Happy Leap Day

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Happy Leap Day
Release date February 29, 2012
Source Naviteri
Link: 1

Kaltxì nìmun, ma frapo—

Tse, February wasn't a very productive month for me Na'vi-wise, I'm afraid, but I wanted to get at least one post in before month's end. So here's a bit of grammar and a few new vocabulary items for Leap Day (hope it was a good one), just under the wire.

NOUN FORMATION: tì- vs. sä-[edit]

You're already very familiar with both these prefixes, which create nouns, usually out of other parts of speech. Looking at some tì- words, for example:

‘protection' comes from hawnu ‘protect' (V –> N)
‘intelligence' comes from kanu ‘intelligent' (ADJ –> N)
‘friendship' comes from 'eylan ‘friend' (N –> N; this is less common)

Sä- creates nouns in much the same way:

‘a whisper' comes from tsìsyì ‘whisper' (V –> N)
‘sickness, disease' comes from spxin ‘sick' (ADJ –> N)

So what's the difference between these two noun formers?

First of all, it's important to keep in mind that neither one is productive. That is, you're not free to coin new tì- and sä- words at will; you need to find them in the dictionary and learn their meanings. However, there are some rough guidelines that will help you distinguish tì- and sä- words. I say “rough” because Na'vi is not completely consistent in this area: as in natural Earth languages that have evolved over time, exceptions to the general rules are not uncommon.


The meaning of a tì- noun is generally the abstract idea or concept embodied in the verb, adjective, or noun it's based on. So tìhawnu is the idea of protecting, that is, protection; tìkanu is the concept of being intelligent, that is, intelligence; tìlor is beauty, from lor ‘beautiful.'

You can immediately think of some common exceptions to this rule: tìrol, from rol ‘sing,' means song, not the idea of singing. (To talk about singing in general, use tì- along with the first-position infix –us-; this process is productive—i.e., you can do it with virtually any verb. Tìrusol lu oeru mowan. ‘Singing is enjoyable to me.') Tìpähem means arrival in the sense of a particular arrival, not arrival in the abstract sense. That's just how it is: these items need to be learned like all other vocabulary.


Although there are exceptions for sä- nouns as well, the usage here is more consistent. There are two basic uses of sä- (with some overlap):

To indicate an instrument[edit]

A sä- noun can be the instrument or tool, or the means by which something is achieved.


You nume ‘learn' by means of sänume ‘teaching, instruction.'
You syep ‘trap' by means of a säsyep ‘a trap.'
You wìntxu ‘show' by means of a säwìntxu ‘a showing, an exhibition.'

To indicate a particular, concrete instance of a general action[edit]


A sätsyìl ‘a climb' is a particular instance of the action of climbing, tsyìl, as in, Tsasästyìl lolu ngäzìk nìngay! ‘That was a really hard climb!'
A sämyam ‘hug, embrace' is a particular instance of hugging or embracing, meyam. (The unstressed e has been lost here.)

When both tì- and sä- nouns exist for the same root, the difference can be especially clear. For example, we saw in an earlier post that from the adjective 'ipu ‘humorous, funny, amusing' we derive the two nouns tì'ipu and sä'ipu. Tì'ipu is the abstract concept of being humorous, that is, humor in general; sä'ipu is a particular instance of being humorous—for example, a joke.

Finally, let me correct an error on my part. The verb mok ‘suggest' yields two nouns, tìmok and sämok, both meaning ‘suggestion.' The distinction, as you can predict, is that tìmok is the abstract idea of suggesting, while sämok is a concrete instance of suggesting, i.e. a suggestion.

1 Fìtxeleri tìmok ke tam; zene fko fngivo' In this matter, suggesting won't cut it; you need to demand. 1
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Fìtxeleri tìmok ke tam; zene fko fngivo'. ‘In this matter, suggesting won't cut it; you need to demand.'

Feyä aysämok lu fe' nìwotx. ‘All of their suggestions are bad.'

At least once I used tìmok when it should be have been sämok. Thanks to everyone who pointed that out. Ngaytxoa, krro tìkxey si keng karyu.


You're already familiar with nì'ul, the adverb meaning ‘more.' It comes from the verb 'ul ‘increase.' Its opposite is nän, ‘decrease,' and there's a parallel adverb as well.

  • 'ul' (vin.) ‘increase'
  • nän (vin.) ‘decrease'


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Rutxe wivem nìnän. ‘Please fight less.'

Ayhapxìtu ponguä txopu si nìnän takrra Va'rul pxekutut lätxayn. ‘The members of the group are less afraid since Va'ru defeated three of the enemy.'

We also have the following adverbs:

  • nì'ul'ul (adv., nì.'UL.'ul) ‘increasingly, more and more'
  • nìnänän (adv., nì.NÄ.nän.) ‘decreasingly, less and less'
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Fralo a taron, oeyä 'itan txopu si nìnänän. ‘Each time he hunts, my son becomes less and less afraid.'

Frazìsìkrr pay kilvanä nän nì'ul'ul. ‘Every season the river dries up more and more.'

And we now have the way to say “the more . . . the more” and “the less . . . the less” (known to grammarians as “correlative comparisons”). It's just 'ul . . . 'ul and nän . . . nän respectively. (In these cases, 'ul and nän have lost their status as verbs, just as the verb ftxey ‘choose' is “deverbed” when it's used to mean ‘whether.')


'Ul tskxekeng si, 'ul fnan. ‘The more you practice, the better you'll get.'

'Ul tute, 'ul tìngäzìk. ‘The more people, the more problems.'

Nän ftia, nän lu skxom a emza'u. ‘The less you study, the less chance you have of passing.'

Nän yom kxamtrr, 'ul 'efu ohakx kaym. ‘The less you eat at noon, the hungrier you'll feel in the evening.'

(A note on pronunciation: In a combination like ohakx kaym, it's very difficult to maintain the pronunciation of the ejective because of the following k. So except in careful, slow speech, the ejective is pronounced as an ordinary k. In fact, the two k's are not pronounced separately but rather as one “long” k, which you hold longer than a regular one.)


mek (adj.) ‘empty'

Ngeyä tsngal lumpe lu mek? Näk nì'ul ko! ‘Why is your cup empty? Drink up!'

Mek can also be used metaphorically for something “empty” in the sense of having no valuable content, in the same way we say “an empty idea” in English.

meka säfpìl ‘an empty/dumb idea'

meka säplltxevi ‘an insipid/thoughtless comment'

sämok amek ‘a useless suggestion'

leioae (n., le.i.o.A.e) ‘respect'

Luke leioae olo'ä ke tsun kea eyktan flivä. ‘Without the respect of the clan, no leader can succeed.'

leioae si (vin.) ‘to respect' (with the dative)

Ngaru leioae si oe frato, ma 'eylan. ‘I respect you the most of all, friend.'

Note also:

leioae amek ‘feigned respect'