Ancient Quenya Phonetics P13: [n], [m] became [t], [w] after voiceless stops and aspirates

Ancient Quenya Phonetics P13: [n], [m] became [t], [w] after voiceless stops and aspirates

AQ. [n], [m] became [t], [w] after voiceless stops and aspirates; [{ptk}{nm}|{ptk}ʰ{nm}|pm] > [{ptk}{tw}|{ptk}ʰ{tw}|pp]

In Ancient Quenya, where ever a nasal n or m appeared after a voiceless stop or aspirate, that nasal was unvoiced with the ultimate result of t (from n) and w (from m). If the preceding sound was an aspirate, it simplified to an ordinary voiceless stop. One variation in this process was pm, phm, both of which became pp instead of pw. Tolkien described this change in the Outline of Phonology [OP2] from the 1950s, first for voiceless stops (PE19/85):

Voiceless before nasals. pn, tn, kn; and pm, tm, km.

In these combinations the Q. tendency to intensify (and slightly aspirate) the voiceless stops, which accordingly were not voiced in contact with voiced following consonants, but tended to unvoice them, is seen most clearly. It was perhaps reinforced by the “etymological” tendency to preserve as far as possible in suffixal derivatives the identity of basic medial-consonants, of which p, t, k were the most important.

We also see that as usual in Q. the stoppage was tensest in case of dentals and weakest in case of labials. Thus the development appears therefore to have preceded in this way: pn, tn, kn* > pʰň, tʰň, kʰň with strengthening of p, t, k and unvoicing of the nasal. Similarly: pm*, tm, km > pʰm̌, tʰm̌, kʰm̌. The tenser n then > t; the weaker m > ƕ; producing

pʰt, tt, kʰt > ꝑt, tt, ht
pƕ, tƕ, kƕ > pp, tw, kw.

* These [kn, pm] were very often transposed to ŋk, mp (especially latter)

He abbreviated this description for aspirates, but the developments were basically the same (PE19/87):

[Aspirates] before nasals. The results were same as for voiceless stops, see C (d) above. The nasals did not voice voiceless stops or aspirates, but were themselves unvoiced, in natural phonetic development unaffected by grammatical or etymological analogies. Most of the possible combinations were actually of infrequent occurrence, since ph was itself infrequent medially, while the sequences of aspirate + nasal were largely reduced in number prehistorically by metathesis (as thn > nth) or by the scarcely distinguishable process of substituting nasal infixion for nasal suffixion. No certain case of phm is known.

As indicated above, the frequency of these stops-nasal combinations were reduced by metathesis, particular of kn > ŋk and pm > mp. Where such metathesis did not occur, the end results were essentially:

  • pn, tn, kn and pʰn, tʰn, kʰn > pt, tt, kt > (later) ꝑt, tt, ht
  • pm, tm, km and pʰm, tʰm, kʰm > pp, tw, kw.

As noted above, the combination pʰm is purely theoretical, and did not occur in practice. In the combinations pt and kt, the p and k became (or remained) slightly aspirated ultimately resulting in a voiceless spirant; this was also the ultimate result of the primitive combinations pt, kt in Quenya. The aberrant change of pm > > pp is probably a mirror of more ancient phonetic developments whereby [pw], [pʰw] became [pp], [pʰp] (PE19/86, 88); in any case such combinations were extremely rare (perhaps non-existent).

Tolkien reaffirmed these developments in various notes from the late 1960s, where he said:

better: let changes before nasals be relative[ly] late and after other changes ... tm, tn > tw (nt) > nt, tt (VT49/54 note #10). [This was first written as (rejected): tm, thm, dm > dm, tm̌h, đm > nm, tƕ, zm > nw, tw, rm (VT49/46) and there was a marginal note saying “what a muddle”]

Q k, t, p were not voiced before medial nasals

... km > km̃ > > kw
... kn > > ht
... tn > tt
... tm > tm̃ > > tw
... pm > pp
... pn > > pt (ft) (PE22/150).

Since metathesis of stop + nasal was common, there are relatively few examples of stop + nasal phonetic developments in Tolkien’s later writings where such a metathesis did not occur, but a few can be found:

  • lukma > Q. luqa [lukwa] “heavy transport wain” (PE17/28) [beside lunka produced by metathesis].
  • matnā > Q. matta “food” (PE22/136).
  • pathnā > Q. †patta “smoothed” (PE19/88) [ultimately reformed by grammatically analogy to pasta].

Conceptual Development: In the Qenyaquesta of the 1910s, Tolkien described no special special phonetic developments for voiceless stop + nasal combinations, probably because at this earliest conceptual stage, the “transposition law” (metathesis) for voiceless stops + nasals was universal rather than sporadic (PE12/25).

In the Outline of Phonetic Development [OP1] from the 1930s, however, he described phonetic developments similar to those above, but only for aspirates + nasals (PE19/44):

[Aspirates] before nasals. Nasals did not voice aspirates, but were themselves unvoiced (in pure phonetic development, unaffected by analogy). Most of these combinations were rare, since they were largely got rid of prehistorically by metathesis (or by substitution of nasal infixion for suffixion); or by avoidance of a nasal suffix.

No cases of phm occur; and no clear case of phn. Medial ph was not frequent. Probably:

thn > thň (with voiceless n) > tth > tt or analogical st.
khn > khň (with voiceless n) > kht > ht.
but thm > þm̌ (with voiceless m) > thw, TQ sw (n.b. not hw).
khm > χm̌ (with voiceless m) > hw.

