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Offline wm.annis

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Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« on: June 22, 2010, 08:36:07 pm »
If I had been thinking more clearly earlier, I would have written this little installment of the Na'vi Linguistics series first.  I've been dealing with languages that have case for decades now, which leaves me with a false impression about how difficult they are for beginners to such languages.  Hopefully this article will make up for that oversight, and help new members of the site in the future.

Let's start with English.  In English, we decide what roles nouns are playing in a sentence by two things.  First, where they occur in the sentence and, second, if they're after a preposition.  For example:

 (1) The dog runs.
 (2) The dog sees the cat.
 (3) The cat sees the dog.

If you recall your grammar from English (or French, or Spanish) class, in both sentence (1) and (2) above "the dog" is the subject of the sentence, that is, it is the agent performing the action of the verb.  In the first sentence, the subject and verb are sufficient to describe a complete state of affairs.  In sentence (2) "the cat" is the direct object, that is, it is the focus or patient of the verbal action.  I say "focus or patient" here because in the sentence "I see the dog," the dog isn't actually altered or impacted by my action, whereas if I say, "I pet the dog," then the dog is actually experiencing a change of state (to slobbery doggy bliss, one trusts).

If we swap around the nouns in sentence (2), we get sentence (3), which in English describes a quite different state of affairs.  So, in English (and in many other languages on this planet, though not all) what we call the syntactic role in a sentence is determined by word order.  If you shuffle things around, you get a new meaning.

In Na'vi, these syntactic roles are determined not by word order, but by "cases" (that name goes all the way back to the Greek grammarians, but I wouldn't try to interpret the word unless you become addicted to grammar at some future date).  Cases are when you alter the form of a word to indicate its syntactic role, rather than let word order do it.  In Na'vi, as in most Human languages, the cases are marked by changing the ending of the word.  We actually have a small remnant of this in English for the possessive.  When we add 's to the end of a noun, we change its syntactic role to that of possession,

 (4) The cat's toy is lost.

In Na'vi, not only is the possessive marked with a change in word ending, but the subject, the direct object and two other relationships we'll get to are as well.  Because the roles are marked by changing the word, Na'vi is free to use word order to indicate style, emphasis, etc.  Some Human languages do have case marking, but still have fairly strict word orders.

Another piece of Greek grammatical vocabulary:

  decline verb "to write out all the case forms of a word"
  declension noun "a table or other format laying out all the case forms of a word"

In European languages (like German, Russian, as well as ancient Greek and Latin), the case forms are are muddled together with the endings that mark a word plural.  This is very unusual in Human languages, most of which like Na'vi have one marker for the plural and separate markers for case.  In that sense, Na'vi case endings are easier.  However, the endings change a bit depending on what sounds a word ends in, to meet the sound rules of the language.  I'm not going to explain all the rules of that here, but instead point you to my Na'vi Grammar cheat-sheet.  I'll still give all the forms below, but I'll let you look at the summary for the rules.

One last thing before I explain the Na'vi cases.  These days the terms for naming cases are pretty well established.  However, Frommer used slightly unusual terms for some of his cases because of how he studied what is called "case alignment."   Instead of using the usual case names, he used the terms for describing the roles.  In the discussion below I will indicate both the usual and the Frommerian terms for things, since you'll see both used in the forum.

Some Na'vi vocabulary for the discussion below:
 nantang noun, "viperwolf"
 yerik noun, "hexapede"
 puk noun, "book" (a loanword from English)
 po pronoun, "he, she" (for animate beings — Na'vi doesn't usually distinguish gender)
 tse'a verb, "see"
 hahaw verb, "sleep"
 tìng verb, "give"
  verb, "go"
 ne adposition, "to, towards"

Subjective (in other works called the "intransitive").  This is the simplest case, because it has no special form: it's just the bare noun, nantang.  In Na'vi this is the case used for the subject of intransitive verbs (a lesson on verb transitivity will come later):

 (5) nantang hahaw A viperwolf sleeps.

