Author Topic: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect  (Read 6126 times)

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Offline wm.annis

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Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« on: December 24, 2009, 12:00:52 pm »
Unless they've had a chance to study a Slavic language, or maybe ancient Greek, many people here will be unfamiliar with the terminology for, and distinctions made by, the Na'vi verb.  So here's a quick run-down on tense and aspect, based on what we know so far.

Tense is the easiest, since most of us probably got drilled on this in school.  The tense of a verb locates the action in time, past, present or future.  There can be some strangeness with this.  For example, I can say "I visit my parents tomorrow."  Since I've used the word "tomorrow," it's acceptable English for me not to use a formal future tense.  And a sentence like "Paul Frommer speaks Persian," even though I've used the present tense, and presumably it applies at present, is really a general statement of truth that applies to more than just the present.  But in general, this simple account of tense will take you a long way.

There are some languages on this planet that get by with no formal marking for tense at all.  They rely on adverbs like "now, yesterday, tomorrow," etc. to locate an action in time.  Instead, these languages may focus on verbal aspect.  Navajo is one such language (though it appears to be in the process of creating for itself a true past tense).  The word "aspect" itself hints at what it means for a verb.  Verbal aspect is how a speaker chooses to represent an action.  Imagine yourself walking somewhere, and a friend walks up to you and says...

 "I went to the bookstore."

You're response is going to be "so?" or "what did you get" or the like.  Imagine instead she walks up to you and says,

 "I was going to the bookstore."

Your next question is going to be, "and?  what happened?"

Both statements encode identical factual information — her going to a bookstore — and both sentences (and verb forms) describe an action that is complete at the time of speaking.  But by choosing different verb forms, she has given you hints about what she's going to tell you next.  The statement "I went to the store" is what linguists call perfective — it presents the action as a single event from start to finish, ignoring any details of the internal steps.  The statement "I was going to the store" is imperfective and presents the action as ongoing.  In most languages with aspect, starting off a conversation with an imperfect strongly implies that you've only set the stage to describe more actions, to be mentioned shortly.

This is very important about aspect.  We don't converse in words, or even sentences.  We converse in entire dialogs, in entire narratives.  We use aspect as one tool to let our listeners know how everything fits together, what happened when, which parts are most important, etc.

In his Language Log post, Frommer gave us a few tense markers, and let us know there are five tenses in Na'vi: "present, past proximate, past general, future proximate, future general."  The translation Frommer himself has given for the <ol> infix has been various, but I suspect that's the perfective marker (not the "perfect" which is a somewhat different beast), and <er> is the imperfective.  In English we have no way to separate aspect from tense.  In Na'vi you can express one or the other or both.

Edit: now we know what ‹ev› is.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2010, 11:18:26 am by wm.annis »
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Offline Karyu Amawey

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2009, 02:35:35 pm »
Hey, I just wrote up a pretty thorough explanation of the linguistic terms for phonology, tense and aspect up with plenty of examples if anyone wants to look it over :)  I know there has been a lot of speculation and confusion around, and since I just took a class in morphology and syntax in world languages (I got an A by the way :D) I thought I would share what I learned in relation to Na'Vi!

http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0BxURBDXVBWhHMzA0ZjNiOWUtMWFhOC00ZjNjLTgxZWEtZGMwNzJmNmYwODAx&hl=en
Oel ayngati kameie

Offline wm.annis

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2009, 02:41:01 pm »
Hey, I just wrote up a pretty thorough explanation of the linguistic terms for phonology, tense and aspect

Ah!  I didn't see aspect really discussed in that the last time I looked at it.  Good info on transitivity, though!  That's going to trip up a lot of us native English speakers for a while, I suspect.
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Offline Beduino

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2009, 03:15:08 pm »
Hey, I just wrote up a pretty thorough explanation of the linguistic terms for phonology, tense and aspect up with plenty of examples if anyone wants to look it over :)  I know there has been a lot of speculation and confusion around, and since I just took a class in morphology and syntax in world languages (I got an A by the way :D) I thought I would share what I learned in relation to Na'Vi!

http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0BxURBDXVBWhHMzA0ZjNiOWUtMWFhOC00ZjNjLTgxZWEtZGMwNzJmNmYwODAx&hl=en

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH THIS IS FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!
I suck when it comes to gramar, and you put there all very datailed, explaining what each thing means!
You're my hero!
tsun ngal tslam fì'uti srak?

Offline Is.

