Disclaimer: The following information about the Elvish Languages is for informational and educational purposes only. See Disclaimer.
This post will be updated periodically, with more information on the Elvish Languages.
I didn’t know he had developed languages until a while after reading Tolkien. Sure, it was early on, but I was so focused on grasping what I’ve “missed” (as it was, indeed, pretty well known – I just haven’t gotten around to it), and living in a world that was not my own haha. But I enjoyed what I was seeing so far.
However, even more recently, I heard that he had developed a lot of languages, which were to be used in his works such as Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, etc – all works in his Middle Earth Legendarium. Before I knew, I just saw them as “cool and weird terms” – they certainly had a cool aesthetic. It became fun and interesting to me to document what I found and discovered about the languages, and I look forward to sharing them with you via this site!
At the end of the Lord of the Rings, you may see some of these letters in the Quenya Alphabet in Appendix E. While it is mainly featuring the alphabet in Quenya, it does include some form of Sindarin. They were fully developed, and mostly of Eldarin Origin. Some of his languages, like Quenya and Sindarin, are almost, if not fully developed, others, like the Rohan ones, may feature a sentence or two at best.
We will be discussing:
Tengwar is the alphabet, and for the main letters, we will be discussing the letters written in (mostly) English letters. While there have been many variations (including in the link), this post will mainly focus on the Quenya Alphabet and guidelines as written in Lord of the Rings, App. E.
Then it will describe the Tengwar alphabet in Fëanorian letters (but Tolkien did not describe it as such, but rather a “haphazard series of letters,” as they had a distinct voice and value of its own. They were also recited in a way that didn’t have anything to do with how the letters were written.
Quenya Alphabet: Consonants
The letter C has the value (sounding) of k.
This letter is only represented in the sound heard in “Bach” (not “church“). It has been weakened to h at the end of the words and before t.
eg. Rohan, Rohirrim.
soft th in English: as in, “these clothes.” This is usually related to d, as in Sindarin. Furthermore, galadh (‘tree’) is comparative with alda (tree in Quenya).
It is also sometimes derived from n and r, as in, caradhras (‘Redham’) from caran-rass.
represents f (except at the end of words where it represents ‘v’ sound) – eg. Nindalf, Fladrif.
only sound of ‘g’ – as in ‘give,’ ‘get,’ in English. eg. Gildor, Gilraen, and Osgiliath.
stands alone with no other consonant – as in ‘house,’ ‘behold.’ The Quenya combination ht produces a sound ‘cht’ as in German, ‘echt,’ ‘acht’. eg. Telumehtar (‘Orion’)
nitially before another vowel, and has consonantal sound of ‘y’ in you, yore in Sindarin only. – eg. Ioreth, Iarwain.
languages other than Elvish. Additionally, kh is also used, which is same as ch in Orkish – eg. Grishmac, or Adûnakhôr.
English l (as in let) – and to some degree, between e, i, and a consonant, or just e and i.
LH: voiceless, usually derived from unusual sl-. In Quenya, a written hl (pronounced l in third age).
ng as in ‘finger,’ sometimes as in ‘sing‘ – the latter especially in Quenya. This was transcribed n (as in Noldo) in the Third Age.
Now this one was the simplest to learn in the Quenya Alphabet, as it just has the same sound as f. But it also has to be used very particularly under these circumstances:
- Where f sound is at the end of the word, eg. Alph (‘swan’)
- When related to or derived from ‘p’, eg. i-Pheriannath, perian (‘the halflings’)
- in the middle of few words – with a long ff (from pp) – eg. Ephel (‘outer fence’)
- In Adûnatic and Westron, eg. Ar-Pharazôn (pharaz ‘gold’)
used for cw – very frequent in Quenya (but not in Sindarin).
trilled r – the sound is not lost before consonants (as in ‘part’). Orcs and Dwarves use a uvular r, which was distasteful to the Elder.
RH: voiceless r, (hr in Quenya)
always voiceless, (eg. ‘so,’ ‘geese’).
The z- sound didn’t occur in contemporary Quenya or Sindarin.
SH: in Westron, Dwarvish, and Orkish, this is similar to the English ‘sh’
represents voiceless th in English, (eg. thin cloth).
