English speakers are very familiar with the fact that two vowels adjacent to one another will often make a single sound, one that is different from the sound that either of the vowels will make if it was alone. For example, the English word “pout” is pronounced differently from both “pot” and “put”, and yet it is a single-syllable word. What is going on in “pout” is that the vowel combination ou creates a single sound. This is called a “diphthong” (a two-letter vowel combination that makes a single vowel sound).
Talossan diphthongs (and polyphthongs, which are combinations of three or more vowels) are thankfully not very difficult to list and to understand. Most of them are simply common-sense. For example, the Talossan diphthong ei is pronounced exactly as you would think it would be — as the Talossan e sound, followed by the Talossan i sound, run together, just as you hear in the English words “say” and “ray”. In fact, for that Talossan diphthong, the tendency of the English speaker to add a little y-sound (like in “say” and “ray”) is not discouraged in Talossan.
In fact, just the simple rule that you should “say both vowels together” covers so much ground that there is not much more to say about the Talossan vowel combinations, except perhaps to see some of them in action.
- piatana (= plane [the tool]). The diphthong in this word is pronounced “yah”.
- lavadoira (= washing machine). The diphthong here is pronounced as in the English word “toy” and “boy”.
- piolet (= ice pick). The diphthong in this word is pronounced “yo”.
- viens (= one). The diphthong here is pronounced “yay” or “yeh”.
- vuit (= eight). The diphthong here is pronounced like the English word “we”.
- Maitzi (= Tuesday). The first syllable of this word is pronounced as the English word “my”.
- Januar (= January). This word contains two diphthongs (ja and ua) and so it is two syllables long. The first of these diphthongs is pronounced as English “yah” and the second is pronounced as English “wah”.
A couple of vowel combinations are worth specific discussion, though. One of these is the combination ou, which is not pronounced as an English speaker would expect. In Talossan, ou is not pronounced as in English “out” or “pour”, but is always pronounced, essentially, with the o silent. That is, it is simply pronounced just like the Talossan letter u. For example, the word tambour (= drum) rhymes with the English word “lure”, and souvenir (= souvenir) is pronounced exactly as in English.
Another vowel combination that is worth discussion is the very common Talossan combination eu. This combination appears at the end of a great many Talossan words, and is not a sound that is very common in English. The Talossan eu is pronounced like the English vowel sound from “lip” followed by a w-sound.
Notice, however — and this is very important — that the vowel combination eu is not the same sound as the also very-common combination éu. The combination éu is pronounced in two syllables (as the two vowels sounds in the English phrase “grey ooze”), with the first of them stressed.
This difference (between eu and éu) is due, of course, to the stress mark. Stress is discussed in more detail on another Webpage, but for now it is important to know that when you see éu, this is not the eu diphthong. If the eu diphthong were needing to be stressmarked, it would be marked eú (however, no Talossan word actually has this feature; eú is never seen in Talossan).
Parsing Longer Vowel Combinations
Consider the two example words doua (= two) and noua (= nine). These words are pronounced “doo-uh” and “noo-uh”. In these words, we see one vowel combination (ou) that is followed immediately by another vowel (a). In this case, the proper parsing of the combination is as (ou)(a), instead of as (o)(ua) (which would be prounounced “oh-wah”).
Deciding how to properly parse three or more vowels that appear adjacent is not difficult. If you allow common sense to govern, you will almost certainly be right, but if you prefer to follow rules, here is what you need to know. First, remember that the letter i always will group with a vowel that follows it. Second, remember that the letter u, when in the middle of a set of adjacent vowels, will never group with the vowel that follows it. Third, remember that both of these letters (i and u) can be followed by diphthongs, and — as long as those diphthongs do not begin with an i or a u — this creates a “polyphthong”, which is a series of three or more vowels that make a single vowel sound.
For example, in cámera videoeasca (= video camera), the four adjacent vowels in the second word are all pronounced in separate syllables. This is because eo, oe, and ea are all not Talossan diphthongs. As another example, iaurt (= yogurt) is a single syllable word, with its vowel combination pronounced as the English “yow”.
In English, some vowels are repeated to indicate a specific pronunciation. For example, the English word “coop” is pronounced differently from “cop”, and “weed” is pronounced differently from “wed”.
Otherwise, in English, is not very common to see a vowel repeated right after itself. Typically this is seen in English only when a prefix is added to a word, such as in “cooperate” and “reentry” and in these cases, often a hyphen or other mark is added to assist (“coöperate” and “re-entry”).
In Talossan, doubled-vowels are extremely rare, and a simple rule suffices to describe their pronunciation. That rule is that if the doubled-vowel is oo, then each of the vowels is pronounced separately (as in English “cooperate”). For all other doubled-vowels, the pronunciation is the same as if the vowel were single. For example, the Talossan word fiirtà (= pride) is a two syllable word with the first syllable pronounced as the English word “fear”, while coordinat (= coordinate) is a four-syllable word.
The Letters j and w
In Talossan, the letters j and w are considered to be vowels, not consonants. The letter j is (almost entirely) equivalent to the letter i and the letter w is (almost entirely) equivalent to the letter u.
There are a couple of reasons for saying “almost entirely”. First of all, the letters j and w are never seen except in diphthongs. That is, you will never see or use either of j or w unless it is adjacent to a vowel, and forming a diphthong with it. This seems like common sense, especially to someone used to spelling English words. For example, the Talossan word virt (= green) would never be spelled vjrt, and you never see the letter w in English unless it is next to a vowel.
Secondly, the letter j also differs from the letter i in one other respect. The letter c is always pronounced as the English letter k except when it is followed by an e or an i — in those cases, it is pronounced like the English “ch” as in “chair”. For example, the third syllable of the Talossan word felicità (= happiness) is pronounced like the English word “cheat”, and in the word cervieþa (= beer), the initial syllable is similar to English “chair”.
Although j is identical to i in other respects, it does not affect the pronunciation of a preceding letter c in this way (the way an i does). For example, the c in the word Slovacja (= Slovakia) is pronounced just as in the English equivalent.
The letter w differs from u in that while u (when in the middle of a multi-vowel combination) does not combine with a vowel that follows it, the letter w does. This behavior of u and w is actually very common-sensical to the English speaker. For example, in the word Manáweg (= the Milwaukee River), the vowel chain is parsed (á)(ue) (pronounced “AH-weh”) and not as (áu)(e) (pronounced “OW-eh”). In pronunciation, this often makes little difference.
The letter w is quite rare in Talossan; it is only used in a few dozen words. The letter j is used in about 180 words, most of them words in which the j follows a c to preserve the hard pronunciation of the c in front of the Talossan i sound.
It is important for the English speaker to remember that the Talossan letter j never actually sounds like the English letter j (as in “judge” or “jack”). Talossan j always sounds like the letter i, and typically this means that it manifests itself as the English sound made by the letter y in a word like “yellow”. For example, the word Julia (= July) begins with a syllable pronounced like English “yule”.