Speaking the language of Avatar


Gillian is talking the language of Pandora, the place where the Na’vi people live in the film ‘Avatar’.
Her guest, Prof Paul Frommer, is the creator of the Na’vi language and has given Gill some tips on how to speak it. Reckons she has a natural talent!
He’ll be in Fremantle on Friday to speak at the national conference of the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators. You could be there to witness talks in translating and interpreting; on machine translation, and to see a demonstration of simultaneous interpreting, as well as the keynote address by Professor Frommer about his fictional language. He’s speaking at 9am. A day pass to the conference will let you in, but you must register beforehand online at http://www.ausitconference.org.

Extraterrestrial Na’vi



Na’vi is the language of the extraterrestrial blue beings that inhabit the planet of Pandora in the movie Avatar. Maria Zijlstra talks to its inventor, Paul Frommer.

Maria Zijlstra: And now, for something out of this world—hello from me, Maria Zijlstra for Lingua franca here on ABC Radio National—talking this time about the huge blockbuster that’s breaking all the records for movie takings and attendances, Avatar; and about the language of the extraterrestrial blue beings who inhabit the distant planet of Pandora—members of the Na’vi tribe, who speak Na’vi, a language invented by Paul Frommer.

Professor Frommer has a doctorate in linguistics but, also, much experience in the real world of business, and teaches in the Center for Management Communication in the School of Business at the University of Southern California.

As a lover of languages though, he was quick to respond to an email from the director of Avatar, James Cameron, looking for someone to invent a language for the movie. Right, Paul?

Paul Frommer: Yeah! This email that you’re referring to was sent from his production company, which is Lightstorm Entertainment, to the linguistics department at USE, asking for someone who might be able to do this. But although I’m no longer a part of the department, I have a good colleague and friend, Ed Finegan, who is a professor in the linguistics department. In fact he was my very first professor when I began studying linguistics back in 1971. And he saw the email and he said to himself, knowing me, he said, ‘This sounds like Paul.’

Maria Zijlstra: ‘It sounds like Paul.’ Can you just expand on that?

Paul Frommer: Well, Ed and I had written a linguistics workbook together. It’s called Looking at Languages, and it presents data from about 30 different languages to students in an elementary linguistics class so that they can practise the theoretical principles they’ve been studying. And, for the book, Ed contributed most of the problems having to do with English—and a few others—and I contributed most of the problems having to do with non-English languages. So he knew that I had this interest in just looking at data from other languages. In fact I had put together a little problem, just a one-page thing, with some made-up data from a fictitious language. It was nowhere near a complete language, it just was some data that illustrated a particular point.

Maria Zijlstra: You’d done this some time before this whole project began, you mean?

Paul Frommer: Yeah, right. And I sent James Cameron a copy of the book and fortunately I was called in for an interview a week or two later and it went well, and at the end of it he stood up and shook my hand and said, ‘Welcome aboard.’

Maria Zijlstra: That was the beginning, but the project as it evolved was really a collaboration, I understand, between you and James Cameron and perhaps other people as well. You needed his approval. You didn’t just go away and make it up and then come back and present it to him.

Paul Frommer: Yes and no. In terms of the sound of the language, yes, we did definitely work together. Jim had come up with a few words on his own for the original script. They were mainly character names. A few names of animals. The word Na’vi itself is James Cameron’s, and a few others. So I had a bit of a sense of the sound that he had in mind. But I added quite a bit and I presented to James these things that I called sound palettes. At that point there wasn’t any grammar, there wasn’t any syntax, morphology…I just made up some stuff. Just words that sounded like it might be a language, but that had a sound structure to them.

I played around with things like, for example, tone. Would it be a language that had tone, the way Chinese does? I’m sure you know, in Chinese, the way your voice goes up and down not only determines whether, for example, it’s a question or a statement, but it actually determines the meaning of a word. So the example people give is ‘ma’ [articulates at four different pitches] Those are four totally different words, although they each have M, A as their consonant and vowel. So that was one thing I experimented with. Another thing I experimented with was distinctive vowel length. So, of course there are many languages where, depending upon how long you hold a vowel, you can get a different word.

So I ran some of these things by Jim, just for his approval. He wasn’t particularly interested in tone or in vowel length, but what he did like are these things called ejectives. These kind of clicky sounds—or, at least they strike some people as clicks or pops—but they are actually versions of familiar consonants. There’s a P ejective which sounds kind of like [articulates]. And there’s a T version [articulates] and a K version [articulates]. These ejectives are found in languages in various parts of the world: some in the western hemisphere, some in Africa, some in Central Asia. So, yeah, Jim approved sort of the overall sound.

But then, when it was time to construct the morphology and syntax, that is, the rules for building words and for putting words together in phrases and sentences, that was pretty much up to me.

Maria Zijlstra: Can you talk a bit in it, so that we can hear it. What would be a typical sentence that a Na’vi person might say?

Paul Frommer: Okay, if I were to greet you I would say: Kaltxi. Oel ngati kameie. Tsun oe ngahu niNa’vi pivängkxo a fi’u oeru prrte’ lu. And that means hello, I see you—which is the greeting that’s famous from the movie—how are you? It’s a pleasure to be able to chat with you in Na’vi.

