’On sì Salewfya—Shapes and Directions

Kaltxì, ma eylan! Ayngari tengkrr ya wur sleru nì’ul, sìlpey oe, livu helku sang ulte te’lan lefpom.

Here’s some new vocabulary—mostly excellent contributions of the LEP, some recent and some not-so-recent—involving shapes, directions, and the physical properties of objects.

’on (n.) ‘shape, form’

Tsun fko ayonti fìwopxä nivìn fte yafkeykit sresive’a.Tìng mikyun
‘The shapes of clouds can be used to predict the weather.’
(Literally, ‘One can look at the shapes of clouds in order to predict the weather.’)

(Note: As you see here, srese’a, which has previously been glossed as ‘prophesize,’ can also mean ‘predict.’)

salewfya (n., sa.LEW.fya) ‘direction, course’

Sweylu set txo awnga kivä pesalewfya?Tìng mikyun
‘What direction should we go in now?’

The previous example is often shortened to a familiar two-word expression with wide use:

Set pesalewfya?Tìng mikyun
‘What do we do now?’

koum (adj., KO.um) ‘rounded, curved’

Fìtskxeri fa’o lu yey; ke lu koum.Tìng mikyun
‘This rock has straight sides; it’s not rounded.’

ko’on (n., KO.’on) ‘ring, oval, closed shape roughly circular’

Na’vi ìlä ho’on kllkxolem tengkrr rerol.Tìng mikyun
‘The People were standing in a circle, singing.’

(Note: kllkxolem, not kllkxerem! 🙂 ) A ko’on is not necessarily a mathematical circle. For that, use yo’ko, which derives from *yo’ko’on ‘a perfectly circular ring.’

yo’ko (n., YO’.ko) ‘circle’

renulke (adj, RE.nul.ke) ‘irregular, random’

Eo ayfo a fya’o lamu ayskxeta teya sì renulke.Tìng mikyun
‘The path ahead of them was full of rocks and irregular.’

vawt (adj.) ‘solid, not hollow’

Fìutralìri tangekä zir fkan vawt, hufwa ke rey.Tìng mikyun
‘The trunk of the tree feels solid, although it’s dead.’

momek (adj., MO.mek) ‘hollow, not solid’

Tsatangekìri pam fkan momek.Tìng mikyun
‘That (tree)trunk sounds hollow.’

yeyfya (n., YEY.fya) ‘straight line’

Woleyn Ìstawl yeyfyat mì hllte fte oeyktivìng fraporu tìhawlteri sneyä.Tìng mikyun
‘Ìstaw drew a line on the ground to explain his plan to everyone.’

yak (n.) ‘fork, branch, point of divergence)

Haya yakro ftivang. Salew rä’ä.Tìng mikyun
‘Stop at the next fork. Do not proceed further.’

yak si (vin.) ‘diverge, change direction, go astray’

Awnga zene vivar ìlä fìsalewfya. Zenke yak sivi.Tìng mikyun
‘We must continue in this direction. We must not go astray.’

And some important directional adverbs:

nìyeyfya (adv., nì.YEY.fya) ‘straight ahead, in a straight line’

nìftär (adv., nì.FTÄR) ‘to the left’

nìskien (adv., nì.SKI.en) ‘to the right’

Salew nìyeyfya. Ne ’oratsyìp polähem, yak si nìftär.Tìng mikyun
‘Proceed straight ahead. When you arrive at the pond, turn to the left.’

’oratsyìp (n., ’O.ra.tsyìp) ‘pond, pool’

Hayalovay, ma smuk!

Edit Oct. 1: Fiutralìri –> Fìutralìri    Irayo nìfrakrr, ma Plumps!

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Taronway—The Hunt Song

Kaltxì, ma frapo—

Ke längu fìpostìmì ke’u a lu mip. I’m afraid there’s nothing new in this post, just an old favorite, The Hunt Song, which as most of you know was published in the Activist Survival Guide. It’s one of the four songs I translated during the filming of “Avatar” from English lyrics written by James Cameron. But I thought it would be useful for both listening and pronunciation practice. Besides, it’s always nice to have something ready at hand to trot out when people say to you, “Give me an example of what Na’vi sounds like.” For that purpose I often quote part of the Hunt Song, which has a nice “swing” to it.

It was interesting to decide what Na’vi poetry would sound like. Different languages base the structure of poetry on different elements. For example, poetry in Ancient Greek, Classical Latin, Classical Arabic, and Classic Persian is based on syllable length: in those languages, rhythmic poetical structures, called meters, consist of complicated arrangements of short and long (and sometimes extra-long) syllables. In some other languages, it’s not the length of syllables but the number of syllables per line that’s important. French poetry works that way. In still other languagesEnglish and German, for example (excluding so-called “free verse”)it’s stress that’s important: poetry depends on the arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. Since stress is important in Na’viit’s the difference between ‘person’ and ‘woman,’ for example!that’s what I based Na’vi poetry on.

