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How to speak 'Avatar'
By Alan Boyle | Excerpt:

[Link no longer available]

Ayftozä lefpom ayngaru nìwotx! That's "Happy Holidays to You All" in Na'vi, the language that was created for the sci-fi blockbuster "Avatar." The professor who made up that phrase as well as all the alien dialogue in the movie hopes Na'vi does as well as Klingon, another fictional alien tongue that has taken on a life of its own. But for now, that's out of his hands.

"I have an in-box that's amazingly full," linguist Paul Frommer, a professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, told me today. "They're all asking the same thing: 'Where can I learn this language?' I'm getting messages from all over the globe. The thing is, I don't own the rights to the language."

Frommer noted that snippets of Na'vi are finding their way onto the Internet - some correct, some incorrect. "What I would love to do is get something out to the people, but I can't do it on my own. I have to do it in conjunction with the movie people," he said. Those people have been a little busy - which is understandable, considering that "Avatar" has been America's top-grossing movie for the past two weeks.

USC professor gives Avatar aliens a voice
By Christopher Byars

James Cameron’s upcoming film Avatar tells the story of a human who comes to live within an alien race known as the Na’vi, eventually becoming a human-Na’vi hybrid know as an avatar.

For professor Paul Frommer — who created the Na’vi language for the film — the idea of living as part of two very different worlds is something he is also familiar with.

Frommer, a longtime faculty member at the Marshall School of Business who is also a linguistics specialist, conceived an entirely new language to be spoken by the Na’vi that inhabit the planet Pandora in the film.

To craft a new language, Cameron turned to the USC College of Arts and Letters’ Department of Linguistics in 2005, which recommended Frommer for the job. Two weeks later, Cameron and Frommer sat down to talk about the possibilities.

Frommer joined the production team that same day. “He wanted a complete language, with a consistent sound system [phonology], word-building rules [morphology], rules for putting words together into phrases and sentences [syntax] and a vocabulary [lexicon] sufficient for the needs of the script,” Frommer said.

“He also wanted the language to be pleasant sounding and appealing to the audience.” Frommer, who co-authored the book Looking at Languages: A Workbook in Elementary Linguistics — which includes data from 30 different languages — said he found the opportunity challenging yet incredibly fascinating. For the next four years, Frommer worked on creating a language that sounded complicated but was also engaging.

USC professor creates an entire alien language for 'Avatar'
By Geoff Boucher | Excerpt:

This modern era of moviemaking has plenty of peculiar challenges for actors -- on green-screen sets, for instance, they have to watch a ping-pong ball hanging from a string and convince the camera that they actually staring down some magical beastie.

But for the actors auditioning for "Avatar" the biggest challenge may have been reading a sheet of paper with words invented by a USC professor named Paul R. Frommer.

Frommer, a lingustics specialist, was brought in by "Avatar" writer-director James Cameron to create an entire funcitioning language for the tribe of 10-foot-tall, blue-hued aliens who inhabit the planet Pandora, the setting for the film's conflict.

Frommer tackled the project with glee -- "How often do you get an opportunity like this?" -- but the actors who had bend their tongues around the invented vocabulary and syntax were slightly less charmed by the experience.

"Oh, it was so hard and I was really concerned about it," said Zoe Saldana, who portrays an alien named Neytiri in the sci-fi adventure that opens in theaters Dec. 18. "I didn't think I could get through it.


Avatar director James Cameron revealed that the language of the Na’vi, an alien community in the film, was derived from Maori language spoken in New Zealand. The helmer worked with language expert Paul Frommer, of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, to develop the alien language. They apparently blended Maori with languages from Europe and Africa. “The way that the language was created, it started off innocently enough as I was writing the script,” quoted Cameron as saying at a London press conference.

He added: “I came up with some place names and some character names and so on. You know, I was just sort of free associating, and I had been to New Zealand a few years ago and really liked the sound of the Maori language and some of the Polynesian form, so I put that in.”

Meanwhile, Maori faculty dean at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Hana O’Regan, has said there is no problem with Cameron using the language in his film. She said: “That is quite impressive. I am not too possessive over the language being used for something like that, which is something that some people might get disturbed about.”

The Maori Language

The Maori language is one of three official languages of New Zealand (the other two being English and New Zealand Sign Language). The Maori Language Commission was established to promote the use of Maori as a living language and as an ordinary means of communication.

The history of the Maori language is a very interesting case study of the decline and subsequent revival of an indigenous language. Efforts by Maori and the New Zealand Government have had a significant impact on the revitalisation of the Maori language and its use in modern New Zealand society.

