User:Erimeyz/Beginners' Guide: Lesson Two - More Letters and Sounds

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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.

Consonants, Part IV

In this section, you'll learn to pronounce the following Na'vi sounds:

  • r
  • rr
  • ll

The Flap and The Trill: R and RR

The Na'vi letter r is not pronounced like "r" is in English (as in "red", "car", or "forest"). The sound of Na'vi r is found in many common English words, although English doesn't have a specific letter for it. It's the sound in the middle of the following words: batter, gutter, kiddies, and middle. Linguists call this sound an alveolar flap; it's made by tapping your tongue against the roof of your mouth near your teeth.

The Na'vi sound rr is similar to r, but longer. Instead of tapping the roof of your mouth once, you tap it multiple times. This produces what linguists call an alveolar trill, more commonly known as a "rolled R" or a "trilled R". English doesn't have this sound, but many other languages do, including Spanish, Hindi, and some eastern European languages. You may not use a trilled R in your own speech, but you're probably familiar with it through hearing foreign accents (either in person or on television). Different languages and speakers may trill their Rs either lightly or strongly; in Na'vi, rr is strongly trilled.

Because it's not native to their language, many English speakers have trouble pronouncing the Na'vi trilled rr. Even the Na'vi r flap can be tough; although it's found in English words, most people don't think about it as a distinct sound and therefore have trouble producing it on demand. For some people r and rr come naturally; others have to work at it. If you need help pronouncing these sounds, here are two good resources to turn to:

  • Beduino from the Learn Na'vi forum has made a YouTube video demonstrating both the r alveolar flap and the rr alveolar trill that many forum members have found very helpful.
  • This WikiHow page provides several suggestions to help with learning to trill your Rs.

Listen to the following audio examples of Na'vi words with r and rr so that you get a sense of what they sound like in Na'vi. Try saying them yourself. If you're a natural at it, great! If you need to work on it, don't worry. For now, just get familiar with the correct pronunciation and keep it in mind as you go on from here.

ikran "mountain banshee" (audio) - flapped r
vrrtep "demon" (audio) - trilled rr

The Pseudovowels: RR and LL

Na'vi syllables are made up of exactly one vowel (or diphthong) plus consonants before or after the vowel. For example, lu, eyk, tam, and srak are all one-syllable Na'vi words. A syllable can also consist of a vowel by itself; for example, the word meoauniaea contains eight syllables. In some cases, however, the vowel in a syllable can be replaced by the consonants rr or ll. These letters sound like consonants but function like vowels, so they are called pseudovowels. Na'vi words using the pseudovowels include lrrtok ("smile") and kllkulat ("dig up"). In each case, the pseudovowel and the consonant before it make up a syllable: lrr-tok and kll-ku-lat.

Pronouncing such syllables can be tricky, but with a little practice you'll find it's not hard. Let's take them one at a time.


Consider the syllable prr. This sounds almost like a cat purring: purrrrr, except that the R is trilled and you don't actually pronounce the "u". Just go from the p sound straight into the trilled r sound, without making any distinct vowel sound between the two.

Listen to these two audio clips to get a feel for the correct pronunciation of the pseudovowel syllables, both on their own and as part of a larger word:

krr "time" (audio)
krrpe "when" (audio)

Try saying them yourself. If you're having trouble trilling your Rs they'll come out sounding like "kur" and "kurpe". That's okay. Just draw out the "r", and remember that the vowel sound isn't actually part of the word. As you get better at trills the vowel sound will drop out on its own.


English actually has lots of words that have the Na'vi ll sound: apple, table, and crackle all end with the same sound that ll makes. Consider crackle. English speakers usually think of this word as crack-uhl, but you can also think of it as cra-kuhl. However, if you say the word out loud while thinking about how it sounds you'll see that the last syllable isn't kuhl, it's kl - there's not actually an "uh" sound in it. You just go straight from the k to the l.

Guess what? That's the same sound that starts the Na'vi word kllkulat! So you already know how to pronounce this funny-looking word. Try it now!

