What things can `la` mark in Toki Pona?

Constructed Languages Asked on August 20, 2021

I was under the impression, until recently, the la in Toki Pona is a topic marker of sorts similar to the Japanese topic marker wa but used less frequently since Toki Pona is not topic-prominent.

In particular, I thought that la

  1. Requires the noun phrase it marks to appear at the beginning of the clause.
  2. Does not give the noun phrase it marks a particular semantic role.

However, a section about it on Wikibooks suggests that its usage is much more limited.

Time-Manner-Place Schema

Time comes first in a la fragment, manner is a modifier to the main verb, and place is always last in a lon prepositional phrase.

Time la S li V Manner lon Place

What is la in Toki Pona? What are the limits on the noun phrases la can mark and the roles they can have in the clause?

One Answer

The particle la in Toki Pona is used mainly for two scenarios.

The first scenario is for the If/when something, then that condition. The la particle is placed in the second half of a sentence. Some examples:

  • mi lape lili, la mi pilin ike (If I sleep a little, then I feel bad or When I sleep a little, I feel bad)
  • sina moku e telo mute, la sina anpa e telo mute lon tenpo lili (If you drink much water/liquid, you are going to pee much in a short time)

The second scenario is for the context, like time, possibilities, or even non yes/no questions. The la particle is placed in the first half of a sentence. Some examples:

  • tenpo pimeja ni la, mi lukin e lipu sin (I am going to read the new book tonight)
  • tenpo suno pini lili la, mi kute mute e kalama musi (Yesterday I listened to much music)
  • ken la, pilin pi meli lili li pilin ike (Maybe the girl's sad —literally, "Maybe the heart of the girl feels bad")
  • tan seme la, kulupu pi jan lili sona li tawa ala tomo sona? (Why are the scholars not going to the school?)

Hope this helps! ?

Correct answer by ᛤᗑᛥᛣᗑ on August 20, 2021

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