Phonotactics

After you’ve got in touch with Quenya orthography, you see clearly how restrict it is, comparing to other languages. Also, the limitation of vocabulary and the rendering of names without having a reliable etymological source may push you to an orthographic equivalent or adaptation.

Here, I’ll provide some guidance in order to exchange here and there the letters you’ll need to fit the Quenya orthography. Noteworthy to point out is that some people tend to work those exchanges of letters by adhering closely to the historical evolution of the elvish languages and all the mechanisms triggered by constant changes in it. Well, that’s an interesting approach, however if one thinks deeply about the matter this conclusion would certainly come up: 

Why use elvish evolutionary features in a word that does not come from any elvish language?

For instance: L is a good substitute for D in Quenya. There is a whole reason for that. Primitive Quendian and Common Eldarin history explains why. But why would I write a Hebrew name David as Lavir in Quenya? (It has been done by Neo-Quenya people) It doesn’t make sense. A Hebrew word would never undergo the features and changes that a regular elvish word had. It is not native. It’s a foreign word and phonotactics is exactly about that! Arranging foreign words to make them suitable in another orthographic system. (not pretending that they are native and molding them as native words). So…here you will find a different way of thinking and doing it. I will follow closely the IPA chart and all the phonetic relations involved in changing one letter for another. 

Below, you’ll find the most common substitutions practiced so far as well as why, phonetically, they are done this way. All the symbols in bold and in the headings refer to the IPA, which you may consult here.

Initial position

b ⇨ β

B becomes V. Same relation established by the almost same sound between ‘b’ & ‘v’ in Spanish.

Example:

  • Benin ⇨ Venin

bl, kl, dl, fl, gl, pl ⇨ ɬ

BL, CL, DL, FL, GL, KL becomes HL. Some might turn ‘consonant+l‘ into simple ‘l’ (that’s absolutely ok if we’re not handling the cluster in the beginning of the word), but that just ignores the main consonant accompanying the ‘l’ which constitutes the core while promoting an unvoiced ‘l’ into a voiced single ‘l’. I don’t like it! It doesn’t make sense. With the ‘hl’ of Quenya, we keep the unvoiced ‘l’ at check and constitute a more harmonious equivalent.

Examples:

  • Blarney ⇨ Hlarni
  • Claiborne ⇨ Hlaivóren
  • Dlažkovice ⇨ Hláscovitsë
  • Flambeau ⇨ Hlambo
  • Glasgow ⇨ Hlascou
  • Placentia ⇨ Hlasentya

br, kr, dr, fr, gr, pr ⇨ ɺ

BR, CR, DR, FR, GR, KR becomes HR. Same thing here as cited above! It’s slight inaccurate to convert ‘consonant+r’ to simple ‘r’ letting go completely the ‘main consonant’ sound and its influences.

Examples:

  • Brazil ⇨ Hrasil
  • Christ ⇨ Hristo
  • Drengist ⇨ Hrengist
  • Frankfurt  ⇨ Hrancefurt
  • Grenada ⇨ Hrinéta
  • Prestbury ⇨ Hrestemberi

ʃ ⇨ t͡ʃ

CH & SH becomes TY. Instead of a voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant (non existent in Quenya), we change it to a voiceless palato-alveolar affricative.

Example:

  • Champagne ⇨ Tyampan

d ⇨ t

D becomes T. As said before, ‘d’ & ‘l’ are only related somehow in the elvish phonetic evolution. And it stops right there! In any other circumstances, we would obtain ‘d’ & ‘t’ pairing as they are alveolar plosives much more related than ‘d’ & ‘l’.

Example:

  • Dagana ⇨ Tacana

d͡ʒ ⇨ t͡ʃ

G becomes TY. Attention to the sound! This G stands for d͡ʒ  (gin). So, naturally this sound would be substitute for TY in Quenya, which is pretty close to that.

Example:

  • Geneva ⇨ Tyeníva

g ⇨ k

G becomes K. Both are Dorsal Velars, so the change is an obvious one to make.