This case is also used when a noun is used with an adposition (what we call "prepositions" in English).  This is an important point.  In European languages that have noun cases, very often prepositions require particular cases.  This does not happen in Na'vi.

 (6) Po kä ne nantang She's going towards the viperwolf.

Agentive (in other works, "ergative").  The ending forms are -l and ìl.  In Na'vi this case is used for the subject of transitive verbs,

 (7) nantangìl tse'a yerikit The viperwolf sees a hexapede.
 (8) nantangìl tse'a The viperwolf sees (something).

Notice in sentence (8) that even though I don't explicitly name the thing seen, I still mark the subject with the agentive.  The verb is still transitive.  There is a situation where you can use the subjective with a transitive verb, but that is a bit confusing and we're waiting on more examples and explanation from Frommer on that.

Patientive (in other works, "accusative," more crazy Latin mistranslations of Greek).  The forms for this are -t, -it and -ti.  The patientive case is used to indicate the direct object of a transitive verb.  Note that means you should never see this case in a sentence with an intransitive verb.  Looking at sentence (7) again,

 (9) nantangìl tse'a yerikit The viperwolf sees a hexapede.
 (10) nantangìl yerikit tse'a The viperwolf sees a hexapede.
 (11) tse'a yerikit nantangìl The viperwolf sees a hexapede.

Notice that sentences 9, 10 and 11 all encode the same state of affairs.  Because of the case endings, we can shuffle the words around (see the post on "Free" word order for details).

Dative.  The endings are -r, -ru and -ur.  Frommer really loves the dative — it gets used for several different jobs.  In most languages, the fundamental job of the dative is to indicate the indirect object of the sentence.  An indirect object describes "to whom" or "for whom" an action is performed.  English, just to be confusing, has two ways to indicate this, one with word order, one with the a preposition (usually "to" but sometimes "for" makes sense).

 (12) I give the book to the student.
 (13) I give the student the book.

In sentences 12 and 13 above I have underlined the indirect object.  If one were trying to bring viperwolves culture,

 (14) Pol tìng pukit nantangur He gives a book to the viperwolf.

Note: po-l is agentive, puk-it is patientive.

There are other idioms and uses for the Na'vi dative.  I will leave most of them for you to learn as you get more advanced in the language, but there are two important uses I will mention.  First, there is no verb "to have" in Na'vi.  Instead you use the dative with the verb lu.  The idiom means something like "to/for him there is a book,"

 (15) Lu poru puk he has a book (lu usually comes first in this idiom)

Finally, Na'vi has many verbal idioms which are composed of a noun plus the prop verb si, such as eltu si "pay attention," kavuk si "betray," etc.  The literal sense of these is something like "do a betrayal thing."  They are considered intransitive verbs, which means they take the dative — not the patientive — when you want a direct object and the subjective for the subject,

 (16) po kavuk si yerikur She betrayed the hexapede.

It is a very common mistake for beginners to use the dative in all places English can use the preposition "to," including senses of motion, such as "I go to school."  The Na'vi dative is never used for location like this — you need an adposition (such as ne).  So take care with that.

Genitive.  The forms are and -yä.  This is the equivalent of 's or the preposition "of" in English.  It indicates possession,

 (17) puk nantangä or nantangä puk the viperwolf's book or the book of the viperwolf

Notice that in Na'vi the genitive can come before or after the noun it possesses (sometimes called the possessum).  Notice that a genitive noun can possess words in different cases, as in,

 (18) pol tse'a pukit nantangä He sees the viperwolf's book.

One annoying thing about the genitive is that several pronouns change form when they take the genitive ending.  The vowel changes, so that the genitive of po is peyä for example.  You will have to memorize these, I'm afraid.

Topical.  The endings are -ri and -ìri.  This case is far the most confusing for beginners.  European languages don't really have syntax that matches the use of the topical, so our only translation for it is rather clunky, "as for X, concerning X".  We also need some serious clarification from Frommer on how to use it more widely.  If I ever understand it, I'll write up a separate document.

