Quenya as an actual entity in our own world exists primarily as a written language: Quenya enthusiasts tend to be widely scattered and must generally share their compositions via some written medium only (indeed I shall normally refer to users of Quenya as "writers" rather than "speakers"). Nonetheless, any student should obviously know what pronunciation Tolkien imagined, as well as his intentions can be approximated now.
There exist a very few recordings of Tolkien himself reading Quenya texts. In a late TV interview, Tolkien writes out and pronounces the greeting elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo. More notably, he made two different recordings of Namárië (sung and spoken). The spoken version is also available on the net: http://www.salon.com/audio/2000/10/05/tolkien_elvish/index.html (under "Poem in Elvish"). A few lines of this version of Namárië differ from their LotR counterparts: The recorded version has inyar únóti nar ve rámar aldaron / inyar ve lintë yulmar vánier instead of yéni únótimë ve rámar aldaron! / yéni ve lintë yuldar (a)vánier as in LotR. The recording was made before the book was published (and hence before the final revisions). A much later recording, with the same text as in the book, also exists. I have not heard it, so I cannot comment further.
The very few extant recordings are interesting, but they are not our chief source of information. Most of what we know about Quenya pronunciation is based on Tolkien's written notes about how his languages should be pronounced, predominantly the information provided in LotR Appendix E. (Indeed Tolkien's actual pronunciation in the recordings is not always quite flawless according to his own technical descriptions, but then he was not a native speaker of Quenya.)
Any natural language has a phonology, a set of rules defining what sounds are used, how they vary and behave, and how they can be combined. This goes for any well-made invented language as well. Quenya is most definitely not a haphazard jumble of sounds; Tolkien carefully constructed its phonology – both as an evolving entity (classical Quenya gradually developing from Primitive Elvish) and as a "fixed" form (defining the kind of Quenya that was used as a language of lore and ceremony in Middle-earth). Tolkien had Pengolodh, the sage of Gondolin, observe that Elvish tongues tended to use relatively few sounds – "for the Eldar being skilled in craft are not wasteful nor prodigal to small purpose, admiring in a tongue rather the skilled and harmonious use of a few well-balanced sounds than profusion ill-ordered" (PM:398). None of the sounds used in Quenya are particularly exotic from a European viewpoint, but they are combined in an exquisitely tidy manner. Compared to Tolkien's Elvish, many "real" languages indeed appear rather messy.
Let us get some basic terms into place (people with linguistic training need not spend much time on this section). The sounds of any language can be divided into two broad categories, vowels and consonants. The vowels are sounds made by letting the air stream "freely" through the mouth: Different vowels are produced by modifying the position of the tongue and the lips, but the stream of air is not directly obstructed. If one draws out various vowels, pronouncing aaaaa... or eeeee... or ooooo..., it is easy to feel how the air streams quite unhindered though the mouth: One merely configures the tongue and lips to "shape" the desired sound. Vowels can be more or less "open" or "closed": You only have to notice the position of the tongue and lower jaw when pronouncing aaah... as contrasted with their position when you pronounce ooooh... to understand what is meant by this. The vowel a (as in English part) is the most open, while the vowel u (as in English rude) is the most closed. Other vowels fall between. Vowels can also be more or less "rounded", mainly depending on the position of the lips; the vowel u (as just described) is said to be rounded because it is pronounced with the lips pouted. A vowel like o (as in English sore) is actually pronounced much like the a of part, but o is rounded and a is not – making the vowels audibly distinct.
When pronouncing vowels, the stream of air is only modified (by means of devices like the ones just described). It is never actually "hindered". In the case of the consonants, the air is however more actively obstructed. Thus, Tolkien can inform us that one early Elvish term for consonant was tapta tengwë or just tapta, meaning "impeded element" or "impeded one" (VT39:7). In the most "extreme" cases the stream of air may even be completely halted for a moment: This is easily perceived in the case of a consonant like p, which is pronounced by bringing the lips into contact, momentarily cutting off the stream of air from the lungs and allowing a pressure to build up inside the mouth. Then the lips are suddenly parted again, releasing the air in a small explosion – and this explosion constitutes a p. Such plosive consonants include t, p, k and their counterparts d, b, g (sc. hard g as in gold, not as in gin). They are all formed by halting and then suddenly releasing the air various places in the mouth. Instead of halting the air completely one may also let it "fizzle through" a small opening, as when f is pronounced by forcing the air out between the lower lip and the upper teeth; such "friction" sounds are called fricatives (or spirants) and include consonants like f, th, v. And there are yet other options on how to manipulate the stream of air, such as rerouting it through the nose to produce nasal consonants like n or m.
