Connecting to language of Avatar

Survey shows a fascination with learning a language from a fiction world created in ground-breaking movie

On Saturday, UBC Okanagan hosted Community Day, intended to showcase  some of the latest and most intriguing research in the nation.

Community members had the opportunity to learn about innovative medical technology, the 2011 Vancouver riot, sustainability in everyday transportation and many other topics from various research departments.

But those who waited for the very last presentation of the day were treated to an incredibly unique area of study: Who are the speakers of Na’vi (the created language used in the film, Avatar)?

Christine Schreyer, assistant professor of Anthropology, made it her goal to find out.

“I don’t know very much Na’vi myself,” admitted Schreyer.

“A lot of people associate Na’vi as very similar to Klingon in terms of who speaks it: Obsessed fans. A lot of people see them as being strange individuals.”

Schreyer was led to start studying who speaks Na’vi after teaching a course in fall, 2010, on Pigeons, Creoles and Created Language.

“I wanted to know who they were and why they were learning Na’vi.”

Schreyer created an online survey, which ran from mid-June to July 31, 2011. She aimed to find out: Who the speakers of Na’vi are, why they wanted to learn Na’vi, how they’ve learned the language and what their thoughts are on the future of the language.

She posted the survey on a Tuesday at 11 p.m. By 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, she had over 50 responses.

Initially Schreyer prohibited anyone under 19-years-old from filling out the survey. She instantly found, on various Avatar online forums, that this was a very unpopular move.

Teenagers were eager to share their experiences of  discovering the language.

As well, Na’vi speakers were concerned that with the survey being solely in English, a lot of the international community’s voices were being ignored.

Various Na’vi speakers volunteered to redraft Schreyer’s survey into seven languages (including Na’vi, itself).

In total, 293 people filled out the survey. Ten of those people filled out the survey in Na’vi.

Schreyer’s research showed her that 62 per cent of Na’vi speakers were between the ages of 15 and 24-years-old.

The youngest Na’vi speaker to fill out the survey was a 10-year-old girl whose entire family was dedicated to learning the Avatar language.

Seventy-two per cent of those surveyed were male. Thirty-four individuals were completing a Bachelors Degree, 24 were completing a Masters Degree and a few PHDs were learning Na’vi in their spare time.

Those who responded were from 38 different countries. Eight per cent claimed they didn’t even like the movie Avatar.

There are multiple resources for those who are interested in learning Na’vi.

The learn Na’vi website ( was the most popular resource for those who answered the survey. The second best learning tool was Youtube.

Schreyer said that the most popular question she receives is: Why do people learn Na’vi?

“Pandora is better than Earth in every way. I get a feeling of escapism and of happiness any time I watch Avatar, like I am on Pandora. The language isn’t something I’m (very) good at, but it helps me to feel Na’vi,” said one beginner Na’vi speaker in the comment section of the survey.


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