The Na'vi language contains sounds that are uncommon in human languages, some of which are particularly tricky for English speakers to pronounce correctly. This page contains links to resources and other guidance that can help you improve your Na'vi pronunciation.
Basic Pronunciation Guides
The following guides all provide the basics of Na'vi pronunciation. Any of them will give you a good start.
Detailed Pronunciation Guides
These resources provide substantially more detail but are rather technical and geared towards experienced linguists.
- Paul Frommer's post to Language Log
- Na'vi Language - Phonology and Orthography on Wikipedia
- Na'vi Pocket Guide
Canonical Audio Clips
Paul Frommer has given several audio interviews in which he has spoken Na'vi, and in some cases provided explanations of how to correctly pronounce certain sounds. Note that in many cases we do not have canonical Na'vi transcriptions. However, listening to Frommer's pronunciations (even of long and untranscripted passages) will help you get a better sense of how the language should sound when spoken.
In some cases, clips containing just Frommer's spoken Na'vi are available (including both normal speed and slowed-down versions), either as a zipfile of the entire collection or via a webpage listing the individual clips. See this forum thread for more information.
- Vanity Fair interview - audio clip is partway down the page. (clip)
- Kaltxì. Ngaru lu fpom srak? "Hello. How are you?" (literally: "Are you well?")
- New York Times article audio clip
- "Yesterday I was with Txewì in the forest and we saw the biggest Trapper [type of carniverous plant] I've ever seen."
- "Those things are dangerous. They can kill a person, you know."
- "I know. We were careful not to get too close."
- National Public Radio interview
- ABC News Nightline segment
- PBS Newshour interview - note: poor audio quality
- 0:36 Explanation and demonstration of ejectives
- 0:57 Explanation and demonstration of initial ng and fng cluster
- 2:20 Explanation and demonstration of Kaltxì. "Hello."
- 2:56 Explanation and demonstration of Oel ngati kameie. "I See you."
- Southern California Public Radio interview
- 1:18 Explanation and demonstration of Kaltxì. "Hello." (clip)
- 10:45 and 11:02 meoauniaea (one of Frommer's favorite Na'vi words - English meaning not yet defined) (clip)
- 11:18 Demonstration of ejectives (clip)
- 11:32 Explanation of initial ng
- 13:10 Kìyevame "See you again" (clip) and Eywa ngahu. "Eywa be with you." (clip)
- BBC Radio interview - note: poor audio quality
- 2:30 Oel ngati kameie. "I See you."
- 3:15 A portion of the Hunt Song from the Activist Survival Guide
- 4:02 "Your alien smell fills my nose."
Contributed Audio Clips
The Learn Na'vi community has produced a collection of audio clips demonstrating the correct pronunciation of many individual Na'vi words. Contributors are continuing to add new clips and to improve old clips based on feedback from experienced Na'vi learners. Although these clips are not necessarily perfect and are definitely not canonical (i.e. "official"), they are very good.
There are several ways to listen to these clips:
- A zipfile of all the clips, with both English and Na'vi
- A zipfile of all the clips, Na'vi only
- A webpage with each clip as individual files
- The Learn Na'vi Vocabulary page containing links to clips for individual words
- Taronyu's Na'vi-English Audio Dictionary containing links to clips for individual words
Here are some other audio clips created by Na'vi learners:
- Pronunciation guide by kawng mungeyu
- Sample phrases by kawng mungeyu - see this Learn Na'vi forum thread for transcriptions
- Pronunciation guide by Ftiafpi - explanation and demonstration of a simple conversation
Advice, Tips, and Demonstrations
Alveolar Flap and Alveolar Trill: R and RR
- The Na'vi R is not pronounced like a standard "R" in English (as in "red", "car", or "forest"). It is, however, a sound commonly found in English. It is the same sound found in the standard English pronounciation of the following example words: batter, gutter, kiddies, and meddle. Linguists call this sound an alveolar flap. It is also the sound heard in the Spanish word pero.
