Double Vowels and Other Quirks — A Public Service Message

I like double vowels for words in the languages I design, and I was writing this morning about Uudmar and Ravii and Betraa, all Tonks, who speak Tonk, which uses a lot of double vowels, and it occurred to me that some folks are going to look at those names and in their heads they’re going to hear OOD-mar and RAH-vee and BET-ra. And that ain’t it. I don’t use double vowels to look pretty or cool or alien — they actually change the pronounciation of the words. In my worlds, in my languages, if you see one of my conlang (constructed language) words and it has a double vowel, you only need one rule to figure out how that word is supposed to be pronounced. (Like George Carlin, I say, “My rules. I make ’em up.”) Here’s the rule: First vowel long, second vowel short, syllable stress on the syllable with the long vowel.

So Baanraak is not BAN-rak. It’s BAY-an-RAY-ak. (Different book, different universe, same rule). Uudmar is YOU-ud-mar. Ravii is ra-VI-ih. Betraa is be-TRAY-ah. Taak (an independent city-state bound to others by tribal or clan alliances), is TAY-ack.

The doubled-vowels thing is one of my quirks — a thing that I like for some reason I can’t explain and use a lot. I probably have others. If you’ve hit a quirk in any of my books you’d like to ask about, you can do it here. I’ll be happy to answer.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

12 comments… add one
  • kaylee Nov 4, 2009 @ 23:00

    i need 12 words with double vowels.
    -thanks,kaylee.

  • Gray Jul 1, 2003 @ 15:38

    It’s certainly an eye-opener &#150 I’d never have guessed the pronunciations in a million moons. My default reaction to doubled vowels in manifestly unfamiliar orthographies is simply to ‘double’ their spoken lengths, pretty much in the style of Finnish. I don’t use a lot of them in my own fictional languages, though – OD’d on Stereotypical Fantasese Worrd’fhoorms in my teens, and never really recovered my taste for them…

    But I must agree with Vohpenonoma?e about diacriticals: either as writer or reader, I find moderate, disambiguating use of accents and so forth to be my friend in making words look ‘sane and pronounceable’. Sometimes, in my experience, they’re just the best way to represent a name without tacit expectations rendering either its pronunciation confusingly opaque or its spelling eye-rollingly ugly.

    It surely helps, for the casual and non-linguistically-inclined reader especially, if such usages echo familiar or ‘obvious’ ones: indicating seriously un-English behaviour by an ‘e’, breaking up of vowel clusters, and so forth.

    As for apostrophes, I think they beat question-marks for glottal stops; but otherwise I wouldn’t use them even in pseudo-Slavic contexts, they are so well flogged to death!

  • Vohpenonoma?e Jun 28, 2003 @ 20:38

    The other is that all the artwork (umlauts, diacritical marks, interstitial apostrophes, etc.) makes the words look weird and makes the reader’s eyes glaze over.

    Just a comment on this: I don’t think diacritics should be viewed as artwork at all. They are the only way (besides the IPA) to represent many non-Western sounds in the Roman alphabet. If one goes beyond the pastiche level of conlanging, and works out phonologies that are interestingly different from English, they become absolutely necessary.

  • Holly Jun 28, 2003 @ 19:27

    I don’t want to correct anyone, and I’m not critisizing, but you can make knowing pronounciations easier but using an ‘ in between same letters to indicate it (like Da’alin or something, but it my be confused with a glottal stop like in hawai’ian). I did it with one of my languages and it was fine with my friends. Or you could do things like ì,ÿ, and things like that.

    There are a couple of ways of looking at this. One is that all the artwork makes it easier for the reader to figure out how the author wanted the reader to pronounce the names.

    The other is that all the artwork (umlauts, diacritical marks, interstitial apostrophes, etc.) makes the words look weird and makes the reader’s eyes glaze over.

    I subscribe to the second school of thought, and add my own twist. What does it matter, really, to most readers how I think the words should be pronounced? As long as the words look sane and are pronounceable in some fashion, that’s good enough.

    I figure the folks who read my site will be a bit more hardcore on the subject, so they get more information. But that’s why maps and background info and other things are here, not in glossaries. The majority of readers consider that sort of thing intrusive (stage-managerish, even), and those who like the extra detail can find it on the site.

