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I am Romanizing a business name from Hebrew, and am wondering what the most appealing or 'correct' spelling might be - 'Metallium' or 'Metalium'. The owners of the business went with the latter, but my intuition strongly felt the former seems more correct.

As far as I can tell, the -ium suffix is generally used for forming Latin nouns and English elements. But this doesn't particularly help me decide on the spelling which seems best.

Can anybody offer me heuristics to support one choice or the other?

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    Helios -> Helium, not Helluim, so why would it be Metal -> Metallium? – Armen Ծիրունյան Jan 11 '16 at 10:00
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    How do you want the word to be pronounced? – Dan Jan 11 '16 at 19:36
  • @ArmenԾիրունյան: because the word for "metal" in Latin is metallum. – sumelic Jan 12 '16 at 8:17
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One approach might be to decide how you want your word to sound. Of course, anything can be learned, but the default idiomatic pronunciation for a vowel preceding 'lium' is different to the same vowel preceding 'llium'.

Reading metalium for the first time I might say - /mɛteɪlɪəm/ (cf. alias - /ˈeɪlɪəs/)

Reading metallium for the first time I would say - /mɛtalɪəm/

I suppose, given the absence of clear 'rules' for English pronunciation, that the most you can reasonably say is that a double 'll' ought to ensure /mɛtalɪəm/. A single 'l' guarnatees only that the name will be pronounced both ways (until it is very well-known!).

The need (or not) for unambiguous pronunciation may help you decide which spelling (and pronunciation) you will choose.

  • I was wondering about this. What you say seems true, but then again my dictionary gives /noʊˈbɛlɪəm/ for "nobelium." However, it seems some people do say /noʊˈbiːlɪəm/... it's tricky. Like whether to say /hɒbiːʒən/ or /hɒbzɪən/ for "Hobbesian" (discussed in the comments of this Languagehat post) – sumelic Jan 11 '16 at 11:12
  • @sumelic - some vowels are more predictable than others (for me at any rate!). And 'a' is one of them. My main gist was to highlight that pronunciation by 'someone in the street' reading it for the first time might be important, and can, to a degree, be predicted. – Dan Jan 11 '16 at 11:19
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    What a lovable language we speak! I'd argue that both /*noʊˈbɛlɪəm*/ and /*valɪəm*/ are learned and contrary to the (ingrained - learned from very young) idiomatic impulse. – Dan Jan 11 '16 at 11:24
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    @sumelic - I say /ˈvaljənt/ (valiant) and /ˈvalju:/ (value). But I also say /ˈeɪlɪən/ (alien) and /ˈeɪlɪəs/ (alias). That is why a single 'l' is ambiguous for me. – Dan Jan 11 '16 at 23:22
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    @sumelic - it would be helpful if the OP would say how they want the word to sound, don't you think? – Dan Jan 11 '16 at 23:27
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I think there are several heuristics you can use:

Pronunciation

The pronunciation seems to me like it could go either way for Metalium, but not for Metallium, as I said in the comments beneath Dan's answer and Armen Ծիրունյան's answer .

The regular pronunciation for an English word spelled Metalium would indeed be with a "long a" /eɪ/. We would expect this due to a phenomenon called "CiV tensing": all vowel letters except for i tend to be pronounced long when followed by a single consonant, the vowel letter i, and another vowel letter. This is explained in the following chapter from Balogné Bérces Katalin's book The Pronunciation of English: 12. Letter-to-sound rules – Part 2: Vowels.

However, there are some irregularly-pronounced words in English that lack CiV tensing, such as companion, valiant, and Italian. In addition, English speakers are generally not consciously aware of "rules" like this, so they may fail to apply them to newly derived terms. For example, the word nobelium is pronounced both as /noʊˈbiːlɪəm/ "no-BEE-lium" and /noʊˈbɛlɪəm/ "no-BELL-ium."

There are not many other words that end with the exact sequence of letters -"alium", and the ones that do exist have different pronunciations. The word dentalium is pronounced /dɛnˈteɪlɪəm/ "den-TAIL-i-um" according to the OED, following the rule of CiV tensing, but the brand name Valium is pronounced /ˈvalɪəm/ "VAL-i-um." In general, brand names are less likely to follow the regular sound-spelling correspondences that exist for the majority of normal English words.

The rule that vowels receive a "short" pronunciation before a doubled consonant letter such as "ll" is quite reliable, however, even for brand names. This is why I'd agree with Dan that the spelling Metallium makes the pronunciation more predictable.