Here’s the text of the Hunt Song along with a word-for-word gloss. As you’ll see, the syntax is sometimes a bit convoluted, with word orders that wouldn’t be common in ordinary conversation, and there are some unusual stresses. You’ll also notice that certain unstressed syllables are elidedthat is to say, “swallowed up”in a way that would be unlikely in speech. But that’s what’s called “poetic license.”  🙂

Taronway—The Hunt Song
English lyrics: James Cameron
Na’vi translation: Paul Frommer


We are walking your way                        Terìran ayoe ayngane
                                                                     are-walking  we       towards-you

We are coming                                           Zera’u
                                                                                             (we)  are-coming

We are singing your way                          Rerol ayoe ayngane
                                                                      are-singing we   towards-you

So choose                                                    Ha ftxey
                                                                      so      choose

Choose one among you                             Awpot set ftxey ayngal a l(u) ayngakip
                                                                       one           now   choose     you      that   is       among-you

Who will feed the People.                        Awpot a Na’viru yomtìyìng.
                                                                       one        that     the-People     will-feed


Let my arrow strike true                         Oeyä swizaw nìngay tivakuk
                                                                      my            arrow        truly            let-strike

Let my spear strike the heart                 Oeyä tukrul txe’lanit tivakuk
                                                                      my            spear          heart           let-strike

Let the truth strike my heart                  Oeri tìngayìl txe’lanit tivakuk
                                                                       as-for-me  truth       heart           let strike

Let my heart be true.                                Oeyä txe’lan livu ngay.
                                                                       my          heart        let-be    true


You are fast and strong                             Lu nga win sì txur
                                                                       are    you    fast   and   strong

You are wise                                                Lu nga txantslusam
                                                                       are     you                 wise

I must be fast and strong                           Livu win sì txur oe zene
                                                                       be         fast    and  strong  I    must

So only                                                          Ha n(ì)’aw
                                                                         so          only

Only if I am worthy of you                         Pxan livu txo nì’aw oe ngari
                                                                         worthy    be         if      only       I     of-you

Will you feed the People.                           Tsakrr nga Na’viru yomtìyìng.
                                                                          then           you      the-People    will-feed

[Repeat chorus]

As you listen to and practice reciting this poem, it’s important to get a good feel for the rhythm. Basically, the poem divides into lines of four beats each. (Exception: the last line of the chorus has only three beats.) The above division into lines, which follows the English, is misleading in this respect. So here’s a recap of the poem with the four-beat lines arranged in a clear way. The stressed syllables in each line have been capitalized and bolded. In the recordings, I’ve tried to emphasize the stressed syllables to help you get the swing of the rhythm.

TerìRAN ayOe ayNGAne, zeRA’u
ReROL ayOe ayNGAne, ha FTXEY
pot set FTXEY ayNGAL a l(u) ayNGAkip
pot a NA’viru YOMYÌNG.

OEYä swiZAW NGAY tiVAkuk
ä tukRUL txe’LAnit tiVAkuk
ri NGAYìl txe’LAnit tiVAkuk
ä txe’LAN livu NGAY.

Lu nga WIN TXUR, lu nga TXANtsluSAM
Livu WIN TXUR oe ZEne han(ì)’AW
livu TXO nì’AW oe NGAri,
krr nga NA’viru YOMYÌNG. 

Tivaron nìzawnong, ma eylan! 

P.S. I wonder if there are any ayfamtseotu out there who might like to try setting the Hunt Song to music.  😉

Edit Sept. 1: Awpot –> ’Awpot (4 times) Irayo, ma Plumps!

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Fmawn a Fkol Kìlmulat!—This Just In!

Fmawn akosman, ma smuk! (Tìng nari nekll.)

Fìsäomum txankrr lolu oer; set tsun oe tsawteri pivängkxo ayngahu. Kintrram fayfamrelsiyuhu oe ultxa soleiyi. Roleiun futa lu fo kanu sì leso’ha nìwotx ulte Uniltìrantoxkìri lì’fyayä leNa’vi wawet fol tslam. Am’aluke haya pxerel arusikx wayou! Tìkangkem sngivä’i ko! (Nìsìlpey ye’rìn.)  😀


[From Variety]

AUGUST 1, 2013 | 11:04AM PT

‘Avatar’ to Get Three Sequels, Fox/Cameron Hire Screenwriters

First sequel to arrive December 2016

by Justin Kroll, Film Reporter

Cameron has hired screenwriters Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds), Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (“Rise of the Planets of the Apes”), and Shane Salerno (“Savages,” Salinger) to collaborate with him on the screenplays for “Avatar 2,” “Avatar 3,” and “Avatar 4.”20th Century Fox and director James Cameron announced today that the “Avatar” sequels have grown in number from two to three.

The three tentpoles will be filmed simultaneously with production beginning next year.  The release of the first sequel will be in December 2016, with the second to follow in December 2017, and the third a year later.

Though Friedman is best known for writing on the TV show “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” Friedman’s attachment is just a coincidence since Cameron had nothing to do with the show even though he helped create the “Terminator” characters with Gale Anne Hurd.

Cameron is producing with his Lighthouse Entertainment partner Jon Landau. No release date has been set.

The first “Avatar” is the highest grossing film at the domestic and worldwide box office having earned more than $760 million domestically and $2.7 billion worldwide.

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Pximaw Tsawlultxa—Just After the Meet-up

Kaltxì, ma smuk.

I considered beginning this post with:

Tswìlmayon oe ftu Wasyìngton ne kelku. Tewti! Mepunìri oe ’efu ngeyn nìngay!

