History of Elven Writing Systems/First Age

Quenta Eldatencelion
Age of Starlight
Early Tengwar
*An alternative mode
Certhas Daeron
First Age
Mode of Beleriand
Runes of Gondolin
Second Age
Quenya Mode
Angerthas Daeron
*Angerthas Moria
Third Age
Classical Quenya Mode
"General Use"
*"General Use" Westron
*"General Use" Sindarin (Sindarin Tehtar Mode)
"Full Writing" with "General Use" Consonants
*Sindarin "Full Writing" with "General Use" Consonants
*Westron "Full Writing"
Angerthas Erebor

Mode of Beleriand edit

When the Noldor came to Middle-earth, they were forbidden by King Elu Thingol to use Quenya[1]and were forced to adopt Sindarin. They adapted Tengwar to their new language, taking advantage of their inherent flexibility to other sounds, imitating maybe the way the Teleri of Aman represented the Telerin sounds that didn’t exist in Quenya. For some obscure reasons we do not know, they found the most usual tehta-mode inappropriate for Sindarin, and they took therefore also example of the original Fëanorian Quanta-Sarme, using distinct tengwar for vowels.

The Mode of Beleriand seems to have been held “traditionally” by the Noldor who were established in Eregion during the 2nd Age, as seen on the Moria Gate Inscription written by Celebrimbor[2]. After Eregion was destroyed in SA 1697, the Noldor migrated to Imladris[3], where the Mode of Beleriand was perhaps used even till the 3rd Age[4]. The only Beleriandic texts attested are the Moria Gate Inscription and A Elbereth Gilthoniel, the hymn of Imladris. Many of the tengwar haven’t been attested in those texts, and it’s uncertain if they were used at all.

It seems that Sindarin speakers found use only for 3 of the 5 témar. Of the Quessetéma, only Wilya is attested, as a final -u (spelled -w by Tolkien, in tîw). There is also an a-tengwa, not corresponding with any of the older ones known from Quenya. We don’t know if it was a new invention or imported from a Quenya semivowel unknown to us, but more probably it is the a-letter from Fëanor’s Quanta-Sarme.

Since the vowels were separate letters, the carriers took vowel values too. The short carrier was for i, while in the King’s Letter, written in the later 'General Use with full writing', used in Arnor, we see the long carrier for the semiconsonantal initial sound y- (spelled i- by Tolkien, as in Ioreth). We don’t know if the latter was an Arnorian employment or was used even back in the original Beleriand Mode.

In the same text, we also find the w-tehta used over consonants as well for labialisation (edwen, which would be written here as l2èl6), since the Quessetéma was discarded. A tilde is used before stops for nasalisation, since Anto, Ampa etc. took different values.

Diphthongs were expressed by tehtar. Two overdots, maybe a remnant of the Tyelpetéma, used for -i in the diphthongs ai, ei and ui. Similarly for au (spelled -aw finally by Tolkien), we assume the w-tehta was used (caun, a]é6). ae is attested written with the separate letters for a and e, and maybe the same applies to the diphthong oe too. Another tehta was used to indicate long vowels, an acute accent called Andaith (á, ]R)

A well-known tehta that indicates long consonants, the under-tilde, wasn’t used. Long m and n were written with Malta and Númen (i.e., doubling of the lúva), while in the Moria Gate Inscription, other long consonants were written with two letters, so maybe this under-tilde wasn’t used earlier in Aman either, but is a later device.

In the King’s Letter, the letter of lenited m (mh) appears, which is a “nasal variant of v” or “spirant m”, but we don’t know its form in this mode.

Table edit

Parmatéma Tincotéma Calmatéma Quessetéma
q p
1 t
a k
w b
2 d
s g
e f
3 th
d ch
r v
4 dh
f gh?
t mm
5 nn
g -ng?
y m
6 n
h o
n -w
Additional Tengwar:
7 r
u rh
j l
m lh
8 s
i y
Silmë nuquerna
k ss?
, œ?
Essë nuquerna
9 h
o chw?
Hwesta Sindarinwa
l e
. u
~ i-? ` i ] a
y+ mh?

Notes edit

Tengwar Names: Even if we assume the names we know from Appendix E were the original ones used back in Aman, it is sure that the Sindarin users of the Sindarin modes changed their names, like any other race did according to their system. However, since those names are unknown, their known Quenya names will be used for these annotations.

Malta/Númen: Because of their doubled lúvar, those tengwar were considered as lenghtened forms of Vala and Órë, which had the values of m and n, respectively.

Unque: This letter is not attested in any Sindarin text, neither is the sound it theoretically represented, but we can theorize that this sound existed in very early Sindarin (g disappeared in the middle of words via this sound. Cf. early Quenya 3). If the Noldor came to Middle-earth when this sound still existed, it is likely that they represented it by this tengwa, before finally disappearing. See also Gasdil.

Gasdil: The lenited g sound was indicated by a sign called Gasdil, which is an elaboration of the letter Halla. It is used like Tolkien uses the apostrophe, to indicate a missing g: galadh, “tree”, but i ‘aladh, “the tree”.

Noldo: This letter is neither attested, but it is easy to assume that it represented the sound ñ, which Tolkien transcribed as ng. This sound (that existed initially in Quenya) in Sindarin occurs only in nasal mutations and finally (like in ang), and was different from medial ng (like in ungol). So, if both weren’t written with a tilde over an Anga, Noldo was most likely used for the former, like it was in Quenya.

Wilya: Maybe for prevocalic and final w (e.g., tawarwaith, tiw). Shouldn’t be used for the diphthong au (finally spelled -aw).

