This conceptual piece was born in the toki pona discussion forums where Matthew Martin (jan Mato) proposed writing up a sales contract in toki pona. He reasoned that if contracts in foreign languages could be held valid, than one in an artificial language should be valid as well. As a challenge, he asked if anyone wanted to sell him something using a toki pona contract.
I responded by proposing that we write a contract in toki pona for the sale of a sitelen sitelen drawing. The entire negotiation took place in toki pona, aside from grammatical corrections proposed by others during the project, and a brief exchange in English when I wanted to assure him that I was looking to do this for the experiment, not the money.
The contract loosely translated proposed this: we as two agents will create a contract for an exchange of goods. The contract language will then be translated into the hieroglyphics, and I will draw two copies of the contract, sign both, and send them to Matthew. He in turn signs both, keeps one and returns the other with payment. In the end we both have a copy of the artwork which doubles as a contract for the sale of itself.
Here is the forum post where Matthew proposes creating a contract.
Here is the forum where the contract was publicly negotiated.
Here is a forum where Matthew describes his experiences in the exchange.
One of the most absurd things for me in the exchange was the absence of numbers in toki pona. the unofficial convention for 100 is to use ale but this also means all. So where the contract says “mani Mewika pi nanpa ale”. Does this looks like all the numbers of American money or $100? Toki pona would probably the better in a barter economy, but at some point, aren’t you still going to have to say “100 sheep for your house”? Maybe numbers should be a non verbal exchange — you throw down the number your are talking about in beans. Need to express a very big number? Better get a bunch of beans!
I was going to translate word for word the contract here, but now I realize it’s never been done. We were both satisfied with the results of the exchange, so I think the goal of the language worked. But I’m curious just how much of what I thought the contract said actually comes across. If you want to take a stab at translating some or all of it, go ahead and post it in the comments section. Here is the contract as written:
lipu lawa pi esun kama
jan Mato li jan pi wile jo. jan josan li jan pali. jan pi wile jo en jan pali li wile e esun.
nanpa wan la, jan pi wile jo en jan pali li sitelen e lipu lawa pi esun kama.
nanpa tu la, lipu lawa pi esun kama li pona tawa ona tu la, jan pali li pali e sitelen. sitelen ni li kepeken e toki sama toki pi lipu lawa pi esun kama. jan pali li pali e sitelen tu. sitelen tu li sama.
nanpa tu wan la, jan pali li pana e sitelen tu tawa jan pi wile jo.
nanpa tu tu la, jan pi wile jo li pana e linja nimi ona lon sitelen nanpa wan en sitelen nanpa tu. jan pi wile jo li awen jo e sitelen nanpa wan. jan pi wile jo li pana e sitelen nanpa tu tawa jan pali, li pana e mani Mewika pi nanpa ale tawa jan pali.
nanpa luka la, jan kama jo li jo e sitelen nanpa wan. jan pali li jo e sitelen nanpa tu li jo e mani. ale li pona.
jan pi wile jo li pana e lipu toki kepeken nimi nanpa mute mute mute (mute anu weka) kepeken toki pona la, jan pali li sitelen e sitelen namako kepeken toki ni.
jan pi wile jo: __________________
jan pali: __________________