Avatar of Language
Paul Frommer ’65 is the creator of Na’vi, the native language of the humanoid heroes in director James Cameron’s blockbuster film Avatar
By Karen McCally | Excerpt:

Paul Frommer ’65 has plenty of words to describe his introduction to the world of major motion pictures. It’s been remarkable. It’s been extraordinary. And it’s been total keye’ung. That’s Na’vi for “insanity.” Na’vi, the language of the humanoid inhabitants of the planet Pandora, the setting of the blockbuster film Avatar, is Frommer’s brainchild.

And like any child, it’s changed his life considerably. It all started in 2005, as the linguist-turned executive was teaching at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

A friend from the linguistics department, in USC’s college of arts and sciences, forwarded to Frommer an e-mail that he and the more than 20 other members of the department had received from a representative of Lightstorm Entertainment, the production company of director James Cameron.

By Susan Andrews | Excerpt: [Link no longer available]

From the age of 8 until he was a junior in college, Paul Frommer thought astronomy was his destiny. But he changed his path from astrophysics to math as an undergraduate and then to linguistics as a graduate student. “Linguistics can be quite technical and analytic, and mathematical to an extent,” he said. “There is often a correlation between quantitative and linguistic ability.”

Now a professor of clinical management communication at the USC Marshall School of Business, Frommer earned a Ph.D. in linguistics from USC College in 1981, with the internationally renowned linguist Bernard Comrie as his dissertation adviser. In the mid-1970s, Frommer lived and taught English in Iran for a year while intensively studying Persian that heavily influenced his dissertation topic: “Post-verbal Phenomena in Colloquial Persian Syntax.”

Do You Speak Na'vi?
Giving Voice To 'Avatar' Aliens

Avatar, James Cameron's first movie since Titanic, opens Dec. 18, and for it, he's created a new world known as Pandora — and a race of tall blue aliens, too. The expensive visual effects, many of them using technology developed by Cameron specifically for Avatar, have gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks. But the director also commissioned an entire language for the Na'vi. Paul Frommer, a professor at the University of Southern California, is the linguist who built it for him — and he says the bar Cameron set was pretty high.

"He wanted a complete language, with a totally consistent sound system, morphology, syntax," Frommer says. And "he wanted it to sound good — he wanted it to be pleasant, he wanted it to be appealing to the audience." Frommer spent years working on the Na'vi language, eventually teaching it to all of the principal actors who have to speak it, and making recordings for them to listen to on their iPods. Later, he worked on the set during shooting, coaching actors on pronunciation between takes, and even writing the occasional extra line when Cameron decided a scene needed tweaking. . . . . Audio Interview

Brushing up on Na'vi, the Language of Avatar
Interview with Avatar's Linguist Paul Frommer
By Julian Sancton | Excerpt:

[Link no longer available]

Most languages evolved organically over the course of millennia. But James Cameron wanted a new one within a couple of years; a tall order, even from one of the most demanding directors in Hollywood. But the Na’vi—the race of 10-foot smurfs who inhabit the distant planet Pandora in the upcoming, $400 million science fiction epic, Avatar—had to speak something.

So Cameron called on linguist Paul Frommer, Professor of Clinical Management Communication at U.S.C., to engineer the Na’vi language from scratch. Frommer hopes his extensive efforts won’t be wasted, and that his language will have a life beyond Avatar. Just like Cameron’s career, that depends largely on whether the fanboys embrace the film.

Frommer spoke to me—mostly in English—about the challenges of creating an entirely alien language.

Julian Sancton: Before we get started, how would you greet someone who called you on the phone in Na’vi, if there were such things as phones on Pandora?

Paul Frommer: I would say, “Kaltxì. Ngaru lu fpom srak?” Which is kind of, “Hello, how are you?”

[In a subsequent email, Frommer elaborates: ‘Note the accented “i” in the first word—it represents the vowel in “sit” rather than the one in “seat.” (English doesn’t allow that vowel sound at the end of a word.) Also, the “tx” represents the ejective t-sound. The literal translation would be something like, “Greetings. Do you have a sense of well-being?”’]

How developed is this language?

It’s got a perfectly consistent sound system, and grammar, orthology, syntax, and at this point it probably has about a thousand words. That’s not a huge vocabulary, but it’s certainly something that could be developed further into something that hopefully you could use every day for conversation.

Something like Klingon, to compare it to another language that was developed for science fiction?

Yeah. Klingon is a gold standard for this alien language niche, if you want to call it that. And that’s much more developed. At this point, it’s been around a long time. I have a translation of Hamlet, on my bookshelf, into Klingon.

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