Sona is a language created in the 1930s.
It has a vocabulary of 360 root-words and 15 grammar particles.
Some people enjoy Sona as a mental challenge or word-coining
game, while others view it as a potential ‘auxiliary language.’
Information: This website is a recreation of the now archived website, Sonagona, ran by Richard K. Harrison. Apologies if there is a lack of credibility throughout the website.
There is also information added that is of importance, which is noted by "Recreator's Note:".
Tutorials and Vocabulary
Texts, Songs, Videos
Here is the creativity corner of Sona! Here, you can find translations, songs, and videos done in, or about Sona.
"Sona language food words"
By: Richard K Harrison
"Introduction to Sona"
"Ta Ge Ko (1º): Mi Ge Tu"
Uploaded: 3/24/21 (reuploaded 6/9/21)
"mie cu aseda ceiro"
an oligosynthetic experiment
In 1935 Kenneth Searight’s book describing Sona appeared. (Sona: An Auxiliary Neutral Language, published in England by K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company as part of the Psyche Miniature book series.)
Sona is an invented language with a vocabulary of only 375 root-words and particles. By forming compounds of these ‘radicals’ a person can supposedly express any commonplace idea they would want to express. Highly specific terms, like the names of uncommon foods, diseases, plant and animal species and so forth, can be borrowed from ‘international’ words or scientific Latin.
When you want to create a Sona word that means blue, you can combine the radical that means sky with the radical that means color. The root-word for wood plus the root-word meaning to open creates a compound that reportedly means a door. And so forth.
This type of made-up language, which tries to do as much as possible with a small vocabulary, is classified as ‘oligosynthetic.’ Different people have different feelings about the practicality of these language designs.
As far as I know, he never made much of an effort to promote Sona as an auxiliary language. It is possible that he viewed it as a personal experiment and only cloaked it in an auxiliary language disguise so that he could get the book published and thus immortalize his design.
(Generally speaking, engelangs had no way to obtain publicity in pre-internet times. Authors who created languages solely to test their quirky design theories could never admit that they were doing so, even to themselves. They were horribly trapped in the auxlang closet.)
According to one researcher, Searight continued to whittle away at the inventory of morphemes in his language after the book was published. He reportedly got it down to roughly 300 items.
Sona is mainly an a priori language. Sona's creator, a polyglot and amateur linguist, drew grammatical principles from a number of sources: Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Pushtu [Pashto?] (an Afghan language), Persian, English, French, Russian, Italian, and Indo-European roots.
It is perhaps unique in languages constructed at the time in incorporating principles from Asian languages as well as European ones -- a characteristic the creator hoped would attract Eastern as well as Western speakers. It does not lean upon any African, American, or Australian languages, but does seem to have influence of Polynesian ones, at least in choice of vowel sounds.
Sona's creator was a British army officer who served in India, Iraq, and Egypt with British and native troops. His experience with soldiers' argot and pidgins in those countries seems to have influenced Sona as well, as it has a very simple pidgin-like grammar.
He also claims to have been inspired by Roget's Thesaurus, particularly Roget's suggestion that the 1000 terms in the original thesaurus could be codified to make an artificial language.
status of Sona as a language
As an auxiliary language in which people around the globe might communicate, Sona is not very successful. The book was published roughly  years ago. There has never been a magazine or even a mimeographed newsletter written in Sona. There has never been a regular series of radio broadcasts or podcasts conducted in Sona. To the best of our knowledge (as of 2013) no one has ever had a [face-to-face] conversation in Sona.
An online forum for discussing and using Sona was established on Yahoo Groups in 2004. Nearly all of the activity there is in English. Actual usage of Sona for communication in the forum [had] been exceedingly rare.
Granted, it is also possible to enjoy Sona privately without publishing anything on the internet. Everyone is free to use his/her own personalized variant of Sona as a diary language, a medium of poetry or whatever use comes to mind. (Due to its obscurity Sona would be the perfect language for keeping a diary safe from prying eyes.) There is no way for us to know how much private usage of Sona is occurring.
artlang or auxlang?
Although the language was originally conceived as an international auxiliary language (IAL), its lack of speakers and organized advocacy groups makes it a long shot at best in that competitive arena. Esperantists, Interlinguists and Glosists should feel little competition from Sona.
The language's aesthetic characteristics, sonority, and pleasant simplicity, however, make it a delight to study, learn and use. As an introduction to language creation, or simply to learning and using constructed languages, there are worse languages than Sona.
Sona as a coin-wording game
Sona can be viewed as more of a success if you think of it as a word-coining game. You can play alone, play with a few local friends, or play with the handful of people who are active on the forum.
For example, one day on the forum someone was looking for a Sona equivalent to the English word hangover. Paul Bartlett suggested hinzosuzen «after fire water sickness» and this was widely appreciated. It’s cleverly constructed using existing radicals and reasonably concise.
keep calm and carry on
A few people continue attempting to use Sona as a language in spite of the difficulties. Some Sonaji feel strongly attracted to the aesthetics of the language (even though they have never heard it spoken by anyone other than themselves in many cases). Also, there is a certain joy that comes from knowing about something that is utterly unknown to the ordinary man in the street. And for those who love troubleshooting or solving puzzles, Sona offers endless opportunities: finding ways to overcome the limited vocabulary, interpreting the challenging documentation that Searight provided, and trying to master intricacies of the language.
