LearnNavi.org on Fark!

We were just mentioned on Fark – just hours after starting the site!

The post was charmingly captioned as Language reference website opens for Na’vi, the invented language from the movie Avatar. Surprisingly, no translation provided for “if you can understand this, you’re probably a virgin”

My favorite part is probably the rather sardonic parody of “In the Navy”:

In the Na’vi
Yes, you can soar the Iknimaya
In the Na’vi
Yes, with your brother Omatikaya
In the Na’vi
Come on now, people, ride an ikran high
In the Na’vi, in the Na’vi
Can’t you see we need to fly
In the Na’vi
Come on, protect the hometree place
In the Na’vi
Come on and join your fellow blueface
In the Na’vi
Come on people, and ride an ikran high
In the Na’vi, in the Na’vi, in the Na’vi

Update: this was our first “real” news mention (not counting blogs and miscellaneous forums and fan communities) within the realms of the Internet.

Some highlights of Na’vi: Paul Frommer’s post on Language Log

Following Paul Frommer’s guest post on the ever-popular linguistics blog Language Log, is what started LearnNavi, and the Na’vi-learning community. Language Log’s follow-up post occurred 3 months thereafter: How Language Log helped jump-start a subculture.

Also of note: many enthused fans found Professor Frommer’s email (which I will not re-post here to preserve some level of privacy), and emailed him with questions about the language. After several days of what is assumed to be a constant flood of interest, Paulmanaged to respond to his newly found fans.

From: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1977

Given the interest that’s already been shown in Na’vi, I’m grateful to Ben Zimmer for the opportunity to post a few highlights of the language to Language Log. As will be apparent, the information below is not intended to be anything like a complete description; the Phonetics and Phonology section is the most complete, but the Morphology and Syntax sections are mere sketches. Given my contractual obligations, a more thorough treatment awaits another venue. But I hope this sketch will answer a few questions and perhaps serve to counterbalance some of the erroneous information that has made its way to the Internet. Needless to say, comments are welcome.

Phonetics and Phonology

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

1. Consonants

The consonants are (in the “official” Na’vi transcription):

Ejectives: px tx kx
Voiceless Stops: p t k
Affricate: ts
Voiceless fricatives: f s h
Voiced fricatives: v z
Nasals: m n ng
Liquids: r, l
Glides: w y

Note the following:

  • The red consonants can occur as the first element of a syllable-initial consonant cluster.
  • The blue consonants can occur in syllable-final position.

Note also:

  • px, tx, kx, ts, and ng are digraphs representing the three ejectives, the affricate, and the velar nasal respectively.
  • In the “scientific” transcription, ts is replaced by c and ng by g. For commercial purposes, however—and also for ease of reading by the actors—the “official” transcription is preferred.
  • The letters b, d, j, and q never appear in Na’vi.

2. Vowels, Diphthongs, and “Pseudovowels”


Na’vi has a 7-vowel system:

i , ì u
e o
ä a

Transcription and phonetics:

i [i]
ì [I]
e [ε]  Note: always lax
ä [æ]
u [u] or [U]
o [o]
a [a]


Na’vi has 4 diphthongs: aw [aw], ew [εw], ay [aj], ey [εj].

3. Syllable structure and phonotactic constraints

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. These are:

Ejectives: px tx kx
Stops: p t k
Nasals: m n ng
Liquids: r, l

Pseudovowels. 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. Example: ikran ‘banshee’ divides as ik-ran, not *i-kran.

4. 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.

Examples: tsaleioae (6 syllables), meoauniaea (8 syllables)

5. 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.)

E.g. 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:


8 C’s participate in rule: px, tx, kx, ’, p, t, ts, k

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

Word Classes and Morphology

1. Nouns

Nouns are inflected for case and number but only rarely for gender.


Number (singular, dual, trial, plural) is indicated by prefixes, each of which triggers lenition:

Short plurals: When the plural marker ay- is prefixed to a word beginning with a lenitable consonant, it may be dropped after lenition has occurred.

Example : The plural of tokx ‘body’ is ay+tokx. Thus we have :

*aytokx → aysokx ‘bodies’

But now the plural is marked redundantly, first by the prefix itself and second by lenition of the initial consonant of the singular. So the ay- may be optionally dropped, yielding tokx ‘body’ vs. sokx ‘bodies’.


