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  • The accusative case is a grammatical case that marks the direct object of a verb. For example, in English the pronoun "I" becomes "me" when it's the object, as in "see me" (compare "I see"). In English, "me" is also used for the recipient, as in "give me" (that is, "give it to me"), as well as after a preposition ("with me, for me"). In Naʼvi, these require different cases: unmarked oe tseʼa "I see", accusative oeti tseʼa "see me", dative oeru tìng "give me", and oehu "with me".
  • Adjectives are a class of words which modify nouns, like "blue", "lazy", and "funny". In Naʼvi, adjectives have two forms: an attributive form marked by a for modifying a noun directly, and a predicate form without a that is used with verbs like lu "to be" and slu "to become" to modify a noun indirectly: soma tsawke or tsawke asom "a hot sun", vs. tsawke lu som "the sun is hot".
  • Adposition is a generic term for either a preposition, which comes before a noun, or the equivalent after a noun, a postposition. In describing Naʼvi, the term is used for those small grammatical words which may be either a preposition or a suffix, such as hu "together with" in hu oe or oehu "with me".
  • Adverbs are a class of words which modify things other than nouns, such as verbs or even entire clauses. Many Naʼvi adverbs are marked with the prefix nì-, like nìftue "easily" from ftue "easy" (the English equivalent, for those who use it, is -ly), but there are also little adverbs without nì- such as set "now".
  • Affect is an inflection of a verb which conveys how the speaker feels about an event or state. It may be a pleasant emotion, as in "thank you so much!! (smiley face)", here called approbative affect; an unpleasant emotion, as in "that's really messed up", here called pejorative affect; a degree of deference or ceremonial solemnity, called formal affect; or a degree of certainty or uncertainty about the truth of what is being said, conveyed by evidential affect.
  • An affricate is a consonant that changes its quality in the middle, starting off as a plosive but finishing as a fricative. English affricates are ch (starts off as a t, finishes as an sh) and j (starts off as a d, finishes with the sound of z in azure). The Naʼvi affricate is c (ts), which starts off as a t and finishes as an s. See diphthong, a similarly transitioning vowel.
  • Allomorphs are different forms of a word or morpheme determined by the context in which it's found. For example, the English article "a" has that form (that allomorph) before a consonant; before a vowel, a different allomorph is used, "an": That is, the "an" in "an apple" and the "a" in "a pear" are considered different forms of a single word.
  • Allophones are different forms of a sound of a language that are not meaningful for speakers of the language. In English, for example, there are two L sounds, a "light L" in leaf and a "dark L" in wool, but if they were exchanged, the result would be a bad accent, not new English words. Naʼvi likewise has two U sounds, one like English food (in many dialects, at least) and another like English foot; however, while this distinction is important in English (these are different English phonemes), in Naʼvi they are mere details of pronunciation. Likewise, the Naʼvi consonants p t k have allophones with no audible release at the end of a syllable or word.
  • An alveolar consonant is one where the tip of the tongue contacts the alveolar ridge, the part of the roof of the mouth just behind the gums. Alveolar consonants include [t, d, n, s, z, l, r].
  • Approbative affect is a verb form, ‹ei›, that marks positive speaker affect. That is, if you feel good about the event you are describing, you might put ‹ei› inside the verb; this is the spoken equivalent of a smiley-face emoticon.
  • A grammatical argument of a verb is a noun phrase that tells who or what performed the action, the action was performed on, etc.: subject, object, recipient, beneficiary, location, time, etc. A core argument is an argument that is required for a clause (sentence) to be complete. If a core argument is left out, the listener might wonder who/what did the action, or who/what it was done to. For example, if I were to say "shattered yesterday", you would wonder what shattered yesterday; the subject "the window" in "the window shattered yesterday" is thus not just an argument but a core argument. If I were to say "I shattered yesterday", providing one core argument, "I", it is clear that I shattered something; thus "the window" in "I shattered the window" is also a core argument. However, where or when the window shattered, as in "I shattered the window in the bedroom on Wednesday", are not considered central to the sentence. In Naʼvi, core arguments generally take the intransitive, ergative, accusative, and dative cases; non-core arguments may also take the dative, and well as numerous adpositions, as in English "in the bedroom", "on Wednesday".
  • An article is a word such as "a" or "the" in English. Articles do not exist in Naʼvi: tute may be "person", "a person", or "the person", depending on the context.
  • Aspect is a way that verbs represent time. Rather than locating an event or state in time, the way tense does, aspect describes "the internal temporal constituency of a situation", or in different words, is a way "of conceiving the flow of the process itself".[1] Aspects in English include "I went, I used to go, I was going, I had gone" (all past tense); "I lose, I am losing, I have lost, I have been losing, I am going to lose" (all present tense); and "I will see, I will be seeing, I will have seen" (all future). What distinguishes these aspects within each tense is not (necessarily) when the event occurs, but how the time in which it occurs is viewed: as complete, ongoing, consequential, planned, etc. There are two verbal aspects in Naʼvi, perfective and imperfective, each of which is independent of the tense of the verb. That is, without context or a tense infix to disambiguate, it is not possible to say whether they occur in the past, present, or future.
  • An aspirated consonant is one pronounced with a puff of air, as pie, tie, chi in English, but not equivalent sounds in French or Spanish, nor in English spy, sty, sky. For discussion, see the footnote in the section on consonants in the chapter on phonology.