Sona Users' Bill of Rights
Sona is an experimental language, an attempt to determine if a certain set of 375 polysemous morphemes is a useful inventory of building blocks for a well-rounded oligosynthetic language.
Kenneth Searight continued to modify Sona after the Book was published. Likewise every person who is interested in Sona has a moral right to create a customized version that suits his/her own tastes. No one has any authority to prevent others from enjoying the creative freedom of defining their own vision of Sona.
Some fans of Sona will accept the vagueness of Sona radicals, embrace the quirky word coinages in the Book, and view some of Searight's statements as interesting puzzles. Others will feel that everything must be clearly defined, irregularities must be abolished, all verbs should have the same argument structure and so forth.
These differences are inevitable. Each of us will reach our own unique understanding of the language based on our own personality and linguistic background.
People will write tutorials and glossaries in an effort to steer the language in one direction or another. Those who feel entitled to fix everything will debate those who feel that nothing is broken. This is the free expression of opinion. It cannot be stopped.
Every user of Sona has a right to use his/her idiolect of the language publicly or privately, collaboratively or singly, while accepting or rejecting suggestions from others. It cannot be any other way.
Writing and Pronunciation
mie lasin ima xayo lan ge arovio leda.
(Our language has a pleasant sound and beautiful writing.)
Let’s examine the connection between written symbols and spoken sounds in Sona.
meet our vowels
Sona’s vowels are pronounced like the vowels of Spanish and Italian. In case you don’t know what that means, here are some English words that have roughly the right sounds.
The letter a as in father.
The letter e as in bet or they.
The letter i as in ski and machine.
The letter o as in note.
The letter u as in truth.
Therefore, you should not be surprised by any of these:
The Sona word ben sounds like the English name Ben.
Sona’s bin sounds like the English word bean.
The Sona word bon sounds like the English word bone.
Sona’s bun sounds like the English name Boone.
The Sona word ban soulds like the end of the Spanish name Estoban.
a word or two about E
The SonaUiki tutorial says, “The 'e' is pronounced like 'ay' in English, so xe sounds like 'shay'.” Dan Holodek’s tutorial says e is pronounced as in the English word let. What is a student to do?
Either of those vowels (in the International Phonetic Alphabet, either /e/ =or= /ɛ/) should be distinct enough from Sona’s other vowels to work just fine.
when U goes gliding
In the four special words ua, ue, ui, uo the letter u has the sound which we express in English with the letter W. The Sona word ua sounds like the first part of water, Sona ue like the begining of wend, Sona ui sounds like English we, and Sona uo is not unlike English woe.
In other cases where u is followed by another vowel, it keeps its normal U sound. The Sona word suruate must be pronounced su-ru-a-te rather than sur-wa-te, and tue is always pronounced tu-e instead of twe.
the two faces of Y
Next there is the versatile letter y. When y appears right before a vowel in Sona, it is pronounced just the same way it would be pronounced in English words like yacht, yet, yeast, yoke, youth. benyo is a two-syllable word, ben-yo, and ekoya is a three-syllable word, e-ko-ya. This is the most common sound of y.
Before we can describe the less common sound of y, we have to introduce the technical term schwa. I promise it won’t be hard to learn. Schwa is the name linguists use for the short, blurry vowel at the beginning of words like ago and America, and at the end of words like Bubba and banana.
When y occurs at the end of a syllable in Sona, it has the sound of schwa. The English nickname Bubba could be spelled Byby in Sona. Some of the letters of the Sona alphabet are named this way: by, cy, dy, fy and so forth. The letter y is not used this way very often.
When a occurs at the end of a word, some speakers will probably be unable to stop themselves from pronouncing it as schwa, or something halfway between schwa and a proper a. That probably won’t interfere with communication.
get acquainted with our consonants
The consonants b, p, d, t, f, v, k, l, m, n can be pronounced as in English.
English-speakers must be careful about these:
g always as in go, never as in gin ...
h as in help, never silent ...
s as in see, it never turns into the z sound heard in English rose ...
j as in jump, or like the ‘zh’ sound in azure, vision, pleasure ...
z as in zoo, although the creator of Sona suggested that a ‘ts’ or ‘dz’ sound might be acceptable too.
For the letter r, use whatever rhotic sound is easy for you: a flap of the tongue-tip as in Spanish, a trill of the uvula as in some Germanic dialects, and perhaps the approximant R of American English would also be acceptable.
The consonants that might seem strangest to an English-speaker are these: Sona’s c is always like ch in church, and x is always like the sh in ship. The playful word choo-choo would be transcribed as Cucu and the Japanese word sushi would be written in Sona as Suxi.
The letters Q and W are not members of the Sona alphabet.
Differences from English
Sona text and speech are delightfully different from English in several important ways. It is fairly common for English speakers to react negatively to these features when they first encounter Sona, as if their attitude is “How dare an invented language differ from English! Oh, the humanity!” Eventually they either learn to love Sona or they move on to some other conlang that matches their preferences.
