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
EAN: green to blue
’OM: violet to purple to magenta
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:
(2) Adverbial modification with nì-
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!
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:
|kenten (n.)||fan lizard|
|nìwä (adv.)||on the contrary, conversely|
|pil (n.)||facial stripe|
|tor (adj.)||last, ultimate, terminal|
|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!