Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 38)

Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 38)


OS. [p], [t], [k] became spirants before [s]; [ps|ts|ks] > [ɸs|θθ|xs]

In both (Old) Sindarin and (Old) Noldorin, voiceless stops [p, t, k] became spirants before [s]. For [ps], [ks], the results were [ɸs], [xs]. For [ts], the development was somewhat different, with [ts] > [tθ] > [θθ] > [θ]. Tolkien described both these changes in his notes on Noldorin use of the Feanorian Alphabet from the 1930s:

[The tengwar representations for some of the following compendia characters is approximate, since they are not supported in current tengwar fonts.] 1+ was in older period used = [ts], but this group became [tþ], and so fell with tth from tt: written [13 stacked] (for XX): see compendia (PE22/27).
After the development of ON ts > and the development of th generally to þ, the ON  = ts {became >>} now and was given the shape  = , and from it were made z| = kth [with an up-hook not properly represented] (z| = ks [with a down-hook as shown]), = pth (q+ = ps). ps, ks having at the same time become phs, ᵽs, and χs were written XX (PE22/28, plus note #90). Years 

Based on these notes, it seems that the first sound change was [ts] > [tθ], then later [ps], [ks] > [ɸs], [xs], and finally [tθ] > [θθ], the last probably part of the same general trend whereby primitive [tt] > [ttʰ] > [θθ]. The sound changes [ps], [ks] > [ɸs], [xs] are obscured by the fact that the spirants [ɸ], [x] later became vowels and produced various diphthongs. There are several Noldorin examples of these sound changes appearing in the Etymologies, but you have to tease them apart from the later diphthongal developments:

  • ᴹ✶tupsē [> *tuɸsa > *tousa] > N. taus “thatch” (Ety/TUP).
  • ᴹ✶litse > ON. litthe > N. lith “sand” (Ety/LIT).
  • ᴹ✶taksē [> *taχsa > *taisa] > N. taes “nail” (Ety/TAK).

Based on the first and second examples, it seems the sound change [ps] > [ɸs] occurred after final [se] became [sa] (since the first example shows signs of a-affection), but the sound change of [ts] > [tθ] took place before such e > a (and thus prevented [e] from becoming [a] since there was no [s]).

There seem to be a couple Sindarin examples of [ts] > [θθ] > [θ]:

There is one apparent but peculiar example of [ks] > [xs]:

  • AKAS > aks [> *aχs?] > S. ach “neck” (PE17/92).

It’s not clear why the [x] did not vocalize and produce a diphthong in this example; perhaps it is because the [s] was final and was therefore lost instead.

Conceptual Development: As noted by Roman Rausch in his Historical Phonology of Goldogrin (HSG/§2.5), it seems that the Gnomish sounds changes were [ts] > [θ] and [ks] > [x] (and presumably [ps] > [f]):

  • ᴱ✶aksa > G. acha “waterfall” (GL/17).
  • ᴱ√TETE > G. teth “bud” vs. ᴱQ. tetse (GL/70, QL/92).

This was not a universal rule, however, since Tolkien said “s < ts after a long vowel” (GL/43); this was a factor in the phonetic development of gwais “kinship”, perhaps from primitive *ŋuaʒētse. As noted by Roman Rausch, it also seems that sometimes [ts] > [ss], perhaps under similar conditions:

  • ᴱ√ROTO > G. ross “pipe” vs. ᴱQ. rotse (GL/65, QL/80).
  • ᴱ√QETE > G. cwess “saying, proverb” vs. ᴱQ. -qet(se) “language” (GL/28, QL/77).

Finally, there is one example where there seems to be Sindarin/Noldorin-style vocalization of [xs] from [ks], but the relevant primitive form was revised, ı̯aksĕ >> ı̯aisa:

As noted by Roman Rausch in his Historical Phonologies of Ilkorin, Telerin and Noldorin around 1923 (HSG/§4.1.3), in the Early Noldorin of the 1920s it seems that Sindarin/Noldorin-style vocalizations were the norm for primitive [ps], [ks], whereas [ts] > [θ] remained as in Gnomish:

  • ᴱ✶kapse > ᴱN. cais “leap” (PE13/140).
  • ᴱ✶lopse > ᴱN. laus [unglossed] (PE15/64).
  • ᴱ✶orotse > ᴱN. oroth “impetus, speed, haste, rash courage” (PE13/151).
  • ᴱ✶okswē > ᴱN. oif “terror, phantom” (PE13/151, 164).

But even in the 1920s, the vocalizations were not a universal rule, and there were still some Gnomish-style examples of [ks] > [x] and [ps] > [f]:

  • [*tupse >] ᴱN. tuf “lump, knob” vs. ᴱQ. tupse (PE13/154).
  • ᴱ✶ekse > ᴱN. ech “far away” (PE13/142).

Thus, it seems that [ts] > [θ] was part of Tolkien’s ideas from the very beginning. In Gnomish [ps], [ks] (mostly) became simple spirants, but starting sometime in the 1920s they became vocalized spirants followed by [s], though the development of the resulting diphthongs went through quite a few more conceptual changes after that.