2

Background

So I recently had my first ever issue with the spelling of places in my novel. Someone pronounced a rather illustrious city, Ethil, incorrectly. Ethil is not pronounced with a 'f' sound as in 'fill', it is pronounced with a 'th' sound as in 'the' or 'þorn'.

To be honest, removing þ from the alphabet was a total mistake. It is an absolutely necessary letter and I am deeply upset that such a useful letter fell out of use. 'Th' has about 500 pronunciations anyway, so þ would be a good letter to help differentiate between them.

Question

Should I write Ethil or Eþil?

If I campaign hard enough or start using þ in my everyday life, will þ - the most useful letter - once again become a letter?

I used my own story as an example, however, this encompasses anybody's story where they might want to use weird letters, like æ for example.

So:

Will the average reader know how to pronounce these letters? How can you help a reader know which sound a combination of letters or letter makes if it has a lot of pronunciations, like 'th'?

  • 3
    Was your unfortunate reader cockney? I can't imagine another reason why anyone would look at TH and pronounce it F. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 4 '17 at 20:38
  • 1
    @LaurenIpsum Exactly :-) Daniel, another way to check how people would likely pronounce your made-up name is to make a computer read it out loud, then adjust your spelling so Siri would sound right to you. If you do not like the way your name looks when spelled that way, and you really need Manchester to be pronounced Liverpool, you will have to provide your reader with a glossary of terms. – Lew Jan 4 '17 at 21:01
  • @Lew, ah, the famous ghoti/fish dilemma. A classic. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 4 '17 at 22:30
5

Pronunciation is part of aural speech and cannot be wholly derived from the written form of languages, at least not in English. There are thousands of real place names that people pronounce differently. If you are going to make up place names in a written work that no one will ever hear pronounced, then different people are going to pronounce them in different ways.

Bringing back old letters is not going to happen and using them will not fix your pronunciation issues. There is a formal notation for writing down actual pronunciation, but it is unreadable to those not trained in it. Nothing else is precise and one more letter would not make it so.

But the real question is, why do you care? What does it matter if some people pronounce your made up words differently from what you imagined? Do they enjoy the story less as a result?

If you really do care, I think you have two options.

  1. Provide a pronunciation key for the names in your book.

  2. Create names whose default pronunciation matches what you have in your head.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    3. Publish your writing only as audiobooks. – The Photon Jan 5 '17 at 0:07
  • 1
    I always talk about the books my friends and I are reading with them, and sometimes we pronounce downright weird spellings differently. I don't want readers of my book to have the same issue. – Featherball Jan 5 '17 at 6:02
3

Using þ in a story will not bring it back as a letter in English. So keep that in mind if you decide to use it.

As for whether an average reader will know how to pronounce these letters, the answer is not really. In fact, some people have seen thorns in older texts, especially those using blackletter, and mistaken them for y's, which is why some people trying to give an establishment an older feel will use "ye olde" in the name or description and believe the pronunciation to be /ji:/ instead of /ðeː/.

Using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in an appendix or other pronunciation key will help accurately portray how the words are pronounced (see the last sentence of the prior paragraph for an example). The IPA is the best way for conveying pronunciation. However, the average reader does not know the IPA. So using the IPA will not help most readers, which means relying on a less precise system to convey pronunciation if you want to have the pronunciation guide be accessible to a wider audience.

I, personally, have used thorn, eth, ash, and ø in my stories, but I don't expect most of my readers to be able to pronounce the words containing those letters properly. In fact, I have one character mispronounce Friðuswiþ's name several times to the point of her agreeing to have him call her Frith. I include this in the story because the main character, like the reader, comes from a different culture and is not used to the pronunciation of Friðuswiþ's language; by doing this I let the reader know it is fine if they don't know how to pronounce her name, as not even the main character can figure it out at first.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    to be fair, Frithuswith is a tongue-twister even without the antique letters. :) – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 4 '17 at 22:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.