Quenya Phonetics: [ae], [ao] generally became [ē], [ō]

Quenya Phonetics: [ae], [ao] generally became [ē], [ō]

Q. [ae], [ao] generally became [ē], [ō]; [ae|ao|ā{ĕŏ}] > [ē|ō|ā]

Quenya did not tolerate the vowel combinations [ae] or [ao], and these generally became [ē] or [ō]. These sound changes explain the somewhat peculiar rule that the genitive form of nouns ending in -a was -o, for example:

  • ciryo genitive of cirya “ship” (LotR/377).
  • calo genitive of cala “light” (PE17/143).
  • Eldo genitive of Elda “Elf” (PE21/77).

This is because -aō > > -o. Tolkien discussed these phonetic developments in the Outline of Phonetic Development [OP1] from the 1930s:

In case of ae, ao contraction occurred: quality depending on length. ā + ĕ, ā + ŏ > ā; ā + ē, ă + ē̆ > ē; ā + ō, ă + ō̆ > ō (PE19/63).

Thus, ae, ao > ē, ō unless (a) the ā was long and (b) the ĕ, ŏ was short, in which case: āĕ, āŏ > ā. This sound change took place after [ɣ] from [g] vanished (PE19/63) and thus applied to all cases where a was or came to be in hiatus with e/o.

Conceptual Development: Tolkien described a similar set of sounds changes in the Qenyaqesta of the 1910s:

ā̆ē̆ gave ā (aḗ); ... ăō gave ō; ā̆ŏ gave ā (PE12/14).

At this earlier stage, the default was ae, ao > ā with the exceptions ăō > o and apparently ăḗ > ăḗ. However, the only clear example of this sound change in the 1910s shows ăŏ > o (with presumably long ō > ŏ before the consonant cluster):

  • ᴱ√TAHA > tahorme > taorme > ᴱQ. torme “mountain peak” (QL/87).

Thus, Tolkien may have flipped the default developments for ao early on. In the 1930s, before the rules given above, Tolkien first wrote: “Also ae > ā, ao > ō” (PE19/63 note #165) before deleting this and replacing it with the rules given above. Here ae still shows the common Early Qenya development to ā before Tolkien revised it to ē. There are no published examples of Quenya words containing ae at any conceptual stage, so analyzing Tolkien’s thoughts on this combination is difficult.