How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

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MoonRightRomantic
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How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by MoonRightRomantic » 08 Sep 2016 14:12

When one invents names for speculative fiction, native English speakers will mangle the pronunciation since English lacks correspondence between spelling and pronunciation. How could this be avoided without including a pronunciation guide (which is pointless for English)?

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by gach » 08 Sep 2016 14:51

I don't think a quick and dirty pronunciation guide is at all a bad idea. If it's simple and short enough and you place it before your main story, your readers might even take note of it. Apart from that, the best solution is probably to choose names for which a naive English reading isn't too far off. Obviously this can be problematic for very complex phonologies, so there you might rather go the route of simply writing something complicated to emphasize the "unpronounceability" or whatever of the name.

You can easily go creative with giving pronunciation clues within a story. Your characters might have notable accents and quite likely not all of them know every single language featuring in the names, so expect that they'll often mangle the names to some extent. Indicate this somehow when writing their lines and an observant reader will learn something more about the pronunciation of the names.

Also, if you want to feature a language that has itself an opaque native orthography and don't want to swap that for any clearer phonetic transcription, you are probably more concerned about the graphical aspects of displaying the names rather than their pronunciation.
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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by MoonRightRomantic » 08 Sep 2016 18:09

gach wrote:I don't think a quick and dirty pronunciation guide is at all a bad idea. If it's simple and short enough and you place it before your main story, your readers might even take note of it. Apart from that, the best solution is probably to choose names for which a naive English reading isn't too far off. Obviously this can be problematic for very complex phonologies, so there you might rather go the route of simply writing something complicated to emphasize the "unpronounceability" or whatever of the name.
The names are not unpronounceable. They would only use phonemes found in English. Some English consonant phonemes lack consistent phonograms.
  • There is no way to distinguish the voiced dental fricative (<dh> is usually mispronounced /d/).
  • There is no way to distinguish the voiced alveo-palatal fricative (<zh> is usually mispronounced /z/).
  • The voiced alveo-palatal affricate must be noted <j> if word-initial, <dg> if word-medial and <dge> if word-final, otherwise it will be mispronounced as the voiced alveo-palatal fricative.
English has 5 or 6 vowel letters and 12 or more vowel phonemes depending on dialect. However, there is no consistent way to indicate which vowel phonemes are correct in contrast to most other languages using the Latin alphabet. It would be impossible to indicate the correct vowels to use.

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by alynnidalar » 08 Sep 2016 18:29

Do you have an example of some of these "impossible" names? I bet they're not as impossible as you think.

That being said, you might just have to live with people mispronouncing names. How many people pronounce Tolkien's <Celeborn> with /s/ instead of /k/? And he put out tons of information about how to pronounce names in his works! (but he could've saved himself a lot of grief if he'd just bucked up and spelled it <Keleborn>)

(EDIT: ayyyy 666th post)

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by MoonRightRomantic » 08 Sep 2016 18:56

alynnidalar wrote:Do you have an example of some of these "impossible" names? I bet they're not as impossible as you think.

That being said, you might just have to live with people mispronouncing names. How many people pronounce Tolkien's <Celeborn> with /s/ instead of /k/? And he put out tons of information about how to pronounce names in his works! (but he could've saved himself a lot of grief if he'd just bucked up and spelled it <Keleborn>)

(EDIT: ayyyy 666th post)
Here are some examples off the top of my head:
  • <Dhomaz>, /ðomaz/
  • <Zhen> or <Zjen>, /ʒen/
  • <Widge>, /widʒ/
  • <Yohanethlé>, /johaneθle/

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by Frislander » 08 Sep 2016 21:00

I'd put in a pronunciation guide, but at the start rather than the end: I wonder how many have skipped Tolkein's appendicies because they came after the actual "book".

One thing I'd probably do is include actual IPA values for the graphemes, possibly with a bit of explanation beforehand, so that more linguistically-minded people will understand, and that might encourage some people to look up the actual sound values.

The big thing I'd do, however, is to use a transcription system which is unlikely to be misunderstood by English speakers, particularly using <k> rather than <c>. Indeed, unless you're aiming for a Romance/Celtic feel, then you should really be using <c> for something else, such as an affricate or a palatal stop. I also don't see why you can't use <j> to represent /dʒ/ everywhere: an English speaker would certainly interpret it that way everywhere. You seem to be making your language names conform to English orthography, which you can do if you want.

