Saturday, January 5, 2013

Now for the good stuff:  Writing!

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This entire section on writing is optional.

"Tengwa" is the Quenya word for "letter", so "tengwar" means "letters", and is what people usually call this alphabet.

Extra Material for the Geeks:

            Digression about plurals:  yes, ordinary plurals are formed by adding -r to the end of a word that ends in a vowel (Ainu → Ainur) or adding -i to the end of a word that ends in a consonant (Atan → Atani).   But that is in a later lesson.

Different Elvish languages use this same set of letters, but change which sound is associated with certain letters, depending on which sounds exist in that language.   (That happens with English/European letters, too.   The letter “J” is pronounced differently in different languages.) Sometimes the tengwar were used for other languages, such as Sauron writing the Ring Inscription in his language of Mordor, or the Title Page to Lord of the Rings, which is supposed to represent hobbits attempting to write Common in tengwar.   Right now, we are concentrating on writing Quenya with these tengwar.

Here you see the same word – Ilúvatar, the name of the Creator – written in a variety of Tengwar fonts.   This gives you a idea how much variation to expect in how different people draw letters.   The serifs on the letters are just decorative.   You don't need to put them in if you are writing in pencil.

"Basic" Letters

These are what Quenya speakers consider the "basic" letters, the ones that fall into a general pattern:

"Basic" Letters (Tengwar) for Quenya

Notice how much more systematic these letters are, compared to the alphabet we are used to.   The shapes of the letters all follow a pattern, and there are relationships between the shapes of the letters and the sounds they represent.
Many of the letters represent what we would call a “consonant cluster” -- a combination of sounds.   That is the case with I-2 (“ND” -- remember “D” sound never occurs by itself).   The name of the Elf King Ingwë is represented by three symbols:  I, Ngw, and E.   (And yes, in Quenya there are words starting with “Ngw”, even though it is a mouthful.)

“QU” is the same as “KW”.   The “U” in “QU” isn't really a separate letter/sound.   It is just written in because English-speaking readers can't stand to see “Alqalondë.

Some letters on the chart have two pronunciations separated by a comma.   These represent variations in pronunciation over the millenia.   (I-3 “Th” or “S”)

Why do the numbers for rows 5 and 6 seem to be reversed?  In the Appendix E in Return of the King, Tolkien put the double-loops in row 5 and the single loops in row 6.   I don't know why.   I have retained his numbers (which are now standard in the Tolkien community), but switched the display of the rows to match the rest of the pattern.

Tengwar have no capital letters.

"Extra" Letters

That is nice, but there are more sounds than the "basic" letters cover.   Here are all the other symbols that don't fit neatly onto the first chart:  

"Extra" Letters (Tengwar) for Quenya

Remember “D” sound only occurs in “ND”, “LD”, and “RD”?  We saw “ND” on the Basic Letters page.   Now we have “LD” and “RD”.

“B” sound only occurs in “MB” and “LB”.   We saw “MB”.   For some mysterious reason there is no letter for “LB”, so you have to write it as shown ("L" + "B").


Vowels are the tricky part of writing Quenya! Vowels aren't written as a separate letter; they are marks, written above the consonant that came before.

To write “calima”, which is the adjective "bright", you would write
     C with A above it,
     L with I above it,
     and M with A above it

What if there is no consonant before, such as when a word starts with a vowel?  Then you use the “short carrier” or “long carrier”.   These are marks that are not pronounced.   Their only function is to give something to stick the vowel onto.   Use the “short carrier” if the vowel is short, or “long carrier” if the vowel is long (accented).

In the earlier example, “Ingwë would be written:
     short carrier with I above it
     NGW (tengwa IV-2) with E above it

     short carrier with A above it,
     QU (tengwa IV-1) with A above it,
     L with O above it,
     ND (tengwa I-2) with E above it.

Some writers (including me) will put two vowels onto one consonant if they fit.
NIER (honeybee)
"A" is a large symbol, and doesn't usually share space well.   Use your best judgment.

UMËA (evil)

How to write the long vowels:  

Placing a long vowel over a long carrier is never wrong. 

ELENTÁRI  (Star Queen)
ÓRË (rising)

Extra Material for the Geeks:
               Tolkien's handwriting was hard to read on the gloss for élë.   It might mean "flash of starlight."

               How did I know that órë is spelled with Tengwa I-6?   Normally, I wouldn't be able to tell.   As it turns out, órë is the name of Tengwa I-6.

In some cases, you have a second possible way of writing the long vowels.   The marks for O, U, and sometimes E can be written double, side by side, squished both onto the consonant.   Tolkien states that Ó and Ú were written doubled like this, more often than other vowels.   Long Á always has to be put onto a long carrier, even if there is a consonant available, because it is such a large symbol.

ANARÓRË (sunrise)

NÉR (man)

Extra Material for the Geeks:

              Nér means "man" in the sense of "adult male person of a speaking race."


Tolkien over the course of his life was not 100% consistent in his use of Tengwar, so you may see other systems of vowels used for Quenya.   The most common variations are swapping the symbols for E and I, and swapping the symbols for O and U.

The double dots represent a following vowel-like Y.   This occurs a lot, especially in the combinations "HY", "NY", and "TY". 

TYELPË (silver) (Noldor dialect)

The letters S and SS each have a pair of mirror-image versions.   You will only use one or the other.   Use the pointy-end-up version if there will be no vowel above.   Use the round-end-up version if there will be a vowel.

HOSTAR (tribe)
pointy end up

HOSSË (army)
round end up to make room for vowel

Extra Material for the Geeks:

              The similarity between hostar (tribe) and hossë (army) is no coincidence.   Both words come from a root meaning "a large number".

The little squiggle under a letter (consonant) marks it as a double letter.   This way, you don't have to write the letter twice.   Notice that "NN" and "SS" have their own letters, so you won't need the double-letter mark to write them.

ATTA (two)
EMMË (mama)

Here are some samples (mostly names) to practice reading written Quenya.
Some Names, for practice reading Tengwar
 Highlight to see the answers:

Manwë Súlimo
Varda Elentári
Irmo Feäntur
Yavanna Kementári
Oromë Aldaron
Elenwë Morefindessë
Tulkas Astaldo
Telperion Ninquelótë


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          » Tengwar Capitals?  »    

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