For now, you should know that there are a few idioms where the topical case is often used.  For example, when thanking someone (irayo si to thank), you often put the thing you're thanking someone for in the topical.

 (19) Pukìri po irayo si nantangur She thanks the nantang for the book.

Similarly, when you apologize (tsap'alute si) the thing you apologize for goes in the topical.

So, those are the Na'vi cases.  Use them wisely!


Edit: I always find typos after I hit "save..."
« Last Edit: June 27, 2010, 09:28:19 pm by wm.annis »
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Offline 'Oma Tirea

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2010, 08:55:19 pm »
One thing I have found most fascinating (and annoying): There's no clear one-word English equivalent for the Na'vi word po.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2010, 09:32:15 pm »
true. there is not a single English word that equates to Po...the closest we got is he/she. and the one it is depends on context. the most common misconception is to use po as "it" people seem to also use "fko" as "it" as well...

I like this post. I posted it on my Facebook. many others like it as well.

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2010, 11:20:03 pm »
Excellent post!

So are we still are uncertain of how to use -e and -an at this time I guess?  Poe and Poan still iffy, not usable as listed ASG, or are we OK with this?  ---

(14 a.) Poanìl tìng pukit nantangur He gives a book to the viperwolf.

(14 b.) Poel tìng pukit nantangur She gives a book to the viperwolf.

And topicals remain unclear for various situations?
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2010, 11:53:24 pm »
Tewti, ma william, fì'u txantsan lu!  This should be very helpful.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2010, 12:09:49 am »
Excellent post!

So are we still are uncertain of how to use -e and -an at this time I guess?  Poe and Poan still iffy, not usable as listed ASG, or are we OK with this?  ---

(14 a.) Poanìl tìng pukit nantangur He gives a book to the viperwolf.

(14 b.) Poel tìng pukit nantangur She gives a book to the viperwolf.

And topicals remain unclear for various situations?
The genders have been clear from the start, it was spelled out in the language log post from way back when.  Also spelled out was that Na'vi usually does not use them.  So unless there is a specific reason you need to clarify the gender, it usually is not necessary, and using it is probably letting the English translation leak into the Na'vi.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2010, 12:31:14 am »
Excellent post!

So are we still are uncertain of how to use -e and -an at this time I guess?  Poe and Poan still iffy, not usable as listed ASG, or are we OK with this?  ---

(14 a.) Poanìl tìng pukit nantangur He gives a book to the viperwolf.

(14 b.) Poel tìng pukit nantangur She gives a book to the viperwolf.

And topicals remain unclear for various situations?
The genders have been clear from the start, it was spelled out in the language log post from way back when.  Also spelled out was that Na'vi usually does not use them.  So unless there is a specific reason you need to clarify the gender, it usually is not necessary, and using it is probably letting the English translation leak into the Na'vi.

Gender neutrality is an oddity for Spanish, both male and female have to be said together to make it close to neutral for gender nouns, even still the order can be construed as gender bias if one gender is said before the other.  Having Gender specificity or not having it is rather important for certain types of conversations.  Na'vi does not have grammatical Gender, that is clear, but deliberately avoiding specifying gender seems deliberately ambiguous, where so much else is so very specific.  It will take me a while to wrap my head around reasons for it being pointed out or specifically dropped being anything more than an opinion or a preference.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2010, 12:45:21 am »
Excellent post!

So are we still are uncertain of how to use -e and -an at this time I guess?  Poe and Poan still iffy, not usable as listed ASG, or are we OK with this?  ---

(14 a.) Poanìl tìng pukit nantangur He gives a book to the viperwolf.

(14 b.) Poel tìng pukit nantangur She gives a book to the viperwolf.

And topicals remain unclear for various situations?
The genders have been clear from the start, it was spelled out in the language log post from way back when.  Also spelled out was that Na'vi usually does not use them.  So unless there is a specific reason you need to clarify the gender, it usually is not necessary, and using it is probably letting the English translation leak into the Na'vi.

