It's official: Yesterday "Avatar" sunk the 13-year-old $1.843 billion box office record previously held by "Titanic," after being in theaters for only six weeks.
Then this morning it was announced that China had renamed a local mountain
in its Zhangjiajie province -- on which the floating mountains in the movie were based -- the "Avatar Hallelujah Mountain."
Do we smell a theme park? Either way, it's clear James Cameron is once again king of the world, and "Avatar"-mania has hit.
From the beginning, we were suckers for the love story. But besides the fact that Neyteri -- the Na'vi princess played by Zoe Saldana -- kicks ass and takes names, then
falls hard for her blue pupil, what's fascinated us most about "Avatar" is the Na'vi language. It's way more than a sophisticated take on that "B" language
we all spoke in elementary school, or Beatles records played backward. It's a legitimate tongue that Paul Frommer, a professor of communication at USC, spent a couple years of his life developing.
So we sat down to pick his brain. What we wanted to know: How do you go about inventing grammar from scratch? Does he think Na'vi will be the next Klingon? And, since Valentine's Day is fast approaching, what are a few key pick-up lines, dirty words and sweet nothings a girl might want to say to her favorite "Avatar"-head (including the Na'vi translation of the L-word)?Lemondrop: What was the hardest part of creating the Na'vi language?
Probably determining the syntax -- that is, the rules that tell you how to combine words into phrases and sentences -- and making sure that all the component parts fit together smoothly.
Which living language on Earth does Na'vi most closely resemble?
I don't know of any Earth language that has the particular combination of elements (sounds and sound combinations, pronunciation rules, word-building processes, syntactic rules) that Na'vi has. So in that sense it doesn't resemble any one language. If you look at individual components, however, you'll see resemblances. For example, the Na'vi ejectives ("popping" sounds I've written as "px", "tx", and "kx") are found in some indigenous languages of the Western Hemisphere, Africa and central Asia). And certain grammatical processes look a bit like similar ones in Hebrew, Persian, Chinese, Wanggumara [Ed. note: an Australian aboriginal language]
etc. But again, it's the combination of all these disparate elements that's unique.
Do you think Na'vi has the potential to be the next Klingon?
Klingon is an amazing language with a devoted following -- there's even a translation of "Hamlet" into Klingon! I would be delighted if Na'vi developed along similar lines. Already there are indications this may happen. Some dedicated and creative individuals have created their own Web sites where Na'vi enthusiasts are helping each other figure out the basics of the language. I've received numerous emails from people excited about learning Na'vi, some of whom have even written to me in it!
What's a great pick-up line a girl could use in Na'vi?
Nga za'u fìtseng pxìm srak?
(Do you come here often?) Well, OK, that's a little lame. Better, maybe: Oeyä ikran slivu nga, tsakrr oeng 'awsiteng mivakto.
(Be my ikran and let's ride together.) [Ed. note: Only if it's the third date. Ikran are giant beasts the Na'vi like to, um, ride.]
Can you teach us one dirty word?
Nope! The Na'vi don't have dirty words. If you want a swear word, though, you could say "Pxasìk."
It means, "Screw it! No way!"
Besides Neytiri, who would be your sci-fi crush?
As a role model, Neytiri is hard to beat! She's strong and brave yet tender and compassionate. And she's a great teacher too. As a teacher myself, I admire that.
If a girl wanted to surprise her favorite "Avatar" fan by whispering a sweet nothing in Na'vi, what should she say?
Oel ngati kameie.
(I see you.) Nga yawne lu oer.
(I love you.) Ke lu kawtu a nulnivew oe pohu tireapivängkxo äo Utral Aymokriyä.
(There's nobody I'd rather commune with under the Tree of Voices.)
[Ed. note: In "Avatar," the Tree of Souls is where Jake and Neyteri have their first, shall we say, communion?]