I posted a bit about the creation of the Na'vi language here, but when I watched the movie, there was one glaring linguistic issue that seems to have gone entirely unnoticed: English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Na'vi. According to the story, some of the Na'vi attended a school at some point where they were taught English, so we get to hear them speak not only Na'vi, which everyone loves to talk about, but also English, which everyone missed as an interesting lingo-topic (as far as I can tell).
My point is that they're remarkably good at nuanced English constructions, except when the writers decided they had to throw in an EFL error to make it look more realistic, and they didn't do a good job of thinking about what Na'vi EFL errors might look like. I suspect they did not consult Frommer on this question.
Here's the first English we get to hear from the first two Na'vi characters to speak English on screen, transcribed as faithfully as possible by yours truly, and not including the intervening dialogue of Jake Sully.
- Don't thank. You don't thank for this. This is sad. Very sad only.
- All this is your fault. They did not need to die.
- Your fault. Your fault. You're like a baby. Making noise. Don't know what to do.
- Why save you?
- You have a strong heart. No fear. But stupid. Ignorant like a child.
- Sky people can not learn. They do not see.
- No one can teach you to see.
- You're like a baby.
- You should not be here.
- No. Go back.
- Go back.
- Seeds of the sacred tree. Very pure spirits.
- Come. Come.
- My father is deciding whether to kill you.
- That is mother. She is Tsahik. The one who interprets the will of Ewah.
Mo'at (mother of Neytiri)
- What are you called?
- Why did you come to us?
- We have tried to teach other sky people.
- It is hard to fill a cup which is already full.
- What are you?
- It is decided. My daughter will teach you our ways. Learn well Jake Sully. Then we'll see if your insanity can be cured.
What they're good at that I would have expected them to have problems with:
- Contractions: They both fluently use you're, don't, and we'll.
- Quantifiers: all this and no one.
- Subjectless Imperatives: Go back, Come, Learn well Jake Sully.
- Degree Modifying Adjectives: Very pure spirits.
- Progressive Aspect: My father is deciding whether to kill you.
- Multiple Subordinations: Then [we'll see if [your insanity can be cured]].
- Embedded Modals: Then we'll see if your insanity can be cured. This is a very difficult thing for virtually all EFL students.
- Hypotheticals: Then we'll see if your insanity can be cured, My father is deciding whether to kill you.
- Use of which: It is hard to fill a cup which is already full. This one confuses even native speakers of English.
- Dummy it-Subject: It is decided
- Omitted Determiner: That is mother.
- Adverb Placement: Very sad only (this is the best example of a clear EFL-style error in the passages above, probably in the whole movie. Yeah, adverbs are tough.)
- Awkward Construction Choice: What are you called? This is first day English class: Q: What is you name? A. My name is Bruno.
- Copula: It is decided. This is a semantically difficult stative copula where the state is expressed by a past-tense verb (i.e., it is in the state of having been decided) which is acceptable in English, but is likely to be used only by highly fluent speakers. If this is an erroneous form of It has been decided, did some part of Na'vi grammar cause such an error?
- Failed Contractions: They did not need to die, Sky people can not learn, You should not be here. While I lauded their fluent use of contractions above, they're rather inconsistent. Again, it's like the writers wanted to throw in a "can not" here and there just to make it sound less fluent.