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More on Tengwar

by kena last modified 2006-11-05 01:07

The detailed description of the Tengwar system can be found through J.R.R. Tolkien's work, especially in Appendix E of the Lord of the Rings; however, I also based the following summary on the (excellent) first volume of E. Kloczko's Dictionnaire des langues Elfiques. The complete bibliography can be found there.

History and terminology

Offically, J.R.R. Tolkien's invention of the tengwar system was probably inspired by the medieval Book of Kells. However, in his mythology, the system was designed by the Elf Fëanor, to replace the yet more ancient Sarati writing system.

Fëanor has designed the tengwar (also called, by the way, Fëanorian letters) to be a phonemic writing system: each sign, each letter represents a sound (or phoneme), linking very closely the spoken and written forms of utterances. A given correspondance table between the tengwar and the phonemes is called a mode; several modes have been created to suit the needs of the different languages of Tolkien's mythology (including English), but many of the tengwar are often used for the same phonemes. We shall discuss about it later.

Lastly, the names "tengwar", and the not-yet-mentioned "tethar" are Elvish words meaning "letters" and "signs", and are the plural forms of the words "tengwa" and "tetha".

The organization of the Tengwar system

Fëanor's theory was that a writing system should not have too many variable elements. He thus designed the base tengwar with only lúvar (bows) and telcor (stems). These base tengwar were only used for consonant phonemes, but nearly always in the same fashion.

The base tengwar didn't however prove sufficient, and therefore several additional tengwar were designed to represent more sounds, while often being used quite differently by the different modes.

Vowels and punctuation are written mainly as signs called tehtar, which are disposed around the different tengwar. However, the Elves of Beleriand designed a mode where vowels are written in full. This "Mode of Beleriand" will also be described.

Finally, although they were only discovered later by Tolkien's son, a yet additional set of digit tengwar is available, too.

A first glance at the different tengwar

You will find below tables featuring the various tengwar. They are all numbered, and particularly in the first and second tables the numbering is done in Tolkien's fashion. These indexes will be used in the rest of this documentation.

Several comments I did not bother to include in the next part can be found in between these tables.

For people who can't view inline images, the directory in which the image files for the various tengwar can be accessed here.

The base tengwar
IIIIIIIV
1 1:tinco 2:parma 3:calma 4:quesse
2 5:ando 6:umbar 7:anga 8:ungwe
3 9:thûle 10:formen 11:charma 12:chwesta
4 13:anto 14:ampa 15:anca 16:unque
5 17:nûmen 18:malta 19:ñoldo 20:ñwalme
6 21:ôre 22:vala 23:anna 24:wilya

You may have noticed that the extended tengwar, where the telco is expanded above and below the text line (orinally Grade 4 of the complete Fëanor table) are not shown in the previous table.

hese extended tengwar can be observed on the Ring inscription, for example, but I choosedly didn't include them, as first Tolkien doesn't explain much about them, second because they are not often used anyway, and lastly because and we won't need them for the purpose of this document (they are used for complex and compound sounds of the ancient Quenya modes and the English mode, which are not found at all in Lojban).

Also, I chose not to represent the tyelpetéma Series in the above table, as they are just Series I with a "two dots below" tehta applied. This tehta will rather be discussed separately.

The additional tengwar
25:rómen 26:arda 27:lambe 28:alda
29:silme 30:silme nuquerna 31:áze 32:áze nuquerna
33:hyarmen 34:hwesta sindarinwa 35:yanta 36:úre

The above table is the one that can be found in Appendix E, in which the tengwa alya is also discarded. However, as alya is yet again a complex phoneme, we shall not need it.

The digit tengwar
1:digit 1 2:digit 2 3:digit 3 4:digit 4 5:digit 5 6:digit 6
7:digit 7 8:digit 8 9:digit 9 10:digit 10 11:digit 11 0:digit 0

As one can see, the tengwar allow for a duodecimal (base 12) representation of numbers. The actual use of these "additional digits" depend on the context, as the Elves were used to both decimal and duodecimal counting.

A first glance at the different tehtar

There are many tethar signs, and I am not willing to show them all (see the ISO proposal for this) nor in their standard order.

You will therefore find below tables where the tethar are rather sorted by function.

Mind that the vowels are accompanied by the corresponding full-letter tengwa of the Mode of Beleriand, which can be found on the West-gate inscription, volume I of the Lord of the Rings.

The vowel tethar and tengwar
1:acute accent 1b:doubled acute accent 2:dot above 3:three dots above 4:forward hook 4b:doubled forward hook 5:backward hook 5b:doubled backward hook 6:dot below 6b:two dots below
1:tengwa 33 2:short carrier 3:simple bow opened to the right 4:tengwa 33 5:tengwa 33 6:tengwa 30

Note that although not mentioned in Tolkien's description in Appendix E, the tehta for Tengwar "y" can be found on the cover page. Tolkien's "y" sound is worth further discussion, but I won't include a detailed description of it here (the useful bits will be explained and used when needed).

You may also have pointed out that several (nr. 35, 23, 36 and 30) additional tengwar are used for full-letter vowels.

Some miscellaneous tehtar
Tengwar halla Tengwar 'halla'
Sentence separator (double pusta) Sentence separator (double pusta)
Consonant underbar Consonant underbar
Idea separator (pusta) Medial dot (pusta)
Long carrier Long carrier
"s" curls middle curl bottom upward curl bottom downward curl curl for 'l'
Question mark Question mark
End-of-paragraph marker Quadruple dot
End-of-discussion marker Vertical curl
End-of-text marker Horizontal curl

Follow this link for more information on the tengwar, or skip directly to the next part.


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