Lesson 2: Writing Syllables

Glyphs can represent whole words, or individual syllables

This hieroglyphic writing system uses two methods to form words: images which represent whole words, and images which represent syllables. Most of the time, we will use glyph blocks which represent whole words. Let’s look into the syllable method first, however, for a couple of reasons:
1. This is a good introduction to the idea of infixing and subfixing. Many of the sentence constructions you will be learning involve one or more image inside of another, or below another. This is also the case with the syllable constructions.

  1. Several of the glyph blocks are derived from the syllable blocks, so knowing them will familiarize you with images to come.

  2. Syllable constructions can always be substituted for one or more glyph blocks in a sentence, so you can use them if you haven’t yet learned a particular word glyph, or if the shape of the syllable variation lends itself better to the space you need to fill.

(consonant)vowel(n)

As you know, words in toki pona are constructed out of a limited number of possible syllables (92, to be exact). These take the form of an optional consonant (j, k, l, m, n, p, s, t, w), followed by a vowel (a, e, i, o, u), and may end with an ‘n’.

initial consonant container

To draw the syllable glyphs, we first draw the shape which corresponds to the consonant, or a simple circle if there is no consonant:

()
()
j
j
k
k
l
l
m
m
n
n
p
p
s
s
t
t
w
w

middle vowel infix

Next the vowel is drawn as an infix in the consonant:

a
a
e
e
i
i
o
o
u
u

final n subfix

Finally, if there is an n, it is drawn as a subfix below:

n
n

The terminal ‘n’ is the same as the ‘n’ used as a main sign, rotated on it’s side, and “tucked under” the main consonant. Similarly, the vowels ‘i’ and ‘u’ rotate freely within the consonant main sign, and rest at the point where they are most legible.

Following these rules we arrive at the following table of possible (c)v(n) combinations: (remember: ji, ti, wo, and wu don’t exist in toki pona, so these places are blank.)

Syllabary

a
a
a
e
e
i
i
o
o
u
u
an
an
en
en
in
in
on
on
un
un
ja
ja
je
je
jo
jo
ju
ju
jan
jan
jen
jen
jon
jon
jun
jun
ka
ka
ke
ke
ki
ki
ko
ko
ku
ku
kan
kan
ken
ken
kin
kin
kon
kon
kun
kun
la
la
le
le
li
li
lo
lo
lu
lu
lan
lan
len
len
lin
lin
lon
lon
lun
lun
ma
ma
me
me
mi
mi
mo
mo
mu
mu
man
man
men
men
min
min
mon
mon
mun
mun
na
na
ne
ne
ni
ni
false
false
nu
nu
nan
nan
nen
nen
nin
nin
non
non
nun
nun
pa
pa
pe
pe
pi
pi
po
po
pu
pu
pan
pan
pen
pen
pin
pin
pon
pon
pun
pun
sa
sa
se
se
si
si
so
so
su
su
san
san
sen
sen
sin
sin
son
son
sun
sun
ta
ta
te
te
to
to
tu
tu
tan
tan
ten
ten
ton
ton
tun
tun
wa
wa
we
we
wi
wi
wan
wan
wen
wen
win
win

Using the syllabary

As you look though the syllabary, you will see several syllables that are toki pona words by themselves. Here are a few:

a
a
jan
jan
ko
ko
kon
kon
len
len
ma
ma
mi
mi
ni
ni
mun
mun
o
o
sin
sin
tan
tan

Combining syllable blocks

Other multi-syllable words can be created simply by adding syllables together:

toki
toki
pona
pona

changing size

As we progress through the following chapters, you will notice that some glyphs can change in order to fill in spaces of differing size. This is true for the syllable glyphs as well:

o ante e kulupu lili

Time to play around

Now, as I mentioned earlier, this is a non-linear writing system, so there are a few tricks ahead for grouping several syllables into words, and words into sentences. For now, however, you might want to have some fun writing out these syllable components into linear text. You already know enough to write anything you can say in toki pona using this hieroglyphic script!