Sunday, October 27, 2013

On the Application of Phonemes to NPC Naming

Disclaimer: I Am Not A Linguist, and the following should not be construed as linguistic advice applicable to your particular campaign.

But I did take linguistics 101 once and now I know just enough to be dangerous.

Recently on the way back from lunch on a workday, I somehow ended up with both "Krishna" and "Grishnakh" in working memory at once, and went "Tolkein, you clever bugger, taking proper names from other languages and performing slight shifts on them to distinctly change their tone!"  In this case the shift from 'k' to 'g' is voicing a velar plosive that was previously unvoiced (and then appending a k, but that's more of a phonotactical move).  The k->g voicing is similar to the devoicing of 'd' in the High German consonant shift (ex: door vs tür in German).

The question, of course, is "How can I apply this to the Scaled Continent?"

Let's start with snakes.  They hiss.  A snake-language should have lots of unvoiced fricatives.  If we take a base of say, Aztec names and convert z -> s (which is actually proper pronunciation in Nahuatl, but reversed elsewhere for flavor), ch -> sh (and x -> sh for ease of reading and in keeping with the Nahuatl pronunciation), we get something slightly different.  If we figure crocodiles might favor nasal (crocodiles have long heads, probably sizable nasal cavities) and gutteral sounds, and we convert say co/a to go/a (voicing) and say l to n (alveolar nasalization?) and apply it to the same set of names, we start to get different accents.  Chichimecatecle (good lord that's a long name) becomes Shishimecatecle in snake, but Chichimegatecne in crocodile.  Lizardman probably falls somewhere in between, with some fricative devoicing and some nasalization (or just use base Aztec names for them).  Beetlemen have a buzzing language, converting sh -> j, s -> z, and f -> v.  I have no idea what sea turtles sound like; I guess clicks, nasals, and vowels probably carry best underwater, though, if dolphins and whales are any indication.  Tricky.  Frogmen might have l -> r and p -> b (I foresee Zorton the Frogman being a party favorite; it's fun to say).

And I haven't even touched vowels yet, but that's because standard english transcription does a horrible job with those and getting vowel pronunciations right is hard.

So if we apply the accent filters and then feed the results into the Markovinator...  I should have sufficient names of reasonable variety but shared roots and flavor.

For now.

(Though players, being players, will of course mangle Shishimecatecle into "Sheesh" and Chichimegatecne into "Megatech".  *sigh*  At least I know what I'm in for)

(Also, apologies to any actual linguists reading this.  I know converting sounds using regular expressions on text is a travesty, but computer voice processing is complicated and sort of a hard problem to be tackling as a hobby project due next week at first game)

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