  • Assimilation is a change in one sound to make it more similar to a neighboring sound. For example, the plural suffix -s in English cats is unvoiced [s], as it's adjacent to unvoiced [t], whereas the -s in dogs is voiced [z], as it's adjacent to voiced [ɡ].
  • An attributive is a word that modifies a noun. Adjectives are frequently attributive, as blue in blue sky ('a sky that is blue'); however, other parts of speech may be as well. In spot remover, for example, spot is an attributive noun, as it modifies the noun remover ('a remover of spots').[note 1] In English, verbs are typically made attributive through their -ing or -ed forms, as in washing maching ('a machine that washes'). However, in Naʼvi, verbs can be made attributive with the same particle a that adjectives use: tute a tsun kivä or tsun kivä a tute "a person who can go" (that is, 'a can-go person'). Naʼvi uses this strategy rather than the relative pronouns such as "who" that English uses.
  • Grammatical case is an inflection (form) of a noun or pronoun that reflects its role in a sentence. In English, this is most easily seen in the pronouns: for the first-person pronoun, the case forms are "I", "me", and "my". "I" is used when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence, corresponding to the Naʼvi intransitive and ergative case forms oe and oel; "my" to show possession or association with a noun, corresponding to the Naʼvi genitive case form oeyä; and "me" for other roles, corresponding to the Naʼvi accusative and dative case forms oeti and oeru, as well as adpositional forms such as hu oe / oehu "together with me".
  • A causative is a grammatical device that shows the action of the verb is caused by an external agent. English does not have a causative as such. Sometimes different phrasing is used: "I had a table made" vs. "I made a table (myself)"; sometimes simple transitivity is used: "I walked the dog" (caused the dog to walk) or "I boiled the water" (caused the water to boil); or a different verb may be used: "I killed a fly" (caused a fly to die).
  • A clause is a simple sentence: A verb together with its associated phrases. "I pet my cat" is both a sentence and a clause (a verb with two noun phrases, its subject "I" and its object "my cat"). However, complex sentences may consist of several clauses, typically joined by conjunctions: "I really hope that you get to go and have a good time", for example, is three clauses: "I really hope that", "you get to go", [and] "(you) have a good time". It could be reworded as three simple sentences: "I really hope this: You get to go. You will have a good time."
  • Clusivity is a nonce term for a distinction in words for "we", depending on whether they include the person spoken to ('you and I': inclusive) or exclude the person spoken to ('they and I': exclusive). That is, exclusive "we" is purely first person, whereas inclusive "we" is a combination of first and second person.
  • Words are said to be cognate when they can be traced back to the same historical form and so are related as cousins. For example, who (formerly hwa) and what are cognate in English, as are he and it (formerly hit); in both cases, the final -t was once the inflection for neuter gender. Likewise, words like twin, twine, twenty, twelve, and two are cognate.
  • A compound word is a word formed by joining two or more other words, like "pancake".
  • The conditional mood is a grammatical mood used to express that something would or could be the case if some condition were met, such as "I would go if I were you", or "you could do it if you tried". In Naʼvi, the subjunctive mood may be used for the if clause.
  • A conjunction is a grammatical word that joins phrases or clauses, such as and, or, but, if, than, because, etc. Naʼvi has two conjunctions meaning "and", one, sì, for joining phrases, and another, ulte, for joining clauses.
  • A consonant cluster is a sequence of consonants in a word or syllable. In English, the word and syllable strengths has two consonant clusters, one at each end, /str/ and /ŋθs/ (or for some people, /ŋkθs/). In Naʼvi, consonant clusters can only come at the beginning of a syllable, and then only if they start with a f, s, or ts. Other clusters can occur in the middle of a word where two syllables meet, as the /ʔv/ in Naʼvi.
  • Constituent order is the word order of the primarily elements of a clause, that is, the order of the verb and its subject and objects. English is fairly strongly constrained to have a subject-verb-object ("SVO") order; Japanese, on the other hand, is a verb-final language, with a subject-object-verb ("SOV") order. Naʼvi can readily accommodate either pattern.
  • A copula is a verb that equates one noun to another. The most common of these is "be", as in "the cat is a mammal"/"cats are mammals". Some languages, such as Japanese, have dedicated words for the copula. Naʼvi however, like English, uses the same 'be' verb (lu) for the copula as it does for existence ("the cat is in the kitchen"). Another copula in Naʼvi is slu "to become". In English, copulas require that the two pronouns take different cases ("I am me"; "I became me"), but in Naʼvi, neither noun takes a case ending.
  • Correlatives are grammatical words that work together to perform a single function. Examples from English are either ... or, both ... and, so ... as, more ... than. Naʼvi has correlatives that English doesn't, such as san ... sìk "quote ... unquote", but also lacks correlatives that English has. For example, instead of saying both "more ... than", in Naʼvi one would typically say just "than": po lu tsawl to oe "he is big (= bigger) than me".
  • The dative case is a grammatical case that marks the indirect object (recipient) of a verb. For example, in English the pronoun "I" becomes "me" when it's the recipient, as in "give me" (that is, "give it to me"; compare "I give"). In English, "me" is also used for the direct object, as in "see me", as well as after a preposition ("with me, for me"). In Naʼvi, these require different cases: unmarked oe tseʼa "I see", dative oeru tìng "give me", accusative oeti tseʼa "see me", and oehu "with me".
