Phonology

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The Na'vi language has 20 consonants, 7 vowels, 4 diphthongs, and 2 syllabic pseudovowels, rr and ll.

Transcription

Na'vi IPA Informal English example Notes
a a aah father
ä æ ahh cat, pack
aw aw aou now
ay aj eye eye, fly
ts ts tSS cats
e ɛ eh then
ew ɛw eyo
ey ɛj aey say
f f ff fool
ng ŋ nng sing
h h hh ham
i i ee machine
ì ɪ iih thin, bit
k k k' skill unaspirated
l l ll left
ll l: lll allow always front and light, never /ɫ/
m m mm man, ham
n n nn no, tin
o o oh mow
p p p' spin unaspirated
r ɾ rr
rr r rrr strongly trilled
s s ss see, city
t t t' stop unaspirated
u u, ʊ oou do
v v vuh voice, have
w w w' we
tx t' see ejectives, below
kx k' see ejectives, below
px p' see ejectives, below
y j y' yes
z z zz zoo
' ʔ the middle of uh-oh

The letters b, d, j, and q never appear in Na'vi.

Phonetics

Consonants

There are twenty consonants:

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Ejective px [p'] tx [t'] kx [k']
Plosive p [p] t [t] k [k] ' [?]
Affricate ts [ts]
Voiceless fricative f [f] s [s] h [h]
Voiced fricative v [v] z [z]
Nasal n [n] m [m] ng [ŋ]
Liquid r [r], l [l]
Glide w [w] y [j]

The consonants ts, f and s can occur as the first element of a syllable-initial consonant cluster. The consonants px, tx, kx, p, t, k, m, n, ng, r, l, and ' can occur in syllable-final position.

The digraphs px, tx, kx, ts and ng represent the three ejectives, the affricate, and the velar nasal respectively.

Voiceless stops are unaspirated. In final position they are unreleased.

Lenition

Following certain adpositions and prefixes, initial consonants mutate as follows:

  • px, tx, kx become p, t, k
  • p, t, k become f, s, h
  • ts becomes s
  • ' disappears

Affixes that cause lenition are marked with a + rather than -, as in me+, the dual prefix.

The number markers — me+ dual, pxe+ trial and ay+ — all cause lenition, meton two nights (txon night).

Vowels

Na'vi has a 7-vowel system:

Na'vi IPA Notes
i i
ì ɪ
e ε always lax
ä æ
u u or ʊ
o o
a a

Diphthongs

Na'vi has four diphthongs:

Na'vi IPA
aw aw
ew εw
ay aj
ey εj

Phonotactics

Every syllable has a single vowel or diphthong at its center. Each vowel or diphthong in a word corresponds to a separate syllable. A single vowel or diphthong may be a syllable by itself.

Within syllables, Na'vi vowels and diphthongs can be preceded by either one or two consonants. They can also be followed by one consonant. That is, the syllable structure is (C)(C)V(C), where V represents a vowel or a diphthong. Restrictions on which consonants can occur in which positions are given below.

Any consonant can occur at the beginning of a syllable. Clusters of two consonants can occur, but only in syllable-initial position and only in the following combinations:

{f, s, ts} + {p, t, k, px, tx, kx, m, n, ng, r, l, w, y}

There are thus 39 possible initial C-clusters, all of which are attested in the lexicon.

Sequences of stop + liquid, though they cannot occur initially, may be found medially. In such cases, however, a syllable boundary intervenes. Example: ikran "banshee" divides as ik-ran, not *i-kran.

Only certain consonants occur in syllable-final position. These are:

Ejectives px tx kx
Stops p t k '
Nasals m n ng
Liquids r, l

Vowel clusters

Na'vi allows unlimited sequences of vowels in a word. If no glottal stop intervenes, the vowels in such clusters glide smoothly from one to another. Each such vowel represents a separate syllable. Examples: tsaleioae (6 syllables), meoauniaea (8 syllables).

Pseudovowels

In CV syllables, the liquids l and r can replace the vowel. When they are syllabic they are lengthened and written ll and rr respectively.

Pseudovowels may not occur in closed syllables, that is, there may be no final consonant in a syllable that has ll or rr.

When the consonant l combines with the pseudovowel ll, as with the perfective infix ‹ol›, the lll reduces to just the consonant, as in poltxe from *p‹ol›lltxe. When the consonant r combines with rr, as with the imperfective infix ‹er›, the extra r is removed and the vowel too in the case of the infix ‹er›.

Stress

Word stress in Na'vi is unpredictable and distinctive. Stress must thus be specified for each word. In learning materials only, the stressed syllable in a word is underlined: tute "person", tute "female person".