The creator of Sona did not use any punctuation marks other than a period at the end of each sentence and a very small number of commas. However, he did not forbid the use of other punctuation. Some modern users of Sona utilize question marks, exclamation points and quotation marks in addition to commas and periods. Others prefer to carry on the tradition of minimalist punctuation.
Sona is written almost entirely in lower-case letters. Sona does not capitalize the first letter of every sentence. In this regard Sona is similar to Lojban, Toki Pona and several other constructed languages.
Sona does use a capital letter to mark words that are not compounded from Sona’s 360 radicals. If you see the word radio in a Sona sentence it can only be an adjective consisting of the elements ra+di+o, but if you see Radio it can only be the international word that refers to electronic communication.
In English we have a feature called lexical stress. The word “establish” is always stressed on the second syllable and the word “festival” must always be stressed on its first syllable. Sona does not have lexical stress. It is not necessary to pronounce one syllable of a word louder or at a different pitch than the other syllables.
You do have the option of stressing any word or syllable that you need to emphasize for communicative reasons.
Lack of a rule for stressing certain syllables does not mean Sona will sound like a robotic monotone. If Sona ever becomes a spoken language it will develop its own patterns of prosody, its own ‘tone contours’ for various types of sentences. Captain Searight said Sona might sound a bit like French or Japanese in this regard.
Some Sona words contain doubled consonants as in atta, umma, telanna. Would these words be pronounced differently from ata, uma and telana?
In online discussions a majority of commenters have agreed that the doubled consonants could be pronounced like the geminate consonants in Japanese. Pairs such as mm and nn could be pronounced for a slightly longer duration than the single consonants, and pairs like kk and tt could be spoken with a very slight pause in the middle of the consonant sound.
Sonagona Recreator's Note:
There is confusion between telenna (TE+LEN+NA) and telenna (TE+LE+NA+NA). Possibly there should be no instance of elision for radicals from the NA, NE, NI, NO, NU groups? Thus telenna and telenana respectively.
Sona Grammar Basics
This extremely brief and incomplete summary assumes that you are familiar with the general idea of Sona and the rules of pronunciation. It also assumes that you either understand terms like “morpheme” and “copula” or you are willing to look up the definitions.
The English definite and indefinite articles (the, a, an) are normally not translated into Sona. The word en sometimes serves as an emphatic article: en gelen = The Book, that very book, the only book that matters in this context.
Plural status of a noun can be indicated by the suffix -e but this is only done when necessary (not as often as English marks plural status). lenie = letters. Plural is not marked after a numeral: mi ima do can = I have two cases. If the noun ends with -a, -e, -o or -n, then -y- is inserted before -e: raye = men, peceye = boots, rugoye = wheels, kanye = buildings.
Adjectives are often formed by adding -o to some other type of word: ikio = sudden, molio = fertile. Often -y- must be inserted before -o: atayo = wide, dengayo = dental. However not every word ending with o is an adjective: pomo = apple, hairo = the sun.
Another common adjective ending is -vio “having the quality of”: igevio = sticky, juvio = happy, savio = wise.
Comparative and superlative can be formed with the prefix e-: evanyo vandi = a darker night, en evanyo vandi = the darkest night. The prefix e- is followed by -y- if the following morpheme starts with a, e, or o: eyaka ra = a taller man, en eyaka ra = the tallest man.
Adverbs are often formed by adding -(y)u to some other type of word: ireyu = repeatedly, fuyu = externally, akiu = quickly. Not every word ending with u is an adverb.
“Adverbs of rest and motion” are formed with the prefix a- and the suffix -li respectively: afu = located outside, fuli = moving outwards.
The most common forms of verbs are:
da ru = to go — infinitive
ru = go, goes — present
ruto = went — simple past
va ru = will go — future
ruha or ru = go! — imperative
-cio creates the active participle: inecio ra = a sleeping man, ulacio dure = a singing tree.
-nio or -ni passive: abuni = beloved, udeni = broken, seni = the view (that which is seen), ulani = song (that which is sung)
The suffix -i can form an adverbial clause that refers to a verb’s action or state:
perui homali mi seto inecio xen. = (While) walking homewards I saw a sleeping dog.
zii jun mi akasi ki. = Being young I get up early.
The personal pronouns are:
mi I, me, my — mie we, us, our
tu you (singular), your — tue you (plural), your
on he, him, his — onye they, their (masculine)
an she, her — anye they, their (feminine)
en it, its — enye they, their (neuter)
ti they, them, their (without reference to gender)
Sona does not use the personal pronouns as often as English. You may omit them whenever they are not absolutely necessary for communication.
There is no distinct possessive form. The possessing pronoun can be suffixed onto the noun: mi kadi or kadimi = my head.
Pronouns can be affixed to a verb, with the subject appearing as a prefix and the object appearing as a suffix: mi sa ti or misati = I know them; tu sa an or tusayan = you know her.
ci is the relative pronoun. ra ci sa ti = the man who knows them.
