Diminutives; Conversational Expressions

Today’s post introduces some useful things you can add to your written and spoken Na’vi, along with a few new vocabulary items.

The Diminutive Form

Lots of languages have a way of adding something to a word to mark it as “little” version of the original. Na’vi has this too.

The diminutive marker is –tsyìp. It’s a suffix, always unstressed, which you attach to the end of a word—usually a noun, but pronouns can take –tsyìp as well. (This is unusual in Earth languages.) And you can use it productively—that is, you’re free to add it to most nouns, including proper nouns, and pronouns—but see below.

Don’t use the diminutive simply to indicate that something is small—for that you use hì’i. For example, “small tree” is hì’ia utral/utral ahì’i, not utraltsyìp.  What, then, is the diminutive for? Three things:

1. To form new lexical items that originated as small versions of a noun but may have lost the small connotation. Since their meanings are not always predictable, words in this category are listed in the dictionary. Examples:

puk ‘book,’ puktsyìp ‘booklet, pamphlet’

utral ‘tree,’ utraltsyìp ‘bush’

säspxin ‘illness, disease,’ säspxintsyìp ‘minor ailment’

Note that you can modify many of these words with tsawl without contradicting yourself—for example, tsawla utraltsyìp ‘large bush.’

2. To express affection or endearment. Here –tsyìp may or may not be associated with physical smallness. Examples:

Za’u fìtseng, ma ’itetsyìp. ‘Come here, little daughter.’ (Could be said even to an adult daughter.)

[Digression: With verbs of motion, ne can be optionally omitted if the destination comes after the verb. So you can say Po zola’u fìtsengne or Po zola’u fìtseng. But *Po fìtseng zola’u is ungrammatical; it has to be Po fìtsengne (or ne fìtseng) zola’u.]

Kempe si nga, ma sa’nutsyìp? ‘What are you doing, little mommy?’ (This would not be said to an actual mother, which would be disrespectful, but rather to a young girl, in endearing anticipation of her becoming a mother.)

Kamtsyìpìl wutsot yerom. ‘Little Kamun is having dinner.’ (Kamun might be a little boy, but he might also be a huge adult Na’vi, in which case –tsyìp is ironic and/or affectionate. Note that when –tsyìp is added to a proper name of more than one syllable, the name is often shortened. The full form, in this case Kamuntsyìp, can also be used.)

Ngatsyìp yawne lu oer. ‘I love you, little one.’ (Could be said to any loved one, not only to a young child.)

Ngari tswintsyìp sevin nìtxan lu nang! ‘What a pretty little queue you have!’ (tswin ‘queue.’ Note that in sentences like this that involve possession, especially “inalienable possession, the –ri form (i.e. the topic marker) is slightly more idiomatic than the possessive pronoun, although both are correct. So “Ngeyä tswintsyìp . . .” is fine, although many Na’vi would prefer to say “Ngari . . .”)

3. To express disparagement or insult.

Fìtaronyutsyìp ke tsun ke’ut stivä’nì. ‘This (worthless) little hunter can’t catch anything.’

Ngatsyìpìl new peut ta oe? ‘What does little you want from me?’ (Note that while ngatsyìp was endearing in the previous example, here it’s disparaging. To tell which is which, you need to consider the context, facial expressions, and body language.)

Nga nìawnomum to oetsyìp lu txur nìtxan. ‘As everyone knows, you’re a lot stronger than little old me.’ (Here –tsyìp is used ironically, for mock self-deprecation. Also, oetsyìp is pronounced WE.tsyìp.)

Be careful not to confuse –vi and –tsyìp: there are similarities, but they’re not the same. Rather than indicating a small version of the original, the –vi suffix is used for a part or division of a whole, or a “little bit of” something. So atanvi ‘ray’ is a bit of atan, light; txepvi ‘spark’ is a bit of txep ‘fire’ (txeptsyìp would possibly be a ‘dear or cute little fire’); lì’fyavi ‘linguistic expression (word, phrase, sentence)’ is a bit of lì’fya ‘language.’ Also, -vi is not as freely productive as –tsyìp. This is worth some explanation.

Take the English suffix –er that’s added to verbs to get the “agent”—the one who is doing the verb: eater=one who eats, hunter=one who hunts, etc. You can add –er to most verbs, and you’ll get another word whose meaning is predictable. So even if you don’t know what it means to burble, you do know that that a burbler is one who burbles. (This doesn’t always work: people who type or cycle are better called typists and cyclists than typers and cyclers. But it works more often than not.) We say that the –er suffix is productive.

In contrast, adding the suffix –ment to a verb to get a related noun is not freely productive. From govern we get government, which is a body that governs. From replace we get replacement, but that’s not a body that replaces—it’s the thing replaced. And there’s no *eatment, *huntment, *feelment, etc. (I’m not sure about burblement.) So the  –ment suffix is not productive: we can’t add it freely to verbs, and when we can, the meaning isn’t necessarily clear. Words with –ment have to be learned individually, and so they’re listed in the dictionary.

