Mini: The Minimal Language
Mini is an attempt to create the simplest naturalistic language for human communication.
With simple phonetics, inflectionless grammar, and a global vocabulary of exactly 1,000 words, Mini is ideal for use as an international auxiliary language.
Features of Mini:
- Purely analytic grammar
- Part-of-speech invariance: Mini uses three particles to mark the part of speech. This allows most words to be used any part of speech.
- Only 19 phonemes: Five vowels /a e i o u/ and fourteen consonants /b d f g k l m n p r s t v/ and j /dʒ/
- Simple phonotactics: Each syllable has a simple consonant-vowel structure (C?Vn?), similar to many Austronesian languages.
- Only 1,000 words: The goal of Mini is to have as limited a vocabulary as possible while still being sufficient for most spoken conversations, news articles, blog posts, short stories, etc. — everything except technical jargon.
- Powerful word-compounding system
- International breadth & depth: Mini strives to balance international recognizability with language breadth. A majority of words are sourced from English and the Romance languages, but many other source languages are included, from Arabic to Zulu.
He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest… Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semitones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of this own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire.
— GK Chesteron, as quoted in Borges’ The Analytical Machine of John Wilkins
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of an unhealthy interest in languages and too much time on his hands must be in want of a language of his own creation.
There have certainly been many attempts. In 1688, John Wilkins published an Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, in which he describes a new universal language shorn of the vagaries and ambiguities of natural language. In place of Latin or a spoken language like English, Wilkins desired a new lingua franca for scholars, travelers, and businessmen composed solely of the most basic elements of thought. Wilkins devised a taxonomy of 40 general categories for his language. Vocabulary would be constructed by subdividing those basic categories into “differences” and “species.”
For instance, the word for fire, Deb, is the “first difference” formed from the category of elements, De. And the word for flame, Debαt, is the “first species” of fire. Wilkins believed every object in the world could be described unambiguously and uniquely with this approach. The discovery of a new animal or feature of the physical world would thus mean a new word — and vice versa.
Wilkins never completed his language. His published manuscript was merely a proof of concept — but even then there were problems. For starters, Wilkins’ approach to word derivation made it difficult to tell words apart: words derived from a common root would sound too similar to each other and be too difficult to differentiate. Wilkins himself was known to make errors, mistaking Gade (barley) for Gape (tulip).*
The more damning problem for Wilkins’ approach is philosophical: there simply is no one obvious taxonomy for all objects and concepts. It is certainly true that one can create a language that derives all of its vocabulary from a few basic concepts. But what makes certain concepts basic rather than others? And what about derived words? What are the rules for deriving new words from basic concepts? Are those rules for derivation simple algorithmic procedures or complex divinations that require human discretion? And if those word derivations cannot be performed algorithmically — and in Wilkin’s case, they were not — then is there not a degree of arbitrariness and convention in the word choices themselves? These were questions Wilkins could not answer.
But the dream of constructing a newer, simpler, more rational language lived on. Over the course of subsequent centuries, linguists, hobbyists, and mad utopians have dreamed up more languages than mankind has collectively spoken. In 1827, a French linguist created Solresol, a language based on musical notes. In the 20th century, a group of hobbyists created Lojban, a language modeled after predicate calculus with perfectly regular grammar (and a Yacc parser to prove it!). (Lojban itself is descendent of an earlier logical language called Loglan.)
The most famous constructed language, of course, is Esperanto. Esperanto was born out of Polish linguist L.L. Zamenhof’s dream of international unity and human solidarity: He created the language to serve as a culturally neutral universal second language, which he believed would foster peace. (Esperanto’s utopian ideals were not without detractors. One particularly acerbic critic devotes several paragraphs to excoriating Esperantists in his best-selling political manifesto.)
In contrast to Solresol and Lojban, Esperanto is an a posteriori language — a language derived from other natural languages, rather than created de novo. This has been the key to its (rather modest) success. Esperanto is essentially a streamlined and grammatically consistent version of a Western European language (with a few Slavisms thrown in for good measure). An educated reader of English can get the gist of most sentences without any prior study.
And yet, despite Esperanto’s relative ease of learning, the language did not catch on. If there is a universal second language in the world today, it’s English, not Esperanto. The demands of learning a new language from study — even a very simple one — are simply too great.
Given the great variety of constructed languages over the last few centuries and their limited success in adoption, it would seem quixotic in the extreme to try to develop a new one…
My own linguistic slumber was roused after learning about Toki Pona. Toki Pona (TP) is a brilliant micro-language of 120–125 words created by linguist Sonja Lang. Unlike Wilkins’ Real Characteristic or Lojban, TP was not made to be a more logical and precise language — rather the opposite. Lang originally created TP as a way of coping with depression and intended for it to be simple and cute. This it certainly achieves.
TP’s simplicity and cuteness is a result of its simple phonology and simple vocabulary limited to “cute” words like mu (moo) or mama (parent). The grammatical premise of TP is no less cute: it employs strict Subject-Verb-Object word order and uses a single particle word, li, to separate the subject from the predicate and another, e, to introduce the direct object. This allows the words of TP to serve as many different parts of speech depending on their position in a sentence and ensures that TP’s small vocabulary is put to good use.
jan pona mi li moku e kili lili.
