This a repost of an earlier [Old] Sindarin phonetics post. In the early post I assumed that this was a Sindarin-only rule, but I have since found some clear examples of this sound change in Quenya (-waiti > -woite and ñwa-lōth > olos), so I’ve revised my notes to allocate this a sound change to Primitive Elvish.
✶stressed [wŏ] became [wa]; [wŏ́] > [wa]
In both Quenya and Sindarin, a stressed wo became wa, though this change may have been limited to short wŏ. The most notable examples of this change was the (Sindarin) prefix wo- “together”, which became wa- and eventually developed into gwa- after initial [w] became [gw]. When unstressed, this prefix did not change its vowel and developed into go-, because later [wo] became [o] in Sindarin. A similar sound change occurred in Welsh (WGCH/§65v). Since this sound change occurred in both major branches of Eldarin, it likely occurred in Common Eldarin.
In Primitive Elvish the combination wo was fairly rare, so there aren’t many clear examples of this phonetic change, the best being the Sindarin prefix go-/gwa- noted above. However, Tolkien did explicitly describe this change a number of times:
- The form wŏ if stressed > wa in Eldarin (Etymologies, 1930s, Ety/WŌ).
- When stressed the sequence wo was usually changed to wa [in Quenya]. A similar change occurs in Noldorin. (Outline of Phonetic Development [OP1], 1930s, PE19/53).
- When stressed the sequence woi > wai, parallel to the change of wo > wa [in Quenya]. (Outline of Phonology [OP2], early 1950s, PE19/106).
- gwa- is regularly developed from *wo > *wa > gwa, when stressed in prehistoric Sindarin. (Quendi and Eldar, circa 1960, WJ/367).
- cf. wo to wa (notes on Quenya verb forms from the late 1960s, PE22/155).
The last note from the late 1960s is associated with a Quenya example of this sound change, where the verbal adjective suffix -oiti became -aiti when it appeared after w (PE22/155). A second Quenya example seems to be ✶ñwa-lōth > Q. olos “inflorescense” (PE17/160), where ñwa- > ñwo- and then later the initial [ŋ] vanished and ultimately [wo] became [o]. A third potential example appears in The Etymologies of the 1930s:
Since we have final -wō > -wa in both Quenya and Noldorin [pre-Sindarin], this might be an example of this phonetic rule. In this conceptual period, however, the rule specifically applied to primitive short stressed wŏ, and this example is long wō (and quite possibly unstressed). Thus this last example could easily be some distinct phonetic development, as theorized by David Salo, who proposed that final -wō > -wā in the Common Eldarin period as a separate sound change (GS/§4.15).
As a final note, Tolkien mentioned that later S. gwa- became gwo- and then go- after stress shifted in Sindarin (WJ/368), indicating that wŏ́ > wa (or at least gwa- > gwo-) remained an active phonetic rule in Sindarin for some time. David Salo also recorded this later application of the phonetic rule (GS/§4.103).
Conceptual Development: The prefixal variation gwa-/go- dates all the way back to Gnomish, but as suggested in Roman Rausch’s Historical Phonology of Goldogrin (HPG/§1.4), in the earliest period this sound change seems to be reversed, in that unstressed wa > wo rather than stressed wo > wa:
[G.] go unaccented form < gwa-. [primitive] *ŋu̯a. cp. Q. ma- together, in one, etc. (GL/40)
This also seems to be true of the Early Noldorin of the 1920s:
[ᴱN.] go-. Originally unaccented form < gwá- = together, etc. (Q, T va-) (PE13/162)
Based on the Early Quenya and Early Telerin forms ma- and va-, this change to unstressed wo seems to apply only in Gnomish/Early Noldorin, not to the other languages.
By the 1930s, Tolkien revised the sound change to stressed wŏ́ > wa, and designated it as a Common Eldarin sound change that applied to both Quenya and Noldorin (Ety/WŌ, PE19/53). Base on notes appearing in the Outline of Phonology [OP2] given above, this seems to still be a Common Eldarin sound change in the 1950s (PE19/106), though whether it was limited to short wŏ or could also apply to long wō is unclear.