But I’m not sure old-time American vaudeville humor translates culturally into Na’vi. 😉

John and I did indeed just get back from the east coast, however, after attending AvatarMeet 2013 in Na’rìng Syenentoayä (the Forest of Shenandoah, i.e. Shenandoah National Park in Virginia) followed by a couple of days playing tourists in Washington. (The Air and Space Museum is enthralling!)

And an excellent meet-up it was. We had about two dozen attendees, including five from across the Atlantic. Jon Landau made a virtual appearance just before the showing of the extended version of Avatar, which received a very enthusiastic response, and LEI (Lightstorm Entertainment Inc.) contributed refreshments and funded the use of the room. I taught two Na’vi classes—an informal 101 refresher held at the campsite, with all of us sitting in a semi-circle on the grass (and with the occasional interruptions of close-by yerik ’Rrtayä that stole the show), followed the next day by a “hi-tech” 102 class indoors, complete with PowerPoint and a virtual whiteboard. Mikko and Peter set up the technology perfectly, and Alan recorded it all for posterity. Both kinds of classes had merit, I think, so I’ll keep that in mind for the future.

A highlight of the meet-up was the hike on Sunday to Dark Hollow Falls, a beautiful spot deep in the forest. We had five tute aean along, who scampered across streams and struck poses on rocks. As you might suspect, there were many encounters between the Na’vi and the startled Sawtute who had never before met them up close and personal. I can’t wait to see the pictures.

All in all, it was a wonderful meet-up. Irayo to Mikko, Alan, Peter, DJ Makto, and everyone else who had a hand in making it a success. Irayo for the thoughtful and generous gifts presented to John and me. And of course, irayo to everyone who came. For those who couldn’t make it this time, nìsìlpey alo ahay.

And now a bit of vocabulary, some of which was inspired by the tsawlultxa:

srä (n.) ‘cloth: a piece of cloth woven on a loom’

A srä is created by warp and weft weaving.

Furia txula tsalewti lu srä sìltsan to fngap.Tìng mikyun
‘For constructing that cover, woven cloth is better than metal.’

srok (n.) ‘bead (decorative)’

’En si oe, lora tsafkxileri apxayopin solar Tsenul srokit avozam.Tìng mikyun

‘I would guess that Tsenu used a thousand (lit. 512) beads for that beautiful multi-colored bib necklace.’

pxayopin (adj., PXAY.o.pin) ‘colorful, multi-colored, variegated’

Finally, ‘chocolate’ and ‘pineapple’ both came up for discussion. Since the Na’vi only encountered these food items through contact with the Sawtute, it’s natural that in talking about them they would borrow the English terms, filtered through the Na’vi sound system. So:

tsyoklìt (n., TSYOK.lìt) ‘chocolate’

paynäpll (n., PAY.nä.pll) ‘pineapple’

It’s interesting to speculate whether these terms would evoke associations among the Na’vi, consciously or unconsciously, with common words in their language. For example, tsyoklìt sounds a bit like tsyokx ‘hand’ + litx ‘sharp (as a blade).’ And paynäpll might bring to mind pay ‘water, liquid’ + nän ‘decrease’ + plltxe ‘speech.’ Chocolate as a sharp hand? Pineapple as liquid that decreases speech? If nothing else, these might be the source of Na’vi puns and wordplay.

Hayalovay, ma eylan.

Edit 3 Aug.: Syenendoayä –> Syenentoayä. Irayo, ma Tìtstewan!

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Looking back, looking forward

Kaltxì nìmun, ma eylan,

Tse, EuroAvatar 2013 is well behind us. And what a great meet-up it was! John and I were so happy to be able to get to know and spend time with members of the European Avatar community and lì’fyaolo’. The language classes, the radio play, the singing, the food, the wonderful birthday party for John, the great organization (irayo nìtxan, ma Passi!)—everything was fantastic.

And as icing on the cake, the Berlin meet-up was followed just over a week later by an unexpected but delightful mini-meet-up with French fans in Paris!

I’ve posted some pictures below, but first, here are a few vocabulary items plus a point of grammatical clarification that were prompted by the Berlin meet-up:

okup (n., O.kup) ‘milk’

Sa’nok prrnenur yomtìng fa okup sneyä.Tìng mikyun
‘A mother feeds an infant with her milk.’

loi (n., LO.i) ‘egg’

Rolun ayoel tsrulmì hì’ia pxeloit ateyr.Tìng mikyun
‘We found three little white eggs in the nest.’

tsyeym (n.) ‘treasure; something rare and of great value’

Käteng oe hu eylan Perlinmì a mrrtrr lu tsyeym a ke tsun tswiva’ kawkrr.Tìng mikyun
‘The (5-day) week I spent with my friends in Berlin is a treasure that I’ll never forget.’

The “double-dative” construction

As you know, to say ‘I sent my brother a message,’ you put the direct object of ‘send,’ i.e. the thing you sent (in this case, a message) in the objective or accusative case (the “t-case”), and the indirect object, i.e. the person to whom the message was sent,  in the dative case (the “ru-case”). And of course you use the agentive case for ‘I’:

Oel ’upxaret tsmukanur oeyä fpole’.Tìng mikyun
‘I sent my brother a message.’

But what if it’s ‘I wrote my brother a message’?