My friend (good person) eats the small fruit.
But the technique is not without its drawbacks. Perhaps the biggest problem with TP as a language is its rampant ambiguity. Semantic vagueness is to be expected in a language of only 125 words, but the main source of frustration is actually grammatical. There is no explicit copula, so it can be difficult to tell if a sentence contains a verb or not. Moreover, since TP prepositions can serve as many parts of speech and can be used without the predicate separator, it can be very difficult to parse certain sentences.
soweli li moku.
The animal eats. OR The animal is food.mi wile e tomo tawa sina.
I want your car (moving construct). OR I want a house (construct) for you.
In addition to grammatical ambiguity, TP has several more problems:
- It’s not really a recursive language: It lacks dependent clauses, and thus makes certain sentences very hard to express (e.g. “There is nothing I would rather do than go swimming” would be very difficult to translate).
- The vocabulary selection is somewhat poor — at least from the perspective of trying to communicate within the context of everyday life. (From the perspective of the language’s stated purpose of being maximally cute, it’s perfect: out of the hundred-something words of the language, a significant proportion are devoted to animals: there’s a word for bird, fish, cute animal, non-cute animal, the onomatopoeia that animals make, etc.)
- The language’s austere phonology makes it such that the word roots are unrecognizable. If you squint, toki looks kind of like the English talk and pona looks kind of like the Latin bona, but it’s a stretch. Other words are even less recognizable.
Ambiguity is especially bad for constructed languages because they lack the historical norms and community standards that natural languages possess. Without a shared social context for word usage, explicit rules become more important.
The upshot of all these problems is that it is very difficult to communicate anything that is even marginally complex in TP. If you go onto TP forums and chatrooms, you will often see fluent speakers having to translate their relatively basic posts back into English because no one can understand what they are trying to say.
The spark that led me to create Mini was realizing that a micro-language like TP could actually work: there’s no reason in principle a language with a limited word-count couldn’t have a simple, complete, and unambiguous grammar alongside a vocabulary based on intelligible word roots designed to handle most aspects of everyday discourse.
Mini solves a lot of TP’s problems by streamlining and disambiguating the grammar. Mini’s first big departure from TP is to replace the single predicate marker li and direct object marker e with particle words that indicate the part of speech.
Instead of using li as both the copula and a marker to introduce verbs, Mini uses 3 different particles to mark the introduction of a verb (i), noun (a), or adjective (e), respectively. The latter two also serve as copulae, and allow for greater precision in specifying whether the predicate is nominal or adjectival.
This change helps massively in reducing ambiguity, at the cost of only one additional piece of vocabulary.
Animale i manja. The animal eats.Animale a manja. The animal is food.Animale e manja. The animal is food-ish (i.e. edible).Animale i manja a veji. The animal eats the plant.
Compared to a language like English, which has only one major copula (the verb to be), it might seem needlessly academic to have two different particle words for predication. But I can assure you from having spoken previous iterations of the language that that’s not the case!
Consider these two Mini sentences:
Da e duro. That is hard.Da a duro. That is a problem.
There is a world of difference between them! If you say the first sentence to someone struggling with something, they might interpret it as a sign statement of empathy, “I understand what you’re dealing with is difficult and I sympathize, but please continue.” Whereas the latter sentence uttered in an actual conversation would indicate that what the addressee is doing is ineffective and needs to change.
The English language solves the problem of distinguishing between adjectival and nominal predication in two ways: 1. by employing words which are primarily one part of speech, and 2. by using articles. Mini lacks the latter and is designing explicitly to prevent the former, so must use grammatical particles to indicate the part of speech. TP does not do this, and makes certain types of real-world communication much more difficult.
Mini resolves the remainder of TP’s grammatical ambiguities largely through stricter rules governing word order, especially for prepositions and conjunctions:
Mi toma go tu a kosa.
I take the thing to you.Mi toma a kosa go tu.
I take the thing (meant) for you.I go eki!
However, to achieve grammatical parity with English, Mini adds a lot of grammatical constructs that don’t exist in TP: existential statements, verb tenses, participles, comparisons, dependent clauses, compounds words, etc.
Most of these grammatical additions are accommodated through the novel interpretation of preexisting vocabulary, with minimal additional grammatical words beyond the particles introduced above:
En-i ave go, viro i de vole go baka.
Having gone, the man wanted to go back.A nulo ke mi vole ma sama ke tu kite.
There’s nothing I want more than that you leave.Mi da manja a pan, pero si ave a mala aroma.
I would eat the bread, but it has a bad smell.
The result is a grammar that is as expressive as English but with a fraction of the vocabulary.
Creating Mini’s vocabulary proved to be almost as difficult as the grammar. The first task was to choose a phonology and orthography. I admired TP’s commitment to phonological simplicity and its Austronesian-inspired consonant-vowel syllable structure, but I also wanted to ensure substantial etymological transparency, à la Esperanto. Another non-negotiable requirement was that there be a one-to-one mapping between sound and spelling.
