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Avatar Na'vi language based on NZ Maori

Thursday 21 Jan 2010 6:38p.m.

Avatar Na'vi language based on NZ Maori

Avatar director James Cameron has revealed the alien language spoken in the blockbuster is partly based on Maori.

The Na'vi language was created by an American linguist, and fans of the film are now trying to learn it.

“When I looked at them, I thought they had a Polynesian feel to them and in fact I later learned that he had recently come back from a trip to New Zealand, I thought maybe he had some Maori in his ear, you know,” says professor Paul Frommer.

He was right, and Maori language expert Ella Henry says she could hear similarities.

“Every Maori word ends in a vowel, so you get that kind of "Te-na ko-tou ka-toa" little rhythm going on and I did recognise that when I listened to them,” says Ms Henry.

Some of the Maori sounds were difficult for the actors.

“I think it's really celebratory if anybody takes any aspect of another culture, particularly a language that's struggling to survive, and uses it in a film that's going around the world and then acknowledges it as having something to do with this culture that he's visited,” says Ms Henry.

Fantasy languages often attract real-life speakers, and like Trekkies with Klingon, Avatar fans are keen to learn Na'vi.

There are already websites for learning to speak the language, and the authors of a detailed, 33-page handbook say it's only the beginning.

But if Na'vi goes the way of Klingon, it might not be long before there are translations of Shakespeare and the Bible as well.

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