‘Write,’ as you know, is a si-construction, which has a different syntax: ‘I’ is in the subjective case, which is used with intransitive subjects, and the direct object in English becomes a dative in Na’vi. (I like to think of it as: ‘I do writing to a message.’ That’s terrible English but good Na’vi.) But what about ‘my brother’? Is that in the dative case too? Yes, it is:

Oe ’upxareru tsmukanur oeyä pamrel soli.Tìng mikyun
‘I wrote my brother a message.’

We call this a “double-dative” construction for the obvious reason.

The question that immediately comes up is this: given the two datives, one representing the direct object of ‘write’ and one the indirect object, will there ever be confusion as to which is which? Fortunately, this doesn’t happen. One of the datives is in the class of things that can be written (messages, notes, blog posts, books, etc.) and the other in the class of things that can be written to—basically, people. The two classes don’t overlap, so there’s no ambiguity.

Of course, writing was only introduced on Pandora with the advent of the Sawtute, so you might think that this construction was introduced at that time as well. But in fact it was already in place in the language. Consider law si, for example, which means ‘to make clear’:

Ralur law soli fo oeru.Tìng mikyun
‘They made the meaning clear to me.’

As with pamrel si, there’s no danger of ambiguity here. The other possible interpretation, ‘They made me clear to the meaning,’ makes no sense.

You may also recall Jake’s line from Avatar, which also has two datives:

Ma Eytukan, lu oeru aylì’u frapor.Tìng mikyun
‘Eytukan, I have something to say (to everyone).’

In this case, the word order allows you to interpret the sentence correctly. (‘Everyone has something to say to me’ would be Lu frapor aylì’u oeru.)

And now for the promised pictures.

Berlin welcoming committee at the train station:

Welcome party 1

Welcome party 3

Welcome party 2

At camp, we were welcomed by a genuine brass band!

Brass band

The birthday boy at his party:


What a beautiful cake!


We had some wonderful singers and musicians in our group:


Formal group portrait:


The Paris contingent!



Looking ahead:

Excitement is building for the U.S. Avatar Meet-up in the Washington, DC area (more precisely, at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia).


I’ll be teaching a Na’vi 102 class and an informal 101 refresher as well. John will be there too. We’re really looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Txo tsivun, rutxe ziva’u!

By the way, as I’m putting together the 102 class, if you have any ideas about content—anything in particular you’d like to hear about or practice that would suitable for a 102-level class, please let me know, either here or privately.

Vospìayvay, ma smuk.

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Zun . . . Zel: Counterfactual Conditionals

Kaltxì, ma eylan—

Fìpostì mektsengur teya si. This post fills a gap in our understanding of Na’vi syntax: counterfactual conditionals. The counterfactual structure is a bit complicated, so we’ll go slow, and if necessary, we’ll have further clarifications in subsequent posts.

First, some terminology. What is a conditional sentence? Simply one in “if … then” form. For example, “If you build it, they will come.” In such sentences, the “if” part specifying the condition is called the hypothesis (or if you want to be very fancy, the protasis); the “then” part is the consequence (or apodosis). But there’s no reason for us not to stick to the simple terms “if-part” and “then-part.”

You’re very familiar with the most frequent words for ‘if-then,’ txo and tsakrr. Txo ngal tsat txivula, (tsakrr) fo zaya’u. (Tsakrr is often omitted.) But there’s another pair of words for if-then: zun and zel respectively. They’re used for counterfactual conditionals—that is, for if-then sentences where you’re talking about something that didn’t happen or isn’t the case.

For example, compare these two sentences:

(1) Txo zivup tompa, (tsakrr) ke tsun oe kivä.Tìng mikyun
       ‘If it’s raining, (then) I can’t go.’

(2) Zun zivup tompa, zel ke tsivun oe kivä.Tìng mikyun
       ‘If it were raining, (then) I couldn’t go.’

In (1), I don’t know whether it’s raining or not—maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. (I haven’t looked out the window.) If it is raining, then I can’t go. (Usual implication: If it’s not raining, I can go.) In (2), however, it is not currently raining. If it were raining, then I couldn’t go. But it’s not. (Usual implication: Therefore, I can go.) So (2) is talking about a hypothetical situation that we know to be untrue—that is, a counterfactual situation.

To understand the counterfactual system, note two things: first, you always use zun and zel for ‘if-then’ (unlike tsakrr, zel cannot be omitted); second, the verb forms are in the subjunctive—that is, they take the various infixes that contain v. There are 5 such infixes, each built on the pattern -i_v-:

-i_v- + ∅          –>        –iv

-i_v- + r           –>        –irv

-i_v- + m         –>        –imv

-i_v- + l            –>        –ilv

-i_v- + y           –>       *-iyv–      –>     –iyev– OR –ìyev

So those are the tools we have to work with. Now let’s look at both sentence parts in turn:

The ‘if’ part

A. Something that is not presently the case:

Zun livu oe Olo’eyktan . . .
‘If I were Clan Leader . . .’ (but I’m not)

Zun nga yawne livu oer . . .
‘If I loved you . . .’ (but I don’t)

Zun oe pxiset tirvaron . . .
‘If I were hunting right now . . .’ (but I’m not)

For these situations, we use either the simplest form of the subjunctive infix, –iv-, or the –irv– form to indicate ongoing action.

