Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 55)

Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 55)


S. [x], [ɸ] vocalized between a vowel and [s], [θ]; [Vx{θs}|Vɸ{θs}] > [Vi{θs}|Vu{θs}]

In Sindarin, Noldorin and (partially) Gnomish, the voiceless spirants [x] and [ɸ] (or [f]) developed into vowels before [s] and [θ], forming diphthongs in most cases. The resulting diphthongs in some cases had a distinct development from those of primitive diphthongs, indicating this was comparatively late change, probably after the Old Sindarin/Old Noldorin period, as suggested by David Salo (GS/§4.82, §4.90, §4.91). In the case of the vocalization of voiceless velar spirant [x], it seems these developments were parallel to vocalizations of the voiced velar spirant [ɣ], which can be used for additional clues for these phonetic developments.

This entry discusses the Noldorin Developments of the 1930s first, because this is the only period where we have published materials of Tolkien himself describing these changes. It then moves forward to Sindarin (1950s) before going backward to Gnomish (1910s) and Early Noldorin (1920s).

Noldorin Developments (1930s): Tolkien partially described these vocalizations in notes on the Noldorin usage of the Feanorian Alphabet from the 1930s (PE22/39-40):

The long diphthongs — ON diphthongs, diphthongization of ON ō, or new diphthongs from short vowel + vowel (in contractions or in contact with vocalized ʒ, χ), or from long vowels + epenthetic ı̯ ...
  • [o͡u] ON au, ō or ŏ + ʒ, χ. archaic h. later > [au] q.v. ...
  • [a͡e] older ai, as above; or ă + ʒ, χ. ]l later G[ondolic] — usually (beside ]l)...
  • [e͡i] e + ʒ, χ or affected a + ʒ, χ; ... l`B l~B later G[ondolic] — usually (beside l~B)...
  • [ui] ON ui; affect[ed] o, u + ʒ, χ ... .`B .~B later G[ondolic] — usually (beside .~B)...

Based on these notes it seems that [x] vocalized as follows in Noldorin:

  • [ox] > [ou] > [au]
  • [ax] > [ai] > [ae]
  • [ex] > [ei]
  • [ux] > [ui]

Although not listed, presumably [ix] > [ī]. The notes on the Feanorian Alphabet did not indicate the conditions under which [x] vocalized, but based on examples in the Etymologies from the 1930s, it seems this sound change occurred before [s] and [θ]. This is consistent with the rules whereby [p], [t], [k] became spirants before [s] and before other voiceless stops and aspirates: the combinations [xs] and [xθ] would therefore have been fairly common. There are Noldorin examples for many of these phonetic developments in the Etymologies (with probable intermediate developments added for clarity):

  • ᴹ✶taksē [> taχsa > taisa] > N. taes “nail” (Ety/TAK).
  • ᴹ✶yakta- [> yaχthe > yaithe] > N. iaeth “neck” (Ety/YAK).
  • ᴹ✶b’rekta [> breχtha > breitha] > N. breitho “break out suddenly” (Ety/BERÉK).
  • ᴹ✶k’rikta- [> kriχtha > krītha] > N. critho “reap” (Ety/KIRIK).
  • ᴹ√LOKH [> loχsa > lousa] > N. lhaws [laus] “hair” (Ety/LOKH).
  • ᴹ✶oktā [> oχtha > outha] > N. auth “war” (Ety/KOT).
  • ᴹ√YUK [> yukte > yuχthe] > N. iuith “use” (Ety/YUK).

In the case of [ax] > [ai] and [ox] > [ou], the vocalizations are obscured by the later sound changes whereby [ai] became [ae] and [ou] became [au]. There are, however, several counterexamples to [ux] > [ui], with [ux] > [ū] instead:

  • ᴹ√SUK [> suktu > suχtho] > N. sûth “draught” (Ety/SUK).
  • ᴹ√LUK [> lukte > luχthe] > N. lhûth “spell, charm” (Ety/LUK).
  • Similarly ᴹ√LUK > N. lhûtha- “to enchant” vs. ᴹQ. luhta- (Ety/LUK).

The examples of this alternate phonetic development [ux] > [ū] are actually a bit more numerous than [ux] > [ui], which only occurs for the root YUK. These variations may represent some vacillation on Tolkien’s part, or it could be that the sound change of [ux] > [ui] was conditional, occurring only in combinations like [jux-] > [jui-].

There are a smaller number of Noldorin examples of the vocalization of [ɸ]. The examples are not numerous enough to precisely determine a pattern, but the few clear examples from the 1930s seem to match the vocalization of [x]:

  • ᴹ√AP [> apsa > aɸsa > aisa] > N. aes “cooked food, meat” (Ety/AP).
  • ᴹ√LAP [> lapsa > laɸsa > laisa] > N. lhaes “babe” (Ety/LAP).
  • ᴹ✶tupsē [> tupsa > tuɸsa > toɸsa > tousa] > N. taus “thatch” (Ety/TUP).

