Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 107)

Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 107)

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S. short vowels generally lengthened in monosyllables; [C*V̆C] > [C*V̄C]

NOTE: The examples in this entry were fairly comprehensive when it was written (April 2019) but new examples may have been published since then. For brevity, this entry does not provide references for every word, but it does link each to the appropriate word in Eldamo.

Monosyllables in Sindarin and Noldorin ending in a vowel or a single consonant frequently lengthened their vowel, as noted by David Salo (GS/§4.167). This change was not universal, however, and seems to be conditioned by a variety of factors. Fortunately some of Tolkien’s notes on the Noldorin usage of the Feanorian Alphabet from the 1930s provide some guidance on the conditions under which monosyllabic vowels lengthened:

  • The modifier –Ö peg dadol “double dot”, in ON called ambayō “raised y”, was used thus = ĕı̯ produced by epenthesis of ı̯ to ĕ: as in băr “home”, pl. bĕı̯r (later by lengthening before sonorous consonants bār, be͡ır) written w]7 wlÖ7 (PE22/36).
  • [œ̆] ... This was never long. In final stressed syllables — where short vowels were lengthened — it did not occur, since here affection of o was > y. It occurred before ON ya as orya; but here œı developed: œır > eır (PE22/38).
  • [ȳ] ... only occurred after archaic period from lengthening of stressed y before voiced final consonants as dȳr < dy̆r “lands” (PE22/38).

Based on these notes it seems that the vowel lengthening occurred (a) before “sonorous” or voiced consonants and (b) in words that were stressed. This implies that the lengthening did not occur when the monosyllable was unstressed or when it ended in a voiceless consonant. This is largely consistent with the examples where lengthening does and does not occur.

Lengthening did not occur for “minor” (unstressed?) words: Monosyllabic vowel lengthening is primarily observed in “major” words: nouns, adjectives and verbs (in particular 3rd person singular present tense verb forms). It is not seen in “minor” words like articles or prepositions which were only lightly stressed or unstressed, for example: S. i “the”, S. dan “against”, S. di “beneath”, S./N. na “with, of”, N. or “above”. The only preposition with a long vowel in Sindarin or Noldorin is N. trî “through” (Ety/TER), and since its root is ᴹ√TER with the vowel [e] this was probably the result of primitive long [ē] > [ī]. Conjunctions also show no lengthening, probably for similar reasons, for example: S./N. a or ar “and”; S. ach “but”.

Somewhat more surprising, Sindarin and Noldorin pronouns also do not show vowel lengthening, for example: S. ci “thou [you familiar]”, S. le “you (polite)”, S. men “us”, S. nin “me”. This includes demonstratives and interrogative pronouns: S. sen “this”, S. han “that” [lenited], S. man “what, who”. The only clear pronouns that have long syllables are the possessive pronouns: S. nín “my”, S. mín “our”, S. lín “your (polite)”. Furthermore, given the vowel changes [e] > [ī] in menmín and lelín, it seems these lengthened vowels were ancient. It might be significant that Tolkien usually represented them as ordinary long vowels í rather than overlong î (but note dîn “his” [lenited]). It’s harder to justify the lack of lengthening for pronouns based on stress patterns. However, it seems Sindarin pronouns generally function as clitics attached to nearby words, so perhaps they were only lightly stressed.

Lengthening did not occur before unvoiced consonants: The primary consonants that remained voiceless finally in Sindarin and Noldorin were the voiceless spirants ph, th, ch ([f], [θ], [x]). Looking at monosyllables ending in these consonants, almost all have short vowels.

