Elvish Pronunciation Guide
This page aims to give a guide to the pronunciation of the Elvish
languages for those who are not confident that they understand
Tolkien's own guide to the pronunciation. I have used some technical
terms of phonetics, but they are always (I hope) introduced in a
context which makes it clear roughly what they mean.
The hyperlinks refer to sound files of me speaking the sounds. I do
not claim that my rendition is ideal (there are particular sounds I
have a mental block about), but it should be fairly accurate. The
sound files are in .wav format; although this is neither the most
compact nor the best sound file format, owing to the influence of the
Great Satan, it's probably the most widely understood.
Currently only the guide for Quenya is here. Other languages will
follow as and when I have time
Quenya presents few problems in pronunciation; for native English
speakers, the main point to watch is the vowels.
The vowels of Quenya will be pronounced more or less correctly by a
native speaker of practically any mainland European language (well,
OK, not Danish!). For English and American speakers, a little care is
required: pronounce the vowels as you would in, say, Spanish. They are
all pure sounds, rather than the diphthongs frequent in English.
Quenya (and the other languages) distinguish short and
long vowels (traditionally marked by an acute accent). Unlike
in English, where so-called short and long vowels have distinct sounds
as well as distinct lengths, in Quenya the length is the only
distinction between i and í, a and á,
u and ú. (e and o do have some difference
The short vowels are pronounced thus:
Examples: a, e, i, o, u.
- a is pronounced by most people as in Spanish or
French, although for all we know it could be as in Dutch or
English. So pronounce as in French patte, or German
man. (This sound doesn't exist in Received Pronunciation
English, but is roughly the a of northern English
dialects in words such as bath.)
- e is pronounced as English pet, French
fait, or German denn.
- i is pronounced with the same sound as English
peat, but shorter; French lit;
- o is roughly English (but not American!) pot;
French comme; German Topf.
- u is the sound of boot, but shorter; French
ou; German Uran.
alta, elen, Isil, osto, undu.
The long vowels are pronounced thus:
Examples: á, é, í, ó, ú.
- á, í, ú: just like the short vowels, but longer!
(About twice as long, if you want a guide figure, but just do whatever
your own language does.)
- é is pronounced a little `closer' than e. The
first part of the diphthong in English may; a long
version of French é; or german Tee.
- ó is similarly pronounced closer than
o. English paw (but closer);
French hôte; German Sohn.
fána, nése, hísie, onóne,
Quenya also has a set of six diphthongs (note that all other pairs of
vowels should be pronounced separately). They are ai, oi, ui, au,
eu, iu. In each case, pronounce the first vowel strongly, and
glide into the second (except for iu, where is it also
acceptable to glide from a weak i to a strong u -- that
is a Third Age pronunciation).
Examples: ai, oi, ui, au,
eu, iu (old), iu (3rd Age)
Ainu, coimas, cuivie, Laurelin, leuca, miule
Finally, a note on the diaeresis. Tolkien used this sign in order to
remind English speakers that e should be pronounced at the end
of words, and that combinations such as ea are two sounds, not
a diphthong, as in
Aldëa, Atalantë, hísië. Since this is completely unnecessary,
it's usual not to use it in articles on Tolkienian linguistics.
The consonants of Quenya are also fairly unproblematic (unless you get into
some advanced questions), provided you pronounce them as in Latin.
In describing the consonants of Quenya, I'll follow approximately the
organization of the tengwar. Quenya had five series of consonants: the
four columns of the tengwar chart, plus the first column with two dots
below. The first column, or tincotéma, are dental (or
perhaps alveolar) consonants, such as French t (or
English t). The first column plus dots, the tyelpetéma,
are palatalized versions of the tincotéma. Actually, there
is room for quite a lot of debate on the exact nature of these,
but for the purposes of this guide, they are like (British)
English tune. The second column, the parmatéma, are
the labials, as English pat. The third,
calmatéma, are velars, as English cat. The
fourth, quessetéma, are labio-velars, as English
The rows of the tengwar correspond (in theory) to different manners
of articulation, such as stop or fricative,
voiced or voiceless. However, Quenya didn't follow the
theory exactly, so I'll now discuss individual sounds according to
their manner, rather than according to exact place in the tengwar.
