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.
Several of the glyph blocks are derived from the syllable blocks, so knowing them will familiarize you with images to come.
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.
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:
middle vowel infix
Next the vowel is drawn as an infix in the consonant:
final n subfix
Finally, if there is an n, it is drawn as a subfix below:
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.)
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:
Combining syllable blocks
Other multi-syllable words can be created simply by adding syllables together:
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:
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!