In the 1930s, voiceless stops were instead voiced before nasals, and their phonetic development merged with those of voiced stops + nasals, ultimately becoming nasal pairs:

[Voiceless stops] before nasals, which in Q. exercised a strong voicing influence on preceding consonants, p, t, k were first (already earliest AQ) voiced to b, d, g. But in the earliest PQ b, d, g, whether original or thus derived from p, t, k were nasalized to m, n, ñ. Since ñ did not occur as a suffixal consonant, and m was seldom used after labials (p, ph, b) we are concerned only with pn > bn > mn; tn > dn > nn; tm > dm > nm; kn > gn > ñn; km > gm > ñm (PE19/43).

The most notable example of this phonetic development in the 1930s was:

  • ᴹ✶tekmā > tegmā > teñma > ᴹQ. tengwa “letter; writing, grammar” (Ety/TEK; PE19/43).

This voicing of voiceless stops before nasals was mentioned in the second version of the Tengwasta Quenderinwa [TQ2] around 1950 (PE18/104) and can be seen in the first (unrevised) layer of Outline of Phonology [OP2] from the 1950s (PE19/85-86 note #79 and 87-88 note #88). It seem, however, that when Tolkien revisited the etymology of tengwa in the late 1950s in his notes on Words, Phrases and Passages in the Lord of the Rings, he became dissatisfied with this phonetic development, saying:

The phonology of k, t, p + nasals in Quenya needs revising. In changes so far mapped k, t, p + m > g, d, b > nm, nm, mn > nw (> ngw), nw, mn, make derivation from nasal... (PE17/44)

In these same notes, he revised the root of tengwa from √TEK to √TEÑ, probably because he no longer considered the km > ñm > ñw > ñgw developments to be viable. The connection between this note in PE17/44 and the revisions of the phonetic developments of stops + nasals in OP2 was suggested by Christopher Gilson (PE19/66, second half of note #79). While the exact timing of these conceptual developments isn’t clear, it seems likely that the new paradigm for stop + nasal developments was created after the note on PE17/44 (which means Tolkien probably continue to revise OP2 throughout the 1950s and 60s).

One more relevant passage from the late 1960s is this:

tengwa is not from tekmā, since -mā is not passive but instrumental, and prob[ably] by rev[ised] phonology -km- does not > ŋm- > ngw. but √TEŊ “indicate, mark, signify”. teŋmā > tengwa ? “sign, token” (PE22/149).

This late note seems to show that Tolkien may have had reservations about nasal unvoicing after voiceless stops into the late 1960s. At minimum he needed to remind himself of the new revised paradigm, and the “?” in this last quote may have meant he was still unsure of it, although in this specific set of notes he went on to confirm the OP2 paradigm, as shown in the quote from PE22/150 given above. See also the “what a muddle” note from VT49/54 given above, also from the late 1960s.

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, it may be best to simply ignore the unvoicing of nasals after voiceless stops and retain the OP1 paradigm whereby the stops were voiced and eventually nasalized. There are nearly a dozen words from The Etymologies of the 1930s that depends on this older paradigm, and a few derivations in Tolkien’s later writings as well, such as Q. ongwe < okma (PE17/170) and Q. Utumno < Utupnŭ (MR/69). There are also a good half-dozen words from first layer of OP2 that could be salvaged if the old paradigm was retained (PE19/86, second half of note #79). Conversely, for the two words given above that depend on the new paradigm, luqa “wain” has a more common variant lunca via metathesis and matta “food” might be derived from mattā instead.


Submitted by Lokyt Thu, 09/05/2019 - 22:48

Several remarks:


• Possibly a further evidence that the paradigm change didn't happen until 1959-1960: Telemnar (< *telep-nar-) and Telemmaite (< *telep-ma-), both published in LotRApp in 1955; the beforementioned Utumno < utupnu in 1958; and lemne < lepne sometimes in 1955-1964.

The first trace of the new system outside OP and EVS is indeed luqa < lukma in 1965.


• On the other hand, Tolkien seems to be repeatedly forgetting about the change even after he made it: although there are more confirmations of the new system in 1968-1969 (VT 47/20, PE 22/149-150), Telemnar and Telemmaite were left to stay in the 1965 LotR revision (and also used in UT, possibly in the same year), the original etymology of yanwe was at least considered as valid in summer 1968 (VT 47/46,54) and a variant of nappa from NAP (probably < napmā) is given as namma also in 1968 or later (VT 47/20).


• It's not correct to talk about developments of phm. Tolkien made it clear that this combination (though not prohibited by the system) simply didn't exist, so it had no developments at all.


• Maybe the TQ. analogical changes of tt (from thn) and tw (from thm) to st and sw deserve to be emphasized a bit more? The users might be interested that hiswe is a TQ.-only form, while PQ. must be *hitwe (as much as pasta is TQ. for PQ. patta).


• As for NQ. treatment of matta, why create an unattested etymology when there's the original manna?

Submitted by Paul Strack Sat, 09/07/2019 - 00:31

In reply to by Lokyt

1) Good point about Telemnar and Telemmaite. It isn't surprising some "remnant names" slipped through the updates.

2) I made it more clear phm is a theoretical combination only.

3) The TQ. reformations need to be discussed later, I think.

4) Also a good point about restoring manna over matta, but the point I was trying to make is that is easy to re-etymologize words derived from the OP2 rules, but rejecting the OP1 rules means rejecting a big chunk of words with no easy replacements.

Submitted by Atwe Sat, 09/07/2019 - 08:59

In reply to by Paul Strack

At any rate of late I've become extremely vary about rejecting attested words and prefer to work around them, put them down as irregular formations but still part of the lexicon; preserve them and use them - but when creating NeoQuenya words, follow the rule that seems to be the most prevalent and consistent.