from self and fingers up, rotate to palm toward self.

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  8. awen Claw shape touching own chest, close fingers to turn into fist.

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  9. e finger-spelled “E”.

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  10. en Flat hand palm raised, slight push forward motion (like a high-five)

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  11. esun forefinger up, palm away from self, wag from one side to the other and back, simulating “exchange”

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  12. ijo flat hand with palm up, set it down, then lift and set it down next to the first place it was set down. (borrowed from ASL for “thing”)

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  13. ike flat hand with palms down and fingers facing one’s opposite arm, parallel to ground, cuts through air until fingers are facing away from self (original) (accompany with appropriate facial expressions. see usage note at ‘a’).

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  14. ilo simulate the multiple turns of a screwdriver (A-shape palm down, rotate to palm up)

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  15. insa touch O-shaped hand to center of own chest (adapted from ASL for “in”)

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  16. jaki with “claw hand,” move hand in a circle fingers facing your own stomach, as if scratching it; accompany with appropriate facial expression (borrowed from ASL for “disgust”).

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  17. jan with flat hand perpendicular to face, fingers together and pointed out, thumb pointed up, draw a single line top-to-bottom (upper-case I, like a standing person) in front of you (borrowed from ASL for “person”).

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  18. jelo with an “I-love-you” hand (middle and ring finger closed, thumb, pinky and forefinger extended) palm down, turn hand in a J-motion until palm is facing up.

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  19. jo touch high on own chest with fingertips of bent hand (borrowed from ASL for “have”)

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  20. kala with flat hand, thumb facing up, bend wrist to simulate fish swimming (borrowed from ASL for “fish”)

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  21. kalama O-shape with fingers facing ear open into five shape with palm facing ear, simulating noise

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  22. kama beckoning, pulling motion with bent hand, fingers together and facing up, moving outward to inward. (borrowed from ASL for “come on”)

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  23. kasi start low with O-shape, palm facing self, and open fingers into five hand simultaneously bringing hand up (borrowed from ASL for “plant”)

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  24. ken start with fist, palm down, and perform one downward motion (borrowed from ASL for “can”)

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  25. kepeken with claw hand palm away from self, rotate wrist so palm faces to the side, as if turning a doorknob.

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  26. kili with claw hand at mouth, palm facing self, bend wrist to open out, as if showing audience a fruit you are eating (similar to pan)

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  27. kin with K-shape (palm facing to the side, fingers out), move hand up and to the side in an arc to settle beside original place

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  28. kipisi with palm facing self and only forefinger and middle finger extended (2-shape, thumb on top) bring the two fingers together in a “scissor” motion 

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  29. kiwen place closed fist underneath chin (borrowed frmo ASL for “stone”)

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  30. ko with five hand, palm up, pull fingers together to form O-shape twice, as if feeling something soft (borrowed from ASL for “soft”)

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  31. kon with K-shape (palm facing to the side, fingers out) pull hand in to self and up along chest to end with fingers up and palm facing self beside face

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  32. kule with open hand in front of chin/neck, palm facing self, flutter your fingers (borrowed from ASL for “color”)

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  33. kulupu start with curved hand with palm facing away from you, rotate wrist so that palm is facing oneself, giving the meaning of a grouping (a half-circle is made) (adapted from ASL for “family/class”)

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  34. kute touch ear with bent hand (borrowed from ASL for “hear”)

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  35. la finger-spelled. hand can remain motionless for L and A signs (as the motion is simply an L-shape closing the forefinger into A-shape).

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  36. lape with open hand in front of face, palm facing self, pull hand down the length of your face into O-shape to finish in front of chin (borrowed from ASL for “sleep”)

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  37. laso with L-shape and palm up, twist and turn wrist over twice to finish with palm down (adapted from ASL for “blue”)

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  38. lawa place 1-shape next to top of head, thumb at temple

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  39. len move 5-shaped hand, palm facing self, along your torso twice (borrowed from ASL for “clothes”)

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  40. lete shake closed fist, palm facing side, to resemble shivering (borrowed from ASL for “cold”)

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  41. li with L-shaped hand, forefinger and thumb bend at second knuckle to make squeezing motion inward and then return to L-shape (optional, two of the motion)

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  42. lili make Q-shape and make forefinger and thumb touch, common sign for “small”

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  43. linja F-shaped hand draws wavy line across the air with palm facing away from yourself. (original)

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  44. lipu present flat hand, palm facing up (adapted from ASL for “paper”)

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  45. loje with L-shape, palm facing self, forefinger in front of mouth, bend forefinger in as if stroking lips (adapted from ASL for “red”)

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  46. lon with L-shape, forefinger in front of mouth, palm facing side, move hand out until forefinger is facing outward, thumb up (borrowed from ASL for “real”)

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  47. luka five-shaped hand with fingers up, palm facing yourself (borrowed from ASL for “five”); this sign works well with additional meanings of ‘hand’ (you’re showing them your hand) and ‘five’.

