Why Na’vi?

Na'vi fandom is global and fueled by imagination

Na'vi fandom is global and fueled by imagination

We recently embarked on a project to record Na’vi phrases into Mightyverse. Na’vi is a constructed language created by James Cameron and Dr. Paul Frommer for the movie Avatar. Due to the popularity of the movie, it’s estimated that Na’vi is already the fourth most popular constructed language, after Esperanto, Klingon and Elvish (from the Lord of the Rings).

I’ve been fascinated by the community that’s sprung up around Na’vi and the people who are learning it. It has the potential to become a relatively popular language, with events where people communicate solely in Na’vi, teaching it to their children and translating texts like Shakespeare and the Bible. In the face of the decimation of indigenous languages worldwide, friends of mine who are following Mightyverse have questioned why we would spend anytime documenting Na’vi while so many worthy, incredibly vital languages need to be recorded.

That’s a fair and thoughtful question.

My own feelings about the movie are complicated. I thought it was ultimately a violent revenge fantasy cloaked in a peaceful message film. Kind of Dances with Wolves all over again, with a weird Pocahontas story woven in. I’m not a big fan of the film and felt kind of yucky after seeing it. But I like weird stuff and I’m clearly not the intended audience for the film anyway. I have to confess though that I was absolutely entranced by the craft of the film and the exquisite production that it represents. Cameron has no equal in the universal spectacle of Hollywood film. And his work has now spread across the globe to places more refined stories will never reach. It’s a true phenomena of human storytelling writ large.

So, here are the reasons why I felt Na’vi recordings could be important for the evolution of Mightyverse.

– Na’vi is international. I love the fact that people all over the world are learning Na’vi and in the process sharing a love of language across cultural borders.
– Na’vi learners are obsessed. It’s amazing how many incredible resources have been produced so quickly, and how they are evolving daily. They’ve escaped beyond the confines of the film and are now creating their own world far more interesting than the limits of Pandora.
– Na’vi excites children about language and other cultures. Children are the key to the future of language survival. If they learn about adpositions, topical, dative and genitive cases through Na’vi, well that can’t be too harmful.

Finally, if people learn about Mightyverse through a link somewhere to Na’vi phrases, well, that would be very nice as well.

4 thoughts on “Why Na’vi?

  1. Sarah

    Dear Paul,

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. As much as I am personally fascinated by Na’vi and hope someday to have my own Na’vi name, I have worried that our most passionate user of Mightyverse is a non-native speaker of a fictional language. I think about how we might find more passionate users who are interested in learning a terrestrial language.

    Nonetheless, your observations about language learning are thought provoking. What excites me about the Mightyverse mission is that it is a place for people to not just learn a language, but learn about language and thereby understand culture — to celebrate our differences and interpret commonalities. Supporting the folks who want to learn and share Na’vi is completely consistent with that mission.

    Now I wonder… what human languages have adpositions?


  2. Omängum Fra'uti


    Nearly every language has adpositions, actually. English certainly does, they just always come in the form of a preposition.

    And a year ago, I would have had no clue what an adposition even WAS, let alone that I used them all the time. I’m of the variety that has become interested in languages through the Na’vi language. While I thought Avatar was quite an impressive movie, technology wise, it was the language that really caught my attention. In the past I have learned no languages beyond English to a point I could use them for anything beyond basic phrases. Now I’m almost eager to learn something else once I’m “done” with Na’vi. What that will be I don’t know. If it’s a constructed language it would be Esperanto, hands down. But I may opt for something else instead. Perhaps something useful like Spanish or Mandarin, or maybe something old, obscure and/or dying. Who knows. But without Na’vi as a stepping stone, I would never have even thought about taking that step.

    (Incidentally, I asked Paul this very question when he approached me about recording Na’vi phrases. I didn’t see how it fit into what I understood of what Mightyverse was.)

  3. @joely

    You called Avatar a “violent revenge fantasy.” I don’t think “revenge” is the proper word to describe it. If someone kills your brother and you kill his brother; that’s revenge. If someone intends to destroy the soul of your planet and you thwart their attempt, it is not revenge.

  4. Paul Lundahl


    It’s great to hear from you. I hope I didn’t offend you in any way about my feelings about the film. I felt like I should be honest about my feelings of the film, even though I’ve been fascinated by the language that’s come out of it.

    It was really the ending that turned me off, as if all of the destruction could be balanced somehow by the killing of the bad guy, sort of like people’s fixation on killing Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. For me the Na’vi language was the best part of the film as well. It felt complete somehow and I found the sound of it very beautiful.

    And I’m absolutely amazed by what you, Prrton and others in the Na’vi community are doing. When you were able to translate “I’m single and ready to mingle” instantly, and with proper pronunciation in a language that barely existed 6 months before, I was stunned. It was like when you experience humans do something like Cirque du Soleil gymnastic tricks and you can’t conceive how they are possible. I was further impressed when Prrton elaborated on the cleverness of the translation and how it wasn’t purely literal but actually quite poetic and congruent with the culture. A great example of how he put it to “translate the meaning, not the words”.

    I feel like the rise of the Na’vi language says something profound about how we are connecting with each other, how languages arise and evolve, how people can imagine new things into being and how powerful that is…

    I hope you’ll be able to use Mightyverse as a tool for what you are doing, I find it very inspiring.


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