The Language Vorlin (2006)

Chapter 10: Names and Borrowings

the challenge

If an artificial language is going to be useful for real communication, it must be able to cope with human names and deal with specialized terminology. These are difficult issues in language design, and there is no technique that will satisfy everyone.

proper nouns

A proper noun (sometimes called a “proper name”) is the name of a particular person, city, ethnic group, mountain or other geographical feature, corporation or other business entity, or other highly individuated entity. (Actually, pedants can argue for hours about the definition of this term, and there is considerable variation among natural languages in the handling of proper nouns. Vorlin will develop its own definition as usage increases.) Proper nouns begin with upper-case letters.

Human names are written in the following style:

fra Hernández we Marina (= Ms. Marina Hernández)
her Cmiht we Yóhan (= Mr. Johann Schmidt)

The following rules are the norm for expressing full names in Vorlin:

• A title such as her (Mister), if used, occurs before the family name.

• The family name appears before the individual’s given name and these two items are separated by the particle we.

• The name is re-spelled using the closest available Vorlin sounds, in an effort to preserve the pronunciation of the name.

• If the pronunciation is not known, or if it seems wise to preserve the original spelling (as in a bibliographic reference), the original spelling is used within curly braces, e.g. {Schmidt} we {Johann}.

This system is a hybrid of the Occidental and East Asian naming protocols, with we added to reduce ambiguity. The system works well for names written in the Roman alphabet consisting of a family name (or something similar) and individual given name(s). However, some cultures have very different ways of formulating names. If members of those cultures begin to use Vorlin, we will try to adopt any suggestions they offer for elegant ways of dealing with their names.

digraphs and special symbols

Vorlin gives you the option of using some special symbols and digraphs to re-spell names of non-Vorlin origin. We can make an effort to preserve the pronunciation of cultures’ and individuals’ names rather than their printed appearance. This intention should not be taken to extremes, however, as Vorlin cannot absorb dozens and dozens of additional phonemes (plus distinctions of vowel length, aspiration, tone contour, etc.) solely for such a specialized purpose. From a pragmatic point of view, it seems to reasonable to start by providing symbols to create reasonably good transcriptions of the names used in the language groups that have the largest populations (i.e. Chinese, English/Germanic and Spanish/Latinate).

Below is the initial set of digraphs and extended Latin characters for transcribing proper nouns.


• ih : the vowel in English Smith and German Schmidt

• rr : the vowel in American Bird and Turner (a growled retroflex approximant). (Explanation available.)

• uh : the vowel in Wood and Book

• x : the “schwa” or “wedge” vowel(s) in Dunne and Jason and Hunt. Some dialects of the source languages distinguish between “schwa” (represented by an upside-down e in the International Phonetic Alphabet) and “wedge” (represented by an upside-down V); both are represented by the same grapheme and rounded off to a compromise pronunciation when transcribed in Vorlin

• æ : the vowel in American Dan and Jack

• ü : the vowel in German Mühle and French lune.


• ao : the diphthong in Chinese Chao, English Dow, German Braun

• ay : the diphthong in Mike and Weiss

• ey : the diphthong in Grey and Jay

• oy : the diphthong in Boyd and Freud


• ç : the voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative which is spelled x in the Pinyin system of romanizing Chinese (spelled hs in Wade-Giles)

• ð : the voiced consonant in Heather

• þ : the voiceless consonant in Thor and Keith

• ħ : the consonant at the end of German Bach

The use of digraphs introduces some ambiguities. A short dash should be used between characters whenever this is needed to prevent ambiguity. For example, the dash makes it possible to distinguish Li-hu from Lih-u.

If it is typographically possible, acute accent marks should be used to indicate the most heavily stressed syllables of multisyllabic non-Vorlin proper nouns, e.g. Fernández.

the use of non-Vorlin terms

Very narrowly-defined culture-specific items, such as the names of prepared food dishes (e.g. pizza, vichyssoise), articles of clothing (e.g. fez, sombrero), etc. will retain their “original” or “international” names in Vorlin. It would not be practical, and even if it were practical it might not be desirable, to invent Vorlin nouns or compounds to represent such highly specialized terms. So, Vorlin will have a native term meaning “pasta / noodles,” but it will use the most international available terms for specific types such as spaghetti, ziti, macaroni, and so forth. (There are dozens of types of pasta.)

The following rules govern the handling of such “foreign” terms:

• The foreign term must be a noun.

• The particle le must appear before the beginning of the term.

• The term is re-spelled using the closest available Vorlin sounds, in an effort to preserve the pronunciation of the term. In most cases, non-Vorlin phonemes should be changed to their nearest Vorlin equivalents.

• An acute accent mark indicates the most heavily stressed syllable if it is different from the usual Vorlin rules of stress.

• The term can be converted from a noun to an adjective by adding ’a (an apostrophe followed by an “a”); it can be converted to an adverb by adding ’e, to an intransitive verb by adding ’i, or to a transitive verb by adding ’o. This apostrophe is silent if the foreign term ends in a consonant; it is pronounced as a glottal stop if the foreign term ends in a vowel.

Example: ya vilo fajo le pitsa = I want to eat pizza.

species names

The question of plant and animal names is especially difficult for planned languages. There are thousands of species, and when a person wants to mention that he saw a particular kind of bird or that she’s growing a particular kind of vegetable in her garden, the language must provide a way to communicate the idea clearly.

Some language designers have suggested using the scientific (neo-Latin) species names, such as Helianthus annuus for “sunflower.” From the viewpoint of Vorlin’s design, using these neo-Latin binomials without modification would not be practical for several reasons:

In many cases, there are two neo-Latin terms in widespread use for the same specie. Scientists sometimes agree that a specie should be moved from one genus to another, thus the citrus rootstock plant formerly called Citrus trifoliata is now tagged Poncirus trifoliata. Due to these competing terms and changes over the course of time, the binomials are not really stable enough to serve as a foundation for a human vocabulary.

In some cases, the binomial of a species is not specific enough for everyday conversational purposes. The vegetables kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are all members of the species Brassica oleracea according to some botanists, while others call broccoli and cauliflower varieties of the species Brassica botrytis or Brassica cauliflora, and some refer to cabbage as Brassica capitata or Brassica oleracea var. capitata. Ordinary people are able to unambiguously name these vegetables; the scientific taxonomy is a maze of competing, subjective classification schemes.

The neo-Latin words contain a lot of non-Vorlin digraphs such as ae, ch, oe, ph, th, ii, qu ...

I would recommend a mixed approach for Vorlin. In some cases, suitable CVC(VC) nouns can easily be found for frequently-discussed species, such as tomat (from Dutch tomaat, Russian tomát, with cognates in many other languages) for “tomato.” In other cases, a compound that is sufficiently widespread and reasonably descriptive might be emulated in Vorlin. For example, the disk of a sunflower resembles an icon of the sun, and sunflowers rotate to follow the sun during the day, so naturally many human languages refer to the sunflower with a compound of their words for “sun” and “flower.”

For the less frequently discussed types of plants and animals, a modified (Vorlinized) version of the scientific genus or species name would be appropriate. Hemerocallis (the day-lily genus) can be changed to hemerokalis, for example. In other cases, the people who work with these plant or animal species on a daily basis might choose to invent compounds of Vorlin nouns to describe them, something like “heart(shape)-leaf morning flower vine” for the plant that English-speakers call “morning glory.”

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