Example:

  • Gaavillingili ⇨ Cávillingili

ʒ ⇨ j

J becomes Y. That’s exactly the reverse of good ol’ Latin. You know, Quenya is based on Latin too…so it couldn’t be more appropriate (not only phonetically speaking)

Example:

  • Jesus ⇨ Yésus

sk, skw, st ⇨ e+s…

SC, SK, SQ & ST  are not allowed in initial position in any Quenya word. So, to adapt them all, we shall use a recurrent feature, largely used in many languages which is to add a “supporting” vowel in the beginning of the word. E is the connecting vowel of Quenya in many situations, so more than appropriate here.

Example:

  • Skåne ⇨ Escónë
  • Squaw ⇨ Esquo
  • Steuben ⇨ Estoiven

sl, sm, sn, sp, sv ⇨ l, m, n, f, v

SL, SM, SN, SP & SV become L, M, N, F & V respectively. Unfortunately, here are consonant clusters that are not allowed anywhere in the word. Thus, it’s not a matter of introducing a supporting vowel at the beginning, like the method above. There is no method at all to deal with this. Bottom line is: we gotta mimic an elvish phonological evolution (because we simply don’t have another way) where SL turned into HL and subsequently L for instance.

Examples:

  • Sligo ⇨ Laico
  • Småland ⇨ Mólan (Móland-)
  • Snyder ⇨ Naiter
  • Sparta ⇨ Farta
  • Svetlogorsk ⇨ Vetyolocoscë

 z ⇨ s

Z becomes S. Easy one. Both are alveolar fricative and as there’s no Z in Quenya, S is its natural substitute (even though in elvish languages the phonetic evolution worked something different)

Example:

  • Zambia ⇨ Sambia

Medial position

CC ⇨ CeC / CiC

Medial position consonant clusters can be dealt much easily than the initial position ones. Quenya is a restrictive language but you simply need to add a vowel right in the consonant cluster and voilà…you’ll have a perfectly suitable word in Quenya. Let’s analyze the…

Example:

  • Antigua & Barbuda ⇨ Antiqua & Varevuta / Antiqua & Varivuta

As you can see we had all the necessary changes (with g, b & d) and also the breaking up of the consonant cluster /rb/ with the introduction of a neutral vowel. In Quenya, you may use or i, both are suitable for the task. If you happen to find a triconsonantal cluster, don’t despair! Try to understand its phonemes (usually a bunch of consonants altogether may be separated into simpler sounds) so you add just one breaking vowel (e – i). Though, if it’s not possible to reduce its phonetic value, add the vowels you need to have a word valid in Quenya orthography.

Final position

-C* ⇨ -Cë

* = C ∉ {t, l, n, s, r}

 Here’s something we gotta deal in Quenya: final position consonants. Emphasis on consonants, single ones not clusters. Why is that? Because as you know, Quenya has got strict rules about the allowed consonants at the end of the words. So, following the same concept illustrated above, you just need to add a supporting vowel in the end and you’ll have a perfectly acceptable Quenya word.

If the consonant is the ones mentioned (t, l, n, s, r) then you need do nothing! Those are ok in final position. If you got a cluster at the end of the word, then apply the medial position as well as final position rules. Supporting vowels are the best help you can get to break down nonexistent Quenya orthography .

Example:

  • Carryduff ⇨ Céritufë 

17 responses to “Phonotactics

  1. Rakan

    I am such a big fan of the lord of the rings and I’m am glad you took your time to do this🙂 I just want to know that you learn how convert english words to quenya here? Also you would learn how to read quenya and understand it in english here? sorry if my questions are a bit stupid, i just started learning this yesterday and I’m on orthography and I’m really anxious. thank you🙂

  2. Telumel

    I don’t understand the logic behind converting voiced stop+voiced lateral approximant clusters to a voiceless lateral fricative. I suppose fricatives are intermediate between stops and approximants, but the voicelessness comes out of nowhere. Common Eldarin actually had gl- clusters in words such as g-lada- “laugh”, and they were uniformly simplified to l- not hl- (Quenya lala- “laugh”). For initial clusters of a voiceless stop and l, adapting them as hl- makes quite a bit of sense because hl- derived from Common Eldarin sl- (CE *slasū, (Ñ) Quenya hlaru “pair of ears”), presumably by the l assimilating to the s and then the s dropping, leaving a distinctive voiceless l. Clusters of stop+r should behave similarly.
    Also, I don’t understand the logic behind adapting tʃ and ʃ as s; and were pronounced as tʃ and ʃ by Westron-speakers and Vanyarin Elves, so it makes more sense to me to use ty and hy.
    One alternative to epenthetic e’s for final consonants is letting the nominative singular and the stem differ. For words that would otherwise end in a fricative that’s probably not a good idea, but there are quite a few native Quenya words that have stem alternation -t/-c-, -n/-nt-, -n/-nd-, -n/-m-, -l/-ll-, -l/-ld- etc. Especially in words of more than three syllables there is a strong tendency for a final vowel to drop and the following consonant (cluster) to simplify to a permitted final consonant.