This is a difficult balance to strike. TP and Esperanto can be thought of as two different extremes of etymological transparency. One example: The word for science in Esperanto is scienco and is pronounced /st͡siˈent͡so/. This is the human language equivalent of scratching a nail across a chalkboard. But at least you can tell the word means science! On the other end of the spectrum is TP. The word for knowledge or science is sona, which is much easier to pronounce but much more difficult to decipher.
My compromise solution to the simplicity-versus-etymology dilemma was to expand the alphabet to 19 letters (a b d e f g i j k l m n o p r s t u v) while retaining the consonant-vowel syllabification. These phonotactics are powerful enough to ensure that word roots are recognizable while still being simple and easy to pronounce. Mini uses the same five vowel system as German, Malay, and many other languages, and the consonants match their English equivalents. There are no diphthongs or consonant clusters.
It is true that for a language with a small fixed number of words, 19 letters is a sort of profligacy: Half that many would probably suffice (or, if you are a computer, two). But the additional alphabetic complexity is more than offset by the greater ease of vocabulary recognition for a larger fraction of the Earth’s population. (Another benefit of using a relatively larger alphabet is that the pronunciation is a bit more forgiving. If you like, you can pronounce /v/ as /w/, /f/, or /b/ and still be understood.)
My approach in choosing vocabulary was to try to pick the word that would be recognizable to the greatest number of people worldwide given the phonetic constraints of the language, while also trying to include as many languages as possible. This led naturally to selecting most (but not all!) words from English or the Romance languages, which are the first and third in terms of total numbers of speakers globally (assuming you bundle all the Romance languages into one category), and which both posses enough phonetically simple words to squeeze into Mini’s procrustean bed.
For many concepts, there is no obvious “internationally recognizable” word. For these, I felt free to draw from a much wider set of world languages, giving precedence to larger-population languages and languages I hadn’t previously included.
This approach leads to a vocabulary which is both internationally recognizable and inclusive of a wide diversity of languages, from Lakota to Hungarian to Zulu.
What makes Mini unique versus other constructed languages is the fact that it attempts to have both the atomic recombinability of an a priori language while also being fully a posteriori.
Like Wilkins’ Real Character, a priori languages attempt to decompose the elements of thought into distinct atomic units and build up larger linguistic constructs from those simpler units.
A posteriori languages like Esperanto take a very different approach: rather than starting from scratch with a set of basic concepts, they attempt to pave over the unnecessary grammatical quirks and complications of natural language to create something which is simple and easier to learn.
Mini’s goal is to fully realize both of these visions: to have, at once, a set of linguistic primitives which can be combined to discuss any topic, while ensuring that those primitives are themselves borrowed as directly from natural languages as possible.
This goal manifests itself not only in vocabulary selection, but also in the grammar of the language itself. The core unique grammatical feature of the language, the particle i, is itself borrowed from a real-life creole language, Tok Pisin. And this particle is used to derive more complex grammatical patterns analogously to those that exist in natural language.
One example: Consider infinitives in English. They are formed using the pattern to [verb]. Mini borrows this idiom exactly, forming the infinitive using go-i [verb].
This example is a metonymy for Mini as whole: simple primitives, borrowed directly from natural language, are combined to form more complex ideas, in a manner which parallels natural language. The result is a language is that simple to use, easy to learn, and powerful in scope.
A note on simplicity: As Bertrand Russell said, everything is complicated to a degree you do not realize until you try to make it precise. The same is true for simplicity in language. I believe the concept can be broken down along three distinct dimensions:
- Language inventory, or having as few phonemes, morphemes, and grammatical structures as possible.
- Expressiveness: All things equal, the simpler language is the one that allows you to express the same concept using fewer terms.
- Naturalness: A simpler language is one that feels more “natural” for people to use. This is obviously a somewhat subjective category, but if English and other natural languages were at one end of this spectrum of naturalness, something like assembly code would be at the other. (Lojban would be in between, further toward the assembly code direction.)
These dimensions are often at odds with each other: All else equal, it is easier to learn a language that sounds and operates closer to one you already know than one with fewer phonemes and fewer rules. Similarly, a language with a tiny but regular grammar may feel awkward, stilted, and less natural in actual conversation.
Despite the fact that these dimensions of linguistic simplicity often conflict, there is no doubt that some languages are more complex on the whole than others: Hungarian, Russian, and Ancient Greek are much more complex languages to learn and speak than Spanish or Indonesian. Among natural languages, pidgins and creoles tend to be the simplest. These are languages like Haitian Creole or Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea that formed when different linguistic communities collide and have to find a means to communicate. Pidgins have simplified phonology, grammar, and vocabulary by necessity.
One could say that pidgin languages are on the “efficient frontier” of linguistic simplicity, to borrow a term from economics. That is, they could be made simpler along any one of the three dimensions, but only at the cost of increasing complexity in the others. A constructed language like Esperanto is probably on this frontier as well — it’s perhaps more expressive than Tok Pisin, but a bit less “natural”.