Maria Zijlstra: Do you converse with anyone in it? Do you talk to yourself, or is there someone else who you chat with in it?

Paul Frommer: Well at this point, in terms of oral practice, I really don’t have anyone. However, what’s absolutely extraordinary, and what I find astonishing, is that I am getting people writing me emails in Na’vi. And this is something I never expected. You know, there is a certain amount of information that’s out there, and some of which the studio put out themselves. And I’ve explained a few things in various formats to various journalists and so on. So, given that and also given a book that the studio published which had a small version of the dictionary in it, there are people who have been working like crazy, trying to master the language, and it’s been quite remarkable. Some of them are really good!

Maria Zijlstra: You sound surprised.

Paul Frommer: Well, I mean, I frankly never thought that there would be that much interest in the language, but there is now a website—which I had nothing to do with and the studio had nothing to do with, it was purely created by the fans to help each other learn the language—which, last I checked had something like 58,000 posts. And there are sub-forums on that website in I think about 15 different languages. Really quite amazing!

Maria Zijlstra: Well, yes and no, because it isn’t just sort of weirdo people and professors of linguistics who like language. All of us have this incredible facility for language. I mean, you know, that’s really the benchmark for the human being. And there are of course heaps of invented languages written for make-believe communities of beings: some of them are in books like Tolkien’s Quenya, or Elvish; and in movies, most famously the language used in Star Trek.

Paul Frommer: Klingon, of course!

Maria Zijlstra: Do you know the inventor of that? Marc Okrand?

Paul Frommer: I don’t really know him very well, although both of us were on a BBC radio program six or eight weeks ago. That was really the first time that we met. I would like to get to know Marc better, and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better. I’m sure that we have a lot of very interesting stories to exchange.

Maria Zijlstra: Yeah! Are there other people who have invented a language for a movie that’s become such a focus of interest internationally?

Paul Frommer: Yeah. I guess the two of us probably are at this point the most prominent, but there certainly have been others. There was a linguist at UCLA, the University of California Los Angeles, Vicki Fromkin, a very highly-respected, well thought-of linguist who invented a language—I believe it was called Paku—for a TV series. If I’m not mistaken it was Land of the Lost. But I guess that at this point Klingon and Na’vi are the best-known and well-developed languages for movies.

Klingon of course is the gold standard. It’s been around for a long time. It has a following all over the world. There’s now a translation of Hamlet into Klingon. So I don’t know if we’re quite ready for that ready for that yet, in Na’vi. I think we only have about a thousand words.

Maria Zijlstra: Hey, it’s fascinating because, well—if I’m right it’s fascinating—because don’t the three of you then, Marc and you and this Vicki who you’ve mentioned, haven’t you all studied at universities in California, then?

Paul Frommer: Well how interesting…

Maria Zijlstra: You’ve all studied linguistics there; what is it about the air that you breathe or the way you talk to each other?

Paul Frommer: That’s a very good question, I’m not sure. And actually to add to that hypothesis, there is a society, and unfortunately I’m not going to get the name right—I can get back to you on that—but there’s a society of conlangers, people who construct languages, and I think the people who are majorly behind that, most of them seem to have come from Berkeley. So there is actually quite a bit of interest in conlanging.

Maria Zijlstra: What do you call that? What’s that?

Paul Frommer: Conlanger…it comes from constructed language, a conlang. So a conlanger is someone I guess like Marc or like Vicky Fromkin or like myself who actually make up languages. Now there are different purposes in doing this. Sometimes people just do it for the fun of it, for the beauty of it, the aesthetic value. And some of these languages can be extraordinarily interesting and way out. There’s a language constructed by a linguist whose name is Sylvia Sotomayor which doesn’t have verbs. And that apparently is a pretty well developed language. Now that, I haven’t taken a look at, but that must be rather difficult to learn.

Maria Zijlstra: Well, it’s interesting that you use that phrase ‘way out’. It makes me wonder, then, whether people in California, maybe, you’re not really of this world.

Paul Frommer: Well, I guess we have a bit of a reputation for that! But if you came here I think you’d find it relatively down-to-earth. Although if you got inside some people’s heads perhaps that might not quite be so.

Maria Zijlstra: People always say that when you learn another language or when you speak another language—and it’s certainly my experience too: if I speak a different or hear a different language or am surrounded by people speaking another language, I feel like a different person. Do you feel like a different person, and if so what kind of person, when you speak Na’vi?

Paul Frommer: Wow! That is a very interesting question.

Maria Zijlstra: A bit blue, maybe?

Paul Frommer: Yeah, well perhaps a bit blue, but it does conjure up the movie. And I think that’s pretty much the reason; well, I’m positive that that’s the reason that the language has developed the interest that it has. I mean, it seems to me that a lot of people who have gotten into the language are using it as a way to remain connected to this world that James Cameron has created. And, of course, that’s what language does: it connects you to a culture, it connects you to a world view, sometimes it connects you to a place. And a lot of people seem to be focusing on the language as a way of being, or continuing to be, to a certain extent, in this extraordinary world which so many people would love to visit.

Maria Zijlstra: The world of Pandora, in the movie Avatar. And that was the conlanger Professor Paul Frommer, who invented the language spoken there—Na’vi.

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.


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.