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Avatar Linguist Wants Na'vi Language to be the Next Klingon

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The Na'vi language in Avatar isn't just a collection of pretty sounds. It's an actual language, constructed by a USC linguistics professor, complete with its own grammar and syntax. He talks language creation, and explains how Na'vi compares with Klingon.

As part of his worldbuilding for Avatar, James Cameron sought to create an actual language for the Na'vi to speak on screen. So he tapped Paul Frommer, a Hollywood linguistic consultant and a professor of clinical management at the University of California's Marshall School of Business. Cameron has a few dozen Na'vi words including characters' names, and he looked to Frommer to build a language that was melodious and exotic, but still pronounceable by human actors.


Frommer developed syntactical rules for Na'vi as well roughly 1000 words between the movie and the video game. He limited the syllables spoken by the Na'vi in order to shape the language, and added ejectives, voiceless consonants that occur in a minority of the world's spoken languages. Of course, there were limits on what Frommer could bring to the language:

"The constraint, of course, is that the language I created had to be spoken by humans," Frommer said. "I could have let my imagination run wild and come up with all sorts of weird sounds, but I was limited by what a human actor could actually do."


Like Klingon, Na'vi could be learned and spoken, and Frommer hopes Avatar fans will take to the musical Na'vi the way Star Trek fans have learned the more gutteral Klingon. He says that information about the language will be made available online, and he's looking forward to the day when he can converse with another human being in Na'vi.

It may be too early to start translating Hamlet into the language of Pandora's blue aliens, but it's fascinating to read about Frommer's process and the detail that went into creating Na'vi.

USC professor creates an entire alien language for 'Avatar' [Hero Complex]