Tengwar refers to the writing system developed by J. R. R. Tolkien for use with the languages of Middle-earth. (Within Middle-earth, Fëanor invented the system after previous experience with the sarati, another writing system.)

As in the Korean Hangul writing system, the geometric shape of letters suggests their sound values: doubling a letter's bow voices the sound, raising the stem turns a stop into a fricative, and shortening the stem creates a nasal. However, this regularity can pose problems: because many letters can be rotated to form other valid letters, there exists a potential for dyslexia.

Modes

A mode is a mapping from letters to sounds. Tengwar modes are known to exist for at least Quenya, Sindarin, Black Speech, English, Polish, Esperanto, Lojban, and Toki Pona. Some modes treat all "letters" as consonants and use vowel points like the Hebrew alphabet; others, the Beleriandic modes, use letters for vowels like the Greek and Latin alphabets. Some modes map the C-series and Q-series to [k] and [kw] respectively; others map them to [tS] (English /ch/) and [k].

Tengwar

The tengwar (Quenya for "letters"; sing. tengwa) are used as consonants in pointed modes and as either consonants or vowels in Beleriandic modes.

Primary letters

T-series	P-series	C-series	Q-series


#o""o           #o""o            o"  #          "#"""#          01-04:
#   #           #   #            #   #           #   #          voiceless
#  o"           #ooo#o           "oo"#           "oo"#          stops
#               #                    #               #
#               #                    #               #



#o""o""o        #o""o""o         o" o"  #       "#""#"""#       05-08:
#   #  #        #   #  #         #  #   #        #  #   #       voiced
#  o" o"        #ooo#oo#o        "oo"oo"#        "oo"ooo#       stops
#               #                       #               #
#               #                       #               #

#               #                    #               #
#               #                    #               #
#o""o           #o""o            o"  #          "#"""#          09-12:
#   #           #   #            #   #           #   #          voiceless
#  o"           #ooo#o           "oo"#           "oo"#          fricatives



#               #                       #               #
#               #                       #               #
#o""o""o        #o""o""o         o" o"  #       "#""#"""#       13-16:
#   #  #        #   #  #         #  #   #        #  #   #       voiced
#  o" o"        #ooo#oo#o        "oo"oo"#        "oo"ooo#       fricatives




                                                                17-20:
#o""o""o        #o""o""o         o" o"  #       "#""#"""#       voiced or
#   #  #        #   #  #         #  #   #        #  #   #       geminated
#  o" o"        #ooo#oo#o        "oo"oo"#        "oo"ooo#       nasals




								21-24:
#o""o           #o""o            o"  #          "#"""#          single nasals
#   #           #   #            #   #           #   #          or weak
#  o"           #ooo#o           "oo"#           "oo"#          consonants

Additional letters

# o"o           # o"o           ""#""""         ""#""""         25-28:
 #  #            #  #            #               #              liquids
  #o            " #o             #                "oo           (r, r', l, l')
 o"              o"              #   o               #
"oo             "oo              "ooo"           "ooo"

  o"                              o"            o"""o
 #                               #              "   #
#  o            o"""o           #  o            o"""o           29-32:
#   #           #   #           #   #           #   #           sibilants
"ooo"            "  #           "ooo"            "  #           (s, s', z, z')
                   #            #   o              #
                 o"             "ooo"            o"

#                   #
 #                  #
  #             o""o#            "o             o"""o           33-36:
 # #            #   #            o"o            #   #           semivowels
#   #           "oo"#oo         #   #           "ooo"           (h, hw, y, w)



#
#
#               #               #                               vowel carriers
#               #               #                               (alternate,
#               #               #                                medium, short)
                                #
                                #

Names

Each letter has a name, based roughly on its sound value in Quenya:

  1. Tinco
  2. Parma
  3. Calma
  4. Quesse
  5. Ando
  6. Umbar
  7. Anga
  8. Ungwe
  9. Súle
  10. Formen
  11. Aha
  12. Hwesta
  13. Anto
  14. Ampa
  15. Anca
  16. Unque
  17. Númen
  18. Malta
  19. Noldo
  20. Nwalme
  21. Óre
  22. Vala
  23. Anna
  24. Vilya
  25. Rómen
  26. Arda
  27. Lambe
  28. Alda
  29. Silme
  30. Silme nuquerna
  31. Esse
  32. Esse nuquerna
  33. Hyarmen
  34. Hwesta Sindarinwa
  35. Yanta
  36. Úre
  • Halla
  • (Short)
  • (Long)

Tehtar

The tehtar (Quenya for "signs"; sing. tehta) resemble Greco-Latin diacritics. In pointed modes, these vowel points are used with a consonant and represent a vowel either before or after the consonant based on the mode. In Beleriandic modes, these are used to form diphthongs. The diagram below shows each point with a (silent) short vowel carrier; using them with a long carrier makes the sound longer.

 "		o"o	(three dots, or a circumflex)
" "
 #		 #
 #	or	 #	/a/
 #		 #



 o"			(acute accent)

 #
 #			/e/
 #



 o			(single dot)

 #
 #			/i/
 #



o""			(curl open to right)
 "
 #
 #			/o/
 #



 "o			(curl open to left)
""
 #
 #			/u/
 #



"o"			(inverted circumflex)

 #
 #			/y/
 #			(high central vowel, not /j/ as in "year")

Sources

  • The appendices to The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
  • "Tengwar - Wikipedia" (http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tengwar)
  • "Tengwar / English Language" (http://wwwusers.imaginet.fr/~smartin/elfique/english_eng.htm)

Legal

Copyright © 2002 Damian Yerrick. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a writing system is not copyrightable, but it may be patentable. However, any U.S. patent on Tengwar would have long since expired, thanks to the lack of a Cher Patent Term Extension Act.

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