Calligraphy Writings in Avatar
In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the underlying language is Classical Chinese. The characters are Chinese used in the Classical Chinese format. The Chinese language format evolved and changed over a long period of time, and Classical Chinese format is very different from contemporary and spoken format. Nowadays Classical Chinese is rarely used (and only in literature) and considered as a proper form to Chinese, just as the Latin or Shakespearean language is to the West.
Classical Chinese is primarily a writing form. It is very hard to learn and understand because it is a very condensed form -- it uses the fewest possible characters to express very comprehensive meanings, and the specific meaning is almost entirely dependent on the context. That is because in ancient China, paper and writing equipment were expensive and rare so people had to be economical with the language.
(all information below was researched/written by KTChong
[ Opening Scene ] - [ Episodes 7-15 ] - [ Episode 16 ]
In Chapter 7: Winter Solstice, Part 1: The Spirit World
When Aang's spirit is inside the Fire Temple of Avatar Roku, a symbol (of two characters) on the floor indicates the time when Aang can talk to the spirit of Roku. The symbol consists of two Chinese characters: "Winter" and "Arrive". So their form means "Winter Arrives", "The Arrival of Winter" or "Winter Solstice". That Chinese form is still being used in some literatures like almanacs but very rarely in modern or spoken Chinese.
If you were paying attention to the show, you could see three other symbols on the floor: "Mid-Spring" (right), "Summer Arrives" (bottom), and "Mid-Autumn" (left).
The Waterbending Scroll's writing in Chapter 9
1st character: to sever, to section, to stop, to cut off. In this context, it means to bend.
2nd character: Water. This is the simple (contemporary) form of the Water character, which is different from the primitive form shown in the opening title screen.
3rd character: divine or magic. We have covered this character before, i.e., the opening title screen. In this context, this character is used as a modifier or adjective for the next character.
4th character: this character is the "kung" in "Kung Fu". It means "skill"; a noun. Its other meanings are: merit, work, achievement, result, accomplishment.
The first two characters, bend and water, combined to become "Waterbending"--as a modifier or adjective. By themselves, the two characteres are incomplete and must modify the next part of the sentence.
5th character: to practice, to train, to drill, to perfect (one's skill).
6th character: to practice, to study; habit.
The second set of two characters means "magical skill". They are commonly used to mean an amazing Kung Fu or martial art that is (or almost seems) magical.
Altogether, the first four characters means "the Magical Skill of Waterbending" or "the Amazing Art of Waterbending". In our context, I believe they simply act as a noun for "Waterbending".
The 5th and 6th characters, together, are the common usage for "practice", "training", or "drill".
The next three characters (7th, 8th and 9th) form a set:
7th character: this is a prefix before a number, for ordering numbers, eg, "first", "number two", etc.
8th character: the number "One". It is the same character from the map inscriptions (i.e., see one of my previous translations.)
9th character: form, style, formula.
The 7th, 8th and 9th characters combined mean "the first form".
Altogether, the nine characters in the left column mean: Waterbending Drill, First Form.
The three characters on the right side of the scroll:
1st character = Water
2nd character = Single
3rd character = Whip
The set means 'Single Water Whip'!
Water Tribe's Rendezvous Map from Chapter 15
1st character = sea, ocean
On the upper left, the characters are:
2nd character = moon, month (i.e., one "moon" cycle/period)
3rd character = to guard, to protect, to defend
4th character = bless, protect
I think the whole phrase, when used together, means "With the protection and blessing of the Sea and the Moon".
In the lower right, the characters are:
In the first line, from left to right:
-The first character, by itself, means: tribal chief
-The second character means: chief, head, elder
-Put the two characters together, they still mean "tribal chief".
-So the two characters have some redundancy -- the first character already contains the meaning of the second character.
-The common usage (for "tribal chief") is to use both characters together.
-It's rare to use only the first character by itself, but it's common to use the second character by itself or with other characters for other meanings.
In the second line, from left to right:
-The first character means: war, battle.
-The second character means: warrior(s), knight(s).
-Put the two characters together, they still mean just "warrior(s)".
-Again, the two characters have redundancy -- this time, the second character already contains the meaning of the first character.
-Again, the common usage is to use both characters together.
-It's rare to use the second character by itself, but it's not rare to use the first character with other characters for other meanings.
Putting the two lines together, they mean either:
"Tribal Chief(s) and Warrior(s)"
"Tribal Chief's Warrior(s)," the warrior troop under the command of the tribal chief.
"Tribal Chief Warriors," the tribal chiefs who are also warriors
-- I'm not sure which.
[ Opening Scene ] - [ Episodes 7-15 ] - [ Episode 16 ]