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I was under the impression, until recently, the la in Toki Pona is a topic marker of sorts similar to the Japanese topic marker wa but used less frequently since Toki Pona is not topic-prominent.

In particular, I thought that la

  1. Requires the noun phrase it marks to appear at the beginning of the clause.
  2. Does not give the noun phrase it marks a particular semantic role.

However, a section about it on Wikibooks suggests that its usage is much more limited.

Time-Manner-Place Schema

Time comes first in a la fragment, manner is a modifier to the main verb, and place is always last in a lon prepositional phrase.

Time la S li V Manner lon Place

What is la in Toki Pona? What are the limits on the noun phrases la can mark and the roles they can have in the clause?

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The particle la in Toki Pona is used mainly for two scenarios.

The first scenario is for the If/when something, then that condition. The la particle is placed in the second half of a sentence. Some examples:

  • mi lape lili, la mi pilin ike (If I sleep a little, then I feel bad or When I sleep a little, I feel bad)
  • sina moku e telo mute, la sina anpa e telo mute lon tenpo lili (If you drink much water/liquid, you are going to pee much in a short time)

The second scenario is for the context, like time, possibilities, or even non yes/no questions. The la particle is placed in the first half of a sentence. Some examples:

  • tenpo pimeja ni la, mi lukin e lipu sin (I am going to read the new book tonight)
  • tenpo suno pini lili la, mi kute mute e kalama musi (Yesterday I listened to much music)
  • ken la, pilin pi meli lili li pilin ike (Maybe the girl's sad —literally, "Maybe the heart of the girl feels bad")
  • tan seme la, kulupu pi jan lili sona li tawa ala tomo sona? (Why are the scholars not going to the school?)

Hope this helps! 😉

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