The concept of voicing should also be understood. Humans (and, it would seem, Elves) come with a kind of buzzing device installed in their throats, namely the vocal chords. By making the vocal chords vibrate, one may add "voice" to the stream of air before it enters the speech organs proper. The presence or lack of such voicing is what distinguishes sounds like v vs. f. If one draws out a sound like ffff...and suddenly turns it into vvvv... instead, one will feel the "buzzer" in the throat kicking in (put a finger on your glottis – what in men is called the "Adam's apple", less protuberant in women – and you will actually feel the vibration of the vocal chords). In principle, the device of voicing could be used to double the number of sounds we are able to produce, since they could all be pronounced either with vibration in the vocal chords (as voiced sounds) or without such vibration (as unvoiced sounds). In practice, most of the sounds of speech do not appear in unvoiced versions. Many sounds would barely be perceptible without the voicing (n, for instance, would be reduced to little more than a weak snort). Normally all vowels are voiced as well, certainly so in Quenya (though in Japanese, vowels may lose their voicing in certain environments). But I have already referred to d, b, g as the "counterparts" of t, p, k; they are counterparts in the sense that the former are voiced and the latter are not. One characteristic feature of Quenya (at least the Noldorin dialect) is the very limited distribution of the voiced plosives d, b, g; they occur solely in the middle of words, and then only as part of the consonant clusters nd/ld/rd, mb, and ng. Some speakers also pronounced lb instead of lv. (Possibly Tolkien imagined different rules for the poorly attested Vanyarin dialect of Quenya: The Silmarillion refers to a lament called Aldudénië made by a Vanyarin Elf; this word has puzzled researchers since the middle d occurs in a position that would be quite impossible in Noldorin Quenya.)
Syllables: Made up of vowels and consonants, speech is not an undifferentiated outburst of sound. Rather it is perceived to be organized into rhythmic units called syllables. The shortest possible words are necessarily monosyllabic, having only one syllable – like English from or its Quenya equivalent ho. Words of more than one syllable, polysyllabic ones, form longer strings of rhythmic "beats". A word like faster has two syllables (fas-ter), a word like wonderful has three (won-der-ful), a word like geography has four (ge-og-ra-phy), and so on – though obviously we can't go much further before the words would be felt to be impractically long and difficult to pronounce. Some oriental languages, like Vietnamese, show a great preference for monosyllabic words. But as is evident from the English examples just quoted, European languages often employ longer words, and Tolkien's Quenya makes extensive use of big mouthfuls (as does Finnish). Consider words like Ainulindalë or Silmarillion (five syllables: ai-nu-lin-da-lë, sil-ma-ril-li-on). An uninflected Quenya word typically has two or three syllables, and this number is often increased by adding inflectional endings, or by compounding.
THE SOUNDS OF QUENYA
In Quenya, the basic vowels are a, e, i, o, u (short and long). They may also be combined into diphthongs, groups of two basic vowels pronounced together as one syllable: There are three diphthongs in -i (ai, oi, ui) and three in -u (au, eu, iu, though the diphthongs eu and iu are quite rare). The consonants of Third Age Quenya may be listed as c (= k), d, f, g, gw, h, hy, hw, l, ly, m, n, nw, ny, p, qu, r, ry, s, t, ty, v, y and w (this listing is not wholly uncontroversial; the consonant system of Quenya can be plausibly analyzed in more than one way). In Elvish writing, the Tengwar orthography also upholds the distinction between some consonants that by the Third Age had come to be pronounced alike and thus merged altogether (þ merging with s, while initial ñ fell together with n – see the discussion of spelling conventions). In the transcription and spelling employed in this course, the former presence of "lost" distinct consonants is reflected in two cases only: hl and hr, that were originally unvoicedl and r, but later they merged with normal l, r (and are therefore not included on the list of Third Age Quenya consonants above). Thus we will spell, say, hrívë ("winter") in this way despite the fact that Tolkien imagined the typical Third Age pronunciation to be simply "rívë" (with a normal r).
Though the consonants hy, gw, hw, ly, nw, ny, ry, ty, and qu (and hr, hl) must here be written as two letters (as digraphs), they should evidently be taken as unitary sounds: Their pronunciation will be discussed in greater detail below. The digraphs in -w represent labialized consonants, while the digraphs in -y stand for palatalized consonants; again, see below for further discussion of these terms. It should be understood that qu is simply an aesthetic way of spelling what would otherwise be represented as cw (most people will agree that Quenya looks better than Cwenya), so qu, like nw, is a labialized consonant. When counting syllables one must remember that there is no actual vowel u in qu; "u" here stands for w. A word like alqua ("swan") thus has only two syllables: al-qua (= al-cwa). One must not think "al-qu-a" and conclude that there are actually three syllables. In Tengwar writing, qu is denoted by a single letter, and in most early sources, Tolkien also used the single letter q to represent it.
Double consonants: Some consonants also occur in long or double versions; double vs. single consonants may be compared to long vs. short vowels. The "obvious" cases, sc. the double consonants directly represented in orthography, are cc, ll, mm, nn, pp, rr, ss and tt (e.g. ecco "spear", colla "cloak", lamma "sound", anna "gift", lappa "hem of robe", yarra- "to growl", essë "name", atta "two"). The group pp is very rare, only attested in material far predating the LotR. In the Note on Pronunciation appended to the Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien noted: "Consonants written twice are pronounced long, thus Yavanna has the long nheard in English unnamed, penknife, not the short n in unaimed, penny." Words like ana "towards" vs. anna "gift", tyelë "ceases" vs. tyellë "grade", ata "again" vs. atta "two" should be audibly distinct. – It is possible that some of the consonants written as digraphs must also be counted as double consonants when they occur between vowels; e.g. ny = long or double palatalized n (more on this below).