This brings us back to our original claim: that Mini is the simplest language. We can now refine that claim to be that Mini is the most expressive and natural-sounding language of its size. I will make no final judgement as to whether this project has been successful, but I will say this: Si a bon demo de ke uno linga i kan make! (It’s a good demonstration of what one language can do!)
II. Phonology & Orthography
Mini has 19 letters, a b d e f g i j k l m n o p r s t u v.
Each letter matches its International Phonetic Alphabet pronunciation with the exception of J, which is the English /dʒ/.
Words are 1–4 syllables, with each syllable sharing the same structure: optional consonant, vowel, optional “n”, or C?Vn?. There are no consonant clusters or diphthongs.
If a syllable ending in the letter N is followed by a P or a B, the letter is written instead as an M: tenpo => tempo; menba => memba
Stress falls on the penultimate syllable. One-syllable words are usually stressed, unless they are being used as prepositions, conjunctions, or particles.
The ideal Mini accent would sound something like Latin American Spanish or Bahasa Indonesia.
Mini can be written in all lowercase, but given the ubiquity of modern word processors and the patterns they impose, we use the same orthographic conventions as English: uppercase for proper nouns and the beginnings of sentences, lowercase elsewhere.
Mini has a vocabulary of exactly 1,000 words.
The goal of Mini is to have as limited a vocabulary as possible while still being sufficient for most spoken conversations, news articles, blog posts, short stories, etc. — everything except technical jargon.
Each word is intended to be as recognizable as possible from its respective source language, have a meaning that is maximally disjoint from the others, and be as useful as possible in forming compound words.
The vocabulary was selected in part by consulting word frequency lists in several languages and opportunistically merging similar words.
A significant portion — perhaps a third — of Mini’s vocabulary is derived from Glosa, a conlang created in the 70’s. Given Mini’s phonetic constraints, there aren’t many direct borrowings, but there are a lot of semantic equivalents.
My “algorithm” for sourcing vocabulary:
- If there is an obvious internationally recognizable word, choose that: banana, guru, tobako
- If there is a non-Western loanword common in English or the Romance languages, choose that: tabu, tipi, geko
- If there is a Romance or Germanic term that is easily recognizable, use that: agila, bebe, fide
- Otherwise, choose the best-fitting word from all the world’s major languages, giving precedence to larger-population languages or languages that haven’t already been used: igi (Yoruba), jin (Mandarin), puko (Finnish)
Each word additionally must:
- Satisfy Mini’s phonetic constraints (C?Vn?) and be no more than 4 syllables.
- Match the pronunciation or orthography (or ideally, both) of one source language as closely as possible (as opposed to “blending” words of different origins).
- Avoid words which sound too similar, especially when they are used in similar contexts.
This approach leads to a vocabulary which is both internationally recognizable and inclusive of a wide diversity of languages, from Lakota to Hungarian to Zulu.
It’s worth noting the particle i — a core feature of Mini’s grammar — is actually a direct importation from Tok Pisin.
In true postmodern fashion, Mini’s vocabulary oscillates between the high- and the low-brow. On the one hand, there are borrowings from Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit (e.g. fusi, fusion; lipo, fat; duka, suffering). On the other, there are colloquialisms like tivi, television; pipi, urine; and dogi, dog.
A random sample of the vocabulary arranged by theme:
- Colors: bulu, ruja, midori, pila
- Animals: gato, dogi, kavalo, muso
- Food: keju, keki, vino, patata
- Furniture: kabinete, sofa, kama
- Emotions: joli, melankoli, furi, fobo
- Technology: komputa, radio, fon
- Clothing: roba, jaketa, sapato, topi
- Abstractions: idea, neso, loji, siensa
- Body: neka, pedi, lunge, rena
- Time: ora, minute, soma, ano
- Direction: direto, levi, nore, vese
- People: bebe, kinde, raja, polisa
- Places: kasa, siti, patio, kampo
Mini’s vocabulary is divided into two parts: Mini Kore, the core 120-word list (which forms a complete albeit limited language of its own), and Mini Mundo, a supplemental vocabulary of 880 words.
Basic Sentence Structure
Mini words can serve as many different parts of speech depending on their position in a sentence. Mini uses a few different particle words to help determine what part of speech a word is.
The particle i introduces the verb; a introduces the direct object. These two particles give rise to Mini’s basic sentence structure:
[subject] i [verb] a [object]Tu i manja. You eat.Man i bibe a vasa. Someone drinks water.Bobi i vasa a veji. Bob waters the plants.
Mini lacks the verb to be. Instead, the particle a is used as the copula for predicative nominals (in addition to marking the direct object):
[subject] a [noun]Bob a man. Bob is a person.Ise a vasa. Ice is water.Veji a manja. The vegetable is food.
Mini uses another copula, the particle e, for predicative adjectives.
[subject] e [adjective]Manja e kula. The food is cold.Bob e vasa. Bob is wet.Manja e Bob. The food is Bob's.
