Mipa ayopin, mipa aylì’u–New colors, new words

In honor of the re-release of Uniltìrantokx tonight, here’s Part 1 of the Na’vi color system along with a bit of new vocabulary.


As the graphic indicates, Na’vi has 9 basic or primitive color terms:

TUN: covers the red-to-orange part of the spectrum
RIM: yellow
EAN: green to blue
’OM: violet to purple to magenta
LAYON: black
TEYR: white
VAWM: deep dark colors including browns
NEYN: light colors—“shades of white”
NGUL: gray or drab

To further subdivide the spectrum and name colors more specifically, Na’vi has 3 distinct mechanisms:

(1)    Na-constructions
(2)    Adverbial modification with nì-
(3)    Compounding

Here I’ll discuss the first of these, which is the productive mechanism, and leave the other two for another time.

Before anything else, note that these color terms are regular adjectives–not nouns, not stative verbs. To form color nouns, just add -pin. So for example:

Fìsyulang lu rim. ‘This flower is yellow.’
Fìsyulang arim lu hì’i frato. ‘This yellow flower is the smallest of all.’
Ke sunu oeru rimpin. ‘I don’t like the color yellow.’

Note that when the basic color term ends in -n, the n is pronounced m before the p of pin. (Linguists would call that an instance of regressive nasal assimilation.) And the spelling changes to reflect that. So we have tumpin, eampin, neympin, layompin. This happens in other places in Na’vi (for example: txampay ‘sea, ocean’, a compound of txan ‘much’ + pay ‘water’) and of course in ’Rrtan languages as well (cf. ‘indelicate,’ ‘inadequate,’ ‘inhuman,’ ‘interminable,’ ‘insufficient,’ etc. but ‘impatient,’ ‘imperfect,’ and so on).

For more specific colors, Na’vi uses na-constructions (na = like, as) for comparison to the colors of well-known objects in the environment. For example, to specify that the kind of ean you mean is the blue color of Na’vi skin, you say ean na ta’leng or ta’lengna ean, ‘skin-color blue.’ (Note that “modifying a” is not normally used between na and the basic color term.)

The syntax is straightforward. For ease of reading, hyphens are inserted when na-colors are used attributively (before or after a noun). Examples:

Fìsyulang lu ean na ta’leng. OR Fìsyulang lu ta’lengna ean. ‘This flower is skin-blue.’

To say ‘This skin-blue flower is very beautiful,’ you have 4 choices:

1. Fìsyulang aean-na-ta’leng lor lu nìtxan.
2. Fìsyulang ata’lengna-ean lor lu nìtxan.
3. Ean-na-ta’lenga fìsyulang lor lu nìtxan.
4. Ta’lengna-eana fìsyulang lor lu nìtxan.

The na- process for colors is productive–that is, Na’vi speakers are free to come up with these comparisons on their own, as long as there’s good reason to expect that the listener will understand the comparison and be able to visualize the color. So, for example, if the particular shade of ean you have in mind is the color of the chin of a Great Leonopteryx, you can refer to it as ean na tsuksìm torukä. Here are some more examples:

º1: vawm na nikre–the dark color of Na’vi hair
º2: ’om na mikyun–the purplish color on the inside of a Na’vi ear
º3: layon Note that layon and teyr are not modifiable except in poetry.
Layon is solid black, the total absence of color; teyr is pure white.
º4: rim na nari (Although there are lots of different kinds of eyes on Pandora, in the
absence of further specification it’s understand here that nari means nari leNa’vi.)
º5: ean na ta’leng–skin-blue
º6: ean na pil–facial-stripe blue
º7: neyn na txärem–the light color of bone
º10: tun na eyktan–“leader red,” the reddish color that distinguishes the dress of Na’vi leaders
º11: ean na rìk–leaf-green (as on earth, not all leaves are green, but most are. Ean na rìk and ean na ta’leng are the most common ways to distinguish green from blue.)
º12: neyn na yapay–the light, nondescript color of mist or fog
º13: vawm na uk–dark-shadow color
º14: ngul na tskxe–the drab color of stone

As you might expect, some na-comparisons are idiosyncratic while others are common and universal. Some of the very common ones have developed one-word forms that are part of the standard lexicon. For example:

ta’lengna ean > ta’lengean

rìkna ean > rìkean

kllna vawm > kllvawm ‘brown’

I’ll talk more about these–and the other color-forming mechanisms–in a later post.

Thanks to everyone who provided me with references and links to the fascinating scholarly work on color systems in various Terran languages. And I especially want to thank Prrton for the gorgeous graphics. Irayo nìtxan ayngaru nìwotx!

New vocabulary

Here’s a list of (mostly) new terms I hope you’ll find useful. There’s no rhyme or reason for these right now as opposed to others, except that some of them will help us talk about Avatar more easily:

’evan (n.)
boy (colloquial)
’eve (n.)
girl (colloquial)
’evengan boy
’evenge (n.) girl
fkio (n.) tetrapteron
kenten (n.) fan lizard
’upam (n.) pronunciation
(adv.) on the contrary, conversely
pil (n.) facial stripe
wopx (n.) cloud
ramtsyìp (n.) hill
syaksyuk (n.) prolemuris
tor (adj.) last, ultimate, terminal
txärem (n.) bone
uk (n.) shadow
yapay (n.) mist, fog, steam

Note: tor and syen both mean ‘last,’ and there’s some overlap. The difference is that syen usually refers to the last in series: tìpawm asyen: the last question asked (e.g. Q #5 in a series of 5); tor refers to something that will bring about finality: tìpawm ator: the ultimate question, the answer to which will end all discussion, debate, or contemplation.