Nouns and pronouns take six cases (counting Topical as a case): Subjective, Agentive, Patientive, Genitive, Dative, Topical. The case system is tripartite—i.e., it distinguishes between intransitive subjects (S), transitive subjects (A), and objects (P). Case morphemes are suffixes, generally with several allomorphs. Changes to the noun base sometimes occur with the Genitive.

The Topical form of a noun or pronoun establishes a loose semantic connection to the clause and has a wide range of uses. It may be translated along the lines of “with regard to,” “as for,” “turning to,” “concerning,” etc., but it can also appear where a genitive or dative might be expected.


Oeri ta peyä fahew akewong ontu teya längu.
I-TOP from his smell alien nose full is-NEG-ATTITUDE

‘My nose is full of his alien smell.’

2. Pronouns

Like nouns, pronouns exist in singular, dual, trial, and plural forms. In the first person dual, trial, and plural, a distinction is made between inclusive and exclusive forms.

3. Verbs

Verbs are inflected for tense, aspect, mood/dependency, and speaker attitude, but not for person or number. Verb inflections are effected exclusively through infixes, which are of two types—first position and second position.

With monosyllabic verb roots, first-position infixes simply come before second-position ones. With multisyllabic roots, however, first-position infixes occur in the penultimate syllable and second-position ones in the final syllable.

First-position infixes indicate tense, aspect, or mood; there are also participial and reflexive infixes in this position, the latter being in “pre-first” position so it can co-occur with other first-position infixes. Second-position infixes indicate speaker attitude—positive orientation, negative orientation, or uncertainty/indirect knowledge. Many of these infixes are optional on the sentence level. (In discourse, however, overt indication of tense or aspect may be required.)

Aspect is perfective or imperfective. Tense has five points on the time line: present, past proximate, past general, future proximate, future general. Verbs can be inflected for tense alone, aspect alone, or a combination of tense and aspect.

Selected examples:

Root: taron ‘hunt’

Note: English translations are only approximate and represent one of several possibilities.

Tense only:
taron ‘hunt’
tìmaron ‘just now hunted’
tayaron ‘will hunt’
Aspect only:
teraron ‘be hunting’
tolaron ‘have hunted’
Both tense and aspect:
tìrmaron ‘was just now hunting’

Many more such forms exist.

Including second-position infixes:

tìrmareion ‘was just now hunting (and the speaker feels positive about it)’

tayarängon ‘will hunt (and the speaker feels negative about it)’

In the last two examples, the root is indicated in red. Such forms raise an interesting question: To what extent can a root be obscured by inflections and still be recognizable? When Na’vi listeners hear tìrmareion, for example, do they immediately recognize it as a form of the verb taron? By the same token, are speakers able to produce such forms spontaneously? I’d like to think the answer to both questions is yes, but the matter requires further study; we need more samples of discourse from Pandora!

4. Adjectives

Adjectives are invariant and undeclined. A derivational prefix forms adjectives out of other parts of speech.

5. Adpositions

These can either precede or follow their heads with no semantic distinction; in the latter case, they’re bound to the noun or pronoun. E.g., ‘with you’ = hu nga or ngahu.

Certain adpositions, when in pre-nominal position, trigger lenition. There’s no predicting which do and which don’t—they simply have to be learned. (Adpositions are marked in the lexicon as either ADP+ or ADP-.)

Because of the “short plural” phenomenon, ADP+ adpositions can yield ambiguous structures. Example: mì ‘in’ is ADP+; does mì sokx mean ‘in the body’ or ‘in the bodies’? The language has developed ways of dealing with these potential ambiguities.


The most notable aspect of Na’vi syntax is the freedom of word order. The case system allows all 6 sequences of S, O, and V. Additionally, adjectives, genitives, and relative clauses can either precede or follow their heads.

Nouns and adjectives are tied together by the morpheme a, which comes between them and is attached as a bound morpheme to the adjective. For example, ‘long river’ is either ngima kilvan or kilvan angim.

There’s obviously a lot more to say about syntax—for example, how the language handles subordination and complementation. That will be for another time.


Sigourney Weaver talks ‘Avatar’


With just days to go before the long-awaited release of director James Cameron’s sci-fi magnum opus, Avatar, actress Sigourney Weaver, who plays a botanist who is an ally of the alien Na’vi tribe, talks about reuniting with her Aliens director.