The copula zi “be, is, am, are, were,” is often omitted when doing so causes no confusion: on inya = he (is) here, in kan ta this building (is) large. The phrase ti bara could be interpreted either as “their soldiers” or “they are soldiers,” but this ambiguity could be avoided by rephrasing it as either barati or ti zi bara.
zi can be suffixed onto another word as in atozi “to be old,” un ra atozi “that man is old.”
Sentences about the existence, presence or location of something are constructed in this manner:
mi zia homa. = I am at home.
asesi! zia ipe. = Look out! There’s a snake!
na zia bivelen. = There is no toilet paper.
zikeya ipa lia on? = Is there enough room for him?
tu fa to semi ken na zia huvan. = You might have seen me if there had not been a fog.
The interrogative particle ke forms words like keji = who?, ke/kena = what?, keri = when?, keta = how much?
There is no change of word order in a question: tu ima su = you have water, tu imake su? = do you have water?
Note that ke is often suffixed onto the verb: tu sake laba Sona? = do you know how to speak Sona? Also, ke is used as an infix in a few words like zikeya [= is there..? and nekeli [= whither?].
gender, agent, human
Gender of a creature can be marked by the prefix ra- male or zan- female: zanyibo = cow, raibo = bull, zanpi = hen, rapi = cock.
-ra and -zan used as suffixes can sometimes be interpreted as “an X which is male” or “an X which is female”: kora = boy (child which is male), kozan = girl (child which is female). Some of these words have a vaguely agentive sense: kisara = a learner (student) who is male.
-ci at the end of a compound sometimes means agent, do-er, “one who does the stated activity.” kaci = leader, peruci = pedestrian (one who walks), kisaci = student (either male or female).
-ji (human being) at the end of a compound means “person (of unstated gender) who has the quality or is associated with the activity.” soji = friend, boji = blood relative, ubiji = servant.
common noun suffixes
At the end of compound words, the following morphemes often have the meanings given here and usually indicate that the words are nouns:
-na inorganic thing:
pana bread, suna liquid, lana word.
-ga organic thing:
kinga root, tega arm, denga tooth.
-ne abstract state/thing:
mane position, tane size, sane knowledge.
-bi tool, utensil:
cobi knife, jabi brush, tebi handle.
-da action: ruda motion, meda thought, ageda meeting.
-kan building: alakan hotel, jokan church, abakan prison.
-cia business: bocia butchershop, panacia bakery.
-ma locality: sama school, unama island, akama mountain.
Names of countries end in -ia: Italia, Fransia.
Male inhabitants are indicated by -i, female by -a: Fransi = Frenchman, Itala = Italian woman.
1 enna/en, 2 do, 3 tin, 4 ca, 5 pen, 6 xi, 7 zun, 8 atu, 9 nun, 10 dici, 11 ennadici or endici, 12 dodici.
Ordinal adjectives are formed with the suffix -(y)o: enyo = first, doyo = second, tinyo = third.
Number of iterations is expressed by the prefix e-: eyen = once, edo = twice, etin = three times.
Recreator's Note: [Notice a pattern? Odd numbers, from 1-99 end with the nasal, and even numbers end with a vowel!]
some radicals have fluctuating meanings
Some morphemes have different meanings depending on their position within a word. For example na means “not” or “non-” when it occurs at the beginning of a compound, but at the end of a compound it is merely a vague indicator of a noun that signifies some “inorganic” thing.
brevity and arbritariness
When Searight made compound words he tended to make them short, usually aiming for brevity rather than a complete prevention of ambiguity. Thus his word for automobile, rather than “self propelled land vehicle,” is merely siruno sometimes shortened to sino. In the realms of business and government he did coin a few long compounds such as hakaidaleci = Secretary of State and jidiubizamelen = ‘record of personal services.’
Some of Searight’s compounds are rather arbitrary and simply have to be memorized: gufu “mouth out” = cough, melan “mind sound” = music, kauri “chief season” = summer. These are not any harder to learn than completely idiomatic English compounds such as moonshine, deadline, silverfish, brainwash and so forth
y is inserted to prevent ambiguity and to make words easier to pronounce.
This insertion happens under the following circumstances.
to separate -n from any subsequent vowel.
dan-a → danya
en-e → enye
in-ibi → inyibi
tan-o → tanyo
en-u → enyu
to separate two "hard" vowels (a,e,o)
a+e : ra-e → raye
a+o : ta-o → tayo
e+a : re-a → reya
e+o : ze-o → zeyo
o+a : e-ko-a → ekoya
o+e : xo-en-mi → xoyenmi
to separate two identical vowels.
na-a → naya
ke-e → keye
do-o → doyo
fu-u → fuyu
exception: ii occurs occasionally in Searight’s texts (e.g. hasanii and liin) and he never uses -iyi-, so we assume the insertion of y is not permitted between a pair of i’s. Prohibiting -iyi- is reasonable because many people around the world have trouble pronouncing yi-, for example many Japanese students of English never acquire the ability to say ‘yeast’ and ‘year’ correctly.
ye is inserted when a “vowel radical” such as a-, -i, -u is prefixed to a CV radical. (C=consonant, V=vowel.)
a-ta → ayeta
u-na → uyena
i-na → iena
For uyena, we use ye instead of e, because it would confuse the combination (UE+NA) and (U+NA).
exception: not necessary if the CV radical begins with c, j, f, v, h, x
a-ci → aci
a-jo → ajo
Radicals can be arranged in groups consisting of one “primary” and four “secondary” radicals.
