05 – Lenition
IMPORTANT LINK YOU WILL NEED FOR THIS MUTATION LESSON:
The consonant mutations are perhaps one of the hardest things for new students of Sindarin to grasp. However, these mutations are vital to writing grammatically correct Sindarin sentences. Once you understand how these mutations work, you will see that they are logical and help enhance the “flavor” of the language. Indeed, it is these very mutations that lend Sindarin its Celtic flavor.
NOTE: The next four lessons will deal directly with five types of Sindarin mutations. Don’t try to memorize every form of the mutations, but rather familiarize yourself with the words and situations that trigger them, and then refer back to the mutation chart when necessary. Do not despair !! If you can grasp the basic underlying idea, then you should be able to move through these at a good pace, as they all function on the same basic idea. If you’ve ever worked with a “multiplication table”, the chart is read the same way.
HOW THE CONSONANT MUTATIONS WORK
Consonant mutations (except lenition) are caused mostly by articles and prepositions. In most cases, the article or preposition causes the following word’s first consonant to mutate (although the article and/or preposition can mutate as well).
NOTE:Words beginning in vowels and some consonants are unaffected.
These consonant mutations all are caused by the conflict of differing sounds in close proximity to each other. This conflict draws the sounds to a similar place of articulation in the mouth, producing changes in sound, and what we call mutations. Many languages have mutations that are similar to what will be presented. Even if a language does not “officially” possess mutations, similar sound changes will often happen when one is speaking quickly and not fully articulating (this happens in English, though not nearly to the degree of Sindarin).
SOFT MUTATION or LENITION
The first type of mutation that we shall discuss is called “soft mutation” also known as “lenition” (softening). This is the most common mutation to occur in Sindarin, and being so, it is the one that you will have to deal with the most. The whole idea behind lenition is to soften harsh sounds so that the language “flows”. Without getting too technical, this mutation causes all of the following sounds to either become voiced (which, if you remember from lesson one was the use of the vocal cords), or they become fricatives or spirants (sounds caused by friction in the mouth).
Shown below is a smaller version of the mutations chart, with the basic consonants and their soft mutation (lenition) highlighted. The original consonant undergoing the change is shaded in BLUE (Basic C means “original basic consonant”.) The changed form is shaded in YELLOW, along with the instances which cause lenition and the meanings of the words that cause it.
NOTE: The special cases occur because of the primitive Elvish that Sindarin was derived from. These alternate mutations do not occur very often. The words that use these special cases must be memorized (see vocabulary 5 for a list of words that use these mutations) or else you have to look up the primitive root in Dragonflame to know if a word originally started with primitive MB, ND, or NG (example: bast …. from MBAS).
To show you how lenition works, let’s go back and take a look at the Sindarin singular “the” – “i”. “I” causes lenition in the following word. Therefore, if we were to put the article “i” before … mellon “friend”, the initial consonant, or sound, of “mellon” (M) would change into V. Thus “i mellon” becomes “i vellon”. Below are some examples of lenition.
i “the” + blabed “flapping” > i vlabed “the flapping”
i “the” + claur “splendor” > i glaur “the splendor”
i “the” + draug “wolf” > i dhraug “the wolf”
NOTE: When you have a word that starts with a consonant cluster (more than one consonant) be sure to look up the entire cluster on the chart, not just the first letter.
claur …. look up CL, not just C …. becomes glaur
lhaew …. look up LH, not just L …. becomes thlaew
WHEN TO LENIT
1.) Words which cause lenition are listed below. The word FOLLOWING one of these words is always lenited:
adel “behind, in the rear of”
ab- “after, behind, following, later”
am “up, upwards, upon”
ath- “on both sides, across”
di- “under, beneath”
go- (gwa-) “together”
na “to, towards, at, of, with, by”
ú- (u-) “no, not”
Examples (notice how the word following the preposition is lenited):
adel “behind” + Gandalf = Adel ‘andalf “behind Gandalf”
nu “under” + Moria = nu Voria “under Moria”
2.) Compound Words
Lenition also seems to occur in the second element of compound words.
calen + sad > calenhad
el + mellon > elvellon
Lenition usually occurs in adjectives following a noun.
taur + calen > taur galen “green forest”
barad + morn > barad vorn “dark tower”
NOTE: Notice that in all three phrases above, the adjective FOLLOWS the noun it is describing. In Sindarin, adjectives almost always FOLLOW THE NOUN they are describing and are usually lenited.
The question often arises, “What do we do if we have more than one adjective describing a noun?”. With the attested phrase “mbas ilaurui vín”, we see that the possessive adjective (vín) is lenited when more than one follows a noun. At this time, we don’t think that an adjective, when separated by “a” or any other word that breaks the flow of adjectives directly following the noun, would be lenited. In other words, in a phrase like “meril garan a melui” where the adjectives are separated from the noun by “a” (and), the adjective after “a” would probably not be lenited, although “caran” would be lenited to “garan”.
4.) Objects of Verbs
Lenition also occurs in nouns or pronouns that are the objects of verbs. From the King’s Letter: Aníra i aran … suilannad vellyn în “the king wants … to greet his friends”. Notice that “mhellyn”, the older lenited form of “friends”, is used instead of “mellyn”. This is because “friends” is the object of “greet”. Who does the king want to greet? ….”his friends”. Thus “friends” is lenited.
5.) Verbs following the negative adverb “avo” are lenited.
Example: Avo + caro > Avo garo “Don’t do (it)”.
NOTE: “Avo” can be shortened and used as the prefix “av-“. The word it is prefixed to is then lenited.
Example: av- + caro > avgaro