Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 12)

Sindarin Phonetic Development (Part 12)


OS. initial [ɣ]/[h] vanished; [{ɣh}-] > [ø-]

The primitive voiced and voiceless velar spirants [ɣ] and (weak) [x] generally vanished in Sindarin. Tolkien represented these sounds as ʒ and h, and as discussed elsewhere, he vacillated somewhat on the “true” primitive form of this sound. The two sounds were allophones in Primitive Elvish, with [ɣ] before voiced consonants and [x] before voiceless consonants (PE18/82). In Tolkien’s earlier writings, he indicated that the sound in isolation was ʒ [ɣ], but sometime in the 1950s he decided instead that the true primitive of this form was h (weak [x]) (PE19/69, note #3). For consistency with earlier material, this lexicon uses [ɣ] instead of [x]; the later phonetic developments were mostly the same in both paradigms (see below).

Tolkien regularly mentioned the loss of this primitive sound in both Noldorin and Sindarin starting in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s, although shifting between ʒ and h in his later writings. Some examples:

  • in N. with the loss of [ʒ] (Feanorian Alphabet, late 1930s, PE22/15).
  • In Noldorin ʒ vanishes without trace initially ... Medially ʒ between vowels & before sonants vanishes very early with compensatory lengthening (second version of Tengwesta Qenderinwa [TQ2], circa 1950, PE18/104).
  • In the Telerin branches (Telerin, Sindarin and Nandorin) h- simply disappeared very early without trace initially. In all Eldarin it vanished medially, except probably in contact with the voiceless suffixal consonant t (Outline of Phonology [OP2], early 1950s, PE19/74).
  • PQ h- only survived in the dialects of Aman. It disappeared without a trace in Sindarin [but not at this point in Telerin, as shown by hekā > T. heco “be gone!”] (Quendi and Eldar, circa 1960, WJ/365).

Most of the differences between the various Eldarin branches in the phonetic development of [ɣ] and (weak) [x] was in the initial position only. In Noldorin/Sindarin the initial ʒ/h was lost (as noted above). In Quenya initial [ɣ] became [h], or was simply retained as-is during the conceptual periods where h was also the primitive form. In Telerin it was either lost (as in the 2nd-to-last note) or became [h] (as in the last note), making the timing of this sound change hard to nail down: initial ʒ/h could have been lost in Old Sindarin or Ancient Telerin, depending on how Tolkien imagined the Telerin development.

Tolkien generally attributed the loss of medial ʒ/h to the Common Eldarin period of the languages, for example:

  • Medial h was very early lost without a trace in CE (Quendi and Eldar, circa 1960, WJ/368).

For further information on the medial developments of ʒ/h, see the entry for its Primitive Elvish phonetic rules, where medial [ɣ]/[x] vanished except before [t], [s].

Conceptual Development: During the Gnomish conceptual period, Primitive Elvish had two distinct primitive velar spirants, both [ɣ] and [x], which were independent sounds and not allophones (PE12/15). The voiceless velar spirant [x] from the early conceptual period produced the same general results in Gnomish as the velar aspirate [kʰ] did in the Noldorin/Sindarin periods: becoming [h] initially and remaining [x] medially except in contact with various consonants where it sometimes disappeared with various vocalic effects. The early-period voiced velar spirant [ɣ] vanished medially in Gnomish as it did in Noldorin/Sindarin. However, in Gnomish initial [ɣ] became the voiced stop [g].

Specific examples are hard to find in Gnomish, but there are several examples of this sound change in Early Noldorin:

After rearranging the phonetic paradigm of Primitive Elvish in the 1930s, Tolkien adopted the later Noldorin/Sindarin phonetic rules: ʒ vanishing both initially and medially, as shown, for example, in the Comparative Tables of phonetic development from this period (PE19/19, 23). There are numerous examples in the Etymologies of its initial development:

This seems to have been the general pattern for about thirty years, except that the Sindarin examples reflect Tolkien’s revision of the primitive consonant from ʒ to h:

As shown by the loss of initial h- in the Quenya form of the last example, sometime in the late 1960s Tolkien seems have considered another set of developments. In notes associated with his essay on the Variant D/L in Common Eldarin written in the late 1960s, he said:

This variety [of biconsonantal roots that lost their initial consonant] was largely increased in the descendant languages, notably Quenya, by the loss of older weak consonants initially: in Quenya, C.E. ʒ, h and g; in Telerin ʒ, ñ; in Sindarin h, were lost (VT48/26, Note 4).

This seems to imply that the voiced and voiceless [ɣ] and [x] were once again independent sounds rather than allophones in Primitive Elvish, since they had different developments in the child languages. A similar set of distinct phonetic developments appear in another late note discussing the root √HAN, where Tolkien first wrote:

verbal stem ƷAN “give”, which in Q. and S. lost the initial spirant ʒ, that in T. became h- (PE22/163, note #99).

In a pencilled note, however, he added:

no. S. retained ʒ {but lost} and strengthened it to g. Q. lost ʒ — as also did T (PE22/163, note #99).

At this point, he revised the root from ƷAN >> HAN, and modified the phonetic description as follows:

verbal stem HAN “give”, which in S. lost the initial breath h of CE, that in Q./T. remained h- (PE22/163).

An example of Sindarin ʒ- > g- appears in notes from the late 1960s on the Quenya word órë “heart”:

Common Eldarin ƷOR: Quenya or-, Telerin or-, Sindarin gor- ... Common Eldarin ʒōrē: Quenya óre, Telerin ōre, Sindarin gûr (PE41/11).

Later in these same notes Tolkien changes the root from ƷOR >> HOR with Quenya form (h)ore but he does not describe the Sindarin development from HOR (PE41/31). All these examples from the late 1960s indicate that Tolkien considered ʒ and h to be distinct sounds in CE, with separate phonetic developments in the child languages, though he seemed to be wrestling with exactly what those developments were.

Neo-Eldarin: For the purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I think it best to ignore Tolkien’s reintroduction of independent ʒ and h in the late 1960s, especially since it isn’t entirely clear how he thought these sounds should develop (especially in Quenya). I would to stick the phonetic rules of the mid-1930s through mid-1960s, with a single sound ʒ/h disappearing everywhere in Sindarin, but becoming h- initially in Quenya. The exact primitive form of this sound is only of academic interest, since the end results of its phonetic development in the child languages is the same.