Txo mipa Uniltìrantokxit ayngal tsìyeve’a fìtxon fu trray, ma eylan, sìlpey oe tsnì sivunu ayngaru nìwotx!

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34 Responses to Mipa ayopin, mipa aylì’u–New colors, new words

  1. Tì’eyng ator lu san mrrvomun sìk, slä tsatìpawm lu peu?

  2. Kemaweyan says:

    Irayo, ma Pawl! Nìtxan lesara aylì’u horensì leiu mì fì’upxare 🙂

  3. Taronyu says:

    Irayo, ma Pawl!

    We’ve looked forward to this, for ages. It’s great to have these words, and to know the na construction. I like it.

    I wish I could say I wasn’t a lot more excited by fkio, kenken, and syaksyuk, though. Finally! 😀 😀 😀 Been looking forward to those since the first time I saw the trailer.

  4. Tirea Aean says:

    Txantsana fmawn right here! excellent stuff. been waiting on most of this stuff…WE KNOW why toruk is last shadow. epic coolness.

    What a great night this has been. 😀

  5. Peyä Tìrol says:

    Irayo seiyi fì’upxareri 😀
    Srekrr, fìlì’ul alu vawm nì’ìnglìsì slolu *dark*. Fìlì’u ‘opinur avawm ral seri frakrr srak? Livu awngaru lahea lì’u a atanur ahol ral si srak?

  6. Plumps says:

    Irayo, ma Pawl!

    Finally a word for „cloud“ 🙂
    And ’eve for „girl“—how epic … not to say Biblical is that?! 😀

  7. Kewnya Txamew'itan says:

    The stress on ‘evenge and ‘eve is interesting. Does the feminising suffix -e still usually carry the stress and these are exceptions, or are the examples we had before of it moving the stress the exception that exists to provide a distinction between what would otherwise be homophones (tute/tuté)?

    • The only case where -e and -an get the stress is tute/tutan. All other examples (‘ite, ‘itan, poe, poan, tsmuke, tsmukan, etc) the word keeps its stress.

      • Wm Annis says:

        Um. The accenting is final in poe and poan.

      • Prrton says:

        Tsu’tey also distinctly says «ma Smukán, ma Smuké» in interpreting for Jake’s epic “call to action” in front of the Tree of Souls. But, I have been saying (and thinking in my head), «póe, póan» all these months. I can see the initial glottal stop having some effect on encouraging the stress to stay at the forefront in these words, though. Hmmm…

  8. …and of course in ’Rrtan languages as well…

    Not in “unpopular”. 😉

  9. Txantsan! Nìpawnlltxe, fìfmawn tolel nì’i’a. 🙂

    The na-construction is reminiscent of Klingon, which has a more restricted color system and uses comparisons to known objects to denote specific hues (e.g. Doq ‘ej Qaj wuS rur “be orange/red and resemble the lips of the animal kradge“).

  10. Swoka Swizaw says:

    Simply wonderful…

    The one thing that I truly love about your resolve involving Na’vi is that you have handled Cameron’s – let’s face it, random – “pre-Frommerian” Na’vi: ‘ontu,’ ‘toruk,’ with great ease and patience. Especially, “toruk.” You disected it, and assigned logical meanings with real grace. Brava!

    • tigermind says:

      Mllte oe ngahu nìftxavang. We need to know how to describe the “exceptional patience and equanimity” necessary for this feat!

  11. Sireayä mokri says:

    Oe irayo seiyi ma Karyu fìlì’uri amip! Nìngay lesar nìtxan!

    Tìpawm lu oer: can we use “pil” refering to a stripe on a body of Na’vi?

  12. Nìwotxkrr Tìyawn says:

    Great post as always ma Pawl and finally we can put the toruk debate to rest.

    Something I find interesting is how “tor” and “uk” becomes “to.ruk”, how part of “tor” gets switched to a different syllable. Is that seen in any other words or is it only done because it’s a Cameronian word?

    I’m curious as to why “pìwopx” doesn’t have a link to “pay” other than a “p”, at least to me it seems as if the na’vi would know that water came from clouds.

    Also, in the future are there going to be any names for different types of clouds or possibly ash clouds?

  13. Sxkxawng says:

    TXANTSAN, I’ve been waiting, ayngana, for all these terms, especially the colors (’cause now we have a color that can describe the Ayutral Aymokriyä!).

    Eywa ayngahu frakrr, ulte zerok fwa oe tìyevätxaw ne forum.learnnavi.org.

  14. `eylan Ayfalulukanä says:

    Txanstan! Thanks for the color words. I, too have been waiting for these words. After reading through your explanation, I really like how you made this work. I hope to use these terms a lot.

    I also very much like tor and uk (and toruk)!

  15. Wm Annis says:

    Ma Karyu Pawl,

    Is the na-construction productive for other sorts of adjectives, too?

    Po lu nawm na Eytukan.
    Teri fayfnetxele eyktan anawm-na-Eytukan ke polltxe kawkrr.

    Crazier yet,

    Po lu fìtxan nawm na Eytukan He is as noble as Eytukan.

  16. tigermind says:

    Fìfmawn woeiu oer! The na-construction is really interesting to me; i can’t wait to learn the rest!

    ta Lawren

  17. tigermind says:

    Part the second: I thought of a question.

    Suppose a Na’vi tells another that he saw something that was “ean,” and the other wants to ask, “What kind of ean?”

    Would that be, Pefnel eampinä?

  18. Kemaweyan says:

    Lolu oer tìpawm.

    Pefya tsun fko ngivop lì’ut fa -pin aylì’uhu a ngolop fkol fa na? Natkenong ta’lengna-eampin, kefyak?

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