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #4 on: December 25, 2009, 07:55:38 am »
Hey, I just wrote up a pretty thorough explanation of the linguistic terms for phonology, tense and aspect up with plenty of examples if anyone wants to look it over :)  I know there has been a lot of speculation and confusion around, and since I just took a class in morphology and syntax in world languages (I got an A by the way :D) I thought I would share what I learned in relation to Na'Vi!

http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0BxURBDXVBWhHMzA0ZjNiOWUtMWFhOC00ZjNjLTgxZWEtZGMwNzJmNmYwODAx&hl=en

We should really add this document to the Learn Na'vi main page (na'vi downloadables). It helped me lots as well.

Offline Eywayä mokri

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #5 on: December 25, 2009, 08:07:52 am »
I'll add this link to the "For beginners" topic.

Thanks a lot. :)
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Offline Prrton

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2010, 01:40:09 am »
I look forward to seeing the verb charts when the grammar is published.

Fìtxeleri Sìzer Sìsterzìyä tìrolyä aungia ke slivu nìngay.  ;)

On this front, let's just hope that the Scissor Sisters' song's omen does not materialize.

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Offline Kingsy

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2010, 05:47:35 am »
Thank you very much for posting this! Really helped me get a full understanding of what I thought I knew.

Pxay-Krr Irayo.
(Thank you very much)

Was that anywhere close? Lol

Offline Maweya Tanhì

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2010, 10:38:19 am »
This information was absolutely invaluable to me!
Irayo!

Offline Atan'eveng

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2010, 10:28:41 pm »
Can perfective and imperfective markers only be used with the meaning of "past"? I mean...you can have an action in the future that will be completed, or that will be on progress, but I don't even know if it's possible to put together tense and aspect marks in one verb (e.g future tense + perfective).

And....in the learn Navi pocket guide it says that the past tense is "hunted" and the perfective would be "has hunted" but since perfective aspect gives an idea of a completed action wouldn't it be better translated as "hunted" too?

Besides, you said that perfective and present perfect are not the same thing. What I could understand is that, the past tense and the perfective aspect gives the same ideia. (I don't know, never really understood present perfect tense cus english is not my first language)

One more thing...how can I say "Hunting (now)"? The guide says that t<er>aron means was hunting, so how can I say IS hunting?

Feel like my brain is melting...it's so confusing
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Offline Prrton

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2010, 12:43:33 am »
Can perfective and imperfective markers only be used with the meaning of "past"? I mean...you can have an action in the future that will be completed, or that will be on progress, but I don't even know if it's possible to put together tense and aspect marks in one verb (e.g future tense + perfective).

And....in the learn Navi pocket guide it says that the past tense is "hunted" and the perfective would be "has hunted" but since perfective aspect gives an idea of a completed action wouldn't it be better translated as "hunted" too?

Besides, you said that perfective and present perfect are not the same thing. What I could understand is that, the past tense and the perfective aspect gives the same ideia. (I don't know, never really understood present perfect tense cus english is not my first language)

One more thing...how can I say "Hunting (now)"? The guide says that t<er>aron means was hunting, so how can I say IS hunting?

Feel like my brain is melting...it's so confusing

latem nìmip mìso tsa'u a karmllkxängem mìseng oeta nì'awve:

  New different update/edit to my original post:

Rutxe, tìng nari nìneäo ne ay'u Karyu Wìlyamä atxantslusam. Fkor leram fwa tsa'u a oeri tsun pivlltxe fìtxeleteri ta meypa tìtslammokri akelaw oeyä (nìpxinari teri'it lì'fyayä leTsongWen) ke eyawr lu nìtam fte frapor luyusrung. Oheru txoa livuyu, ma smuk. Fìkìngìri holuyum ohe nìwotx.

  Please have a look below at the words of wise Teacher William. It appears that what I'm able to contribute based on my weak understanding of this subject and muddled voice (especially regarding the grammatical particles of Chinese) is not correct enough to be of help to anyone. Please forgive me, brothers and sisters. From this thread, I am utterly departed.


It is complex because it is a combination of things from many different languages.

First the easier one. T‹er›áron (á marking accent only) does mean "hunting/continuing to hunt" in the "here and now" with the stopping point undefined/not mentioned within the word. (I am not involved with editing the "Guide" so I can't speak to what it says. Perhaps it is not without mistakes. I'm sure the editors are constantly updating/correcting it.)