If your audience is doing things like <dh> /d/, though, there' no real way to avoid that: you'll just have to go with it.

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by Khemehekis » 09 Sep 2016 02:13

MoonRightRomantic wrote: Here are some examples off the top of my head:
  • <Dhomaz>, /ðomaz/
  • <Zhen> or <Zjen>, /ʒen/
  • <Widge>, /widʒ/
  • <Yohanethlé>, /johaneθle/
If Widge is pronounced /widʒ/, then I'd go with the spelling Weege instead.
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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by gach » 09 Sep 2016 13:52

One more thing I'd like to add is that you shouldn't worry too much about the whole issue. How many good stories will you ruin by mispronunciation or how often do you think that pronouncing the names exactly correctly can redeem an uninteresting story? Most of your readers won't care that much anyway.

Choosing a clear orthography and putting some simple pronunciation guide in an obvious place before the main text can go a long way but after a certain point you can't do anything to ensure that people who are not language minded will get the names as you intended them.
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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by MoonRightRomantic » 09 Sep 2016 13:56

Frislander wrote:I also don't see why you can't use <j> to represent /dʒ/ everywhere: an English speaker would certainly interpret it that way everywhere. You seem to be making your language names conform to English orthography, which you can do if you want.

If your audience is doing things like <dh> /d/, though, there' no real way to avoid that: you'll just have to go with it.
gach wrote:Choosing a clear orthography and putting some simple pronunciation guide in an obvious place before the main text can go a long way but after a certain point you can't do anything to ensure that people who are not language minded will get the names as you intended them.
At this point I prefer to just use the Esperanto and Icelandic alphabet to render all non-English names phonetically. Sure, no native English speaker will recognize ĉ, ð, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, þ, or ŭ, but it would make writing the foreign sounding gibberish much easier for myself even if the readers will pronounce it completely wrong.
Khemehekis wrote:If Widge is pronounced /widʒ/, then I'd go with the spelling Weege instead.
I am not distinguishing length or height in that orthography.

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by alynnidalar » 09 Sep 2016 14:06

MoonRightRomantic wrote:
Khemehekis wrote:If Widge is pronounced /widʒ/, then I'd go with the spelling Weege instead.
I am not distinguishing length or height in that orthography.
No, but presumably you're distinguishing between /ɪ/ and /i/. (I'd suggest Weej, but that's probably because I've been replaying Skyrim lately and running into Argonians all over the place.)

For the other names... a lot of people do seem to pronounce <zh> as /ʒ/ (perhaps from exposure to romanized Chinese names? e.g. Zhang), so Zhen would probably come out as /ʒɛn/, which is pretty close to /ʒen/.

There's not a lot you can do for /ð/, it's true. If you tried to use Thomaz to get /θ/, the similarity to Thomas would lead people to pronounce it /t/. That one, I agree you'd just have to live with.

Yohanethlé, though, is another that looks like it'd be pronounced pretty much the way it's supposed to? Maybe /johanɛθlɛ/.

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by MoonRightRomantic » 09 Sep 2016 16:48

alynnidalar wrote:
MoonRightRomantic wrote:
Khemehekis wrote:If Widge is pronounced /widʒ/, then I'd go with the spelling Weege instead.
I am not distinguishing length or height in that orthography.
No, but presumably you're distinguishing between /ɪ/ and /i/. (I'd suggest Weej, but that's probably because I've been replaying Skyrim lately and running into Argonians all over the place.)
I'm only using five vowel phonemes: /a/ (low vowels), /e/ (front middle vowels), /i/ (front high vowels), /o/ (back middle vowels), /u/ (back high vowels). All other vowel phones are allophones.
alynnidalar wrote:For the other names... a lot of people do seem to pronounce <zh> as /ʒ/ (perhaps from exposure to romanized Chinese names? e.g. Zhang), so Zhen would probably come out as /ʒɛn/, which is pretty close to /ʒen/.
Pinyin <zh> is pronounced [ʈʂ], like the <ch> in English <chat>.

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by Frislander » 09 Sep 2016 17:00

MoonRightRomantic wrote:
Frislander wrote:I also don't see why you can't use <j> to represent /dʒ/ everywhere: an English speaker would certainly interpret it that way everywhere. You seem to be making your language names conform to English orthography, which you can do if you want.

