Notice that not all sounds in Quenya have exact equivalents in English, and also that the pronunciation of English sounds varies between different parts of the world. This makes it difficult to describe how Quenya ought to be pronounced in a way that is clear to everyone. Please take the time to listen to some of the Quenya sound files – there are links at the end of this lesson.
The vowels in Quenya are pronounced distinctly in all positions. The difference between long and short vowels lies mainly in the length, not the quality, of the sound. Long vowels are marked with an acute accent.
á = long “aaaah”, as in “father”
a = short “ah”, as the a in “aisle” (just a shorter version of the “ah” sound in “father”)
é = long “e”, as in German “Mehr” (no exact equivalent in English, but something between “ee” and “eh”)
e = short “eh”, as in “end”
í = long “ee”, as in “machine” (or “see”)
i = short “i”, as in “pit”
ó = long “oooh”, as in “sore”
o = short “o”, as in “box”
ú = long “uuuh”, as in “brute” (or “room”)
u = short “u”, as in “put”
A diphthong is a combination of vowels that represent a single sound. There are 6 diphtongs in Quenya: ai (as in “aisle”), au (“house”), eu (British “so”), iu (“yule”), oi (“oil”), ui (“ruin”). Vowels in all other combinations are to be pronounced separately. This, as well as final e, is often marked by dieresis (two dots). The use of dieresis is optional, and it is not used in Tengwar writing.
c = always pronounced as “k” (“come”)
h = pronounced as “h” (hand) in the beginning of words, and as “ch” (German “Bach”) between consonants. Not pronounced at all in the combinations hw, hy, hl, hr in the beginning of words.
l = always like in “let”
ng = both sounds are heard, as in “finger”, not as in “singer”
r = trilled, as in Spanish, Italian, Russian and Scottish English. Not as in French.
s = always unvoiced as in “so”
y = always a consonant, pronounced like in “yes”
qu = “kw”: the “u” in this combination does not count as a vowel; it is just another way to spell the “w” sound
A combination of consecutive consonants is called a consonant cluster.
When we speak Quenya (or English), we don’t say the whole word with equal force, unless of course there is only one syllable in that word. In words of two or more syllables, we accentuate one of them.
Some examples from English:
pho-TO-graph-er (stress on “to”)
PRE-sent (the noun meaning “gift” – stress on “pre”)
pre-SENT (the verb, as in “to present something” – stress on “sent”)
Word stress in Quenya is regular, and we can tell which syllable is stressed by looking at the shape of the word. The standard rule is that the stress falls on the penultimate syllable, meaning the second one from the end of the word, the second to last.
In words with two syllables, this is very easy:
Manwë (2 syllables, stress on first: MAN-we)
In words with three or more syllables, the stress falls on the second to last syllable if it meets one of the following criteria:
– it contains a long vowel (long vowels are marked with an accent)
– it contains a diphthong
– it contains a short vowel followed by a consonant cluster
Otherwise, the stress falls on the third to last syllable.
Notice that, as a diphthong counts as one single sound, both vowels are stressed. This is the only case where more than one vowel can receive the stress.
Manwë (2 syllables, stress on first: MAN-we)
Elerína (4 syllables, stress on second to last (long vowel): e-le-RI-na
Úlairi (3 syllables, stress on second to last (diphtong): u-LAI-ri)
Eärendur (4 syllables, stress on second to last (followed by cons. cluster): e-a-REND-ur)
Aratan (3 syllables, stress on third to last: A-ra-tan)
How does Quenya sound?
You can listen to Quenya vowels and words at this site: Quenya Pronunciation
A sound file of Tolkien reciting “Namárië” (Galadriel’s Farewell) can be found here: Namárië (The page may look strange, but just click the little ‘arrow’ (>) to play the sound file.)
The words for “Namárië” are on the Quenya text page: Namárië
Notice that this information is provided as extra help with pronunciation. It is not a mandatory part of this course!
You can access the exercises for the lessons from the main workbook page, or use this link: Quenya Workbook
If you don’t know how to type the accent mark and dieresis, you can find some tips here: Typing tips
Remember: the use of dieresis is optional, but the long vowels need to be marked with an acute accent!
apsa “cooked food, meat”
pirya “juice, syrup”
porë “flour, meal”
sulca “edible root”
miruvórë “mead”, a drink poured out at festivals in Valinor
limpë “wine, drink of the Valar”
Tengwar: Writing Quenya like an Elf
The Tengwar are the letters the writing system Tolkien made for the Elvish languages.
As it is a writing system it can of course be used for any language (as you might for example try to write English in Russian or Greek letters).
As each language has its own special structure and style the Tengwar have to be adapted to the language they are used for. Each such adaptation is called a mode.
Tolkien himself made six modes, but on the web there are lots of modes that other people made for their own language.
The modes Tolkien made are:
• the Quenya mode
• two modes for Sindarin: the mode of Beleriand, the mode of Gondor
• a mode for the Black Language of Mordor (used for the inscription on the One Ring)
• a mode for modern English
• a mode for Old English (the English from before 1066)
The Tengwar modes can be divided into two types:
• Full modes: each letter has its own symbol (as in the Latin alphabet). Tolkien made only one such mode: the Sindarin mode of Beleriand.
• Tehtar modes: in these modes vowels are not represented as separate letters but as little markings (called tehtar) on consonants. There are of course two possibilities: the tehta is put on the previous consonant or the tehta is put on the next consonant. In Quenya mode the previous consonant is used, in the other four modes Tolkien put the tehtar on the next consonant.
In this course we’ll restrict ourselves to the Quenya mode.
Tengwar Lesson 1:
In this first lesson you’ll learn the five tehtar of Quenya and we’ll put them on one consonant. The other consonants will follow in the next lessons.
Tolkien gave each tengwa a name and a number, and this is the first one:
So it is the tengwa with number 1, its name is ‘tinco’ and it represents the sound ‘t’.
Quenya has 5 vowel sounds (we’ll meet the diphthongs in a later lesson). Each of these sounds is denoted by a different symbol called a tehta (plural tehtar):