Consonant clusters (vs. single consonants): It is difficult to pronounce many sequential consonants, so the languages of the world generally confine themselves to relatively small groups (or "clusters") of consonants. The most typical word, from just about any language, is a series of vowels and consonants (single ones or relatively short consonant clusters) alternating – the "core" of each syllable usually being a vowel. Tolkien's Quenya is no exception; this language actually has quite restrictive rules for how consonants and vowels can be combined into syllables and longer words. Even so, consonant clusters are quite common, but they are not distributed as "freely" as in English. While English and for that matter Sindarin allow consonant clusters at the beginning of words, Quenya does not (SD:417-418). A word like scream, commencing with a cluster of no less than three consonants, would be quite impossible in Quenya. Tolkien noted that the name that the "Woses" or Wild Men had for themselves, Drughu, was adapted to Quenya as Rú (UT:385). Quenya could not preserve the initial cluster dr- of the original form of this loan-word (even apart from the fact that Quenya could not have d in this position). Quenya does allow a limited number of consonant clusters medially, between vowels in the middle of words; among "frequent" of "favoured" clusters Tolkien cited ld, mb, mp, nc, nd, ng, ngw, nqu, nt, ps, ts and x (for cs). Hence we have such typical Quenya-style words as Elda "Elf", lambë "tongue", tumpo "hump", ranco "arm" etc. Finally, at the end of words, only five single consonants may occur: only -l, -n, -r, -s, or -t is permitted in this position (Letters:425; however, most Quenya words end in a vowel). Consonant clusters or double consonants are not normally found at the end of words, though they may occur if a final vowel drops out (is elided) because the next word begins in the same or a similar vowel. Hence in LotR we have a "final" nn in the phrase lúmenn' omentielvo ("on the hour of our meeting"), but only because this is reduced from lúmenna omentielvo (this full form occurring in WJ:367 and Letters:424). The only genuine consonant cluster occurring at the end of a word seems to be nt used a specific grammatical ending (dual dative, to be discussed in later lessons) – e.g. ciryant "for a couple of ships", formed from cirya "ship". Tolkien's earliest "Qenya" experiments, as recorded in the Qenya Lexicon of 1915, were more liberal in this respect. "Qenya" allowed more final consonants and even final consonant clusters, but as LotR-style Quenya evolved in Tolkien's notes, he tightened up the phonology. Thus he gave the language a more clearly defined flavour.
Vowels: Quenya vowels are pure. For people who want to pronounce Elvish vowels with some degree of accuracy, Tolkien recommended Italian vowels as a model (as did Zamenhof for Esperanto, by the way). Speakers of English have an ingrained habit of blurring many vowels, especially when they are not fully stressed; hence in a word like banana it is typically only the middle A that comes out as a "proper" A-sound. The two other A's, that are not stressed, are typically made to sound like a blurred, obscure "reduction vowel" that linguists call a schwa (from a Hebrew word for nothingness; English textbooks sometimes prefer the spelling "shwa"). But in Quenya all vowels, in all positions, must be clearly and distinctly pronounced; any tendencies to "blur" them must be strongly resisted.
As we remember, Quenya has both long and short vowels, the long ones being marked with an accent: á, é, ó, ú, í vs. short a, e, o, u, i. Long and short vowels must be kept apart and pronounced clearly distinct. Sometimes vowel length is the only thing that makes otherwise similar words distinct: for instance, cu with a short u means "dove", whereas cú with a long ú means "crescent".
Long á can be sounded as in English father: má "hand", nárë "flame", quáco "crow". However, English does not have anything corresponding to Quenya shorta. It is absolutely necessary to master it, for short a is by far the commonest of Quenya vowels. Tolkien noted that it should be more "open" than the long á. What we want is a vowel that by its sound (or quality) is about midway between the a's of English father and English cat – but as for its length (or quantity), it should by all means be short as in the latter word. The vowel heard in Spanish padre will do.Speakers of English may pin down a short a by isolating the first part of the diphthong ai as in aisle.
NOTE: If you have the original Star Wars movie available, listen carefully when Harrison Ford first appears about 45 minutes in and introduces himself as "Han Solo": Ford actually produces a nice Quenya-style short a in "Han", making this syllable sound as it would in Quenya words (e.g. hanu "a male" or handa "intelligent"; apparently there is even a Quenya word han "beyond"). But later in the SW movies, the vowel of "Han" is inconsistently pronounced either with a long a as in English father or with the vowel heard in English cat, which is precisely the vowel to be avoided in Quenya. Linguistic consistency was never the, ahem, force of Star Wars. By the way, do you remember Endor, the green moon where George Lucas placed his reinvented teddy bears in the third movie? Guess what the Quenya word for "Middle-earth" is! Lucas would surely say that his intention was to pay tribute to Tolkien...
UPDATED NOTE: Now that Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring has appeared, I can quote examples from the soundtrack of this movie as well; most people interested in Tolkien's work will surely have seen it, and many are also going to buy it on video or DVD. Good examples of short Elvish a occur in the Sindarin name Caradhras "Redhorn" as pronounced by Christopher Lee ("Saruman") in the scene where his spying crows return to Isengard: "So, Gandalf, you try to lead them over Caradhras..." Lee also gets the short a's more or less right in a scene following shortly afterwards, when he stands on the top of Isengard reading a Quenya invocation: Nai yarvaxëa rasselya taltuva notto-carinnar... (but the last word sounds almost like cárinnar, the first vowel being long – after all, Chris Lee is not a native speaker of Quenya!)
