Author Topic: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi  (Read 375 times)

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Offline Mako

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Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« on: April 14, 2020, 10:46:35 pm »
Kaltxì ma frapo!

I recently had a short discussion with KP about question intonation (and intonation in general), and wanted to share the results here for documentation purposes.

Enjoy!

Quote from: Mako
Kaltxì ma Karyu,

Sìlpey oe, nga Johnsì zivo.

A particularly auspicious new learner on the Learn Na'vi Discord server recently asked about vocal intonation in Na'vi and if it's mostly consistent with English. I was wondering if you would weigh in on that at all.

Based on the spoken dialogue in the film, it appears that Na'vi somewhat follows English cues like rising questions and exclamations (which may simply be due to the actors habits), but is there anything else we should know?

Irayo nìli.

ta Mako
Hufwel kxiveltek ngeyä Ikranä syalit
Quote from: Karyu Pawl
Hey Mako,

Always nice to hear about particularly auspicious new learners! 😀

The question of Na’vi intonation came up in the early stages of the language’s development. I broached the idea that the intonation patterns might in fact be “exotic,” in the sense that they would be very different from what most people are used to in familiar earth languages—say, for example, a falling rather than rising intonation for questions. But it was felt that the intonation patterns shouldn’t depart too far from what’s expected. That is, if a question is being asked, even though the audience doesn’t understand the language, they should at least be able to interpret it as a question from what they’re hearing. So you’re correct: the intonation patterns you hear in the film aren’t too different from what we would expect in English.

That said, we can go a little deeper into the matter.

First let’s look at English.

Three of the most common types of questions are:

Yes-No questions with inversion
Yes-No questions without inversion
WH questions

Examples of each:

“Are you planning to go?”
Here, the statement form “You are planning to go” has been changed to a question by inverting the subject and the be-verb: You are --> Are you. That marks it as a Yes-No question.

“You’re planning to go???”
You can do this in informal conversation only. The question form is identical to the statement form but has rising intonation.

“Who are you planning to go with?”
Here, the WH element, who, marks it as a question.

Now in #2, the only thing that marks it as a question is the rising intonation. So in this type of question, that intonation is obligatory.
 
In #3, the WH element is enough to tell you it’s a question, so rising intonation isn’t necessary. In fact, I think it’s quite common for WH questions not to use rising intonation. Check it out yourself. How would you say #3? Does your voice necessarily rise at the end? For me, I can pronounce the sentence in several ways, and in most of them, there’s no rising intonation.

#1 is the somewhat odd one. The inversion by itself should be enough to tell you it’s a question. And yet I think such questions are usually accompanied by rising intonation, which is redundant. (Logically speaking, you don’t need two separate markers to indicate the same thing.) Can you think of a circumstance where you would say #1 without rising intonation? Maybe if someone didn’t get the question the first time, and you repeated it, somewhat testily, “What I said was, Are you planning to go?” I could say that with falling intonation, but it’s an unusual situation.

Turning to Na’vi . . .

#3-type sentences work similarly to English WH-questions. The pe- element is enough to mark the utterance as a question. So rising intonation is optional.

Nga kä hu pesu? Pol tok pesenget? No rising intonation is necessary in these.

#2 doesn’t exist in Na’vi. Yes-No Q’s must be marked by Srake ___ or ___ srak.

As for #1, inversion in Na’vi, needless to say, does not signal a question. Pol tok fìtsenget and Tok pol fìtsenget are both statements. But Srake/srak does indicate a question. Rising intonation with these kinds of questions is optional. (I should probably try to provide some spoken examples of Srake/srak questions where the intonation doesn’t rise.)

All the above was about questions. Regarding exclamations, it would seem the intonation patterns would be quite similar across languages, which would make Na'vi naturally follow more or less the same patterns English does. But I haven't looked into this area across different Earth languages.

Hope that clarifies things a bit.

PF

Offline Lynxcat

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2020, 12:09:26 pm »
Irayo  :)
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Offline Toliman

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2020, 12:48:33 pm »
Very interesting, irayo for sharing here! :)

Offline Mech

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2020, 12:59:39 pm »
Who is Johnsi?

Offline Vawmataw

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2020, 04:22:09 pm »
Who is Johnsi?
It's "sì John" (and John), John being Pawl's s.o.
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Offline Plumps

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2020, 06:09:16 pm »
Irayo nìtxan ma Mako.

That is a very interesting discussion! In Irish there isn’t necessarily a case for intonation. At least from what I heard so far from native speakers. There is a similar question form like Na’vi’s srake/srak, so they rely on the question markers far more than intonation.

Offline Mako

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2020, 01:47:13 am »
Received a surprise followup this evening. Enjoy!

Quote from: Karyu Pawl
Ma Mako,

The question of sarcasm in Na'vi is interesting. My intuition about the Na'vi is that they're not prone to it. They tend to be more up front and open about their feelings. If they don't like something, they'll so say directly rather than make a snarky or sarcastic comment. Pak, for example, is clearly disparaging, but it's explicit. So I don't think we'd find example of "sarcastic intonation."

As for other intonational patterns that might be distinct from English ones, I'm sure there are, but it's a wide-ranging phenomenon and I'll have to think about it some more. Off the top of my head, though, one place where the intonation pattern is different from English is with topics. For example:

Ngeyä tipawmìri irayo.  Think how you would say that--what intonation pattern you might use. And compare it to the intonation pattern in the English version, "Thanks for your question." In the Na'vi, it's natural to do something like this: (Not sure if this is going to come across in an email, but I'll try):

               pawmìri i
Ngeyä tì                 rayo.

In other words, the topic winds up on a high level, as if it were suspended, waiting for the comment. The comment returns to a low level. We can sometimes do that in English, but I'm not sure how common it is.

There's clearly a lot more to say about this. I'll be thinking . . .

ta P.

Offline Toliman

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2020, 05:06:23 am »
Very interesting!
Thanks for sharing here.

Offline Wllìm

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2020, 02:30:21 pm »
Awesome! I think this is the first time we've heard about sentence-level pitch accents in Na'vi, isn't it?

I like this "topic can be pitched higher" rule very much. (I also like that we've been getting so many replies from Pawl lately. Irayo ma Karyu aNawm!)
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Offline Toliman

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Re: Questions and Intonation in Na'vi
« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2020, 07:57:46 am »
Awesome! I think this is the first time we've heard about sentence-level pitch accents in Na'vi, isn't it?
Yeah, I never listen about it too.

 

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