Phonetics

The Na’vi language intentionally has a rare and diverse assortment of sounds found in many languages of Earth. Because of this, there is no unanimous agreement among people as to which earthly language it sounds like. Some say German, Some say Japanese, some say Hawaiian. This certain mix of familiar and unfamiliar sounds and combinations of sounds are among many things that make Na’vi unique and fun to learn and speak.There are no sounds that are impossible for humans to pronounce, though some might be more difficult than others to pronounce for some people. The key is good practice. A good place to find help learning the Na’vi sound system is in our Forums, where you can also get help translating specific words.

If you want to figure out what your name would be in Na’vi, don’t ask here, join us in the Forums to get help with that!


Phonetics and Phonology

Na’vi has 20 consonants, 7 vowels, 4 diphthongs, and 2 syllabic “pseudovowels,” rr and ll.

Na’vi IPA Literal Approximate English Example
ʔ “uh-oh”
a a aah “father”
ä æ ahh “cat”, “pack”
aw aw aou “noun”
ay aj eye “eye”, “fly”
ts t͡s tSS “cats”
e ɛ eh “then”
ew ɛw Eh-w “Beowulf”
ey ɛj aey “hey”
f f ff “fool”
ng ŋ nng “sing”,”lungs”
h h hh “ham”
i i ee “machine”, “prestige”
ì ɪ iih “thin”, “bit”
k k k’ “skill”,”escape”
l l ll “left”, “bell”
ll lll “table”
m m mm “man”, “ham”
n n nn “no”, “tin”
o o oh “mow”,”old”
p p p’ “spin”,”happy”
r ɾ rrd More info
rr trtrtr Strongly trilled “r”
s s ss “see”, “city”
t t t’ “still”,”plastic”
u u oou “dude”
v v vv “voice”, “have”
w w w’ “we”
tx More info
kx More info
px More info
y j y’ “yes”
z z zz “zoo”

Consonants

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Ejective px [p'] tx [t'] kx [k']

Plosive
p [p] t [t] k [k] ‘ [ʔ]
Affricate ts [ts]
Voiceless fricatives f [f] s [s] h [h]
Voiced fricatives v [v] z [z]
Nasals m [m] n [n] ng [ŋ]
Liquids r [ɾ]
l [l]
Glides w [w] y [j]
  • The green consonants can occur as the first element of a syllable-initial consonant cluster.
  • The red consonants can occur in syllable-final position.

Vowels, Diphthongs, and “Pseudovowels”

Vowels

There are seven simple vowels: a [a], ä [æ], e [ɛ], i [i], ì [ɪ], o [o], u [u] or [ʊ].

Front English Example Back English Example
Close i [i] “machine” u [u]
~ [ʊ]
“dude”
“put”
ì [ɪ] “thin”, “bit”
Mid e [ɛ] “then”, “set” o [o] “more”
Open ä [æ]
a [a]
“cat”, “pack”
“father”

Dipthongs

Na’vi has 4 diphthongs: aw, ew, ay, ey.
(A “diphthong” is when a vowel sound glides from one to another, as in “boy.”)

Dipthon English Example
aw [aw] “house”
ay [ay] “fly”
ew [ew] “Beowulf”
ey [ey] “hey”

Vowels, Diphthongs, and “Pseudovowels”

Every syllable has a single vowel or diphthong at its center. Each vowel or diphthong in a word corresponds to a separate syllable. A single vowel or diphthong may be a syllable by itself.

Within syllables, Na’vi vowels and diphthongs can be preceded by either one or two consonants. They can also be followed by one consonant. That is, the syllable structure is (C)(C)V(C), where V represents a vowel or a diphthong. Restrictions on which consonants can occur in which positions are given below.

Initial Consonants

Any consonant can occur at the beginning of a syllable.

Consonant Clusters

Clusters of two consonants can occur, but only in syllable-initial position and only in the following combinations:
f, s, ts + {p, t, k, px, tx, kx, m, n, ng, r, l, w, y}
There are thus 39 possible initial C-clusters, all of which are attested in the lexicon.

Final Consonants

Only certain consonants occur in syllable-final position:
Ejectives px tx kx
Stops p t k
Nasals m n ng
Liquids r , l

Pesudovowels

In CV syllables, the liquids l and r can replace the vowel. When they are syllabic they are lengthened (the r is very strongly trilled, the l always front and “light”) and written ll and rr respectively.

Note: Sequences of stop + liquid, though they cannot occur initially, may be found medially. In such cases, however, a syllable boundary intervenes.

ikran (banshee) divides as ik-ran, not *i-kran.

Vowel clusters

Na’vi allows unlimited sequences of vowels in a word. If no glottal stop intervenes, the vowels in such clusters glide smoothly from one to another. Each such vowel represents a separate syllable.

  • tsaleioae (6 syllables)
  • meoauniaea (8 syllables)

Phonetic detail and phonology

Voiceless stops are unaspirated. In final position they are unreleased.

Na’vi r is a flap, as in Spanish pero or Indonesian surat.

Word stress in Na’vi is unpredictable and distinctive. Stress must thus be specified for each word. (In learning materials only, the stressed syllable in a word is underlined.)

  • tute (person)
  • tute (female person)

Lenition

Following certain adpositions and prefixes, initial consonants mutate as follows:

px, tx, kx -> p, t, k
p, t/ts, k -> f, s, h
‘ (glottal stop) -> Ø (disappears altogether)

8 Cs participate in rule:
‘, px, tx, kx, p, t, ts, k

12 Cs participate do not:
f, s, h, v, z, m, n, ng, r, l, w, y