Similar things are true in Na’vi. Certain affixes (prefixes, infixes, and suffixes) are productive, others not. For example, almost all the verb infixes (-er-, -ol-, -iv-, -ay-, -ìm-, etc.) are productive: you can use them with any verb at all, as long as you know the right place to insert them. The agentive suffix –yu is also freely productive. On the other hand, the prefix tì-, which forms nouns out of verbs, adjectives, and other nouns, is not freely productive. You can’t come up with your own tì- words—you need to make sure they’re in the dictionary. And when they are, the meanings won’t always be predictable: tìftang means ‘stopping,’ but tìrol doesn’t mean ‘singing’ but rather ‘song.’ (Note that when you want to talk about an action—as in “Swimming is great exercise”—you can always use the Na’vi gerund, which is a two-affix form: use the tì- prefix along with the –us- infix: tìyusom ‘eating,’ tìtusaron ‘hunting,’ etc., and that process is productive. Example: Tìkusar eltur tìtxen si. ‘Teaching is interesting.’)

Finally, some affixes are midway on the productivity scale. The adverb-former nì- is productive when used with adjectives: nìngay ‘truly,’ nìwin ‘fast,’ nìsti ‘angrily,’ nìftue ‘easily,’ etc. But it’s sometimes also used with other parts of speech—nìtut ‘continually,’ nì’eyng ‘in response,’ nì’awtu ‘alone’—and these words have to be learned as separate lexical items; you can’t take them as patterns on which to base new forms.

And with that I’ll just say: Sìlpey oe, ayngari fìtìpängkxotsyìp eltur tìtxen silvi.

Some Conversational Expressions

Here are some miscellaneous expressions you might find useful in conversation.

1. Responding to thanks

Depending on the situation, there are different ways to respond to someone who thanks you for something:

  • Kea tìkin. Literally: no need. That is, there’s no need to thank me.
  • Nìprrte’. Literally: gladly, with pleasure. That is, what you’ve thanked me for, I did with pleasure.
  • Oeru meuia. Literally: an honor to me. That is, it was an honor to be of help to you.
  • Hayalo ta oe/Hayalo oeta [pronounced WE.ta]. Literally: next time from me. That is, I’ve done something for you and you’ve thanked me, but next time you’ll do something comparable for me, and I’ll thank you. (hayalo ‘next time,’ hamalo ‘last time’)
  • Pum ngeyä. Literally, yours. That is, you’ve thanked me, but I really should be thanking you. The thanks belong to you. [Pronounced pum NGE.yä]

2. Responding to a compliment

It’s not customary to say irayo in response to a compliment. Instead, there are three common responses:

  • Ke pxan. Literally: not worthy. That is, I don’t deserve your praise.
  • Tstunwi. Literally: kind. That is, it’s kind of you to say that. (tstunwi ‘kind, thoughtful, considerate’)
  • Ngaru tsulfä. Literally: to you the mastery. This is said in a situation where the one praising you is better at the activity you’re being praised for than you are yourself. For example, if a native Pandoran says to you, Nga nìNa’vi plltxe nìltsan, you should respond with Ngaru tsul, which implies: When it comes to Na’vi, you’re obviously the master, so you have the right to give me praise, which I humbly accept.

3. Congratulating someone

Upon hearing about someone’s good fortune, the Na’vi say Seykxel sì nitram! Literally: Strong and happy! That is, may you derive strength and happiness from this event, accomplishment, etc. Note: seykxel and txur are both adjectives meaning ‘strong,’ but they aren’t the same: txur refers to physical strength, seykxel to inner strength, a quiet feeling of confidence in one’s own capability. [Pronunciation: sey.KXEL sì nit.RAM]

Hayalovay . . .

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15 Responses to Diminutives; Conversational Expressions

  1. Taronyu says:

    Faylì’u txantsan lu! Irayo, ma karyu. Ayoel a numetutsyìp fpìl tsata nìtxan fayfìlokvit eltur tìtxen si! (Kxawm sersi? sesri?) Nìteng, ayoer set lì’u a ral lu san queue sìk leiu! Wou!

  2. Ftiafpi says:

    Tewti! A new form AND some very useful conversational expressions. Now I really have something to mess with the heads of all those cashiers at checkouts in supermarkets 😉

    Now, I assume the “responding to thanks” forms are colloquial? If that is the case, does the full form follow similar to “ngaru seiyi irayo” where we should put the topic suffix on the subject we are saying “you’re welcome” for?

    Faylì’uri ngaru seiyi irayo ma Karyu.

  3. Wm Annis says:

    Wou! Inalienable possession makes its appearance.

