One more for 2011

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One more for 2011
Release date December 31, 2011
Source Naviteri
Link: 1

Here's the last post for 2011, with a bit of new grammar. I have a large backlog of vocabulary I want to get to you, but that will have to wait until next year.


This sounds intimidating, but it's actually a simple concept.

Suppose you're an experienced mycologist gathering mushrooms in the forest with a friend. You see two different mushrooms under a tree—one edible, one deadly. So you say to your friend as you point them out, “This mushroom is delicious; that mushroom will kill you.”

How would you pronounce that last sentence?

If you're a native speaker of English, you'd put heavy stress on the two demonstratives, this and that:

“THIS mushroom is delicious; THAT mushroom will kill you.”

I mention “native speaker” because although that kind of stress pattern—what we call “contrastive stress”—is so natural to native English speakers they don't even think about it, it's not natural in many other languages. When I was teaching ESL, I kept encountering student learners with very good English skills who nevertheless would pronounce the mushroom sentence like this:

  • “This MUSHroom is delicious; that MUSHroom will kill you.”

Languages that don't use stress to show contrast have other ways of doing it. (For those of you who speak French, think of ce jardin vs. ce jardin-ci, ce jardin-là.)

Ha . . . Lì'fyari leNa'vi pefya?

As you know, the Na'vi demonstratives fì- and tsa- are prefixed to their nouns and not stressed, so a simple English-like pattern isn't possible. Instead, Na'vi uses apposition with alu and a redundant pronoun. Here's the mushroom sentence in Na'vi. (I've used fkxen, ‘food of vegetable origin' as a generic vegetable here.)

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Fìfkxen alu FÌ'u lu ftxìlor; tsafkxen (or: pum) alu TSA'u ngati tspang. ‘THIS vegetable is delicious; THAT one will kill you.'

Note that there is (IS!) contrastive stress here, but it's on the fi-/tsa- of the pronoun, not of the noun. (These prefixes, of course, are not capitalized in normal writing.)

Another example:

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Fìkaryu alu fìpo lu tsulfätu; tsakaryu alu tsapo lu skxawng. ‘This teacher is a master; that teacher is a fool.'


We saw a few posts back that the adverb fìtsap ‘each other'—another useful translation is ‘reciprocally'—is used with the reflexive infix «äp» in transitive verbs to indicate reciprocal action:

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Zìsìto avol ke tsäpole'a fo fìtsap. ‘They haven't seen each other in eight years.'

But what happens if the verb is intransitive? Reflexive «äp» is only used with transitive verbs (and some si- constructions).

If you think about it, it's odd to use ‘each other' with intransitives: you can see each other, love each other, and slap each other, but you can't sleep each other, talk each other, or swim each other. However, a number of important transitive verbs in English have intransitive counterparts in Na'vi: “I love you” = Nga yawne lu oer, “I know you” = Nga smon oer.

So how do you say “We know each other” in Na'vi? Fìfya:

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Moe smon moeru fìtsap. ‘We know each other.'

Literally, this says: ‘We are familiar with us (i.e., with ourselves) reciprocally.' With moe, of course, you're talking to a third party about yourself and another person.

Note that moeru is optional: Moe smon fìtsap is fine and means the same thing.

Another example:

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Ma muntxatu, oeng yawne lu (oengaru) fìtsap, kefyak? ‘We love each other, don't we, my spouse?'

With the third person, things get a bit more complicated.

First off, how do you say “He sees himself?” Easy: Po tsäpe'a. But what about “He loves himself?” You can't use –äp- here. If you say, Po yawne lu por, you're saying that he loves him/her—that is, someone not himself.

Recall that we encountered a similar situation with possessive pronouns, in which case sneyä came to the rescue:

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Pol 'olem peyä wutsot. ‘He made his (i.e., someone else's) dinner.'

Pol 'olem sneyä wutsot. He made his (own) dinner.

Sneyä has a relative snor(u) ‘to himself, to herself, to itself, to themselves' which comes to the rescue here:

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Po yawne lu snor. ‘He loves himself.'

Returning to the original question, with snor(u) and fìtsap we can translate “know each other” and “love each other”-type sentences in the third person:

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Mefo yawne lu (snor) fìtsap. ‘They (=those two) love each other.'

(Like sneyä, snor(u) isn't changed for number.)

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Fo smon (snoru) fìtsap nìwotx. ‘They all know each other.'

There's more to say about the sno family, but that will have to wait until another time.