For example, the TA group consists of the primary radical ta and its secondary radicals tan, ata, ita, uta.
When a secondary radical is followed by its own primary radical, the common vowel is dropped.
ata-ta → atta
ita-ta → itta
uta-ta → utta
When a VCV radical is followed by its related CVN radical, the common vowel is dropped.
ata-tan → attan
ita-tan → ittan
uta-tan → uttan
ci as an isolator
When the suffix -a (indicating a place) is followed by a radical that begins with a consonant, the syllable -ci- should be inserted to prevent creating a compound that might be analyzed several different ways. This situation does not occur very often.
pia-piga → piacipiga
pi-api-ga → piapiga
Recreator's Note: But, if you already have ye, why would you need ci? "piayepiga" would work just as well. Plus, it can stir up confusion.
Reduplication refers to using a single radical twice back-to-back as in koko or using a sequence of two or more radicals repeatedly as in azuiniazuini. Searight did not create any compounds of this nature but did not prohibit their creation. This presents an opportunity for experimentation.
Reduplication might be useful in onomatopoeia (the imitation of sounds): Dabondabon could represent the sound of a heartbeat and Cici might be the “tweet-tweet” of a bird. Reduplication could also be used to express repeating patterns of activity, for example takotakoda might represent the rising and falling of the stock market or some other type of recurring fluctuation. Many languages use reduplication productively.
The Dangers of the Table of Radicals
There are some pitfalls and boobytraps involved with relying on Chapter VIII of Searight’s book, the Table of Radicals.
In my years of watching the online forum I have seen several promising students give up and disappear after trying to memorize this collection of similar-sounding radicals (iba, ibi, ibu, ipa, ipi, ipu etc.) all at once. This is a nearly impossible task which offers no potential rewards. This is not the way to learn a language.
I have seen others get tricked into thinking that a Sona radical can be defined by three or four English words. This is a false assumption that prevents a student from appreciating how different Sona really is with regard to mapping concepts onto words.
Let’s look at this steaming pile of radicals more closely. Here is a sample of it:
|DE||p. through; hole; pierce||TE||n. hand; project; take|
|den||n. tooth; bitel plough; dig||ten||v. hold; contain|
|ade||n. hollow; cave; cup; scoop||ate||n. tube; cylinder|
|ide||n. notch; dent; crack||ite||n. flap; leaf; blade; tongue|
|ude||v. break; rend; burst||ute||n. pocket; sheath|
the Table is easily misinterpreted
If you assume that you can use a radical as a free-standing word based on the definitions in the Table, you might be led astray. For example, let’s take the concept of ‘plough’ (plow). The Table might trick you into thinking you can use den as a translation of ‘plough.’ But Searight recommended agaden as the equivalent of ‘plough.’
(Granted you could probably use den as an abbreviation after you had first used agaden, as in “I bought a new agaden because my old den could not den my largest cornfield quickly enough.”)
In many, many cases like that, the information in the Table is just a bunch of hints guiding you towards assembling compound words. We might misinterpret these hints as meaning that the radical alone would convey the idea that we have in mind. Sometimes it would, sometimes it wouldn’t.
Another problem is that a typical English word contains several different meanings. Let’s say a naïve student wants to write about “starting a new project.” He looks at the Table and sees that te is supposedly a noun defined as ‘project,’ among other things. He uses te as his word for ‘project.’ Not good!
Someone wanting to write about projecting a movie onto a wall might look at the Table and assume they can use te as a basis for their Sona word meaning ‘the projector.’ But it’s clear that Searight means ‘project’ in the sense of an object protruding, sticking out from the surrounding terrain. Using te in a Sona compound for ‘movie projector’ would be a feeble choice. It would not be an optimal Sona expression.
Another example: the Table says ite means ‘tongue,’ among other things. But that refers to the “tongue” of a shoe rather than the tongue in your mouth. Searight used ite in his word for ‘ear,’ itega. His translation for ‘tongue’ (in the mouth) is laga.
three or four words cannot teach you a radical
You can’t learn how to properly use a radical from the information in the Table. You need to see examples of sentences and compound words in which they have been used, preferably including some examples created by Searight himself.
According to the Table, te is a noun corresponding to English “hand; project; take.” But the reality of te is much more complicated, as Searight reveals elsewhere in the Book:
Just as the C. yu ‘hand’ is used in many compounds, often losing its primary meaning, so our te, J. te ‘hand’, may be used to express ideas of grasping, anything to be grasped, which protrudes and therefore can be grasped. The meaning is never obscure. We may have tebi (handle), bute (nose), tega (arm), sute (stalactite), bate (stick), and so on, the idea of te being consistent throughout.