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  48. lukin use two-hand to point to your eyes (borrowed from ASL for “look”)

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  49. lupa present O hand, showing the hole your hand creates

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  50. ma with closed fist, move hand in circle parallel to ground

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  51. mama with five-shaped hand perpendicular to face, fingers up, touch thumb to chin (borrowed from ASL for “mom”)

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  52. mani rub two fingers together with thumb as if feeling money, common gesture for money

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  53. meli forefinger brushes twice, facing the head, moving outward from middle of cheek along the skin and away from face (borrowed from BSL for “woman”; ASL form too easily confusable with mama)

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  54. mi flat hand presses to own chest (borrowed from ASL for “me”)

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  55. mije stroke chin with two fingers with thumb under chin (simulating facial hair)

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  56. moku fingertips of O-shaped hand touch mouth twice (borrowed from ASL “eat”)

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  57. moli start with open hand palm up, roll over so palm ends facing down (borrowed from ASL “dead”)

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  58. monsi point with thumb to behind you (common sign for back)

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  59. monsuta a claw hand, palm down with fingers facing outward, moves down twice to symbolize predation

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  60. mu claw hand facing out at mouth, moves out once to indicate utterance

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  61. mun a C-shape made with forefinger and thumb moves from eye out and up (borrowed from ASL for “moon”)

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  62. musi start with 2-shape forefinger touching nose, move down and out until fingers are point out

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  63. mute from O-shaped hand in front of same should with palm facing yourself, open fingers to five-shaped hand (borrowed from ASL for “many”)

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  64. namako start with fist, thumb on top, and extend out the forefinger twice (showing adding extra)

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  65. nanpa O-shaped hand with palm facing down and hand parallel to the ground, rotate so that palm is facing self (knuckles out) (sign gives you an easy place from which to make numbers wantu, luka). 

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  66. nasa rotate forefinger in circle around ear, common sign for crazy

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  67. nasin flat hand with thumb on top, one motion outward from self, showing the “way”

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  68. nena present curved hand with palm facing down, fingers facing side, showing a “hill/bump”

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  69. ni with O-shaped hand, thumb and fingers facing down, move downward once to point out “this”

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    (for ni:, since the colon is essential to meaning, make the sign a circle instead of a single downward move, to show you are “encapsulating” the following information)

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  70. nimi (“H-shape”) extended forefinger and middle finger together directly out from yourself (adapted from ASL for “name”)

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  71. noka present flat hand with palm facing sideways, fingers facing up to simulate foot at end of leg (borrowed from ASL for “foot”

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  72. o with flat hand palm down, fingers facing out, bend wrist to “wave” to attract attention (borrowed from ASL for “hey”)

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  73. oko point forefinger once just below eye

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  74. olin touched closed fist to your chest (adapted from ASL for “love”)

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  75. ona point forefinger once to the side, as if “he/she” is standing beside you

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  76. open with 1-shape palm down, pointed to side, rotate once until palm up, to simulate e.g. a key turning in a car ignition

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  77. pakala Y-shaped hand with palm facing you starts at mouth and bends straight out until palm faces up (borrowed from ASL for “mistake/accident/whoops”)

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  78. pali move closed fist with fingers away from you and knuckles up, once outward from your chest (adapted for one hand from ASL for “work”)

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  79. palisa an O-shaped hand with palm down follows a straight line in front of you from one side to the other, as if moving along the “stick”

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  80. pan a C-shaped hand palm facing lips, fingers at mouth, bend elbow to flat hand palm up to “show the audience the loaf of bread” (similar to kili)

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  81. pana move squished O-hand from pointing to self to pointing outward (borrowed from ASL for “give”)

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  82. pi finger-spelled letter “P”

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  83. pilin with five hand, palm facing yourself, touch middle finger to your chest twice (borrowed from ASL for “feel”)

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  84. pimeja wave open hand over eye with palm facing yourself (borrowed from ASL for “dark”)

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  85. pini with five-hand palm facing self, turn hand over to palm facing away  (borrowed from ASL for “finish”).