  • Holly Jun 28, 2003 @ 19:17

    I’ve always wanted to know: how much do you develop your languages? Do you have any grammars you could put online? That would be a nice addition.

    Up until 1995, I did extensive conlang building. Had grammars, vast wordlists, pages written out in the languages with sentences diagrammed so that I could keep track of how I’d done everything.

    In 1995, along with most of everything else I owned, I lost all of my original manuscripts, background notebooks, maps, sketches, etc.. I haven’t had the heart to put that kind of development into any project since.

  • Vohpenonoma?e Jun 28, 2003 @ 17:38

    "I don’t want to correct anyone, and I’m not critisizing, but you can make knowing pronounciations easier but using an ‘ in between same letters to indicate it"

    Apostrophes are so cliche in fantasy languages that I’d advise everyone to avoid usage like this. A diaresis over the second vowel works just as well. (Further, a question mark is a much better representation for a glottal stop; ‘ looks like punctuation, and doesn’t strike most people as a letter representing a distinct sound.)

  • Holly Jun 28, 2003 @ 16:59

    The "eau de" is French, and does mean "water of" but the usage comes from "eau de toilette," one of the French terms for perfume. This engenders a certain amount of hilarity from English speakers learning French, since "water of the toilet" is the last thing people would choose when wanting to smell nice. Comes the realization that "toilette" refers to the bathing and dressing ritual, and not to the commode, and the hilarity dies a bit.

    But the "eau de whatever" bit is not unique with me. It’s a silly way of implying "scent of" that plays on and intentionally misappropriates words in two languages to get across an idea that still works — something English is very good at.

  • Alexandra Jun 28, 2003 @ 16:57

    I don’t want to correct anyone, and I’m not critisizing, but you can make knowing pronounciations easier but using an ‘ in between same letters to indicate it (like Da’alin or something, but it my be confused with a glottal stop like in hawai’ian). I did it with one of my languages and it was fine with my friends. Or you could do things like ì,ÿ, and things like that.

  • Ter Jun 28, 2003 @ 16:01

    I would never have guessed those pronunciations. Do you have glossaries or an index of names/words to offer readers in the books?

    Speaking of words, I hope this is an appropriate segue. I recall reading an essay on this site about writers aspiring to publication who might not be succesful. Since then I’ve noticed a wider use of the French word "eau" on the Net. The essay here had a phrase like "eau de failure".

    I wonder how many people take a guess that eau means "scent" or "aroma". It actually means "water" in French.

    More recently "uber" is becoming the new borrowed-foreign-word on the Net, often hyphenated with an English word. (Like: "Uberkid" for super child.)

    In German, it should be über/i> or Über if used in combination with another word to make a noun. German has a Lego like aspect, inviting the creation of unique words to express the exact function or characteristics of any person, group, or archetype. Very useful for writers.

  • Rick Jun 28, 2003 @ 15:04

    Good to know and very cool. I tend to double-vowel and combine vowels a lot. Examples would be those such as Maviirae. I like your system, and it now I can go back and read your books and pronounce everything correctly. 🙂

  • Jean Jun 28, 2003 @ 11:02

    Good to know. As you suspect, I was following conventional Eng-lang pronunciation not Hol-lang pronunciation.

  • Vohpenonoma?e Jun 28, 2003 @ 10:56

    The Algonquian languages of North America, which are a major source of inspiration for my own conlangs, love vowel clusters and doubled vowels. Such clusters occur in a large part because the Algonquian languages are polysynthetic, and their words are made up of many meaning-parts joined together; and it’s quite common for a meaning-part to both begin and end with a vowel.

    In the Algonuian language Cheyenne (the source of my handle), you often hear glides that sound like [w] and [y] between adjacent vowels. This is a fairly common phenomenon, and given your phonetic representations of the names above, it seems like you’ve been following this rule. Back vowels (/o/, /u/, and sometimes /a/) associated with /w/, while front vowels (/i/, /e/, and sometimes /a/) are associated with /y/.

    I’ve always wanted to know: how much do you develop your languages? Do you have any grammars you could put online? That would be a nice addition.

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