B. Something that was not the case in the past:

Zun limvu oe Olo’eyktan . . .
‘If I had been Clan Leader . . .’ (but I wasn’t)

Zun nga yawne limvu oer . . .
‘If I had loved you . . .’ (but I didn’t)

Zun nga fìtìkangkemvir hasey silvi . . .
‘If you had completed this project . . .’ (but you didn’t)

For these situations, we use either –imv– (if the past nature of the action is the most important thing) or –ilv– (if the emphasis is on the completion of the action). Often the choice between the two is arbitrary. Note that in counterfactuals there’s no special form for ongoing action in the past; you just have to tell it from the context. So Zun oe timvaron means either ‘If I had hunted’ or ‘If I had been hunting.’

C. Something that will not be the case in the future:

This one is relatively rare, but still possible:

Zun tompa ziyevup trray . . .
‘If it rained tomorrow . . .’ (although we know that of course it won’t)

Here too there’s no special form for ongoing action.

The ‘then’ part

A’. Something that is not presently the case:

. . . zel oe ngaru srung sivi set.
‘. . . then I would help you now.’ (but in fact I’m not helping you)

. . . zel oe ’ivefu nitram.
‘. . . then I would be happy.’ (but I’m not)

. . . zel oe rirvol pxiset.
‘. . . then I would be singing right now.’ (but I’m not)

B’. Something that was not the case in the past:

. . . zel oe ngaru srung silvi.
‘. . . then I would have helped you.’ (but I didn’t)

. . . zel oe ’imvefu nitram.
‘. . . then I would have been happy.’ (but I wasn’t)

. . . zel oe rimvol pxiset.
‘. . . then I would have sung/would have been singing.’ (but I didn’t/wasn’t)

C’. Something that will not be the case in the future

. . . zel fo sriyevew.
‘. . . then they would do a dance.’ (but they won’t)

The if- and then-parts can combine in different ways. Some examples:

A with A’:
Zun oe yawne livu ngar, zel ’ivefu oe nitram nì’aw.Tìng mikyun
‘If you loved me, I would be so happy.’
(but you don’t, and I’m not)

B with B’:
Zun oe yawne limvu ngar, zel ’imvefu oe nitram nì’aw.Tìng mikyun
‘If you had loved me, I would have been so happy.’
(but you didn’t, and I wasn’t)

C with C’:
Zun tompa zìyevup trray, zel fo srìyevew.Tìng mikyun
‘If it rained tomorrow, they’d do a dance.’
(but it won’t, and they won’t)

B with A’:
Zun ngal tsafnesyuvet timvìng oer, zel livu oe txur fìtrr.Tìng mikyun
‘If you had given me that kind of food, I would be strong today.’
(but you didn’t, and I’m not)

A with B’:
Zun ayoe livu tsamsiyu, zel tsakem ke simvi.Tìng mikyun
‘If we were warriors, we wouldn’t have done that.’
(but we’re not, and we did)

B with C’:
Zun nga srung silvi oer, zel ke kìyevä oe ne Wasyìngton kintrray.Tìng mikyun
‘If you had helped me, I wouldn’t be going to Washington next week.’
(but you didn’t, and I am)

One more wrinkle:

In the first three examples above—A with A’, B with B’, C with C’—the forms of the verb in both parts of the sentence are the same: livu/’ivefu, limvu/’imvefu, zìyevup/srìyevew. In such cases—and only in such cases—the verb in the zel-part of the sentence may optionally go into the root form, losing the subjunctive infixes. This simplification occurs very often in colloquial speech and frequently in more formal speech as well. Repeating the three sentences above in this simplified form:

Zun oe yawne livu ngar, zel ’efu oe nitram nì’aw.Tìng mikyun
‘If you loved me, I would be so happy.’

Zun oe yawne limvu ngar, zel ’efu oe nitram nì’aw.Tìng mikyun
‘If you had loved me, I would have been so happy.’

Zun tompa zìyevup trray, zel fo srew.Tìng mikyun
‘If it rained tomorrow, they’d do a dance.’

I think that’s plenty for one post. 🙂

Don’t worry if you don’t assimilate these structures immediately—it may take some time to get used to them. But you will.

Hayalovay, ma smuk.

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Sìn Asok, Sìn Zusawkrrä—Recent and Upcoming Activities

Ma smuk,

I thought you might like to hear about some of the Na’vi-related things I’ve been doing and am planning to do soon.

First, there’s this very nice segment in the PBS web series “The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers” which has been online for a while now. The taping was done here in Burbank, California last fall. If you scroll down, there’s a little Na’vi word puzzle I constructed that the aysulfätu lì’fyayä will find very easy (but try to fill in all the blanks without using the dictionary!) but that others might find challenging.

And keep checking the site for the appearance of Prrton’s contest-winning Na’vi haiku! It’s coming.

A week ago I was down in San Diego for this event at UCSD—the University of California San Diego—put on by the linguistics department.

It was quite a success. The audience was the biggest I’ve ever had—700 people! I guess that’s what happens when you put Star Trek, Avatar, and Game of Thrones together. 🙂 You can read about it here.

In the video on that page, my self-introduction in Na’vi could have been better—the “f” in fko (Oeru syaw fko . . . ) didn’t come out clearly. But it was there in my mind!

Oh, and here’s a picture of the three of us. The fellow in the middle is David Peterson, creator of the Dothraki language for “Game of Thrones” and the languages for the new TV series “Defiance.” And of course the guy on the right is Marc Okrand, the father of Klingon.

