How to say "Ugga"
No, no, you're saying it wrong! It's further back in your mouth. Now make a trill back there. No, no, no – it's like a rolled 'r', but more of a rolled 'g'. Yes, I think you got it! Now try and put that sound back into the word “Ugga”...
Nope, that wasn't right either. Never mind, keep trying!
Most people seem to think of Tyrannian as a very simple language. Maybe it has something to do with the vast quantity of “Ugga”s on your screen whenever you visit Tyrannia. I mean, how complicated can a language be when every second word is 'ugga'? Now, I won't deny that “Ugga” seems to be a very common word in Tyrannian. But it's actually not. The same letters, U-G-G-A, are used to spell 15 different Tyrannian words. And they all mean different things, ranging from “flying” to “oven” to “hello”!
You might very well be wondering why we use the same letters to represent so many different Tyrannian words. Fair enough! There is a reason – it has its roots in an argument between Professor Agatha and Professor Hugo Fairweather. But I'll tell you that story in just a minute. For now, let me take a moment to illustrate exactly how ludicrous this spelling system is.
Take the word “ugga” for instance. Or rather, the group of words spelled U-G-G-A. This bunch of letters can be pronounced with three different stress patterns. The 'a', can be pronounced in one of two ways. The 'u' could be realised in four different ways. And there are no fewer than six different sounds that the 'gg' could make!
When you read the word 'ugga', you automatically pronounce it the same way that all English speakers do. You use the vowel sound from 'mud' at the beginning. You put a 'g' (like in 'go') between in the middle. And you put a tiny, little short vowel at the end. In Tyrannian, that particular word means 'sit' – not hello. This might help explain a strange phenomenon observed by Professor Malbourne, Brightvale University's resident anthropologist. He observed that Tyrannian locals tend to squat on the ground when being greeted by visiting neopets. But they remain standing when they greet each other. It would make an awful lot of sense if Tyrannians simply thought they were being asked to sit by their visitors!
“How then does one say 'hello' in Tyrannian?” I hear you asking.
To say 'ugga', meaning 'hello', you start with an 'oo' sound – the same sound as in the middle of the word 'book'.
This is not followed by a regular 'g'. It's a uvular trill. A uvular trill is a very guttral sound – to me it sounds more like gargling than speech. But it's in common usage in several languages. For example, neopians who speak German use it all the time, and of course, those who speak Tyrannian.
The final sound in the word is a longish 'ah' sound. If you're British, then that's the same sound you use in the word 'bath'. If you're Tyrannian, it's the same sound you use in the word 'vakk'. But there are lots of neopians who wouldn't normally use this sound in any of their words. Tyrannians, however, do. So if you want to perfect your Tyrannian pronunciation, you need to put in that bit of effort and learn how to say it properly.
There! Now you know everything you need to to say 'hello' in Tyrannian, right? No. Wrong.
In Tyrannian, it's absolutely imperative that you put the stress on the right syllable of a word. Otherwise you could accidentally change the entire meaning. It's like saying “PRESent” when you mean “preSENT”. Completely different meanings. In Tyrannian, to say 'hello' (for example), you have to put the stress on the last syllable of 'ugga'. If you put the stress on the first syllable by mistake, you'll actually be asking “Why?” instead of saying “Hello.” This will make you sound like one of those insufferable philosopher types who are always so busy contemplating the meaning of life that they become entirely socially inept and can't even say “Hello”. And no-one wants to be that guy. Basically, the moral to this story is pay attention to word stress when you're speaking Tyrannian!
Now, there are many other ways of saying 'ugga' too. Take the word for 'oven' as an example (also spelled U-G-G-A). It begins with a vowel sound nothing like the sort we use in English.
Try saying 'oo' as in 'who' and notice where your tongue is. Now hold your tongue there and say the sound again, but this time, smile as you say it – don't let your lips be rounded. That sound is a common one in Tyrannian, but nothing like what we use in English.
The 'gg' in this word is a very different one again. Try saying a regular 'g' sound, like in 'go'. You'll feel your tongue touch the back of your mouth. Now for this sound, you put your tongue near there but you don't actually let it touch. Instead, you get a sort of a buzzy sound as you blow air past the back of your tongue. And if you actually manage that, congratulations! It can be a very tricky sound for English speakers to get.
The last vowel in the word is very diminished – almost non-existent. It's like the sound at the end of the word 'the' when we say it quickly.
