Na'vi/Syntax

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From the preceding chapters, you should be able to read and perhaps produce sentences like the following:

Eytukanìl tskot alor Neytiriru toleiìng.

"Eytukan gave the beautiful bow to Neytiri, I'm happy to say."[1]

Eytukan-ìl tsko-it a-lor Neytiri-ru t‹ol›‹ei›ìng
(name)-erg bow-acc attr-pretty (name)-dat give‹pfv›‹approb

The word order may change depending on the relative relevance of the participants, deference on the part of the speaker, and the like, as will be covered in the chapter on Discourse; if the adjective moves, it may of course become lora. However, much more complex sentences than this are possible in Naʼvi, and that is the subject of this chapter.

The negative[edit | edit source]

Negation, both of noun phrases and of clauses, is made with the negating particle ke, which appears before the negated element. Naʼvi utilizes multiple negation, like ke lu kawtu "there isn't no-one" (= there isn't anyone / there is no-one):

fì-ketuwong ke n‹ay›ume ke-ʼu
this-alien not learn‹fut no-thing
"This alien will learn nothing."[note 1]

The vowel e elides in certain lexicalized expressions, such as kawtu "no-one" above and kawkrr "never". A longer form, kehe, is used as an interjection when answering "no" rather than negating a noun or verb. Whereas ke only occurs before the word or phrase it modifies, the adjectival forms kea and ake may occur before or after a noun: kea säfpìl or säfpìl ake "no idea".

In the case of zene "must", there are two negative constructions. "Mustn't (be obliged not to)" is zenke, whereas the opposite order, ke zene "don't have to" merely indicates a lack of obligation. Both take the subjunctive:

Nga zenke kivä! "You must not go!"
Nga ke zene kivä. "You don't have to go."

Double negation does not (necessarily) hold across multiple clauses. In a following section, for example, the sentence

Ke fparmìl oel futa lu tute a tsun nì-Naʼvi set fìfya pivlltxe!
"I didn't think that there was anyone who could speak Naʼvi like this!"

is only negated in its independent clause, "I didn't think".

Conjunction[edit | edit source]

Various other particles such as conjunctions join phrases and clauses. Examples are and últe "and", fu "or", slä "but", na "like, as" (na ayoeng "as we (do), like us"),[note 2] san (quote), sìk (unquote), fte "so that, in order to", fteke "lest". A is used for relative clauses, as in tute a tsun "a.person who can",[note 3] futa means "that" after a transitive verb, as in ke fparmìl futa ... "(I) didn't think that ...", fwa means "that" after an intransitive verb, as in law lu oeru fwa ... "It's clear to me that ...", and tsnì means "that" in ätxäle si tsnì ... "(I) request that ...".

The difference between "and" and últe "and" is that joins phrases within a clause, while últe joins clauses. Attested examples include trrä sì txonä "of day and night", win sì txur "fast and strong", and plltxe sì tìran "to speak and walk", but kìyevame ulte Eywa ngahu "See you again, and may Eywa be with you".

may also cliticize to the second noun phrase, as in the formal inclusive pronouns, or in

aylìʼut horenti lìʼfyayä leNaʼvi
"(describe) the words and rules of the Naʼvi language"
ay-lìʼ-ʼu-it ay+koren-ti-sì lìʼ-fya-yä le-Naʼvi
pl-say-thing-acc pl+rule-acc-and say-way-gen adj-People

Note that the accusative suffix -it/ti is attached to both conjoined nouns aylì'u and horen, and that the genitive lì'fyayä "the language's (words and rules)" governs both.

The simple conjunction for "or" is fu. However, when the meaning is that either of two choices is equally acceptable or unacceptable, or that the speaker doesn't care which it is, the construction A, B, ke tsranten "(either) A (or) B, it doesn't matter" is used:

Yola krr, txana krr, ke tsranten.
"It doesn't matter how long it takes."
yol-a krr txan-a krr ke tsranten
short-attr time great-attr time not be.important

The conjunction slä "but" joins two clauses,

Zìsìt((o)) amrr ftolia ohe, slä zene fko niyevume nìtxan.
"I studied for five years but there is much still to learn."
zìsìt-((o)) a-mrr ft‹ol›ia ohe slä zene fko n‹iyev›ume nì-txan
year-? attr-five study‹pfv I.form but must one learn‹fut.sjv adv-much

whereas the adverb ngián "however" does not:

Aylìʼu ngian nìʼit skepek lu.
"But you sound rather formal." (lit. "[your] words, however, are a bit formal.")
ay-lìʼu ngian nì-ʼit skepek lu
pl-word however adv-bit formal be

Naʼvi does not have a special infinitive form of the verb, like "to speak" in "teach him to speak". Instead, fte "so that" is used with the subjunctive. There are several examples below.