In Naʼvi, the dative is used for (1) the recipient or beneficiary of an action (to say, to give, to apologize, to thank, to call, etc.) and (2) the experiencer of a state (to be cold, to have, etc.)
  • A dative construction is a clause (sentence) in which the subject takes the dative case. An example in English is archaic "me thinks" (= "it seems to me"). Naʼvi uses dative constructions to express ideas such as "to have": lu oeru "I have" = "there is to me".
  • A demonstrative is a grammatical word used to point out which of several things, times, or places one is referring to. A distal demonstrative is one, such as that, there, or then, that indicates that the referent is appreciably distant, whereas a proximal demonstrative is one, such as this, here, or now, that indicates that the referent is appreciably close. Of these, this and that (as well as their plurals, these and those) are pronouns, as they can stand in for nouns, whereas here and there, now and then are adverbs, as they place the action of the verb in space or time.
  • A dependent clause is a clause that is dependent on (subordinate to) another clause or phrase for its meaning. In "I hope that you can make it", the clause you can make it is dependent on the independent clause "I hope that"; similarly, in "all my friends who could make it", the clause who could make it is dependent on the noun phrase all my friends (see also relative clause). The process of making a clause dependent (subordinate) is called subordination, and a word such as "that" that performs this function is called a subordinator.
  • Derivation is the process of using the resources of a language to create new words. For example, from English walk people have derived walker, walk-about, walkathon, walkway, walkie-talkie, walk over, walk through, etc. Compare inflection.
  • A diminutive is a form of a word that indicates smallness of size, slightness of degree, or endearment. In English, cigarette is a diminutive of cigar.
  • A diphthong is a vowel which changes quality as it's being pronounced. This may be a drastic change, as the ow in cow, the y in sky, or the oy in coy, or it may be a more subtle one, such as the a in snake or the ow in crow. See affricate, a similarly transitioning consonant.
  • Direct speech, AKA reported speech, is a literal quotation of what someone said: "He said, 'I will go'" is direct speech, whereas "He said that he would go" is indirect speech. Naʼvi has only direct speech.
  • Discourse is the use of living language, as in conversation. Some of the more subtle aspects of grammar cannot be understood by looking just at sentences, but only by looking at how those sentences are used in the larger context of discourse. For instance, most people would say that turn the lights out and turn out the lights mean the "same thing", but they tend to be used in different situations. An effect discourse has in Naʼvi is in its word order, especially in its constituent word order.
  • A discourse particle is a particle whose role is in discourse rather than in syntax. Examples are um, like, y'know, sorta, none of which have a grammatical function in the traditional sense of the word.
  • A double (or multiple) negative is the use of more than one negative word in a clause with a simple negative meaning, as in "I don't have none" or "I didn't never go". In English this has been considered substandard since the Victorian era, but it is normal in many languages, such as French and Spanish, and including Naʼvi.
  • Dual number is a grammatical number used for just two of something. For example, menga is "the two of you", and . Old English had the dual pronouns wit "we two" / "the two of us" and yit "you two" / "the two of you". Naʼvi has these (moe or oeng "we two", menga "you two"), but also dual nouns, as in oeyä menari "my eyes".
  • Eh is a Canadian English discourse particle used for "ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed" as in, "It's four kilometres away, eh, so I have to go by bike."[2] In its role for eliciting agreement, it is similar to the Naʼvi particle ko.
  • Ejectives are consonants made with a popping sound caused by the Adam's apple moving up in the throat like a piston. In Naʼvi they are written px, tx, kx.
  • Epenthesis is the insertion of a sound into a word to make it easier to say, for example to conform to a language's phonotactics. For example, many of the actors in Avatar pronounce nga "you" with an epenthetic g sound in it, as if it were "ngga" (that is, with the 'ng' sound of finger rather than of singer), because in English we can't put ng at the beginning of a word.
  • The ergative case is a grammatical case that marks the subject of a verb that also has direct object of a verb (that is, a transitive verb). In English the pronoun form "I" (called the nominative case) is used for both "I leave" and "I see it", but in Naʼvi these require different cases: unmarked intransitive oe hum "I leave" and ergative oel tseʼa pot "I see it". However, "I see" as a generic statement without an object would be intransitive oe tseʼa.
  • An evidential is a grammatical device that shows why a speaker believes that a reported event occurred. For instance, an evidential affix on a verb may indicate that the speaker personally witnessed the event, heard about it from someone else, inferred it from evidence left on the scene, saw it in a dream, etc.
  • A flap consonant is one where the tongue briefly strikes the roof of the mouth, but isn't held there the way it is for [t] or [d]. A flapped ar [ɾ] is found in Irish and Scottish English, and in Spanish in words like pero "but". US and Canadian English approximate a flap with the tt of "latter" and the dd of "ladder", so Naʼvi /r/, really an [ɾ], may sound like a [d] to American ears.
  • Grammatical focus is the placement of an element in the foreground of the discourse, either as a way of introducing a new subject of discussion, or to contrast that with another. In English, focus may be accomplished by intonation ("No, he went to the store") or by changing the word order ("The store is where he went"). This is the opposite of a topic, which is a backgrounded element of the discourse.
  • A fricative consonant is a sound where the air coming out of the mouth is never stopped, but is quite noisy, like [f], [v], [s], [z], [h]. In Naʼvi, such sounds can only come at the beginning of a word or syllable, never at the end.