- The Na'vi RR is related to R, but slightly different. R is a consonant, but it can also be used in places where you would normally expect a vowel. When used as a vowel it's always written as RR and is considered a "pseudovowel". The sound of RR is like that of R, but longer. Linguists call this sound an alveolar trill; it is also commonly called a "rolled R". This is not a sound normally found in English, but it is common in other languages.
- Paul Frommer has said that the Na'vi RR should be very strongly trilled. The sound clips above confirm that, as do the pronunciations of most of the actors in Avatar, although not all of them trill their RRs as strongly.
- A good example of the R alveolar flap compared to the standard English "R" is in the scene from Avatar where Neytiri is teaching Jake to say nari ("eye"). You can see a bit of that scene (complete with headslap!) in the ABC News Nightline segment starting at 3:12.
- Beduino from the Learn Na'vi forum has made a YouTube video demonstrating both the R alveolar flap and the RR alveolar trill.
- Many English speakers find the alveolar trill hard to do. Here is a WikiHow page providing several suggestions to help with learning to roll your RRs.
- More discussion can be found on this forum thread.
Glottal Stop and Ejectives: ', Kx, Px, and Tx
- The Na'vi consonant ' (written using an apostrophe) is called a glottal stop by linguists. It's a common sound in English; however, it's not written, and most English speakers don't notice it when they use it. It's most noticeable as the catch in your throat in the middle of the word "uh-oh", but it's also used whenever you say a word starting with a vowel after a pause. For example, when you say "go away", you continue to expel air and vibrate your vocal cords across the gap between the two words. But when you say "Go. Away." with a pause between the two words, you begin the word "away" with an unwritten and unnoticed glottal stop.
- In Na'vi, the glottal stop is a consonant, just as S, T, and F are. It is not just a pause; it has a distinct articulation and sound. Leaving out the glottal stop would be as much a mispronunciation in Na'vi as leaving out the D in "dog" would be in English.
- The Na'vi consonants Kx, Px, and Tx are called ejectives by linguists. Ejectives are not found in English, nor in most other languages, although they do occur in some Native American and African languages and the languages of the Caucasus. In Na'vi, they are distinct from the consonants K, P, and T; the two sets of consonants have different sounds and are not interchangeable.
- Paul Frommer describes ejectives as follows: "They're produced with a different airstream mechanism; they come off to the ear as popping sounds. They're not produced with air from the lungs; they're produced with air from the glottis." Frommer has given these instructions for pronouncing ejectives, using Tx as an example: "Hold your breath and make a T sound as loud as you can without breathing, and then add a vowel as quick as you can after it."
- Wm.annis on the Learn Na'vi forum offers this advice: "Ejective consonants are made by closing the glottis as for a glottal stop, then pushing out one of the consonants /p, t, k/ just using the air in your mouth, then releasing the glottis for the following vowel sound. Notice that this isn't just a consonant followed immediately by a glottal stop, rather, the consonant is articulated at the same time as the glottal stop. This is what gives it a popping sort of sound."
- Wm.annis has also recorded an audio clip explaining and demonstrating ejectives.
- Different languages pronounce ejectives with varying amounts of space between the ejective and the following vowel. This makes them sound more or less "choppy". In Navajo, for example, there is a distinct pause after ejectives, making them sound choppy; in some other languages they are very smooth and fluid. Frommer has said that vowels should follow ejectives as quickly as possible, suggesting that Na'vi ejectives are intended to be smooth and fluid; the Na'vi characters in Avatar pronounce their ejectives this way.
- This site has clickable audio examples demonstrating ejectives (Flash required). Click on the characters labeled p', t', and k'.
- Although the ejectives are written using two letters, they are single consonants. The "x" is not a separate sound, it simply serves to distinguish the ejectives from their non-ejective counterparts.
- In most languages that have ejectives and write them using the Roman alphabet, they are written with an apostrophe, as in p', t', and k'. They are also written that way in IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet). For Na'vi, Frommer decided to write them using an "x" instead of an apostrophe, possibly so that the actors reading the script would not confuse them with a glottal stop.
- blueme's Pronunciation Mini-Guide forum post has advice and instructions on pronouncing the Na'vi vowels.