Quenya/Root Words

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LESSON 0: Sundocarmi and Lambelë

The aim of this lesson is to provide learners with a basic knowledge of the root words of Quenya, their modifications and how the language sounds and looks. Furthermore, the studying of the lambelë allows learners to easily understand the changes that may occur on inflected words.

→ Go to Exercises.

→ Go to Lesson 1.
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Theory of sundocarmi[edit | edit source]

Any reference in textbooks:

In dealing with Elvish Languages, it is essential to understand the concept of sundocarmë or root.

Definition[edit | edit source]

The best definition has been given by Tolkien himself in the Qenyaqetsa:

Roots are not words in use at all, but serve as an elucidation of the words grouped together and a connection between them.(LT1:246).

Sundocarmi are not actual words, but bases that contain the general meanings, and from which, during the process of evolution of Elvish languages, real words were derived through affixes, suffixes, or modifications.

For example, the idea of "fine rain" is contained in the sundocarmë MIZD-, from which is derived the word for "fine rain" mizdē (in Quenya mistë).

Structure[edit | edit source]

In the very first phase of the Primitive Quendian, sundocarmi were probably used as actual words; in that period the Elves could speak only through uninflected words, without any differentiation between parts of the speech. Such a simple language is difficult to imagine for us. Tradition says that the very first word ever said by an Elf was el-e!, a primitive esclamation «look!», referring to a star.

Sundocarmi (or proto-words, if they were) usually have the construction vowel-consonant-vowel (both vowels are short), each preceded by a consonant that has been lost:


like DELE- ("walk") or ABA- ("deny"). This model was preferred for those sundocarmi whose meanings are related to actions (walking, speaking, making, etc..); usually those sundocarmi are said to have verbal meanings read . For other classes of sundocarmi, various structures crystalised; the most frequent one moves the dismissable phoneme from the first to the last one:


like TATA- ("two") or TUR- ("power, control").

So we can affirm that there exists a common basic structure for sundocarmi as well, being:


formed by two elements:

  • the consonantic group C-C called sundo
  • the vowel V called sundóma (or steam or radical vowel) .

There exists also sundocarmi which Tolkien called monoconsonantic which, as does KWE- ("speak, speaking, language"), contains only one consonant.

CV or VC

Derivation[edit | edit source]

After Elves had developed a sensibilty for the different parts of speech, they started to derive sundocarmi from the existing ones. Firstly monoconsonantic sundocarmi were expanded, for example KWE- gave KWENE- and KWETE-; later modifications in the structure of sundocarmi appeared. A good example is NAK- >> NDAK- ; ÁNAK- ; NAYKA- ; ecc…

The most frequent modification (that sometimes are used to derive words) are:

  • Intensification: prefixing to a sundocarmë its sundóma, usually together with its lengthening either in the first or in the last position. The extended version is called intensive form.

  • A infission: adding an a before the sundóma:
-i- > -ai- SLIW- > slai
-u- > -au- THUS- > thau

  • I/Y infission: putting an i/y after the sundóma (less frequently used than the previous one):

  • Nasal infission: adding an n before the 2nd vowel of the sundo (an m before b, p, n):
n infission DAT- > DANT-
m infission DEM- > dim

Here is one exemple of infission where ŋ has been added before w:
ŋ infission LIW- > liŋwi

  • Antoryamë: under this noun has been collected by Tolkien various modifications.
    • Vowel strengthening: that is the lengthened of one or all the appearance of the sundóma.
mata > mātā
    • 'Ostimi': An ostimë of the 1st consonant of the sundo is charcterised by «the running together of two elements, that could be analysed phonetically (without reference to intention or effect) as separate gestures or movements, into a combination that had and was intended to have a unitar effect and significance.»(VT#49:9) Ostimi creates a consonantal diphtong called ohlon.
t > st
s > st
l > gl
r > gr
k > ky
k > kw
The most notable are the nasal ones:
b > mb BAD- > MBAD-
d > nd DUL- > NDUL-
g > ŋg
m > mb BAR- > MBAR-
n > nd NAT- > NDAT-
ŋ > ŋg ÑOL- > ÑGOL-
Similar modification can occur also either in the middle of the words or at the end. When it occurs in the middle, it is also possible to duplicate a consonant or an entire group of elements, in which case it means the repetition of the action carried by the sundocarmë:
CVC > CVCCV BAT- > battâ-
  • Ómataina: a vocalic extension consisting of adding at the end of the sundocarmë its sundóma followed by a consonant, usually –n, -c, -t, or –s.

  • Differentiation: adding at the end of the sundocarmë the vowel -u

  • Variation: modifying in the sundo some consonants with other similar:
t / th / d
s / th
sp / ph
k / kh
p / t
d > l
Much rarer are variations between vowels ( e/a , a/u).