    • Firstly, if you had read the introduction of this course, you’ll notice that the proposed material here IS NOT following any of the elvish evolutionary features as we’re dealing with adapting foreign words coming from human languages, not elvish ones. That’s the approach. So, it doesn’t matter to what Common Eldarin gl- evolved into Quenya, because that’s not the road we’re taking. This course is intended for people with no previous knowledge of the Evolution of elvish languages and as such, the words proposed won’t follow their internal mechanisms.

      Secondly, I agree with the tʃ and ʃ point of view and it’ll be amended shortly.

      Lastly, gimme an example of your nominative/stem difference with an adapted word done here.

      • Telumel

        I think you misunderstood my argument. My line of reasoning is that l after a voiced consonant is voiced itself, so there’s no reason to adapt it to Quenya as a voiceless l. bl- dl- gl- should become just l-. However, I can see the logic in borrowing pl- fl- tl- kl- as hl-, since the preceding voiceless stop makes the l unvoiced. In English this isn’t distinctive, but in Sindarin and some dialects of Quenya it is and could be used.

        As an example of stem alternation, Småland could be adapted as Mólan, stem Móland-, instead of Mólande. A Quenya parallel is andon, stem andond-. This word is only three syllables long with the epenthetic vowel, so it sounds fine as Mólande, but if it were four syllables or more I would expect some pressure to drop the final -e and simplify down to -n in the nominative singular. In running text it would be hard to notice, since a location would often appear in the locative and I would expect the dropped -e to reappear; both Mólan and Mólande should have the locative Mólandesse, I believe.

        I’m not sure what the rules are for etymological vowels that weaken and drop at the end of long compounds. “Exiles” is _Etyangoldi_, but is “to an Exile” _Etyangolden_ or _Etyangoldon_?

        • That must be your first useful comment! I really liked the Mólan (Móland-) idea and will surely apply it! Now I really thank you for that!

          Perhaps this will help you as you’re just confused with an unfamiliar way of suffixing the case ending and keeping a correct Quenya orthography:

          Etyangoldi (“ñ”) noun “Exiled Noldor” (WJ:374). Sg. probably *Etyangol (with stem *Etyangold-).

          Alcar i ataren ar i yondon ar i airefëan = “glory [be] to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit” (VT43:36). Notice the dative ending -n appended to atar “father”, yondo “son” and airefëa “holy spirit”. (In the form ataren a connecting vowel -e- is inserted before the ending -n, since **atarn would not be a possible Quenya word.)

      • Telumel

        The problem with inferring the behavior of stem-changing nouns by applying the rules for nouns that ended in a consonant in Common Eldarin (atar, ëar, Earendil, etc.) is that there are ample examples in Quenya of altered vowels reverting when they are no longer final, e.g. súrë/súri-nen, carnë/carni-mírië, ranco/ranqui. Atar can’t restore its original final vowel in any case; it didn’t have a final vowel at Cuiviénen! I can’t call to mind any example of a noun with stem variation (and thus a dropped final vowel) in a case that would require adding a vowel to the stem except for Lórien, Lóriend-, Lóriendessë, which transparently derives from *Lóriendë (see Valariandë), and Endor, Endórë, Endorenna; these have a primitive form ending in -e, so they would show an -e- no matter what the rule is. I wish I could think of an attested example of an oblique case of a shortened noun that can’t possibly have an etymological -e (e.g. Sindel, Sindeld- < sinda+elda, Etyangoldi < etya+ñoldo); that would clear up my confusion at a stroke. If the second element is obviously derived from a common word, all the better.

