Category Archives: Science Fiction

Talking about Asimov’s science fiction

So, How Do You Pronounce “Noÿs,” Anyway?

Over the weekend, I listened to the audiobook of The End of Eternity, one of Asimov’s best novels (if not the best), and while doing so, I found myself eager to see if it would resolve one of the questions which has plagued me since I first read the novel as a Cub—how on Earth does one actually pronounce “Noÿs”?

I know I’m not the only one to face this dilemma, although I suppose there are people to whom it is obvious. Strangely, I never wrote Asimov to ask him when he was alive, nor can I recall a place where he addresses it in his writings. As a pre-teen first encountering the name, I was completely baffled by the two dots over the y and so half-heartedly pronounced it as if the two dots weren’t there, that is, like “noise” (/nɔɪz/, 𐑌𐐬𐐮𐑆*)

The reader of the audiobook, Paul Boehmer, consistently used the pronunciation “noy-ess” (/ˈnɔɪˌɛs/, 𐑌𐐬𐐮𐐯𐑅). Although inclined to believe the professional reader, I would nonetheless dispute his pronunciation of Mallansohn (/məˈlɑnˌsən/, 𐐣𐐲𐑊𐐪𐑌𐑅𐐲𐑌 [or maybe /məˈlɔnˌsən/, 𐐣𐐲𐑊𐐫𐑌𐑅𐐲𐑌, as I speak a dialect of English where the cot-caught merger has taken place and can’t easily distinguish the two—instead of / ˈmælənˌsən/, 𐐣𐐰𐑊𐐲𐑌𐑅𐐲𐑌, which seems to me obviously correct), among other names, so I’m not at all sure.

Looking seriously at the name, we need to figure out the two dots. Asimov spells his made-up names according to English spelling conventions, and English doesn’t make extensive use of diacritic marks. In general, in the Latin scripts, two dots aligned horizontally over a vowel is one of two diacritics, either a diaeresis or an umlaut. The latter indicates a shift in vowel sound and is not used natively by English. The former is used natively by English (albeit rarely), and indicates a vowel is explicitly pronounced when you would expect it to be part of a diphthong (as in noël and zoölogy) or to be silent (as in Brontë).

Since this is an English spelling, the dots would have to be a diaeresis and indicate that the name is pronounced with two syllables, “no-ys.” That gives us the first half easily enough, “Ys” as an English syllable is still a bit of a puzzle, but there is a legendary city named Ys whose name is pronounced “eess” (/iːs/, 𐐨𐑅) in English, and that should solve it.

“Noÿs” is pronounced with two syllables, “no-eess” (/ˈnoʊˌiːs/, 𐐤𐐬𐐨𐑅).

There is an interesting corroboration available via other languages. I do not happen to own a non-English copy of The End of Eternity, but it was made into a film in the USSR in 1987 as Конец Вечности. The Russian Wikipedia article on the film helpfully includes a cast list, making it simple to find that one Вера Сотникова played a character named Нойс Ламбент, the given name being pronounced  “no-eess” (/ˈnoʊˌiːs/, 𐐤𐐬𐐨𐑅).

So there you go.

*I am contractually obligated to include the Deseret Alphabet when discussing matters of English pronunciation.