Author Topic: The complete beginner's guide to the topic marker -ri  (Read 1603 times)

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Offline suomichris

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The complete beginner's guide to the topic marker -ri
« on: January 20, 2010, 12:57:01 pm »
There seems to have been some confusion about the use of the topic marker -ri here on the forums.  This is perhaps not surprising since a) topic markers aren't really something that shows up in English (or most European languages) and b) we don't have any long texts, which would give us a better sense of how the topic marker works in Na'vi.  But, even though we don't have anything like that, those of us with a linguistics background can take a stab at what Frommer probably means when he calls something a topic marker.  Herein, I hope to illustrate, for those of you who are confused about this, just what a topic marker is, what it does, and when/where you should use it.*

The first, and most important thing to keep in mind about topic markers is that they aren't something that is determined by the grammar of an individual sentence (so far as we know); they are something that comes from the broader context of whatever dialogue/conversation is happening.  When we just have an isolated sentence, you're (almost) never going to want a topic marker.

Now let's think about some sentences which we can easily translate into Na'vi:

1. (People are talking about where the spear is)I have the spear.

2. You hunt viperwolves, but I sure don't.

Note here that, in English, we actually do mark out the bold "I" in each sentence, but we do it with intonation.  In Na'vi, though, we use the topic marker.  So we could translate 1 and 2 as:

1. Oe-ri tukru lu.

2. Nga-l taron aynantang-it, slä oe-ri ke taron nantang-it.

So, in both cases, we're setting up a contrast between *I* and someone else...  But we can also use the topic marker at the beginning of a story, to show who we're going to be talking about.  Let's look at the first part of the sentence from Frommer's short dialogue on the NYT (I realize there is some disagreement about the transcription of this, but it shouldn't make a difference for our purposes here):

Oe hu Txewì trram ná’rìngmì tarmok...
"I was in the forest with Txewì yesterday..."

So, what would we expect next?  Well, anything, really: maybe they saw something, maybe they fell down, whatever.  But look at what happens if we put a topic marker in there:

Oeri hu Txewì trram ná’rìngmì tarmok...
"I was in the forest with Txewì yesterday..."

Now what do we expect?  Probably that something happened to me that didn't happen to Txewì--maybe I say a nantang and he didn't, or I fell in a hole and he didn't.  Regardless of what it is, we expect the rest of the story to about me, and not about Txewì or both of us.  And what if we did it the other way?

Oe hu Txewìri trram ná’rìngmì tarmok...
"I was in the forest with Txewì yesterday..."

Ah, now we have a story that we expect to be about Txewì: "that idiot tripped and dropped his spear in the river!"

Hopefully this helps clear up some issues about how to use the topic marker.  If you have questions/comments, please feel free!

*For the other linguists amongst us, I should note that I am well aware that there are different kinds of topic/focus/contrastive topic/etc.; I've picked the above examples as being the most straightforward to English speakers, even though -ri might not work quite like this in Na'vi.  I still think it helps give a sense of what a topic marker is, and the kinds of things it does.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2010, 10:16:24 pm by suomichris »

Offline Erimeyz

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Re: The complete beginner's guide to the topic marker -ri
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2010, 01:17:10 pm »
Awesome.  Thanks for this!

Added to the Resources page on the LN wiki.

  - Eri

Offline Keylstxatsmen

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Re: The complete beginner's guide to the topic marker -ri
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2010, 01:51:48 pm »
Also note that in all of the sentences we have* the topic is the first part of the sentence with only things that modify it (like a genitive noun) coming before it.

-Keyl

*Hunt song being the outlier, and as that is in matching stress verse I would tend to ignore it as far as rules for the spoken language go
Oeru lì'fya leNa'vi prrte’ leiu nìtxan! 

Txo nga new leskxawnga tawtutehu nìNa'vi pivängkxo, oeru 'upxaret fpe' ulte ngaru srungit tayìng oel.  Faylì'ut alor nume 'awsiteng ko!

Offline Toruk Makto

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Re: The complete beginner's guide to the topic marker -ri
« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2010, 01:59:04 pm »
Great description! Irayo!
 Now I just need to remember to use it when needed...  :)  Somehow it seems that translating Na'vi to English is never going to be something that will be easy to do on the fly in real time.

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Na'vi Dictionary: http://files.learnnavi.org/dicts/NaviDictionary.pdf

Offline suomichris

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Re: The complete beginner's guide to the topic marker -ri
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2010, 02:19:23 pm »
Also note that in all of the sentences we have* the topic is the first part of the sentence with only things that modify it (like a genitive noun) coming before it.

-Keyl

*Hunt song being the outlier, and as that is in matching stress verse I would tend to ignore it as far as rules for the spoken language go
Huh, interesting, I hadn't noticed this.  One wonders if, when the topic marker replaces a case marker, the word order becomes less free to be sure you get the right interpretation...  Only time (and more data!) will tell...

Offline SanguineEpitaph

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Re: The complete beginner's guide to the topic marker -ri
« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2010, 07:30:30 am »
A lot of help!

Irayo, much.
 ;)
Kuarŏ na nama tanayi cawŏŏt, kuo nim zaosmaŏt.
"Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell."

Offline Keylstxatsmen

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Re: The complete beginner's guide to the topic marker -ri
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2010, 11:36:24 pm »
Huh, interesting, I hadn't noticed this.  One wonders if, when the topic marker replaces a case marker, the word order becomes less free to be sure you get the right interpretation...  Only time (and more data!) will tell...

More evidence for this from Dr. Frommer's letter:

Lì'fyari leNa'vi oel 'efu ayngeyä tìyawnit.
Word-way-TOP ADJ-Na'vi I-ERG feel you-PLU-GEN Love-ACC

Ulte omum oel futa tìfyawìntxuri oeyä p<er>ey aynga nìwotx.

And know I-ERG that-ACC guidance-TOP I-GEN wait<IMPR> you-PLU all.

Begining of a clause?  It seems you have to state the topic before you start talking about it, which would only make sense.

-Keyl

Oeru lì'fya leNa'vi prrte’ leiu nìtxan! 

Txo nga new leskxawnga tawtutehu nìNa'vi pivängkxo, oeru 'upxaret fpe' ulte ngaru srungit tayìng oel.  Faylì'ut alor nume 'awsiteng ko!

 

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