Now put that all together and you might end up with something that sounds like 'oozhah'.
“So why in all Neopia,” you might be asking, “didn't they spell it like that!” Certainly it would seem to make sense to break up the monotonous string of 'Ugga's with an 'Oozhah' every now and again. And this is where we turn to the story of the Professors Agatha and Fairweather.
Professor Agatha and Professor Fairweather are normally on good terms with one another. In fact, it's in Professor Agatha's best interests to keep things that way. After all, Professor Fairweather is head of the Linguistics department at Brightvale University. Which also means he has the ability to cut off the funding for her research if he wanted to. But these two venerable linguists don't always agree on everything.
Prof. Agatha is Brightvale University's resident expert in the field of Tyrannian linguistics. Undisputed. In fact, she's the leading Tyrannian linguist in all Neopia! And although Tyrannian is primarily a spoken language, Prof. Agatha discovered that they actually have two writing systems. Those of my readers who have studied Japanese would be familiar with the distinction between Hiragana and Kanji. In Kanji, each symbol represents a word meaning, with little or no reference to how the word sounds. Tyrannians also use a writing system like this. They call it 'Tivunnah'. In addition to 'Tivunnah', they have a additional writing system called 'Evuugh'. This one is much more like the Japanese Hiragana (or English alphabet). In Evuugh, each symbol corresponds to a sound and has nothing to do with its meaning.
Evuugh is an elegant solution to writing down the sounds of Tyrannian words. It has a symbol for each sound, even although the range of sounds represented are very different to the English range of sounds. So in Evuugh, there are 15 different ways of writing 'ugga', to match the 15 different ways of saying it. Sensible, isn't it? Professor Agatha has always encouraged her students to learn Evuugh as soon as possible. The writing system is easy to learn and it removes countless difficulties in puzzling over pronunciation!
Professor Fairweather, however, disagreed. His official position was that each language should have a system of romanisation. (That means a way of writing that language using just English letters). Professor Agatha was not happy with that stance! She had devoted her whole career to the study of Tyrannian and felt that she knew best. Tyrannian would never be well rendered using the English alphabet. But when your head of department tells you to do something – you do it.
So it was with a very bad grace that Professor Agatha conceded. She agreed to create a system for writing Tyrannian words with English letters. I personally think she made it a really ridiculous system on purpose. Just to show up how silly she thought it was for Professor Fairweather to want an English writing system for Tyrannian. So that's why we ended up with the letters U-G-G-A being used to spell 15 different Tyrannian words!
Of course Tyrannian does have other sounds besides 'ugga'. Think of “Tyranu Evavu”. Already you can see a 't', 'r', 'n' and 'v'. Some of these sounds are just like our English sounds. 't' and 'n', for example. But some are a bit different. Most English speakers don't roll their 'r's. But in Tyrannian, everyone rolls their 'r's. In fact, if you don't roll your 'r's, it sounds like you've got a lisp!
'v' is rather different in Tyrannian when you compare it to English. Normally when you make a 'v' sound, you bring your bottom lip to your top teeth and blow past it. But to make a Tyrannian 'v', you actually use both your lips – not your top teeth – to make the constriction. Try it. It's a very strange sound, but it's closer to a 'v' than anything else.
The vowels in the words 'Tyranu' and 'Evavu' are somewhat similar to what you might guess. 'y' is a short 'i' sound, as in 'sit'. The 'e' in 'Evavu' is a short 'e', like in 'red'. In both words, 'a' is a long sound (it's like the one we had at the end of 'ugga' meaning 'hello'). And finally 'u' is pronounced 'oo' as in 'book'.
But once again, you need to know where to put the stress. In both these words, it's on the second syllable. So we'd pronounce them something like 'tirr-AA-noo' and 'e-VAA-voo'.
Now, I could keep going on forever and ever. Phonology is really very interesting! (Well, I for one find it fascinating). But I'm afraid I don't have time right now. If you're interested in learning more, I can refer you to the subject TYRL_104, offered by the Linguistics department at Brightvale University. Professor Agatha herself lectures in it, so that's high praise indeed! Over the course of a semester, they take you through all the basics of Tyrannian phonology and touch on other areas of Tyrannian linguistics too (just at an introductory level). I believe the course is also offered externally, but you might need to get a signed waiver from Professor Fairweather for that...
Anyways, thanks for reading my little article! I hope you found it interesting. And who knows, maybe you even learned a thing or two about how to say 'ugga'!