More language for talking about language

Fyape pängkxo fko teri lì’fya leNa’vi . . . nìNa’vi? Tse . . . nì’awve fkol kin aylì’ut azey.

To talk about Na’vi in Na’vi, we need some specialized vocabulary. We already have a start. The following terms have long been in the dictionary:

tstxolì’u          ‘noun’
kemlì’u           ‘verb’
kemlì’uvi        ‘infix’
pamrelvi         ‘letter’
snapamrelvi   ‘alphabet’

Here are some more terms to facilitate grammatical discussion. A big irayo to our Pìlumsì alu Stefan for his creative and apt suggestions along these lines. Txampxì faylì’uä ftu eltu peyä zola’u.

lì’ukìng (n., LÌ’.u.kìng) ‘sentence’

This clearly derives from lì’u + kìng ‘thread.’ We have a similar notion in English: a string of words.

lì’ukìngvi (n., LÌ’.u.kì ‘phrase’

“Phrase” is tricky to define precisely without talking about linguistic trees and constituent structure, but we don’t have to get into those technicalities. The basic idea is that of consecutive words that “hang together” as a unit. So, for example, take the sentence:

Oeyä ’eylanìl alu Va’ru lora fkxilet amip tolìng sneyä ’iteru.
‘My friend Va’ru gave his daughter a beautiful new necklace.’

Some of the lì’ukìngvi in this sentence are:

  • oeyä ’eylanìl alu Va’ru
  • lora fkxilet amip
  • lora fkxilet amip tolìng sneyä ’iteru
  • sneyä ’iteru

These, however, are not lì’ukìngvi:

  • ’eylanìl alu
  • amip tolìng sneyä
  • Va’ru lora fkxilet

lì’kong (n., LÌ’.kong) ‘syllable’

“Syllable” is another term that’s tricky to define technically, but the basic idea is clear: a sequence of consonants and vowels that make up a rhythmic “beat” in a word. For example, if you were singing the English word “absolutely” or the Na’vi word fìhawre’ti, in each case you could put the word on four different notes corresponding to the four syllables in each one. The term lì’kong comes from lì’u + ’ekong ‘rhythmic beat.’ (Why not *lìu’kong, you may ask? So that there’s a greater distinction between the words for sentence and syllable. We have precedent for dropping the u of lì’u in compounds—lì’fya, for example.)

Lu tsalì’ur alu fìhawre’ti tsìnga lì’kong.
‘The word fìhawre’ti has four syllables.’

lì’uvi (n., LÌ’ ‘affix’

An affix is a prefix, suffix, or infix.

eolì’uvi (n., E.o.lì’ ‘prefix’  (that is, an affix that comes in front)

uolì’uvi (n., U.o.lì’ ‘suffix’  (that is, an affix that comes behind)

Lu tsalì’ur alu fìhawre’ti melì’uvi alu ’awa eolì’uvi sì ’awa uolì’uvi.
‘The word fìhawre’ti has two affixes—one prefix and one suffix.’

syonlì’u (n., SYON.lì.u) ‘adjective’

Syon, as you recall, means ‘feature, trait, characteristic.’

fyalì’u (n., FYA.lì.u) ‘adverb’

Adverbs tell you how something is done. (Well, at least that’s true for “manner adverbials.” Some adverbs serve to explain how speakers feel about what they’re saying, as in “Sadly, I don’t think he’s going to succeed.”) There shouldn’t be any confusion between fyalì’u and lì’fya.

starlì’u (n., STAR.lì’u) ‘adposition’

This compound is a shortening of sätare ‘connection, relationship’ + lì’u. Na’vi adpositions (hu, ta, eo, sìn, sre, tafkip . . .) are “relationship words.” (Stefan pointed out the similar term in German, „Verhältniswort“, lit. ‘relation word.’)

Consider these examples:

  1. hu Eywa
  2. Eywahu

In A, hu is a starlì’u but not a lì’uvi or an eolì’u.

In B, hu is a starlì’u, a lì’uvi, and an uolì’uvi.


tilì’u (n., TI.lì.u) ‘conjunction’

The elements here are til ‘joint, hinge’ + lì’u. A conjunction (, fu, slä, txo, tengkrr, . . .) is a kind of hinge or joint that links two things of the same sort.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I hope these terms will be useful to those of us who enjoy grammatical discussions. But please don’t get the idea that in order to speak and write Na’vi well you need to know and understand them! Many excellent English speakers and writers—probably most!—would not be able to tell you what a subordinate conjunction is, or an infinitive, or a gerund, or any other technical grammatical term—but they nevertheless use the language beautifully. The equivalent is true for any language.


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12 Responses to More language for talking about language

  1. Vawmataw says:

    Kaltxì ma Karyu Pawl,

    Tsaystxolì’ut oel so’ha. Fìrelìl nong oet:
    Tsari irayo seiyi ngar. Let’s have some nerdy discussions in Na’vi. 😉

    Ta V.

  2. Nick says:

    Irayo nímun 🙂 fmeri nivume mi, slä oe nume ní’kong.

  3. Tirea Aean says:


    We have wanted these for years! I’m so glad we have them now. And they’re all very well constructed and logical!

    Irayo ma Pawl! 😀

  4. Neytiri says:


    Faylì’uri irayo NÌTXAN!

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