An extra challenge for speakers of English is to pronounce -a as a full vowel at the end of words. Where English orthography has a final -a, it is normally pronounced like a schwa. Contrast the English and the Spanish pronunciation of the final vowel in a name like Sara; in Spanish, the English-style reduction or "blurring" of the -a does not take place. In one very early source, Tolkien actually stated that "Qenya", like English, turned final, unaccented -a into a schwa ("as in English drama", QL:9), but there is nothing to suggest that this idea was still valid decades later when he wrote the LotR. Indeed even the early source just referred to has it that there was one important dialect of "Qenya" where the weakening of final -a did not take place. So speakers should try to pronounce a full a in all positions: neither of the a's in a word like anna "gift" should be pronounced as in the English name Anna.
Long é is another Quenya sound that does not occur in contemporary English. The long e of English became long i (like Quenya í) centuries ago – though because of this descent it is still often spelt ee, as in see. Quenya é has the value of German eh as in Mehr. The pronunciation of ai in English air at least approaches é, but this is really a short e followed by a schwa. Tolkien notes that long é should be closer than short e (see LotR Appendix E), so just lengthening the vowel heard in English end will not be quite sufficient. The quality of the vowel should be about midway between the vowels heard in English end and English see, but it should be long like the latter: nén "water", ré "day", ména "region".
Shorte may be pronounced as in English end. In Quenya this sound also occurs in final position. Since word-final e is usually silent in English orthography, Tolkien often used the spelling ë in this position – and throughout this course, this spelling is employed consistently. This is only to remind English readers that in Quenya, this letter is to be distinctly pronounced. But since word-final e never occurs in spoken English, some speakers tend to substitute i or ey (following English practice in the rare cases of a final orthographic "e" being sounded, as when Jesse is pronounced "jessi", or karate is pronounced "karatey"). Quenya e should have the value described above in all positions. It must NOT be pronounced i, nor must there be a y-like sound creeping after it: lómë "night", morë "black", tinwë "sparkle".
Long í is pronounced as in English machine,that same as "ee" in English see: the Quenya word sí ("now") is similar in sound. Other examples include nís "woman" and ríma "edge". This long í must be noticeably longer than short i, which may be pronounced like in English pit: Titta "tiny", imbë "between", vinya "new". In one early source, Tolkien himself quoted the word pit as an example of short "Qenya" i (QL:8). Later writings suggest that the quality of the vowel-sound should be like the i of machine, in English often spelt "ee" – start with this sound and shorten it. (Before unvoiced stops, as in feet, "ee" may be quite short also in English – just make sure there is a distinction of length between i and í.) Notice that i is never pronounced ai as in English fine = "fain".(Quenya finë "larch" has two syllables, the vowels being those heard in pit [ideally a little closer]and pet, respectively.) Of course, this also goes for final -i (usually a plural ending). If the student will forgive another Star Wars reference, George Lucas' Jedi may be "jedai" = "jed-eye", but Tolkien's Quendi are most definitely not "quendai". In Quenya, final -i should rather be pronounced as in Iraqi, Mississippi.
Long ó may be pronounced more or less as in English sore, but preferably a little tenser and "closer" (midway between the vowel-sounds of English sore and English "oo" as in soon): mól "slave", tó "wool", óma "voice". Short o may be pronounced as in English for (when accented), or as in box. The quality of the latter vowel may be just a little too open and A-like according to Tolkien's descriptions. Yet this is the pronunciation he himself used in most cases in the recording of him reading Namárië; it should perhaps be attributed to his English accent. Some words with o: rondo "cave", olos "dream", tolto "eight". Of course, Quenya o is never pronounced "ow" as in English so, also; a word like tolto must NOT come out as "tol-tow". Neither must o ever be reduced to a schwa or dropped altogether; be especially mindful of the ending -on, often found in masculine names (and also in plural genitives like Silmarillion; see later lessons). "English-style" pronunciation of a name like Sauron would result in what a baffled Elf might try to represent in writing as Sór'n (or at best Sóren). The final -on should sound rather like the first syllable of English online, with the vowel fully intact even though it is unaccented in Sauron. In the Jackson movie, the actors usually deliver a good pronunciation of this name; especially listen to how "Gandalf" and "Saruman" pronounce it. Good examples of short Elvish o also occur in the name Mordor as pronounced by the same two actors.
Long ú is the vowel of English brute, in English often spelt "oo" as in fool: Númen "west", cú "crescent", yúyo "both". It must be distinctly longer than short u, which is pronounced somewhat like the vowel of English put (NOT like in English cut). Ideally, Quenya short u should be a little more "rounded" than the vowel of put; it should be simply a shorter version of the long ú or "oo" described above: Cundu "prince", nuru "death", ulundo "monster".Notice that Quenya u is never pronounced "yu" as in English union; ulundo should not become "yulundo".