th: N. dath “hole, pit”, S./N. gwath “shadow”, N. gath “cavern”, N. gwath² “stain”, N. lhath “thong”, N. nath “web”, N. path “smooth”, S./N. rath “street; course”,
  N. breth “mast”, S. gweth “?report”, N. meth “end”, S. neth “sister, girl”, N. neth “young”, S./N. peth “word”, S. reth “?climber”, N. seth “first, forth” [deleted],
  S./N. brith “gravel”, S./N. lith “ash, sand”, S./N. mith “grey”, N. mith² “white fog, wet mist”,
  S. both “fen, marsh”, N. both “puddle, small pool”, N. coth “enemy”, S./N. groth “cave”, S./N. hoth “host”, S. loth/N. lhoth “flower”, S./N. moth “dusk”,
ch: S. ach “neck”, N. bach “article, ware, thing”, S. lhach “leaping flame”, S. ’rach “curse” [lenited],
  N. ech “spine”,
  N. lhoch “ringlet”, S./N. roch “horse”,

Exceptions include:

  • S./N. hîth “mist”, S. nîth “sister”, N. nîth “youth”, but these all have primitive [ī] or [ē] and so were long primitively.
  • Any examples with û must likewise have been derived from primitive [ō] or [ū], since short [u] typically became [o].
  • One apparent genuine exception is S. iâth “fence” (SA/iâth, WJ/370), but that also appeared as iath (WJ/378).

The other unvoiced consonant was [s], but that could not occur finally as a single consonant in Sindarin and Noldorin words, because intervocalic [s] became [h] and later this [h] vanished. Any final [s] in Sindarin or Noldorin is necessarily the reduction of long [ss]. There are a couple Noldorin monosyllables with long î before [s], but these long vowels seem to be the result of other historical processes: N. dîs “bride”, N. rhîs “queen”. There is also N. câs “top, summit” which appears to be a genuine exception, but that word was deleted.

Lengthening did (mostly) occur before voiced consonants: Looking at monosyllables ending in voiced consonants, we typically see vowel lengthening. The list below omits “minor” words like prepositions and pronouns, which almost always had short vowels, as noted above. It also omits any û monosyllables because these were almost invariably long primitively, as noted above. Broken down by final consonant and the quality of the lengthened vowel, the examples are:

b: S. mâb “hand”
d: N. bâd “beaten track, pathway”, S. pâd “step; ford”, N. râd “path, track”, S./N. tâd “two”
  S. bêd “tells” [lenited]
  N. nîd* “damp, wet; tearful”, S. rhîd* “peculiar hue, (special) fashion”
  N. lhôd “floats”, N. pôd “animal’s foot”
dh: N. hâdh “?cleaver”, S. sâdh “sward, turf”
  S./N. îdh* “rest”, S./N. mîdh* “dew”, S./N. nîdh* “juice; honeycomb”, S./N. rîdh* “sown field”, N. sîdh* “peace”
f [v]: N. dâf “permission”, N. lhâf “licks”, S. mâf “pile”
  S. îf* “cliff, sheer descent”, N. nîf* “front, face”, N. rhîf* “brink, brim”
  S. côf “bay”
g: N. brôg “bear”, N. sôg “drinks”, N. tôg “brings”
l: N. hâl “fish”, N. hmâl “pollen”, N. tâl “foot”
  S. êl “star”, S. nêl “three”, N. nêl “tooth”, N. pêl “fenced field”, N. thêl “sister”
  N. cîl “cleft”, N. dîl “stopper”, N. mîl* “love, affection”
  N. côl “gold (metal)” [deleted], N. dôl “head, hill”, N. ôl “dream”, S. thôl “helmet”, S./N. tôl “comes”
n: S. bân “fair, good”, N. Dân “Green-elf”, S. fân “cloud”, S. glân¹ “white”, S. glân² “hem, border”, S. gwân “white”, N. mân “departed spirit”, N. pân “plank”, N. Rhân “Moon”
  N. hên “eye”
  N. cîn* “wedge, gore” [deleted], N. chwîn “giddyness”, S. dîn or tîn “silence”, N. dîn* “opening”, S. fîn “(single) hair”, S. glîn “gleam”, S./N. gwîn “youth; young”, N. gwîn²* “evening” [deleted], N. în* “year”, N. lhîn “pool”, S. mîn* “gap, space, barrier”, S. nîn¹* “wet”, S./N. nîn²* “tear”, S. pîn “little”, N. rhîn* “crowned”, S. rîn* “remembrance”, N. thîn “evening”
  S. Iôn “Son”, S. lhôn “noise”, S. thôn “pine-tree”
r: N. âr “king”, S./N. bâr “home”, S./N. câr “does”, N. iâr “blood”, N. nâr “rat”, N. thâr “stiff grass”
  N. fêr “beech-tree”
  S. cîr* “fresh, new”, S./N. dîr¹* “man”, S. dîr²* “hard, difficult”, N. glîr “song, poem”, N. Gwîr* “Weaver”, S./N. hîr* “lord, master”, S. îr “alone”, N. îr* “?sexual desire”, N. lhîr* “row”, S./N. mîr* “jewel”, N. nîr* “tear, weeping”, S./N. sîr* “river”, S./N. thîr* “face”, N. tîr* “straight, right”
  N. bôr “steadfast”, S./N. dôr “land”, N. iôr “course”, S./N. môr “dark(ness)”, N. thôr¹ “swooping, leaping down”, N. thôr² “eagle”, N. tôr “brother”