Another example of a radical’s cloud of meanings is van. The Table gives these hints of its meanings: hide; mask; shade; night. In some of Searight’s compounds you catch a glimpse of a subtly broader meaning: zovan, defined as ‘smoke,’ must have been coined by thinking along the lines of “the stuff associated with fire that might prevent you from seeing other things,” or “the dark stuff that comes from fire.” Likewise huvan meaning ‘fog’ was probably created by thinking “the weather stuff that might prevent you from seeing things.”
When we look at the compound words that Searight created we can kind of get inside his head and learn to emulate his thought processes. I don’t believe you can obtain such good results from gazing at the Table of Radicals.
hard (and maybe not helpful) to memorize
Sona’s two-syllable radicals are monotonously similar to each other. iba, ida, iga, ika, ila, ima, ina, ipa and so forth. It’s difficult to store these in the brain properly if you try to learn them all at once. And some of them are seldom used, so memorizing them (especially in the early stages of studying Sona) could be viewed as an exercise in futility.
I believe most students will have more fun and have more success if they memorize useful or interesting words and phrases rather than isolated radicals.
Knowing that juri is a greeting equivalent to “good day” and xejuve (cat joy plant) is a proposed word for “catnip” will, for most people, give the brain a better and longer lasting appreciation of the radical ju than they would get from its entry in the Table of Radicals.
Studying and memorizing a phrase like mi ime inri tu sen esanyo (I hope you feel healthier now) will teach you quite a bit about Sona syntax, vocabulary and grammar. You wouldn’t get any of that from expending the same amount of effort to memorize a few items from the Table of Radicals.
The SonaUiki Radical Reference is a good source of information about Sona’s radicals. It is available here [on this website]. Another resource is the HTML version of Searight’s book; simply combine all the chapters into one big file and then search it for examples of whatever radical you are studying. Additional resources are under construction here at Sonagona headquarters and at other Sonaphile websites.
Loanwords and Names
Summary: When we write the names of people, countries, foods and other foreign words in Sona, we are faced with a choice. We can either keep the original spelling or re-spell these words into the Sona alphabet and Sona sound-system. Searight favored the former approach. Other users of Sona have a variety of opinions.
Also, some other details of his original intentions are unclear. This article lists and quibbles with Searight’s guidelines.
The spelling of loanwords and the names of people and countries can become topics of heated debate in constructed languages. Almost everyone has strong likes and dislikes. Here are Captain Searight’s rules followed by my own comments.
“In cases where the Sona alphabet cannot render a foreign sound the phonetic symbol is used.”
Very few people have published any Sona text so we don’t really know if the above rule would be obeyed. Some observers have speculated that the use of phonetic symbols within Sona text would be unbearably ugly.
“FOREIGN WORDS are written with a capital. The name of this language Sona is the only Sona word spelt with a capital.”
Another way of saying this is: Non-oligosynthetic words are capitalized. Other words are not.
It could be argued that this system is only helpful in the written language and offers no assistance in spoken Sona. One could counter-argue that anyone clever enough to learn to speak Sona could use context clues, foreign phonemes and the pattern of consonants and vowels to identify non-Sona words in a sentence. For example, if we were discussing pop culture it is unlikely that anyone would mistake ‘Manga’ for ‘manga’ or assume that ‘Hiphop’ is a native Sona word.
“For technical and scientific terms— Greek and Latin, as already in universal use; chemical terms according to formula (Cu = copper); Sona has names for the more common animals, plants, minerals, etc. but finer distinctions must be left to Latin.”
Latin? Can I assume this means botanical and zoological Latin names for species?
“Foreign words should be spelt according to the language of origin; (§15) e.g. Post, Menu, Hotel, Radio, Fox-trot.”
What if the language of origin does not use the Latin alphabet? I assume Searight would recommend using the most common system of romanizing those words. But that is merely an assumption. Searight’s example of Moskva as opposed to Москва seems to support this assumption.
“Except in the case of mathematical and chemical formulae the (k) sound is better written k:— Carnival = Karnival; but surnames should not be altered:— Shelley (not Xellei), Wilson (not Vilson), Charlemagne (not Xarlmany). ”
So, when c represents /k/ we should re-spell as k. What about when c represents /s/?
Surnames should not be altered, but what about given names a.k.a. first names— is altering them required, permitted or forbidden?
By the way, why did Searight think Wilson would be respelled as Vilson? Obviously it would be respelled using the Sona particle ui at the beginning, and a y representing schwa in the second syllable: Uilsyn.
Considering that w is not a member of the Sona alphabet, does it really make sense to use it in loanwords and names?— and the same question goes for q, umlauted vowels, and a host of other letters sometimes seen in names.
If we do not respell loanwords and foreign names into their nearest equivalents in the Sona alphabet, we are required to know— for example— that w represents /v/ in German, /w/ in English and in Welsh it sometimes represents /ʊ/ or /uː/. Rounding off foreign words to their nearest Sona letters and sounds, as certain (more successful) conlangs do, would make it easier for users of the language to know how to pronounce every word they see in print.
