Monthly Archives: March 2020

The names in “All That Was Asked”

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In my previous post, I tried to explain how all those odd names ended up in my recently-published book and why I think it’s fun to play around with languages in the middle of a story.

So, what if you don’t really care about all that linquistic nonsense, but just want a guide to pronouncing stuff in this particular story?  In what follows, I’m going to share what I’ve prepared for the person doing our audio book.  On the surface, it may look daunting, but, really, it all hangs together with a few key elements:

Sensei, in Kanji
Source: japanesewithanime.com 
(CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Lots of the names end in a shortened “ay” sound I’ve tagged here as ei. It sounds almost like a long ay, but is cut short like you were going to pronounce a “y” on the end, but stopped yourself just in time, “say” without that teensy “eeya” sound that wraps up that word. Sort of like “sensei” as pronounced in Japan, or at least in anime and Japanese TV shows.
  • In names ending in e, the final e is always sounded–usually as that shortened “ay” sound.
  • The exception is “ere”, which is ayr-ee, wherever it happens to fall, so some names end with ayr-ee, while some have that in the middle or at the beginning.
  • Children (or adults being teased as if they are children) or intimate friends get their names shortened with a bit of a stop in the middle, so Ansegwe becomes An-s-wei, and Kantalare becomes K-a-la-rei
  • As an example of the “translated words” system: the “aunts” are “awnts”, Brit/Northeast/Southern style, rather than Midwestern style “ants”.

Digression: How come I like weird names?  Well, jeepers, I’ve got one of my own, one that often gets pronounced weird, though I don’t care, really, I’ve heard ’em all.  The “correct” way is va-‘ness-uh ma-‘cla-ren-‘ray.  There are other pronunciations in use . . . but those are other Vanessas and other MacLarens. 

OK, here we go.  I’m not using really formal linguistic notation, but sound-shorthand that I think we all can follow. I put a single quote at the front of the stressed syllable in each word. 

  1. Our Main Characters

Varayla Ansegwe, Eskenyan Jemenga, Ensense Kantalare, Varaylas Ansele and Adeleke, and Haillyen.  These all appear frequently, though it takes a while for Kantalare to show up.  See how what we call “last names” (family names) come first, and “first names” (personal names) come second.

Wary, indeed.
Photo of sketch on wall, by Quinn Dombrowski, Berkeley, CA (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Varayla: Va-‘ray-la This one’s pretty phonetic, the tricky thing, from listening to auditions for our audio book, is that some people seem to read the “yla” as “lya”.  This reminds me of how people read the second half of my last name as “Wary” instead of “Wray”.  Don’t let it worry you, but if you prefer mispronouncing Varayla, just don’t go to Korlo. In the bad old days, you could earn a set of cement overshoes for mispronouncing that name to the wrong person.

Ansegwe: ‘ahn-seg-wei Our hero’s name is most likely to be mispronounced as on-‘seg-way, which is hilarious, as it makes me picture this enormous klutz trying to ride a Segway.  The first syllable should be said relatively slowly, so the second two click together fast, so that you almost lose the sound of the “e” in the middle: ahns’gwei. It has a kind of Japanese flavor to it.

Eskenyan: ess-‘ken-yan It sounds sort of like “a person from Kenya” (at least the way Americans say it) plus “Ess” in front of it.

Jemenga: ja-‘meng-uh When Jemenga is particularly pleased with himself, he really hits that middle syllable, so it’s like Ja-MENG-ah!

The Varayla Syndicate’s above-board operations include space-based solar power satellites.
(Not quite like this. This is NASA’s Solar-b satellite)

Ansele: ‘ahn-se-lei Tycoon aunt #1.

Adeleke: a-‘del-e-kei Tycoon aunt #2.

Haillyen: ‘hay-ul-lee-yen This is a “foreign” word to Ansegwe, so he’s basically phonetically “translated” it, the ‘y’ in the last syllable is a  bridge sound you get when putting ee and en together between the ee and the en.  Do ya get it? Yeah?  The reader should get it about 100 pages before Ansegwe catches on.

Ensense: en-‘sens-ei  You know, like, “sensei” with an “en” at the front.