Listen to this audio clip, and say the word yourself:

mllte "agree" (audio)

One final note about ll. There are two different ways of pronouncing an "L" sound in English: light and dark. Most English speakers aren't aware that they pronounce them differently; as native speakers, it just comes naturally. Light Ls are made with the tongue touching the ridge behind the teeth, and are found in words like timely and lip. Dark Ls are made with the tongue's tip touching the ridge behind the teeth but with the rest of the tongue raised up towards the roof of the mouth, and are found in words like fall and fault. In Na'vi, ll is always light, never dark. This is tricky for English speakers, because ll sounds like the l in table and crackle, but in English the Ls in those words are usually dark.

If you can't get your ll to be light, or if you can't even tell the difference between light and dark, don't worry about it. Your pronunciation will be good enough for now, and your accent will improve over time.

Consonants, Part V

It's time to learn the sounds that cause the most problems for Na'vi learners: the glottal stop (') and the ejectives (px, tx, and kx).

The Glottal Stop: '

The Na'vi consonant ' is called a glottal stop. It's a common sound in English, but 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.

Whereas in English glottal stops are essentially side-effects, Na'vi uses the glottal stop as a consonant and explicitly shows it using the apostrophe. Glottal stops can be found at the beginning of words, in the middle, or at the end. Listen to the following examples and try to emulate them:

'eveng "child" (audio)
ke'u "nothing" (audio)
rina' "seed" (audio)

The word Na'vi itself has a glottal stop in it! In the film Avatar, the human characters completely mispronounce the name of the Pandoran native people by leaving out the glottal stop: naahvee. You probably do it too! But now that you're learning their language, you can learn to say their name correctly:

Na'vi "The People" (audio)

The Na'vi glottal stop is a consonant on equal footing with all the others in the language. Even though it's written with an apostrophe, it's not just a contraction like in the English word can't. It's also not just a pause or silence; it has a distinct sound. Leaving out that sound can change the meaning of a word: 'eveng "child" versus eveng "children". In most cases it would just result in nonsense. Either way, it's a good way to look like a skxawng (moron) in front of a native speaker, should you ever come across one. The glottal stop is worth practicing and learning to do correctly.

The Ejectives: Px, Tx, and Kx

The first thing to note about px, tx, and kx is that although they are written with two letters, they are single consonants, each representing a single sound. The second thing to note is that the "x" is not pronounced, i.e. the consonants don't contain an "x" sound. The "x" is just there to make it clear that px/tx/kx are not the same consonants as p/t/k. The third thing to note is that although they sound a little bit like p/t/k, they are in fact very different from p/t/k. In order to be understood when speaking Na'vi, you need to learn to make your px sound like px and not get it confused with p.

So: what do they sound like?

They make a popping sound. That popping sound is one of the things that gives Na'vi its exotic flavor. When Paul Frommer first started developing the language that would be used in the film, he presented James Cameron with three different types of linguistically unusual sounds: varying tones (like in Chinese languages), varying vowel lengths (like in Mayan languages), and these popping sounds, which linguists call ejectives. Cameron liked the sound of the ejectives the best, so Frommer developed the rest of the language around them, and now we all have to learn how to say them. So let's get started!

Ejectives are not produced using air from the lungs. Instead, they use air from the glottis - the same glottis that you stop up when you pronounce a glottal stop. The best instructions for making these sounds come from Paul Frommer himself:

"Hold your breath, and make a T, P, or K sound as loud as you can without breathing."

Go ahead, try it.

The ejectives and the glottal stop are related. To pronounce an ejective, you close off your glottis just as you would for a glottal stop and you pronounce the T/P/K consonant sounds using just the air in your mouth. The glottal stop comes at the same time as the consonant sound; it's not one followed by the other, but rather both done together. If the ejective is followed by a vowel, you'll need to release your glottis in order to pronounce the vowel normally using air from your lungs. The transition from ejective to vowel should happen quickly and smoothly. Some languages, such as Navajo, have a distinct hesitation between ejectives and vowels; it gives those languages a "choppy" quality. Na'vi, on the other hand, is a very fluid and melodious language, so the vowels should follow the ejectives right away, making the syllables and words sound very smooth and seamless.