Arda/Alda: Tolkien states that these letters were used for the initial soft sounds rh and lh (spelled hr and hl in Quenya).

Silmë Nuquerna: It is not known if this tengwa existed in Aman or if it is a Beleriandic invention. In tehtar-modes, however, it was used when a tehta should be placed over Silme. In this mode, the sound it represents is the vowel y (not to be confused with the consonantal Quenya y in yulma).

Essë: This letter (previously Ázë) is found in the King’s Letter (and in 3rd Age Quenya texts) to have the value of ss. But it is not known which took it from which. There are two probabilities:

  • Sindarin didn’t possess the z sound, so the Noldor gave it the value of ss. Quenya imitated this Sindarin mode and gave the value of ss to that letter, which had till that time the value of r.
  • The King’s Letter is a 4th Age Sindarin text. Maybe the value ss of this tengwa was an attribute borrowed from the Quenya mode of that time.

Essë Nuquerna: We lack a letter for the umlaut sound œ found in early Sindarin (later becoming e), but a wild guess is that perhaps Essë nuquerna was used, similarly like Silmë nuquerna was used for y.

Hyarmen: Sindarin didn’t possess palatalised sounds. hy had became h. Hyarmen was employed for this soft sound, not to be confused with ch.

Hwesta Sindarinwa: This mysterious letter, said to have the value hw, had never appeared in any of the Sindarin texts. It is unknown why was it employed instead of Hwesta and when. It was probably used much later by the mannish modes, where Hwesta was used for the sound ch or chw.

Examples edit

The best known sample of the Mode of Beleriand is of course the Moria Gate Inscription, written by Celebrimbor of Eregion, a Noldorin place where this Mode was preserved.

- l5I6 2.7`6 ]7]6 yh7`] - ql2h yljjh6 ] y`5h -

- `y 6]7r` 9]Ö6 ld]1p - aljlw7`wPh7 h l7ls`h6 1lÕ3]1p ` 3`n 9`6 -

Ennyn Durin Aran Moria. Pedo mellon a minno.
Im Narvi hain echant. Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i-thiw hin.

Tolkien has written the hymn of Imladris, A Elbereth Gilthoniel, in this mode. Imladris, inhabited by the refugees of Eregion, is one of the places that might have kept the Mode of Beleriand, even in the 3rd Age.

] ljwl7l3 s~j3h6lj A Elbereth Gilthoniel
8~j~r7l6 ql5] 6~V7lj silivren penna míriel
h yl6lj ]sj]7 ljl6]3 o menel aglar elenath!
6]d]l7l2 q]j]62~V7lj Na-chaered palan-díriel
h s]j]47lt~6 l5h7]3 o galadhremmin ennorath,
e]6.Öjh8 jl j5]3h6 Fanuilos, le linnathon
6lr ]l]7 8~V 6lr ]l]7h6 nef aear, sí nef aearon!

Runes of Gondolin edit

This system was perhaps an invention of Pengolodh or other loremasters, and was employed obviously in Gondolin (or in Nevrast, at earliest).

Like the Tengwar and the Cirth, the forms of these runes show a relation between sound and shape. It is not known if the few similarities to the cirth are coincidental or not. Pengolodh, however, was not aware of the Cirth before he, with the survivors of destroyed Gondolin, migrated to the Mouths of Sirion.

It is not known if the values given by Tolkien (and presented here) are the original, or his own adaptation for writing English, Modern or Old. One reason against the former is that the sounds given are not found in the known elven languages of the First Age, but it may be that it was designed for notating a variety of languages. Glamdring and Orcrist, the famous swords, had probably inscriptions in that system, because Elrond (who it is stated to know of all types of runes) could read their inscriptions since he was born in Arvernien, while Gandalf was unable to.

The system of Gondolin was perhaps dropped out of use after its fall, but used for a while in Arvernien. It is mentioned that there Pengolodh was fascinated by the Certhas Daeron brought by the survivors of Doriath (perhaps it seemed to him a more perfected system), and adopted it for his works. They seem to have been obsoleted and forgotten by the Third Age, and this is supported by the abovementioned fact that only Elrond could read the swords’ inscriptions.

This system has appeared only in an article of Mythlore issue 69, by Paul Nolan Hyde, publishing an early concept of Tolkien. Its existence is not explicitly stated in the known later texts, but the above story about Glamdring is evidence that indeed a different kind of runes was used in Gondolin.

Table edit

t t p p c ch k k
d d b b j j g g
T th f f S sh h h
D dh v v Z zh x x
n n m m ñ n, -ng r r l l
M mh Ñ nh R rh L lh
s s z z
w w y y
H hw X hy K ks
a a e e i i o o u u
A á E é I í O ó uu ú
ia æ ö œ U y
iAi ǽ Ö long œ UU long y

Notes edit

ñ: This rune seems to be used both for n and -ng (ñ).

Ö/UU: These runes were used for long œ and y respectively, but there are no such accented characters in typesetting, so they are displayed here as double. The sounds they represents are of those that appear in the alphabet, but not attested in any elvish tongue.

x: This rune is described as x, however, this is an alternate spelling for the Sindarin sound ch, not the English x (Quenya ks). For x, the letter K was used.

Examples edit

If we accept the values of the runes above, maybe these were the inscriptions of the famous swords of The Hobbit:

  • glamdriñ, Glamdring (Foe-hammer)
  • orkrist, Orcrist (Orc-cleaver)

Go to:

References edit

  1. The Silmarillion Ch 15 "the Exiles took the Sindarin tongue in all their daily uses"
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring, Journey in the Dark
  3. The Tale of Years
  4. The Road goes ever on