Lì’fyengteri Concerning honorific language

Started by Toliman, March 01, 2022, 01:00:24 PM

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Lì'fyengteri      Concerning honorific language
Posted on February 28, 2022 by Pawl

Kaltxì, ma smuk. Ayngaru nìwotx, sìlpey oe, lu fpom.

This post has been completed for quite a while, but it's only now that I'm getting it up on the blog. I hope it will come as a little bit of welcome distraction from things that are going on in the world.

The topic is honorific language: the kind of formal—and, in the wrong circumstances, overly polite and stilted—language exemplified by Norm when he's first speaking Na'vi:

   Ätxäle suyi ohe pivawm, peolo' luyu pum ngengeyä?
   'May I ask what tribe you belong to?

That sentence (which didn't make it into the final cut of A1) contains the special elements of honorific language we're familiar with:

   The first-person pronoun oe 'I' becomes ohe.
   The second-person pronoun nga 'you' becomes ngenga.
   Verbs contain the honorific infix <uy>.

(Note: ‹uy› is not always required with the honorific pronoun forms, and vice versa, Using honorific pronouns along with <uy> constitutes the most formal register. Using the pronouns without <uy>, or <uy> without the pronouns, is possible and somewhat less formal.)

But there's more we can say about this style of speech, which is an example of what linguists call a register. ("Register" is different from "dialect." In brief, dialects are varieties of a language used by different people. Registers are varieties of a language used by the same people in different circumstances.)

For one thing, there are a few more honorific pronouns. These are relatively rare, which is why we're only seeing them now.

The third-person pronoun po 'he, she' becomes poho [PO.ho].
The third-person pronoun poe 'she' becomes pohe [po.HE].
The third-person pronoun poan 'he' becomes pohan [po.HAN].


   Ätxäle suyi ohe pivawm, muntxatul ngengeyä tuyok pesenget? Srake luyu poho set ro helku?
   'If I may ask, where is your spouse? Is he/she at home now?'

In addition to acting in a formally polite way, however, the Na'vi can talk about this kind of behavior as well. For that, some vocabulary is needed.

The word for formal politeness in general, not just with respect to language, is:

henga (n., HE.nga) 'formally polite behavior'

We're not absolutely sure where this word comes from, but a possible derivation is from the two most familiar honorific pronouns, where PN + PN > N:

ohe + ngenga = ohengenga > hengenga > hengnga > henga

The associated verb is:

henga si (vin.) 'act in a formally polite or honorific way'

   Krra ultxa si nga tsatxanro'tuhu, zerok futa zene henga sivi, ma 'eveng.
   'When you meet that famous person, remember that you have to be formally polite, child.'

txanro'tu (n., txan.RO'.tu) 'famous person, celebrity'

A txanro'tu is a tute a txanro'a.

The adjective is:

leheng (adj., le.HENG) 'formally polite'

(NOTE: Leheng is not the opposite of räptum 'coarse, vulgar.' You can be the opposite of "coarse and vulgar"—i.e., polite, considerate, and socially acceptable—without using the formally polite, honorific language.)

Here the final unstressed a has dropped over time.

For formally polite or honorific language, however, there are different words:

lì'fyeng (n., lì'.FYENG) 'honorific language'

The derivation is:

lì'fya + leheng = lì'fyaleheng > lì'fyalheng > lì'fyaheng > lì'fyeng

Note that lì'fyeng, with stress on the second syllable, breaks the pattern of the other lì'-containing words, where the stress is on lì'. The reason is that the stress in the source word is clearly on heng: lì'.fya.le.HENG, and it has remained there.

And as you would expect, the verb is:

lì'fyeng si (vin.) 'use honorific language'

Now what if you're in a situation when someone is being overly polite with you, and you want to tell them to just relax and chill out? How do you respond?

One thing you can say is:

   Henga rä'ä' si, ma tsmuk.
   'Don't be so formal, bro/sis.'

You can also say:

   Henga kelkin.
   'Formality isn't necessary.'

When it comes to formal language specifically, there are a variety of things you can say. (Note: These are all considered friendly.)

   1. Lì'fyeng rä'ä si.
       'Don't use honorific language.'

   2. Fwa lì'fyeng si lu kelkin.
       'It's not necessary to use honorific language.'

Shorter, more colloquial versions of 2 are:

   3. Lì'fyeng kelkin.
       'No need to speak so formally.'

   4. Lì'fyeng kelkin ko.
       'Let's not speak so formally with each other.'

And the most colloquial of all:

   5. Fyengkekin.
       'Don't be so stiff, dude.'

fyengkekin (conv., FYENG.ke.kin) 'no need to use honorific language'

The derivation is:

lì'fyeng + kelkin = lì'fyengkelkin > fyengkelkin > fyengkekin

Hayalovay, ma eylan.