In grammar, a noun (Na’vi: tstxolì’u) is a word (lì’u) that refers to something in life; persons, things, concrete or abstract. A noun is something like the name of a thing, and, indeed the word ‘noun’ comes from the Latin word for ‘name’; the N’avi word tstxolì’u also means ‘name-word’. In English, a noun is usually a basic word, like tree, joy or human, although it can take other combinations and forms.
Note that when I will refer to a Na’vi noun, I will use the Na’vi term tstxolì’u. For Na’vi nouns, I will use the plural form stxolì’u without the t. This is the Na’vi plural, about which we will talk in a future lesson. Until that time, just notice and remember the difference.
In Na’vi, the tstxolì’u in its basic, naked, unmodified form is usually a syllable long, like key ‘face’; or two, like nikre ‘hair’. Longer stxolì’u are often compounds or derived from other words.
The basic form of a noun, which we find in the dictionaries, is said to be in its subjective case, linguistically speaking. Nouns in this form are making statements, like ‘a boy’ and sometimes perform actions as in ‘a boy walks’. Perhaps this sounds too theoretical or technical for now, but hopefully it will make more sense later.
English and many other languages that are classified as ‘fusional’, can combine words to form compound nouns, like key-hole, pine-apple or basket-ball. Na’vi is also a fusional language and can combine stxolì’u (or any word with a stxolì’u) to create a new one. The word tstxolì’u is itself a compound of the words tstxo and lì’u.
- kinam ‘leg’ + til ‘joint’ ► kinamtil ‘knee’
- txun ‘arm’ + til ‘joint’ ► txuntil ‘elbow’
- taw ‘sky’ + sìp ‘ship’ ► tawsìp ‘skyship, spaceship’ (note that sìp is a loanword!)
- utu ‘forest canopy’ + mauti ‘fruit’ ► utumauti ‘canopy fruit’ (a Pandoran fruit that resembles a banana)
- trr ‘day’ + txon ‘night’ ► trrtxon ‘day-night cycle’
This is possible with other parts of speech (eg. verbs, adjectives) that combine with stxolì’u.
- spule ‘to propel’ (v.) + mokri ‘voice’ ► spulmokri ‘telephone’ (lit. ‘propel voice’)
- syep ‘to trap’ (v.) + rel ‘image’ ► syeprel ‘camera’
- yawne ‘beloved’ (adj.) + yewla ‘disappointment’ ► yawnyewla ‘love sickness, broken-heartedness’
If the produced word is long (eg. 4 syllables or more) the stresses of the original words is retained, so the result has two stresses.
- tirea ‘spirit’ + fya‘o ‘path’ ► tireafya‘o ‘spirit path’
Many languages, like English, have a definite article attached to a noun, like ‘the tree’. English also has an indefinite article for expressions like ‘a tree’. Many languages however, like classical Latin, Turkish, Russian or Japanese don’t make use of an article at all. This is the case with Na’vi. So a single tstxolì’u like utral, might mean anything between ‘tree’, ‘the tree’ or ‘a tree’.
Although there is no indefinite article, there is an indefinite marker that is suffixed to the tstxolì’u, becoming part of the word; linguists call this enclitic. This enclitic is -o.
- zekwä ‘finger’ ► zekwäo ‘some finger’
- ‘u ‘thing’ ► ‘uo ‘something’
- rum ‘ball’ ► rumo ‘some ball’
- trr ‘day’ ► trro ‘some day, one day’
- tute ‘person’ ► tuteo ‘someone, somebody’
As you see with ‘some day’, the -o can be used for useful expressions like krro ‘sometime’ or tsengo ‘somewhere’ but these are considered adverbs and will be covered later.
When the tstxolì’u already ends with o, the enclitic is still pronounced separately, forming a long oo and written with a hyphen.
- re’o ‘head’ ► re’o-o ‘someone’s head’
The situations when this happens is limited, as not too many useful stxolì’u end with o, however all Na’vi enclitics behave like this, so you will need to remember it as a rule.
In the syntax of a sentence, the stxolì’u are the head of a noun phrase. Sometimes a noun phrase is composed not only of one noun, but more. These are joined by particles called conjuctions like ‘and’ and ‘or’.
The Na’vi word for ‘or’ is fu.
- pay fu pxir ‘water or beer’
- utumauti fu paynäpll ‘banana fruit or pineapple’
The Na’vi word that combines 2 stxolì’u is sì, translated as ‘and’.
- tsyokx sì venu ‘hand and foot’
- nari sì mikyun ‘eye and ear’
- fyanyo sì seyn ‘table and chair’
- sempul sì sa’nok ‘father and mother’
In Na’vi, some small words like sì are used as in English; but unlike English they also can be added behind a word and form a suffix (an enclitic). This liberty is a specific trait of the Na’vi language. The above noun phrases can also be expressed as:
- ontu kxasì (lit. nose mouth-and)
- sempul sa’noksì (lit. father mother-and)
There doesn’t seem to be any difference in meaning. The option to use sì as an independent word or an enclitic is a matter of euphony and the speaker’s preference and style; eg. according to the rhyme, the speed or flow of speech.
Many languages assign a gender to each noun, commonly masculine, feminine or neuter… or more, like animate and inanimate. Romance languages have only masculine and feminine (even for the objects) while there are languages like Turkish or Japanese that have no grammatical gender. English may have 3 genders, but these are not reflected in grammar, and the neuter gender largely corresponds to the inanimate category of other languages. Sometimes the gender is signified by special endings (actor/actress; sportsman/sportswoman).
Na’vi is one of the languages without a grammatical gender, and mostly makes use of genderless, generic terms for persons, like ‘person’, ‘child’, ‘sibling’. However some stxolì’u that refer to persons have developed special endings, for when they need to specify the gender. These endings are -an (male) and -e (female).
- ‘eveng ‘child’ ► ‘evengan ‘boy’, ‘evenge ‘girl’
- tsmuk ‘sibling’ ► tsmukan ‘brother’, tsmuke ‘sister’
Notice that endings generally don’t change the stress of the li’u. However tute is a special and notable exception, which changes the stress like this:
- tute ‘person’ ► tutan ‘man’, tute ‘woman’
This irregularity of the stress helps disambiguate the basic form from the feminine form, as both end in e.
In regular speech, it is more usual than in English to use the basic generic forms; the gendered forms have been developed for when someone needs to be disambiguated, eg. when you want to point out a female among a group of men.
Finally, have in mind that these endings are not added freely to each noun to give them gender; words like tutan or ‘evenge have been developed on their own, and are learned as new. There are also some irregularities, like the word ‘eyktan ‘leader’ which has no female form
‘eykte, in a way we say ‘journeyman’ but not ‘journeywoman’.
Read the lesson carefully and locate all the words that refer to the human body. Draw an image of a human like this
and put labels of the Na’vi words for ‘head’, ‘leg’ etc on it.
In order to build your fluency and familiarity with Na’vi, spend some time every day pointing at your body parts and try to remember their Na’vi terms, and use them when you can; if someone hits you on the head, try to say “Ow, my re’o!”
Salvage and note down the new words you learned in this lesson, and try to form simple phrases, with combinations not seen above. Feel free to experiment with the indefinite enclitic, and the two uses of the ‘and’ (as an independent word or as an enclitic). Don’t worry if they don’t make sense (‘some father or a banana’ is grammatically correct).