Many of the monosyllables with long î either already had long vowels in Primitive Elvish or were lengthened as the result of some other historical process; the monosyllables for which this is probably true are marked with a “*” in the table above. This was not the case with long â, ê, ô. These were always the result of monosyllabic lengthening, because primitive [ē], [ō] became [ī], [ū] and primitive [ā] became [ǭ] and then later [au], although the exact details of this process varied between Noldorin and Sindarin.

Lack of vowel lengthening before [m], [ŋ]: Note that Sindarin and Noldorin monosyllables ending in m do not show vowel lengthening:

m: S./N. cam “(cupped) hand”, N. cram “cake of compressed flour or meal”, N. dam “hammer”, N. dram “heavy blow”, S. lam/N. lham “tongue”, S. ram/N. rham “wall”, N. tham “hall”
  N. gem “sickly”, N. nem “nose”, N. rhem “frequent, numerous”, S. rem “mesh, net”
  S. im “valley”, S. fim “slender, slim”, S. glim “voices” [plural], N. him “enduring”, S./N. lim “quick, swift”, N. lhim “enduring”, S. nim “white”, S. rim/N. rhim¹ “host, great number”, N. rhim² “cold pool or lake”
  N. crom “left”, S. dom “blind”, N. lhom “weary”, S. rom/N. rhom “horn, trumpet”
  N. crum “left hand”, N. cum “mound, heap”, N. dum “root, foundation” [deleted], N. lhum “shade”, S./N. tum “valley”

This lack of lengthening even includes even short [ŭ], since short [u] survived before [m] rather than becoming [o], as it usually did. Monosyllabic vowel lengthening also does not occur before [ŋ], though in this case Tolkien’s orthography obscures this fact, because he transcribed [ŋ] as ng (LotR/1114). Note that final [m] can only appear in Sindarin and Noldorin as the result of a reduced consonant cluster ([mb] or [mm]). Otherwise, [m] became [v] (transcribed f) where lengthening did occur as shown above.

These examples provide an important clue to the probable timing of monosyllabic vowel lengthening: likely it occurred before final [ŋg] and [mm] shortened. If these nasals were clusters at the time of monosyllabic vowel lengthening, this would have inhibited the sound change in these cases. In Noldorin, where [nn] also reduced in monosyllables, the same is true of that case as well, as discussed by Tolkien in his notes on the Noldorin usage of the Feanorian Alphabet from the 1930s:

This [nn] became [n] finally and before consonants, and this is recognized in spelling, except that 5 = nn is retained in stressed monosyllables as a sign of the short quality of the preceding vowel. Thus sh5 = gŏnn, Gondolic gond “rock” (PE22/35).

This quote is further evidence that monosyllabic vowel lengthening took place before the reduction of final nasals. Whether [nn] similarly reduced in Sindarin monosyllables is unclear, since in this later conceptual stage final -nd frequently survived “at the end of fully accented monosyllables” (LotR/1115). As shown above, there are a number of monosyllabic examples ending in [n] that have long vowels, but unlike [m] and [ŋ], a single primitive [n] could have survived to become a final consonant in Sindarin and Noldorin.

