For all the hunting in the blockbuster movie Avatar, there isn’t a lot of eating. There isn’t a lot of agriculture either. Indeed, the only formal cultivation of native crops seems to be done by the humans, next to their base. If the native people, the Na’vi, are cultivating anything, it isn’t within several miles of their home.

There’s one major exception to the lack of food in this film, and it’s early on. The main character, Jake Sully, tests out his new native body for the first time, his avatar. Delighting in his functional legs, he breaks free of his hospital bed and runs out, across the base, and into cultivated native crops. There, another character tests his reflexes by tossing him a native fruit. If I remember correctly, the fruit is purple, laced with green, clearly marked as alien.

Sully catches it and, assuming it to be edible, bites into the juicy fruit and grins. Is it delight in the new taste experience, or the thrill of having command of his new body? How can taste experiences even be the same, when the body is almost entirely that of an alien species?

The fruit he catches is a “kxener”. (The plural is “kener”.) Kxener is one of two Na’vi fruit-words in the publicly-available vocabulary lists compiled from books which supplement the movie. The other is “kì’ong”. I can’t tell you what it refers to since I don’t have a copy of Avatar: The Field Guide to Pandora, but that there are only two fruit-or-vegetable words is telling of how little the non-meat edibles were fleshed out on the planet Pandora.

The Na’vi language, of which these two fruit-or-vegetable words are a part, was designed for the movie by linguist Paul Frommer. Since no one speaks it fluently, it’s technically an extinct language, although it already has more people interested in it than other dying languages, such as the remaining ten speakers of S’aoch in Cambodia. I’m not helping the disparity with this entry, however useful it is as another example of how hard it is to build up richly-textured artificial worlds.

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*© S. Worthen 2009