Speakers of English must be especially mindful of their vowels when a combination vowel + r occurs. In the combinations ar, or, many speakers of English have a tendency to lengthen the vowel even where it should be short (and many would also let the r drop out, especially when it is followed by another consonant). But in Quenya words like narda ("knot") or lorna ("asleep"), the vowel before the r must be short, as indicated by the absence of the accent mark. It is not permissible to let the pronunciation drift towards "ná(r)da", "ló(r)na", no matter how tempting this is to people used to English speech-habits.
Where the groups er, ir, ur occur (e.g. in words like sercë "blood", tirno "watcher", turma "shield"), speakers of English must take care NOT to pronounce the vowels after the fashion of English serve, girl, turn. (I once had an English teacher who described the vowel of "girl" as one of the ugliest sounds of the English language. She taught English at university level, so she should know – though perhaps she wasn't wholly serious...) Short e, i, u should sound just as described above, wholly irrespective of the following r. In LotR Appendix E, Tolkien noted that er, ir, ur should sound, not as in English fern, fir, fur, but rather like air, eer, oor (that is, like it would be natural for a speaker of English to pronounce orthographic "air, eer, oor" – however, it should be understood that this would only be an approximation of the ideal pronunciation). In the Peter Jackson movie, the actors struggle to pronounce the final syllable of the Quenya name Isildur correctly, with variable results. In the flash-back scene where Elrond (played by Hugo Weaving) leads Isildur into Mount Doom and urges him to destroy the Ring, Weaving's pronunciation of the name Isildur is very good – following Tolkien's guidelines to the letter.
Diphthongs: In addition to the "basic", unitary vowel-sounds discussed above (what linguists would call the monophthongs), we have the diphthongs – combinations of two basic vowels that are run together into one syllable, in many ways behaving like a unitary vowel for the purpose of word-building: The Quenya diphthongs are ai, au, eu, iu, oi, and ui.
¤ The diphthong ai is the same that is heard in English aisle. It is NOT like the one in English mail, though English orthographic "ai" usually represents the latter sound (can anyone think of other exceptions than aisle?) The first syllable of faila "just, generous" must not pronounced like the English word fail, since Quenya ai always has the sound of English I, eye: Aica "fell, terrible", caima "bed", aira "holy". Of course, the first syllable of the latter word sounds nothing like English air!
¤ The diphthong au is pronounced as in German Haus, or more or less as the "ow" of English cow: aulë "invention", laurëa "golden", taurë "forest". It is never sounded as in English caught, aura (in which words "au" is pronounced rather like Quenya ó). In his "Note on Pronunciation" appended to the Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien notes that the first syllable of Sauron should be like English sour, not English sore. (However, the diphthong in sour is in British English followed by a schwa – a faint reminiscence of the otherwise silent final r. This schwa should not be pronounced in Sauron.)
¤ The diphthong eu does not occur in English, but it is not dissimilar to the "o" of English so. The only difference is that while the first part of the diphthong is a schwa in English, it should be a normal e (as in end) in Quenya. In particular, some British upper-class pronunciations of English "o" as in so come close to Quenya eu (but the American pronunciation does not). Quenya examples: leuca "snake", neuma "snare", peu "pair of lips". This diphthong is not very common.
¤ The diphthong iu may be sounded like yu in English yule, according to the usual Third Age Pronunciation. Tolkien imagined that originally, it had rather been a "falling" diphthong like the other Quenya diphthongs, stressed on the first rather than the last element (LotR Appendix E). However, the Third Age pronunciation would be equally "valid" also within the mythos, and for speakers of English it is easier to achieve. This diphthong is in any case very rare; in the Etymologies it is only attested in a handful of words (miulë "whining, mewing", piuta "spit", siulë "incitement" and the group tiuca "thick, fat", tiuco "thigh" and tiuya- "swell, grow fat" – a few more examples of iu could be quoted from Tolkien's early "Qenya" material).
¤ The diphthong oi is easy, corresponding to English "oi" or "oy" as in oil, toy: coirëa "living", soica "thirsty", oira "eternal".
¤ The diphthong ui Tolkien sometimes compared to the sound occurring in English ruin. This is a rather surprising example, for surely the word "ruin" is not normally pronounced as containing a diphthong, but as two distinct syllables: ru-in. Rather think "ooy" as in the English phrase tooyoung: huinë "shadow", cuilë "life", uilë "(long, trailing) plant". Notice that the combination qui does not contain this diphthong; this is just a more visually pleasing way of spelling cwi (e.g. orqui "Orcs" = orcwi).
All other groups of vowels are not diphthongs, but simply vowels belonging to separate syllables, to be pronounced distinctly. In linguistic terms, vowels that are in direct contact without forming diphthongs are said to be in hiatus. Primitive Elvish apparently did not have such combinations, at least not in the middle of words: Tolkien had Fëanor concluding that "our fathers...in building words took the vowels and parted them with the consonants as walls" (VT39:10). But some consonants had been lost in Quenya, so that vowels that were originally so "parted" had come into direct contact (VT39:6). In Quenya we even have polysyllabic all-vowel words like Eä (a name of the universe) or oa ("away"). The most frequent combinations of vowels in hiatus are ea, eo, ie, io, oa; each vowel should be sounded "by itself". Tolkien often emphasizes this fact by adding diaereses or "dots" to one of the vowels, and in the consistent spelling here imposed on the material, we regularly write ëa (Eä), ëo (Eö), oë. Thus there is no excuse for such mistakes as pronouncing ëa as in English heart or please, or oë as in canoe or foetus. (Other distortions are apparently also possible: Cate Blanchett simply reduced Eärendil to "Erendil" the one time her version of Galadriel pronounces this name in the Jackson movie: "I give you the light of E[ä]rendil, our most beloved star..." Can we have an extra vowel for the Director's Cut, please?)
