Elementary Phonology

Quenya has five vowels, a, e, i, o, u, short and long; the long vowels are marked with an accent: á, é, í, ó, ú. The vowel a is extremely frequent. The quality of the vowels resembles the system in Spanish or Italian rather than English. To clarify the pronunciation for readers used to English orthography, Tolkien sometimes adds a diaeresis over some vowels (e.g. Manwë rather than Manwe to indicate that the final e is not silent, or Eärendil to indicate that the vowels e and a are pronounced separately and not drawn together as in English ear - the dots are not necessary for the meaning and can safely be left out in e-mail). The diphthongs are ai, au, oi, ui, eu, iu. (A seventh diphthong ei seems to occur in one or two words, but its status is uncertain.) The consonants are for the most part the same as in English, with the sibilants as the main exception: Ch as in church does not occur, neither does j as in joy, and instead of sh, zh (the latter like s in pleasure),Quenya has a sound like the German ich-Laut, spelt hy by Tolkien (e.g. hyarmen "south"). The h of English huge, human is sometimes pronounced as a weak variant of the sound in question. Quenya also lacks th (unvoiced as in thing or voiced as in the); unvoiced th did occur at an earlier stage, but merged with s shortly before the rebellion of the Noldor (see PM:331-333). It should also be noted that the voiced plosives b, d, g only occur in the clusters mb, nd/ld/rd and ng (some varieties of Quenya also had lb instead of lv). There are no initial consonant clusters, except qu (= cw), ty, ny and nw if we count the semi-vowels y, w as consonants. Normally there are no final clusters either; words end either in one of the single consonants t, s, n, l, r or in a vowel, more often the latter. Medially between vowels, a limited number of consonant clusters may occur; those described by Tolkien as "frequent" or "favoured" are in italics: cc, ht, hty, lc, ld, ll, lm, lp, lqu, lt, lv, lw, ly, mb, mm, mn, mp, my, nc, nd, ng, ngw, nn, nqu, nt, nty, nw, ny, ps, pt, qu(for cw), rc, rd, rm, rn, rqu, rr, rt, rty, rs, rw, ry, sc, squ, ss, st, sty, sw, ts, tt, tw, ty, x (for ks). A few other combinations may occur in compounds. Quenya phonology is quite restrictive, giving the language a clearly defined style and flavour.

Note that in Quenya spelling, the letter c is always pronounced k (so cirya "ship" = kirya). Tolkien was inconsistent about this; in many sources the letter k is used, but in LotR he decided to spell Quenya as similar to Latin as possible. In some cases, k in the sources has been regularized to c in the following discussion.


©Helge Fauskanger