Daniel S. Smith / dsmith@mc.com

Decades ago, when J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his fantasy book series: "The Hobbit" and the "Lord of the Rings", he described a race of Elves possessing a rich history, language and culture. Not all Elves spoke the same language. The most important languages were: "Quenya" (the language of the High-Elves) and "Sindarin" (the language of the Grey-Elves). Early in their history they devised an alphabet for writing their languages. The oldest Elvish alphabet was the "Tengwar of Rumil", but unfortunately Tolkien left no details or examples of this script. Later Feanor of Noldor, inspired by the alphabet of Rumil, created a revised writing system. The Feanorean alphabet was designed to be an orderly phonetic writing system for use with pen or brush.

Consonant sounds were represented by letters called: "Tengwar" . There are 24 primary Tengwar letters. The letters were organized into four series or "Temar" Each series was used to represent sounds created by different parts of the mouth. Series I and II were almost always used for Dental and Labial sounds. Series III was generally used for either Palatal or Velar sounds and series IV for either Velar or Labiovelar sounds, depending on the phonology of the language represented. These four series were further broken down into six grades or "Tyeller". Each grade was used to represent sounds created by different ways that air flows through the mouth and nose. Grade 1 and 2 was used for voiceless and voiced Plosives. Grade 3 and 4 was used for voiceless and voiced Fricatives. Grade 5 was used for Nasals. Grade 6 was used for Semi-vowel consonants. Each Tengwar letter was assigned a phonetic value determined by its position in this grid. People speaking different languages would often re-define this grid, so only a few of the letters had a fixed phonetic value.

All of the primary letters were composed of (at least) two elements: a vertical stem or "Telco" (representing air) and a curved bow or "Luva" (representing voice). There were also numerous additional letters that supplemented the Tengwar primary letters. These additional letters did not necessarily follow any symbol conventions.

In the alphabet's earliest forms, vowel sounds were represented by symbols called: "Tehtar". The Tehtar symbols were placed above and below (and sometimes inside) the Tengwar letters. There were five standard Tehtar symbols, representing the five most commonly used vowel sounds (a, e, i, o & u). They were most frequently placed above the Tengwar letters. (Tolkien used this style when creating most of his Quenya, Sindarin, and English language Tengwar inscriptions.) But both the number of vowel symbols used, and where they were placed depended on largely on the preferences of the people using this alphabet.

Later forms of Tengwar used individual letters to represent unique vowel sounds. This "open" form was developed by the Grey Elves living in Beleriand, and was therefore referred to as the "Mode of Beleriand".

Tengwar became a very flexible writing system that was easily adapted by many different races to their languages. Unfortunately, since it was so flexible it was possible to have several different versions of it for each and every language. Also, over the centuries, a great deal of shorthand developed. Since Tengwar can be so easily modified, customized and mutated; most people in Middle-earth devised their own version.

The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, Appendix E
Arden Smith / arden@uclink2.berkeley.edu

Language-specific Tengwar Symbology

Each entry contains a Tengwar consonant chart listing symbol names and values, a Tehtar vowel chart listing symbols and values used, a writing and usage guide, and an example of the language written with the Tengwar alphabet.

Quenya language
Sindarin language - Classical Mode
Sindarin language - Mode of Beleriand
English language

Common Tengwar Symbology

The following Tengwar symbology is common to all Tengwar modes.

Tengwar Modifier Symbols
Tengwar Punctuation Symbols
Tengwar Number Symbols

Tengwar Examples

Each of the following examples are taken from a published Tolkien book. Most are English language title page inscriptions. Each example includes a character by character translation, detailed explanation of vowel symbology, language and mode information, and comments.

Lord of the Rings - Lower Title page inscription
Lord of the Rings - Ring inscription
Lord of the Rings - West Gate of Moria inscription
Silmarilion - Title page inscription
The Book of Unfinished Tales - Title page inscription
The Book of Lost Tales (part 1) - Title page inscription
The Book of Lost Tales (part 2) - Title page inscription

Tengwar Fonts

Tengwar fonts are available for most personal computer platforms. The Tengwar font used through-out this Web page is available from the Tengwar Fonts for Windows page listed below.

Tengwar Fonts for Windows
Tengwar Fonts for Macintosh
Tengwar Fonts for TEX

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Last Modified: 4 October 1995