In this course we do not use the diaeresis in the combinations ie (except when final) and oa, but as indicated by the spelling ië and öa in certain Tolkien manuscripts, the vowels must be pronounced distinctly and not drawn together as in English piece (or tie), or English load. In accordance with this, Christopher Tolkien in the Note on Pronunciation that he appended to the Silmarillion indicates that the name Nienna is to be pronounced Ni-enna, not "Neena" as if ie were sounded as in English piece. (Immediately after the line in which she mangles the name Eärendil, Cate Blanchett pronounces the Quenya word namárië, "farewell". I'm glad to say that she did a better job with this word, getting the -ië more or less right!) Some words with vowels in hiatus: fëa "soul", lëo "shade", loëndë "year-middle" (the middle day of the year according to the Elvish calendar), coa "house", tië "path".
Consonants: Most Quenya consonants are easy to pronounce for people used to speaking a Western language. These points may be observed:
¤ C is always pronounced k, never s; indeed Tolkien does use the letter k rather than c in many sources. Celma "channel" or cirya "ship" must not come out as "selma", "sirya". (This goes for Sindarin spelling as well: When Celeborn is pronounced "Seleborn" in the Rankin/Bass animated version of LotR, it clearly shows that the moviemakers never made it to Appendix E.)
¤ In the groups hw, hy, hl, hr, the letter h is not to be pronounced separately. These are just digraphs denoting unitary consonants:
¤ What is spelt hl, hrwas originally unvoicedl, r. That is, these sounds were pronounced without vibration in the vocal chords, resulting in what may be described as "whispered" versions of normal l, r. (If you can isolate the l of English please, you will have an unvoiced l – though in this case, it is just "incidentally" unvoiced because of the influence from the unvoiced plosive p immediately preceding it. English never has unvoiced l as an independent sound of speech, as Quenya originally did.) In Quenya, these sounds are quite rare; examples include hrívë "winter" and hlócë "serpent, dragon". However, Tolkien stated that by the Third Age, hr and hl had come to be pronounced as normal voiced r, l, though the spellinghl, hr apparently persisted in writing.
¤ What is spelt hw corresponds to English wh in dialects where this is still distinct from normal w (e.g., witch and which are audibly distinct words – American English, as well as northern British English, normally uphold this distinction, though it has been abandoned in the British Received Pronunciation). Put simply, hw is a (weak) version of the sound you make when you blow out a candle. Hw is not a very frequent sound in Quenya; this seems to be a quite complete list of the known words where it occurs: hwan "sponge, fungus", hwarin "crooked", hwarma "crossbar", hwermë "gesture-code", hwesta "breeze, breath, puff of air" (also as verb: hwesta- "to puff"), hwindë "eddy, whirlpool".
¤ What is spelt hy represents a sound that may occur in English, but that is not normally recognized as a distinct consonant in this language. Hy denotes what by a German term is often referred to as ich-Laut or "ich-sound", since it is exemplified by "ch" in the German word ich ("I"). To speakers of English it may sound much like sh (one imagines Kennedy training long and hard to avoid "Ish bin ein Berliner"). Still, as I said, a (weak) version of the sound in question may often be heard in English as well: In words like hew, huge, human, the h may be pronounced like an (obscure) hy. Cf. SD:418-419, where Tolkien states that in Quenya or "Avallonian", the sound hy is "approximately equivalent to...h in huge". In LotR Appendix E, Tolkien also pointed out that hy has the same relationship to y as hw (discussed above) has to normal w: one is unvoiced, the other voiced. So another way of arriving at hy is to start with the sound of y (as in you) and produce a voiceless, "whispered" variant of it. Once you have the sound pinned down, you only have to strengthen it; it should be pronounced with the same force as English sh: Hyarmen "south", hyalma "shell, conch", hyellë "glass". It seems that hy mostly occurs at the beginning of words; ahya- "change" is presently the sole known example of hy occurring between vowels in the middle of a word. However, h in the combination ht following certain vowels should also be pronounced like hy; see below. – In LotR Appendix E, Tolkien noted that speakers of Westron (the supposed "original language" of the Red Book, that Tolkien "translated" into English) often substituted the sound of sh for Quenya hy. Speakers of English who don't care about subtle phonological details may of course do the same, turning a word like hyalma into "shalma". This would be a pronunciation that existed also within the Middle-earth setting, though it was not quite like the proper Elvish pronunciation (and it does seem best to aim for the latter!) I guess many speakers of English would hardly be able to tell the difference, though. Incidentally, one can achieve a pretty good hy by starting from sh; just make sure that your tongue is not raised (you may press its tip against the lower teeth to be certain of that). If you try to pronounce sh with the tongue in this position, what comes out ought to sound like hy.