Reported speech[edit | edit source]

Quoted speech is introduced with the quotative particle san and the unquotative particle sìk. Naʼvi only allows direct speech, not indirect (reported) speech; that is, "He said, 'I will go'," but not "He said he would go." If the quotation occurs at either end of the sentence, then only one of the particles need be used:

Poltxe oe, san zene ke uniltìranyu keʼuzivaʼu fìtseng.
p‹ol›lltxe oe san zene ke unil-tìran-yu ke-ʼu z‹iv›aʼu fì-tseng.
say‹pfv I quot must not dream-walk-er no-one come‹sjv this-place
"I have said, [quote] 'No avatar may come here'."

Here the end of the quotation is obvious, as the speaker finished speaking. However, if it occurs in the middle, so that there is non-reported material on either side, then both particles occur together as correlatives:

Poltxe Eytukan san oe kayä sìk, slä oel pot ke spaw.
p‹ol›lltxe Eytukan san oe k‹ay›ä sìk slä oe-l po-t ke spaw
say‹pfv (name) quot I go‹fut unquot but I-erg s/he-acc not believe
"Eytukan said he would go (lit. 'I will go'), but I don't believe him."

Practically speaking, however, an initial quote may still need san, as otherwise the audience might not realize that it's reported speech; it would require a context that makes that obvious before the first particle could be dropped.

These particles can also be used for the words that make up thoughts. Because the quotation is retained verbatim, speakers may end up referring to themselves in the second or third person. For instance, if someone named Ateyo had been unable to respond to someone's questions, he might say,

Räʼä fpivìl san oeyä sìpawmìri Ateyo ke new oeru ʼiveyng sìk.
räʼä fp‹iv›ìl san oe-yä ay+tì-pawm-ìri Ateyo ke new oe-ru ʼ‹iv›eyng sìk
don't think‹sjv quote I-gen pl+nomz-ask-top (name) not want I-dat respond‹sjv unquote
"Don't think that I don't want to respond to your questions." (Lit. 'Don't think, "Ateyo doesn't want to respond to me about my questions".')

The word "whether" is used for indirect questions, and so like other wh- words is not translated directly; since it's used for yes-no questions, the Naʼvi equivalent is san srake ... sìk. That is, for "he asked whether they went", say polawm po san srake fo holum sìk (or whatever the actual wording was) "he asked, 'Did they go?'".

One construction in Naʼvi is equivalent to an indirect question in English, "tell me whether (or not)",

Piveng oer ftxey nga new rivey fuke.
"Tell me if you want to live."
p‹iv›eng oe-ur ftxey nga new r‹iv›ey fu-ke
tell‹sjv I-dat choose you want live‹sjv or-not

Subordinate clauses[edit | edit source]

Some of the subordinating conjunctions, such as those indicating purpose, trigger the subjunctive in a dependent clause:

Nari soli ayoe fteke nìhawng livok. [2]
"Weexcl were careful not to get too close."
nari-s‹ol›i ayoe fte-ke nì-hawng l‹iv›ok
eye-make‹pfv we so.that-not adv-excessive close‹sjv
Sáwtute zeráʼu fte fol Kélutralti skivaʼá.
"The humans are coming to (that they may) destroy Hometree."
saw-tute z‹er›aʼu fte fo-l kel-utral-ti sk‹iv›aʼa
pl+sky-person come‹ipfv so.that pl+s/he-erg home-tree-acc destroy‹sjv

However, the independent clause is not always made explicit:

Txo new nga rivey, oehu![3]
"(Come) with me if you want to live."
txo new nga r‹iv›ey oe-hu
if want you to.live‹sjv me-with

This can result in strings of subjunctive clauses:

Nga sänume sivi poru fte tsivun pilvlltxe sì tivìran na ayoeng.
"You will teach him so that he may speak and walk as we do."
nga sä-nume s‹iv›i po-ru fte ts‹iv›un p‹i‹ol›v›lltxe t‹iv›ìran na ay-oe-nga
you nomz-learn do-sjv him-dat so.that be.able‹sjv converse‹sjvpfv›› and walk‹sjv like pl-I-you

Here the first verb, sivi, is subjunctive as a polite command, the second, tsivun, as the intended consequence of that command after fte ("teach him so that he may be able to), and the other two as dependents of the modal tsun.

