mie lasin ima xayo lan ge arovio leda. (Our language has a pleasant sound and beautiful writing.) Let’s examine the connection between written symbols and spoken sounds in Sona.
Sona’s vowels are pronounced like the vowels of Spanish and Italian. In case you don’t know what that means, here are some English words that have roughly the right sounds.
The letter a as in father.
The letter e as in bet or they.
The letter i as in ski and machine.
The letter o as in note.
The letter u as in truth.
Therefore, you should not be surprised by any of these:
The Sona word ben sounds like the English name Ben.
Sona’s bin sounds like the English word bean.
The Sona word bon sounds like the English word bone.
Sona’s bun sounds like the English name Boone.
The Sona word ban soulds like the end of the Spanish name Estoban.
The SonaUiki tutorial says, “The 'e' is pronounced like 'ay' in English, so xe sounds like 'shay'.” Dan Holodek’s tutorial says e is pronounced as in the English word let. What is a student to do?
Either of those vowels (in the International Phonetic Alphabet, either /e/ or /ɛ/) should be distinct enough from Sona’s other vowels to work just fine.
In the four special words ua, ue, ui, uo the letter u has the sound which we express in English with the letter W. The Sona word ua sounds like the first part of water, Sona ue like the begining of wend, Sona ui sounds like English we, and Sona uo is not unlike English woe.
In other cases where u is followed by another vowel, it keeps its normal U sound. The Sona word suruate must be pronounced su-ru-a-te rather than sur-wa-te, and tue is always pronounced tu-e instead of twe.
Next there is the versatile letter y. When y appears right before a vowel in Sona, it is pronounced just the same way it would be pronounced in English words like yacht, yet, yeast, yoke, youth. benyo is a two-syllable word, ben-yo, and ekoya is a three-syllable word, e-ko-ya. This is the most common sound of y.
Before we can describe the less common sound of y, we have to introduce the technical term schwa. I promise it won’t be hard to learn. Schwa is the name linguists use for the short, blurry vowel at the beginning of words like ago and America, and at the end of words like Bubba and banana.
When y occurs at the end of a syllable in Sona, it has the sound of schwa. The English nickname Bubba could be spelled Byby in Sona. Some of the letters of the Sona alphabet are named this way: by, cy, dy, fy and so forth. The letter y is not used this way very often.
When a occurs at the end of a word, some speakers will probably be unable to stop themselves from pronouncing it as schwa, or something halfway between schwa and a proper a. That probably won’t interfere with communication.
The consonants b, p, d, t, f, v, k, l, m, n can be pronounced as in English.
English-speakers must be careful about these: g always as in go, never as in gin
j as in jump, or like the ‘zh’ sound in azure, vision, pleasure
For the letter r, use whatever rhotic sound is easy for you: a flap of the tongue-tip as in Spanish, a trill of the uvula as in some Germanic dialects, and perhaps the approximant R of American English would also be acceptable.
The consonants that might seem strangest to an English-speaker are these: Sona’s c is always like ch in church, and x is always like the sh in ship. The playful word choo-choo would be transcribed as Cucu and the Japanese word sushi would be written in Sona as Suxi.
The letters Q and W are not members of the Sona alphabet.
Sona text and speech are delightfully different from English in several important ways. It is fairly common for English speakers to react negatively to these features when they first encounter Sona, as if their attitude is “How dare an invented language differ from English! Oh, the humanity!” Eventually they either learn to love Sona or they move on to some other conlang that matches their preferences.
The creator of Sona did not use any punctuation marks other than a period at the end of each sentence and a very small number of commas. However, he did not forbid the use of other punctuation. Some modern users of Sona utilize question marks, exclamation points and quotation marks in addition to commas and periods. Others prefer to carry on the tradition of minimalist punctuation.
Sona is written almost entirely in lower-case letters. Sona does not capitalize the first letter of every sentence. In this regard Sona is similar to Lojban, Toki Pona and several other constructed languages.
Sona does use a capital letter to mark words that are not compounded from Sona’s 360 radicals. If you see the word radio in a Sona sentence it can only be an adjective consisting of the elements ra+di+o, but if you see Radio it can only be the international word that refers to electronic communication.
In English we have a feature called lexical stress. The word “establish” is always stressed on the second syllable and the word “festival” must always be stressed on its first syllable. Sona does not have lexical stress. It is not necessary to pronounce one syllable of a word louder or at a different pitch than the other syllables.
You do have the option of stressing any word or syllable that you need to emphasize for communicative reasons.
Lack of a rule for stressing certain syllables does not mean Sona will sound like a robotic monotone. If Sona ever becomes a spoken language it will develop its own patterns of prosody, its own ‘tone contours’ for various types of sentences. Captain Searight said Sona might sound a bit like French or Japanese in this regard.
Some Sona words contain doubled consonants as in atta, umma, telanna. Would these words be pronounced differently from ata, uma and telana?
In online discussions a majority of commenters have agreed that the doubled consonants could be pronounced like the geminate consonants in Japanese. Pairs such as mm and nn could be pronounced for a slightly longer duration than the single consonants, and pairs like kk and tt could be spoken with a very slight pause in the middle of the consonant sound.
©2013 Richard K. Harrison
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