¤ Outside the groups hw, hy, hl, hr, the letter h does represent an independent sound, but it is pronounced somewhat differently in different positions. It seems that originally, Quenya h (at least where it comes from Primitive Elvish kh) was typically stronger than English h – that is, a "breath-h" as in high. In Fëanor's day it was apparently pronounced like ch in German ach or Scottish loch, or like Cyrillic X. In phonetic writing, this sound is represented as [x]. But later, at the beginning of words, this [x] was weakened and became a sound like English h. In LotR Appendix E, Tolkien informs us that the Tengwa letter for [x] was originally called harma; naturally this Tengwa was so called because the initial h of this word was an example of the sound the letter denoted, [x]. But when [x] in this position eventually turned into an English-style h, the Tengwa was renamed aha, for in the middle of words, [x] was not weakened. So we can extract these rules: at the beginning of words (before a vowel), the letter h is to be pronounced like English h. But in the middle of words, h is to be pronounced [x]: as between vowels in aha "wrath", and likewise before t in words like pahta "closed", ohta "war", nuhta- "to stunt".
In one late source, Tolkien noted that "in Quenya and Telerin medial [x] eventually became h also in most cases" (VT41:9). It may therefore be permissible to pronounce even words like aha with an English-style breath-h. But the group ht must probably always be pronounced [xt]; the weaker breath-h would be barely audible in this position.
This rule needs one modification. Likely, h before t was originally pronounced [x] in all cases. Following any of the vowels a, o, and u, this pronunciation persisted, as in the examples pahta, ohta, nuhta- above. But following the vowels i and e, the original [x] turned into a sound similar to German ich-Laut (German may indeed be Tolkien's inspiration for this particular development in Quenya phonology). Thus in words like ehtë "spear" or rihta- "to jerk", h should be pronounced just like the hy described above. Again, Tolkien imagined that human (mortal) speakers of Westron had a tendency to substitute a sound like English sh and say "eshtë", "rishta" instead.
¤ Quenya l "represents more or less the sound of English initial l, as in let" (LotR Appendix E). Now why did Tolkien specify that Quenya l is to sound like an initial English l (regardless of its position in a Quenya word)? As Tolkien was well aware, British English l is pronounced somewhat differently in different positions. An initiall, as in let, is pronounced as a so-called "clear" l – and this is the kind of l that should be used in all positions in Quenya (as is also the case in other languages, like German). But when l is not initial, English in most cases employs a so-called "dark" l, which differs from the the "clear" l in that the "dark" variant is pronounced by arching the back of the tongue upwards: Contrast the pronunciation of l in two words like let (clear l) and fill (dark l). Compared to the "clear" l, the "dark" l sounds lower pitched, but this sound is to be avoided in Quenya. This may be something of a problem to Americans, since their L's tend to be rather "dark" in all positions, even initially (at least as perceived by European ears). – Perfectionists should also observe another detail: In Letters:425, Tolkien mentioned l among the Quenya "dentals", sc. sounds that are pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the (upper) teeth. English normally uses an alveolarl instead, that is, a sound pronounced with the tip of the tongue further back, above the teeth rather than touching them. This again makes for a somewhat "darker" sound. When pronouncing a Quenya l, one should make sure that that the tip of the tongue touches the teeth.
¤ Quenya n is like English n. Usually this sound had been n all along, but in some cases it represents older ng as in English king, ding (notice that there is no distinct g to be heard, despite the spelling). Unlike English, Quenya could also have this sound at the beginning of words. As mentioned in the discussion of spelling conventions, Tolkien sometimes used the letter ñ to represent this older ng, e.g. Ñoldor. In his letters, Tolkien in one case added a footnote to the word Noldor (so spelt), informing the recipient that the initial N was to be pronounced "ng as in ding" (Letters:176). This would however be the "archaic" pronunciation; people speaking Quenya in Frodo's day would simply say Noldor: LotR Appendix E clearly indicates that by the Third Age, initial ñ had come to be pronounced like a normal n, and therefore the Elvish letter for ñ "has been transcribed n". We have adopted the same system here, so the letter n in nearly all cases represents normal English n, regardless of its phonological history in Quenya. I say "in nearly all cases" because n is still pronounced ñ before c (= k), g and qu. This is not much of a problem, for it is natural for speakers of English and many other languages to use this pronunciation anyway. In a word like anca "jaw" the cluster nc is therefore pronounced like "nk" in English tank, and in a word like anga "iron" the ng should be sounded like "ng" in English finger. Notice that Quenya ng occurring in the middle of words should always be pronounced with an audible g (this also goes for the group ngw, as in tengwa "letter"). It is NOT just the simple ñ described above, the "ng" of English king, with no distinct g. (We are of course talking about a hard g here; Quenya ng must never be pronounced "nj" as in English angel, but always as in finger. The sound of "soft" g as in English gin does not occur in Quenya.)
