How the Na'vi Language Was Developed for AVATAR

Sam glow James Cameron planned the creation of AVATAR for more than a decade. As technology advanced, so did Cameron’s plans for the movie. He felt it was important for the Na’vi language in AVATAR to be a real language, rather than have the actors speak a few made up lines. He looked for a linguist who would be willing to create a language for the Na’vi, and decided to work with linguist Paul Frommer.

Guest post by By Rebecca Scudder

The Na’vi language in AVATAR is a created language. It follows in the footsteps of other conlangs (constructed languages) that have since fascinated people enough to want to learn it themselves. Prior conlangs with strong followings have been Sindarin and Quenya, Tolkien’s elvish tongues from the Lord of the Rings and his other books, and Klingon, from the TV series Star Trek. Tolkien was a linguist himself, and Klingon was developed into a language by another linguist, Mel Okrund. These artistic conlangs which have caught people’s imagination have come from fantasy and science fiction, and were developed as languages by linguists. These languages have also been wildly successful in popular culture.

James Cameron felt that the Na’vi language in AVATAR was integral for the effect of the movie. He created a few words in the language, and then went to a linguist, Paul Frommer, to develop a language to be spoken by the Na’vi people. Frommer had previously coauthored a textbook on Looking at Languages: A Workbook in Elementary Linguistics, which actually used some examples from Klingon. Cameron reputedly said he wanted a language to “out-Klingon Klingon.” This has since been downplayed, but the interest that fans of AVATAR have in the Na’vi language may make his statement come true.

Ben Zimmer interviewed Paul Frommer shortly before AVATAR was released, to discuss the language. Frommer explained that there were several requirements for the Na’vi language. It needed to be exotic, coherent so that people hearing it would recognize it as a language while not understanding it, and be learnable by humans. On December 19, 2009, Ben Zimmer requested Paul Frommer write a guest post on the site Language Log about the Na’vi language.

Frommer obliged, and in the post, he wrote up information about the construction of the language, phonetics, phonology, morphology, and syntax. This gave enough information about the construction of the language to enable people to understand some of the principles behind the grammar and use of known vocabulary. A book, AVATAR, An Activist Survival Guide was previously published a month earlier, in November 2009, and it contained a Na’vi vocabulary list. The post on Language log received a lot of attention, both from linguists, people generally interested in constructed languages (conlangs) and fans.

The day of the post and the day after, people were already attempting to put the information given by Frommer into coherent Na’vi sentences in the comments. On December 20th the interest was already high enough that one of the commenters, Sebastian Wolff, created the website Learn Na'vi. It has grown since then from the bare bones of vocabulary known at the time and the information in Frommer’s guest post to a thriving and popular website. It is a place where interested people can download a number of PDFs with Na’vi learning material; find an active Forum, a Na’vi wiki, and lessons on learning Na’vi.

Do you want to learn Na’vi? If so, rest assured you are in good company! Try out some of the sources referenced in this article, find some friends, and get started speaking the Na’vi language!

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Have you tried to learn Na'vi?



I have actually tried learning Na'vi. But the problem for me trying to learn Na'vi on the internet is learning how the word is actually pronounced. I only know simple phrases like "Hi" and "Eywa be with you". I wish they teach Na'vi in my school :D


I have spent time studying the language, but i am unsure if i am pronouncing the words right...

Rebecca Scudder


@Spirit: I think schools would be surprised at all the people who wanted to learn the language if they offered classes!

@Safire: I have trouble pronouncing the words correctly too! Since the DVD is out today!, I am hoping that listening to the dialog as often as I want will help me with pronunciation.

The site has the most resources I have seen on how to pronounce Na'vi. They have links to all the places people have found where there are sound clips of spoken Na'vi. This page is a good start:

Eywa ngahu

muiä tute

i learnt a bit of na'vi but it is very difficult when you're self tutoring
@Spirit: i would take classes if they were offered.

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