Cases where lengthening did not occur before voiced spirants and stops: There are a number of exceptions to the above rules worth discussing. For voiced spirants (those that primitively were voiced stops) there are very few examples of monosyllables without lengthened vowels: S. nidh “purpose, will”, N. cef “soil”. These can probably be considered outliers: archaic or prefixal forms of the word (or perhaps simply mistakes on Tolkien’s part).

For voiced stops (those that primitively were voiceless stops) there is a larger set of exceptions:

b: N. mab “hand” [deleted] vs. S. mâb
d: S. glad “wood”, S. lad/N. lhad “plain”, N. nad “thing”, S. pad “track, road” [alternate to pâd], S. plad “palm”, S. sad “place, spot”, S./N. tad “two” [alternate to tâd],
g: N. peg “dot”

Here there are almost as many “short vowel” examples (about 45%) as “long vowel” examples above (about 55%), assuming we exclude those with long î that are probably the result of other historical processes. These examples may represent some genuine vacillation on Tolkien’s part. Perhaps Tolkien could not decide whether monosyllabic vowel lengthening occurred before or after voiceless stops were voiced. This voicing took place relatively late in the phonetic development of Sindarin and Noldorin, apparently after any short final vowels vanished but before short vowels vanished before morpheme boundaries. If vowel-lengthening took place after stop-voicing, then these consonants would have been voiceless at the time of this sound change which would have prevented vowel-lengthening.

Cases where lengthening did not occur before [l]: There are a fair number of examples where lengthening did not occur before [l]:

l: N. ial “?cry, shout”
  N. el “star”, S./N. del “horror”
  S. gil “star”
  S. tol “island”, S. dol “hill”

There are fewer of these short-vowel examples (about 25% vs. 75% with long vowels), but enough that they cannot dismissed out of hand. However, some of these examples, S. del and S. gil, primarily appear in compounds, and could represent prefixal forms, which naturally would have a short vowel. For example, S. gil did appear as gîl in one place (PE17/152), though usually it appeared as gil. N. el “star” also falls into this category, since it appeared “only in names” (Ety/EL). Compare this to S. êl “star” with a long vowel.

The noun tol “island” is in one place given the Quenya cognate Q. tolle (VT47/13), so its independent form might be toll, which is in fact the form it was given in Noldorin: N. toll (Ety/TOL²). This word appears primarily as a “near prefix” in names like Tol Brandir and Tol Sirion, which could explain its reduction to single -l. A similar explanation might apply to dol “hill”, whose Noldorin form was N. dôl (Ety/NDOL); it also might have been reduced as a “near prefix” in names.

N. ial, however, seems to be a genuine exception.

Cases where lengthening did not occur before [r]: There are a fair number of examples where lengthening did not occur before [r]:

r: S. bar “home”, N. far “enough”
  S./N. er “one, alone”
  S. cor “ring, circle”, S. for “north”, S. gor “horror, dread, fear”, S. tor “dead” [deleted]

These examples are a minority (about 30% if we exclude monosyllables with long î that are likely from other historical processes) but are still worth discussing. Three of these examples seem to represent prefixal forms: cor, for, gor. An alternate form of for was forn “north”, which further supports that for was a prefix-only form. The word tor “dead” appeared beside taur [both deleted], and thus could also be a reduced prefixal form of this diphthongal monosyllable.

The word er “one, alone” might represent a “minor” word, only lightly stressed and thus short for that reason. The word bar “home” also appears as bâr (PE17/109), and its primary form in Noldorin seems to be with a long vowel, though interestingly it was written as bár (EtyAC/MBAR, PE22/35). However, the form bar appears so frequently that it is harder to dismiss as simply a prefix-only form. N. far “enough” also seems to be a genuine exception to the monosyllabic vowel lengthening rules.

