Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 8) [UPDATE]

Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 8) [UPDATE]


NOTE: Edited to reflect possible Sindarin development of [ŋ-] > [ŋg-] > [g-]

OS. initial and intervocalic [ŋ] vanished; [ŋ-|VŋV] > [ø-|VøV]

The ancient velar nasal ñ [ŋ] generally vanished in Sindarin and Noldorin, ultimately surviving only in combination with voiced and voiceless stops: [ŋk] and [ŋg], including the larger cluster [ŋgj] (but not [ŋgw] which had already become [mb]). A clear description of this change appears in the second version of Tengwesta Qenderinwa from around 1950:

[initial] ŋ̃ at first remained until ŋ̃w > m ... ñy > y not nil. This shows loss of y in ky-series was later than Noldorin, Telerin labialization of kw-series ... [medial] ñ later disappear[s] (with various vocalic effects) except (i) in combinations ñk, ñg, ññ (> ñg), (ii) in medial ñy, ñw > ñgy, ñgw > mb [more exactly: medial ñy > ñgy and medial ñw > ñgw > mb] (PE18/104).

This note helps establish the timing of this phonetic rule: after labialized velars became labials (since [ŋw-] > [m-] and not [w-]) but before [j] was lost after initial velars (since [ŋj-] > [j-] and not [ø-]). Furthermore, since ñ usually survived in Telerin (PE18/103), this change must have occurred in Old Sindarin rather than Ancient Telerin, as suggested by David Salo (GS/§4.38).

There are a few attested examples of this change in both Noldorin and Sindarin, but isolated ñ seems to be rare in Tolkien’s later conception of Primitive Elvish:

The last example seems to illustrate ñy- > y-. The primitive ñ seems to have been palatized, perhaps ñiw+ta- > ñyiuta- > ON. yūta-.

Based only on the note from PE18/104 above, it not exactly clear what Tolkien meant by “ñ later disappear[s] (with various vocalic effects)”. There are, however, other later sound changes that could fit this description. In the Noldorin of the 1930s, [ɣ] and [ŋ] vocalized before [l], [r], [m], [n], becoming either [i] or [u]. In the Sindarin of the 1960s, [ŋ] vanished with compensatory lengthening where it had appeared before primitive nasals [m] or [n]. Tolkien could have been referring to either of these later vocalizations of [ŋ]; the note on PE18/104 was written around the 1950, in between these Noldorin and Sindarin paradigms.

The strengthening of ñ to ñg was fairly common in Primitive Elvish, particularly initially, and this survived medially in Sindarin while developing into g- initially. There is a note from the late 1950s or early 1960s on the etymology of the name of S. Galadriel that indicates that isolated initial velar nasal ñ- also became g- in Sindarin rather than vanishing:

If the original form of Galadriel’s name was ñgal(a)tā-rig-el-, Quenya would be Ñaltariel and Galadriel would be correct. And only associated with trees in Lorien ... no never so associated, but by strangers. ñ- > ñ in Quenya, > ñg > g in Sindarin, only vanishes in Telerin [emphasis added]. Altarielle is Telerian (PE17/60).

This could have been a permanent change in the Sindarin phonetic development of initial [ŋ] or a transient idea; without further evidence it is hard to tell.

Conceptual Development: In Gnomish, examples like the following seem to indicate that initial [ŋ-] became always [g-] rather than of vanishing:

Since the lenited form of Golda was i·Ngolda (GG/8), it is clear that [ŋ-] > [ŋg-] > [g-], a phonological development that is the same as the later Sindarin note given above (PE17/60).

The phoneme [ŋ] was actually fairly common in Early Primitive roots, even medially, and such roots frequently show g- or -ng- in Gnomish forms. For example:

  • ᴱ√ŊAHYA > G. gaist “torment, oppression” (GL/37).
  • ᴱ√GUŊU > G. gung “spider” (QL/98).
  • ᴱ√EŊE > G. eng(a) “plain, vale” (QL/36, GL/32).
  • ᴱ√RIŊI > G. ring “cold” (QL/80, GL/65).

This seems to indicate that [ŋ] became [ŋg] medially as well, at least where isolated or between vowels. Many corresponding Early Quenya forms also show medial ng, hinting that this might even be a phonetic rule in Tolkien’s early conception of Primitive Elvish. The early Qenya Phonology from the 1910s indicates this same medial modification to the velar nasal at an ancient (Kor-Eldarin) stage of Qenya: compare the charts on PE12/15 (ȵ) to PE12/16 (ng), though in those notes this sound change was still “after the departure of the Noldoli”.

However, there are a few examples that show other developments might be possible, for example G. “coolness, cool” (GL/65), also very likely derived from the root ᴱ√RIŊI and perhaps with a lost [ŋ].

It is not clear when Tolkien revised the velar nasal development so that [ŋ] vanished, but notes from the 1930s indicate this new paradigm was in place by the time the Etymologies was written:

  • Initially ñ vanished without trace (as in Kal[aquendian] generally) except that ñy > ny at the time that ky > ty and so remained in Q. ny but in N., T. > y whereas ñw > ñ in N., T. at time kw > p and so remained (Outline of Phonetic Development [OP1], 1930s, PE19/32-33).
  • But already before adaption to Old Noldorin [the tengwar] h n had ceased to be consonantal, owing to disappearance of the nasals [ŋ, ŋu̯] for which they originally stood, and had become the signs for o, u̯ (w). This use persisted in ON. (The Feanorian Alphabet, late 1930s, PE22/25).

The basic Sindarin phonological development of [ŋ] seems to have been the same as Noldorin, except that Tolkien may have restored the Gnomish initial phonetic development: [ŋ-] > [ŋg-] > [g-] (PE17/60).