A start shines on the hour of our Elvish lesson: Tengwar
Six years ago, if you googled ‘write your name in Elvish,’ the first site to come up would be Write your name in Elvish in Ten Minutes. And if you read the website, someone by the name of PuntCuncher would lead you—or rather, mislead you, as I found out later—through the steps to write your name and other English words in fancy Elvish script.
As I implied, however, the website propagated some glaring falsehoods about the Tolkien Tengwar system. This post, hopefully, will restore truth and integrity to the original script.
Literally ‘signs’ or ‘symbols’ in Quenya, Tengwar is the scripture system associated with the Elvish languages. Tengwar comprises only one set of tengwar but manifests differently in each of the Elvish languages, as well as all languages, by way of ‘modes.’ In this way, each tengwa corresponds not only to a sound but to a culture. Theoretically, we can take English words and write them with Elvish script; Tengwar exists independently of language. In this post, we focus exclusively on the Quenya mode of Tengwar. This mode is also known as the Classical mode of Tengwar.
NOTE: Tolkien did develop a mode of Tengwar specifically for English, with some inconsistencies, but nonetheless original. If you would prefer to transcribe your name with this system of Tengwar, I refer you to this website.
Tengwar – Consonants
Sixteen Basic Tengwar
The adjacent table lays out the 16 basic tengwar, their associated sounds and names. Like Chemistry students, we will analyze the table’s horizontal and vertical trends instead of each element as a whole. Notice that each tengwa consists of a telco—a stem— and one or more lúvar—or bows.
Consider the sounds these tengwar represent. As you move from left to right, read the sounds aloud and take note of the anatomical position from which the sounds originate. They move incrementally from the tongue to the lips to the throat to the chest.
Each of rows two through four is an acoustic variation of the four fundamental tengwar, which are listed in the first row. Again, repeat the sounds aloud and take note of where you say them. For example, the nasalized variation of tinco is anto; the presence of the n shifts the source of sound from your mouth to your nose. Nasalization coupled with the softening of the t in tinco gives you ando and, by extent, the correlation between rows one and two. Distinguishably, row three offers the aspirated variation of the fundamental tengwar as the sounds require the movement of air.
Keep in mind that harma is not pronounced as the ‘ch’ in church, but rather the ‘ch’ in the Scottish word loch.
What about the other sounds, like s and l?
The following eighteen tengwar include script for s and l sounds and more. These characters are also constructed from the fundamental tengwar by eliminating the upwards or downwards extension and adding one or two extra lúvar. Structure of this tengwa table is arbitrary. It should be noted that ñoldo is rarely used, especially in third age Quenya; but when it is, it represents the n sound in ‘wing.’
What if I have a double consonant in my name, like ‘Emma’?
This complication is solved by writing one tengwa corresponding to the letters in question and drawing a horizontal line underneath. Consider the following examples.
Why are there two different characters for r ?
The Elvish linguistically differentiate between a ‘strong’ r and a ‘weak’ r. The former is represented by rómen, and is used when the r is cushioned by two vowels or found at the beginning of a word. The weak r, found at the end of a word or as part of a consonant cluster, is spelled with óre. The following examples demonstrate further.
Why are there so many ways to write s ?
The s is typically indicated by a swirl of some form, with the exception of the basic tengwa thule. In some older Quenya manuscripts, the Elvish s is pronounced as a th, thus fostering thule’s dichotomy. For our purposes, we’ll stick with the thule—th correspondence and use silme for single s sounds. Silme will extend upwards or downwards depending on the existence of a vowel atop it. The same is true for the double s. There is a small deviation, however; for names that end in a consonant and s, as in -ts, -ps, -ls or x = -ks, the s is spelled as the variation of a small concave down curl with tail attached to the final consonant. This is perhaps better demonstrated with an example.
What’s the deal with h ?
Simply put, hyarmen is used at the beginning of a word and harma is used in the center of a word. There is a third spelling of h—called halla—which properly scribes a particularly aspirated consonant at the beginning of a word. Halla is particularly useful for Arabic or Indian names.
Tehtar – Vowels
In Quenya, the Tengwar vowels are represented by tehtar—or accents—atop the consonant they follow. Thus, in writing the name ‘Galadriel’ in Quenya, you would place the a tehta over the g tengwa, the a over the l and so on. This is perhaps the biggest difference between Quenya Tengwar and Sindarin Tengwar, for in the latter writing method the vowel embellishes the consonant it precedes.
This constitutes a solid foundation on which we may construct a few examples. To write the name ‘Chip’ in Quenya Tengwar, begin by differentiating the consonant sounds from the vowels.Shift the vowels up and over the preceding consonants. Then translate all letters to the corresponding tengwar and tehtar.
What if your name starts with a vowel? Or what if your name has an accented vowel, like Mélanie?
Both of these complications we resolve with carriers: tengwa that exist expressly to hold vowels with no consonant present. Short carriers hold short, non-accented vowels. Long carriers hold longer, accented vowels.
What’s up with y?
The Elvish consider y a vowel, and only a vowel. The spelling of y changes depending on where it is in the word. If the y is preceded by a consonant, as in Skylar or Kelly, the appropriate tehta consists of two dots below the preceding consonant. If the y begins the word or name, as in Yorick, the vowel is represented by two dots and awarded its own carrier, anna.
I have a diphthong in my name. How does that work in Elvish?
Diphthongs are vowel clusters that formulate a single sound. The label does not extend to all vowel clusters, however; the ie in Galadriel, for example, is not a diphthong since the cluster makes two different vowel sounds. In this instance, you would put the first vowel atop the preceding consonant and the second vowel atop a carrier.
By contrast, au and ai are examples of diphthongs since they are pronounced as one vowel. Diphthongs ending in u or i are given carriers úre and yanta respectively. The accompanying vowel is then translated accordingly and placed atop this carrier.
Test your newfound skill
You’ve come this far, learned this much. By now you should have enough information to write and read not only your name, but those of your friends and any Quenya Tengwar phrase, for that matter. As homage to your newfound lingual capabilities, translate the inscription on The One Ring. Submit your answers in the comments.
 Renk, Thorsten. Quetin i Lambë Eldaiva: A Quenya Course. 2nd ed., Self-Published, 2008.