I'm currently reading the wonderful novel "Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie, and there's a political force who's name is "Radch" and everything that belongs to them is said to be "Radchaai", like "Radchaai ship". I wonder what is the correct pronunciation of these words? Particularly I have trouble deciding if "ch" is more like "k" or "tsh". I think it's "tsh" but am not sure since I've never met that letter combination before.

Even though someone might say that the described world and hence the name are fictional and may not correspond to the standard pronunciation rules for English language, I would claim the opposite is true since the book is written by an English-speaking american author in English language and is originally intended for the English-speaking audience. If not explicitly stated otherwise, invented words in fictional books must always correspond to the most standard pronunciation rules (i.e. not being exceptions) for the broad readers audience to properly converge on vocalization, especially taking all the marketing implications into account. So what I would appreciate is a statement from a native English speaker on how to properly pronounce this letter combination.

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    Since the possessive or adjectival formation -aai is not an English formation, this question is not actually about English. The easiest English pronunciation of the odd word Radch is probably /rædʃ/, and hence /'rædʃaɪ/. – Andrew Leach Apr 7 '16 at 9:32
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about the English language (other than in an extremely peripheral way). – Edwin Ashworth Apr 7 '16 at 10:15
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    “Radchaai” is not in the English lexicon; it is only on-topic to ask for the accepted pronunciation of words in the English lexicon (and usually such questions would be closed for lack of research anyway). I've had a quick look on the internet; apparently, the 'accepted' (by the readers of the audiobooks) version is not even decided upon. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 7 '16 at 10:31
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    It's a mistake to assume "If not explicitly stated otherwise, invented words in fictional books must always correspond to the most standard pronounciation rule." Besides, even words that follow the rules perfectly can be ambiguous. Look at the confusion about the pronunciation of "drow." Does it rhyme with "cow" or "crow"? Neither pronunciation of "ow" is really more "regular" or "standard" than the other, as there are many common words in each category. – herisson Apr 7 '16 at 14:18
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    The question of how a native English speaker would pronounce an unfamiliar word is not off topic. Hard to answer, maybe. But there's a good question hiding in there. I've given it a shot. – MetaEd Apr 7 '16 at 21:03

The writer is out of luck. A native English speaker will stumble. The letter combination “radchaai” is not merely a non-English word. It is actually an illegal combination of letters in English.

There is no sound corresponding to “aa” in English. There are a small number of words spelled with “aa”. Unfortunately they have varying pronunciations. They are either foreign imports or words with a syllable break between the two letters. The reader confronted with “aa” will pronounce it by analogy, the results depending on what known word with “aa” in it comes to mind. Some possibilities:

  • /ɑː/ as in aardvark, bazaar
  • /eɪ/ as in Baal (English pronunciation)
  • /əʔæ/ as in tetraacetate
  • /aʕa/ as in Baal (Hebrew pronunciation)

The combination “dch” is rare in English, but there the writer has a chance. English words containing “dch” are compounds (bedchamber, grandchild, godchild, woodchuck, headcheese, windchill). The reader will tend to see a compound and place a syllable break in the unfamiliar word after the “d”.

If the analogous word that comes to the reader’s mind is foreign sounding (such as Baal), another effect, which we might call “looks foreign”, will cause other parts of the word to pronounced differently also. Some people will read “rad” as /rɑd/ (instaed of /ræd/), and some people will divide “ai” into two syllables (as would be correct in many non-English languages).

There will also be disagreement over where to put stress, the results again depending on the analogy that comes to the mind of each reader. For example:

  • 'rad-chaai
  • rad-'chaai
  • 'rad-cha-ai
  • rad-cha-'a-i

If the author cares how this word is to be read by English speakers, it would have been helpful to either provide a pronunciation guide or use a conventional English spelling.

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  • I don't understand why you say the writer is out of luck. I suspect she knew exactly what she was doing in using the "aa" combination of letters. – Peter Shor Apr 7 '16 at 20:59
  • Out of luck if the intent was to convey a particular pronunciation. I agree that the chosen spelling does convey a sense of the alien. – MetaEd Apr 7 '16 at 21:00
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    Regarding "aa," there was a similar question earlier: How to pronounce “aa” vowel pair? – herisson Apr 8 '16 at 0:35
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    Other possible pronunciations for "ch": /ʃ/ as in "chute," /k/ as in "character," /x/ as in "loch," /ç/ as in "Mädchen"... – herisson Apr 8 '16 at 0:40
  • A very thorough and explicit answer, thank you very much, also for the connections to various situations that you describe, it gives more food for further thought. Seems like that somehow I really like this topic :D probably because I can "taste", "feel" and "see" the pronounced sounds a bit synesthetically, so it is very meaningful for me. – noncom Apr 8 '16 at 0:43

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