Becomes s in Quenya, eg. Isil (Quenya) Ithil (Sindarin) – moon.
represents a sound similar to t in ‘tune.’ this is derived mainly from c, or t+y. However, ch (English) was
sound of English v, which was eventually not used in the Quenya Alphabet.
sounds like English w.
HW: voiceless w, as in English ‘white’ in North. This is not uncommon in Quenya and was inspired by Latin. v + w were used in the transcription.
And last but not least in the Quenya Alphabet consonants is y – as in ‘you.’ This was considered a vowel in Sindarin.
HY: is to y as HW is to w – as in they were voiceless, though HY represents a ‘hew’ sound (eg. ‘hew,’ ‘huge’. It is derived from sy, and khy, as Sindarin showed initial h: hyarmen (Q), Harad (S) (‘South’).
In Westron: sh in English, which was often substituted by the speakers of Westron language.
Quenya Alphabet: Vowels
I, e, a, o, u, and y (Sindarin only). Long vowels usually have an acute accent as varieties of Fëanorian script in the Quenya Alphabet.
Sindarin: long vowels in stressed monosyllables with circumflex (^). eg. dûn, vs Dúnadan. There was no special significance in the circumflex in other languages such as Adûnaic or Dwarvish, which were mainly used to mark out alien tongues.
Final e was used often but not consistently with ë as it was never mute.
Groups finally or before a consonant, such as er, ir, or ur: they were intended to be pronounced as air, eer, or oor. (Instead of fair, fern, fur)
Dipthongs – words that were pronounced with one syllable, and are mentioned in mainly Quenya and Sindarin (which is the focus of this post). Falling diphthongs are stressed on the first element and composed of simple vowels.
Disyllabic – two syllables – eg. in Quenya, pairs of vowels are as such, such as: ëa (Eä), ëo, or öe.
- In Quenya: ui, oi, ai, iu, eu, and au (yu was increasingly more common in the Third Age.)
- In Sindarin, ae, ai, ei, oe, ui, and au – au vs. aw is in accordance with the English custom and not uncommon in Fëanorian spellings.
In the Eldarin origin, the stresses were determined by the form of the word. Also, in almost all cases, the stress was on the first syllable on stressed vowels, such as:
- pelargir, and
However, the stress occurs on the last syllable but one (the second to last syllable) when:
- the word has more than two syllables
- the word is a diphthong (one syllable)
- the word ends with a vowel followed by 2 or more consonants.
The stress occurs on the third to last syllable, when the second to last syllable has a short vowel followed by one or no consonants.
The letters are as described below and in Appendix E. (Directions on how to form the letters will be coming soon!)
This chart describes all the Tengwar letters, as described and written exactly in Lord of the Rings App. E.
Unlike the Quenya alphabet, they were not described by Tolkien as an alphabet, since they each had its own value that weren’t related to each other.
The Quenya alphabet was derived from languages such as English and German, and were weaved into different letters. But Tengwar is an entirely different script – and we will provide some more in-depth directions on formation of the letters coming soon!
Below, you’ll see that there’s a “rule” for each few rows, 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16, 17-20, 21-24.
Tolkien describes it as such, in terms of 1-4 (and I think 5-8 as well – they seem to have similar formats), and 9-16 and 17-24, and they are dependent on the telco (stem) and the lúva (bow).
Primary letters are the ones marked 1-24. They involve:
- a telco (stem)
- a lúva (bow)
The orientations of the stems and the bows can be described as such:
- 1-4, 5-8: regarded as normal
- 9-16: stem raised
- 17-24: stem reduced
They were a system of consonantal signs, which were used to represent consonants ‘formed’ and devised by the Eldar.
The Tengwar series (I, II, III, etc) are as follows:
- I: generally applied to dental or t-series (tincotéma)
- II: p-series labels (permatema)
- III and IV: varied depending on requirements of different languages.
- III: Westron, consonants such as ch, j, sh
- IV: k-series (calmatėma)
in Quenya, it is a k-series, palatal (tyelpetéma) and labialized (pursed lips, ‘quessetéma’ – not to confuse with “labelized”). Thus, series IV in this case is a kw-series, with palatals represented by Fêanorian diacritic denoting “following y” with 2 underused dots.
Tengwar grades are dependent on the grouping of letters.
