’A’awa tìpängkxotsyìp a teri horen lì’fyayä - A few little discussions about gra

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Tìtstewan

'A'awa tìpängkxotsyìp a teri horen lì'fyayä - A few little discussions about grammar

From time to time I receive and answer Na'vi-related questions via email. When such discussions are likely to be of interest to the wider Na'vi community, I'll share them here on the blog.

But a word of warning: Detailed grammatical discussions are not everyone's cup of tea. If you're someone who finds such analyses confusing, boring, or useless, that's OK! You can become proficient in a language without consciously relying on grammatical rules. (That's how we learned our native language, after all!) In fact, as I've mentioned before, some linguists believe that true language acquisition results from "comprehensible input," not from conscious attention to grammar. So feel free to skip such posts if they're not your thing.

With that said, here are two recent such discussions:

1. Case endings for certain borrowed words

This discussion began with my wishing someone Merry Christmas in Na'vi:

          Ftxozä Kerìsmìsä Lefpom.

The word for Christmas is obviously an English borrowing that comes out as Kerìsmìsì (based on the spoken pronunciation, not the spelling). But why is the genitive Kerìsmìsä rather than Kerìsmìsìyä?

It's because the root of the word really "should be" simply Kerìsmìs, but since Na'vi doesn't allow final s, we add the "neutral vowel" ì as a surfacy kind of adjustment. However, with the genitive ending ä, that's not necessary, so we add it to the "theoretical root" (there's probably a better term for that) and wind up with the natural-sounding Kerìsmìsä.

The next question that came up was the interesting one of how the German city of Köln (Cologne) is rendered in Na'vi in the various cases.

Na'vi doesn't have the German vowel ö, so that vowel, when filtered through the Na'vi sound system, becomes e. (For the phoneticians and phonologists in the audience, the front-rounded vowel ö loses its rounding feature, resulting in e. It's a common process.) So Köln becomes Keln. But since Na'vi can't have two consonants at the end of a word, the neutral vowel ì is added: Kelnì. That's the "unmarked," Subjective case used for subjects of intransitive verbs.

But what about the rest of the cases? For example, what's the Patientive case?

Following the Christmas example, we should add the case endings to the "theoretical root," *Keln. The Genitive should therefore be Kelnä, which it is. So far so good.

But for roots that end in a consonant, the rules we've seen say there are two possibilities: -it and -ti (e.g., Eytukanit, Eytukanti). Kelnit is fine. But *Kelnti is not.

The resolution of this conundrum is that the familiar rules apply to native Na'vi roots. As we've seen, with Kelnì the "theoretical root" is *Keln, which of course could not be a native Na'vi root because of the syllable-final consonant cluster. In cases like these, you add the usual endings to the "theoretical root" when the result would be an allowable Na'vi word; when it wouldn't, you have to make adjustments.

In this case, you need two simple adjustments. One is that the Subjective form becomes Kelnì. The other is that for the Patientive, the -ti form must be excluded. The entire paradigm is then:

      S: Kelnì

      A: Kelnìl (note that this is Keln + ìl, not Kelnì+ l)

      P: Kelnit (not Kelnti and not Kelnìt)

      D: Kelnur

      G: Kelnä

      T: Kelnìri (again, Keln + ìri, not Kelnì+ ri)

Also, remember there are native roots that end in ì. Hapxì is a good example. These follow the usual rules for roots ending in a vowel. So the paradigm for hapxì is:

      S: hapxì

      A: hapxìl

      P: hapxìt OR hapxìti

      D: hapxìr OR hapxìru

      G: hapxìyä

      T: hapxìri

2. Transitive/intransitive determination for certain verbs

Several verbs have long been in the dictionaries as simply "v." Their transitive (vtr) or intransitive (vin) status has finally been specified. These are:

'ong'blossom'vin
fkarut'peel'vtr
kämakto'ride out'vin
kenong'represent'vtr
latsi'keep up with'      vin
mun'i'cut'vtr
nong'follow'vtr
pate'arrive'vin
salew'proceed'vin
spä'jump'vin
tireapängkxo      'commune'vin
tsä''squirt'vin
tuvon'lean'vin
virä'spread'vin

A word about nong and kenong:

Both these verbs, along with tìkenong 'example,' appeared long ago, prior to the release of A1. Tìkenong was in Tsu'tey's line:

      Fayvrrtep fìtsenge lu kxanì. Fìpoti oel tspìyang [today I'd say tspìsyang] fte tìkenong lìyevu aylaru.
      'These demons are forbidden here. I will kill this one as a lesson to the others.'

Nong is vtr:

      Nong oet!
      'Follow me!'

Kenong 'represent, exemplify' is vtr as well. I don't know if I've ever used this word or provided an example sentence for it. Such a tìkenong (😊) might be:

      Fayhemìl peyä ke kenong tìsayt a fkol fngo' pota.
      'These actions of his do not represent the loyalty that is required of him.'

Important: Kenong is NOT derived from ke 'not' + nong 'follow'! I know kenong LOOKS like ke + nong, but it's actually a root, not a compound. (It would be hard to derive 'example, model' from 'not follow'!) Such misleading exceptions are a natural part of real languages and have to be accepted as such. We have such things in English as well. For example, "cockroach" is not a compound of "cock" 'rooster' plus "roach" 'kind of insect'! It actually comes from Spanish cucaracha.

Hayalovay, ma eylan!

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