Theories about lenition (and other stuff)

Started by Mech, April 24, 2016, 08:39:46 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


"Lenition" is well-known to the speakers/students of Celtic languages. Lenition also apperars in a famous Celtic-ish conlang, elvish Sindarin. In the real world, as well as in the fictional backstory of Sindarin, the lenition is closely related to the historical context and evolution of the language, i.e. Proto-Celtic -> Irish or Proto-Elvish -> Sindarin. I wonder if lenition can hint to something about the history of Na'vi, although I know there is no backstory about Na'vi :)

Here is some historical background: at some point, every language goes through a process where some sounds change depending on their environment. So the Old Welsh likat "eye" become modern Welsh llygad, betraying a process of -k- -> -g- between vowels.

Now, this process is reflected grammatically in Welsh, so cath "cat", when taking an article, becomes y gath "the cat". This is a trace of the historical process; the phrase "ykath" was understood as a single entity, not unlike the OW likat, so in both cases k became g for the same reasons, y gath and llygad.

Other languages, like Sardinian, follow similar rules and logic, triggered by similar processes, although they aren't always reflected in spelling (as is the case with Irish and Welsh)

If we apply this knowledge to Na'vi we can make some educated guesses. For example the pair tsmukan - aysmukan and po - ayfo can be interpreted in many ways, and here is an example:

*The word tsmukan in, say, Proto-Na'vi was *smuk- pl. *aysmuk- or something, but the language underwent a process during its history where all initial s-, in all cases, were fortited to ts-. However the plural forms like *aysmuk- were "shielded"  by the prefix, and s- survived, as it was not initial here. The absence of fortition therefore is retained in the plural forms, as a grammatical feature?
*Another interpretation is to suppose that the prefixes that trigger lenition (unlike the prefixes that don't) had perhaps a nasal final sound in proto-Na'vi, which triggered the sound-change. For example *ayn- + po -> *aympho > ayfo?? Then this final sound disappeared from the modern prefixes, and *ayn+ became ay+ but the lenition remains as its trace?

Both theories could have some repercussions in our undertanding of Na'vi. For example the second theory would suggest that the vowels that result from lenition perhaps derived, in some cases, from Proto-Na'vi *-n+original consonant, for example hefi "smell" perhaps was *henpi in Proto-Na'vi

Tirea Aean

Interesting stuff!

I've always wondered about this. Though at the end of the day, some of the features of the language like this are more or less trivial decisions made by Frommer to add a little character and dimension to the language.

I wondered frequently why only a certain few words and prefixes cause this lenition to occur despite several others ending in the same sound do not,  for example.


Yea, it's most probably a trick for the sake of realism and the illusion of depth. :D But as far as I understand real-world languages, wetting our feet in hypothetical Na'vi history is the only way to explain it in-universe.


I think, there could be some historical reasons why some prefixes cause lenition and other don't. Making hypothetics about Na'vi's language history is extremely difficult, because we don't know other Na'vi dialects or pandoran languages that could belong to a language family. Without that, one almost can't reconstruct a proto-Na'vi, only hypothetics of it, of course.

My personal opinion regrding lenition in Na'vi is, that lenition occured by a kind of evolution and lenition was very rare in the early step of Na'vi. Maybe, lenition occured only with dual, trial and plural and lenition by adposition didn't happen, because some adpositions could have been case endings that don't exsist in modern Na'vi anymore. (Which is plausible, because Proto-Indogermanic has had some more cases than the modern derivations)

There is one example of an "anomaly" in the vocab: srekrr (sre+ krr) that just remained srekrr instead *srehrr.

Of course, my stuff is highly hypothetical. :)

-| Na'vi Vocab + Audio | Na'viteri as one HTML file | FAQ | Useful Links for Beginners |-
-| Kem si fu kem rä'ä si, ke lu tìfmi. |-