    /me goes off to meditate on this.

  4. Nìwotxkrr Tìyawn says:

    “Po zola’u fìtsengne or Po zola’u fìtseng.

    I’m definitely glad for this, I forgot ne half of the time but at least now I’m able write grammatically without it. It’s also nice to have those short conversational expressions.

    Also. *squee for tswin*

  5. Taronyu says:

    I find it really interesting that tì- -us- is entirely productive, when we know already that tì- isn’t an entirely productive nominalizing prefix. I wonder if it is the same for tì- -awn-, as the passive participle. So, from tìtusaron ‘hunting’ we might get tìtawnaron – the act of being hunted, so ‘fleeing’. Or tìkawnar ‘being taught’, ‘listening/learning’. Obviously it would not work with all words, such as ‘ong – tì’usong makes perfect sense, but what of tì’awnong – being bloomed? That would assume an agent, which doesn’t really here. This sort of sub-lexical semantic question highlights some of the complexity of Na’vi verbs that we (the lì’fyaolo’) hasn’t really gotten into much yet, as far as I’m aware.

    I also wonder if utraltsyìngvi works for the branch on the bush, or perhaps spxamtsyìngvi – the mushroom sprout from a deeper, subterranean structure. These would probably contrast with utralvitsyìng and spxamvitsyìng, as well.

    Finally, how would Jake say “my little Neytiri?” Neytirtsyìng? Neytsyìng? I wonder…

    Fra’u oeyä eltur tìtxen si!

  6. Kemaweyan says:

    Irayo, ma Karyu. Sa’u nìngay lu lesar nìtxan 😉 Set omum oel futa zene ‘iveng krr a fkol poleng oer lì’fyavit atstunwi 🙂

    Ulte lu oer tìpawm. Tsun fko sivar -tsyìp hu -vi srak? Nìtkenong: lì’fyavitsyìp.

  7. tigermind says:

    Tewti, fì’upxare wou nìtxan nang! The conversational stuff is especially appreciated.

    Incidentally, might there be a “special” thank you reserved for a particular service? For example, Turkish has elinize sağlık–literally, “health to your hands,” which is said to thank someone who has prepared food for you.

  8. 'Awvetanawmian says:

    Irayo seiyi ngaru fì’upxareri, ma Nawma Karyu Pawl.

    Krr a oe ralpameng ‘awa vurur lì’fyafa leNa’vi (set oe mi palpereng tsar), oeru ke lamängu sìltsana aylì’uo a oe tsoleiun rilvun fìtseng (na melì’u san utraltsyìp sìk sì san tswin sìk). Ha fì’upxare ngeyä loleiu oer nìtxan lesar.
    Ta swaw a fìpìlok sngalmä’i rivey, fra’upxareri amip tìnusume lì’fyayä sleiu nì’ul eltur tìtxen susi. 🙂

  9. Plumps says:

    Faysìtlamur eltur oeyä tìtxen si nìngay!

    Na frakrr, tìralpengit leToìtse fko tsun rivun fìtseng:

    Truly interesting information!
    As always, a German translation can be found here (see above)

    Wirklich tolle Informationen!
    Wie immer kann eine deutsche Übersetzung im Forum gefunden werden. (s. Link)

    —ngeyä Plumps

  10. Gisle Aune says:

    Nìmun seiyi oe ngaru irayo nìtxan, ma karyu. oeyä eltur fì’u tìtxen si nìtxan!

  11. Taronyu says:

    Looking over this, I see that I managed to use the form =tsyìng. I have no idea where that came from. It obviously should be -tsyìp.

  12. AP Nova (LN.org) says:

    Tengkrr polängkxo Kemaweyanhu oel ngolop mipa lì’ut alu san kelkuvi sìk.

    I was searching a word to express “room” and even if you can not use “kelkuvi” for any room you might think about (for example “class room”, which could be “numtsengvi”) I think it could be a good word to express what I meant. Words related to this one’s structure could be:
    numtsengvi – class room
    tìkangemtseng – working place, maybe a “-vi” form is possible too, but I don’t feel absolutely sure about it/there isn’t a real need to have such a form. “Tìkangkemtseng” could represent the whole building and “tìkangkemtsengvi” could refer to the exact point where one is working.

  13. Very interesting to hear about the diminutive suffix! I’ve been half expecting one to surface for some time now. Since I’ve dabbled some (read: extensively) in Klingon, I find similarities between the noun suffix -Hom of that language and the first function of -tsyìp described above; -Hom is often conceptually rather than physically diminutive, and there are a number of lexicalized words that include the suffix, but it can also be applied to any noun to create a term that is usually context-specific but more or less clear within that context.

    However, Klingon also has a corresponding augmentative suffix: -‘a’. I wonder if Na’vi does as well…?

  14. Andrew says:

    Nang irayo!

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