In a campaign I'm writing, an aged sage sends my party to the Underdark to aid Deep Gnomes against a Drow takeover. The group that will be playing this has read R.A Salvatore's books and knows both terms.

As it is a knowledgeable person sending them on the quest, I feel that he wouldn't use “Deep Gnome” over “Svirfneblin”, but I've only ever read the word, I've never heard it out loud. I'd like to use it, as I think it would be more in the NPC's character, but only if it's said correctly. Can someone spell it out phonetically for me please?

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    Incorrect method "Snff... snrrrf... those evil gnomes" – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 11 '14 at 1:52
  • Say it like you sneezed-works every time. – Jim B Sep 21 '15 at 18:16
up vote 25 down vote accepted

There's a pronunciation guide on the Wikipedia Page, which references an old FAQ, for whatever that's worth. Essentially it's pronounced how its spelled, no real trick to it.

Might help to think of it as "Smurf-Neblin", only with a V instead of the M in smurf. Doesn't really roll off the tongue no matter how you pronounce it, but I'd guess that's half the point.

It should also be pointed out that this is the name that the Deep Gnomes have for themselves in their own language, not necessarily what anyone else calls them, so you shouldn't feel obligated to use it all the time. More likely it'd be used among themselves, or by people that are trying to make nice with them, such as merchants or diplomats.

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    I can't believe that FAQ omits the pronunciation of flind... which, obviously, rhymes with wind. – Hey I Can Chan Nov 11 '14 at 2:25
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    The “Smurf-Neblin” example is perfect! I never realized that I was doing exactly that, but that’s totally what it is. – KRyan Nov 11 '14 at 2:46
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    @HeyICanChan Do you mean the "wind" that means "breeze" and rhymes with "sinned" or the "wind" that means "turn" and rhymes with "signed"? (Or was your comment a joke that I just ruined by explaining it?) – David Richerby Nov 11 '14 at 17:22
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    The Wikipedia pronunciation guide says the first "i" is pronounced as in "bid", which is different from the "u" in "Smurf", which is pronounced as in "duh". So the whole "Smurf-Neblin" part is wrong: it's more like "Severe-fneblin" with the first vowel of "severe" removed. – David Richerby Nov 11 '14 at 17:26
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    @Adeptus And I just got a mental image. Naked Gimli painted blue with a white beard. Thanks. – Lucas Leblanc Sep 21 '15 at 18:39

Svirf would (assuming a German-based word*) render ir like "ear." Thus svearf´-neb-lin. (Accent on the first syllable, neb rhymes with web, and lin rhymes with win).

*Supporting Points:

  1. In the years I spent in Germany as a kid, I got used to ir sounding like ear. Kirsch, the German word for cherry, sounds like "kearsh" to the American ear.

  2. Gary Gygax' parents came from Switzerland. The word is most likely grounded in German, or Swiss-German. Gary Gygax wrote the original module (Vault of the Drow) that introduced the Svirfneblin to the game.

  3. You can also render it as "Severe-fneblin" with the first vowel of "severe" removed, per David Richerby

This isn't maybe as official as the wikipedia page, but I noticed that many "fantasy-sounding" D&D names that come with a phonetic translitteration sound pretty much like we would have pronounced them here in Italy.

Italian, and some other languages (not English) has most letters pnonounced the same way everytime you meet them. True, we have several sounds for g, c, j, s and z (and for groups of consonants like sc or gn) but vowels are almost always pronounced in a single way.

a as in are
e as in tent or in best (according to the accent, which we put above wowels: è and é; but is often implicit).
i as in income
o as in oyster
u as the w in want

There's also a low amount of slurring compared to some american or UK accents I've heard.

Pronouncing Forgotten Realms gods has only proven hard where, not knowing that the italics syllabe is where the accent falls, we had Tee-mow-rah instead of Tee-mow-rah.

And this would make for...

Sveer'fneblynn

the vee part would be like spelling the letter v (someone else said severe without the first e but that second e, I know, some would thend to pitch down, go acute instead); the other e is like the A in Alice, which I don't really know how to transliterate.

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