  • The future tense of a verb conveys that the event or state will happen or is yet to happen. Naʼvi has two future tenses, ‹ay› for a generic future, and ‹ìy› for the immediate future. Naʼvi uses its future tenses for such things whether or not English does; for instance, "when I leave" is oe h‹ay›um a krr in Naʼvi, and "if he does" is txo po s‹ay›i, assuming tense is used at all, even though "will" is not allowed in English.
  • General American, or GA, is the de facto standard of English in the United States, used for example in television news broadcasting.
  • Grammatical gender is a grammatical division of nouns into groups, often based loosely on physical gender (male-female-inanimate). English only has grammatical gender in its pronouns he, she, it ('masculine', 'feminine', 'neuter') and who, what ('common', 'neuter'). Naʼvi does not have grammatical gender. However, when needed, a noun or pronoun can be made lexically masculine or feminine with the suffixes -an and -e.
  • The genitive case is used to show association between two nouns. This includes possession ("the dog's bone"), but also more generic association ("the dog's ears", "the legs of the table"). The Naʼvi genitive loosely translates English "-'s" and "of". However, it is somewhat broader in usage, being how Naʼvi forms attributive nouns. With pronouns, the final vowel changes to e : fo "they", feyä "their".
  • A glottal consonant is one, such as [h], that is pronounced in the throat. The glottal stop is the catch in your throat when you say "uh-oh!". In Naʼvi it is a typical consonant sound, as it is in Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian and Maori.
  • A grammatical word, also known as a function word, is one that is used for a grammatical function rather than for a dictionary meaning. Examples are pronouns, conjunctions, adpositions, particles, and many of the words vaguely called "adverbs". Compare lexical word.
  • An ideophone, AKA mimesis, is a word that suggests its meaning by its very sound. Buzz, shush, bling, and hippetyhop (of a rabbit) are examples in English.
  • Grammatical inflections are forms of a word that occur automatically as part of the grammar. For example, the inflections of the verb to walk are walk, walks, walking, and walked; the inflections of the pronoun I are I, me, my, mine. Compare derivation.
  • The immediate future is a tense used to say that something is about to happen or is about to be. It is somewhat different than English "going to", which means that things are presently in motion for a future event.
  • The imperative mood expresses a command that someone do something: Kä! "go!" See mood.
  • Imperfective aspect: See perfective.
  • The intransitive case is a case used in Naʼvi for verbs which do not have a direct object (accusative case). There is no case suffix: oe new kivä "I want to go". Compare the ergative case in oel new tsaʼut "I want that".
  • An infix is a meaningful bit put in the middle of a word. Infixes are rare in English, but they sometimes occur in informal speech. For instance, the infix ‹ma› gives a word an ironic pseudo-sophistication, as in sophistimacated, saxomaphone, and edumacation.
  • An interjection is a word that expresses the speaker's emotion, but is not part of the grammar of the sentence, such as "hey!", "wow!", or "ouch!"
  • An interlinear gloss is a translation aid that lies between a text and its translation, and lays out the structure of the text. See the appendix for details.
  • Intonation is the variation of speaking tone that conveys emotional affect, hesitation, questions, commands, etc. In writing, we use punctuation to capture some of the intonation in speech.
  • A labial consonant is one which involves the lips. They include [p, b, f, v, m]. ([f] and [v] also involve the teeth, but the lip is what moves.) [w] also involves the lips, but in addition the tongue approaches the soft palate, so it is also a velar consonant.
  • Lenition is the "weakening" of speech sounds in some environments. For example, in US and Canadian English, /t/ and /d/ become a flap [ɾ] after a stressed vowel, so that latter and ladder are pronounced the same.
  • A lexical word, also known as a content word, is a word that is used for its basic dictionary ("lexical") meaning, such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Compare grammatical word.
  • Light and dark L describes the difference between the /l/ in English leaf, where only the front of the tongue is raised, and the /l/ of all, where the back of the tongue is also raised. In Naʼvi, only light L is used.
  • Liquids and glides are vowel-like consonants. In Naʼvi, as in English, they are l, r (the liquids) and w, y (the glides).
  • A loan word is a word that was taken from another language. "Pork", for example, is a loan into English from French, where it is simply the word for 'pig'. Naʼvi has some English loans, such as kunsìp "gun ship".
  • Modal verbs are special verbs with modal (mood-like) functions. That is, they indicate that a second verb does not describe an actual event, like "can go", "must go", "want to go", etc. In Naʼvi, the second verb takes the subjunctive mood.
  • Mood is a non-temporal inflection of verbs. Rather than identifying time, as tense does, or describing the flow of an event, as aspect does, mood encodes the degree of reality of an event. The normal, unmarked mood (called the indicative) is used for actual events, and events portrayed as or predicted to be real. There are two other primary moods in Naʼvi, the subjunctive and imperative, used for hypothetical events. The imperative is a command: If one says "sit down!", however, it does not follow that the person will actually sit down, so the sitting is not an actual event, only a desired one. Similarly, the subjunctive is used in English for things such as "if I were you" (I am not you) and "God bless you" (not *blesses: it is only a wish on my part, not a description of an actual event). In Naʼvi, the subjunctive is used for expressions such as "I can go"; the verb "can" is in the normal indicative, because it describes reality, whereas "go" is in the subjunctive, because there is no implication that I actually will go just because I can. In the future tenses, Naʼvi distinguishes an intentional mood for planned events from the indicative, which is preferentially used for predicted events which the speaker has no control over.