EW: James Cameron told me he initially didn’t want to cast you in Avatar because he was concerned people would think of Ripley in Aliens.
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: He never told me that. [laughs] I got a call from Jim in about September of 2006 and he said, “I’ve been working on this for quite a while and I’d really love for you to read it.” I said, “I’d love to read it. Are you kidding?” It was a hard script to read because it’s so detailed — everything you see onscreen is actually in the script. I thought, “This is glorious but I don’t see how you could ever actually do this.” It’s like something from your dreams. This movie is a Jim Cameron cornucopia: He created the cameras, he created the world, he created the creatures, he created the costumes, he created the Na’vi language. If you talk about playing God, he’s done it — except it took him 14 years instead of 7 days.

There’s so much CGI in this movie, you spent almost the entire shoot acting in an empty room and having to imagine it was an alien world. What was that like?
There were no sets, no costumes — you were just there in the world you were putting together. We were just playing: “This is a log.” “This is a giant leaf.” “You can drink from this plant.” “This is a giant six-legged creature.” It was a lot of fun.

What was it like seeing your character’s avatar onscreen for the first time?
It was amazing. He made Grace look so much more like me than I realized he would. I was like, “Oh! That looks like me!”

You mean, if you were an 11-foot-tall blue alien.
[laughs] Exactly.

How has Cameron changed since you worked together on Aliens 25 years ago?

He’s a different man. When we worked on Aliens we were in England and the crew was like, “Who’s this young upstart? Where’s Ridley Scott?” He kept setting up screenings of The Terminator for them, and they wouldn’t show up. Over the course of the shoot, they learned who they were dealing with. Jim’s actually a nice guy. He’s demanding — he’s going to make you bring your 200 percent game — but he’s never mean and he’s harder on himself than anyone else. All these years later, he’s more settled, he’s happily married, he does this because he loves it, and he can get what he wants and create what he wants.

There’s been so much build-up to the release of Avatar. What are you expecting?

We’re going to be on a publicity tour, going from country to country. It’s going to be fun to go to Moscow. I think Jim knows some Russian cosmonauts, so maybe we can go out drinking with cosmonauts.

How To Speak Na’vi

By Jordan Hoffman

We’ve made no secret of our love for Avatar and l’essence du Cameron these past few days. Much of this respect stems from his devotion to creating a completely one of a kind experience with this film.

“Have you heard he even hired some dude to create a fake language?”

Some dared scoff at James Cameron for this, but from the get go we said, “awesome.”

We had the good fortune to speak with the USC linguistics professor Paul Frommer about the Na’vi language, working with James Cameron and, of course, how to curse if you are a ten foot tall blue space creature.

Jordan Hoffman: Firstly, how do you say “good morning” in Na’vi?

Paul Frommer: They don’t actually say “good morning” on Pandora, but what they do say is “Kaltxi” which means “hello” or “Oel ngati kameie” which means “I see you.”

Jordan Hoffman: And “I see you” means much more than to regard visually, it means “to understand your soul,” right?

Paul Frommer: Exactly. And in the script the “s” in “See” is capitalized.

Jordan Hoffman: You said something interesting. I said “how do you say this in Na’vi” and you said, “on Pandora one says. . .” Does this mean Na’vi is the only language on Pandora?

Paul Frommer: It is. Now, that may be developed further, but you would have to speak to James Cameron about that. Still, there is one language, but there might be different dialects.

Jordan Hoffman: Well, yes, because we see different tribes.

Paul Frommer: That may be developed down the road, yes.

Jordan Hoffman: If you have a sharp ear for linguistics, will you hear different dialects in the current film?

Paul Frommer: Actually, you might.

Jordan Hoffman: Is this a language truly created out of whole cloth?

Paul Frommer: It is virtually impossible to say you’ve created something that is wholly unique, in the sense that no other language on Earth doesn’t do it this way. I mean, there are roughly 3000 languages in the world. What I can guarantee is that the particular combinations of elements in Na’vi is unique. It has a grammatical property here and you may say “that is reminiscent of Persian” or “this sounds Indonesian,” but the particular combination of elements, of sounds and of word-building rules, and rules of putting words into phrases, that is unique.

Jordan Hoffman: Are there quirks in Na’vi we need to know about to continue our studies? In Klingon, for example, it is well known that there is no exact translation of the verb “to be.”

Paul Frommer: Na’vi has “to be!” (chuckles) I am a huge admirer of Klingon. When I got this gig, though, I made a conscious decision not to look too much at other constructed languages.

Jordan Hoffman: Even Esperanto?