Relative clauses[edit | edit source]

Naʼvi does not have relative pronouns such as English who, which, what;[note 4] instead, the attributive particle a is employed:

tute a tsun nì-Naʼvi plltxe
person sbrd be.able adv-Naʼvi speak
"a person who can speak Naʼvi"

It wouldn't matter if the phrase were "a thing which" (or "that"), "a time when", "a reason why", or "a place where"; all would use the same particle a to translate the English wh- word:

po (tsa-ne) k‹arm›ä a tsenge-t ke ts‹ìm›eʼa oe-l
s/he it-to go‹past.ipfv sbrd place-acc not see‹rec I-erg
"I didn't see where she was going" (lit. "I didn't see the place to which she was going")[note 5]

This a is the same morpheme as the a in attributive adjectives; indeed, relative clauses can be thought of as multi-word adjectives: The examples above might be more literally translated as "an able-to-speak-Naʼvi person" and "a she-was-going-to-it place", with "able to speak Naʼvi" and "she was going to it" being attributives (≈ adjectives). Indeed, attributive adjectives are simply reduced, one-word relative clauses;

sìltsana tìpawm "a good question"

is just a reduced form of

lu sìltsan a tìpawm "a question which is good".

Relative clauses are also similar in meaning to the participle:

Palulukan atusaron lu lehrrap.
palulukan a-t‹us›aron lu le-hrrap
thanator attr-hunt‹actv be adj-danger
"A hunting thanator is dangerous."
Palulukan a teraron lu lehrrap.
palulukan a t‹er›aron lu le-hrrap
thanator sbrd hunt‹ipfv be adj-danger
"A thanator that's hunting is dangerous."


A slightly more complex example of a relative clause is,

ʼAwpot set ftxey ayngal a l-ayngakip, ʼawpot a Naʼviru yomtìyìng.
"Choose one among you (that is, 'one who is among you'), one who will feed the People."
ʼawpo-t set ftxey ay-nga-l a lu ay-nga-kip, ʼawpo-t a Naʼvi-ru yom+t‹ìy›ìng
one-acc now choose pl-you-erg sbrd be pl-you-among one-acc sbrd People-dat eat+give‹imm
(Lit, "you-all choose an is-among-you individual, a will-feed-the-People individual")

Here, in ʼawpot a Naʼviru yomtìyìng "one who will feed the People", the attributive a is not adjacent to the verb, and so cannot be attached to it in writing the way it is attached to adjectives.

The attributive a is also used when a prepositional phrase modifies a noun. In English, "the cat in the hat" can be thought of as "the cat which is in the hat", with the verb 'to be' dropped. In Na'vi, though the 'be' need not be said, the a 'which' must be:

Fìpo lu vrrtep a mìsokx atsleng
"It is a demon in a false body"
fì-po lu vrrtep a mì+tokx a-tsleng
this-one be demon attr in+body attr-false

Similarly, mesyalhu a ikran "a banshee with (-hu) two wings".

In cases where English uses a stranded preposition, as in "someone to talk with", Naʼvi needs to repeat the noun or a pronoun:

Ke lu kawtu a nulnivew oe pohu tireapivängkxo äo Utral Aymokriyä.[4]
"There's nobody I'd rather commune with under the Tree of Voices"
ke lu ke-ʼaw-tu a nì-ul-n‹iv›ew oe po-hu tirea-p‹iv›ängkxo äo utral ay-mokri-yä
not be not-a-one sbrd adv-more-want‹sjv I him/her-with spirit-converse‹sjv under tree pl-voice-gen

Or literally, "There isn't nobody that I'd more like to commune with them under the Tree of Voices." Similarly,

Po tsane karmä a tsengit ke tsìmeʼa oel.
po tsa-ne k‹arm›ä a tsenge-it ke ts‹ìm›eʼa oe-ìl
she it-to go‹past.ipfv sbrd place-acc not see‹rec I-erg
"I didn't see where she was going."

Or literally, "I didn't see the place that she went to it." The tsane could be dropped, though with a bit of ambiguity, as it would no longer be completely clear that the place was her destination.

When a subject or object in the relative clause refers to the noun that it modifies, then it can be dropped:

tsayerikit tolaron a tute "the person who hunted that hexapede" (it's not required to say in full pol tsayerikit tolaron a tute "the person who he hunted that hexapede")
fìtutel tolaron a yerik "the hexapede which this person hunted" (rather than fìtutel pot tolaron a yerik "the hexapede which this person hunted it")

However, a noun in the dative or other case may not be dropped, though normally converted to a pronoun:

lu poru mesyal a ikran "a banshee that has two wings" (lit. 'a banshee which to it there are two wings'), not *mesyal lu a ikran or *mesyal a ikran.