  • A morpheme is a meaningful piece of a word. For example, the word "meaningful" is built up from three morphemes, "mean", "-ing", and "-ful". However, the word "word" is a single morpheme; there are no meaningful units within it apart from the sounds (phonemes) which make it up. In the glossed examples in this book, morphemes are separated by hyphens and other punctuation: aylaru = ay-la-ru "to the others".
  • Morphology is how morphemes are put together to form words.
  • A nasal stop is a stop consonant, such as /m/, /n/, or /ŋ/ where air escapes through the nose. The latter, the sound in English song, is called the velar nasal because the tongue touches the soft palate (the 'velum').
  • A negative is a grammatical element that negates or denies another element of a sentence. English negatives begin with n-: "no", "not", "none", "never", etc.
  • A consonant with no audible release is a plosive such as [p], [t], [k] that, to an English hear, sounds like it stops halfway through. The lips (for [p]) or the tongue (for [t], [k]) seal off the airstream, and during that closure a glottal stop is made, so that when they release again there is no audible sound. In English, this may occur for some speakers at the end of a word, like the t in "Don't ever do that!", where there is no puff of air between the t and the d; for others, it may be clearer in a word like apt, where there is no puff of air between the p and the t. Note that there is a puff of air after the t in apt: that is an audible release.
Ejectives must be released.
  • A nominalizer is a grammatical element which turns a word into a noun, such as the -ness in vagueness or the -tion in pronunciation.
  • Noun incorporation is the moving of a noun into a verb. For example, in English one could say "I picked some berries", or one could say "I went berry-picking". In the former case, the verb "picked" has an object, "berries", and so cannot take another. However, in the latter case, the object has been moved out of the way, tucked into the verb, so now a new object can be added: "I berry-picked some raspberries". This sounds a bit strange in English, but some languages use this strategy quite often. The focus is different: In "I picked some berries", the focus is on the berries, whereas in "I berry-picked" or "I went berry-picking", the focus is on the activity, and one could say that even if no berries were actually picked.
  • A numeral is a simple number word. For example, twenty and three are both numbers and numerals in English; twenty-three is a number made from the numerals twenty and three. Naʼvi has nine numerals for its base-eight numbering system: lower numerals for 'one' through 'eight', and a higher numeral for 'sixty-four' that corresponds to English hundred.
  • Grammatical number indicates the countable quantity that a word represents. English has two numbers, singular for one and plural for not-one, on its nouns, pronouns, and verbs; Naʼvi distinguishes four numbers, singular, dual, trial, and plural (four or more), on its nouns and pronouns, but not on its verbs.
  • An octal, or base-eight, numbering system is one that uses eight as its primary unit, as opposed to a decimal system such as the one in English, which is base ten (decimal). The Naʼvi have four fingers on each hand, for eight total, and so only have basic words for one through eight. Nine is thus "eight and one", and seventeen is "two eights and one", the way in English we say "twenty-one", originally "two tens and one".
  • The optative is a grammatical mood used to express wishes and desires, as in "long live the king!" and "bless you". In Naʼvi, as (marginally) in English, the optative role is performed by the more general subjunctive mood.
  • A palatal consonant is one in which the middle of the tongue touches or approaches the hard palate. The only palatal consonant in Naʼvi in y.
  • A participle is a form of a verb that can be used as a noun or adjective, but which retains tense or aspect inflections like a verb. English has two participles, an active -ing participle used for progressive aspect (similar in some ways to the imperfective aspect), as in he is doing, singing, eating (when used for aspect), the singing canary, the eating hour (used as an attributive), it's his doing, singing, eating (used as a noun, called a "gerund"); and a passive -en/-ed participle used for both the passive voice and the perfect aspect (similar in some ways to the perfective aspect, though not as close as the name might suggest), as in it has done, sung, eaten it (aspect), it is done, sung, eaten (passive), it's a done deal, sung song, eaten food (passive attributive).
The Naʼvi participles, ‹us› and ‹awn›, are active and passive but do not imply any tense or aspect; the explicit equivalent of English -ing and -en would be ‹us›‹er› and ‹awn›‹ol›.
  • A grammatical particle is a little immutable word that performs a grammatical function but isn't in a particular word class like adverb.
  • The passive voice is used to show that the subject of the verb undergoes the action, as in the food was eaten, the song was sung. (The opposite, they ate the food, they sang the song, is called the active voice.) Naʼvi has a passive participle, as in eaten food, a sung song, but does not have passive clauses like "the song was sung by me". The functions of the English passive clauses are covered by changing the agent to fko "one" or by changing the word order of the clause.
  • The past tense of a verb conveys that the event or state did happen. The past tense form of English verbs is -ed, corresponding to Naʼvi ‹am› (generic past tense) and ‹ìm› (recent past). However, English -ed may also be used to translate the Naʼvi perfective aspect, which isn't a tense at all.
  • Pejorative relates to the formation "of a less favourable meaning or of unpleasant connotations of a word."[3] In this book it is used for a Naʼvi infix ‹äng› that expresses negative speaker affect, not restricted to contempt, but including boredom, misery, or any negative emotion. The disparaging particle pak more explicitly capture a feeling of contempt.