San Diego 4-19-13

Photo by Grant Goodall

As for the future, I’m very excited about our upcoming trip to Europe, the highlight of which will be the EuroAvatar meet-up in Berlin. John and I will arrive on May 12. I hope we’ll get to meet some of you there!

And in July I’m very much looking forward to attending the U.S. AvatarMeet in Washington, DC, where I hope to connect with old friends and meet new ones.

Hayalovay . . . Eywa ayngahu nìwotx.

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“Where’s the bathroom?” and other useful things

Kaltxì, ma frapo.

We haven’t had much new vocabulary in a while, so here are some aylì’u amip to fill a mektseng or two (see below) that I hope you’ll find useful. Some of these were requests from the Euro-Avatar folks relating to the upcoming May Meet-up in Berlin; some were suggestions from the LEP; one was a request from a journalist who wanted to know how to say “Where’s the bathroom?” in Na’vi.  🙂

txurtel (n., TXUR.tel) ‘rope’

The etymology does not involve the verb tel ‘receive’ but rather the noun telem ‘cord,’ which has been shortened in the compound: txur + telem > txurtelem > txurtel, ‘strong cord = rope.’

ropx (n.) ‘hole (going clear through an object)’

tsongropx (n., TSONG.ropx) ‘hole, cavity, excavation with a bottom (visible or presumed)’

Here the derivation is tsong ‘valley’ + ropx.

If a tree trunk has a hole in it that goes clear through from one side to another, so that you can look into the hole and see daylight out the other end, it’s a ropx. But if the hole only goes partially through the tree trunk, it’s a tsongropx.

Fìfneyayol tsrulit txula mì songropx utralä fte aylinit hivawnu wä sarnioang. Fìtìkanìri ropx ke ha’.Tìng mikyun
‘This kind of bird builds its nest in a tree cavity so as to protect its young from predators. For this purpose, a hole going right through the tree trunk isn’t suitable.’

tsrul (n.) ‘nest; protected area serving as the home of Pandoran fauna’

(If you need to make clear that it’s a bird’s nest, the word, as you might suspect, is yayotsrul (n., YA.yo.tsrul).

lini (n., LI.ni) ‘young of an animal, bird, fish, insect’

tarnioang (n., TAR.ni.o.ang) ‘predator animal’ (from taron + ioang)

rong (n.) ‘tunnel’

swek (n.) ‘bar, rod, pole’

mektseng (n., MEK.tseng) ‘gap, breach’

Tsenga ’awstengyäpem fìmekemyo lu mektseng a tsun fpxiväkìm hì’ang tsawìlä.Tìng mikyun
‘Where these two walls come together there’s a gap through which insects can get in.’

tsenga (conj., TSE.nga) ‘where, place where’

fta (n.) ‘knot’

fta si (vin.) ‘knot, make or tie a knot’

fwi (vin.) ‘slip, slide’

Nari si! Klltesìn lu pay atxan. Fwi rä’ä!Tìng mikyun
‘Be careful! There’s a lot of water on the ground. Don’t slip!’

Txurtelmì fo fta soli fteke ka tsyokx fwivi.Tìng mikyun
‘They tied a knot in the rope so it wouldn’t slip through their hands.’

Poti fweykoli ayoel ìlä rong.Tìng mikyun
‘We let him slide through the tunnel.’

A note on pronunciation: When an ejective at the end of a syllable is followed by another consonant, as in ka tsyokx fwivi above, pìwopxlok, kxitxmaw, etc., the ejective can be quite difficult to pronounce. In these cases, it’s natural for the ejective to be pronounced as if it were a regular stop. For example, pìwopxlok is pronounced as if it were spelled pìwoplok, even though the actual spelling doesn’t change. (Interestingly, this doesn’t happen with words like atxkxe ‘land’ and ekxtxu ‘rough.’Tìng mikyun There the two ejectives coming together are quite pronounceable!)

oìsss si (vin., o.ÌSSS) ‘hiss’

To hiss as someone is oìsss si fkoru:

Nga lumpe oìsss soli por?Tìng mikyun
‘Why did you hiss at him?’

il (vin.) ‘bend’

This verb is used for something straight that bends or hinges at a joint. In fact, the word for joint, til, which you already know, developed from *tìil.

Txo vul ivil nìhawng kxìyevakx.Tìng mikyun
‘If a branch bends too much, it might break.’

kxakx (vin.) ‘break, snap in two’

The causative form of il, eykil, which means ‘bend’ in the transitive sense—i.e., ‘bend something’—can sometimes be used to express the idea of pulling two things together:

Metewit fìswekä eykivil.Tìng mikyun
‘Pull the two ends of this bar together.’

ftumfa (adp-, FTUM.fa) ‘out of, from inside’

This word comes from ftu + mìfa, just as nemfa comes from ne + mìfa.

Riti tswolayon ftumfa slär.Tìng mikyun
The stingbat flew out of the cave.

Reypay skxirftumfa herum.Tìng mikyun
‘Blood is coming out of (literally: exiting from the inside of) the wound.’

sä’eoio (n., sä.’E.o.i.o) ‘ceremony, ritual, rite’

sä’eoio si (vin.) ‘take part in a ceremony, perform a ritual’

Fwa tsyìl Ayramit Alusìng lu sä’eoio a zene frapo sivi fte slivu taronyu.Tìng mikyun
Climbing Iknimaya is a ritual that everyone has to perform to become a hunter.’

kur (vin.) ‘hang’

Fkxile pewnta tutéyä kur.Tìng mikyun
‘The bib necklace hangs from the woman’s neck.’