Relative clauses with empty nouns[edit | edit source]

In the previous examples, the relative clause modified a pronoun, fìʼu "this", which did little except to anchor the relative clause. By inflecting the pronoun for case, this allows the relative clause to play various roles in the sentence. For example, the pronoun may be in the accusative, fìʼut, which when followed by a plays the role of "that" in "I think that [X]":

Ke fparmìl oel futa lu tute a tsun nì-Naʼvi set fìfya pivlltxe!
"I didn't think that there was anyone who could speak Naʼvi like that at this point!"
ke fp‹arm›ìl oe-l fì-ʼu-t=a lu tute a tsun nì-Naʼvi set fì-fya p‹iv›lltxe
not think‹past.ipfv I-erg this-thing-acc=sbrd be person sbrd be.able adv-Naʼvi now this-way speak‹sjv
(Lit. "I didn't think this [X] thing", where [X] is "there is a can-now-thus-speak-Naʼvi person".)

As an accusative form, futa is used with an ergative agent when the main verb is transitive. With an intransitive clause, the form would be fwa, a contraction of fìʼu-a.

Law lu oeru fwa nga mì reltseo nolume nìtxan!
"It's clear to me that you've learned a lot in art."
law lu oe-ru fì-ʼu-a nga rel-tseo n‹ol›ume nì-txan
clear be I-dat this-thing-attr you in image-art learn‹pfv adv-great

Tsnì is also used with an intransitive main verb such as sìlpey "to hope" or noun + si :

Ätxäle si tsnì livu oheru Uniltaron.
"I (respectfully) request (that I have) the Initiation."
ätxäle si tsnì l‹iv›u ohe-ru unil-taron
request make that be‹sjv I.form-dat dream-hunt

(If the "I" were spoken here, it would be of the form oe.)

Both the tsnì and the subjunctive may be dropped, in which case a clause like "I hope" functions as a discourse particle, coordinate to the adjacent clause:

Sìlpey oe, layu oeru yeʼrìn sìltsana fmawn a tsun oe ayngaru tivìng.
"I hope I will soon have good news to give you."
sìlpey oe
hope I
l‹ay›u oe-ru yeʼrìn sìltsan-a fmawn a tsun oe ay-nga-ru t‹iv›ìng
be‹fut I-dat soon good-attr news sbrd can I pl-you-dat give‹sjv

Other small grammatical words than pronouns may head the relative clause. One of them, krr "time", behaves as an adverb in that it does not take case endings to show its relationship to the main verb:

Tìeyngit oel tolel a krr, ayngaru payeng.
"When I get an answer, I'll tell you."
tì-eyng-it oe-l t‹ol›el a krr ay-nga-ru p‹ay›eng
nomz-to.answer-acc I-erg receive‹pfv sbrd time pl-you-dat tell‹fut

Note that the verb 'get' is perfective, even though it is not in the past, as I do not plan on telling you until the event of getting the answer is complete.

Such subordinating words may also appear at the beginning of a sentence:

Fwa sute pxel nga tsun oeyä hìʼia tìngopit sivar fte pivlltxe nìlor fìtxan oeru teya si.
fìʼu-a ay+tute pxel nga tsun oe-yä hìʼi-a tì-ngop-it s‹iv›ar fte p‹iv›lltxe nì-lor fì-txan oe-ru teya si
this-sbrd pl-person like you can I-gen little-attr nomz-create-acc use‹sjv so.that speak‹sjv adv-beautiful this-much I-dat full make
"I'm glad that people like you can use my little creation to speak so beautifully."

Here the independent clause is fì'u oeru teya si "this fills me (with joy)".

Combined with the adposition hu "(together) with", this fwa translates the English conjunction "although", and similar expressions based on tsafya "that way" the conjunction "however (whichever way)". However, "however" in the sense "but" (as in this sentence) is a separate word, ngian, as noted above.


Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. The lack of case marking is yet to be explained.
  2. Also aylìʼu na ayskxé mì teʼlán "the words (are) like stones in my heart"
  3. This a is just the attributive a used for adjectives, used with tsun "be able" to form an attributive verb.
  4. Naʼvi pe forms are only used to ask questions
  5. The word tsane "to that" may be dropped out, for a more colloquial po karmä a tsenget ke tsìmeʼa oel.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Questions Answered: Invented Languages", New York Times, March 10, 2010
  2. Transcribed from sound recording in the New York Times Magazine
  3. "We Translate Your Phrases into Na'vi", UGO Movie Blog, December 23, 2009
  4. "Calling All 'Avatar' Fanatics — How to Say 'I Love You' in Na'vi", lemondrop, 2010 Jan 26


Verbs · Discourse

Verbs · Na'vi · Discourse