A brief screed and pronunciation guide for science fiction names, in particular those of the inhabitants of Ann McCaffrey’s Pern. This material is intended for those who think they speak English :p
The greatest danger in pronunciation of “strange” names is our perceptual habits. Skimming carelessly over an unfamiliar combination of letters can result in the incoming data being interpreted as something familiar, from a first impression based on only a few letters. Sticking with that, not taking a second look, results in the mangled pronunciation being reinforced!
Our word recognition algorithms are only as good as information and *Practice* make them. Exercising the mind, and self-checking – not always accepting what seemed to be at first glance – sharpen one’s ability. The more new things become familiar, the more effective the process can be.
Experience with languages other than one’s native tongue can help by providing an alternative framework of pronunciation guidelines, as well as merely making us more aware (and wary) of what we see. Or think we see.
When I was a small child (back when God was making rocks), my favorite crayon color was magenta. I construed the color name as “magNETa.” Eventually I saw it as it was. Eh, it’s not my fave color any more anyway.
Accent on the first syllable. (JAXom, FANdarel, ROBinton)
Exception: Double letters take the accent in names of more than two syllables (MenOLLy) – although it seems a general rule that female names are accented on second or next-to-last anyway! Considered this way, Ruatha Hold is – um – a female. As for Sebell . . . eh, I think SEA-bell sounds silly.
Consonants as in normal English, except that hard G may be preferred to soft (by me).
Gaelic-derived names should be approached warily. Guidance is available. You get the hang of ot after a while.
Vowels – a matter of context.
A – Lean toward AH, with some long A in accented syllables
E – Generally short, as in lEft, with some more of an “ei” (as in Spanish). Meh-LEI-na (Melena, Robinton’s mum), Feh-LEI-na (Felena, Benden Weyr personnel))
I – “eee” in most cases (internal). Igen is a problem. Eye-gen (hard G) is my pref.
O – Can usually be played by ear according to context with no unfamiliar twists.
U – Generally a trouble-free letter, unless it gets inserted where it isn’t.
Y – This ambiguous – nay, amphibious! – vowel-consonant does not appear much, at least among the people of Pern. I just want to say, while I have the opportunity, that hearing it pronounced as if it were plying both trades at once is horribly annoying. In other words, if I had a friend named Yvonne, I would NOT call her Yivonne, Yuvonne, Yehvonne, or Yavonne. It ain’t a one-letter diphthong.
Diphthongs and other pairs:
AI – as in “aye-aye, my eye” – AIVAS should be EYE-vas, yes?
IE – I insist that Harper Piemur / Rhymes with bubbly pie fur. (Of course, you will never see a bubbly pie with fur, because they must all be eaten fresh, and sharding well will be if Piemur is around!)
The rare (to us) consonant combo “MN” just had to be thrown in for F’lar’s dragon. If you can’t figure out how to get some M in your N, just do the N! Mnementh won’t care.
Weyr: Weer (not wire or ware)
There. More may be added. Like it or bite me.