This will take some practice. A lot of practice, actually, so don't worry if you don't do it perfectly right off the bat.

The following examples will help:

apxa "large" (audio)
pxay "many" (audio)
kaltxì "hello" (audio)
txon "night" (audio)
nìwotx "all" (audio)
skxawng "moron" (audio)
kxawm "perhaps" (audio)
nekx "burn" (audio)

Once you've mastered the ejectives you'll be well on your way to speaking Na'vi like a native! In the meantime, keep practicing, and go on to the next section. You're almost done learning everything there is to know about Na'vi letters and sounds!

Consonants, The Final Challenge

ts, ng, unaspirated p/t/k, pseudovowels, ejectives, glottal stops... what could be harder than all that? Why, putting them together, of course!

Na'vi syllables can begin without a consonant, or with a single consonant, or with a consonant cluster. A consonant cluster consists of the consonants f, s, or ts followed by one of the other consonants. Words beginning with clusters include slä, stum, swirä, srak, frapo, fnu, fkarut, fpi, tsleng, tsnì, tstetu, and tskxe. As you can tell, some of these are similar to combinations found in English, while others are more unusual. Clusters can also be found in the middle of words such as tìftang and teswotìng'.

Syllables can end without a consonant or with a single consonant. So if a word had a syllable ending with a consonant, followed by a syllable beginning with a cluster, you would have three consonants in a row! If the second syllable used a pseudovowel, that would make it four in a row. And if the following syllable started with a cluster, that would make it six in a row! And since some of the Na'vi consonants are written using two letters, it is conceivable that one day you might be faced with a monstrosity like ikxtspxllftxe. Go ahead, test yourself. Can you pronounce it?

Now, there aren't any words that awful in the Na'vi dictionary. Not yet, at least. But there are some that can be challenging to read at first glance. When you hit a tough word, break it down. Let's do that with ikxtspxllftxe.

  • ikx - first syllable, sounds kind of like "eek".
  • tspxll - second syllable, sounds kind of like "ts-pull"
  • ftxe - third syllable, sounds kind of like "fteh"

So, you get something like "eek-ts-pull-fteh", but with the k, p, and t pronounced ejectively using air from the glottis instead of the lungs, with the ts flowing smoothly into the pull, and without pronouncing the u.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

If you can read and pronounce a word like that - and given all the things you've learned so far, you can - then you can read and pronounce any word in the Na'vi language. So let's try some real words now!

Your Second Na'vi Words

Now that you know how to pronounce any Na'vi word, try your hand at these. Read each one aloud, then click on the audio link to hear an example of the correct pronunciation. Try to make your pronunciation match the examples as closely as you can. Practice reading and speaking each word until you are comfortable with all the words on the list. You don't need to memorize the definitions (yet), and you don't need to worry about getting your pronunciation absolutely perfect. Just get comfortable reading the Na'vi letters and speaking the correct Na'vi sounds.

atxkxe "land" (audio)
ftxozä: "holiday" (audio)
muntxa "mated" (audio)
hapxì "part" (audio)
txe'lan "heart" (audio)
na'rìng "forest" (audio)
tse'a "see (physically)" (audio)
kllkxem "stand" (audio)
kllpxìltu "territory" (audio)
hrrap "danger" (audio)
trr "day" (audio)
wrrpa "outside" (audio)
nari "eye" (audio)
rutxe "please" (audio)
tirea "spirit" (audio)
taron "hunt" (audio)
skxawng "moron" (audio)
syaw "call" (audio)
tskxe "stone" (audio)
tsyal "wing" (audio)
pxuntil "elbow" (audio)
sìlronsem "clever" (audio)
irayo "thanks" (audio)

Well done! You're ready for bigger stuff now. Why don't we learn some useful Na'vi phrases?