A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2021 Jun 22, 11:29 -0700
Before I get into this reply, could I ask you to look at a recent NavList message (which has a little note for you): http://fer3.com/arc/m2.aspx/g50709. Thanks!
Back to stars. You wrote:
"The International Astronomical Union has beaten us to it."
Just bear in mind, there are no IAU official pronunciations, not even recommendations. But the IAU project, which began five years ago, to adopt lists of official star names (the first ever in "official" international astronomy) is a significant motivation here. All of the 57+1 standard navigation star names have been adopted as official in the broad context of modern astronomy, with a few minor spelling and orthography differences. This list of official names includes all the goofy modern coinages, like Acrux and Gacrux, as well as some early 20th century names which look old but are essentially fictional, like Nunki. The list also includes a majority of star names with great histories and vintages, some with Latin backgrounds, like Bellatrix and Capella, others with plausible Arabic origins, like Alpheratz and Zubenelgenubi. And there are still others with Greek origins, like Arcturus and Antares and there are some with highly distorted Arabic origins, like (famously) Betelegeuse, which was originally probably something like Yadaljauz. The etymologies are interesting, filled with folklore (often untrue), but largely irrelevant to any attempts at modern pronunciation.
"Wikipedia gives a comprehensive table of named stars, together with the origins of the names and agreed pronunciations in the English language, using the international phonetic alphabet."
I absolutely agree that we should pay attention to the influence of Wikipedia, but many of those pronunciations are little more than favored pronunciations of very small groups of Wikipedia editors, and few have any "provenance". There are many issues with the Wikipedia articles on bright stars, and I'll have more on that in a day or two.
I love the IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet, and I have been using it in my linguistic adventures for decades. I remember what a revelation it was when I studied Catalan for a while back around 1989. Catalan spelling preserves centuries-old features, and the pronunciation is radically different from the spelling. Hell, it's almost as bad as English! But by spelling it out in IPA, I could read it and learn the prounciation quickly. This was in an era when recordings of "minor" languages like Catalan were rare even in universities. The IPA is a near perfect alphabet. Here we see it spelling its own pronunciation (in a UK english tongue):ˌɪntəːˈnæʃənl fəʊˈnɛtɪk ˈælfəbɪt. Now who couldn't love that sort of geeky fun code?!
For navigators, the IPA should be considered a third-order answer. Some people will enjoy learning it. Others will despise it more than the Greek alphabet. It's the 21st century, and we can easily make recordings available. That should come first. Also, there are simpler approaches for rendering phonetic pronunciations, like we find in common dictionaries, that are close enough and also easily understood. That comes second. And finally there's IPA to distinguish small differences in pronunciation.