On the other hand, sounds that simply do not exist in Sona give us a problem which seems to have no elegant solution. The th in Beth /θ/, the ‘guttural’ consonant at the end of Bach, the non-Sona vowels in Swedish Björn, German Müller, English Black /æ/, and so forth. Not to mention the tones and exotic phonemes in Chinese and some African languages.
On the other other hand, pondering or debating the best way to round off each foreign word into Sona spelling could possibly consume a great deal of time and energy without producing much benefit. Searight’s method of simply leaving the written words alone and accepting them as they are, might be viewed as a brilliant way to avoid spending a lot of time on such decisions.
This tutorial is an introduction to understanding and using the Sona language. At the end of this tutorial, you should be able to understand simple Sona texts and be able to communicate at a basic level in Sona.
how it works
Sona is a very different kind of language, and this is a very different kind of tutorial. We ask that you be patient as you go through the tutorial, and really try to understand each section in as much detail as you can before moving on to the next or subsequent sections.
The technique used for creating this tutorial is based on the suggestions of the creator of Sona. Your feedback is welcome.
Recreator's Note: Look to Section 7 of the Sona Book to get a possible understanding on why this system is being used.
1. Little Bits of Meaning
Sona is a language that's probably quite different from any that you already know. The best way to learn Sona, we think, is one little sip at a time. Let's start with a first taste:
su | water, liquid, flow
In Sona, su means water. You pronounce it kind of like the name Sue. Some people think when you say it, it kind of sounds like water rushing over rocks in a stream, or like a wave hitting a beach. (These ideas may help you to remember su; if not, don't worry about them.)
su is what we call in Sona a radical or ideogram. Radicals are little bits of meaning; one- or two-syllable pieces that we use to speak and write in Sona. There are 375 root-words in the language, and by the time you finish this tutorial, you'll have seen every one at least once.
The format we use above for introducing su will be used throughout the rest of this tutorial: a table including the Sona word and its English meaning(s).
meaning and metaphor
In using Sona, sometimes we resort to using metaphors to express ideas. We do this in English, too, of course. We call the legs of a table "legs", even though they aren't really legs -- just sticks of wood. But they're kinda like legs, and people rarely get confused about it.
su means water in Sona, but it means a lot more. It also means any kind of liquid. You can think of different kinds of liquids as water-ish things. We normally deal with water more than any other kind of liquid, so using water as a metaphor for liquid is pretty fair.
Because there are only 375 radicals in Sona, we use metaphor quite a bit. Often, Sona radicals will have a really concrete primary meaning, and some well-accepted metaphorical secondary meanings. We'll try to point these out as we go.
putting bits together
If you were stranded in the desert, and a Sona speaker came by, you now know enough words to get some su and save your life. But let's try learning how radicals can be put together. To do this, of course, we need to know another radical, which we'll see here:
ru | go, move, mobile
ru has to do with motion, moving, going somewhere. It sounds like the last syllable in "kangaroo". It also kind of sounds like the English word "route" -- a path for going somewhere. If you know any French, you might note a similarity to the word "rue", meaning "street".
Now, what happens when we take the two radicals we know, and put them together?
Here, we've got water added to the front of motion. Water-motion. What is water motion? Flow. Whether it's currents in the ocean or dishwater going down a sink, the way that water moves is by flowing.
By taking these two radicals -- two bits of meaning -- and putting them together, we've made another meaningful thing: the Sona word for flow. That's how Sona works: we put together radicals in agreed-upon ways to make more complex ideas and thoughts.
Now, let's try and reverse them:
Now we've got motion or moving in front of water. Moving-water. Moving water has got to be a stream or a river, right? Water in motion.
The rule we've used to make these two words is really simple: suru is a kind of ru (motion) that has to do with su (water). But rusu is a kind of su (water) that has to do with ru (motion). In Sona, the has-to-do-with radical goes first, and the kind-of-thing radical goes last.
We do this in English, too, which may be why it feels pretty natural. We know that a "dishcloth" is a kind of cloth you use for doing dishes, and a "houseboat" is a kind of boat that you can use as a house to live in. If we switch it around, we know that a "boathouse" is a kind of house that you keep boats in. So Sona's not so weird for English speakers in this respect.
2. Making Sentences
Now, it's all well and good to understand how to put bits of meaning together to make words. After all, now when that Sona speaker you meet in the desert points off to the horizon and says, rusu, you know that there's a river over there somewhere where you can get life-saving su.
But it's usually nice to put words together to make more complicated ideas, too. In order to do this, let's learn another few radicals.
xe | cat, feline, sly
xe means cat, or things that have to do with cats. The "x" in Sona is pronounced like "sh" in English, not like "ks" or "z". All letters in Sona have just one pronunciation. Any time you see "x", you can always pronounce it "sh". The "e" is pronounced like "ay" in English, so xe sounds like "shay". It's got kind of a slinky sound to it, kind of like a cat when it's moving.
xe is another good example of using metaphors in Sona. We also use it to mean "sly" or "crafty", like a cat is.
jan | rat, rodent, gnaw
jan is rat. It sounds like the English name "John", but the "a" part is kind of more open, like "ah".