  • Penultimate means "next to last". The penultimate syllable in a word is the next-to-last (second-to-last) syllable; in "penultimate" that would be the "-ti-". Penultimate stress is stress on the penultimate syllable; examples from English are "examples" (the "-amp-") and "English" (the "Eng-").
  • perfective and imperfective are the two verbal aspects of Naʼvi. The perfective presents an event as an unanalyzed whole, while the imperfective does the opposite, placing one within the event. Or, metaphorically, the perfective is a snapshot, whereas the imperfective is a movie.
Aspect is independent of the tense of the verb. That is, without context or a tense infix to disambiguate, it is not possible to say whether a verb in the (im)perfective occurs in the past, present, or future. (See aspect for background.)
English does not have these aspects. However, in languages which do, one of the uses of the imperfective is to set a background scene, with the perfective describing actions within that scene, and this provides a decent approximation in English:
"John was reading when I entered."
Here 'entered' presents the totality of the situation referred to [...]: the whole of the situation is presented as a single unanalysable whole, with beginning, middle, and end all rolled into one; no attempt is made to divide this situation up into the various individual phases that make up the action of entry.[1] This is the essence of the perfective aspect: An event presented as an unanalyzed whole.
'Was reading', however, is different. Besides being the background to 'entered', the form 'reading' presents an internal portion of John's reading, [with] no explicit reference to the beginning or to the end of his reading.[1] This is the essence of the imperfective aspect. Or, to continue the citation, the perfective looks at the situation from the outside, without necessarily distinguishing any of the internal structure of the situation, whereas the imperfective looks at the situation from inside, and as such is crucially concerned with the internal structure of the situation, since it can both look backwards towards the start of the situation, and look forwards to the end of the situation, and indeed it is equally appropriate if the situation is one that lasts through all time, without any beginning and without any end. This is why, within the past tense, perfective verbs are typically translated into English as simple past, like 'entered', whereas imperfective verbs are typically translated as 'was reading', 'used to read', and the like. (In English, it is easiest to illustrate aspect in the past tense. However, any tense is possible: Present "John is reading as I enter", future "John will be reading when I enter", etc.: In each tense, the aspectual distinction is the same.)
This aspectual distinction is not decided by the events themselves, but in how the speaker views them or wishes to present them. The very same event may be described as perfective in one clause, and then imperfective in the next. For example,
"John read that book yesterday; while he was reading it, the postman came,"
where the two forms of 'to read' refer to the same thing. In 'John read that book yesterday', however, John's reading is presented as a complete event, without further subdivision into successive temporal phases; while in 'while he was reading it', this event is opened up, so that the speaker is now in the middle of the situation of John's reading, as it is in the middle of this reading that the postman arrives.[1]
The perfective and imperfective need not occur together; indeed they more often do not. However, it is difficult to describe them in English without an explicit contrast like "John was reading when I entered."
  • Grammatical person distinguishes the person speaking ("first person"), the person spoken to ("second person"), and others ("third person"). In Naʼvi, person is only indicated in pronouns, not in verbs. See also clusivity.
  • A phoneme is a meaningful sound in a language. For example, in English there are two "oo" sounds, the /u/ found in "food", and the /ʊ/ found in "foot". We can tell this is a meaningful difference, because if you change one for the other, you change the word. In Naʼvi, however, this is not a meaningful distinction: [u] and [ʊ] are both variants (called "allophones") of the Naʼvi vowel written "u". In transcription, distinct phonemes, such as English /u/ and /ʊ/, are written in slashes, as here; whereas allophones (sub-phonemes) are written in brackets. Thus we would say that [u] and [ʊ] are allophones of the Naʼvi vowel /u/.
  • Phonology is how sounds are used in a language: what they are, where they occur, and how they change.
  • Phonotactics is the arrangement of phonemes (sounds) found in a language. In English, for example, /h/ never occurs at the end of a word, whereas it does in Arabic; similarly, /ŋ/ does occur at the beginning of a word in English, whereas it does in Naʼvi. On the other hand, fricatives such as /f v s z/ do occur at the ends of words in English, as in the word fricative itself, but do not do this in Naʼvi. And while both /f/ and /m/ occur at the beginning of words in English, as in fee and me, they do not occur there together, whereas they do in Naʼvi fmi "to try".
  • A grammatical phrase is a word together with the words that modify it. A noun phrase is a noun and any adjectives, numerals, or relative clauses associated with it, such as the clear blue sky I saw yesterday. Introduce a noun phrase with a preposition, as into the clear blue sky, and the result is called a prepositional phrase. A clause is made up of a verb and various phrases connected to it.
  • A plosive consonant is a sound such as [p], [t], [k], [ʔ] where the air flow is completely blocked.
  • The plural is a grammatical number for quantities larger than, or other than, the dedicated number. In English, we have a bare singular for one of an object, like cat; the plural cats is thus used for numbers larger than one. Naʼvi also has grammatical dual and trial numbers for two or three of an object; the Naʼvi plural is thus used for quantities larger than three.
  • A predicate is the part of a clause other than the subject; it includes the verb. (This subject-predicate structure of a clause is somewhat similar to a topic-comment structure.) In Naʼvi, the form of an adjective depends on whether it is connected to the verb directly, a predicative adjective without any marking, or is found within a noun phrase, an attributive adjective marked with the particle a.
  • A prefix is a meaningful bit put at the beginning of a word. For example, the un- in unlikely is a prefix.
