Glossing conventions

The samples of Naʼvi in this book are parsed with interlinear glosses, following the conventions of the Leipzig Glossing Rules,[1] an international consensus on glossing texts for grammatical analysis. The gloss is the line or lines added below the text being analyzed, or between the text and its translation. The conventions cover two areas, the layout and punctuation of the parsed text, and the abbreviations using in parsing it.

Glossing layout


A glossed text will typically consist of:

  1. the original Naʼvi text in the first line, followed by
  2. the same words, with each broken up into its constituent parts, called morphemes, then—underneath and aligned with this—
  3. a translation of each of those morphemes (the actual gloss), and finally
  4. a running translation of the text in English.

The fundamental point of interlinear glossing is that each word be aligned with its gloss for legibility, and that each word be parsed into the same number of units in the second and third lines for unambiguous analysis.

For example, the phrase for poltxe oe "I spoke to them" may be glossed as follows:

For poltxe oe.
ay+po-ru p‹ol›lltxe oe
PL+he/she-DAT to.speak‹PFV I.INTR
"I spoke to them."

The first word, for, consists of three morphemes: a plural ay+ (which here has been dropped, though its effects remain), the third-person pronoun po "he/she", and the dative case suffix -ru, here shortened to -r. In the second line, where the word is broken down, these are presented in their full forms, ay+po-ru. The hyphen in po-ru shows that the -ru is a suffix. The plus sign in ay+ shows that, although a prefix, ay- changes the following root, in this case from po to fo.[note 1] In the third line, each of these bits is glossed, retaining the punctuation of the second line: ay+ as "PL+", an abbreviation for 'plural', po as "he/she", and -ru as "-DAT", an abbreviation for 'dative case'.

Similarly in the second word, poltxe. Here the root form plltxe appears in the gloss. The angle brackets around ‹ol› shows that it's an infix. The gloss for the infix, "‹PFV›" (an abbreviation of 'perfective aspect'), appears at the end of the gloss "to.speak" because, in Naʼvi, the position of an infix is determined by counting from the end of the verb.[note 2] Note the gloss of plltxe: Because glossing is supposed to be a one-to-one conversion, the two words "to speak" are linked together with a period to show they correspond to a single word in Naʼvi.

The third word, oe "I", plays the role of an intransitive subject. Because that does not have a morpheme in Naʼvi, there is no way to parse it in the second line. Therefore, in keeping with the one-to-one glossing principle, the gloss for intransitive case, INTR, is connected to the translation "I" with a period.[note 3]

Not all of these details will always be necessary, depending on the point of the gloss. So, for example, if the only point is to illustrate the perfective aspect, or which grammatical case the verb requires, the gloss may be reduced to:

For poltxe oe.
fo-r p‹ol›lltxe oe
they-to speak‹PFV I
"I spoke with them."

Glossing abbreviations


Morphemes which can be readily translated into English may be done so. However, this is not always possible: English has no good translation for the dative suffix, for example. Rather than writing "dative" each time, an abbreviation is used; these typically have three letters: DAT. They are generally written in small capitals, as here, to more easily distinguish abbreviations from actual translations.

The following abbreviations may be found in this book:

Gloss Stands for Naʼvi morpheme
ACC accusative case -it, -ti
ACTV active participle ‹us›
ADJ adjective le-
ADV adverbial nì-
APPROB approbative affect ‹ei›
ATTR attributive a-, -a
CAUS causative ‹eyk›
DAT dative case -ur, -ru
DEM demonstrative -ʼu
DIM diminutive -tsyìp
DIST distal demonstrative tsa-
DU dual number me+
E epenthetic morpheme -e-
ERG ergative case -ìl
EVID evidential ‹ats›
EXCL exclusive person (various)
FAM familiar register
FEM feminine gender -e
FORM formal register ‹uy›
FUT general future tense ‹ay›
GEN genitive case -yä
IDEO ideophone (various)
IMM immediate future tense ‹ìy›
IMP imperative mood (none)
INCL inclusive person (various)
IND indicative mood (none)
INTENT intentional mood ‹s›
INTR intransitive case (none)
IPFV imperfective aspect ‹er›
MASC masculine gender -an
NEG negative ke
NOMZ nominalizer tì-
PAST general past tense ‹am›
PASS passive participle ‹awn›
PEJ pejorative affect ‹äng›
PFV perfective aspect ‹ol›
PL plural ay+, +
PRES present tense (none)
PROH prohibitive mood räʼä
PROX proximal demonstrative fì-
QUES yes-no question marker srak(e)
QUOT quotative marker san
REC recent past tense ‹ìm›
REDUP reduplication
REFL reflexive voice ‹äp›
SG singular (none)
SJV subjunctive mood ‹iv›
SBRD subordinator a (same as ATTR)
TOP topic -ìri
TRI trial number pxe+
UNQUOT unquotative marker sìk
VERBZ verbalizer si
VOC vocative case ma, -ya
WH wh-question pe+, -pe
Compound infixes

The following twelve compound tense-aspect-mood infixes are found:

past.pfv alm (a‹ol›m)
fut.pfv aly (a‹ol›y)
past.ipfv arm (a‹er›m)
fut.ipfv ary (a‹er›y)
fut.intent asy (a‹s›y)
sjv.pfv ilv (i‹ol›v)
sjv.past imv (i‹m›v)
sjv.ipfv irv (i‹er›v)
sjv.fut iyev, ìyev (i‹y›v)
rec.pfv ìlm (ì‹ol›m)
imm.pfv ìly (ì‹ol›y)
rec.ipfv ìrm (ì‹er›m)
imm.ipfv ìry (ì‹er›y)
imm.intent ìsy (ì‹s›y)


  1. Traditionally, the plus sign marks compound words. However, this book follows Frommer in using them to show lenition and other sound changes.
  2. In languages such as Filipino, infixes come at the beginning of a verb, so the gloss for the infix would appear in front of the gloss for the verb.
  3. There actually is a way to mark this in the second line, with a hyphenated zero: oe-0, corresponding to a hyphenated gloss: "I-INTR. However, that convention has not been used in this book.


  1. Bernard Comrie, Martin Haspelmath, and Balthasar Bickel (2008) "Leipzig Glossing Rules", Dept. of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

English–Na'vi dictionary · Glossary