Recently, I’ve been studying a great essay about the evolution of Primitive Elvish language to Quenya written by… (guess whom?) and I couldn’t stop thinking about how this evolutional history of the language deeply helps one to enhance his understanding of Quenya structure and why the things are the way they are. What do I mean?
For instance: After I studied Latin, I could comprehend much better everything inside the latin based languages I had already studied previously (like Spanish, Portuguese) or would study in the future (like French). Also it gave me tools to grasp better the structure of languages tamed by Latin too! (like English)
So, why not giving a shot at the same process with Quenya and all its “elvish ancestors”?
The language of Ingwë and Lenwë. This primeval stage of the elvish language was conceived by the elves born at Cuiviénen. It cannot be assumed that Primitive Quendian is a static and unchanging entity. Far from that. It was a language in constant development and due to that, a myriad of other languages sprang forth from it: Nandorin, Telerin, Noldorin, Sindarin, Vanyarin, Eldarin…(can you see that there’s no point saying only: “I speak Elvish” as there’s no point in “I speak Human”???)
At the most primitive stage of the languages the ROOTS described in Etymologies by Tolkien may have been used like actual words, but that must have been just a fleeting era.
The first proto-words started very simple words following the same pattern let by the first word of all: ele (=lo!, behold!) used when the elves woke up and looked at the stars. That was it, 2 short vowels (usually identical) separated by a medial consonant. There was often a initial consonant in those ultra primitive words.
- Reorganization and expansion
At some point in time, elves started to reorganize the proto-words and expand the originally monosyllabic stems to conform with their feeling for distinct parts of speech. (Yeah, baby…Elves are born linguists! :D) So we have for instance the primeval root development of KWE (related to vocal speech) below:
KWE > KWENE > much later producing Quenya
KWE > KWETE > much later producing the verb quetë
- Primitive Syncope
One of the very first phonological changes in Quendian (and pretty common on later stages) was the syncope, the loss of identical sounds in the middle of the word, mainly if they are unstressed. As an example, let’s analyze the Root TUJU, TUYU (= sprout, bud) combined with the primitive abstract ending “-lē”
TUJU > tujulē > tujlē > tuilē > tuilë (= spring in Quenya)
TUJU = the Root (=sprout, bud)
tujulē = word after Reorganization process with expanded ending (= sprouting, budding)
tujlē = word after syncope. Loss of the 2nd short ‘u’ within the word (= sprouting, budding)
tuilē = word with full vowel ‘i’ as semi-vowel ‘j’ is in contact with a consonant.
Another example with the same basic changes include the word taurë:
TAWA, TÁWAR > tawarē > tawrē > taurē > taurë (= forest in Quenya)
TAWA = the Root (= wood)
tawarē = Reorganization process with expanded ending
tawrē = Syncope, loss of the 2nd short ‘a’
taurē = with full vowel ‘u’ as semi-vowel ‘w’ is in contact with a consonant.
Nice, huh? This is just the beginning! On next post we’ll see how syncope was NOT a regular process and also continue with the changes that happened in Primitive Quendian! Stay tuned!
Sources: Etymologies by J.R.R.Tolkien in The History of Middle-Earth Volume V – The Lost Road and other Writings / The Evolution from Primitive Elvish to Quenya by Helge K. Fauskanger