Which comes first, srake or the topical?

Started by Pamìrìk, May 06, 2022, 03:35:33 PM

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Quote from: PamìrìkNeedless to say, with people finally starting to see the trailer for Avatar 2, we've seen a huge (and much-prepared-for) wave of new Na'vi learners, and with it a whole lot of new perspectives and questions about the language! Hence a question that arrived today: "Can srake go before the topical?" The conventional wisdom has been that if you're going to use srake over srak, it should go first, but also that the topical leads a clause outside of poetic constants. Which brings us to a sort of "chicken or the egg" problem for Na'vi!

Compelling arguments have been made for both choices.


  • Topical is usually used to establish the context of the rest of the statement
  • It has been demonstrated to show up even before a leading conjunction (Fori mawkrra fa renten ioi säpoli holum.)
  • It would mirror the closest approximation in English- i.e. "Hey, speaking of Avatar 2, have you seen the trailer?
  • It seems useful to establish what you're talking about before launching into a question


  • The topical leads a clause, where a question can have multiple clauses and thus the question indicator would lead the sentence.
  • The information contained in the topical only makes sense combined with the rest of its clause, so it should be grouped closely together
  • It's useful to establish that what follows is a question before launching into your statement

Neither side is in total disagreement of the other, and there don't seem to be extremely strong feelings either way, we would just like to know how it should be. I must confess that I'm surprised this isn't a debate I had run into in my 5 years learning Na'vi- I would have reflexively just used srak if my sentence lead with a topical, without even thinking about it! (and maybe that's the answer?)

tì'eyngìri ngey nìfrakrr irayo si ngaru ayoe nìwotx.

Quote from:  Karyu PawlYou compiled some useful and comprehensive evidence for both positions--well done. Here's what I think:

Certainly, beginning with srake and following it with the topical is unimpeachable, so that's always proper. For example:

(a) Srake ngari re'o tìsraw si?  'Does your head hurt?'

So the question is whether to allow this variant as well:

(b) Ngari srake re'o tìsraw si?

An argument against (b) is that up to now (correct me if I'm wrong), we haven't seen srake anywhere other than at the beginning of a sentence.

Nevertheless, my gut feeling is that (b) is OK. It seems like something that would arise naturally in certain conversational contexts, for example where the focus has been on one party and then, as signaled by the topical, changes to another:

"Nasty little accident we had yesterday, where we both bumped our heads. Mine still hurts. How about you? Does your head hurt too?"

The "how about you?" in English is a signal that the topic is changing--in this case, from me to you--which in English requires a phrase like "as for you," "turning to you," "regarding yourself," etc. Na'vi is more economical and accomplishes this with a simple -ri. But when the topic changes in this way, it seems natural to first signal the change in focus and then ask the question.

I'm reminded of something Spanish does, where the initial question marker ¿ can appear in the middle of a sentence. Found this online:

Si bailamos, ¿ellos también van a bailar? (If we dance, will they dance too?)

So the bottom line is that (a) and (b) above are both OK, along with, of course, (c ):

(c) Ngari re'o tìsraw si srak?

Hope that won't freak people out. 😊

TL;DR: Looks like srake OR the topical can go first, and neither way is incorrect!



Irayo for sharing this! Ma Pawl, I'm absolutely not freaking out, it makes a lot of sense to me actually :)


"Which comes first, srake or the topical?"
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