- The voiceless stops t, ty, p, c/k, qu are
simple. (Note that c and k are both sometimes used
in writing Quenya; there is no difference, so in particular
c is always a hard sound.) We don't know whether they were
pronounced as in English, with aspiration (puff of breath), or
as in French, with no aspiration. On general principles, a
French accent is probably better...
tinco, tyelpe, parma, calma, quesse
- Quenya doesn't have voiced stops d, dy, b, g, gw
on their own, but only after nasals (and liquids,
in the case of d). In late Quenya, ng always
means the combination of the back nasal (which Tolkien sometimes
wrote ñ) and a g sound (always hard, even before
i, e). . Thus the second row of tengwar is:
ando, indyo, umbar, anga, ungwe
- The corresponding voiceless fricatives introduce some
complexities, as they changed quite a bit.
- th, as in English thin, and written with
the tengwa thúle/súle, existed in early
Quenya, but turned into s. It therefore doesn't
appear in the Quenya we see. s also existed
independently (tengwa silme). (Actually, this is a
very complicated story---see "The Shibboleth of Feanor" in
HoM-e 12.) In all cases, s is the voiceless sound of
English see, French si, German bis.
- (The palatized version of súle has a name istyar,
but it's not clear that it would ever be used -- it
shouldn't, according to the pattern, have the sound sty.)
- f is English fee, French fait,
- h is a bit of a problem, since Appendix F of
LotR is a little inconsistent. My interpretation is: in
late Quenya, h should be pronounced as English or
German h when it's at the beginning of a word. In
other positions, it should be pronounced like German
ch as in Bach (next to a, o, u) or
Ich (next to e, i). However, between vowels it
is probably harmless to reduce it to a simple h
- hy is pronounced as English huge,
- hw is pronounced like Scottish white.
thúle (archaic), silme, formen, halla, aha,
Mahtan, tehta, hyarmen, hwesta
- Most of the voiced fricatives disappeared from Quenya
one way or another. Only v remains, as in English
voice, French vous, and German wo.
(Archaic Quenya also had z, but this had turned into
r by the Third Age.)
Examples: vala, áze (archaic)
(Since they had disappeared, the tengwar that would have
represented them were in Quenya used for the common
combinations of nasal + voiceless stop:
anto, intya, ampa, anca, unque.)
- Late Quenya has just the three nasals n, ny, m.
However, earlier it also had the back nasal ñ,
and ñw, which appear in many of the HoM-e
volumes. Confusingly, these are occasionally written ng
-- if you see ng at the beginning of a word, it certainly
means ñ. In late Quenya, these became n and nw.
(late Quenya) númen, nyelle, malta, noldo, nwalme
(early Quenya) númen, nyelle, malta, ñoldo, ñwalme
- Quenya had a fair assortment of rhotics.
The rhotics (r-sounds) are another of those
problematic issues. There was certainly a trilled r, as
in Italian r or Spanish rr. At some stage there
was also a `weak' r. This may have been a tap, like the
Spanish r, or the West Coast American later, or it
may have been a continuant like the British English r. In
either case, it's not clear whether it still existed in Third
Age Quenya -- and you would have to know the etymology of words to work
out whether r is weak or strong. So the simplest solution
is to assume it was always strong -- or if, like me, you have a
mental block about trills, to do whatever you can! (So these
examples are not too good.)
In addition, there was a voiceless hr, a
palatalized ry, and the combination rd.
rómen, óre (weak), hríve, arya, arda
- The laterals are less problematic. There was
l (English speakers should avoid the English `dark'
l after e, i--compare
English elder with
Quenya elda), voiceless hl, palatalized
ly, and the combination ld.
lambe, hlápa, alya, alda
- Finally, there are the semi-vowels, w as
English will, and y as English yes or
German ja. w was rare in Third Age Quenya, having
become v initially. (At least, according to LotR.)
wilya (archaic), yanta.
It should also be noted that consonants written double are
atta, ekko, anna, telluma, esse
Quenya put stresses on its words, like English and German (but unlike
French). However, the syllable on which the stress falls is
predictable, as in Latin---and the rule is the same as in Latin. (I'm
skating over some possible problems here.) A syllable is long if it
contains a long vowel, or if it ends in a consonant; otherwise it's
short. The stressed syllable is then the penultimate syllable
if that is long, otherwise the antepenultimate. So we have
AlquaLONde, ElENna, ELdamar, HísiLÓme, LótESSe
There are many other aspects to the sound of a language, such as pitch
patterns. But we have no information at all about these, so we can
safely not think about it. So, with English pitch patterns, here is a
longer text in Quenya: Cirion's oath to Eorl from Unfinished
Vanda sína termaruva Elenna-nóreo alcar enyalien, ar Elendil Vorondo
voronwe. Nai tiruvantes i hárar mahalmassen mi Númen, ar i Eru i or
ilye mahalmar ea tenn'oio.
Last modified: Wed Oct 31 08:55:14 GMT 2001