Fantasy Spelling

Today I’m thinking about spelling rules. English spelling rules are nasty, and experts like David Peterson say (with good reason) we shouldn’t try to mimic them in our constructed languages. Instead, we should use the general international spelling rules (a as in father, i as in ferarri, etc.) as default. No silent letters, no googly things over the vowels.

I agree, general international spelling rules should be the default. But if I left it there, I wouldn’t have much of a blog, would I?

Consider this: to ignore gnarly spelling is to ignore an avenue of worldbuilding. Allow me to demonstrate with Niwyouwid, the language of the Niwyow people.

/jə aɪ gə’daɪje tə’juda waŋ’vjaɪjde ʃə ‘ʃnoʊkɪr tʃjuz jə tʃaw’juwa ʃə naɪk əˈzjuva dʒɪʒ tʃə pə ˈkeɪsɪpa ‘vaɪjəza:/

If I was a rabid spelling reformer or an (anglophone) anthropologist stumbling on a pre-literate people, I could transliterate that as, “Ye ai gedaiye-teyuda, wangvyaiyde she shnoukir-chyuz ye chawyuwa she naik-ezyuva jij che pe keisipa-vaiyeza.”

But any Niwyow person who saw that would have a conniption! How dare you erase our 1,500 years of literary tradition! Spell the sentence properly, damn you! It’s, “Xo i gudiae taxudo, uhàngwxayde sho shñokir chuza xo t’ddhoxuo sho nyax azzuwo dhidh tho pu xasipo wixazzà.”

Now would you look at that nightmare? Saints preserve us, it’s got apostrophes, googly things over vowels, AND googly things over consonants!

But as Niwyow scholars will point out, these spellings all say important things about their history and culture.

I’ll let one of them take it from here.

Hi! I’m Wixazznyar, a second-year student of Niwyowid Philology at the Sayreu University. Call me Wixa! (it’s pronounced “WHY-ya”).

You probably have a lot of questions about that sentence Dan quoted. But don’t worry, Niwyowid isn’t actually that hard! Let’s start at the beginning.

Xo (pronounced “yuh”) = And. The letter X represents the Old Niwyouwid voiced velar fricative (/ɣ/ as in German damalige.  English doesn’t have it. Sorry!!) Followed by an E or I, this consonant became “y” (IPA /j/). It is now used to indicate the “y” sound at the beginning or middle of a syllable.

I (“ai”) = He. A borrowing from the Pu Nichafawa, who invaded our country about a thousand years ago. I probably have some Nichafa blood in me!

Gudiae taxudo (“guh-DAI-yuh tu-YOO-duh”)= was standing, there somebody stood. The Classic Dathu gudia connotes bravery, nobility, standing against adversity. As well as a certain elegance of prose, if I do say so myself. uwu

Uhàngwxayde (“wong-VYAIY-deh”) = holding, X-in-hand. What a lovely word! The –wxay- in the middle is from Old Niwyouwid, and present in many other verbs that concern keeping or cherishing things. The addition of uhàng (from Iñàngi Kwàchey, which is not so different from the Kwàchey they still speak on the Continent) makes it clear this verb has to do with keeping things in your hands (I think the modern Kwàchey word for “hand” is wang?). Uhàngwxay is actually a word, and, yeah, it did once mean “hold,” but nowadays it means “lose.” Like if you hold back, you’re gonna lose? Putting in –d (from Classic Dathu) makes it clear that we mean “hold” and not “lose.” I suppose if I did something like that in English it would be “manu-keep-ize.” (lol did I get it right?)

Sho (“shuh”) = his. A nice Old Niwyouwid word.

Shñokir chuza (SHNOW-ker chyooz) = that sort of streamlined hat with ear-warmers? You’ve seen them. And this is an interesting one! Everyone associates the shñokir chuza, with Niwyow fashion, but neither of these words is native! Chuza is another Kwàchey word, also spelled chuza in their language (but pronounced totally differently: “SHOO-zuh” or something) and shñokir is actually from shuÑañtaf: shñokir kutep (“SHNYO-keer KOO-tep”), or “helmet.” How exotic!

T’ddhoxuo (“chaw-YOO-wah”)=turned, jerked around. That t’ at the front is important! It’s a perfective marker, indicating that the action happened suddenly and then stopped happening (plain old dhoxuo means “somebody was turning there” or “was in the process of turning when…”).

Nyax azzuwo (“naik uh-ZYOO-vah”)=wet with tears. Yes, not just any kind of wet. “Wet with rain” would be xeoa shxouo, “wet with blood,” nyar azzuwo, not to mention many other possibilities lol!

Dhidh (“jeej”)=face. Another Kwàchey borrowing. The Old Niwyow word for face af’n, has become avn. But don’t call anyone an avn, please! It’s a very rude word! owo

Tho (“chuh”)=to, into, toward. Why do you even have all those prepositions in English? One is enough!

Pu (“puh”)=the. Same as in “Pu Nichafawa,” who you should remember invaded us back in the first millennium. Their name means “the soldiers” in their language. Same pu!

Xasipo wixazzà (“KAY-sip-uh VAI-yuh-zah”)=wind. Careful with this one. Dathu xasipo means “wind” in the technical sense, like what meteorologists study. But take it away, and you get Wixazzà, which means “God!” Wow! The key is that -à at the end, which means “great X” or “holy X,” the same as in Kwàchey (for example dhidh+à=dhidhà, “an earl” or Kwàchey jija+à=jijà, “a baron”). Take away that “augmentative suffix” and you get wixaz, which did mean “wind” at one point, but now means something more like “serendipity.” Like when something unexpected and good happens to you. So, if you want to talk about moving air, you have to say the whole thing: xasipo wixazzà. (BTW: no, you can’t just use xasipo in normal conversation outside of meteorology. Some people are religious and this offends them.)

I hope you enjoyed my lesson! Let me know if you have any questions about wonderful Niwyouwid!!

Once again, this nonsense all came from Vulgar.

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