Mini: The Minimal Language

  • Subject-Verb-Object
  • 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.

I. Introduction

The categories of Wilkins’ Real Character
jan pona mi li moku e kili lili. 
My friend (good person) eats the small fruit.
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.
  1. 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).
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
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.
Da e duro.      That is hard.Da a duro.      That is a problem.
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!
Go away!
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.
  1. Language inventory, or having as few phonemes, morphemes, and grammatical structures as possible.
  2. Expressiveness: All things equal, the simpler language is the one that allows you to express the same concept using fewer terms.
  3. 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.)

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.

III. Vocabulary

Mini has a vocabulary of exactly 1,000 words.

  1. If there is an obvious internationally recognizable word, choose that: banana, guru, tobako
  2. If there is a non-Western loanword common in English or the Romance languages, choose that: tabu, tipi, geko
  3. If there is a Romance or Germanic term that is easily recognizable, use that: agila, bebe, fide
  4. 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)
  1. Satisfy Mini’s phonetic constraints (C?Vn?) and be no more than 4 syllables.
  2. Match the pronunciation or orthography (or ideally, both) of one source language as closely as possible (as opposed to “blending” words of different origins).
  3. Avoid words which sound too similar, especially when they are used in similar contexts.
  • 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

IV. Grammar

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.

[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.

Predication

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.
[subject] e [adjective]Manja e kula.    The food is cold.Bob e vasa.      Bob is wet.Manja e Bob.     The food is Bob's.
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.

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
mui vasa o kolo ropa
= ((mui vasa) (kolo ropa))
= ((very water) (color clothes))
= very wet colorful clothes
mui vasa kolo o ropa
= ((mui (vasa kolo)) ropa)
= very water-color clothes
= very blue clothes
sama o kasa
same house
sama kasa
like a house (sama used here as preposition)

Personal Pronouns

Mini uses the following personal pronouns:

mi   first person
tu second person
si third person
mi          I / me
mi-duo we two
mi-ale we (includes addressee)
mi-mui we (excludes addressee)
mi-ego myself
tu you
tu-ale you all
tu-ego yourself
si he / she / it
si-viro he
si-feme she
si-kosa it
si-ale they
si-uno one (indefinite pronoun)
si-ego himself / herself / itself
si-ota the other one
tu kaja        your boxsi note        his/her/its notemi-ale kosa    our thingale mi kosa    all my things
si o feme         his/her/its woman

Particle Dropping

Mini allows the dropping of grammatical particles in cases where the meaning is unambiguous.

Mi i amo a tu. => Mi amo tu.
I love you.
Si i mira a Bob. => Si mira Bob.
S/he sees Bob.

Prepositions

Prepositional phrases typically follow the words that they modify, but adverbial prepositional phrases may follow the direct object, if unambiguous.

de      from, of, about, by, out of, made of
en in, at, on
go to, for, go
kon with
sama like, as, than, same
Bob 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.
afa       after
ante before
anti against
inta between
supa above
tila until
unda under
via through, across, over
Mi 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.
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.
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.
Mi i kipa en.                
I stay in.

Genitive

When personal pronouns and proper names are used as modifiers, they are treated as possessive.

Mi kosa              My thing
Mi-ale ludi Our game
Bob manja Bob's food
Ale animale o ludi Totally animalistic game
Mui fogo o loke Very fiery place
Ludi de ale animale Game of all animals
Loke de mui fogo Place of many fires

Comparisons

Comparisons can be formed using ma, meno, and sama:

good        bon
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.
Da a da ma feo o dogi. => Da a da ma feo dogi.
That's the ugliest dog.

Conjunctions

Mini uses the three following basic conjunctions, which correspond reasonably well to their English usage:

an    and
pero but
u or, either
Alisa 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.
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.
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.

Adverbial phrases

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

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.

Interrogative

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?
Ke dare!                        How daring!

Dependent Clauses

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.
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

Correlatives are words used to ask or answer a question.

Table of correlatives
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?
ani      any
kada each
so such

Subordinating Conjunctions

Mini uses a few subordinating conjunctions for convenience:

ka      because 
se if
tamen although
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.
ka de      because of    
se de whether
tamen de despite
vile de during
Ka 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

Compound words in Mini are formed by chaining consecutive words with a hyphen.

pasa-pota                passport
anti-kapitala-idea anticapitalism
bon-veni welcome
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)
inta-neto internet
mala-tira misfire (bad-shoot)
ale-en-i-savi omniscient (all-knowing)
bon-neso goodness (good-ness)
ale-    all- / pan-
anti- anti- / contra-
bon- eu-
ego- self- / auto-
eki- ex-
en- in- / en-
feme- gyno- / she- / -woman
-fule -full
gen- re-
inta- inter-
kan- -able
kon- con-
make- -ify / -ize
mala- dis-
-man -er
mega- mega- (augmentative)
mini- mini- / -y / -ette (diminutive)
mui- multi- / poly-
no- un- / a-
-neso -ness / -ity
-ranko -th (ordinal)
semi- semi- / half-
-siensa -ology
-tenden -tending / -inclined
-uti -tool
veni- become-
via- trans-
viro- andro- / he- / -man
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.

Numbers

Mini uses a base-10 number system.

nulo  0
uno 1
duo 2
san 3
fo 4
penta 5
sita 6
seven 7
ba 8
nin 9
ten 10
sento 100
kilo 1,000
mega 1,000,000
giga 1,000,000,000
tera 1,000,000,000,000
37 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 duo
5+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) penta
1st uno-ranko / 1-ranko
2nd duo-ranko / 2-ranko
73rd seven-ten-san-ranko / 73-ranko
11:30 am ten uno san ten ante senta
4:55 pm fo penta ten penta afa senta
7 o'clock 7-ranko ora
Monday dia 1
Wednesday dia 3
Dec 5th 5-ranko dia de monato 12 / 5 de monato 12

Verb Tense

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.

Past         de
Present (none)
Future go
Mega 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.
Mega viro i de a mini viro.      The big man was a small man.I de a vasa.                     There was water.
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:

Perfect       ave
Progressive en
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)
debe should
ja do (emphatic)
kan can, may, be able to
mebi might (possibility)
nese need to, have to
vole want to
Mi 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!

Verb Stacking

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]
Mi i begin rapi a karo. 
I start to speed the car.
Mi i begin o rapi a karo.
I start the car quickly.
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.
Si i kipa no pale.
S/he keeps not talking.
Si no kipa pale.
S/he does not keep talking.
Si ni pale rapi.
S/he never talks quickly.
Mi ankora no savi sufi.
I still don't know enough.
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!         
Let's go!
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!

Imperatives

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!
I veni e bon!             Be(come) good!I veni a Mini pale-man!   Be(come) a Mini speaker!

Null-Subject Sentences

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.
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.
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.
Tu make a manja e mala.          
You make the food bad.

Nonfinite Verbs

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.

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 before
Go-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.
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.
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.
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.

Reduplicative Form

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.

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.
Di duo kosa a sama. 
These two things are the same.
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.

Acknowledgement

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!

More resources at minilanguage.com

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