The last example taus is exceptionally obscure unless you recall that final [e] became [a] after [s] so that a-affection likely plays a role in the phonological development of this word. It seems the base vowel [u] was lowered to [o] before the vocalization [ɸ], and the resulting diphthong [ou] developed to [au] as usual.

Determining the timing of this sound change is difficult. The example of taus seems to indicate it occurred after a-affection. A couple of notes from the Feanorian Alphabet document hints it may have occurred after i-affection as well:

  • [e͡i] e + ʒ, χ or affected a + ʒ, χ [emphasic added]; ... l`B l~B later G[ondolic] — usually (beside l~B).
  • [ui] ON ui; affect[ed] o, u + ʒ, χ [emphasic added] ... .`B .~B later G[ondolic] — usually (beside .~B).

Tolkien does not explain what “affected a” and “affected o” are in these notes, but since a-affection cannot apply to the vowel a, i-affection seems the only reasonable option. If this was the case, these words might have some unusual plurals. For example:

  • *taksī [> teχsi] > *teis, hypothetical plural of N. taes “nail”.
  • *oktā [> uχthi] > *uith, hypothetical plural of N. auth “war”.

Unfortunately, none of the clear examples of [x] and [ɸ] vocalizations have attested plurals, and neither do the similar [ɣ] vocalizations. Furthermore, it’s generally assumed diphthongs were resistant to i-affection, so these plurals would often have been different from the plurals of words containing more primitive diphthongs. Without more examples or further detailed notes, it is hard to figure out exactly what paradigm Tolkien used.

Sindarin Developments (1950s and 1960s): Many of the Sindarin examples are consistent with those of Noldorin. In particular we see consistent examples of [ax] > [ai] and [ex] > [ei]:

  • maʒtā > maχtā > S. maetha- “to handle, wield” (VT47/6).
  • PAKAT [> paχtā] > S. paeth “speech” (PE17/126).
  • ek-tā [> eχthā] > S. eitha- “to prick” (WJ/365).
  • NEK [> neχthano] > S. neithan “to prick” (WJ/365).

Like Noldorin, [ax] > [ai] was partially obscured because [ai] became [ae]. The vocalization of [ex] > [ei] is sometimes obscured by the fact that later [ei] became [ai] in final syllables:

There are no Sindarin examples of [ux] > [ū], but there are several examples of [ux] > [ui]:

There are also no Sindarin examples involving the vocalization of [ox], but there are several examples of the vocalization of [oɣ] that hint that the phonetic development would be [ox] > [oi] > [oe]:

  • logna [> loʒna > loin] > S. loen “to terrify” (VT42/10).
  • ugrā > ogra [> oʒra > oir] > S. oer “nasty” (PE22/160).

See the entry on how [ɣ], [ŋ] vocalized before [l], [r], [m], [n] for a more detailed discussion of these examples. Assuming the development of [ox] was the same as [oɣ], it seems that [x] vocalized to [i] in all cases in Sindarin: aχ, eχ, iχ, oχ, uχ > ai, ei, ī, oi, ui > ae, ei (or ai in final syllables), ī, oe, ui.

We only have one published examples of the vocalizations of [ɸ] in Sindarin, but (unlike in Noldorin) its phonetic development seems distinct from the vocalizations of [x]:

  • LEP [> leptā > leɸtha] > S. leutha- “to pick (up/out)” (VT47/10).

Here it seems [eɸ] > [eu], as opposed to [ex] > [ei]. If this was the general pattern, it may be that in Sindarin, the vocalization of [ɸ] and [x] depended on the quality of the spirant ([ɸ] > [u] and [x] > [i]) rather than on the preceding vowel, as seems to be the case in Noldorin: [ɸ] and [x] > [i] after a/e/i but [ɸ] and [x] > [u] after o/u.

Gnomish Developments (1910s): Roman Rausch discussed the analogous Gnomish developments in his Historical Phonology of Goldogrin (HPG/§2.6, 2.7). Analysis of Gnomish phonetic developments are complicated by the fact that the voiceless spirants [x] and [ɸ] were part of the phonetic inventory the earliest version of Primitive Elvish from the 1910s. Furthermore, the combinations pth and cth were quite common in Gnomish, and did not vocalize universally as they did in Sindarin/Noldorin:

There are, however, examples where it appears that voiceless spirants vocalized. These vocalizations seem to have occurred primarily (but not exclusively) in final syllables:

  • ᴱ✶kahta > G. caith “cause, reason, motive” (GL/24) vs. ᴱQ. “deed, act, fact” < ᴱ√KAHA (QL/43).
  • ᴱ✶ektī > G. aith(i) “sword” vs. ᴱQ. ekte (GL/18); compared to G. ectha above (GL/31).
  • ᴱ✶ektḷ > G. aithl “spring” (GL/18) vs. ᴱQ. ektele “fountain” (QL/35).
  • ᴱ✶leχ-sa > G. lais “green sward, glade” vs. ᴱQ. “sward, glade” (GL/53).
  • ᴱ✶foχo > G. fuitha- “to hide” (GL/36).
  • ᴱ✶foχo > G. fuis “hoard” (GL/36).
  • G. sauth “hole, tunnel” (GL/67) vs. ᴱQ. sat (sapt-) < ᴱ√SAPA (QL/82).
  • G. alewthion “having fingers” (PE13/109) vs. leptha “finger” above.

