Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 83)

Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 83)

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S. initial [x-] became [h-]; [x-|x{lr}-] > [h-|{l̥r̥}-]

At all stages of the languages (Sindarin, Noldorin, Gnomish) an initial [x] (χ) developed into [h], as noted by David Salo (GS/§4.130). Tolkien mentioned this change in his notes on the Noldorin use of the Feanorian Alphabet from the 1930s:

The sign ½ was reintroduced from the original Feanorian general alphabet only in late ON to denote h (at first absent in ON) redeveloped from initial kh, hy and intervocalic s (PE22/25).

Examples are easy to find. Here is a representative sample from the various conceptual stages:

As shown in the examples above, initial χ- could arise from a variety of primitive sources, such as kh-, khy- or sk-. In Tolkien’s earliest conception of Primitive Elvish from the 1910s and 1920s, χ was part of the phonetic inventory of Primitive Elvish, but in later iterations of the language, Sindarin h- mostly arose from aspirated kh- [kʰ].

This sound change played a role in the development of Sindarin soft-mutation in a somewhat unusual way. Normally soft-mutation was the result of a medial phonetic change that was caused initially by a lost final vowel from a preceding word. Here soft-mutation of h- > ch- was caused by the preservation of medial form (ch) which was prevented from reaching its normal initial form h- by the lost final vowel of the preceding word.

Where this change occurred in an initial cluster with a liquid (χl-, χr-) the result was a voiceless liquid (lh-, rh-), as noted by David Salo (GS/§4.131). The only clear example of this is in Noldorin:

The change of khl- > lh- was mentioned by Tolkien in the Comparative Tables of phonetic development from the 1930s (PE19/21). Those tables indicate that chr- was preserved, but this is contradicted by the example above, so it is likely Tolkien changed his mind by the time The Etymologies was written.