- Grade 1: 1-4
- Grade 2: 5-8
- Grade 3: 9-12
- Grade 4: 13-16
- Grade 5: 17-20
- Grade 6: 21-24
The Cirth Alphabet
Next up after Tengwar in the alphabets, as mentioned in the Lord of the Rings, Appendix E, is the Cirth Alphabet.
Much like the Quenya Alphabet, the Cirth was devised but unlike the Quenya Alphabet and Tengwar, in which the letters and symbols were not aligned in the Appendices – the Cirth seemed to have a structure in there.
Assumably, the Cirth Alphabet was a bit more developed than the above Quenya Alphabet (in my opinion) as it lists the symbols with the letters. However, there is an entire section after the Tengwar on how the Quenya Alphabet letters go with it. Cirth means ‘runes’ in Sindarin.
However, this is the alphabet that was initially used by the Elves, before it was largely replaced by the Quenya Alphabet listed above using Tengwar. The link on Tolkien Gateway shows an earlier version of Cirth (pre-LOTR), but Lord of the Rings (and a notebook I got) features this one below, what seems to be a fully formed version of it:
When I got a Moleskine limited edition journal, I was so stoked to see that it came with the entire Cirth alphabet! It wasn’t expected, as it seemed to be a widely popular journaling brand. I figured they wouldn’t have enough time to get something that is very deep into something that is such a big part of what Tolkien was working on that few seem to notice. I didn’t think they’d really care about the Elvish Languages.
After that, I started to become surprised it didn’t come with the Quenya Alphabet and Tengwar.
It seems…long story short, the letters on the left were the drawings, while the letters on the right were the soundings of such letters that were to be expected. They are:
- (mh) mb
- Ghw, w
- I (y)
- ts*, +h, &
It took me a while to read the letters from the left to the right, but after “cracking the code” viewing the left and the right, it wasn’t too bad. 1 on the left is 1 on the right, 2 on the left is 2 on the right, and so forth.
Here, you’ll see a bunch of letters as written in the last part of the “Writing” section in Appendix E, which may seem daunting, but hopefully, after this post, you should be good to go!
It is originally in Sindarin, with the oldest letters being such:
# 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 18, 19, 22, 29, 31, 35, 36, 39, 42, 46, 50, and the Certh variations between 13 and 15.
The vowels are 39, 42, 46, 50.
The left values, when separated by —, indicated the values of older Angerthas, while the right values indicated the Dwarvish values. ( ) indicates the values that are only used in Elvish.
The changes of New Cirith include alteration of 34, 35, and 54, respective to h, and abandonment of 14 and 16 subbed by 29 and 30 by the Dwarves.
Certhas: called in Angerthas Daeron, as additions of old certh and reorganization were attributed to Daeron. In Angerthas Daeron:
- There were also two new series in 13-17, and 23-28. They are the inventions of the Noldor in Eregion, as they represented sounds that weren’t found in s.
- This rearrangement was inspired by the Fëanorian system. This included:
- Adding a stroke to a branch called ‘voice’
- Reversing ‘certh’ which indicated opening to a ‘spirant’
- Placing a branch on both sides of the stem for added voice and nasality
Unless it was in Sindarin, these were carried out regularly. Sindarin involved a spirant ‘m’, (nasal v) – which was required but best provided by the reversal of the sign of m.
The Dwarves’ roles in changing of the Cirith
There were a few letters that were affected. In general, the Dwarves changed the letters respective to h, which are 34, 35, and 54, as well as other letters, such as
- 14 and 16 (which were replaced by 29 and 30),
- 53 (n, which involved a confusion with 22),
- 36, and
- 37 (ng). It seems that 37 was added on as a new letter of the Cirith, as well as 55 and 56.
- 55 and 56: Tolkien describes these two as “halved 46” meaning that they were used in vowels like heard in ‘butter,’ mainly in Dwarvish and Westron.
Now, we get to the Dwarves of Erebor — so this means the following changes resulted in a setup, a mode of Erebor:
- 43 – Z
- 17 – ks(x)
- Two new Cirith: 57 and 58 – ps and ts
- 14 and 16 – j and zh (reintroduced from the replacement above)
- 29 and 30 – g and gh (or mere variations of 19 and 21)