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How is "Ialai" perfectly symmetrical in Alethi?


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Sure, it works in English, because we've got weird, illogical rules about which vowels get pronounced and which don't and which get changed depending on which other vowels they're next to. But going by just the sounds? Unless Alethi just happens to have the same exact vowel idiosyncrasies, Ialai's blasphemous parents should have called her something like "Ilalai". For that matter, what about SA's overseas translations? Do the versions in, say, Polish, just say "trust us, this name is symmetrical in Brandon's native language", or do they change it?

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Brandon has mentioned that there's some 'translation' between Alethi and the English that most of us are reading his works in, so some names that don't look much like palindromes to us are much closer in-universe.

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Oudeis16

Who made the script? Was it Isaac? Ben? Is the diacritic mark (that phrasing surely is spoilerless) something you guys canonically have, and is it something Team Dragonsteel would be willing to show the fans?

Brandon Sanderson

Isaac is in charge of the scripts of Stormlight. I give him words of description, and he makes the actual pictures--and does a wonderful job. I've told him he can explain the methodology.

One thing to keep in mind is that we can't often do 100% in-world text for things like this, as (unlike Tolkien) I haven't fabricated the entire language. I've got bits and chunks, but not nearly enough to write in-world with full linguistics. So it's often "interpreted" for the audiences by writing it out in an Earth language, then writing it out using the Women's Script.

This means you're not getting it exactly as it would appear in-world, if it were a real language. It's an approximation. (At least for now.)

Oudeis16

Yes, I totally get that part. Like the "steel alphabet", when we see it it's mostly just being used as a code for English.

I don't know if you recall something like this off the top of your head, but is there an actual H in the script, or is that sound only produced by way of the diacritic mark? Like, the name Tarah. Is she T-A-R-A-T(marked), or honestly just T-A-R-A-H natively?

Brandon Sanderson

The "H" is a mark, as you suspect. You put it on another letter, transforming it into an "H" sound, but otherwise letting the word look symmetrical.

source

As far as translations go, I can attest that the Japanese rendering of names doesn't try to capture this aspect of it and the language works so differently from either English or Alethi that you couldn't pull it off without the pronunciation being butchered. Amusingly, the most symmetrical name in Japanese that I can recall offhand is one of the least-symmetrical looking ones in English and one that's not from a Vorin culture and that's Szeth, which is perfectly symmetrical.

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When talking about "symmetry," there are two things to think about.

1. The spelling of the word.
2. The pronunciation of the word.

The degree to which these reflect each other depends on how phonetic the writing system of a language is.  English uses an alphabetic writing system, in which each letter represents a different sound in the language.  In most alphabetic writing systems, the writing system will be a direct phonetic reflection of the spoken speech - in other words, if you knew how to pronounce each symbol in the alphabet, you could perfectly pronounce a paragraph of writing, even if you had never heard any of the words before, because there is only one sound that each symbol could possibly represent.  English is not like this - even though English is alphabetic, any given letter may produce a variety of different sounds depending on the word in which it appears.  Take for instance, the letter "s," which makes a different sound in each of the following words.

1. sand -  /s/ sound
2. dreams - /z/ sound
3. version - /ʒ/ sound, a soft "j"
4. Christian - /ʃ/ sound the "sh" sound

The vowels in English are even more of a pain.  There are five vowel symbols - "a, e, i, o, u," but about thirteen different vowel sounds present in the language.  Spanish, on the other hand, has five vowel symbols - "a, e, i, o, u" - and only five vowel sounds, so each symbol always corresponds to the same sound.  Much easier.  This is why the whole debate over "how do you pronounce Sanderson names?" exists - because there are multiple pronunciations possible.

You say that the name Ialai "works in English" - but there are probably people who pronounce that name in a variety of ways, not all of them perfectly symmetrical.  Just because there are two A's in her name does not mean that English readers will pronounce both of them the same way.  Take another symmetrically spelled name - "Hannah."  Even though that name is spelled symmetrically, it is not pronounced symmetrically - the "h" at the end of the word is not pronounced, and the A's make different sounds.  Being symmetrical in spelling and pronunciation are different - I can't think of very many words in English that are pronounced symmetrically - one example is "eerie" (ee-r-ee), and you can clearly see that that word is not spelled symmetrically.  

