Firstly, let’s learn the Tengwar alphabet focusing Quenya mode. Tengwar is a phonetic alphabet and it can be used to write any language, as long as one grasps the meaningful phonetics rules concerning the language mode desired and the tengwa used.
On this area initially, you’ll learn Tengwar alphabet designed to write Quenya and Quenya only. Others languages require different modes, not discussed here.
The chart above shows all the tengwar (tengwa literally means letter) of the alphabet. Some of them are used on Quenya mode, some are not. All tengwar represents consonantal values. But what about the vowels? They’re different! They’re not letters by themselves, they’re tehtar (tehta means diacritic). Below, you’ll find a chart with vowels, diphthongs and even some y- constructions.
Vowels when they come alone, they are supported by a short line if the vowel is short, or by a long line if the vowel is long. When a vowel comes after a consonant, the corresponding diacritic will appear on the top of that consonant. So, for instance a syllable like “pa” = P tengwa+A tehta which will come on top of the P. Got it? On the other hand, a long vowel will never come above a consonant. It’s always written with the long vowel support.
Click below on each tengwa in order to listen to its name and understand its proper sound in Quenya.
Shall we practice reading a bit? Well, let’s use only the four consonants above and the vowels we have seen so far. Try to read the words below and see if you can understand them. They are simple words in Quenya and the answers are in the link given at the bottom of this page.
The 1st tengwa of this row (thúlë) denotes the phonetic evolution that came from Primitive Quendian. There was indeed the th sound (quite like think) in Archaic Quenya, but this sound vanished and was turned into a simple s sound (like sink). However, when we write Quenya using its alphabet, we must be extremely careful with S words because you need to verify its ancient root. If it came from ‘th’, you must write the word with thúlë and not silmë (will be presented here later). E.g.: Sauron (not written with ‘s’ but with ‘th’) Why? It’s because Sauron comes from saura (foul, putrid) and the primitive root of saura is (THUS).
Another detail in this row is the use of harma (-h). It’s never in the beginning of the word. Always in the middle. There’s another specific tengwa for h sounds in the beginning of the word which will be presented here later.
Time to exercise! I hope it’s been quite easy so far. Here a little bit more:
Those digraphs substitutes presented above may be confusing sometimes (depending on one’s mother tongue of course) but once you get used with Tengwar writing and reading, they won’t pose any problem at all. So, start practicing right now:
Now some nasal consonants. Remember: what’s important in Tengwar alphabet is the sound not the writing. In this case, for instance we have a huge difference between ‘n’ and ‘ñ’. Ok…I can see the difference between them right now you may say, but in Quenya sometimes you cannot see it instantly. What do I mean? Well…e.g.: Noldor! Which letter n or ñ? It’s ñ! See? It’s all based in sounds and the root of this particular word used as example sounds ‘ñ’ not just a regular ‘n’. It’s little details but they surely will tell if you wrote something right or wrong! So…look out! Quenya has got the Devil in the details!
Now head to more exercises:
And here comes the last row of the primary letters. Check them out and careful with the details again. For instance: the -r tengwa below is only used in the end of syllables like ar, er, ir, or, ur (and it’s strongly pronounced different from English). The y- tengwa is used only when ‘y’ comes in consonantal position and not palatalizing other consonant. (“ya” uses this tengwa below, “tya” doesn’t.) Always when you write the ‘y-‘ there are two dots underneath the tengwa denoting the ‘y’ itself. And to conclude, there’s the w tengwa (always pronounced like v when starting a word) which particularly is used to write ancient words with old roots in ‘w’.
Time for more exercises. If you following them all, you’ll see it’s getting more complex and including lot of tengwar by now. Keep training and practicing and in a while, you’ll be able to read Quenya plainly!
Don’t forget about the ‘y’. It’s marked by the two dots beneath the tengwa (when palatalizing a consonant and coming at vowel position), and/or by the proper tengwa explained above (when coming in consonantal position)
Now starts the additional letters row. It consists of tengwar not formed by telco nor lúva (telco = leg & lúva = bow). They’re kind of a different style, but not less important as you’ll see below. Their beauty and harmony stays the same and they simply add to the whole alphabet composition. Here they are:
And let’s practice more! There are lots of words with l and r in Quenya. Important exercise!
Continuing with the Tengwar, we have now some easy ones! Everything related to ‘S’. It’s no secret and it’s pretty much equivalent with English. Just watch out that it never sounds like ‘Z’, it’s just a simple ‘s’ and double ‘ss’ doesn’t change that much phonetically. So, here it is:
Here comes a very challenging exercise! If you cannot read it at once, read the aid given below that will clear out some unexpected tengwar use here:
Well, the first weird thing you might be wondering is: What the heck is that thing in the end of the 1st word of 2nd line? That’s an S! When coming at final position, S takes that unusual form, like an artistic extension of the previous tengwar. But that happens only when S is the final letter!!! S is a tengwa full of tricks, huh?
And what about the following word? You can see there a SS without a vowel, right? But why the tilt after? The tilt corresponds a simple hyphen. The word presented there is in fact a root, not a word in itself. I just used it here because SS without carrying a vowel is pretty pretty rare in Quenya orthography! There is a tengwa to stand for that, but it’s applicable only on those extreme situations like above.
Now the last tengwar of all and their particular details:
And here it’s the last exercise involving the tengwa shown above. What are your Tengwar reading and writing skills like so far? Are you doing fine? Do you have some doubts yet? Share anything you feel like with me! I’ve been contacted by people who are improving their knowledge and once you understand the syllabic logic within the Tengwar writing system, everything becomes plain clear in front of your eyes! I hope I can assist thee in thy quest!
Well…all tengwar is here! If you followed this course so far, trained with the exercises and practiced elsewhere too, you’re definitely ready and ‘graduated’ to start writing in Tengwar! Here there are just a few notes about punctuation which might prove to be really helpful when writing a text.
If you can read the text below, you’re ready to live among elves! Congratulations! Try to read it without checking the course above (when possible). Keys are coming!
Check all your answers to the exercises in the link below.