Novial: pronunciation and spelling systems

First I will give the system used in An International Language (1928) and Novial Lexike (1930), which form the basis of the language.

Novial is written using the following letters and combinations of letters: a, b, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, qu, r, s, sh, t, u, v, x, y.

All sounds in Novial should be enunciated clearly and cleanly.

The vowels are a, e, i, o and u. They are pronounced, more or less, as the vowels in the words "aha", "met", "see", "port", and "soon". The most important thing is that they are not slurred, or diphthongized, or reduced, but always pronounced fully and as pure vowels.

The consonants b, d, k, l, m, n, p, t, v, y are pronounced essentially as they are in English. However, note that f is always as in "for" (never as in "of"), g is always as in "go" (never as in "gem"), and h is always sounded, never silent as in "hour". Attention must be paid to the following:

  1. ch and sh are equal alternatives, ie. any word spelled with ch may be spelled with sh instead, and vice versa. Jespersen seemed undecided as to which spelling to prefer, and used both in the dictionary. They have two permissible pronunciations: [S], like sh in "ship", or [tS], like ch in "chip". These sounds are alternates, because while some languages, like English and German, have both sounds, others have only one, eg. Spanish has only [tS], while French and Portuguese have only [S]. As English speakers will naturally tend to pronounce "ch" as [tS] and "sh" as [S], it is important to remember that "ch" may be pronounced [S] and "sh" [tS]. This method best accomodates speakers of many different languages.
  2. j likewise has two permissible pronunciations, for the same reasons. It may be pronounced either [Z], like the "s" in "vision, treasure", or [dZ], like j in "jump".
  3. This is true of qu also, which may be pronounces either [kw], as in English, or [kv], as in German.
  4. r must pronounced clearly and strongly in all positions, preferably with a "rolled" articulation. But if that manner of pronunciation is found difficult by someone whose language uses a different articulation, then it may be pronounced as in the speaker's native language, so long as it is always clearly pronounced.
  5. s again may be pronounced either as in "so" or as in "is" (ie. unvoiced or voiced). Once again, this is to accommodate speakers of as many languages as possible, as some do not have both sounds.
  6. Likewise again with x, which may be pronounced either [ks], as in "fox", or [gz], as in "exam".

Stress: The basic rule is: stress the vowel before the last consonant. However, consonantal flexional endings (ie. -d, -m, -n, -s) do not count for this (eg. "bOni" but "bOnim", not "bonIm"; "apErta" but "apErtad", not "apertAd") so perhaps it is better to say that the vowel before the final consonant of the stem takes the stress.

Phonetic Novial and Orthographic Novial

Later in the 1930's, Jerpersen allowed the use of two different spelling systems. The older method, described above, was known as "Fonetik Novial", or "FN"; the newer method was called "Orthographic Novial", or "ON". In this Jespersen attempted to adopt a more "naturalistic" and "historical" form of spelling, in other words to make Novial look more like both a "natural" language and its (succeeding) competitor, Occidental. The letter c was reintroduced, apparently with the pronunciation [s] before e or i, and [k] elsewhere. There were, in fact, five ways of writing the [s] sound, or rather five spellings all of which had to be pronounced [s]: s, c and sc (before e and i, as in "civil", "scientie"), as well as ç and z. The letter z was used in words such as "zone", where most source languages had a "z"; the letter ç was used when the [s] sound, represented by the letter c before e or i, was needed before an a, o or u, as in "nuançosi" from "nuance", or "prinça" from "prince". In addition, the letter y was used both as a consonant and a vowel (as in "symbole"); when used as a vowel it was pronounced the same as the letter i. Judging by the name, the combinations ph and th were also reinstated, presumably with the values [f] and [t]. In addition to this, the rule of stress was slightly amended, so that words ending in -ee, such as "kafee" (where the first e is part of the root) were to be pronounced "kafEe" (not "kAfee").

Novial28 · Novial30 · Novial30 grammar · Novial98

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