Kantalare: kahn-tah-‘lahr-ei There’s a secondary stress on the first syllable.  Just make it sound pretty in your head.  Ansegwe is totally in love with her, so, whatever, hear her as beautiful

2. The people on the expedition

Some of these folks are only mentioned or quoted during the “expedition” chapters.

Tkonle: t-‘kawn-lei

Kulandere: koo-lahn-‘dayr-ee

Tekere: ta-‘kayr-ee

Tereinse: ‘tayr-ee-in-sei

Alekwa: ah-‘leek-wah

Nara: ‘nah-rah

Ensargen: en-‘sahr-gen It’s a hard g, as in “gun”, not a soft one as in “generation”. They don’t really use hard “g”

Korton: ‘kor-tun

Alawere: ah-la-‘wayr-ee

Tasegion: tah-‘seg-ee-on

Turame: too-‘rah-mei

3. People at home

Kateseo: ka-‘tay-see-oh

Kinshada: kin-‘shah-dah

Tumbal: ‘toom-bal

Erekulu: ayr-ee-‘koo-loo OK, this one isn’t a person, he’s a domesticated animal, so his name is a little goofy, meant to sound cute.

Tokal: toh-‘kahl

Ans’we: ‘ahn-se-wei This is a nickname for Ansegwe, used mostly by Kantalare, but also used by his expedition “friends” when they want to get on his case.

K’alare-: kah-‘lahr-ei This is a nickname for Kantalare, used by Ansegwe.

Az-dyel: ahz-dee-‘ell Note that this is another “foreign” word that Ansegwe has transcribed this way, so it’s pretty phonetic, the three syllables have almost equal stress, I hear just a little more on the last one, but you can feel more free to mess around with this one–it’s the ONLY word in this language that appears at all.

Eskewere: ess-ke-wayr-ee

Ensense Halense: en-‘sen-sei hah-‘len-sei This is a member of Kantalare’s extended family that they happen to run into at some point. 

4. List of authors. 

About two-thirds of the way through, someone gives Ansegwe a reading list, and the authors of the books are a mix of people from his world, one from outside his culture, and one (the last) he’s going to spend a lot of time with. I wouldn’t worry about these too much, but have fun with them.  Yeah, uh-huh, that’s intentional.

Asvelan Kulumbu: ‘ahs-veh-lahn  koo-‘loom-boo

Palawan Vejr: ‘pah-lah-wahn  vee-‘yay-zher

Trjia Qwijlian: ‘trr-zhee-ah  ‘kwizh-lee-ahn

Tsulander Tkonle: ‘Tzoo-lahn-der  T’kawn-lei

5. People in quotes.

Yeah, this is one of those books where each chapter opens with a quote from someone.  I picture these as remarks that people who know Ansegwe have made when interviewed about the events in the story.  Picture them sitting across the desk on their version of The Daily Show, chatting with their Trevor Noah.  Most of the quoted individuals made it into the final.  A few only get mentioned in these quotes.  These ones are mostly government officials.  Make them sound stuffy, self-important, and less-than-competent.

Insake Hailaware: ‘in-sah-kei  hai-uh-la-‘wahr-ei (For fussiness, there’s a secondary stress on first syllable in Hailaware. He will get all huffy if you miss that and maybe will find some minor infraction to write you up for.)

Elesennen Haileski: el-es-‘sen-en  hai-uh-‘les-kee

Kinsala Tkerelon: kin-‘sah-lah  T-‘kayr-ee-lon

6. Other words and place names.

The story takes place in a fairly limited set of “alien” geographic locations.  But I do have some place names included and there are a few other “thing” words that appear more than once.

The Kalinidor is something like this.
Alexander Fleming’s Nobel Prize (1945)
(Jemenga would discover penicillin if someone else hadn’t already.) Source: Science and Society Picture Library, London Museum of Science (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Korlo: ‘kor-low It simply sounds like “core” “low”.  This is Ansegwe’s country. 

Kalinidor: ka-‘lin-ee-dor This is a person’s name that’s become an object name–sort of like the Nobel Prize, well, actually, exactly like the Nobel prize.  Jemenga really really wants one of these.