We have now introduced the 3 particle words that Mini uses to indicate parts of speech:
Particle Introduces the...i verb
a direct object & nominal complement
e adjectival & adverbial complement
Noun Phrase Word Order
Mini does not use inflection. The number, gender, case, mood, tense, etc. of words must be inferred from context or stated explicitly.
Adjectives in Mini come before the noun and employ a strict word-ordering:
mega loke big placeno mui kolo not much colordika feo bebe fat ugly baby
mui vasa kolo ropa
= (mui (vasa (kolo ropa)))
= (many (water (color clothes)))
= many wet colorful clothes
The particle o can be used to change the associativity of modifiers, i.e. how different modifiers within a phrase are grouped. Note that the particle o is not a preposition and does not have an English equivalent.
mui vasa o kolo ropa
= ((mui vasa) (kolo ropa))
= ((very water) (color clothes))
= very wet colorful clothesmui vasa kolo o ropa
= ((mui (vasa kolo)) ropa)
= very water-color clothes
= very blue clothes
The particle o can also be used to mark or emphasize a word’s usage as a modifier:
sama o kasa
same housesama kasa
like a house (sama used here as preposition)
Mini uses the following personal pronouns:
mi first person
tu second person
si third person
Pronouns are not declined for gender or number. To indicate plurality or gender, a specific word like ale or feme must be added. Grammatically, these words are treated as compound nouns.
mi I / me
mi-duo we two
mi-ale we (includes addressee)
mi-mui we (excludes addressee)
mi-ego myselftu you
tu-ale you all
tu-ego yourselfsi he / she / it
si-uno one (indefinite pronoun)
si-ego himself / herself / itself
si-ota the other one
When personal pronouns are used as modifiers, they become possessives.
tu kaja your boxsi note his/her/its notemi-ale kosa our thingale mi kosa all my things
To emphasize or disambiguate the possessive usage of a pronoun, use o:
si o feme his/her/its woman
Mini allows the dropping of grammatical particles in cases where the meaning is unambiguous.
This is often the case for shorter sentences where the subject or object is a single pronoun or proper noun.
Mi i amo a tu. => Mi amo tu.
I love you.Si i mira a Bob. => Si mira Bob.
S/he sees Bob.
Prepositional phrases typically follow the words that they modify, but adverbial prepositional phrases may follow the direct object, if unambiguous.
If a prepositional phrase is used as the predicate, the sentence must use the particle e.
de from, of, about, by, out of, made of
en in, at, on
go to, for, go
sama like, as, than, sameBob e de Amerika. Bob is from America.
Alisa e en London. Alice is in London.
Da e go tu. That’s for you.
Bob e kon Alisa. Bob is with Alice.
Mi e sama tu. I am like you.Mi i toma a kosa go tu. I take the thing to you.
Alisa i viva en London. Alice lives in London.
Man en pan-botega i manja. The man in the bakery eats.
In addition to the five main prepositions above, Mini uses the following prepositions as well:
via through, across, overMi i dona unda mesa a kosa.
I put the thing under the table.Via mundo, a mui man.
Across the world, there are many people.
Many prepositions in English can be expressed as a compound prepositional phrase of the form en [location/manner] de:
Mi i go en lado de mi animale.
I go next to my pet (at the side of my pet).En baka de tu, a leon.
Behind you, there's a lion.
Mini prepositions can often be used as verbs, where they express a more directed action:
Alisa i go a retorante.
Alice goes to the restaurant.Alisa i kon a Bob.
Alice includes Bob.Bob i via a jalan.
Bob crosses the street.
They can also be used as modifiers:
Mi i kipa en.
I stay in.
When personal pronouns and proper names are used as modifiers, they are treated as possessive.
The same is not true of other nouns, and the genitive must be formed explicitly using the preposition de — not the particle o!
Mi kosa My thing
Mi-ale ludi Our game
Bob manja Bob's foodAle animale o ludi Totally animalistic game
Mui fogo o loke Very fiery placeLudi de ale animale Game of all animals
Loke de mui fogo Place of many fires
Comparisons can be formed using ma, meno, and sama:
better ma bon (more good)
best da ma bon (that more good)
worse meno bon (less good)
worst da meno bon (that less good)Mi e sama mega sama tu.
I am as big as you.Da e ma bon.
That is better.Mi e ma bon sama tu.
I am better than you.Di feruta e meno ruja sama da.
This fruit is less red than that one.Da pan e da ma bon.
That bread is the best.
It is permissible to omit o in comparative and superlative sentences if the context is unambiguous:
Da a da ma feo o dogi. => Da a da ma feo dogi.
That's the ugliest dog.
Mini uses the three following basic conjunctions, which correspond reasonably well to their English usage:
u or, eitherAlisa an Bobi i pale mui.
Alice and Bob talk a lot.Tu i vole a kafe u tea?
Do you want coffee or tea?Mi i toma an manja a veji.
I take and eat the fruit.Mi i vole a maron u bianka o pan.
I want the brown or white bread.Mi i kamina en foreta, pero si i kipa en.
I walk in the forest, but he stays inside.Pan a manja, e bon, an i ave a poten aroma.