This concept is also not so hard conceptually for past ("was hunting recently" and "was hunting generally/less recently") and the future ("will soon be hunting" and "will (generally at some point not clarified) be hunting" but the way the ‹r› of ‹er› gets fused between the markers for past and future requires close attention.

  t‹a‹r›y›aron  "was hunting generally/less recently"
                t‹ì‹r›y›aron  "was hunting recently"
                    t‹er›aron present ("hunting during "now" without reference to stopping")
                t‹ì‹r›m›aron "will soon be hunting"
  t‹a‹r›m›aron "will (generally at some point not clarified) be hunting"

But, PERFECTIVE is tricky.


You may want to read this from Skyinou.

It's best to learn the core concept of perfective perhaps to STEP AWAY from past tense in English.

Here are two examples:

   Tsl‹ol›am = "Understood!"/"Got it!"/"Got'cha!"

In English we can only say this with past tense. But in Na'vi, there is no need to add anything like ‹ìm› (recent past) or ‹am› (general past). TECHNICALLY you "got it" in the super-close-to-now-fraction-of-a-second-ago "past", but essentially you're still in the present (havING the same conversation) tellING the person who just explained it to you that the comprehension is yours. In English, if we're not 100% sure that our comprehension is perfect, we might even say "I'm getting you." So the fact that it is commonly said in the PAST in English doesn't mean that all languages do it that way. In Mandarin Chinese you might say 明白了(míng bai le). The first two characters together mean "clear" (literally: "bright white") and the 3rd ("le" kind of like "luh" in American English (with a schwa (ə)) is very close to the Na'vi perfective ‹ol› (when fused, ‹x‹l›x›). This cannot be said as "past tense" in Chinese, because "past tense" doesn't exist in Chinese like it does in English (or other IndoEuropean languages). The 了 simply means that the "status changed" from being *not* clear to becoming clear. The person speaking (who says "明白了" in the Chinese example) went from not understanding to understanding. The status of something can change in the past, present, or future. That's why the "fusing" can happen with r and l between the infixes for general future, immediate future, immediate past, and general past in Na'vi.

Here is another example from something you've probably seen.

 Tì'eyng-it      oe-l       t<ol>el       a     krr,    ay-nga-ru     p<ay>eng,
NOUN-answer-ACC   I-ERG   v.receive<PFV>  that   time   PLU-you-DAT   tell<FUT>
When I receive an answer, I will let you know,

Paul Frommer (to the best of our knowledge) still has not received any news from Fox. So by default, this is all still a discussion about the FUTURE, but he does not seem to feel that he MUST clarify future, future, future every time he uses a verb.

The verb "to receive" is tel, but in this example he only marks it with the perfective t‹ol›él (a krr) (literally: "[status change from 'not having received' to 'having received'] that time") and then he clarifies with the verb in the next phrase "will tell" (in the future) via p‹ay›éng. The important thing about the "reception" in the phrase that it lives in as a verb in this sentence is that the status will change from not having the answer (in an instant) to having the answer.

I recommend mastering this concept of "status change" in the Na'vi perfective before you worry about "fusing" it into the past and future. The closest we have to it in English is "going from 'not having eaten' to 'having eaten' at the instant that the hunger status changed/changes/will change". He could have written in his English translation, "When I have received an answer, I will let you know."


Others probably have better explanations (and understanding) than I.

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« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 01:36:54 pm by Prrton »

Offline wm.annis

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2010, 05:09:57 pm »
So the fact that it is commonly said in the PAST in English doesn't mean that all languages do it that way. In Mandarin Chinese you might say 明白了(míng bai le). The first two characters together mean "clear" (literally: "bright white") and the 3rd ("le" kind of like "luh" in American English (with a schwa (ə)) is very close to the Na'vi perfective ‹ol› (when fused, ‹x‹l›x›). This cannot be said as "past tense" in Chinese, because "past tense" doesn't exist in Chinese like it does in English (or other IndoEuropean languages). The 了 simply means that the "status changed" from being *not* clear to becoming clear.

Ma Prrton, I'm afraid I don't think this status change use of 了 is really relevant to the perfective.  There are two 了 (maybe more) in Mandarin, the aspectual one, which follows the verb, and the sentential one, which comes at the end of a clause.  It's this last one you've described above.  One can make an argument (and plenty of linguists do) that these two 了 are completely different words.  In fact, you can have both of them in a single sentence, which strongly argues that they're different things.