  • A preposition is a little grammatical word that links a noun phrase to a verb or another noun phrase. For instance, in "I walked by the park on my way to the store for some bread", the prepositions by, on, to, for tie the noun phrases together with the verb "walked" into a clause, with by, on, and to linking "the park", "my way", and "the store" to where I walked, and for linking "some bread" to why I walked.
Prepositions come before the noun. The generic term is adposition; this word is used for Naʼvi words which may be used as either prepositions or suffixes.
  • The present tense is the tense used for an action or state in the present moment. In English, verbs in the present tense are often used for future events ("I'm going to town tomorrow"), but in Naʼvi, the future or immediate future tense would be used.
  • Prohibitive mood is a negative imperative mood. In Naʼvi, prohibitives are indicated with the particle räʼä "don't".
  • A pronoun is a grammatical word that can stand in for a noun, a lexical word. In English, there are two classes of pronouns, the so-called personal pronouns "I, we, you, he, she, it, one, they", and the demonstrative pronouns "this, that, these, those". These behave differently when they modify another noun: compare "my book" (possession) vs. "this book" (location).
  • Received Pronunciation, or RP, is the national standard of English in England, used to varying degrees in education and the media. It is based on the dialect of London.
  • A question marker is a grammatical particle that marks a yes-no question. The Naʼvi question marker is srak.
  • A quotative marker is a grammatical particle or other device that signals the start of a quotation. It is like saying "quote" in English, but is used as a normal part of the language.
  • The recent past is a tense used to say that something has just happened.
  • Reduplication is the doubling of a phrase, a word, or an element of a word for grammatical effect. English makes little use of reduplication, but traces can be found in clauses like he cried and cried, they ran and ran, where it conveys an exhaustive affect.
  • Register is a form of discourse specific to a social setting. At the "high" end there is formal, polite, and ceremonial language; at the "low" end, there is casual speech and slang. In English, the difference tends to be one of vocabulary: you may use different words, and discuss different things, when talking to your boss than talking with your friends. In Naʼvi, very formal speech has an effect on the grammar as well.
  • The reflexive voice is a form of the verb used to show that the subject acts on itself, as in the beloved command of older brothers, "Quit hitting yourself!"
  • A relative clause is a dependent clause that modifies a noun. In English it will be introduced with a relative pronoun, as in "my friend who saw a mouse", "the day when I saw a mouse", "the room where I saw a mouse", "the reason why I saw a mouse", "the mouse that I saw", etc. Naʼvi relative clauses are introduced with the particle a rather than with a relative pronoun.
  • Relative tense is tense that is past, present, or future relative to the moment under discussion, rather than relative to the moment of speaking. For example, in English we use absolute tense when we say, "I went to the store because I knew that my order would be in", with all the verbs (went, knew, would) in the past tense because they all occurred prior to the time we said that. If English had relative tense, that sentence would instead be *"I went to the store because I know that my order will be in"; once we say "went", the point of reference switches to the time I went, and "know" is therefore in the present tense, because it is simultaneous with when I went.
  • The singular is a special form of the noun that shows there is just one of the thing. In Naʼvi, as in English, the singular is shown by the lack of an affix for one of the other grammatical numbers.
  • A stative verb is one, such as "be", which does not indicate an action or process, but a state of being. In some languages, states such as "red" or "sad" are verbs rather than adjectives as they are in English.
  • The stem of a word is the form an affix is attached to. It will be different from the root if it already contains affixes. For example, in "hopefully", "hope is both the root and the stem of "hopeful", and "hopeful" in turn is the stem of "hopefully".
  • A stop consonant is one in which the tongue or lips block the mouth, stopping the air from passing through. If the air is stopped completely, as in /p, t, k/. the consonant is a plosive; if it is stopped in the mouth but escapes through the nose, as in /m, n, ŋ/, the consonant is a nasal.
  • A stranded preposition is a preposition that is not immediately followed by a noun phrase. In English this is found in verb phrases such as "to put up with", where "this is something I will not put up with" has two stranded prepositions, "up" and "with".
  • Stress is the amount of force required to pronounce a syllable correctly in a word. For example, in desert the first syllable is stressed, whereas in dessert it is the second that is stressed. If you tap out the syllables of a word, the stronger taps correspond to stress.
  • The subjunctive mood is used for hypothetical or desired actions or states, like "long live the king" and "bless you". See mood
  • Subordination: See dependent clause.
  • A suffix is a meaningful bit put at the end of a word. For example, the -ful in meaningful is a suffix.
  • A syllable is a rhythmic unit of a word. "Pentasyllabic", which means 'having five syllables', has five syllables: PENT-a-syl-LAB-ic. The first and fourth are pronounced more strongly than the others; they are said to be stressed. An open syllable is one that ends in a vowel, as in English kudu; a closed syllable ends in a consonant, as in English dumdum.
  • A syllabic consonant is a consonant that forms the core of a syllable, or is a syllable by itself. Examples of the latter are English bottle, button, and rhythm; for most people in the US and Canada, the former is found in church. In Naʼvi, there are two syllabic consonants, ll and rr, which can only occur at the end of a syllable, not in the middle as in church.
  • Syntax is how words are put together in speech: how words form phrases, how phrases form clauses, and how clauses form sentences.
  • Tense is the grammatical encoding of a point of time in a sentence, as in a verb. This contrasts with aspect, which is the grammatical encoding of the flow of time in a sentence. The five Naʼvi tenses are the present, past, future, recent past, and immediate future. In the subjunctive mood, these reduce to three: present, past, and future.
