The language toki pona has been around since 2001, and the official toki pona book was published in 2014. I have started a resource page for additional information and links to all things toki pona. If you are new to toki pona, you can find lessons and dictionaries to use alongside these lessons.
sitelen sitelen, or sitelen suwi
Starting around 2006, I began learning toki pona, and shortly afterwards, started developing a system of pictographic non-linear writing based on the language. toki pona lends itself quite well to a hieroglyphic script because of its minimal vocabulary and its emphasis on simplicity.
I began to call to this drawing process sitelen suwi, or sweet drawing, because of its emphasis on appealing curves and shapes. In toki pona, sitelen can mean both drawing and writing, and John Clifford (jan Kipo) proposed sitelen sitelen as the way to say hieroglyphic using toki pona, literally ‘drawing writing’. This more official name became the way this system is most commonly referred to, but this term could really refer to any pictographic alphabet in toki pona. Sonja’s sitelen pona, for instance, is technically another example of sitelen sitelen.
Either way, both names stuck, and whether you say sitelen sitelen or sitelen suwi, other speakers of toki pona will probably think you are referring to this:
I like both names personally and I suppose I would sum it up like this: mi pilin e ni: ona li sitelen suwi. mi sona e ni: ona li sitelen sitelen.
If you think that you can’t draw well enough to do this, don’t worry. Just draw the image to your own ability and with your own style. It is not important that it looks like my drawing, just that it doesn’t look like any of the other glyphs. As you learn them, you will see they can change quite a bit and still remain distinct from one another. It is also permissible to use a simplified version of the glyph that is still easily readable. It can be used when writing in small or tight spaces, or if you just want to make your drawn sentences pona mute.
In a world of rapid and electronically-aided language, what you are about to learn contradicts common sense. This is not an efficient way to communicate, and it is quite impractical on a computer. So why would you want to learn how to do this at all?
This is a way to slow down and play with your thoughts. It is a tool to help connect your mind back to your hand. Just as toki pona examines how the language you use to communicate can influence your thoughts, sitelen sitelen will let you explore how the method you use to communicate can do the same.
I encourage you to follow along with these lessons, if you would like to learn how to read sitelen sitelen. But I also encourage you to try and draw along as well, as this is not just for artists but for everybody. I also guarantee that as a toki pona speaker, your fluency and understanding of the language will improve well beyond sitelen sitelen.
Email me copies of your drawings, I love to share others in the gallery!
updated lessons (2020)
If you have known about the first half of these lessons for some time, and are just now returning, welcome back. Around the time jan Sonja was adding some new words to toki pona and finishing up pu, I left these lessons unfinished, not knowing if I would have to restructure them or change them entirely.
Since then, I have continuously received heartfelt emails where you have taken the time not only to study these lessons but also decipher from the few examples available what has been left unsaid. You have often also requested that I finish the lessons, and as toki pona has maintained and grown a community of people so positive in nature, I can’t help but want to give back to it. So it is my pleasure to add again to these lessons and contribute in the best way that I can.
These lessons were originally laid out to mirror jan Pije’s, but as I began to revise these lessons I realized that freeing myself from that constraint could really help present the material in the best way possible. I have also made an attempt to talk more about the use and grammar of toki pona itself. In part because there are many more texts and alternative lessons to draw from now, and in part because I have more experience and more opinions that I did at the start.
I still present new vocabulary incrementally, but if you have a grasp of toki pona you should feel free to skip around and focus on the lessons that fit your learning path. I have listed my favorite toki pona lessons on the resource page, and have tried to blend information from my current three favorite sources: jan Sonja’s, jan Pije’s, and jan Lentan’s, in an order that makes sense for sitelen.
Most lessons will now have a small section on the top that lists where you can find the information covered in the lesson in pu, Pije, and Lentan, and a small grammar review for anything not covered below.
I am also always looking for clarification on differing positions on the grammar myself, especially as the language evolves. All of your experiences and opinions make this text that much stronger and more palatable to newcomers. Any suggestions are always welcome.
jan pona o pilin pona! sina kama sona mute. tenpo pini mute la mi pini e lipu kama sona pi sitelen sitelen. sina mute li kama jo e sona li sewi e kon pi sitelen sitelen. tenpo ni la mi open pali e lipu sin. kepeken toki pona la mi mute li toki ala e ni: mi olin e toki pona anu sitelen sitelen. taso mi ken toki e ni: mi olin e kulupu pi toki pona li olin e sina mute.
lon lipu ni anu lon sitelen sitelen la seme li pona anu ike tawa sina? o toki tawa mi. mi open.