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

Quenya presents few problems in pronunciation; for native English speakers, the main point to watch is the vowels.

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 in quality.) The short vowels are pronounced thus: Examples: a, e, i, o, u.
alta, elen, Isil, osto, undu.

The long vowels are pronounced thus:

Examples: á, é, í, ó, ú.
fána, nése, hísie, onóne, untúpa.

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.

Consonants

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 quick.

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.

It should also be noted that consonants written double are pronounced long: atta, ekko, anna, telluma, esse

Stress

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

and finally...

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 Tales:

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.


Julian Bradfield
Last modified: Wed Oct 31 08:55:14 GMT 2001