Quenya Phonetics P11: [w] became [β] initially and between vowels

Quenya Phonetics P11: [w] became [β] initially and between vowels

Q. [w] became [β] initially and between vowels; [w-|VwV|aiw] > [β-|VβV|aiw]

In Quenya an initial or intervocalic w became v. The same basic phonetic developments were discussed in both the Outline of Phonetic Development [OP1] from the 1930s and the Outline of Phonology [OP2] from the 1950s, but the timing and details of the sound changes were not the same. In the 1930s [OP1], this was a fairly recent sound change, occurring in the Tarquesta (TQ) period and possible in Lindarin only [pre-Vanyarin]:

The signs for v and w remained distinct in classical PQ. In the normal (Lindarin) pronunciation of TQ v, w fell together in v, except in kw, (ñ)gw, tw, rw, nw (OP1: PE19/33).

The absence of the combination lw from the list above may be notable (see below). There is no mention of any special development for gw > ʒw [ɣw] > w, so likely this change occurred after [ɣ] from [g] vanished in the 1930s. There is no mention of bilabial ƀ [β], so this change was likely also after [ɸ], [β] became [f], [v].

The contemporaneous Comparative Tables of phonetic development show initial w, gw > w in Quenya but > v in Lindarin (PE19/18-19). The medial developments likewise show gw > uw in Quenya and uv in Lindarin (the u an indication of the vocalization of ʒ before voiced consonants), but in Quenya medial w > both w, v in Quenya as opposed to just v (or u) in Lindarin (PE19/23). This medial Quenya w/v variation may be explained by the following:

After long vowels y, w remained and w was strengthened to TQ v. So māya, rāwa (rava) (OP1: PE19/62).

Thus is seems that while w > v was only a universal rule in Lindarin in OP1, it could also occur in the more general Quenya dialect for w after a long vowel. Some contemporaneous notes on the Quenya use of the Feanorian Alphabet describe similar developments from Parmaquesta (PQ) to Tarquesta (TQ):

Sound changes which occurred after the “classical” fixing of the spelling, and which sometimes resulted in spelling modifications (“incorrect” and unclassical) are the following:

1. Confusions of v/w. See phonology. The classical PQ retained the distinction of y v / n w according to etymology as a rule, but the TQ confusion often reflected either in use of y throughout for both — the cases of retained w (s.c. in tw, nw, ñgw, kw, lw, rw) being denoted by separate letters (z = kw, x = ñgw) or by the diacritic  ë, 1é 5è jè 6é = tw, nw, lw, rw (on b = nw, see below). The earliest distinction given up was that between lv, rv (< lb, rb) and lw, rw, which early coalesced in lw, rw. Here jè 6é for jn 6n is classical (PE22/45).

Again note the special developments for lw, rw. The change of w > v was sporadically applied in The Etymologies of the 1930s, with v/w variants often appearing in the same entry. One notable example is the root ᴹ√WIL “fly”, where Tolkien first showed wilwa > vilwa, but struck out the second form and also revised vilin >> wilin (Ety/WIL). The related word wilwarin “butterfly” appeared without v in The Etymologies, as well as in the Qenya Lexicon from the 1910s (QL/104), the early version of the Markirya poem from the late 1920s (MC/213) and the final versions of Markirya from the 1960s (MC/222).

The medial developments in The Etymologies mostly show w > v with two notable and interesting exceptions. First, the combination aiw consistently survives: ᴹQ. aiwe “bird” (Ety/AIWĒ), laiwa “sick” (Ety/SLIW), maiwe “gull” (Ety/MIW), vaiwa “wind” (Ety/WĀ), yaiwe “scorn” (Ety/YAY). The only example of aiv is derived from primitive aib: ᴹ✶laibē > ᴹQ. laive “ointment” (Ety/LIB²). These aiw survivals continue to appear in Tolkien’s later writings: Q. raiwë “lace” (VT42/12) was well as reappearances of Q. aiwë (UT/401), Q. maiwë (MC/222), Q. vaiwë (PE17/189); see further below.

Second, there is one example of medial w survival that was derived from medial gw: ᴹ✶yagwē > ᴹQ. yáwe “ravine” (Ety/LIB²). This indicates Tolkien may have been considering special developments for gw already in the 1930s. Likewise, the Quenya derivatives of the root ᴹ√GWEN show only initial w-: ᴹQ. wén, wenya, wende (Ety/GWEN), though the last of these has a variant vende derived from ᴹ√WEN(ED). These phonetic developments in The Etymologies may be an early sign of the sound changes described in the Outline of Phonology [OP2] from the 1950s:

But later the frictional element of w was increased where it stood initially or remained between vowels, and passing through bilabial v (ƀ) coalesced with v < CE b. This change was common to Vanyar and Noldor, and so began fairly early. It was consequently a feature of Tarquesta, and was usually also reflected in spelling (even affecting that of later writings in PQ). At the same time it was later than the reduction of gw > ʒw > w and affected w of that origin equally (but see gw: B 2 below) (OP2: PE19/72).
gw became [ʒw], and then initially a spirantal frictional w (with slight friction both at the back and at the lips); but already in PQ this w was weakened. The weakening was later than the beginnings of the change of original w > v, and w < gw remained as such and distinct from w, v for some time: in earlier PQ it is not represented by the sign for v; but in TQ it had become identified with w, v (OP2: PE19/72; 75-6).

