User:Erimeyz/Beginners' Guide: Lesson Five - Noun Cases

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Note: This beginner's guide is a work in progress. There is still a lot to be done before it gets released. Feedback from everyone is welcome, including from beginners and experienced Na'vi learners. Please add your comments on the Beginners' Guide talk page, or post to one of the Beginners' Guide threads on the Learn Na'vi forum (such as the Letters and Sounds thread), or send a forum PM to Erimeyz.

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See Spot Run

Consider this sentence:

Neytiril tse'a ikranit.

This means "Neytiri sees the ikran." In the previous lesson you learned that Na'vi has free word order, so it should be no surprise that all of the following sentences also mean "Neytiri sees the ikran":

Ikranit tse'a Neytiril.
Neytiril ikranit tse'a.
Ikranit Neytiril tse'a.
Tse'a Neytiril ikranit.
Tse'a ikranit Neytiril.

In English, rearranging the words can completely change the meaning: "Neytiri sees the ikran" is very different from "The ikran sees Neytiri". English uses word order to determine which word is the subject (the one seeing) and which is the object (the one being seen). The subject comes before the verb and the object comes after it. If you swap the positions of the subject and object, you'll change the meaning of the sentence.

But in Na'vi, swapping the positions of the subject and object is no big deal; they can be in any order. So in a sentence like Tse'a ikranit Neytiril, how can you tell who is seeing whom? By using noun cases.

In these sentences, notice that Neytiril is actually Neytiri + l, and ikranit is actually ikran + it. The l and it are called case markers, and they indicate the case of each of the two nouns. "Case" is a linguistics term; it simply means what role the noun is playing in the sentence. In these sentences, the l indicates that Neytiri is the subject (doing the seeing), and the it indicates that the ikran is the object (being seen). The use of case markers allows Na'vi word order to be flexible; no matter what order you say the words in, you can always tell who is seeing whom.

A sentence with a subject, a verb, and an object - sentences like "Neytiri sees the ikran" - are called transitive sentences. More precisely, the verb in such sentences is called a transitive verb. Transitive verbs are those in which someone or something is doing an action to some other person or thing, verbs like see, throw, drop, and find: I see the ball, I throw the ball, I drop the ball, I find the ball. The subject of a transitive verb (here "I") is called the agent. The object of a transitive verb (here "ball") is called the patient, also known as the direct object.

  • The agent always takes the ergative case, which is marked using the suffix -l. Neytiri + ergative case marker (-l) = Neytiril.
  • The patient always takes the accusative case, which is marked using the sufix -it. ikran + accusative case marker (-it) = ikranit.

In the sentence Tse'a ikranit Neytiril the -it tells you the ikran is in the accusative case and is therefore the patient, and the -l tells you Neytiri is in the ergative case and is therefore the agent. So even though the literal translation of the sentence is "Sees the ikran Neytiri", you know that the meaning and the correct translation of the sentence is "Neytiri sees the ikran".


Suppose it's the other way around, and it's the ikran that sees Neytiri. Here's how you'd say that in Na'vi:

Neytirit tse'a ikranìl.

Here Neytiri is in the accusative case and is the patient, while the ikran is in the ergative case and is the agent. But did you notice something? The case markers were a little bit different than in our first example. Here, the ergative case marker is -ìl (ikran + ìl) instead of -l, and the accusative case marker is -t (Neytiri + t) instead of -it. Why?

The answer is that each noun case has multiple markers, and which one you use depends on the noun that's being marked. These multiple markers are called allomorphs.

  • The ergative case has two allomorphs: -l and -ìl.
  • The accusative case has three allomorphs: -t, -it, and -ti.

For nouns ending in vowels, use -l and -t.

tawtute human
tawtutel - ergative case
tawtutet - accusative case
swirä creature
swiräl - ergative case
swirät - accusative case
tukru spear
tukrul - ergative case
tukrut - accusative case

For nouns ending in consonants, the pseudovowels rr/ll, or the diphthongs ay/ey/aw/ew, use -ìl and -it.

txep fire
txepìl - ergative case
txepit - accusative case
tsam war
tsamìl - ergative case
tsamit - accusative case
trr day
trrìl - ergative case
trrit - accusative case
swizaw arrow
swizawìl - ergative case
swizawit - accusative case

The -ti accusative allomorph is the "long form", and it's used when speaking formally or for dramatic emphasis. It can be used after either vowels or consonants.

tukru spear
tukrut - accusative case
tukruti - accusative case (long form)
tsam war
tsamit - accusative case
tsamti - accusative case (long form)

Spot Runs

Consider this sentence:

Neytiri hahaw.
Neytiri sleeps.