Gender neutrality is an oddity for Spanish, both male and female have to be said together to make it close to neutral for gender nouns, even still the order can be construed as gender bias if one gender is said before the other.  Having Gender specificity or not having it is rather important for certain types of conversations.  Na'vi does not have grammatical Gender, that is clear, but deliberately avoiding specifying gender seems deliberately ambiguous, where so much else is so very specific.  It will take me a while to wrap my head around reasons for it being pointed out or specifically dropped being anything more than an opinion or a preference.

Turkish is a genderless language that uses a single pronoun to mean he/she/it.  In the case of Turkish, the ambiguity is unavoidable—there is no other version of the pronoun.  And they seem to do okay ;)
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #8 on: June 23, 2010, 02:39:13 am »
Thee? Thy? Thou? 

No, those would be nga.

true. there is not a single English word that equates to Po...the closest we got is he/she. and the one it is depends on context. the most common misconception is to use po as "it" people seem to also use "fko" as "it" as well...

I like this post. I posted it on my Facebook. many others like it as well.

he/she isn't the closest, it's accurate, depending on context po can mean either. Fko as it is pretty wonky though.
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Offline wm.annis

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #9 on: June 23, 2010, 04:37:51 am »
And topicals remain unclear for various situations?

If we have a sentence from Frommer containing a topical case, it's clear.  What's less clear from the few examples we have is how and when exactly we can use them on our own.  For example, in many languages the equivalent of the topical is really only used on nouns that are definite (i.e., we'd have to use "the" or some other definite marker with them in English).  Some other topic-heavy languages don't have such a requirement.  We don't know the details yet.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #10 on: June 23, 2010, 05:04:37 am »
Turkish is a genderless language that uses a single pronoun to mean he/she/it.  In the case of Turkish, the ambiguity is unavoidable—there is no other version of the pronoun.  And they seem to do okay ;)

If I'm reading Txur'Itan's post correctly, he's not concerned about having a gender-neutral pronoun, but in how to deal with Na'vi having both a gender neutral as well as gendered forms to choose from.

If you were telling or story about John and Bob, two hapless co-workers, things could get a bit confusing with the pronoun, since they both warrant a "he."  So, we have to resort to various sorts of tricks to clarify things, including giving up on the pronoun and using their names.  If you only have one 3rd person pronoun in your language, this sort of thing comes up more often.  Some languages have "4th person" pronouns to cope with just this situation, usually using the 3rd person for the most important or relevant element in what you're saying, and the 4th person for the minor role.

When you get grammatical gender in the mix, you have fewer situations where this problem comes up.  If you have to explain what Bob and Alice were up to, you won't usually need to resort to naming them — "he" and "she" are unambiguous in their reference (until someone new enters situation you're describing).

Unless there's a situation with both a "he" and a "she" referent — interacting in the same or adjoining clauses — I avoid the gendered forms.  For example, I used the gendered forms in my translation of the Navajo Coyote tale, "he" for Nantang and "she" for Yerik.  We got a recent example from Frommer that shows the same principle:

  Alo amrr poan polawm, slä fralo poe poltxe san kehe. He asked five times, but each time she said, 'no.'

Here the gendered forms are used in an explicit contrast.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #11 on: June 23, 2010, 09:04:36 am »
Kaltxì, ma william.  I understood Txur'Itan; what i was trying to get at (in a muddled sort of way) was that it's not nearly as weird as it might seem to English-speakers (or speakers of gendered languages) to neglect to specify a person's gender.  Like you, i only use the gendered pronouns when it's necessary to eliminate ambiguity; otherwise, i always use po.  But there's a lot of "detail-dropping" in the Na'vi language that is weird to us (or at least to me):  Not only is indicating gender unnecessary, but once the subject of the sentence is established you can drop the pronouns altogether; and once tense is established you can drop it from your verbs.  It seems to me like one of the hardest parts of language-learning is the tendency to want to put absolutely all available info into the sentence.  I find it hard myself to drop things out that i know "should" be there.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #12 on: June 23, 2010, 12:33:56 pm »
Kaltxì, ma wm.annis!   I find all your posts informative, insightful and extremely helpful.    Irayo!
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2010, 02:01:15 pm »
And topicals remain unclear for various situations?

