Na'vi/Questions

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Naʼvi, like English, has two ways of asking questions: "yes-no" questions for simple affirmation or denial, as in "Are you going?", and "wh-" questions asking for elaboration, such as "Where are you going?".[note 1] There are also numerous series of words that answer wh- questions: "Here", "There", "Nowhere", "Everywhere", "Elsewhere", "The same place", etc.

Yes-no questions[edit | edit source]

Yes-no questions may be asked with the question marker srake?, srak?,[note 2] though sometimes intonation alone is used.

Ngaru lu fpom srak?
"Are you well?" (lit. "Do you have peace?")

or, when repeating a question to oneself after being asked,

Srake tsun oe fayupxaret tslivam nìftue?
"Whether I can easily understand these messages?"

Such questions may be answered simply srane "yes" or kehe "no".

Srake is not equivalent to English question tags like "isn't that right?", which aim to elicit agreement more than information. The Naʼvi question tags are ke fìfya srak? "(is it) not this way?", kefya srak? "isn't it?", or kefyák? for short.

Yes-no questions can also be worded with the verb ftxey "choose", here functioning as a conjunction "whether", with fuke "or not". Thus instead of srake nga zaʼu? "Are you coming/will you come?", one may ask,

Ftxey nga zaʼu fuke?
"Are you coming or not?"
ftxey nga zaʼu fu-ke
whether you come or-not

Wh-questions[edit | edit source]

Information questions are asked with question words based on the leniting interrogative morpheme pe+, -pe "which?". These need not occur at the beginning of a clause:

Oeru pelun? (or oeru lumpe?)
"Why me?"

to which an actual explanation is expected (unless the question is rhetorical).

Pe-words such as pelun / lumpe are only used for questions, not as relative pronouns as in "I don't know why it was me". (For that, see the chapter on syntax.) Pe+, -pe may be used with any noun, but it generally occurs with one of half a dozen common generic nouns, such as tute "person" for pesu / tupe "who?" and ʼu "thing" for peu / ʼupe "what?". Many of these nouns act also as adverbs, and the resulting question words are adverbial, as in

peseng, tsengpe "where?", from tsenge "(at a) place"
pehrr, krrpe "when?", from krr "(at a) time"
pefya, fyape "how?", from fyaʼo "(in a) manner"
Peu / ʼupe is generally used for concrete objects, a more restricted range than "what?" in English. For actions and ideas, more specific words are used, such as
Kempe si nga? (also Pehem si nga?)
"What are you doing?"

based on kem "deed", or

Pelìʼu poltxe nga? (also Lìʼupe poltxe nga?)
"What did you say?"

based on lìʼu "word".

Answer words[edit | edit source]

Paralleling the pe+ and -pe question words, and potentially answering them, are words based on "pre-nouns". Theses are morphemes that have concrete independent meaning, like "this" or "that", but which are found prefixed to nouns, such as the demonstratives fì- "this" and tsa- "that":

pelun (or lumpe) "why? which reason?"
fìlun "this reason", faylun "these reasons"
tsalun "thus, that reason", tsaylun "those reasons"

Other prenouns are kaw- "no" ("not one"), fra- "every", fne- "kind", la- "other", and teng- "same". There is also a suffix -o "some" that combines with many of these same answer words.

Not all combinations are attested.

Thing One Person Place Time Action Kind Manner Reason Word
Interrogative ʼupe tupe tsengpe krrpe kempe fnepe fyape lumpe lìʼupe
peu pesu peseng pehrr pehem pefnel pefya pelun pelìʼu
what? which? who? where? when? what? what kind of? how? why? what?
Distal tsaʼu ~ tsaw
saʼu ~ saw
tsatu tsatseng tsakrr tsakem tsafnel
tsayfnel
tsafya tsalun(?) tsalìʼu(?)
that, those that one there then that, those such a thus that reason that
Proximal fìʼu fìpo fìtseng set[note 3] fìkem fìfnel
fayfnel
fìfya fìlun(?) fìlìʼu
this this one here now this such a thus this reason this
Indefinite ʼuo tuteo tsengo krro(?)
something someone somewhere some time
Negative keʼu kawtu kawtseng(?) kawkrr
nothing no-one nowhere never
Exclusive fraʼu frapo fratseng frakrr
everything everyone everywhere always
Other lapo
someone else elsewhere
Same tengʼu tengkrr tengfya
same thing same one while as

Po might be the third-person animate pronoun po, and thus contrast with tu for people only.

The table merely shows the more common forms; fì- (and its plural fìay- "these", commonly shortened to fay-) and tsa-, along with its plural tsay-, may combine as a prefix to any noun: fayvrrtep "these demons", tsayhetuwong "those aliens".[note 4] (Tsaʼu, however, is pluralized as other pronouns, aysaʼu or saʼu.) Pe combines with other nouns as well, either as a prefix or a suffix. As usual for affixes, they are unstressed, and they do not need the attributive a: compare fayvrrtep with kea txep / txep ake "no fire" and ke txep "not a fire".

Nouns combined with pre-nouns still behave as nouns, for example with case: fìlìʼuä ral "the meaning of this word".

An exception to the stress pattern is Fìtrr lu trrpeve? "Which day (of the week, etc.) is it today?", where a suffix -pe is stressed before the ordinal suffix -ve.

The such/kind series based on fnel governs the genitive of a noun: tsafnel syulangä "such a flower, that kind of flower". Such phrases may be reduced, with the prenoun+fnel becoming a compound prenoun: pefnesyulang? "which (type of) flower?" – fìfnesyulang, tsafnesyulang "such a flower"; plural fayfnesyulang, tsayfnesyulang.


Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. So named from the form of such questions in English: who?, which?, what?, when?, why?, where?, how?, etc.
  2. A contraction of srane "yes" and ke "no" with similarities to archaic English "whether?".
  3. *fìkrr "this time" is not attested; if it exists, it may refer to the time under discussion, whereas set refers to the time of the discussion.
  4. These may reduce to tsa+ in verse, as in tsayhem ~ tsahem "those (actions)", but the plural y is normally retained, as dropping it does not shorten the word significantly.

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