Pennas i-theithaid in Edhil Being an Account on the Elvish Writing Systems through the Ages and Modes as exemplified and described in the works of Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
Theories written and expressed by various Elvish scholars and compiled in the Common Speech by Gildor Inglorion of the Greeks, on the 129th loa of the 14th yén of the 7th Age.
This file makes use of Måns Björkman’s ‘Tengwar Parmaite’ and ‘Tirion Sarati’ and Dan Smith’s ‘Cirth Erebor’ fonts.
This essay would never had reached its present form without the help of:
Age of Starlight 6
The Sarati 6
The early Tengwar 8
Angerthas Daeron 13
The First Age 15
Mode of Beleriand 15
Runes of Gondolin 18
The Second Age 20
Quenya Mode 20
Angerthas Daeron 22
Angerthas Moria 23
The Third Age 25
Quenya Mode 25
Mode of Gondor 28
Mode of Arnor 30
Gondorian Numenian Mode 32
Northern Numenian Mode 33
Angerthas Erebor 34
This document started as a timeline of all the changes that took place forming the Elvish writing systems according to the information given in Appendix E to LotR. The purpose of this was an attempt by me to reconstruct the original Fëanorian system as used in Valinor, following the evolution backwards.
The expanded result is the following: detailed analysis of each of the attested systems, concentrated on the process of time. The purpose of this essay, is by no means a tutorial for starters, but a reference guide for all known systems, mainly showing the logical process of each system evolving to others.
I apologise for the absence of references after each conclusion, but the way of my thinking was and is chaotic, and considering my limited skills of expressing thoughts in English, the analyses would be too verbose, and would go far further from the original purpose of this essay. However I think I make clear that the following theories are personal conclusions out of my judgement on the sources and evidence. I often use words like 'assume', 'speculate', 'reconstruct', 'must', 'perhaps' and the reader must have in mind that those theories have not been ensured by examples or explicitly stated by Tolkien.
Same applies for the examples of some writing systems, like early Certhas, specimina of which Tolkien haven't left to us at present. On the contrary this essay provides all of known (elvish) tengwar samples that have been written by Tolkien, leaving the final judgement to the reader.
The reader must have in mind the following way of formatting:
names of published corpus are bold and italic: LotR, King's Letter, Moria Gate Inscription
words or sounds used as samples (usally elvish) are in italic: thúle, parma
Tengwar names are not in italic, but their first letter is capital: Thúle, Parma
minus < and major > are used to show etymological process, or change in pronounciation: *áse > áze > áre
non-attested hypothetical forms (usually archaic) are asterisked: alda < *galadâ
wrong forms are asterisked twice: alda < *galadâ not **aladâ
primitive stems and etymological roots are always in capital: alda < GALAD
The document will be on constant update whenever I am notified of mistakes, or while my writing skills improve! (and not so often: whenever new original tengwar material by Tolkien is revealed)
Rúmil of Tirion was a Noldo scholar and the composer of Ainulindale. Before that he was the inventor of the first elvish writing system in the Valian Year. It has been suggested that his system was based on an even more ancient, unrecorded writing system of the Noldor, but this is hardly probable. The Sarati (“significant marks”) as he called his letters, were ideal for writing both on stone and on paper, but we have seen only what seems its ‘calligraphic’ version.
Like Japanese, Rúmilian texts were written in columns. Rúmil decided that the vowels should be written with signs, since according to the linguistic perceptions of the Valinorean loremasters, vowels were considered ‘colours’ of the consonants. Those diacritics were placed left or right of a sarat, and accordingly pronounced before or after the consonant. If no room for diacritics was availiable, the sarat ' was used for a carrier, which formerly was the sarat of the early-lost sound 3. A longer carrier ~ was used to carry long vowels, but alternatively they could be written doubled on a sarat. Long u is attested with the sarat of w and a u-sign on its left (uw). There were also signs for following-s (+ /), probably for the clusters ts, ps, x, while following-z (*) is attested in Tolkien's english text.
Rúmil designed the forms of the letters according to their sound (although somehow unsystematically). The ‘doubling’ shows strenghtening (which is showed more clearly by comparing P p and B b. in this case), we see also the function of a ‘softening’ hook attached to those letters (F f and V v). But in another case, this hook strengthens an already doubled letter (K k and G g). For aesthetic reasong in writing, letters at the end of a word gain a long trailing bow (like n that finally becomes N).
We don't know how diphthongs were spelled in Rúmilian orthography but we have a hint by Tolkien of how they were treated that time: since a full phoneme was considered a pair of a consonant and a vowel, words like tuile and taure were mistakenly derived from stems *TUYU and *TAWAR, therefore analysed (and spelled) tuyulë and tawarë. But words like raica from *RIKI, and nauca from *NUKU (cases of a-infixion) were analysed normally (although we don't know what is “normally” for Rúmilian spelling).
An English text of Sarati written in 1919 by Tolkien has been published and analysed by Arden Smith. The completed Quenya modes of the Sarati have been published also but haven't been yet availiable on-line, so this document presently concentrates on the older specimina.
It is very probable that the original Quenya mode of Sarati was very different than our reconstructions and only theories can be applied. In order to facilitate the comparison with the Fëanorian, Arden Smith who deciphered that text, has made a table based on the arrangement of the Fëanorian system displayed in the famous Appendix E. The values correspond to the English values of the Tengwar, but nothing is known about the true phonology system, whether the letters had names, and whether Rúmil used a table to arrange his letters. I represent here their Quenya values as should be, based on theory of Ryszard Derdzinski. He believes that the relationship between the Rúmilian modes for Quenya and English is very much like the Fëanorian modes for Quenya and English.
On the contrary some believe that the Rúmilian spelling was more straightforward and shouldn’t be tolerated like the Fëanorian. There should be some letters for d, b, g, for Vanyarin and Telerin possessed those sounds.
Please have in mind that all these are just speculations, and some rules and the forms of the letters were changed by Tolkien after 1919. We hope more samples will be availiable that will enlighten us on this subject.
Y/W: these were used in diphthongs (see Yanta and Úre in Fëanorian). Y was attested palatalizing vowels and maybe was the ancestor of Yanta. W was used also for long u S: those two letters were interchangable.
ST: this letter is identified as optional. If it existed in Valinor for Quenya, it might have another value, since cluster st is not so frequent to require a distinct letter!
CH: this letter has never been attested in the texts. Its form was reconstructed by analogy.
HW: this letter has the value hw in Tolkien’s writing, but Ryszard Derdzinski can’t find a place for it on the table (there is no series corresponding to Fëanor’s Quessetéma)
As mentioned, the Quenya samples written in Sarati by Tolkien are not availiable on-line. So I have decided to put as an example the first sentence of Ryszard Derdzinski’s Valaquenta Fragment and its Sarati transcription according to himself. Noticeable is his attempt to transcribe the diphthongs of Ainui.
Mi yessë Eru i Eldarinen / Ilúvatar ná estaina / ónë i Ainui sanwesyallo. In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Ilúvatar, made the Ainur of his thought.