Bread is food, is good, and has a powerful aroma.U animale i kipa, u mi i kite.
Either the animal stays, or I leave.
The particle o can be used to group conjunctive phrases:
Mi fili i manja a antika o pan an keju.
My children eat the old bread and old cheese.Mi i vole a bulu u mega o fiore.
I want the blue flower or the big flower.
Mini conjunctions can also be used as other parts of speech:
Mi i vole go an. I want to go too.Si a pero kinde. He is but a child.Tu no kan go a u moda. You can’t go either way.Mi i an a si a mi seri. I add it to my list.
Mini sentences may be preceded or followed by an adverbial phrase to establish context:
Afa, mi-ale go. Afterward, we go.Mi-ale debe kipa di, tamen. We should stay here, however.
Yes-or-no questions can be formed by using a question mark and rising intonation (when spoken) or by appending a tag question such as no?, ja?, or u ke? to the end of a sentence.
Si vole resi? Does he want to sleep?Si vole go, u ke? Does he want to go or what?No, si no vole go. No, he does not want to go.
The interrogative pronoun ke is used to ask questions. Unlike English, the word ordering does not change.
Tu i ke? You what?Tu a ke (man)? What (person) / Who are you?Tu e ke? How are you?Tu i go en ke tempo? When (at what time) do you go?Tu i manja a ke mui? How much do you eat?Tu i vole uti a ke kosa? Which thing do you want to use?Tu i kite go ke rason? Why (for what reason) did you leave?Tu dogi e en ke (loke)? Where is your dog?Tu dogi e ke mega? How big is your dog?
The pronoun ke can also be used in interjections:
Ke dare! How daring!
The word ke can be used to introduce dependent clauses:
Tu vole manja afa ke tu aroma a pan.
You want to eat after you smell the bread.Mi vole go a tu loke, ante ke tu fini labora.
I want to go to your place before you finish working.Feme pensa ke si fili i debe manja a veji.
The woman thinks her son should eat the vegetables.Mi i savi ke tu i vole go. => Mi savi tu vole go.
I know you want to go.
The word ke can also be used to initiate a relative clause modifying a noun:
Man, ke ave a mui mone, no vole labora.
A person who has a lot of money does not want to work.Balo, kon ke kinde i ludi, e bulu.
The ball with which the child is playing is blue.Mi i go ave a ke si-feme i en ave.
I'll have what she's having.
Correlatives are words used to ask or answer a question.
Mini has a systematic way of generating these expressions, but also employs a number of shorthand words for more common cases. E.g. the word nun (now) can be used in place of di tempo (this time).
Demo i fini en ke tempo?
(At) what time does the show end?Demo i fini ven dika feme i kanti.
The show ends when the fat lady sings.Mi tuju amo tu.
I'll always love you.Di rosa ke tu dona go mi i kote a ke mui?
How much do these roses that you gave me cost?
In addition to the determiners listed in the table above, Mini uses the following:
Mini uses a few subordinating conjunctions for convenience:
vile while Vaku-man i kan mira a najima ka si ventana i en punto eki de Tera.
The spaceman can see the star because his window is pointing away from Earth.Ka mi odi tu, mi senti sama en-i open a aero-loka.
Because I hate you, I feel like opening the airlock.Se tu open a mun, mi-ale i go e de-i suko en vaku.
If you open the door, we will be sucked into space.Tamen si i go mori, si deside open a loka.
Although s/he will die, s/he decides to open the lock.Vile tu open a loka, mi toma a mi fini nafasa.
While you open the lock, I take my last breath.
Each of these conjunctions can be combined with de to function as a compound preposition:
ka de because of
se de whether
tamen de despite
vile de duringKa de tu, mi no ave a sufi manja.
Because of you, I don't have enough food.Mi i vole bibe a kosa, se de bira, vino, u kafe.
I want to drink something, whether beer, wine, or coffee.Tamen de mala manja, si i kipa go tamen a retorante.
Despite the bad food, he nevertheless keeps going to the restaurant.Vile de evento, mi no bibe a ani kosa.
During the event, I didn't drink anything.
Compound words in Mini are formed by chaining consecutive words with a hyphen.
Compound words can make use of prefixes, infixes, and suffixes and are not bound by Mini’s strict modifier semantics.
Single-syllable words in compounds are often not stressed when spoken.
Examples of compound words in Mini Mundo (in a random order):
regen-uti umbrella (rain-tool)
en-mun, eki-mun entrance (in-door), exit (out-door)
inventi-man inventor (invent-person)
kinde-gaden kindergarten (child-garden)
inveti-banka-man investment banker (invest-bank-person)
en-move immigration (in-motion)
semi-pota semiconductor (semi-carry)
mala-tira misfire (bad-shoot)
ale-en-i-savi omniscient (all-knowing)
bon-neso goodness (good-ness)
Common words that can be used as affixes include:
ale- all- / pan-
anti- anti- / contra-
ego- self- / auto-
en- in- / en-
feme- gyno- / she- / -woman
make- -ify / -ize
mega- mega- (augmentative)
mini- mini- / -y / -ette (diminutive)
mui- multi- / poly-
no- un- / a-
-neso -ness / -ity
-ranko -th (ordinal)
semi- semi- / half-
-tenden -tending / -inclined
viro- andro- / he- / -man
Compounds words have the same semantics as other words in Mini and can be used as any part of speech:
Bisinesa-man i en-pota a 200 kilo-gama de vino-beri.