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  86. pipi claw palm down, move fingers along to simulate walking insect legs (or faster variant, simply wiggle fingers keeping hand in place)

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  87. poka present flat hand thumb up on opposite side of body from signing hand (borrowed from ASL for “side”)

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  88. poki present curved hand with palm up, making a “bowl/container”

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  89. pona simple thumbs-up motion of approval, with appropriate facial expression (borrowed from ASL for “ten”)

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  90. sama a “Y-handshape” (fist with pinky and thumb extended) moves left and right (borrowed from ASL for “same”)

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  91. seli with palm facing self, and fingers up, wiggle fingers to simulate “fire/heat”

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  92. selo run fingers along opposite cheek top to bottom, indicating “surface”

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  93. seme forefinger pointing out draws a question mark in air (with no dot)

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  94. sewi Opposite of ‘anpa’ sign. Starting with bent hand, begin at normal level and move bent hand upward to end at higher level with same hand shape (borrowed from ASL for “high”)

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  95. sijelo touch fingers once to chest and then once to abdomen. (borrowed from ASL for “body”)

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  96. sike forefinger draws circle in front of you

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  97. sin an “A-shaped” hand starts with palm down and rotates over the wrist to end with palm up and thumb pointing opposite way, giving meaning of “another” and also “more” (borrowed from ASL for “other”)

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  98. sina forefinger points out toward audience (borrowed from ASL for “you”)

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  99. sinpin with flat hand with palm facing self and thumb on top, one movement down to show “wall” between you and them

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  100. sitelen with pinky extended, make movement of writing/drawing on invisible page

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  101. sona touch fingertips of bent hand shape to forehead (borrowed from ASL for “know”)

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  102. soweli with 2-shaped hand, bend into claw and back out again with only forefinger and middle finger, moving hand sideways to simulate an animal’s movement (similar to “air-quotes”)

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  103. suli palm away from you, fist opens to five hand.

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  104. suno with O-shaped hand up at eye level or higher, open to five-shaped hand (like a light coming on) (borrowed from ASL for “light”)

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  105. supa flat hand held out straight palm down, go back and forth horizontally, as if feeling the surface of a table/bed

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  106. suwi pinch forefinger and thumb together with F-shaped hand at lips and smile

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  107. tan present low O hand with palm up, and move up once, symbolizing a “source” from which other things originate

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  108. taso with only the forefinger extended and facing out, spin wrist around until back of finger is facing out. Sign for taso carries additional meaning of “turning one thing around to show the opposing side,” in the meaning of saying “but” (borrowed from ASL for “only/just”)

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  109. tawa with palm facing self and thumb on top, move hand up and forward, coming back down to land further from self, signifying “toward”)

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  110. telo palm facing self, fingers down, wiggle fingers to simulate “rain”

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  111. tenpo hold arm parallel to ground with fist facing your side, look at wrist

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  112. toki forefinger touches to lips/mouth and follows an arc outward away from the face (borrowed from ASL for “say”)

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  113. tomo from five hand to fist, both palm out

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  114. tu “two” sign from ASL, forefinger and middle finger extended and pointing upward, with palm facing yourself (borrowed from ASL for “two”).

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  115. unpa set in front of you 2-hand thumb on top, the two fingers facing away from self

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  116. uta point to mouth with forefinger

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  117. utala a closed fist with thumb on top moves away from yourself in a “punching” motion (adapted from ASL for “hit”)

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  118. walo pinch into O shape in front of your chest, palm facing self (borrowed from ASL for “white”)

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  119. wan “one” sign from ASL, forefinger extended and pointing upward, with palm facing yourself (borrowed from ASL for “one”)

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  120. waso hold forefinger and thumb at side of mouth and pinch together to simulate a “beak”

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  121. wawa open hand with palm facing oneself, held up around mouth level, close into fist (adapted from ASL for “strong”)

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  122. weka start with flat hand touching own chest, palm facing away, and push hand out and away, as if dismissing something

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  123. wile with five hand shape with palms facing up, turn into claw as hand moves slightly upward (borrowed from ASL for “want”)

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Finishing Sentences

To show a thought has ended, to keep from any confusion, it’s best to put your hand(s) down, or secondarily take a long enough pause that it’s understood, cuing your audience in this case for comprehension before you continue.

A Word on Phrases and Doubling

For phrases consisting of two words, the speaker has the option to use both hands to create a single sign. For two different words (e.g. tenpo kama in “tenpo kama la…”), sign each one after the other, with the first word of the phrase being signed first and the other sign following with the other hand (either hand may be used first; what’s important is the timing so that the order of which sign is first is not mistakenly reversed). For a doubling (or for any multiple of 2) of the same word (e.g. mute mute), both hands can make the sign simultaneously, or optionally do so in sequence as with phrases.

So there you have it! Questions? Comments? Compliments?

* At the time, I could only find discussion about a sign language for Toki Pona I found on an ipernity group, [from 2010] [2017 edit: page unavailable] jan Mimoku also discussed a similar project, crucially different from mine in that it is said to sign by syllable.

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