D'ni/Alphabet and Phonology

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Letter order and formation[edit]

The D'ni alphabet is in this order, here followed by its standard Latin transcription and its pronunciation. The letters are constructed by three elements: head, base and accent. Letters 1, 2, 3 and 4, have no base, and 5, 10, 15 and 20 have no head. Note that the abovementioned letters are derived from the respective numbers. The order of the letters is constructed by the combinations of heads and bases, when put on a table. The accent is added to some of them to modify their sound.

 `  0 – ‘  v  1 - v  t  2 – t  s  3 – s  j  4 – j
 y  5 – y  k  6 – x (kh)  a  7 – a (ah)  f  8 - f  i  9 – i (ih)
 e  10 – e (eh)  r  11 – r  m  12 – m  T  13 - th  d  14 – dh
 h  15 - h  o  16 – o  c  17 – ch  w  18 - w  u  19 – u (uh)
 X  20 - c (ts)  l  21 – l  Y  22 – æ (a)  z  23 - z  n  24 - n

Accent[edit]

Some of the consonants can take an accent, which indicates a hard version of their sound.

 v  v  s  s  j  j  k  x (kh)  f  f  d  dh
 b  b  S  sh  g  g  K  k  p  p  D  d

The accent on vowels indicates a diphtongized version of that vowel. However two of them, i and u are just modified into longer forms

 a  a (ah)  i  i (ih)  e  e (eh)  o  o  u  u (uh)
 I  ä (I)  E  í (ee)  A  ë (ay)  O  ö (oy)  U  ú (oo)

Stress[edit]

There is no trace about stress rules, if any, or if every word has its own stress.

As it seems from the Riven actors, the re- prefix isn't stressed ( re-vAt), possessive adjective suffixes are stressed (tah-Om), the silent sound of the apostroph is stressed (t-UH-rekhoy D-UH-ni) and verbs are stressed to their first tense prefix (bO-dona) or to their stem, not adjective suffix (kEn-en)... generally the words seem to be stressed on their last or second to last syllable...

Punctuation[edit]

Three punctuation marks are attested:

Full-start   .   .
Apostrophe   ‘   '
Dash   -   -

The full start is like our full-stop, but unlike ours, it's used to indicate the beginning of the sentence, e.g.:

.I am hungry .I want to eat

The function of the dash is not attested, but it's supposed to indicate similarly the beginning of a paragraph.

The apostrophe is identical to the accent and it is generally used to unite prepositions with word stems. For more on this refer to chapter Prepositions. There are many words having apostrophes and we suppose they indicate contracted forms of older, longer words.. We only know that D'ni is pronounced like Dunny, we have therefore a stressed Schwa (a ‘neutral’ sound, close to a).

Transliteration[edit]

When transcribing D'ni using the Latin alphabet, two different standards are used.

Old Transliteration Standard (OTS)[edit]

The Old Transliteration Standard transcribes the sounds of D'ni using Roman characters, allowing readers unfamiliar with the D'ni writing system to read D'ni texts. It was devised by Cyan, and perhaps specifically by RAWA. This method of transliteration is used in the Myst novels and in the D'ni Language Guide included in the European Collector's Edition of Myst V.

This standard uses the system described above to transliterate D'ni text ('ah', 'kh', 'ih' etc.). The system makes use of digraphs to clarify the pronunciation of vowels and some consonants. The value assignments are based on English pronunciation. General rules of the OTS include:

  • 'h', in vowels, distinguishes English short vowels from long vowels, as in 'eh' /ɛ/ ("red") and 'ee' /i/ ("reed").
  • 'h', in consonants, creates digraphs for fricatives and affricates that cannot be represented by a single letter, as in 'ch' /tʃ/ and 'th' /θ/.
  • 'y' (or 'i') indicates a final /ɪ/ in a diphthong, as in 'oy' /oɪ/ ("boy").
    • Users vary in how they distinguish /aɪ/ ("rye") from /eɪ/ ("ray"). The latter is usually represented as 'ay', following the rules of English pronunciation, but leaving no convenient representation for the former. The long i sound of /aɪ/ may be represented with a capital 'I', although some fans have replaced this with other symbols for aesthetic reasons.
  • 'å' is sometimes used for 'a' /æ/, which could be otherwise indistinguishable from 'ah' /a/ if the 'h' is dropped (see below).

An 'h' can be removed after a vowel when the vowel would be pronounced the same with or without it. For instance, "kehnehn" can be written "kenen". The 'h' of 'ah' is also frequently dropped, even though the vowel might then be indistinguishable from /æ/. This is permissible because /æ/ occurs infrequently in D'ni words, so the pronunciation problems caused by the ambiguity are also infrequent. However, an 'h' cannot be removed when it represents the consonant 'h' /h/ (as in "hevtee") or when it is part of a digraph that represents a consonant (as in "chev" or "shokhoo").

Some fans, based on the appearance of the Rehevkor in Myst IV speculate that this standard was first developed by Ti'ana, Gehn, or Atrus], the first persons to speak both English and D'ni. Cyan may have adopted this system from their journals. If the system originated with bilingual speakers of D'ni and English, this would explain why the transliteration scheme is based on English. Others believe that the Rehevkor in the game is just artistic license and the OTS was developed by Cyan after the discovery of the journals, which also would explain the influence of English on the system.

A common objection to the OTS is that the system is based on English spelling and is therefore not transparent to speakers of languages other than English. The use of digraphs in the OTS has also been criticized, as has the variability of spellings in this system. Nevertheless, Cyan continues to use the OTS in its own work, as do many fans.

New Transliteration Standard (NTS)[edit]

The New Transliteration Standard was created by fans to avoid using too much Latin letters according to the English spelling to transcribe a single D'ni character. For example, the D'ni word 'behlehtsahrah' uses 13 Latin letters when transcribed using the OTS, although it only has 8 sounds, as well as letters in the D'ni alphabet. In the NTS, the word would be written as 'belecara', with 8 letters.

The NTS attempts to be a letter-by-letter correspodence to the original D'ni alphabet and uses the following characters for OTS representations:

  • 'a' for 'ah'
  • 'á' for 'I'
  • 'i' for 'ih'
  • 'í' for 'ee'
  • 'e' for 'eh'
  • 'é' for 'ay'
  • 'ó' for 'oy'
  • 'ú' for 'oo'
  • 'c' for 'ts'
  • 'æ' for 'a' or 'å'
  • 'þ' for 'th'
  • 'ð' for 'dh'
  • 'š' for 'sh'
  • 'ç' for 'ch'
  • 'x' for 'kh'

NTS accented/unaccented vowels follow the D'ni accent pattern: vowels that share the same base form in D'ni also share the same base letter in the NTS.

A common objection to the NTS is that it is difficult to type, because of its frequent use of special characters. It is also criticized for assigning non-intuitive values to letters, which critics say makes it difficult to determine the intended pronunciation for those not trained with D'ni phonology. However, the NTS is still in use among fans, and it is common for students of the language to learn both the old and new transliteration standards.