See also relative tense.
  • A tenuis consonant is a consonant, generally a plosive, that is not voiced, not aspirated, and not ejective. That is, it is a "plain" [p], [t], [ts], or [k].
  • Tone, as used here, means the use of pitch to distinguish words, as Chinese does. Naʼvi does not have tone, only intonation.
  • A grammatical topic is an element of discourse that is set up as the background for the material which follows. Setting up a sentence with a topic and then elaborating on it is called a topic-comment structure. In English, this may be done with phrases such as "as for", or simply with intonation, as in "In English, this may be done ...", or as in "That dog, I can't hunt (with) him no more". Such structures are very common in Naʼvi. This is the opposite of focus, which is a foregrounded element of the discourse.
  • A transitive clause, or verb, is one with an overt object. For instance, "I ate today" is intransitive, as there is no particular object that can be associated with the verb, whereas "I eat teylu" is transitive. Some verbs, such as "run", can only be intransitive, as they can never take an object. A clause like "I ran a mile" may feel transitive in English, but I didn't actually do anything to that mile, and in Naʼvi it would be treated as intransitive. Some verbs, such as tìng "give", take two objects, including a recipient in the dative case; these are called ditransitive.
  • Trial number is a grammatical number specifically for three of something: pxoe "the three of us", pxenga "the three of you", pxeveng "three children", etc.
  • A trill is a rolled R, as in Spanish ¡Arriba!
  • A tripartite case system is one that uses three different cases for the 'subject' (argument) of an intransitive verb, the 'subject' of a transitive verb, and the object of a transitive verb. They are, respectively, the intransitive case, the ergative ("working") case, and the accusative case.
  • An unquotative marker is a grammatical particle or other device that signals the end of a quotation. It is like saying "unquote" in English, but is used as a normal part of the language.
  • Valence is the number of core arguments a verb takes. An intransitive verb has a valence of 1 (the subject: 'they eat'), a transitive verb a valence of 2 (agent and object: 'they see you'), and a ditransitive verb a valence of 3 (agent, recipient, and object: 'we give you them'). Some derivations of a verb change its valence. A passive or reflexive, for example, decreases its valence ('they see you' → 'you are seen'), while a causative increases its valence ('they eat' → 'you feed them'). By changing a verb to an adjective, a active participle effectively reduces a verb's valence to zero.
  • A velar consonant is one where the back of the tongue contacts the velum, the soft palate at the back of the mouth. Velar consonants include [k, ɡ, ŋ] and the [x] at the end of Bach. [ŋ] (the "eng" sound) is thus called a velar nasal. For [w], the tongue approaches the velum, but the lips also approach each other, so it is considered to be both velar and labial.
  • A verbalizer is an element that changes a word into a verb. Naʼvi uses the verb si for this purpose.
  • A vocative is a special form of a noun used when addressing a person. Poetic English has a preposition "O" for the vocative; Naʼvi uses ma. Note this ma is not used when talking about a person, only when talking to them.
  • A voiced sound is one, such as a vowel, in which the vocal chords vibrate. Say "fffff" or "sssss" with your fingers on your Adam's apple, and you will feel nothing; do the same with "vvvvv" or "zzzzz" and you will feel a buzzing in your throat. Therefore [v] and [z] and voiced sounds, while [f] and [s] and unvoiced. Though harder to feel, plosives such as [b], [d], [ɡ] are also voiced. Voiced plosives do not occur in Naʼvi.
This phonetic use of the word "voice" is not to be confused with the grammatical concept of voice, as in passive voice and reflexive voice.
  • Vowel height is the distance between the tongue and the roof of the mouth when pronouncing a vowel. Cat and dog have 'open' vowels, as the jaw is open when they are pronounced. (This is why a doctor asks your to say "ah!" when looking at your throat, to get your tongue out of the way.) Bee and zoo, on the other hand, have 'close' vowels, as the tongue is close to the roof of the mouth. In between there are open-mid vowels in neck and craw, and close-mid vowels in snake and crow. (In English, the latter are actually diphthongs, but they approximate close-mid vowels.)
  • Vowel length is a distinction between long and short vowels. Latin and Hawaiian, for example, each distinguish words depending on whether the vowels within them are pronounced long or short. Naʼvi does not have this feature, so two identical vowels may not occur next to each other.
  • A wh-question word is a word such as who, what, where, when, why, how that asks for information. Naʼvi might be said to have "pe-question words", as the equivalent words in Naʼvi all contain the morpheme pe.
  • Word order is the order of words in a phrase, such as adjectives before or after a noun, or in a clause, such as subjects before or after a verb. Naʼvi word order is largely "free", meaning that it can change depending on how the speaker wishes to express or or emphasize something. The order of the verb and its core arguments is called constituent order.


  1. Note that even though it removes spots (plural), we call it a "spot (singular) remover". This is a feature of attributive nouns in English: a "question and answer section", even though there may be many questions and answers; a "thousand-foot cliff", even though it's a thousand feet high. Naʼvi, however, allows plurals as normal.


  1. a b c d Bernard Comrie, 1976. Aspect. Cambridge University Press
  2. Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  3. Oxford English Dictionary, "pejoration"

Appendix · Bibliography

Appendix · Na'vi · Bibliography