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In novels which contain a constructed language (conlang), there are areas where the rules of pronunciation can be specified. These areas have the disadvantage of either being before the story and rapidly boring the reader (preface/prologue), or being after the story and likely being overlooked until the story has been read (epilogue/glossary).

The other option is of course to infodump the rules of pronunciation somewhere within the story itself. I have discovered that there are those who believe infodumping is not a bad thing, so I will simply suggest that the majority of writers and readers will wish to avoid it. I am one of those writers.

The only other option is to somehow include it in the story in a natural way, so that it doesn't feel forced, and the reader learns the pronunciation without even realizing he is learning grammatical rules of a language that does not exist.

How can I do this? Obviously methods will change from story to story, but is there perhaps a general method that can be used? (Assume that we do not have access to the familiar non-native-speaker-who-needs-to-be-educated scenario.)


In my current work, I have a language where the letter 'h' is silent. I am using it to separate vowel sounds, rather than an apostrophe. So something like Ga'ino'i becomes Gahinohi. It looks far better. The reader will of course pronounce it Ga-HEE-no-hee, or something similar. How can I inform him, within the body of the novel itself, that all 'h's are silent?

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If you don't have a non-native or non-fluent cabbagehead character (and they're awfully useful; I don't know why you're hobbling yourself like that), then another reasonable course of action is to have someone who speaks the language badly and has to be corrected. A child learning how to speak/read or someone who is severely undereducated might work. Then your problem is that the adult or more learned characters are constantly correcting the other one, and may come off as arrogant or know-it-alls.

  • I'm hobbling myself because the characters in my story are isolated on an island and have been for years. No new-comers to be had. :) Great suggestion, thanks! – Thomas Myron Dec 2 '16 at 22:22
  • If they're isolated for years, how is there one who doesn't have this knowledge? I think "child" is going to be your best bet here. – Lauren Ipsum Dec 3 '16 at 0:44
  • "how is there one who doesn't have this knowledge?" Hence my problem, yes. – Thomas Myron Dec 3 '16 at 1:25
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If you're stuck with characters that all know how to spell/speak the language, this could be done when words are being transcribed.

For example, if Gahinohi is a name, he could be making reservations at an inn or a restaurant (or signing in at a DMV).

"Who should I make the reservation for?" the server asked, fiddling around and trying to find where she'd dropped her pen.
"Myron Gahinohi."
She found the pen and started scribbling. "Table of five," she muttered, writing almost unbearably slowly, "Six thirty...for Martin-"
"Myron"
"Myron..." she trailed off, having clearly forgotten my name.
"Ga." I waited for her to write before even bothering to continue. "Ino. I."
She capped the pen and read back to me "Table of five, six-thirty for Myron Gahinohi. Got it. We'll see you then."
Hopefully she won't have to write anything down at that time.

  • 2
    If there are a limited number of characters stuck on an island, you can always use @Chelsea's approach just having one character call to another one deliberately and slowly (because they are not paying attention or whatever, along these lines: "Gahinohi. Gahinohi!" Sigh. "GA EE NO EE!" – Terri Simon Dec 7 '16 at 21:23
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Most readers don't care so much about names. Same as any other word in speed reading they look at the first letter, last letter and length, and then guess what the word is. When they come to a complex name they will just nickname the character and move on. Petyr Baelish instantly becomes Peter.

For those readers that may obsess over pronunciation you can just give them a guide the first time the name comes up. "Petyr Baelish (Pe-tire Be-e-lish)..." and move on without interruption. Anyone who cares, will read it, anyone who does now will skip with the smallest of road bumps.

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