I am making up an imaginary word to be used as a name.

Right now I seem to have it ending in "tata", but want it to be clear it is pronounced as "tay-tah" not "tah-tah"

I admit that I do not know my accented characters very well, but I think the right answer is likely one of the below:

1) tæta 2) tāta 3) táta 4) tåta

While I recognize that this is language specific, and also that accented 'e' is likely a better choice in many languages. While trying to keep close to the "tata" spelling (with a, not e), is there a method to force the pronunciation?

If not universally, is one solution "generally better"?

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    'tåta' wouldn't produce anything like the desired sound in any language or orthography I know of. Additionally, none of those choices would end up with the desired pronunciation in any language but English or languages using an English-derived orthography, of which there are few. – LjL Sep 10 '19 at 0:33
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    The A sound in cake is a diphthong. Two characters is really the way to go. – curiousdannii Sep 10 '19 at 0:53

Linguistically, the sound in the English word "cake" is a diphthong [ej]. In most languages which use the Latin alphabet (including Latin itself), it would be written as ej or ei, more often the latter.

A very similar sound is written as [e] in the International Phonetic Alphabet. This is a monophthong as opposed to a diphthong, but in English the distinction doesn't really matter (as opposed to in, say, Hawai'ian). Most Latin-orthography-using languages write this sound as e, or as é if they need to distinguish it from other front mid vowels; é is probably as close as you can get with a single letter (and may be familiar to English-speakers from French loans like , fiancé, café, résumé).

I don't know of any language except English that would use any variant on the letter a for this sound. [ej] is a high-mid front vowel at heart, while a almost always indicates low vowels of some sort, and usually back ones at that.

1) tæta 2) tāta 3) táta 4) tåta

To linguists and speakers of Old English, æ is the vowel in "cat". ā generally indicates either a mid tone or a long vowel, while á generally indicates either a high tone or a long vowel, but neither would sound like [ej]. And å is usually somewhere between the vowels in "awe" and "phone".

If you've got your heart set on using some variant of a, you should probably go with ā. The idiosyncratic transcription system used by the American Heritage Dictionary uses ā for [ej], so some monolingual English-speakers may be familiar with it. But expect most readers, especially those who know any non-English languages, to pronounce it like the first vowel in "father".

  • This answer is so close to mine that you might as well have edited rather than duplicated it! But ah well, knowledge is knowledge and your added explanations are good. +1 – Luke Sawczak Sep 10 '19 at 6:56
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    @LukeSawczak Apologies for the duplication! I mostly wanted to go into a bit more detail on what exactly letters like å would mean to non-native speakers. – Draconis Sep 10 '19 at 14:25

As I understand it, you want a single letter (possibly with a diacritic), and it should be "most widely" understood to refer to the "cake" vowel. The bad news is, unless you narrow down your audience, there is no answer. If you are addressing linguists, kek is the way to go. If you are addressing a non-English audience and it is clear to them that this isn't English, kek will give you the best results, although there's a high change that it will be interpreted as "keck" (i.e. IPA [kɛk] since in many languages the vowel nominally transcribed as [e] is really [ɛ]. kæk would be a bad choice – it would most likely be interpreted as kack (rhymes with gack). If your audience is English speakers, kāk is probably the best bet. English speakers have no idea what å is, and at best they will interpret æ as IPA [æ].

The answer potentially changes a bit if you want phonetic [tetə], at least for an English-speaking audience, because the conventions for orthographic interpretation work differently for VC versus V syllables. "Tate" gets you the correct vowel with no puzzlement by speakers, but unfortunately the final vowel is not going to be interpreted ("silent e"). Resorting to an acute or macron might get people to select the correct vowel (so, tāta or táta) but it's likely than many English speakers will just ignore the diacritics, just as they do with Mötley Crüe, Māori, résumé.

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    "If you are addressing linguists, kek is the way to go." Really? Maybe only if cake in your dialect is a monophthong. – curiousdannii Sep 10 '19 at 0:45
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    Apparently user6726 prefers to analyze FACE/GOAT as monophthongs, which isn't uncommon as far as North American English, but can certainly throw off all the non-Americans who are used to seeing Jonesian/Gimsonian IPA in dictionaries - especially [e], which interferes with DRESS. – Nardog Sep 11 '19 at 8:17

I suggest that your best bet is Téta.

The letter e, especially with the acute accent é, makes the sound you want (when pronounced by an English speaker) in all the European languages of which the average English speaker is aware and is likely to know a few words.

It even makes that sound in some loan words used by monolingual speakers: touché, cliché, jalapeño, and so on.

It looks a little foreign, but as long as you're in accent territory anyway, that shouldn't bother you.

Using an a or some variation thereof will not consistently get you there in one letter for enough readers. Note that æ usually rhymes with "be" (dæmon, encyclopædia) or "meh" (æsthetic), and to linguists it's the vowel in "pan". But see below for my concession.

  • Though in some varieties of American English in particular, æ is sometimes pronounced like /ej/—to these people, "aether" and "ether" aren't homophones. – Draconis Sep 10 '19 at 2:05
  • @Draconis That's a fair point. If the OP is stuck in his commitment to the letter a then I would go with æ over any diacritic, which all suggest "ah"-like sounds to me when I take off my linguist hat. – Luke Sawczak Sep 10 '19 at 2:12

You could use tAta. This Uses the nOtAtion for thE english "long" vowels employed in the intrOductory section of The Sound Pattern of English, a standard handbook. Capitalized letters are used for the sounds of the letter names A E I O U. Thus, Age, mE, mI, gO, Use.

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