If your audience is doing things like <dh> /d/, though, there' no real way to avoid that: you'll just have to go with it.
gach wrote:Choosing a clear orthography and putting some simple pronunciation guide in an obvious place before the main text can go a long way but after a certain point you can't do anything to ensure that people who are not language minded will get the names as you intended them.
At this point I prefer to just use the Esperanto and Icelandic alphabet to render all non-English names phonetically. Sure, no native English speaker will recognize ĉ, ð, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, þ, or ŭ, but it would make writing the foreign sounding gibberish much easier for myself even if the readers will pronounce it completely wrong.
Why waste your time with the Esperanto and go with the proper Slavic/Americanist versions (č, ž, š). I reckon more people might actually recognise them.

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by Dormouse559 » 09 Sep 2016 17:20

MoonRightRomantic wrote:Pinyin <zh> is pronounced [ʈʂ], like the <ch> in English <chat>.
Nonetheless, most native English speakers will pronounce it /ʒ/ or /dʒ/. Your average English speaker hasn't studied pinyin.

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by alynnidalar » 09 Sep 2016 19:16

Which is exactly what we're going for here, right? Trying to get English speakers to pronounce the names as close to the original pronunciation as possible, not precisely transcribing the original phonology. In which case, <zh> works very well for getting English speakers to say /ʒ/!

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by Khemehekis » 09 Sep 2016 22:15

alynnidalar wrote:In which case, <zh> works very well for getting English speakers to say /ʒ/!
I agree. Most English speakers have used a dictionary in whose pronunciation key (zh) is the /ʒ/ phoneme. Transcribing "usually" as (YOO-zhoo-uh-lee) and "television" as (TEL-uh-vizh-uhn), for instance.
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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by Frislander » 09 Sep 2016 22:33

Khemehekis wrote:
alynnidalar wrote:In which case, <zh> works very well for getting English speakers to say /ʒ/!
I agree. Most English speakers have used a dictionary in whose pronunciation key (zh) is the /ʒ/ phoneme. Transcribing "usually" as (YOO-zhoo-uh-lee) and "television" as (TEL-uh-vizh-uhn), for instance.
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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by GrandPiano » 11 Sep 2016 02:46

MoonRightRomantic wrote:
alynnidalar wrote:For the other names... a lot of people do seem to pronounce <zh> as /ʒ/ (perhaps from exposure to romanized Chinese names? e.g. Zhang), so Zhen would probably come out as /ʒɛn/, which is pretty close to /ʒen/.
Pinyin <zh> is pronounced [ʈʂ], like the <ch> in English <chat>.
Given that it contrasts with aspirated /ʈʂʰ/ (romanized <ch>) and not voiced /ɖʐ/, I think it's better to describe Mandarin /ʈʂ/ as sounding like the <j> in <jam> (/dʒ/). If you pronounce it like English /tʃ/, which is quite aspirated in most environments, it will definitely be heard as /ʈʂʰ/, not /ʈʂ/.
:eng: - Native
:chn: - B2
:esp: - A2
:jpn: - A2

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Re: How to indicate pronunciation for English speakers?

Post by Lambuzhao » 11 Sep 2016 14:51

Frislander wrote:I'd put in a pronunciation guide, but at the start rather than the end: I wonder how many have skipped Tolkien's appendices because they came after the actual "book".
Ha ha ha. Y'know, I recall that in my brother's copies of LOTR I actually started reading the appendices first, because of OMG Tengwar & Elvish [<3] .
[B)] I was really more interested in the Elvish languages he was explaining, and the chronologies of the elder kings. I remember thinking first that Tolkien was some kind of Historian/Documentarian, who embellished on some pre-existing culture(s), like James Clavell did with the Shōgun series. But then I came to the realization that "Gosh, what a rich history... and... someone actually made this all up (!)" I was astounded by Tolkien's artificery/creativity/demiurgy/explosively infectious workmanship { :sjn: tancave !}. I wanted to read his books through, but my 10 year-old self thought "I could never get through a book that big" - it would take a kind of religious devotion to get through those books cover to cover.

I did later. With a devotion just a hair shy of religious. [;)]

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