Speak Eldraeic Like a Semi-Literate Barbarian (1): Letters and Phonemes

Originally published at: Speak Eldraeic Like a Semi-Literate Barbarian (1): Letters and Phonemes | The Associated Worlds

We talk this week about the Eldraeic alphabet, and how it is pronounced.


There are 48 symbols in the Eldraeic alphabet. Leaving aside the twelve numerals (whose pronunciation as words will be addressed later when we get to syllabic numbers), the remaining thirty-six characters are letterals; twelve vowels, and twenty-four consonants.

Note that Eldraeic doesn’t use capitalization; there is only one case. When it is desired to emphasize a word (or a name), traditional means include – depending upon mode – a change of color of ink, a cartouche, or a suitable calligraphic fillip.

The traditional representation of these, as taught to students across the Empire, is in a grid with a few missing cells at the bottom right, like this:

Short Vowels Long Vowels Plosives Fricatives Sibilants Nasals & Rhotics Exotics
a [æ] á [a] b [b] v [v] z [z] m [m] l [l]
e [e] é [e] p [p] f [f] s [s] n [n] h [h]
i [I] í [i] d [d] ch [t͡ʃ] zh [ʒ] r [ɾ] ! [ǀ]
o [ɒ] ó [o] t [t] th [ð] c [S] rr [r] q [kw]
u [ʊ] ú [u] g [g] j [ðʒ] x [ks’]
y [ə] ý [«] k [k]
The Eldraeic alphabet represented orthographically; letterals in bold, IPA in [brackets].

Not here that the two-letter combinations reflect single Eldraeic letterals.

Additional symbols are used in some modes to indicate stresses and tones, but while these provide useful side-channels for communication, they aren’t part of the strict language grammar and won’t be touched on additionally here.


Having now disposed of the orthography, let us move on to the phonology. While the IPA representations of the various letterals have been included above, in the more detailed notes below, I include some examples of equivalent English phonemes for the non-IPA speaker. The trouble, of course, is that these reflect how I pronounce English, so caveat reader. You may also find this page useful.

First, we go through the vowels, of which there are two mirrored sets, short and long. To begin with the short, we have:

  • a [æ], a near-open near-front vowel; pronounced like the a in cat.
  • e [e], a close-mid front vowel; pronounced like the e in pet.
  • i [I], a near-close near-front vowel; pronounced like the i in bit.
  • o [ɒ], an open back vowel; pronounced like the o in dog.
  • u [ʊ], a near-close near-back vowel; pronounced like the u in put.
  • y [ə], a mid central vowel (schwa); pronounced like the a in about.

And then the long vowels:

  • á [a], an open central vowel; pronounced like the a in father, but a little further forward.
  • é [e], a close-mid front vowel; pronounced like Spanish e, French é, or the trailing part of English say without the closing glide.
  • í [i], a close front vowel; pronounced like the i in machine.
  • ó [o], a close-mid back vowel; pronounced similarly to the o in dough or joke, but without the closing glide.
  • ú [u], a close back vowel; pronounced like the oo in boot.
  • ý [«], an elongated schwa; pronounced like being very confused “uhh”.

Now on we go to the consonants, and we open with the plosives. All very simple:

  • b [b], a voiced bilabial stop; pronounced as in boy, sober, or job.
  • p [p], an unvoiced bilabial stop; pronounced as in pay, super, or up.
  • d [d], a voiced dental/alveolar stop; pronounced as in dog, soda, or mad.
  • t [t], an unvoiced dental/alveolar stop; pronounced as in tea, later, or not. Note to American English speakers – even between vowels, the Eldraeic t never elides to a d.
  • g [g], a voiced velar stop; pronounced as in go, eagle, or dog.
  • k [k], an unvoiced velar stop; pronounced as in kill, token, or flak.

And then the fricatives:

  • v [v], a voiced labial fricative; pronounced as in voice, savor, or live.
  • f [f], an unvoiced labial fricative; pronounced as in fee, loafer, or chef.
  • ch [t͡ʃ], a compound; pronounced as in church, chutney, or chew.
  • th [ð], a dental fricative; pronounced as in thus, therefore, or they.

The sibilants:

  • z [z], a voiced alveolar sibilant; pronounced as in zoo, hazard, or fuzz.
  • s [s], an unvoiced alveolar sibilant; pronounced as in so, basin, or yes.
  • zh [ʒ], a voiced coronal sibilant; pronounced as the s in pleasure or in vision.
  • c [S], an unvoiced coronal sibilant; pronounced as in the sh of ship, ashen, or dish. Never pronounced as either s or k. (Well, hardly ever: sometimes I fudge some C-as-K when transliterating to English for the convenience of English readers who would expect one there.)
  • j [ðʒ], a voiced post-alveolar affricate; pronounced as the j in juice.

The nasals and rhotics:

  • m [m], a voiced bilabial nasal; pronounced as in me, humor, or ham.
  • n [n], a voiced dental or velar nasal; pronounced as in no, honor, or son.
  • r [ɾ], a rhotic sound; pronounced as the short r found in car, baron, or right.
  • rr [r], a rhotic sound with trill; the tongue-tip trill found in Spanish and Scots.

And finally the exotics, most of which are not particularly exotic but which don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories:

  • l [l], a voiced lateral approximant; pronounced as in low, nylon, or excel.
  • h [h], an unvoiced glottal spirant; pronounced as in aha or hello.
  • ! [ǀ], a dental click; not found in English – since species vary widely in their ability to click, you can substitute any other click here and it would be understood, but for a human speech apparatus, it’s supposed to be a dental click.
  • q [kw], a compound; similar to the q in quart, or quake, but while the w-part is there, it’s also swallowed somewhat. Just not enough to make it identical to k.
  • x [ksˈ], a compound; pronounced as in xanthine or Alexander.

There are also the diphthongs, but while I may get back to them later, I’m going to let you figure them out yourselves from the vowel descriptions for now, mostly because if I have to listen to any more pronunciation examples to figure out the correct IPA, I may just stab myself in the larynx.

But that does bring up one important point. Apart from the acute accent used to indicate long vowels, core Eldraeic does make use of one other accent, represented in the transliteration by the diaeresis. This indicates that the letter it is placed above is pronounced separately from the previous one. So, for example, it indicates that the last part of ashíël is not a diphthong, and would correctly be pronounced ee-el.

While mostly used for diphthongs, the accent can also be used on consonants. For example, the word


which has a diaeresis here represented by a trailing colon over the second s, is properly pronounced kas-sendal.

Other things we will get to later include that letters have both pronunciations (i.e., patterns to turn letterals into words) and names which are used as a phonetic alphabet. But that’s not now, and nor is it next time.

Next week, we’re gonna do some predication.

How do they represent numeric bases greater than twelve (e.g. hexadecimal)? Do they use the digits one through twelve, followed by letters taken in sequence from the alphabet?