The businessman imports (in-carries) 200 kilograms of grapes (wine-berries).Gen-viva de no-mori bete i de kon-pasa kon ruina de si tumba.
The revival (again-life) of the undead beast coincided (with-happened) with the destruction of his tomb.Siensa-man i pensa ke raja-topi-viru i mebi ave veni de kave de vola-muso.
The scientist thinks the coronavirus (king-hat-virus) might have come from a bat (flight-mouse) cave.
Mini uses a base-10 number system.
Numbers can be read off digit by digit or in a Chinese-like fashion by combining a digit with a power of ten.
nin 9ten 10
tera 1,000,000,000,00037 san ten seven
136,789,000 sento san ten sita mega seven sento ba ten nin kilo /
uno san sita seven ba nin nulo nulo nulo
4.01 fo punto nulo uno / fo an uno de sento peso
2/3 duo de san peso
-42 meno fo ten duo5+2 penta an duo
6-3 sita meno san / san de sita
4/5 fo (de-i) divi (de) 5
3*9 san (en-i mui) kon nin
4^5 fo go (poten de) penta1st uno-ranko / 1-ranko
2nd duo-ranko / 2-ranko
73rd seven-ten-san-ranko / 73-ranko11:30 am ten uno san ten ante senta
4:55 pm fo penta ten penta afa senta
7 o'clock 7-ranko oraMonday dia 1
Wednesday dia 3
Dec 5th 5-ranko dia de monato 12 / 5 de monato 12
Mini verbs are tenseless by default but can be combined with auxiliary verbs to mark tense. Auxiliary verbs in Mini always precede the main verb.
Future goMega viro i de manja. The big man ate.Mega viro i manja. The big man eats.Mega viro i go manja. The big man will eat.
Copular and existential sentences can also mark tense using auxiliary verbs. (And since the auxiliary verbs are grammatically verbs, they use the particle i.)
Mega viro i de a mini viro. The big man was a small man.I de a vasa. There was water.
To prevent ambiguity, the nominal copular future tense requires the use of veni (become):
Mini viro i go veni a mega viro.
The small man will be a big man.Mega viro i go (veni) e bon.
The big man will be good.
Verb Aspect & Mood
Auxiliary verbs can also be used to indicate aspect and modality:
Habitual pasa (used to)Animale i ave manja. The animal has eaten.Animale i en manja. The animal is eating.Mi i go ave en manja. I will have been eating.Mi i pasa savi a feme. I used to know the woman.da would (conditional)
ja do (emphatic)
kan can, may, be able to
mebi might (possibility)
nese need to, have to
vole want toMi i da make a si, pero mi no kan.
I would do it, but I can't.Si debe resi.
She should rest.Si mebi kan go.
He might be able to go.Mi ja kosina bon!
I do cook well!
Mini verbs can stack to form compound verb phrases:
Mi kipa vole fini pale kon si.
I keep wanting to stop talking with him.Mi debe mebi ave begin etudi a Mini.
I should maybe have started studying Mini.
Verb Phrase Word Order
Verb phrase order: i [no / pure adverbs] [auxiliary verbs] [verb stack] [adverbs]
By default, the word ordering of verb phrases does not distinguish between verbs and adverbs.
The particle o can be used to clarify that a word is being used an adverb.
Mi i begin rapi a karo.
I start to speed the car.Mi i begin o rapi a karo.
I start the car quickly.
Adverbs generally follow the verb, but otherwise retain the same word ordering as other modifiers:
Mi pale rapi.
I talk quickly.Mi pale mui rapi.
I talk very quickly.Mi pale o mui o mui rapi.
I talk a lot very quickly.
In a compound verb phrase, a verb can be negated by preceding it with no. The particle i can be dropped if the first verb is negated.
Si i kipa no pale.
S/he keeps not talking.Si no kipa pale.
S/he does not keep talking.
Beside no, other “pure” adverbs can be fronted to the beginning of the verb phrase. These are non-contentful words like tuju (always) or ankora (still) that can be used unambiguously as adverbs. The particle i is usually then dropped.
Si ni pale rapi.
S/he never talks quickly.Mi ankora no savi sufi.
I still don't know enough.
The reduplicative or infinitive/participle form can be used to clarify that a word is being used as a verb (both forms are covered in depth in subsequent sections).
Mi i go (o) rapi.
I go quickly.Mi i go rapi-rapi.
I will speed.Mi i go o mui rapi go-i manja.
I go very quickly to eat.
Hortative & Optative
The word lase (let) can be used to indicate the hortative mood:
I lase ke mi-ale i go! => Lase mi-ale go!
For expressions of hope, the optative can be formed using i da ke…
I da ke mi kan go a si fete!