¤ Quenya r "represents a trilled r in all positions; the sound was not lost before consonants (as in [British] English part)" (LotR Appendix E). English r is generally much too weak for Quenya. Its weakness is precisely the reason why it tends to drop out before consonants and at the end of words (except where the next word happens to begin in a vowel – and by analogy, some speakers of English even introduce an R-sound where a word that properly should end in a vowel comes before a word beginning in a vowel. That is when vanilla ice starts coming out as "vanillar ice" – or, if you like, "vanilla rice"! Of course, this must be avoided in Quenya.) Quenya r should be trilled, as in Spanish, Italian, Russian etc., or for that matter as in Scottish English. Certain subtleties of Tengwar spelling suggests that in Quenya, r was somewhat weaker immediately in front of consonants (as opposed to vowels) and at the end of words. Nonetheless, it should be a properly trilled, wholly distinct sound even in these positions: Parma "book", erdë "seed", tasar "willow", Eldar "Elves". The vowel in front of r should not be lengthened or otherwise affected. In the Jackson movie, the actors portraying Gandalf and Saruman normally pronounce the name Mordor correctly, with trilled r's and short vowels (whereas Elijah Wood's "Frodo" invariably says Módó with no trace of any r's!) In the movie, Mordor is Sindarin for Black Land, but by its form and pronunciation, the word could just as well be Quenya mordor = "shadows" or "stains" (the plural form of mordo).
The uvularr that is common in languages like French and German should be avoided in Quenya, for LotR Appendix E states that this was "a sound which the Eldar found distasteful" (it is even suggested that this was how the Orcs pronounced R!)
¤ The consonant s should always be unvoiced, "as in English so, geese" (LotR Appendix E). In English, s is often voiced to z, even though orthography may still show "s". For instance, though the s of English house is unvoiced, it becomes voiced in the plural form houses (for this reason, Tolkien noted that he would have liked the spelling houzes better – see PM:24). When pronouncing Quenya, one should be careful not to add voice to s, turning it into z: Asar "festival", olos "dream", nausë "imagination". Third Age Exilic Quenya did not possess the sound z at all. (Tolkien did imagine that z had occurred at an earlier stage, but it had later turned into r, merging with original r. For instance, UT:396 indicates that the plural of olos "dream" was at one stage olozi, but later it became olori.) Where it occurs between vowels, s often represents earlier þ (more or less = th as in thin); the words asar and nausë mentioned above represent older aþar and nauþë and were so spelt in Tengwar orthography.
¤ On v and w: We must assume that v and w are properly pronounced as in English vine and wine, respectively (but initialnw is strictly not n + w but simply a so-called labializedn; see below). There are some unclear points here, though. LotR Appendix E seems to indicate that in Third Age Quenya, initial w had come to be pronounced v: it is said that the name of the Tengwa letter vilya had earlier been wilya. Likewise, Tolkien indicated that the word véra ("personal, private, own") had been wéra in what he called "Old Quenya" (PM:340). In the Etymologies, the evidence is somewhat divergent. Sometimes Tolkien has primitive stems in W- yield Quenya words in v-, as when the stem WAN yields Quenya vanya- "go, depart, disappear". Sometimes he lists double forms, as when the stem WÂ (or WAWA, WAIWA) yields Quenya vaiwaandwaiwa, both meaning "wind". Under the stem WAY Tolkien listed a word for "envelope" as "w- vaia", evidently indicating a double form waia and vaia (all of these examples are found in LR:397). In LR:398, there are further double forms, but in the case of the verb vilin ("I fly") from the stem WIL, Tolkien curiously changed it to wilin. Perhaps he suddenly decided to go for the "Old Quenya" spelling rather than actually rejecting one in favour of the other?
The weight of the evidence seems to be that at the beginning of words, w- had come to be pronounced as normal v- by the Third Age; where Tolkien listed double forms in w- and v-, the former is apparently to be taken as the more archaic form. However, I have not regularized the spelling on this point, though where Tolkien himself used or listed a form in v- rather than w- (either alone or as an alternative to w-), I will use the form in v- in this course. (This also goes for vilin!) It is possible, though, that according to the Third Age pronunciation all initial w's should be sounded as v, the original distinction between initial v and w having been lost in the spoken language. It is unclear whether or not Tolkien meant that this distinction was consistently upheld in Tengwar orthography (as when this writing upheld the distinction between þ and s even after both had come to be pronounced s). If so, the letter called (wilya >) vilya was still used for v representing older w, while another letter (vala) was used for v that had been v all along. – Other than at the beginning of words, the distinction between v and w was upheld even in the Third Age. In the case of the groups lw and lv the distinction could even be emphasized by altering the pronunciation of the latter: "For lv, not for lw, many speakers, especially Elves, used lb" (LotR Appendix E). Hence a word like elvëa "starlike" would often be pronounced "elbëa", and it might also be so written in Tengwar orthography. Though frequent, this would seem to be a non-standard pronunciation, and the spellings employed by Tolkien usually indicates the pronunciation "lv". Cf. for instance Celvar (or "Kelvar", meaning animals) rather than Celbar in the speeches of Yavanna and Manwë in the Silmarillion, chapter 2. In PM:340 Tolkien quotes a Quenya word for "branch" as olba rather than olva, though.
¤ The letter y "is only used as a consonant, as y in E[nglish] Yes": Tolkien singled this out as one of the few major departures from Latin spelling in the spelling conventions he used for Quenya (Letters:176). The vowely, like German ü or French "u" as in lune, does not occur in Quenya (though it is found in Sindarin).