Paul Frommer: I haven’t looked to closely at that either. I have some experience with Esperanto, as a linguist you pick lots of things up over the years. I am not fluent in Esperanto though. But to get back to your question – quirks of Na’vi. All the verbs have in-fixes, not suffixes or prefixes. Also, there is a system that the order of major elements in a sentence doesn’t matter.

Jordan Hoffman: Gimme a f’rinstance.

Paul Frommer: Well, there’s a root called “taron” (pronounced “gad’on”) which means “hunt.” If you want to modify that to mean “hunting has been completed,” to add a past tense or future tense or imperfect aspect, rather than putting something at the beginning or end, you put something right after the “t” – so various forms appear: “tovaron, telaron, tusaron, tairon” – that is relatively rare in human language. And that was really fun to do.

Jordan Hoffman: Okay – what are some Na’vi cursewords? Let’s say you are carrying a big block of unobtainium and you drop it on your foot. You shout out “Oh ____”

Paul Frommer: Well, one word that had gotten some play is “skxawng” [the “x” is a click.] This means “moron.”

Jordan Hoffman: Sure, that’s in the movie.

Paul Frommer: Another way – and this is in the video game – which is “pxasik” [sounds like “puh –(lip smack) askik.]

Jordan Hoffman: Woah, say that again!

Paul Frommer: Pxasik!

Jordan Hoffman: And this means?

Paul Frommer: It means “screw that!” It’s pretty vulgar.

Jordan Hoffman: There’s a moment in the film where Princess Neytiri and Jake Sully share an “intimate” moment and, since it is a PG-13 film, the lights fade. Were the lights to stay on and if we were to describe that act in a lewd, vulgar term, what would we say?

Paul Frommer: I don’t have a word for that yet. Even at this point, this is an ongoing project. The vocabulary is roughly at 1000 words, not too big, but enough of a springboard.

Jordan Hoffman: I have a hunch there will be Avatar comics and expansion novels – I’m sure the Alan Dean Fosters of the world have some work ahead of them – is this something where you will consult with the expansion of the language?

Paul Frommer: I have not yet been approached about anything, and I don’t know what the plans are, but I would love to continue to be involved.

Jordan Hoffman: Is Mr. Cameron as fluent in the language as you?

Paul Frommer: Probably not – I think I’m the best versed out there right now?

Jordan Hoffman: With all his money he can’t get a private tutor?

Paul Frommer: I think he had other things on his mind.

Jordan Hoffman: Of all of the created languages, which one has Na’vi vanquished? Is it Elvish, Huttese, Klingon or what the Gelflings speak in Dark Crystal?

Paul Frommer: I don’t like to think of vanquishing. I like to think of living side by side.

Jordan Hoffman: That’s a very Na’vi way of thinking.

Paul Frommer: I like to think so. But, heck, if Na’vi can achieve even a percentage of what Klingon has achieved that would be fantastic.

Jordan Hoffman: Well, this leads to an actual question – the Na’vi philosophy is a very natural, holistic way of life. Those blue suckers are very green. Did this in any way inform the construction of the language?

Paul Frommer: No. Only with certain concepts that I knew needed to be in there like “Tree of Souls” or “Hometree” and some of the religious concepts of Eowah. Otherwise, no, I just wanted exotic sounds to the Western ear – the ejectives the [proceeds clicking and making beat box sounds] and something fun for the audience. There is really no connection between the grammatical structure or aural quality of a language with the culture of a people.

Jordan Hoffman: Can you translate the following phrase?

Paul Frommer: Wait, wait, wait!

Jordan Hoffman: “All of this imperialism has left me feeling blue.”

Paul Frommer: Okay, the answer is “no.” “Imperialism” is a word I’d have to come up with. But this was one of the challenges on the set. I would be approached with “we’re adding a line and we need to say XYZ.” Sometimes I had the words right there, but sometimes I needed to go and create them.

Jordan Hoffman: Is there a Na’vi word for Unobtainium?

Paul Frommer: Not yet. Hasn’t come up in the script yet. The vocabulary developed by looking at the script and translating from what was needed. If the word hasn’t been required yet, most of the time it hasn’t been created yet.

Jordan Hoffman: Were you on the set a lot?

Paul Frommer: On the days when there was a lot of spoke Na’vi I was on set. I had a few 13 hour days on set in the Na’vi village, for example.
Jordan Hoffman: Had you been on a film set before?