Remember su, and how it also means liquid in general as well as water in particular? jan also means any kind of rodent, in the same way. And it also means gnaw or chew, like rats do to wood and walls and just about anything else.
den | tooth, bite, plow
den is tooth. You can kind of recognize the English word "dentist" or "dental", although it's pronounced more like the word "Dane" in "Great Dane". Because you use your teeth to bite things, den also means bite.
Another metaphor, here: a plow is a tooth that bites into the ground. So den also has to do with plows.
Now, we can take these three new radicals and try putting them together with each other and with ru and su to make words:
Rat-cat. A cat that chases rats; a mouser.
A water rodent, like a muskrat or an otter.
A cat's tooth.
But we can also put them together to make sentences, and describe actions and events. Let's try this on for size:
xe den jan.
What does this mean? Literally, Cat tooth rat or Cat bite rat. "A cat bites a rat", or "The cat bites the rat".
In Sona, we don't often use words like "a" or "the" when talking about "a cat" or "the cat". It's possible to, in order to say "this cat in particular" or "some cat, but not any specific cat", but it's usually just not necessary. (We'll get into how to say "a" or "the" in a later chapter).
Let's try switching the words around a bit:
jan den xe.
Here, we've got the rat coming first, instead of the cat. Rat bite cat. A rat bites a cat. Turnaround is fairplay!
In Sona, the word that comes before the action is the one that does the action, and the word that comes after the action is the one that receives the action. (In grammatical terms, these are the "subject" and "direct object", respectively). This is pretty much how we do it in English, too, so this shouldn't be too hard to get.
We can have things that do stuff, but not to other things, too. Try this:
Cat go. The cat goes, the cat is going, the cat leaves. (Apparently, the rat was a little more than he bargained for...). Here's another one:
Moving-water water-moves. River flow. The river flows, is flowing.
One thing that may be confusing is the difference between this:
The first one means cat-motion, to move like a cat, to prowl silently. The second one means the cat goes. But if you hear "shay roo" out loud, how are you supposed to know the difference? The answer is context: understanding what's been said before, who said it, and who they're talking to.
So if you're sitting on your sofa at home, and you ask your friend where the cat is, and they say xe ru, you know the cat is gone. But if you're in a military encampment and you ask a captured spy how they managed to get past your sentries, and they say, xeru, you know they have particularly skillful sneaking abilities.
This may at first seem really hard to understand, but with practice it becomes very easy. We use these abbreviated contextual techniques in English all the time: when someone says to you "Later", "That one", "Not for me", "OK", "Shirley did", "Up there", etc., you can figure out what they're talking about quite easily. The difference in Sona is that it's OK to use this kind of abbreviated, contextual language in written work, too.
3. Describing Things
We've already seen a few examples of how to describe things. We added the word ru move to the front of su water to make rusu moving water, stream. We should probably spend some time going into how to describe things more deeply. To make this more fun, we should probably learn a few more radicals. So, let's do that.
zan | woman, female
zan means a woman, but it also means female or feminine. It sounds like "zawn" or "zahn". A woman can be called zan, but we can also use it to talk about other types of females or feminine things:
A female cat.
ra | man, male
ra (sounds like "raw" or "rah") is the complement of zan , and works pretty much the same way. You can use ra to talk about a man, or you can use it to mean male or masculine.
ta | great, augment, very
ta means "big", "great", "a lot". It also has a few other important uses in Sona that we will talk about later. It sounds a little like English "tall", without the "l" sound, but that's kind of stretching it.
When it comes at the end of a word, ta means something really big. Like, extraordinarily big. The bigness is the most important part of the word.
taxe A big cat; a tiger.
tara A big man.
rata Something big defined by its maleness; a giant (male).
Note the difference from tara. The first is a man who just happens to be big; the second is someone really big, so big that that's the first thing you think about them.
ruta A really big motion; that is, travel, or a journey.
ko | small, few, less, child
ko is more or less the opposite of ta. It means "small", but by extension also means "diminished", "a little bit", "slightly". Finally, because children are (usually) smaller than adults, ko also means "child".
Like ta, when ko is at the end of a word, it specifies something so small it's defined by its smallness.
xeko A cat-child; that is, a kitten.
kora A child-male; a boy.
kozan A child-female; a girl.
suko An extremely small, watery thing; a bit of water; a drop.
this is that
Often we want to make sentences that say, "such-and-such is this way". For example, a boy is big, the kitten is small, the girl is sly. To say something is something else, we use the radical zi.
zi | real, fact, positive, be
zi sounds like "zee" in English; how Americans pronounce the letter "z". It's roughly equivalent to the verb "to be" in English, although it's not used as much as in English.
By extension, it also describes things that are real, existent, factual -- things that are.
To say that a boy is big, we use zi as a verb.
kora zi ta. The boy is big.
rusu zi ko. The river is small.
xeko zi zan. The kitten is female.
Unlike the verb "to be" in English, zi is very very optional in Sona, and it's preferred to leave it out when you can. For example,
zan ta. The woman (is) big.
We normally use zi only to make a sentence more clear. For example, when you hear
...it could mean either "the child is male" or "a boy". To make the sentence very specific, we use zi.
ko zi ra.