Shooting—whether it’s the Na’vi with their tsko swizaw or the Sawtute with their hunsìp—plays a significant role in “Avatar.” Recently, Tsm. Plumps alu Stefan requested clarification on the Na’vi terminology for shooting, so let me share with you here what I told him:
We have two words that specifically mean ‘shoot,’ tem and toltem.
Tem (vin.) is the intransitive ‘shoot.’ It talks about the action itself, without mentioning the weapon used or the object to be shot.
It’s also the verb used to translate “shoot at”—that is, the act of discharging a weapon towards someone or something with the intention of killing or maiming. In this construction, “at” is translated as ne:
Oene fko terem!!!
“Someone is shooting at me!!!”
Toltem is vtr. Stress on the second syllable: tol.TEM. Infixes are 1, 2. The object is the person, animal, or thing shot and presumably injured or killed—that is, the target of the shooting.
Plltxe Ralu san oe new tivoltem yerikit.
‘Ralu says he wants to shoot a hexapede.’
Now note something interesting: In English we can say “shoot an animal” or “shoot an arrow.” These are both transitive constructions that take objects. But semantically they’re very different. “Animal” is the target; “arrow” is the weapon used. Na’vi distinguishes these. For the former we use toltem, for the latter we use tsweykayon ‘cause to fly, let fly.’ So ‘shoot an arrow’ is swizawti tsweykayon. (Since tsweykayon is a predictable infixed form, it’s not listed separately in the dictionary.)
Swizawti tsweykayon nefä ne taw, tsenga zup ke lu law.
‘I shot an arrow into the air, / It fell to earth, I know not where.’ (H.W. Longfellow)
Txo nga zene tivem, tsatìtusem livu muiä.
‘If you must shoot, let it be justified.’