Quazwallade: kwaz-‘wall-ah-dei  This is a place name, just a foreign country, one with some technological and cultural differences from Korlo.

Cignali: sig-‘nah-lee Let’s say that probably this was originally a person’s name, but now it’s the name of a famous university, think “Stanford”.

Utumwe: oo-‘tum-wei I told you there were academics in this story.  This is another university, a medical school actually, one that Jemenga lectures at, when they can get him.

Terende: ta-‘ren-dei  Another place name.

Tule: ‘too-lei Yep, place name. Doesn’t get much play, but even minor places count, says the writer who lives in a town that isn’t a proper town, just a collection of farms, houses, shops, and a gas station, that gets its own post office.

What’s with the weird words?

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Translations In the Real World
(Photo by Tflanagan at KSU, Saudi Arabia,
Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

One of the first things people ask me when they read certain of my stories is “What’s the right way to pronounce all these weird words?”  My stock answer is:  “However you like! It’s all made up, whatever sounds right inside your head is fine by me.”

Starting the process of doing an audio book for All That Was Asked has forced me to face the fact that, well, really there is a “right” way.  For one thing, the story centers on language–in fact, the working title of the book was “Translations by Ansegwe.” In general, for the stories where I have a made-up culture with their own language or an “evolved” culture that’s grown from more-or-less familiar cultures but uses a language other than English as their root language, I do know how those words should be pronounced. I’m that wonky sort that blows off an entire afternoon at Worldcon to attend a linguistics workshop, so, well, that’s where I’m coming from. 

In the real world, I know French pretty well, I watch a lot of foreign-language TV (though of course I’m relying on subtitles), I live in place where I hear Spanish and Russian regularly, and I have technical-world acquaintances with a great variety of language “homes” from India to Europe to Africa to both Chinas.  I’ve struggled to learn a smattering of my culture-base language–Gaelic. And I grew up being hauled around to various places in the U.S. and England.  I even still “hear” (and alas for spell-checkers, spell) most English as Brit-style.  End result:  I love the interplay of languages and the way everyone talks. I do not claim to be a polyglot, but I’m a diligent researcher and I just love all those sounds.

In my writing, most of the problematic words are names, because I think of such stories as having been “translated” from the alien/alternate history language set.  Names tend to get left over after a translation, because even if I’m translating a story from French to English, I wouldn’t change “Tourenne” to “Terence” or “Gervais” to Gerald, because a) the names aren’t really the same and b) the sounds of names add the flavor of a language without requiring a reader to actually know a foreign tongue directly. Spoiler? My current work-in-progress has characters named Tourenne and Gervais, and they live in a francophone culture that doesn’t exist anywhere in the real world.

In the made-up language base for All That Was Asked, I have lots of names for people, place-names from more than one country in the alternate-universe world, and a few name-based terms.  (The academic types in the story have dreams of winning their version of the Nobel prize, so they talk about it a lot.  The Nobel prize is named for a person, but . . . it’s a thing.)  I wanted the central names to make sense, to have relateable sounds, and to have some commonalities.  For instance, in English we have a lot of names that end in ‘-y’.  I selected some sound elements that would fit into different names and tried to make them sound like they came from a distinct self-contained culture–except for a few names I made up specifically to sound like another culture, in the same world. 

I decided on a family-personal naming order that made sense for the culture–Family first, Personal second, and most people refer to each other and address each other by their personal names, because everyone knows what family everyone else belongs to.  And I made names longer than we’re used to in English.  In our culture “power names” tend to be short, in theirs, most people have multisyllable names, and powerful people tend to have longer names.

For other sets of words in this story, ones that are “translated” to English, I “hear” the words in British/European English rather than American English, because that fits better with the social style of the people and gives it a little bit of distance for American readers.  It may sound really fussy–especially for such a short little book–but I think having a clear auditory sense going into it helped me with building the alien culture.  I just have to hope it carries through to readers and listeners–not a burden to cope with but an added feature of the story.

In my next post, I’ll give you a blow-by-blow pronunciation guide for All That Was Asked, with a few background bits to liven it up a bit.

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