Neytiri is the subject, but what's the object? There isn't one, because by sleeping Neytiri isn't doing anything to anything. That is to say, she's not an agent, and there is no patient that she's acting upon. She's just sleeping. A sentence like "Neytiri sleeps" which has a subject and a verb but no object is called intransitive, and the verb in the sentence is an intransitive verb. Other intransitive verbs include go, agree, run: I go, I agree, I run.

Just as before, Na'vi's free word order means that the sentence could also be written as:

Hahaw Neytiri.
Neytiri sleeps.

You've probably noticed that in the sentences above Neytiri has neither the ergative case marker -l nor the accusative case marker -t. That's because Neytiri is neither an agent nor a patient; she's neither acting on something nor being acted upon. Instead, she is simply the subject of the sentence. Subjects of intransitive sentences are always in the subjective case. And as you may have guessed, the subjective case has no case marker - it's simply the noun by itself without any suffixes.

So now you know three of the Na'vi noun cases, and one of them didn't even take any work to learn! Here's a summary:

Na'vi Noun Cases

Case After Vowels After Consonants Other Examples
Subjective No marker No marker Neytiri hahaw Neytiri sleeps
Ergative -l -ìl Neytiril tse'a ikranit Neytiri sees the ikran
Tsu'teyìl taron swirät Tsu'tey hunts the creature
Accusative -t -it -ti (long form) Neytiril tse'a ikranit Neytiri sees the ikran
Tsu'teyìl taron swirät Tsu'tey hunts the creature
Eywal fyawìntxu Na'viti Eywa guides the people

Practice Sentences

Using the following vocabulary words, read the sentences below and see if you can understand what they mean. Then say them out loud so you can practice your pronunciation.

Vocabulary: Nouns (People)
Neytiri - Na'vi woman's name
Tsu'tey - Na'vi man's name
tawtute - human
Vocabulary: Nouns (Animals and Objects)
ikran - banshee (flying animal ridden by Na'vi)
swirä - creature
tukru - spear
Vocabulary: Verbs (Transitive)
tse'a - see
taron - hunt
takuk - strike
munge - take
Vocabulary: Verbs (Intransitive)
hahaw - sleep
tul - run

Practice Sentences, Part One
  1. Tawtutel tse'a Neytirit.
  2. Taron swirät Tsu'teyìl.
  3. Tawtute hahaw.
  4. Tukrut munge Neytiril.
  5. Tsu'teyìl swirät taron.

Answers, Part One
  1. The human sees Neytiri.
  2. Tsu'tey hunts the creature.
  3. The human sleeps.
  4. Neytiri takes the spear.
  5. Tsu'tey hunts the creature.

Practice Sentences, Part Two
  1. Tse'a tawtutet ikranìl.
  2. Swirät tukrul takuk.
  3. Tul swirä.
  4. Takuk ikranit tawtutel.
  5. Munge Tsu'teyìl tukrut.

Answers, Part Two
  1. The ikran sees the human.
  2. The spear strikes the creature.
  3. The creature runs.
  4. The human strikes the ikran.
  5. Tsu'tey takes the spear.

Practice Sentences, Part Three
  1. Tawtutet takuk Tsu'teyìl.
  2. Tukrut swiräl tse'a.
  3. Tsu'tey tul.
  4. Swiräl tawtutet taron.
  5. Hahaw Neytiri.

Answers, Part Three
  1. Tsu'tey strikes the human.
  2. The creature sees the spear.
  3. Tsu'tey runs.
  4. The creature hunts the human.
  5. Neytiri sleeps.

Practice Sentences, Part Four
Fill in the blank with the correct Na'vi translation of the given English word, including the correct case marker.
  1. Taron _______ Tsu'teyìl. - creature
  2. Swirät _______ takuk. - spear
  3. _______ takuk Tsu'teyìl. - human
  4. _______ tawtutet taron. - creature
  5. Hahaw _______. - human

Answers, Part Three
  1. Taron swirät Tsu'teyìl. Tsu'tey hunts the creature.
  2. Swirät tukrul takuk. The spear strikes the creature.
  3. Tawtutet takuk Tsu'teyìl. Tsu'tey strikes the human.
  4. Swiräl tawtutet taron. The creature hunts the human.
  5. Hahaw tawtute. The human sleeps.

How'd you do? It's tricky; you have to read the Na'vi words and think about what they mean based on their case markings, not where they happen to be in the sentence. If you were able to get most of them, you're doing well. In fact, congratulations are in order: not only can you read and speak Na'vi, but now you're thinking in Na'vi, too!

Time to move on to Lesson Six.