Roman Rausch suggested that the likely rule was that pth and cth were preserved medially, but [x] and [ɸ] were vocalized when part of a final consonant cluster. There are counterexamples to this, but they can mostly be explained by later compounds or analogical leveling, for example: ᴱ✶eχt·taþ· > G. aithos “thorn-bush” (GL/18) might have been revised by analogy with G. aith “thorn”. The example G. alewthion with medial vocalization appeared as later revision from the Gnomish Lexicon Slips rather than in the Gnomish Lexicon itself, and may represent a shift towards the Early Noldorin pattern of universal vocalizations (see below).

Based on the examples above, it seems that [x] vocalized to [i] and [ɸ] to [u] in the Gnoish of the 1910s. This is partly obscured by the fact that in Gnomish later [ei] became [ai] much like in Sindarin, except that in Gnomish this was a universal change rather than being limited to final syllables (the diphthong ei does not appear in the Gnomish Lexicon proper, though it does begin to appear in the aforementioned Gnomish Lexicon Slips). Another obscuring change was the fact that [oi] became [ui] in Gnomish.

Early Noldorin Developments (1920s): In the Early Noldorin of the 1920s, the medial combinations pth and cth disappeared, so it seems that the vocalization of [x] and [ɸ] before [θ] became universal. As described by Roman Rausch in his Historical Phonologies of Ilkorin, Telerin and Noldorin around 1923 (HPITN/§4.1.3), it seems that vocalization of [x] remained [i] as in Gnomish. Here are some relatively straightforward examples (with a few intermediate changes added for clarity):

These Early Noldorin vocalizations are still obscured by various other sound changes. In the last example, the sound changes are obscured by a-affection, a new feature of Early Noldorin. Other vocalizations are obscured because [ei] > [ai] and [oi] > [ui] as in Gnomish, but these diphthongal changes seem to be less universal in the Early Noldorin period. For example, we see ᴱN. eitheb “thorny” vs. ᴱN. aith “thorn” (PE13/136, 158) and ᴱN. eithlos “fountain” vs. ᴱN. aithl “spring, fount” (PE13/158), which seems to indicate that [ei] > [ai] mostly in final syllables in the Early Noldorin of the 1920s (as was also the case in later Sindarin). Similarly, there are a fair number of examples where [oi] remains unchanged:

  • ᴱN. oith “feud” vs. ᴱQ. ohta “war” (PE13/151, 164), likely from primitive *✶oktā; compare later ᴹ✶oktā > N. auth (Ety/KOT).
  • ᴱN. hoith “coitus” vs. ᴱQ. pukta or puhta (PE13/147, 163), likely from primitive *✶puktā; here a-affection plays a role.
  • ᴱN. oif “terror, phantom” vs. ᴱQ. oswe, both from ᴱ✶okswē (PE13/151, 164).

The last example seems to show a vocalization before [f] not seen in any other examples; it’s not clear under what conditions the combination [xɸ] or [xf] is possible. Since both [ui] and [oi] seem to derive from [ox] in final syllables for Early Noldorin, it’s not clear if there was a consistent phonetic rule here, or if Tolkien was gradually abandoning [oi] > [ui] in Early Noldorin as a step in the direction of the later Sindarin sound change whereby [oi] became [oe].

As was the case in other conceptual stages, there are far fewer examples of vocalizations of [ɸ]. As suggested by Roman Rausch (HPITN/§4.1.3), the few examples there are seem to indicate that [ɸ] > [i]:

  • ᴱ✶kapse > ᴱN. cais “leap” (PE13/140).
  • ᴱN. maith “ravishment; seizure” vs. ᴱQ. mapta (PE13/163).

However, there is also the following pair of (unglossed) examples from a table of Early Noldorin diphthongal developments written in the early 1920s (PE15/64):

If we account for the sound change [ou] > [au], these two examples indicate the vocalization of [ɸ] > [u], as was the case in Gnomish. These two examples may represent lingering Gnomish ideas, as bridge between the Gnomish pattern of the 1910s (where the vocalizations of [ɸ] were distinct from those of [x]) and the Noldorin pattern of the 1930s (where the vocalizations of [ɸ] and [x] where the same).

Summary of Conceptual Developments: It seems that in the Gnomish of the 1910s, [x] and [ɸ] had distinct vocalizations, with [x] > [i] and [ɸ] > [u]. This began to shift in the Early Noldorin of the 1920s, where both [x] and [ɸ] > [i]. In the Noldorin of the 1930s, [x] and [ɸ] shared the same vocalizations, but the exact sound changes were conditioned by the preceding vowel, so that after the vowels o/u both [x] and [ɸ] (usually) became [u] instead. By the Sindarin of the 1950s, it seems once again [x] > [i] consistently; there is only one published Sindarin example of the vocalization [ɸ], but here [ɸ] > [u], so perhaps Tolkien had completely reverted to the Gnomish pattern.