Paul Frommer: Never. And I spoke to people saying, “don’t think this is a typical film set.” Walking onto the stage was like being at NASA. Banks of computers.

Jordan Hoffman: Did you witness classic Jim Cameron barking 25 orders at once?

Paul Frommer: He was definitely an intense presence on the set. It is clear this is an extremely creative individual who knows exactly what he wants and he gets exactly what he wants.

Jordan Hoffman: If I send you this transcript, will you translate it into Na’vi.

Paul Frommer: I would love to – but I can’t give you an ETA on that. . .may take a while.

Na’vi talk down Klingon as the last word in alien-speak

From: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article6954138.ece

Chris Ayres in Los Angeles

Klingon-speakers, prepare for war. From this weekend, science-fiction aficionados across the globe will have a new make-believe extraterrestrial language to learn and digest, thanks to the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar.

With its headache-inducing syntax, violently pronounced “ejectives” and 1,000-word vocabulary, the Na’vi language — created by a Los Angeles university professor — is Hollywood’s first serious attempt to usurp Klingon since the Star Trek villains’ tongue was introduced in 1984.

Not that Paul Frommer, 65, the former linguist hired to create the alien vocabulary — including the names of 50 fictional plant species on the moon of Pandora — sees it quite that way. “I have nothing but tremendous respect for Klingon. It’s the gold standard of extraterrestrial languages,” Professor Frommer told The Times. “But I think Na’vi goes in a very different direction.”

He has been working on Na’vi for about four years, ever since a colleague at the University of Southern California took a call from the production company of James Cameron, the film’s director. When Cameron’s producer explained that he was looking for someone to invent an alien tongue, Professor Frommer was put on the line. “At this age, I never thought I’d find a new career,” said the academic whose day job involves teaching business communication.

“The response has been quite remarkable and totally unexpected. I never thought there’d be this level of interest. But I really don’t think of Na’vi as a competitor to Klingon. If it does develop a following, that would be quite wonderful.”

Cameron, whose 1997 film Titanic took $1.8 billion at the box office, making it the highest-earning film of all time — is not quite as diplomatic as his linguist-in-chief, going so far as to boast that his intention was to “out-Klingon Klingon”.

This will be no mean feat, given that Klingon’s acceptance in popular culture has led to a Klingon iPhone translator, a Klingon Language Institute, of which there are 2,500 members in 50 countries, and a Klingon version of Hamlet.

For students of such memorable Klingon phrases as Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam (“Today is a good day to die”), the emergence of a rival system of alien communication is without doubt a “hargh” (“major confrontation”).

Avatar will be inescapable over coming weeks, thanks to a global promotional budget of $150 million, in addition to its record-breaking $300 million-plus production budget. The 3-D film about a US Marine sent to live on a moon populated by blue humanoid creatures known as the Na’vi had its premiere in London on Thursday and goes on general release next week.

Critics have been taken aback by the attention to detail. Even Star Wars did not feature proper alien languages: the voice of Chewbacca, for example, was a collection of overdubbed animal noises, including that of a black bear at the Happy Hollow Zoo in San José.

Nevertheless, science-fiction languages on the screen date back to the 1970s, when the prominent linguist Victoria Fromkin was hired as a consultant on Land of the Lost.

A decade later, another linguist, Marc Okrand, was taken on by the makers of Star Trek and Klingon began to take shape.

Professor Frommer says that the only rule he had to follow was creating a language that was not beyond the capability of human vocal cords. The film’s actors are no doubt glad of this, although they struggled.

“It was so hard,” Zoe Saldana, who plays the leading Na’vi, said in a recent interview. “All the actors worked together. It was the only way.”

Useful Na’vi phrases

It’s a pleasure to be able to chat with you in Na’vi

Tsun oe ngahu nìNa’vi pivängkxo a fì’u oeru prrte’ lu

I apologise for this moron

Fìskxawngìri tsap’alute sengi oe

These demons are forbidden here

Fayvrrtep fìtsenge lu kxanì

Your alien smell fills my nose

Oeri ta ngeyä fahew akewong ontu teya längu

Useful Klingon phrases

Yes, certainly

HIja HISlaH, bej

Your mother has a smooth forehead!

Hab Sosli!

Pardon me, where is the loo?

nuqDaq ‘oH puchpa ‘e’? buy’ ngop

Revenge is a dish best served cold

bortaS bir jablu’DI’reh QaQqu’nay

Sources: KLI.org, Paul Frommer, Times database