I'm going to jump up and down and wave my arms around about this point again — the perfective and imperfective do not in themselves say anything at all about completed or incomplete action.  Their fundamental job is aspect — the view on a situation.  I recently remembered one metaphor for these while in teamspeak:
  • the imperfective is a movie
  • the perfective is a snapshot
In most human languages the imperfective is used to set the background scene, the perfective to describe actions within that scene — "It was raining" (impf.) "when I heard" (perfective) "a noise."

I really, really want to hammer this point home.  Both statements "I was sleeping last night" (imperfective) and "I slept last night" (perfective) describe an identical, completed event at the time of speaking.  But I will use the different aspects to tell different sorts of stories about my sleep.

Now, any piece of grammar that a language invents is going to be born hungry.  It will seek out unclaimed semantic or grammatical territory to take over.  Many human languages that have an imperfective will also use it to describe habitual, repetitive or ongoing action.  Since Frommer used Neytiri herahaw Neytiri is sleeping as an example in an interview, we can assume the same of Na'vi, I think.  I hesitate to say anything more about the Na'vi perfective at this point.
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Offline roger

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2010, 01:01:07 am »
I like the movie/snapshot analogy. Here's what Bernard Comrie, the man on aspect, had to say. I cut it down some, and we could probably cut it down more (it is cut down quite a bit in the Navi glossary at Wikibooks, for those of you who don't want to read all of this), but some of the more extraneous material might prove useful.

Quote from: Comrie, "Aspect", excerpts from the introduction.
Students of Russian and other Slavonic languages are familiar with the distinction between Perfective and Imperfective aspect, as in on proĉital (Pfv.) and on ĉital (Ipfv.), both translatable into English as 'he read', although some idea of the difference can be given by translating the Imperfective as 'he was reading, he used to read'; this is only an approximate characterization [...]  In fact, the distinction between he read, he was reading, and he used to read in English is equally an aspectual distinction [...]  Similarly in the Romance languages, the difference between, for instance, French il lut and il lisait, Spanish leyó and (él) leía, Italian lesse and leggeva, is one of aspect [despite traditionally being called "tense"].

[...]

As the general definition of aspect, we may take the formulation that 'aspects are different ways of viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situation'. [Or, in the original citation, a more restricted 'different ways of conceiving the flow of the process itself', though aspect can be used for states as well as for processes.] [He illustrates:]

   English: John was reading when I entered.
   Russian: Ivan ĉital, kogda ja voŝel.
   French: Jean lisait quand j'entrai.
   Spanish: Juan leía cuando entré.
   Italian: Gianni leggeva quando entrai.

In each of these sentences, the first verb presents the background to some event, while that event itself is introduced by the second verb. The second verb presents the totality of the situation referred to (here, my entry) without reference to its internal temporal constituency: the whole of the situation is presented as a single unanalysable whole, with beginning, middle, and end all rolled into one; no attempt is made to divide this situation up into the various individual phases that make up the action of entry. Verbal forms with this meaning will be said to have perfective meaning, and where the language in question has special verbal forms to indicate this, we shall say that it has perfective aspect.

The other forms, i.e. those referring to the situation of John's reading, do not present the situation in this way, but rather make explicit reference to the internal temporal constituency of the situation. [...] reference is made to an internal portion of John's reading, while there is no explicit reference to the beginning or to the end of his reading. This is why the sentences are interpreted as meaning that my entry is an event that occurred during the period that John was reading, i.e. John's reading both preceded and followed my entry. Another way of explaining the difference between perfective and imperfective meaning is to say that the perfective looks at the situation from the outside, without necessarily distinguishing any of the internal structure of the situation, whereas the imperfective looks at the situation from inside, and as such is crucially concerned with the internal structure of the situation, since it can both look backwards towards the start of the situation, and look forwards to the end of the situation, and indeed it is equally appropriate if the situation is one that lasts through all time, without any beginning and without any end.

In discussing aspect it is important to grasp that the difference between perfectivity and imperfectivity is not necessarily an objective difference between situations, nor is it necessarily a difference that is presented by the speaker as being objective. It is quite possible for the same speaker to refer to the same situation once with a perfective form, then with an imperfective, without in any way being self-contradictory. This can be illustrated by means of sentences like John read that book yesterday; while he was reading it, the postman came, [...] The different forms of the verb 'to read' all refer to the same situation of reading. In the first clause, however, John's reading is presented as a complete event, without further subdivision into successive temporal phases; in the second clause, this event is opened up, so that the speaker is now in the middle of the situation of John's reading, and says that it was in the middle of this situation [...] that the event of the postman's arrival took place.