Native speakers of other languages, however, will probably not have this problem when pronouncing "Ialai," because in most alphabetic languages, the letters "a" and "i" will always make the same sound.  So they will actually pronounce her name symmetrically, whereas some English speakers may not.  I don't know how phonetic the writing system in Polish is, but it is probably more phonetic than English writing - English is kind of famous for having impossible spelling that does not phonetically reflect the language.  So a Polish reader will likely see the name "Ialai" and will pronounce it symmetrically, since they know from their language that each letter will always make the same sound (but again, I don't speak Polish... so I'm not sure).  I know that if a group of Spanish speakers all saw the name "Ialai," they would all pronounce it the same way - symmetrically.  There would be no debate.  

48 minutes ago, Necessary Eagle said:

Sure, it works in English, because we've got weird, illogical rules about which vowels get pronounced and which don't and which get changed depending on which other vowels they're next to. But going by just the sounds? Unless Alethi just happens to have the same exact vowel idiosyncrasies, Ialai's blasphemous parents should have called her something like "Ilalai". 

I don't know exactly what you're saying here.  There are weird spelling rules in English, but even those rules are frequently broken, and so there is no "correct way" based on English pronunciation to say the word "Ialai."  I don't think that the name "Ialai" is based on English spelling or the way that vowels typically behave in English, but rather on the fact that the name is pronounced symmetrically in Alethi, and so Brandon tried to craft a word using the English alphabet that would best reflect the symmetry of the pronunciation.  And the name "Ilalai" is definitely less symmetrical than "Ialai" - just look at the two names broken down (at least, in the way that pronounce them, which may be different from you).

Ialai: ee-aa-l-aa-ee (perfectly symmetrical - they read the same both ways)

Ilalai: ee-laa-laa-ee (not symmetrical - if you read it backwards the word is different)  

Edited by Llarimar
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Honestly, I'd been pronouncing Ialai  as I-al-ay without thinking about it, then I actually took a moment to think, and I figured that if it was supposed to be symmetrical, then the "ai" was probably supposed to be the same as the initial "I". So, i-al-i. Or ee-al-ee. Which is not symmetrical in pronunciation, because if you read it backwards it would be i-la-i.

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I don't know exactly what you're saying here.  There are weird spelling rules in English, but even those rules are frequently broken, and so there is no "correct way" based on English pronunciation to say the word "Ialai." 

But the rules only get broken so far. There may be different legitimate ways to read "Ialai", but no one is going to be saying it as "aw loo ee" or "ooh la la" or "kaladin". English is chaotic, not anarchic.

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I don't think that the name "Ialai" is based on English spelling or the way that vowels typically behave in English, but rather on the fact that the name is pronounced symmetrically in Alethi, and so Brandon tried to craft a word using the English alphabet that would best reflect the symmetry of the pronunciation. 

But he's writing in English. It should be something within the standard pronunciations of English, not "I'm going to jam two vowels next to each other that are always pronounced as a unit, but let's pretend that this one time it isn't." That's like saying that j-a-s-n-a-h is meant to be said with a Y even though there's no reason in the text at all that we should think this one consonant is supposed to said like a completely different consonant, it's not like Alethi looks Scandinavian or something, THAT'S NOT HOW SEMITIC LANGUAGES WORK, BRANDON Anyway, like I said, I'm curious how it's written in other real-world languages.

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Ialai: ee-aa-l-aa-ee (perfectly symmetrical - they read the same both ways)

Ilalai: ee-laa-laa-ee (not symmetrical - if you read it backwards the word is different)  

And if you speak a language that pronounces every syllable separately, then it works as a four-syllable symmetric word. But in English, "ai" would usually be said as one sound, whereas "ia" is genrally two sounds. So Ialai's name would be three syllables.

 

Edited by Necessary Eagle
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1 hour ago, Weltall said:

Brandon has mentioned that there's some 'translation' between Alethi and the English that most of us are reading his works in, so some names that don't look much like palindromes to us are much closer in-universe.

As far as translations go, I can attest that the Japanese rendering of names doesn't try to capture this aspect of it and the language works so differently from either English or Alethi that you couldn't pull it off without the pronunciation being butchered. Amusingly, the most symmetrical name in Japanese that I can recall offhand is one of the least-symmetrical looking ones in English and one that's not from a Vorin culture and that's Szeth, which is perfectly symmetrical.

For some reason I only saw Llaramar's post when I was replying- anyway, that's very interesting, especially about Szeth.

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37 minutes ago, Necessary Eagle said:

Honestly, I'd been pronouncing Ialai  as I-al-ay without thinking about it, then I actually took a moment to think, and I figured that if it was supposed to be symmetrical, then the "ai" was probably supposed to be the same as the initial "I". So, i-al-i. Or ee-al-ee. Which is not symmetrical in pronunciation, because if you read it backwards it would be i-la-i.