Cases where lengthening did not occur before [n]: There are a fair number of examples where lengthening did not occur before [n]:

n: S. glan “boundary” N. glan “clear”
  S. fen “door”, S. hen “eye”, S./N. men “road”, S./N. nen “water”
  S./N. min “one”, S./N. tin “spark”
  S. ion “son”

These short-vowel examples represent about 30% of the total (excluding long î resulting from other historical processes). Some seem to represent reduced final -nn: S. glan “boundary” has an alternate form glann (VT42/8); S. ion “son” (MR/373) has a class-plural ionnath (SD/129) and in Noldorin it was N. ionn (Ety/YŌ); S. fen has cognate Q. fenna (PE17/45, 181) and also has a Noldorin form N. fenn (Ety/PHEN).

Other examples appear with both short and long vowels: S. tin “spark” (PE17/39) vs. S. tîn (PE17/66); S. hen “eye” (LotR/400; PE17/77) vs. N. hên (Ety/KHEN-D-E); S./N. min “one” (PE17/95; VT48/6; Ety/MINI) vs. mîn (VT42/25). These may represent genuine conceptual vacillations on Tolkien’s part. Also difficult to explain are N. glan “clear”, S./N. men “road”, and S./N. nen “water”, which appear only with a short vowel and don’t seem to be from -nn.

As discussed above, vowel-lengthening did not occur in monosyllables ending in [m], [ŋ], most likely because these sounds were consonant clusters at the time of vowel-lengthening. Perhaps Tolkien also considered an alternate phonetic rule whereby monosyllables ending in any nasal were immune to vowel-lengthening, even if they were single consonants. If so, this scenario seems to be less common than vowel-lengthening.

Vowel lengthening in monosyllables ending a vowel: Most monosyllables ending a vowel qualify as “minor” words: conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, etc. These generally don’t show any lengthening, as noted above. There are a small number of monosyllabic nouns ending vowels, however, and these words generally do show vowel-lengthening:

a: S. hwâ “breeze”, S. “chasm”
e: N. “line, way”, N. thlê “fine thread, spider filament”
i: N. * “woman, bride”, S. “people”, N. glî “honey”, N. gwî* “net, web”, N. rhî* “crown”, S. * “wreath, garland”, N. * “line, row”
o: S. (h)lô “flood, fenland”, N. “thigh”,

Two exceptions that show short vowels are N. ia “gulf” and N. gwe “man, warrior”. Nouns with long î and marked with a “*” are those whose lengthening is probably the result of some other historical phonetic process, the same notation used earlier in this entry. Even discounting those cases, there is a solid majority of vocalic monosyllables that show vowel-lengthening.

Summary: It seems monosyllabic words ending in a single (or no) consonant lengthened their vowels unless (a) they were unstressed or (b) ended in a voiceless consonant. “Unstressed” monosyllables seems to include large classes of basic words like prepositions, conjunctions and pronouns, which generally show no lengthening: these words are discounted from this entry’s main analysis. Monosyllabic nouns, adjectives and verbs ending in voiceless spirants and [s] generally show no lengthening unless the long vowel was the result of some other historical phonetic process.

Monosyllabic nouns, adjectives and verbs ending ending in [m] and [ŋ] also show no lengthening, but this is probably because they were consonant clusters at the time lengthening would have occurred. Monosyllables ending in voiced spirants (originally voiced stops) almost always show lengthening, but monosyllables ending in voiced stops (originally voiceless stops) show no lengthening almost half the time. This may represent uncertainty on Tolkien’s part on the order of these sound changes: whether vowel-lengthening or stop-voicing took place first.

Monosyllabic nouns, adjectives and verbs ending in [r], [l] and [n] mostly show lengthening, but there are enough exceptions to indicate that Tolkien may not have been fully committed to this phonetic development.

Conceptual Developments: The “over-long” vowels â, ê, ô appear in Gnomish and Early Noldorin monosyllables in the 1910s and 1920s, a strong indication of monosyllabic lengthening because these vowels would have developed differently if they had been long primitively. A full analysis of early monosyllabic lengthening patterns in the Early Period is more than I’m willing to undertake at this time, however.