Likely to be the most confusing affixes to newbies: <iv> and -ri/-ìri for various reasons.  There is also the secondary use of the Dative case, and maybe even the Patientive that could initially be a bit confusing.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #14 on: November 08, 2010, 05:05:41 am »
Kaltxì,

Just a thought on our more-or-less clumsy translations of Na'vi Topical into English:

We're mainly using "concerning" or "as for" to make the Topical accessible in English, which is ok, but sometimes doesn't work well at all. I've recently been doing some reading on Haida, and there the focus marker is generally translated into something along the lines of it is X or X is the one.

Come to think of it, to me this would also seem appropriate for the Na'vi Topical in some cases, and also make it perhaps more understandable for beginners, e.g.:
Ngeyä 'upxareri seiyi oe irayo. It is your message that I thank (for).
Ngari Nawma Sa'nok lrrtok soleiyi. You are the one the Great Mother smiled (upon). or It is you who the Great Mother smiled (upon).
Pori zene kllfrivo' nga. He is the one you must be responsible (for).
etc.

On the downside, this does alter the clause structure considerably, but makes the meaning of the Topical quite clear. Of course, there are many cases where as for works just as well, or even better.

So, what's all this waffling about? I propose to add this way of translating the Topical into English to our repertoire, and use it for explanations where appropriate.

Thoughts?
« Last Edit: November 08, 2010, 05:07:28 am by eanayo »

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #15 on: November 08, 2010, 07:47:38 am »
So, what's all this waffling about? I propose to add this way of translating the Topical into English to our repertoire, and use it for explanations where appropriate.

Thoughts?

In most accounts of discourse, topics are by definition unfocused.  The closest thing we have to focus marking in Na'vi is Frommer saying that "the punch" comes at the end of a Na'vi sentence.  (Here's a big scary paper about Focus and Topic in Haida: Word Order, Focus, and Topic in Haida).

So, as much as I love seeing Haida data here — :) — I don't think focus marking maps well onto Na'vi's topical.
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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #16 on: November 08, 2010, 09:16:07 am »
Yep, I'm aware of the difference between focus and topic, just thought we might adapt that translation for our purposes where it would work.

But fair enough, let's stick to what we know is safe territory ;)

And thanks for the big scary paper, but I've got that one already (:heart: library)

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #17 on: November 08, 2010, 11:13:53 am »
Yep, I'm aware of the difference between focus and topic, just thought we might adapt that translation for our purposes where it would work.

But fair enough, let's stick to what we know is safe territory ;)

In the early-to-middle public phase of Na'vi, some people were promoting the topical as a kind of "emphasis" (a word I hate, but I'll save that for a different time and place).  I worry about anything that could give that impression.
'Awa lì'fya ke tam kawkrr.
A Na'vi Reference Grammar

Offline Ataeghane

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #18 on: October 20, 2012, 11:03:45 am »
What cases should I use when I want to say e.g. "Teach me your ways"?

Kar oeru ngeyä fya'ot.
or
Ngeyä fya'ori kar oeti.
or any other combination?

Oer wivìntxu ngal oey keyeyt krr a tse'a sat. Frakrr.

Offline Tirea Aean

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Re: Na'vi Linguistics: Case
« Reply #19 on: October 20, 2012, 01:03:55 pm »
What cases should I use when I want to say e.g. "Teach me your ways"?

Kar oeru ngeyä fya'ot.
or
Ngeyä fya'ori kar oeti.
or any other combination?

The first one.

The structure for kar, I believe, is the same as that of tìng:

Karyul numeyuru säomumit kar

EDIT: Although that second one could probably maybe work too.

DOUBLE EDIT: D'OH. I meant to say That second one could probably maybe work too IF it were Ngeyä Fya'ori kar oeru. Nice catch, Kemaweyan ;)
« Last Edit: October 21, 2012, 03:13:01 pm by Tirea Aean »

 

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