Lambelë[edit | edit source]

The word lambelë includes all the aspect related to sounds and their pronunciation, that we usually differentiate in phonological and phonetic aspect of language. An explanation of this technical word has been given by Tolkien himself in:

lambelë [is] a general word for what we might call "phonetics", though it includes various aspects that were not purely "phonetic", but considered the effects of design, selecton, predilection (aesthetic preferences). and meaning upon the nature and use of the tengwi ("phonemes").(VT#39:16).

The first and most important rules of Quenya is that the language should always follow phonetics aesthetic prinicples: to write a sentence in good Quenya is not only important its grammatical correctness, but she has also to be "good-sounding". This is the reason why many phonological changes occur in Quenya morphology.

Phonology[edit | edit source]

Textbooks references:

Phonology (Greek phonē = voice/sound and logos = word/speech), is a subfield of linguistics which studies the sound system of a specific language (or languages). Whereas phonetics is about the physical production and perception of the sounds of speech, phonology describes the way sounds function within a given language or across languages.

In simpler words, phonology is the collection of rules that defines those phonema that could be used, how they could been modified, their beahviour and how they can be combined.

Q#R gives a concise and good descprition of the major aspects of Quenya phonology, that should be integrated with the contenents of Q#W for a complete overview of Quenya hloni and their pronuciation(sounds).

However, as phonology has a central position in that language, and most of its structures could be understood only through phonological laws, below are highlighted the principal ones.

TAPTON OHLONI (Consonant Clusters)
  • Clusters may not appear at the begining of a word, apart from:
qu (for kw), ty, ly, ny, nw
  • Inside a word the most occuring clusters are:
ld, mb, mp, nc, nd, ng, ngw, nqu, nt, nw, qu (for kw), ps, ts, x (for ks).
and the geminated or lenghtened consonants:
cc, ll, mm, nn, pp, rr, ss, tt
  • Clusters, apart from case inflection -nt, may not appear at the end of words. In this position the only accepted consonants are:
l, n, r, s, t
  • The consonants d and b never appear alone.
ÓMEAR (Vowels)
  • A vowel cannot be lenghtened before a geminated consonants or before a cluster.
  • The only accepted diphthongs are:
ai, au, eu, iu, oi, ui

Skipping for the moment the section about "Prefixes", let us go directy to Q#R:99: Consonant Shifts. The shifts described here, some of which have already appeared when we talked about antoryamë, occurs not only when we deal with prefixes; they are frequently observed in the grammatical inflections of the language and are peculiarities of Quenya. Learners should try to remember the ones occuring most, and should keep the table in mind whilst studying the grammar.

Phonetics[edit | edit source]

Textbooks references:

Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone meaning 'sound, voice') is the study of sounds and the voice. It is concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds (phones) as well as those of non-speech sounds, and their production, audition and perception, as opposed to phonology, which is the study of sound systems and abstract sound units (such as phonemes and distinctive features). Phonetics deals with the sounds themselves rather than the contexts in which they are used in languages.

For an extensive illustration of Quenya Phonetics, refer to Q#W or much better to Q#F:Lesson1. Below is given only the pronunciation (with X-SAMPA phonetic notation) of each tengwë (" phoneme"):

  • ómatengwi or lehta tengwi (vowels):
a [a]
á [a:]
e [e]
é [e:]
i [I]
í [i:]
o [o]
ó [o:]
u [u]
ú [u:]
  • ohloni (diphthongs):
ai [a:j]
ei [e:j]
oi [o:j]
ui [u:j]
au [au:]
eu [eu:]
iu [ju:]
  • sarda tengwi or tapta tengwi (consonants):
b [b]
c [k]
d [d]
f [f]
g [g]
gw [gw]
h [h] at the beggining of words
[x] between two vowels
[x] before -ta, -to, tu
[x\] before -te, -ti
hy [x\]
hw [B]
hl *
hr **
l [l] normally
[lj] between an -e or -i and a consonant, or after an -e or -i at the end of the word.
ly [lj]
m [m]
n [n] when comes from the primitive n
[N] when comes from the primitive ŋ (written also ñ)
ny [nj]
nw [Nw]
p [p]
qu [kw]
r [r] normally
[R] before a consonant
ry [rj]
s [s] normally
[T] among two vowels
t [t]
ty [tj]
v [v]
y [j]
w [w]

Stress[edit | edit source]

Textbooks references:

In linguistics, stress is the relative emphasis given to certain syllables in a word. Where it falls in Quenya it's well explained on Q#W.

In addition Quenya features what linguistics call secondary stress in words with more than two syllables; it's placed on the last syllable if both the penultimate and the last are shorts.