By Zrajm C Akfohg, –
Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel “The Dispossessed” is pretty interesting on several levels, but here I’m just gonna concentrate on the linguistic part, specifically the form of names used on Anarres (which might be considered a part of their language, Pravic).
I here use a raised question mark in front of a word to indicate that the word is a hypothetical Pravic word that does not occur in the novel. E.g. ?Gibbesh (as opposed to Gibesh).
Yeah, the vowel space is pretty boring, so let’s start with that. There are vowels in position two and four of each name, and their distribution is the same in both positions. It looks like this:
We can thus quite safely conclude that these five vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) are the only ones possible, and that each of them may occur in all vowel positions.
Now, consonants on the other hand are quite a bit more interesting. Technically, what I here refer to as “consonants” are actually “consonant clusters” but I’m just gonna go right ahead anyway. – Please don’t infer from this that have some deep insight into Pravic phonology. (Though I do suppose that at least some of them might pronounced as affricates.)
There a far more consonants than vowels, and we cannot even be reasonably sure that we know the complete set.
How are we, for example, to interpret that there are two cases of doubled consonants in the third position? (as in Terrus and Sessur.) – Does it mean that any consonant can be doubled in this position? (Would ?Terus and Terrus, and or Pirin and ?Pirrin, even be distinguishable in Pravic?)
It is said in the book that Anarres have a population of about 20 million people1 – would the number of possible names be enough to uniquely identify everybody?
Without extrapolation, using the data exactly as stated in the tables above (but without assuming there are any “forbidden combinations”, this would mean that – since the consonant gv appear in all consonant positions in the table above – a name like ?Gvigvigv would be allowed): 18 · 5 · 21 · 5 · 14 = 132.300 Clearly no.
With naïve extrapolation, i.e. just assuming that all 25 occurring consonants are allowed in all positions gives us (this seems unrealistic since there are several consonant combinations – ss, rd and rz among others – than never seem to occur in initial or final position in a name): 25 · 5 · 25 · 5 · 25 = 25 3 · 5 2 = 390.625 Clearly still no.
With somewhat realistic extrapolation, assuming that all fourteen single consonants (b, d, f, g, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, and z) can occur in all consonant positions, and that they can occur doubled2 in the middle and final positions, and that the consonants ch, gv, kv, and sh can occur in all positions (without doubling). (14 + 4) · 5 · (14 + 14 + 4) · 5 · (14 + 14 + 4) = 460.800
That still leaves sk (in the novel only occurring in first position), rd and rz (only occurring in middle position) and ks (which only occurs in last position) unaccounted for. Naïvely adding those gets us: (14 + 4 + 1) · 5 · (14 + 14 + 4 + 2) · 5 · (14 + 14 + 4 + 1) = 532.950
Clearly we’re still nowhere near the 20 million mark.
These are 46 Pravic names that occur in the novel.
|Bedap||M||127||Heavy-set, chews on his nails|
|Cheben||?||1||Someone who’s baby woke everybody in the dorm|
|Farigv||M||1||Inventor of Pravic, the Anarres language|
|Pegvur||?||2||A physicist of moderate distinction|
|Pesus||?||1||Described as a “snotball”|
|Pilun||?||22||Takver and Shevek’s first child|
|Richat||F||1||Student of Shevek’s|
|Sadik||F||65||Shevek and Takver’s child|
|Terrus||?||5||Ecologist, old friend of Takver’s|
|Tober||?||1||“Pio Atean, who took the Pravic name Tober”|
1 In a discussion between Bedap, Kvetur, Shevek and Tirin on page 44: “If we opened the Port to them, you think they’d come like friends and brothers? A thousand million of them, and twenty million of us? They’d wipe us out, or make us all what do you call it, what’s the word, slaves, to work the mines for them!”.
2 The only occurrences we actually have of consonant doublings are both in the middle positions Sessur and Terrus, though one could theorize that they might be acceptable in the final position as well.