        Also, I think ʃ would map to hy, not ty; hy is pronounced ʃ in Vanyarin and Westron pronunciations, and the Ñoldorin sound ç sounds like ʃ to me unless I listen closely.

  3. brihtuhn

    I have to agree with Kimberly that names are very personal and if the named person is not in touch with the semantic etymology of his or her name (as most are not in the contemporary English-speaking word) then having a literal “translation” out of another language may not be “meaningful” to the individual, especially if they do not like the sound of the foreign words. There is a rather famous debate about Google’s name in Mandarin. In their case they would prefer to be 谷歌 (Gǔgē) both for the phonology and the meaning “Harvest Song” (lit.: “Valley Song” (for a company born in California’s Silicon Valley)), but many of their customers prefer to call them 狗狗 (Gǒugǒu), which means roughly “doggy”. Who’s right? Well, probably neither—but ultimately—Google is going to call itself what it wants to for complex reasons that it will decide. FedEx is the same story the other way around, but “FedEx” does not mean something potentially embarrassing in any language (to the best of my knowledge). Based on my understanding of the rules presented here, I’d assume that my nameS (Britton, Briton, ブリトン, บริตตัน, Brítan, Britún, Briht’uhn, Prrton) would become Hrittan in Quenya and I’d be very happy with that.

    • Well-exposed! Very well-exposed! You’re good, Níracas!!!!

      Anyway, etymology is just one while pronunciation may vary. Etymology is a standard common ground where all names can find its ultimate source and origin. Pronunciation change with time, location and (of course) language.

      If and when the origin of a name is traceable, it will be used here for composing 100% accurate names in Quenya. They will not be based on mutating elements such as phonology and foreign orthography.

      As said before, (Matthew = Matthews = Mateo = Mathieu = Ματθαιος = Erunno) and they all without a single exception = מַתִּתְיָהוּ (Mattityahu)….whether the one who holds this name nowadays like it or not, feel it meaningful or not.

  4. Hmm, well I did some soul searching and conversing with friends after reading your reply and I have decided to continue on my original path. So, if would like to help me in that regard, I would appreciate it…but if you can’t I understand and will not take up any more of your time.
    Sincerely,
    Kimberly
    PS: A name is unique and personal. It means as little or as much to a person as they want it to and that goes for all aspects of it….origins, nicknames, spellings, pronunciations…its all apart of the idea/perception of self…let the uniqueness shine though.

    • And the uniqueness is its origin!

      Not the orthographic form it took over the time and according to the language.

      Composing names through it doesn’t make sense.

  5. (Sorry for posting in the wrong section before!) I see that when you are translating names you translate the original meaning of the name rather than the current form of the name…while I think this is very cool and one way to translate the name, I was looking to translate the name itself not its origin meaning, ie: I want Kimberly translated, not the Hebrew meaning, meadow…because my name isn’t meadow it is Kimberly. Do you fall back on the original meaning to by-pass sounds that are not available in Quenya? If I need to look up the original meanings of the names to translate them properly I will…but I feel like it gives me a word and not their name.

    • No…you’re definitely wrong about etymology. The etymology of a name IS the name. Kimberly IS Cyneburga (royal fortress) because that’s its origin which vanished through time and space (by space I mean languages).

      A name is not letters simply put together. There is a history, a meaning behind. When you say “I want Kimberly translated not its Hebrew origin” (It`s not Hebrew by the way, it’s Old English) then….you want nothing, because Kimberly is nothing! Proper names are not translatable because they mean nothing! BUT…if you research its etymology, you’ll see that someday, in its origin, it MEANT something! There is a reason for it, it didn’t pop up from nowhere.

      If you pick names and “translate the current form of the name”, you are simply making names pop up without any meaning attached to it. Take as example my name: Matthews. In different languages, there are different renditions of it. Mateo, Mathieu, Matthew, Mateus, Matheus, Matthäus…why in Earth would one compose different Quenya renditions for the different ways of writing the SAME THING, namely מַתִּתְיָהוּ (Mattityahu). Etymologically they are all the same. In modern languages, this name MEANS NOTHING! But in its origin…everything!

  6. r2d2art2005

    There’s an error: the sound in Djibouti is d͡ʒ, not d alone.

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