But the rules only get broken so far. There may be different legitimate ways to read "Ialai", but no one is going to be saying it as "aw loo ee" or "ooh la la" or "kaladin". English is chaotic, not anarchic.

...

And if you speak a language that pronounces every syllable separately, then it works as a four-syllable symmetric word. But in English, "ai" would usually be said as one sound, whereas "ia" is genrally two sounds. So Ialai's name would be three syllables.

 

Three-syllables does make the most sense for Ialai's name if you're going by English pronunciation, I agree.  I have always pronounced it with four syllables, just out of trying to twist the name so that it matches Alethi symmetry, but I agree that a more natural reading is I-al-ay (which you're right, is not symmetrical when read backwards).  I don't use this philosophy on all the names, however - maybe it's just because the symmetry of Ialai's name is specifically emphasized in the book, but I don't worry about pronouncing the other names symmetrically.  Shallan's name, for example, I pronounce "Shall-inn," which is definitely an asymmetrical pronunciation.  A more symmetrical reading of her name would be "Shall-anne" or "Shawl-awn."  This was discussed on a recent thread I started under the Oathbringer spoilers section about the pronunciation of Stormlight names, where someone pointed out that Shallan's name is supposed to be symmetrical, which means that the majority of people (who say "Shall-in") are probably wrong about their pronunciation - or at least, it wouldn't be said like that in-world.  

Edited by Llarimar
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21 hours ago, Llarimar said:

This was discussed on a recent thread I started under the Oathbringer spoilers section about the pronunciation of Stormlight names, where someone pointed out that Shallan's name is supposed to be symmetrical, which means that the majority of people (who say "Shall-in") are probably wrong about their pronunciation - or at least, it wouldn't be said like that in-world.  

I don't think that it's supposed to be symmetrical by itself, it's supposed to be close to symmetry by virtue of being derived from Shalash, who as a Herald is considered holy, so her name is allowed to be that way. In this case, the 'Sh' is a single letter/syllable.

1 hour ago, Necessary Eagle said:

For some reason I only saw Llaramar's post when I was replying- anyway, that's very interesting, especially about Szeth.

In case you're curious, it's got to do with how Japanese works. Much like the examples in Llaramar's posts, Japanese writing (specifically the alphabet used for transliterating foreign names) is phonetic so the way it's written also tells you exactly how to pronounce it. And because Japanese has only so many sounds to work with, transliterating foreign words into the language results in some fiddling around at times to get the closest sounds. The 'S' and 'Th' sounds are frequently assigned the same Japanese syllable (Su) which results in Szeth looking symmetrical in Japanese.

Other names that might be symmetrical in English wouldn't work so neatly in Japanese while keeping the pronunciation intact, due to the sounds not working out so neatly. I should probably dig through to find how the translator rendered the Almighty's tenth name (Elithanathile) which is meant to be super-holy and thus perfectly symmetrical, because while the usual way you'd go about rendering that in Japanese produces something with no symmetry it's possible with some fiddling to get something that's truly symmetrical and only stretches the pronunciation a teeny bit.

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As far as Ialai is concerned, I pronounce it Eye-ah-Lai... And I don't think that breaks the symmetrical pronunciation. 

If you look at Japanese, to continue what @Weltall mentioned, you can have two distinct syllables that are spoken together so quickly that they become one sound. This is most commonly seen (to my knowledge) in the vowel sounds represented in English by A and I.

The A as Ah, and the I as Ee mash together to make aye. 

I think the same happens at the end of Ialai, essentially making the vowel sound after the L dissappear and be buried under the final sound. So instead of Eye-ah-lah-eye, it's eye-ah-leye

 

Edited by Calderis
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I speak German and in my language, Ialai is perfectly symmetrical (pronounciation is ya - l'eye), maybe that's how Brandon intended it, kind of like Jasnah is really 'yasnah' (that's also how you would pronounce it in German).

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@Sandra I agree. The German translation keeps most names as they are & occasionally changes letters in order to ensure the pronunciation goes right. That way, especially the pronunciation of vowels differs from the English version, and in this case, Ialai is, when you consider spelling, perfectly symmetrical anyway - the German pronunciation is, too: either diphtong - /l/ - diphtong or [ ɪʔalaɪ] or [ɪʲalaj] and possibly [ɪalaɪ] or [jalaj] which is close enough. I think.

I can imagine that that's similiar in Slavic languages and in Spanish but different in French?

I am really curious about the Russian (could it be ялай or something?) & the French (?) translations now; is there anyone here who read them and knows how Ialai is called in them?

Edited by Wind_Breaker
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