Loanwords and Names

Summary: When we write the names of people, countries, foods and other foreign words in Sona, we are faced with a choice. We can either keep the original spelling or re-spell these words into the Sona alphabet and Sona sound-system. Searight favored the former approach. Other users of Sona have a variety of opinions.

Also, some other details of his original intentions are unclear. This article lists and quibbles with Searight’s guidelines.

The spelling of loanwords and the names of people and countries can become topics of heated debate in constructed languages. Almost everyone has strong likes and dislikes. Here are Captain Searight’s rules followed by my own comments.

“In cases where the Sona alphabet cannot render a foreign sound the phonetic symbol is used.”

Very few people have published any Sona text so we don’t really know if the above rule would be obeyed. Some observers have speculated that the use of phonetic symbols within Sona text would be unbearably ugly.

FOREIGN WORDS are written with a capital. The name of this language Sona is the only Sona word spelt with a capital.”

Another way of saying this is: Non-oligosynthetic words are capitalized. Other words are not.

It could be argued that this system is only helpful in the written language and offers no assistance in spoken Sona. One could counter-argue that anyone clever enough to learn to speak Sona could use context clues, foreign phonemes and the pattern of consonants and vowels to identify non-Sona words in a sentence. For example, if we were discussing pop culture it is unlikely that anyone would mistake ‘Manga’ for ‘manga’ or assume that ‘Hiphop’ is a native Sona word.

“For technical and scientific terms— Greek and Latin, as already in universal use; chemical terms according to formula (Cu = copper); Sona has names for the more common animals, plants, minerals, etc. but finer distinctions must be left to Latin.”

Latin? Can I assume this means botanical and zoological Latin names for species?

“Foreign words should be spelt according to the language of origin; (§15) e.g. Post, Menu, Hotel, Radio, Fox-trot.”

What if the language of origin does not use the Latin alphabet? I assume Searight would recommend using the most common system of romanizing those words. But that is merely an assumption. Searight’s example of Moskva as opposed to  Москва seems to support this assumption.

“Except in the case of mathematical and chemical formulae the (k) sound is better written k:— Carnival = Karnival; but surnames should not be altered:— Shelley (not Xellei), Wilson (not Vilson), Charlemagne (not Xarlmany). ”

So, when c represents /k/ we should re-spell as k. What about when c represents /s/?

Surnames should not be altered, but what about given names a.k.a. first names— is altering them required, permitted or forbidden?

By the way, why did Searight think Wilson would be respelled as Vilson? Obviousy it would be respelled using the Sona particle ui at the beginning, and a y representing schwa in the second syllable: Uilsyn.

Considering that w is not a member of the Sona alphabet, does it really make sense to use it in loanwords and names?— and the same question goes for q, umlauted vowels, and a host of other letters sometimes seen in names.

If we do not respell loanwords and foreign names into their nearest equivalents in the Sona alphabet, we are required to know— for example— that w represents /v/ in German, /w/ in English and in Welsh it sometimes represents /ʊ/ or /uː/. Rounding off foreign words to their nearest Sona letters and sounds, as certain (more successful) conlangs do, would make it easier for users of the language to know how to pronounce every word they see in print.

On the other hand, sounds that simply do not exist in Sona give us a problem which seems to have no elegant solution. The th in Beth /θ/, the ‘guttural’ consonant at the end of Bach, the non-Sona vowels in Swedish Björn, German Müller, English Black /æ/, and so forth. Not to mention the tones and exotic phonemes in Chinese and some African languages.

On the other other hand, pondering or debating the best way to round off each foreign word into Sona spelling could possibly consume a great deal of time and energy without producing much benefit. Searight’s method of simply leaving the written words alone and accepting them as they are, might be viewed as a brilliant way to avoid spending a lot of time on such decisions.


©2013 Richard K. Harrison

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