Etymology

Setting aside the issue of pronunciation, a double ll is more faithful to the etymological source of the word metal, which comes from Greek metallon (μεταλλον) through Latin metallum. Because of this, we do use a double letter in English in some related words such as metallic and metalloid, which might be why it seems right to you. (For comparison, the word vocalic rhymes with metallic but is spelled with a single l because it comes from the Latin word vocalis, and the word petaloid rhymes with metalloid but is spelled with a single l because it comes from the Latin petalum.)

On the other hand, the words metallize/metallise/metalize/metalise and metalist/metallist can apparently be spelled with a single l or a double ll. This shows that some people do treat the English word metal, with one l, as a valid stem to which Latinate suffixes can be added.

There are many other words in English that seem to double the letter l before suffixes, such as crystallize, crystalline, coralline and sibylline (although dictionaries list both sibylic and sibyllic) and intervallic. In fact, the words crystal, coral, sibyl, and interval all come from words spelled in Latin with double ll. So from a historical perspective, this is not a case of single l being doubled before a prefix, but of double ll being simplified to l at the end of some words (specifically, l tends to be used instead of ll after an unstressed vowel).

What other people have done

I can't find any "real" words composed of one of these roots plus the suffix -ium. But I guess the next best thing is to look at other business names, brands and product names. In general, I found that neither variant seems obviously preferred.

From a Google search, Metallium Inc. is the name of a company that supplies samples of various elements, specializing in rare earth metals. "Metallium" is also used as the name of a weave produced by van Heek Textiles. There were also several results reflecting use in fantasy works and music titles and lyrics. On the other hand, "Metalium" is a German power metal band, a web HTML template by OTWthemes, and apparently a substitute for lead used when joining pipes.

"Crystallium" is used in the product name "Crystallium Wars TD" (an online game) and as a place name in the comic book "Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior." On the other hand, "Crystalium" has been used as the name of a French black metal band and as the romanization of a leveling system in the Final Fantasy game series.

"Corallium" is used as part of the scientific name of a precious coral, Corallium rubrum, and other corals in this genus. But "Coralium" is used in the scientific name of a sea snail and as the name of an ore in the AbyssalCraft mod to the game MineCraft.

It looks like different people often have different intuitions about what looks best in this situation.

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There are very few words in English that end in -lium (enter *lium in pattern). The closest analogy to the non-existent metal(l)ium would be

Nobel -> Nobelium

So I'd say the l has no reason to be doubled in Metalium either.

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    I disagree. Failing to add an L changes the pronunciation of the vowel before the original L syllable, e.g. the root word "Nobel" becomes pronounced "Nobeel." – Benjamin Harman Jan 11 '16 at 10:46
  • @BenjaminHarman: Do check the pronunciation of Nobelium in a dictionary. It's not pronounced no-bee-lium, it's pronounced no-bell-ium – Armen Ծիրունյան Jan 11 '16 at 11:14
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    @ArmenԾիրունյան: both pronunciations have been used: nobelium – sumelic Jan 11 '16 at 11:24
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    @ArmenԾիրունյան one cannot find how "a word is pronounced" from the dictionary, one must listen to people pronounce it. The dictionary has the compiler's opinion, and does not guarantee that people will pronounce it that way, especially if they haven't looked up the pronunciation. – Ben Jan 11 '16 at 13:59
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    The name "Nobel" is recognisable in Nobelium which pulls the educated reader to pronouncing it No-bell. The word metal could have the same effect in metalium, but to my eyes, it doesn't. Some readers will inevitably pronounce them incorrectly. – Chris F Carroll Jan 11 '16 at 15:43
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There is a very basic 3rd grade rule of pronunciation that most people have internalized, even if they don't know it: The vowel of an "open" syllable is pronounced "long" while the vowel of a "closed" syllable is pronounced "short". Like most "rules" of English this one is honored by being frequently dishonored, but it still carries some weight.

Thus "helios" => "helium" separates into syllables "he-li-um" and produces the pronunciation "he-lee-um", with the "e" being pronounced as a long "eee" vs a short "eh", while "hellium" implies a pronunciation of "hell-ee-um", where the "e" would be the short "eh". (Of course, this being English, the "i" breaks this rule and is pronounced "short" as "eee". I'm vaguely recalling there's a secondary rule that covers this case, but 3rd grade was a long time ago.)

It's important to note that this depends on how the word is broken into syllables, so, eg, "nobelium", which is intuitively separated as "no-bel-i-um" results in the "e" being treated as "short" even with one "l".

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