The transitive ‘hang,’ i.e. to hang something on something, is simply keykur:

’Ali’ät vulsìn keykur za’u fìtseng.Tìng mikyun
Hang the choker on the branch and come here.’

Note: If you compare kur ‘hang’ with zup ‘fall,’ you’ll notice we have the word tungzup for ‘drop’—i.e., ‘let fall.’ Do we also have the causative form of zup, that is, zeykup? Yes we do. So what’s the difference?

Although there’s some overlap, tungzup is generally used for an accidental or inadvertent action, while zeykup generally implies a deliberate act.

Hìtxoa. Oel tsngalit tìmungzup.Tìng mikyun
‘Sorry. I just dropped the cup (accidentally).’

(We’ll have more about the syntax of tung and tung compounds another time. For now, just observe that tungzup is transitive.)

Ngeyä tskoti zeykup! Set!Tìng mikyun
‘Drop your bow! Now!’

Since it’s unusual to hang something on an object accidentally, a word parallel to tungzup, *tungkur, never developed. In general, however, if you need to specify that an action was either deliberate or accidental and you don’t have pairs like zeykup and tungzup to fall back on, you can use the following adverbs:

nìtkan (adv., nìt.KAN) ‘purposefully, deliberately’

nìtkanluke (adv., nìt.KAN.lu.ke) ‘accidentally, unintentionally’

nui (vin., NU.i) ‘fail, falter, go astray, not obtain expected or desired result’

This word is the opposite of flä ‘succeed.’

Oe fmoli nuängi.Tìng mikyun
‘I tried, but unfortunately I failed.’

Rumit a nolui rä’ä fewi.Tìng mikyun
‘Don’t chase after a foul ball.’

Nui is also used in the sense of ‘mess up’ or ‘do wrong,’ similarly to tìkxey si but stronger. With special emphasis, it’s the usual expression for placing blame:

Nolui NGA!Tìng mikyun
‘YOU failed! It’s YOUR fault! YOU’RE the one who messed up!’

Additionally, nui gives us the important adverb nìnu, which is difficult to translate into English. It indicates an action that didn’t achieve its expected or desired result, that “misfired” in some way.

nìnu (adv., nì.NU) ‘failingly, falteringly, in vain, fruitlessly, not achieving the desired or expected end’

Oeru txoa livu. Poltxänge nìnu.Tìng mikyun
‘Forgive me. I misspoke.’

Kllte lu ekxtxu. Nari si txokefyaw tìran nìnu.Tìng mikyun
‘The ground is rough. Be careful or you’ll trip.’

Note that plltxe nìnu can mean either ‘misspeak’ (i.e., make an error in speaking) or ‘speak in vain’ (i.e., speak correctly but not get the result you were hoping for). Context will usually decide which meaning applies.

Derived forms:

tìnui (n., tì.NU.i) ‘failure (abstract concept)’

Fìtxeleri tìnui ke lu tìftxey.Tìng mikyun
‘In this matter, failure is not an option.’

sänui  (n., sä.NU.i) ‘failure (particular instance of failure)’

Oeyk tsatìsnaytxä lu apxa sänui tìeyktanä.Tìng mikyun
‘That loss was caused by a great failure of leadership.’

Fìsänuit zene nga tswiva’, ma ’itan. Ke tsranten kaw’it. Am’aluke nì’i’a nga flayä.Tìng mikyun
‘You must forget about this failure, my son. It means nothing. There’s no question that you’ll succeed in the end.’

And finally:

fngä’ (vin.) ‘relieve oneself; (on Earth:) use the restroom, go to the bathroom’

Fko tsun fngivä’ peseng?Tìng mikyun
‘Where is the bathroom?’ (Literally: ‘Where can one relieve oneself?’)


Edit: In sänui example, zene ngal –> zene nga. Irayo, ma Tirea Aean!

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Whoever, Whatever, Whenever . . .

Kaltxì ayngaru, ma eylan—

We’re all familiar with the verb tsranten, which means ‘matter, be important,’ as in:

Yola krr, txana krr, ke tsranten.Tìng nari
‘It doesn’t matter how long it takes.’

The negative phrase ke tsranten yields the important word ketsran—not a verb but an adjective and conjunction—that’s used where English uses “compound relative pronouns” like whoever, whatever, whenever, etc. to show that the particular identity of someone or something doesn’t matter.

ketsran (adj./conj., ke.TSRAN) ‘no matter, no matter what, whatever’

Here’s an example:

Ketsrana tute a nivew hivum tsun tsakem sivi.Tìng nari
‘Whoever wants (or: may want) to leave can do so.’

Here ketsran is an adjective. The subject of the sentence is ketsrana tute, which is translated as ‘whoever,’ although it could just as well be ‘whatever person.’ Note that Na’vi doesn’t use pe- in such cases: you can’t say *ketsrana peu. (But see below.)

Sometimes, though, ketsran acts as a conjunction, linking a subordinate clause to the main clause. In such cases, of course, it doesn’t take the adjective -a-.

Ketsran tute nivew hivum, poru plltxe san rutxe ’ivì’awn.Tìng nari
‘No matter who wants (or: may want) to leave, tell them to please stay.’