These notes from the 1950s are a bit inconsistent, but it seems Tolkien’s intention was to pull the sound change w > v backwards in time, prior to the change of bilabial [β] to [v]. The full phonetic development was w > ƀ > v and this occurred early enough that the distinction was generally lost in PQ spelling. Furthermore, this change of primitive w was also before [ɣ] from [g] vanished, since gw > ʒw > w lingered longer and did become v until the TQ period. These specialized developments for gw reappear in separate Quenya Notes from 1957 (QN: PE17/145):

Q b-, w- > v-. ñw-, gw- > w-. medially b > v. w > or lost. gw > ¯w, . mb, lb > b. ñw > ngw (PE17/154).

This note appears beneath a discussion of the root √GWAL whose Quenya derivatives consistently show w both initially and medially such as: Q. walmë “excitement”, walta- “to excite”, awalda “excited” (PE17/154, 189). This later note may indicate that Tolkien decided that w from gw survived all the way into spoken Tarquesta (TQ), but it is hard to say whether this was an actual conceptual shift or a transient idea; v/w variation continue to appear in the 1950s for words derived from primitive gw, such as wende vs. vende variations in the Quenya prayers of the 1950s (VT44/5, 12). It is likely that Tolkien introduced this special development for gw out of a desire to preserve certain early words like wilwarin “butterfly” and wingë “foam” which continued to appear as late as the 1960s (MC/222), albiet with occasional v- variants (MR/166, PM/370).

As described above, w generally survives in combination with other consonants both initially and medially, particularly ñgw, tw, nw, hw, kw, the last often written q or qu. The developments for rw, lw are more complicated, though, with various specialized developments noted above and elsewhere. See the entry on how [w] became [v] after [l], [r] for further details.

To summarize:

  • In OP1 of the 1930s the sound change w > v occurred in TQ, and only fully in the Lindarin dialect. It occurred after gw > ʒw > w and equally applied to w of that origin. The Etymologies, however, show indications of the phonetics developments described in OP2.
  • In OP2 of the 1950s the sound change w > v occurred in PQ before ʒw > w. Any w from gw did not became v until TQ and perhaps did not become v at all according to some later writings.
  • As a general exception to these rules, the combination aiw survives unchanged.

Tolkien did explicitly mention this aiw survival in OP2:

After r, l and the diphthong ai however w remained as such (OP2: PE19/72 note #22).

Tolkien then revised this sentence to add oi as another diphthong after which w survived:

After s (z), n, r, l, and the diphthongs ai, oi however w remained as such, and in N[oldorin] TQ the tendency was here to change v > w (OP2: PE19/72).

However, there are no Quenya examples of oiw past the 1920s, so it’s unclear whether or not this was a transient idea.

Conceptual Development: Initial and intervocalic w are fairly common in the Early Qenya of the 1910s and 1920s. The challenge with analyzing the early developments is that there is a much larger inventory of consonants in the Primitive Elvish of the 1910s, many of which could develop into either v or w. For example, in the charts appear in the Qenyaqesta of the 1910s (PE12/15-16), the primitive labialized velar spirants x͡w, ɣ͡w [xʷ, ɣʷ] both could become Kor-Eldarin (v), and likewise the primitive labial spirants ꝑ, ƀ [ɸ, β] could become Kor-Eldarin v (w). In these charts primitive w [] either survives in Kor-Eldarin or become u. Unfortunately, Tolkien does not accurately represent the most primitive forms of roots in the Qenya Lexicon, showing the Kor-Eldarin forms instead. This makes it very hard to determine the exact phonetic developments. However, I think the bulk of the evidence is that w > v did not occur in the 1910s and 1920s.

Neo-Quenya: Some Neo-Quenya writers go so far as to revise any initial or intervocalic w to v in all Quenya words, but others do not. I am of the opinion that these v/w variations are best explained by the retention of w from gw into TQ. Forms with initial or intervocalic w can thus be consider either Classical Quenya forms or dialectical variants. In the case of derivatives of ᴹ√WIL and ᴹ√WIG, it is probably easiest to assume these roots was revised to *√GWIL and *√GWIG; Tolkien’s writing hints at this, but he never made the changes explicit. I personally retain w forms in my own writing, but I think revising them to v is an acceptable variant.


Submitted by Lokyt Sun, 09/29/2019 - 23:40

An interesting detail - these three statements cannot refer to the same language:

1) abstract noun derivative suffix -ve is from CE. -we (VT 49/10) or -wai (VT 49/32);

2) there is a word coive "life, living" derived by means of this -ve (PE 17/68);

3) -w- remains unchanged in Q. -oiw- (PE 19/72).

In order to make these three consistent, either 1) -ve must be from CE. -be (as stated elsewhere in VT 49/32), or 2) coive must actually be *coiwe, or 3) Q. -oiw- must not be an exception from -w- > -v-.