Arika Okrent, author of the wonderful book In the Land of Invented Languages, has a new article on Slate about the burgeoning community of Avatar fans who have become obsessed with the movie's alien language, Na'vi. Before the movie was released, I had gotten to know the creator of the language, Paul Frommer, for a New York Times Magazine column I wrote about Na'vi and other cinematic sci-fi languages. At my request, Paul was then kind enough to write up a Language Log guest post, "Some highlights of Na’vi," just in time for Avatar's opening weekend. As Arika tells it in the Slate piece, that guest post and its comments section played a key role in the emergent subculture of linguistically engaged Na'vi-philes.
Twenty-four hours after Avatar appeared in theaters, the Web site Language Log was teeming with comments about Na'vi, the alien tongue spoken in the film. The site is always lively, but it was especially so that day because Paul Frommer—who created the language—had shown up to discuss Na'vi syntax and phonetics. His fans were asking questions. How to say "I don't speak Na'vi" or "I love you," for example. An especially ambitious commenter named "Prrton" even posted a lengthy statement in the new language:
"Ngaru ätxäle … oel set futa Hal'liwutta tsayeyktanru ngal peng futa lì'fyati Na'viyä nume nereeiu a ngeyä wotxa lì'utìtäftxurenu sì aylì'uyä sänumeti perängey ayoel. Ayoel nereu a tsa'u ke tsayängun lu txo ayoel pänutìng futa rawketi sayi nìwotx ulte Eywafa ke txayey. Kawkrr!!;-) Eywa ngahu."
Or, in English:
"I now ask you to tell the Hollywood bosses [Hal'liwutta tsayeyktanru] that those of us who want to learn the Na'vi language are waiting (impatiently) for your full grammar and lexicon. We promise to raise a lotta hell if what we want is not forthcoming, and 'by Eywa' we wont stop. Ever!! ;-)"
Prrton—a California consultant who goes by Britton Watkins in the real world—is clearly a little unusual. But not because he's an Avatar obsessive (there are lots of those). He's unusual in that he formulated a paragraph in Na'vi without a grammar or dictionary. And he didn't just stick a few words from the movie into random order or repeat lines that had occurred in the film. He produced an original and grammatically correct statement.
As further evidence of the ravenous popular interest in Na'vi and other invented languages like Klingon, check out the exhaustive Q&A that Paul and Arika recently conducted on the New York Times blog Schott's Vocab.