Would that I could go to her party!I da ke raja i viva go kilo ano!
May the king live a thousand years!
To form the imperative for a verbal sentence, simply omit the subject:
I go! => Go! Go!I manja a tu veji! Eat your veggies!I no pale! Don’t talk!
For copular sentences, the verb veni (become) is used in the imperative:
I veni e bon! Be(come) good!I veni a Mini pale-man! Be(come) a Mini speaker!
The particles a and e can be used to form a sentence without a definite subject. (Note that this is not true for i.)
A vasa. There is water.E vasa. It’s wet.A man. There is a person.E kula. It's cool.
Predicative, Resultative, & Ditransitive Verbs
Certain verbs in Mini (like senti, make, and veni) can be used with predicative adjectives. The particle e is used with these verbs:
Mi senti e bon. I feel good.Mi labora i veni e su duro. My work becomes too hard.
Many predicative verbs in English are used with middle voice. These are not translated as predicative verbs in Mini:
Si-ale i ave a raro aroma.
They smell weird. / They have a weird smell.Mi loke i ave a mala mira.
My place looks bad. / My place has a bad appearance.
Ditransitive verbs can take two objects:
Mi i name a mini-feme a Alisa.
I name the girl Alice.Mi i an a si a mi seri.
I add it (to) my list.
Resultative verbs take an additional object or adjectival complement following or preceding the direct object to indicate a change of state.
Tu make a manja e mala.
You make the food bad.
In English, nonfinite verbs like infinitives and participles can be used to discuss an action occurring outside the main clause of a sentence. Mini’s nonfinite verbs operate in fundamentally the same way.
In English, infinitives are formed by the particle word to [verb], e.g. to eat, to work, to play, etc. Mini is the same: Infinitives can be formed using the compound word go-i followed by a verb (or go-e or go-a for the equivalent of to be):
Go-i mori a baka-pale-tori
To kill a mockingbird (back-talk-bird)Go-i go o poten a ke no man i ave go ante
To boldly go where no man has gone beforeGo-i ero, e man. Go-i padon, e deo.
To err is human, to forgive divine.Go-a bon man, e su duro.
To be a good person is too hard.
Unlike with infinitives, the English language does not use a particle word like “to” to form participles, but we could imagine what it would look like if it did: Instead of the word “writing”, this participle could be formed by a construction something like “in write.” The past participle “written” could be formed by something like “from write.” This is the approach Mini takes.
Mini has two types of participles, active and passive. Active participles can be formed using en-i followed by a verb, and are roughly equivalent to English words ending in -ing.
En-i no vasa a veji, a mala kosa.
Not watering the plants is a bad thing.Feme en-i manja a pan i kite.
The woman eating the bread leaves.Animale, en-e su mega, i unda.
The animal, being too large, falls.
Passive participles are formed using the compound word de-i followed by a verb and are roughly equivalent to English words ending in -ed/-en. As in English, the passive participle can be used to form the passive voice:
Mini a linga de-i make.
Mini is a constructed language.Di buku e de-i note de mi.
This book is written by me.De-i kosina sama di, veji i ave a bon aroma.
Cooked like this, the vegetables have a nice aroma.
Infinitives and participles can use auxiliary verbs to mark tense:
Go-i ave viva bon, da a ke e impotan.
To have lived well, that's what's important.En-i ave go, mi vole go baka.
Having gone, I want to go back.Mui kinde i rondo a keki de-i go divi.
The children circle the to-be-divided cake.
Mini is designed such that most words can function as any part of speech, but conjunctions and prepositions cannot often act as nouns, verbs, or modifiers without making sentences impossible to parse.
To use these words unambiguously for their non-conjunctive or non-prepositional meaning sometimes requires the use of their reduplicative form. This is created simply by repeating the word (with hyphenation):
Mi an kinde i go a demo.
I and a child go to the show.Mi an-an kinde i go a demo.
My additional child goes to the show.Ale sama-sama kosa i kipa pasa go mi.
All the same things keep happening to me.
Reduplication marks the word as a “semantically heavy” part of speech (noun, modifier, verb) versus a “semantically light” part of speech (conjunction, preposition, auxiliary verb), but is not always required. Consider the sentence:
Di duo kosa a sama.
These two things are the same.
The particle a marks the following word as a noun — no reduplication is necessary, even though sama normally functions as a preposition.
When used in the verb phrase, the reduplicative form indicates that the word in question is being used as a (non-auxiliary) verb:
Mi i vole an a si.
I also want it.Mi i vole an-an a si.
I want to add it.Mi i go vole a si.
I will want it.Mi i go-go vole a si.
I go willingly to it.
A special thank you to my brother James for helping me with the language design and coming up with words. Mini would not be possible without his contributions and encouragement!
Thanks also to my friend Brandon for suggesting several ways to simplify the vocabulary, Redditor Cortobras for grammar and vocabulary suggestions, HydroDing for several grammatical clarifications and for translating a description of Mini and much of this document into Chinese, and Vicente Costalago for creating the Mini Wiki and encouraging the development of the language.