Number in Na'vi

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Number in Na'vi
Release date July 30, 2011
Source Naviteri
Link: 1

Number in Na'vi—not just the actual numbers in the octal system but, more generally, the whole question of when to use the singular, dual, trial, and plural forms—can be a little tricky. So let me try to clarify some of those issues. (Irayo to the aysulfätu lì'fyayä with whom I had fruitful discussions about this subject. Some of the material that follows is directly or indirectly due to them.)

Let's start with a simple question: How do you say, “You two are teachers”?

“You two are” is straightforward: Menga lu . . . But what about “teachers”? Should it be meharyu, using the dual form to match the dual of menga? Should you use the plural form, (ay)haryu? Or should it simply be the singular, karyu?

The answer is based on this general principle of Na'vi grammar:


1 Navi:Number in Na'vi/1 Number Principle 1

Number Principle (Koren Holpxayä = KH): In referring to the same entity, express number only once per clause.

You've seen the KH in action before. For example, you know that “five stingbats” and “many viperwolves” is mrra riti and pxaya nantang respectively, not *mrra ayriti and *pxaya aynantang. Since number is already expressed by “five” and “many,” you don't need a plural marker on the nouns, which remain in the “unmarked” or singular form.

Now we can answer the original question:

2 Navi:Number in Na'vi/2 You two are teachers. 2

Menga lu karyu. ‘You two are teachers.'

Here are a few more examples:

3 Navi:Number in Na'vi/3 They are teachers. 3
4 Navi:Number in Na'vi/4 You two are my friends. 4
5 Navi:Number in Na'vi/5 Who are they? 5
6 Navi:Number in Na'vi/6 Who are those three warriors? 6

Fo lu karyu. ‘They are teachers.'

Menga lu oeyä 'eylan. (NOT eylan) ‘You two are my friends.'

Fo lu pesu/tupe? Who are they?

Tsapxesamsiyu lu pesu/tupe? ‘Who are those three warriors?'

In these examples, number is already shown by what comes before lu (the subjects of the sentences), so following the KH, what comes after lu (in the predicates) isn't marked for number. Sentences with slu work the same way.

So far so good, I hope. But there's a little complication. Note the following contrasting bits of conversation:


7 Navi:Number in Na'vi/7 Who are those warriors? 7
8 Navi:Number in Na'vi/8 Help:Number in Na'vi/8 8

Tsaysamsiyu lu tupe? ‘Who are those warriors?'

(Fo) lu 'eylan Tsu'teyä. ‘They're Tsu'tey's friends.'

(Note here that even if you omit the optional pronoun fo “they” in the response, 'eylan “friends” remains in the singular, since fo is understood. And we do have the number marking on fo, since it's in a different clause—in fact, a whole different sentence. This illustrates why the KH has the “per clause” restriction.)



9 Navi:Number in Na'vi/9 Help:Number in Na'vi/9 9
10 Navi:Number in Na'vi/10 Help:Number in Na'vi/10 10

Tsaysamsiyu lu supe? ‘Who are those warriors?'

(Fo) lu Kamun, Ralu, Ìstaw, sì Ateyo. ‘They're Kamun, Ralu, Ìstaw, and Ateyo.'

The question in B violates the KH, since the question word in the predicate, supe, is here marked for number. Why is that?

The difference is that when you ask “Who are X?” where X is a group, you can be requesting two different things:

  1. identify the defining characteristic of the group, or
  2. identify each member of the group.

The A conversation above has the interpretation in (1): Q: What characterizes that group of warriors? A: They're Tsu'tey's friends. The B conversation has the second interpretation: Identify each of those warriors.

For “defining characteristic” questions, the KH holds; for “identify” questions, it doesn't. That's why we have the following question about family members:

11 Navi:Number in Na'vi/11 Help:Number in Na'vi/11 11
Ätxäle si oe pivawm, ngari soaiä ayhapxìtu lu supe?

‘May I ask who the people in your family are?'

Finally, a couple of related items:


To make general statements about a group, keep the nouns in the singular:

12 Navi:Number in Na'vi/12 Viperwolves eat hexapedes. 12
13 Palulukan lu lehrrap. Thanators are dangerous. 13

Nantangìl yom yerikit. ‘Viperwolves eat hexapedes.'

Palulukan lu lehrrap.

‘Thanators are dangerous.'

We sometimes do similar things in English. For example, “The unicorn is a mythical beast.”

Forms with pe-[edit]

In the examples above we've seen several familiar ways of translating “who?” ( = what person?/ what people?) – tupe, pesu, (ay)supe. But since Na'vi has four degrees of number (singular, dual, trial, plural), three ways for addressing gender (common gender, masculine, feminine), and the possibility of pe either as a prefix or suffix, there are quite a few other such forms—in fact, 24 in all (4 x 3 x 2). In other words, for the simple question “Who is here?” you can be very specific in Na'vi, with separate pronoun forms for “What woman?” “What two men?” “What three people?” etc. Example:

14 Navi:Number in Na'vi/14 What three people are here? 14

Pepsul tok fìtsenget? What three people are here?

Here's the complete chart. Don't get scared and think you have to memorize all of these forms! Only a few of them turn up frequently.

Common Gender Male Female
Singular 1. pesu / 2. tupe 3. pestan / 4. tutampe 5. peste / 6. tutepe
Dual 7. pemsu / 8. mesupe 9. pemstan / 10. mestampe 11. pemste / 12. mestepe
Trial 13. pepsu / 14. pxesupe 15. pepstan / 16. pxestampe 17. pepste / 18. pxestepe
Plural 19. paysu / 20. (ay)supe 21. paystan / 22. (ay)stampe 23. payste / 24. (ay)stepe

Stressed syllables are underlined.

For example, 13 and 14 mean “What three people?” 15 and 16: “What three men?” 17 and 18: “What three women?”

For those who are interested, the derivations of these words involve lenition, nasal assimilation (the n of tutan has become m under the influence of the following p), and the loss of some unstressed vowels. Final te is dropped as well (as in pesu, not *pesute). Examples:

10. me + tutan + pe > mesutanpe > mesutampe > mestampe

13. pe + pxe + tute > pe + pxesute > pepesute > pepsute > pepsu

There's more to say about -pe+, of course, since it's very widely used. For example, here's how it interacts with kem ‘action':

Singular 1. pehem / 2. kempe
Dual 3. pemhem / 4. mehempe
Trial 5. pephem / 6. pxehempe
Plural 7. payhem / 8. (ay)hempe

As you see, the general paradigm is:

Singular 1. pe+ / 2. pe
Dual 3. pem+ / 4. me+ pe
Trial 5. pep+ / 6. pxe+ pe
Plural 7. pay+ / 8. (ay) + pe

As for such questions as how -pe+ interacts with fne- ‘kind, type' and how it works with the full variety of nouns, we'll leave those for another time.