In sentences like this one, it may be helpful to think of ketsran as occupying the same slot as other conjunctions, for example txo. (Txo tuteo nivew hivum, poru plltxe . . . )

Let’s have a few more examples:

Ketsran tsengne nga kivä, kä oe tsatseng nìteng.Tìng nari
‘Wherever you go, I’ll go there too.’

’U aketsran tsun tivam.Tìng nari
‘Anything at all will be fine.’

Ketsran fya’o sivunu ngar, kem si.Tìng nari
‘Do it however you’d like.’

Ketsran tutel ’ivem, tsafnetsngan lu ftxìvä’.Tìng nari
‘That kind of meat is gross no matter who cooks it.’

Pukit aketsran ivinan.Tìng nari
‘Read any book at all.’

This last example prompts a caution: be careful not to confuse the two similar-sounding adjectives ketsran and kesran. The distinction is easier in reading/writing than in speaking/listening, so in conversation you’ll have to pay close attention to the difference.

Pukit aketsran ivinan.Tìng nari
‘Read any book at all.’

Pukit akesran ivinan.Tìng nari
‘Read a mediocre book.’

(I wonder if there’s a pithy Na’vi proverb that plays on the similarity between ketsran and kesran. 🙂  )

Note also that in colloquial speech, ketsran by itself can be a response to a question:

Nga new yivom ’upet fìtxon?Tìng nari
‘What do you want to eat tonight?’
Ketsran. Oeru ke’u.Tìng nari
‘Whatever. (Or: Anything at all.) I don’t care.’

And note that in the colloquial expression Oeru (ngaru, poru, etc.) ke’u, the stress in ke’u shifts to the second syllable: ke.U.

Oe tìkangkem si trrtxon nìwotx, ngaru ke’u!Tìng nari
‘I work all day and all night, and you don’t give a damn!’

Finally, there’s an alternate way to express some of these ideas that doesn’t use ketsran but instead the full form ke tsranten and, in fact, interrogative pe-:

Teynga pesu nivew hivum ke tsranten, poru plltxe san rutxe ’ivì’awn.Tìng nari
‘No matter who wants (or: may want) to leave, tell them to please stay.’
[Literally: The answer (to the question) who wants to leave doesn’t matter, tell them to please stay.]

This is wordier than the ketsran version, however.

Lì’u alu ketsran tsranten nìtxan nìlaw!


Edit 02 April: *ketsrana pe’u –> *ketsrana peu. Irayo, ma Kemaweyan!

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Tsan’erul, Fe’erul—Getting Better, Getting Worse

Here are some useful expressions for improvement and its opposite.

tsan’ul (vin., TSAN.’ul—inf. 2, 2) ‘improve, get better’

fe’ul (vin., FE.’ul—inf. 2, 2) ‘worsen, get worse’

These are compounds built on ’ul, ‘increase,’ along with the adjectives for good and bad. (Sìltsan here has shortened to tsan.) So “improve” increases the good, “worsen” increases the bad.

Notice that these verbs are intransitive—that is, something is improving or worsening. We’ll get to the transitive versions (to improve something or make something worse) in just a moment.


Lì’fyari leNa’vi nga tsan’ereiul fratrr.Tìng mikyun
‘I’m delighted that your Na’vi is improving every day.’

Sawtuteri tìfkeytok ke tsan’olul kaw’it.Tìng mikyun
‘The situation with the Skypeople hasn’t improved one bit.’

Ke tsun oe tslivam teyngta tìrusol peyä lumpe fe’ul krra oe tìng mikyun.Tìng mikyun
‘I can’t understand why her singing gets worse when I listen.’


tìtsan’ul (n., tì.TSAN.’ul) ‘improvement (in the general or abstract sense)’

tìfe’ul (n., tì.FE.’ul) ‘worsening (in the general or abstract sense)’

Tskxekengluke ke lu kea tìtsan’ul.Tìng mikyun
‘Without practice there is no improvement.’

Tìtsan’ulìri lu ngaru aysämok srak?Tìng mikyun
‘Do you have any suggestions for improvement?’

sätsan’ul (n., sä.TSAN.’ul) ‘improvement (specific instance)’

säfe’ul (n., sä.FE.’ul) ‘worsening (specific instance)’

Set plltxe nga nìltsan nìngay. Fìsätsan’ulìri ngeyä lu oeru sko haryu nrra.Tìng mikyun
‘You speak really well now. As your teacher, I’m proud of your improvement.’

Peyä sängä’änìri lu säfe’ul leyewla nìtxan.Tìng mikyun
‘The worsening of his depression is very disappointing.’

The transitive versions of improve and worsen simply use the causative infix : tsan’eykul, fe’eykul. (Stress, of course, remains on the first syllable in each case.) To improve something is to cause it to get better, etc.

Rutxe fìtìoeyktìngit tsan’eykivul. Ke lu law kaw’it.Tìng mikyun
‘Please improve this explanation. It’s not at all clear.’

Ngeyä tsaylì’ul tìfkeytokit fe’eykolul nì’aw.Tìng mikyun
‘Those words of yours have only made the situation worse.’

Sìlpey oe, ayngari fra’u a mì sìrey vivar tsan’ivul frafya, ma eylan. 🙂

frafya (adv., FRA.fya) ‘in every way’

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