[From this discussion,] it will be evident that aspect is not unconnected with time, and the reader may therefore wonder whether this does not vitiate the distinction insisted on above between aspect and tense. However, although both aspect and tense are concerned with time, they are concerned with time in very different ways. As noted above, tense is a deictic category, i.e. locates situations in time, usually with reference to the present moment [...]. Aspect is not concerned with relating the time of the situation to any other time-point, but rather with the internal temporal constituency of the one situation; one could state the difference as one between situation-internal time (aspect) and situation-external time (tense). In a sentence like John was reading when I entered it might seem that different forms do serve a deictic function of locating my entry internally to John's reading, but this apparent deictic function is only a secondary consequence of the different ways in which they view the internal constituency of the situations referred to: since was reading places us internally to the reading situation, therefore naturally when we are presented with another situation given to us as a unified whole without internal constituency, this new situation is located temporally at that point in time where we already are, namely internally to John's reading. Similarly, a sequence of forms with perfective meaning will normally be taken to indicate a sequence of events, e.g. the wind tore off the roof, snapped the clothes-line, and brought down the apple-tree. Since each of the three situations is presented without regard to its internal constituency, a natural interpretation is to take them as events that occurred in succession, each one complete in itself; moreover, they will normally be taken to have occurred in the order in which they are presented in the text. However, this is by no means a necessary interpretation. It is quite possible, even if unlikely, for all three events to have been simultaneous, and this possibility can be made explicit by adding an appropriate adverbial to the sentence: the wind simultaneously ... Another possibility is that the speaker is not interested in the relative order of the three events, but is simply registering his observation of the overall result of the wind's damage, in which case he may not even know the actual order of events.

The precise differentiation of tense and aspect is particularly important in considering the perfect, e.g. English John has read the book [...] Spanish Juan ha leído el libro [... most other Romance languages have lost the perfect; it is neither precisely tense nor aspect, but has elements of both].
« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 01:13:44 am by roger »

Offline Erimeyz

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2010, 12:11:18 pm »
Tìlatem nìmip mìso tsa'u a karmllkxängem mìseng oeta nì'awve:

Please remember this is the Beginners' forum; English translations are very helpful and very encouraged here.

  - Eri

Offline Erimeyz

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2010, 12:12:26 pm »
grammar is born hungry
I really, really like that.

Offline Prrton

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #15 on: February 09, 2010, 01:08:51 pm »
Tìlatem nìmip mìso tsa'u a karmllkxängem mìseng oeta nì'awve:

Please remember this is the Beginners' forum; English translations are very helpful and very encouraged here.

  - Eri


 "New different update/edit to my original post:"

       Ayngengaru tsap'alute seruyi ohe ulte nìtxe'lanta, oheru txoa livuyumun. Nìlaw, fìtsengìri ke tsun tirvok oe nìlun.
       I humbly apologize to you all and sincerely ask for forgiveness again. Clearly, I have no business being here.

       Kìyevame!, Slä sengemì alahe...
       See you again soon!, but elsewhere...
« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 01:43:16 pm by Prrton »

Offline Ean Rina niNavi

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #16 on: February 21, 2010, 12:51:20 am »
.....ma aysmuk, new to forums coz i've spent my whole life chatting so as the 1st topic... can any one direct me to any page with a list of inflections cause thats where i suck..... cool post now i know that the Na'vi language is really capable of being an international language..... irayo aysmuk!!!!!!!............... ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D

Offline Ean Rina niNavi

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #17 on: February 21, 2010, 01:03:54 am »
Tìlatem nìmip mìso tsa'u a karmllkxängem mìseng oeta nì'awve:

Please remember this is the Beginners' forum; English translations are very helpful and very encouraged here.

  - Eri


 "New different update/edit to my original post:"

       Ayngengaru tsap'alute seruyi ohe ulte nìtxe'lanta, oheru txoa livuyumun. Nìlaw, fìtsengìri ke tsun tirvok oe nìlun.
       I humbly apologize to you all and sincerely ask for forgiveness again. Clearly, I have no business being here.

       Kìyevame!, Slä sengemì alahe...
       See you again soon!, but elsewhere...

....irayo ma tsawl tsmukan for your understanding of our stature....you really have your feet on the ground....

Offline Ftiafpi

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect
« Reply #18 on: March 26, 2010, 09:41:10 am »
Some great examples of perfective vs imperfective in English: http://forum.learnnavi.org/intermediate/pfv-and-ipfv-in-english/

 

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