Sindarin - the Noble Tongue
From: Helge K. Fauskanger
Also called: Grey-elven, the tongue of Beleriand, the noble tongue; in LotR often referred to simply as "the Elven-tongue"; wrongly called "Noldorin" in Tolkien's pre-LotR papers
Sindarin was the main Eldarin tongue in Middle-earth, the living vernacular of the Grey-elves or Sindar. It was the most prominent descendant of Common Telerin, Common Telerin itself branching off from Common Eldarin, the ancestor of Quenya, Telerin, Sindarin and Nandorin. "The Grey-elven was in origin akin to Quenya," Tolkien explains, "for it was the language of those Eldar who, coming to the shores of Middle-earth, had not passed over the Sea but had lingered on the coasts in the country of Belerinand. There Thingol Greycloak of Doriath was their king, and in the long twilight their tongue...had become far estranged from the speech of the Eldar from beyond the Sea" (LotR Appendix F). Though Sindarin is said to be the best preserved of the Eldarin tongues of Middle-earth (PM:305), it is nonetheless the most radically changed Elvish language we have any extensive knowledge of:
"The language of the Sindar had changed much, even in unheeded growth as a tree may imperceptibly change its shape: as much maybe as an unwritten mortal tongue might change in five hundred years or more. It was already ere the Rising of the Sun a speech greatly different to the ear from [Quenya], and after that Rising all change was swift, for a while in the second Spring of Arda very swift indeed" (WJ:20). The development from Common Eldarin to Sindarin involves much more radical changes than the development from CE to Quenya, or to the Telerin of Aman. Tolkien suggested that Sindarin "had changed with the changefulness of mortal lands" (LotR Appendix F). This is not to say that the changes were chaotic and unsystematic; they were definitely regular - but they dramatically changed the general sound and "music" of the language. Some prominent changes include the final vowels being dropped, the unvoiced stops p, t, k becoming voiced b, d, g following a vowel, the voiced stops becoming spirants in the same position (except g, that disappeared altogether) and many vowels being altered, often by assimilation to other vowels. According to PM:401, "the development of Sindarin had become, long before the arrival of the Ñoldorin exiles, mainly the product of unheeded change like the tongues of Men". Commenting on the great changes, PM:78 remarks that "it was a fair tongue still, well fitted to the forests, the hills, and the shores where it had taken shape".
By the time the Noldor returned to Middle-earth, nearly three and a half millennium after their separation from the Sindar, the classical Sindarin language was fully developed. (Indeed it seems to have entered a more stable phase, despite Tolkien's statement that change was swift after the rising of the Sun: the changes that occurred during the next seven thousand years, until Frodo's day, were small indeed compared to the swift development in the previous three thousand years.) In the First Age, there were various dialects of Sindarin - the archaic language of Doriath, the western dialect of the Falathrim or "Shore-people" and the Northern dialect of the Mithrim. Which of these was the basis of the Sindarin spoken in later Ages is not known with certainty, but the tongue of the Falathrim seems the best candidate, since Doriath was destroyed and what very little we know about North Sindarin suggests that it differed from the Sindarin of Frodo's day. (The name Hithlum is North Sindarin; see WJ:400.)
The Noldor and the Sindar were not at first able to understand one another, their languages having drawn too far apart during their long separation. The Noldor learnt Sindarin quickly and even started to render their Quenya names into Grey-elven, for "they felt it absurd and distasteful to call living persons who spoke Sindarin in daily life by names in quite a different linguistic mode" (PM:341). Sometimes the names were adapted with great care, as when Altáriel must have been tracked back to its (hypothetical) Common Eldarin form *Ñalatârigellê ; starting with this "reconstruction" the Noldor then derived the Sindarin form that would have appeared in Sindarin if there had actually been an ancient name *Ñalatârigellê : Galadriel. The names were not always converted with such care. The prominent name Fëanor is in fact a compromise between pure Quenya Fëanáro and the "correct" Sindarin form Faenor ("correct" in the sense that this is what primitive *Phayanâro would have become in Sindarin, if this name had actually occurred in Common Eldarin in ancient times). Some names, like Turukáno or Aikanáro, were simply Sindarized in sound, though the resulting forms Turgon and Aegnor were pretty meaningless in Grey-elven (PM:345). Many of the name-translations took place very early, before the Noldor had sorted out the all the subtleties of Sindarin - therefore the resulting names "were often inaccurate: that is, they did not always precisely correspond in sense; nor were the equated elements always actually the nearest Sindarin forms of the Quenya elements" (PM:342).
But the Noldor, ever ready linguists, soon achieved full mastery of the Sindarin language and sorted out its precise relationship to Quenya. Twenty years after the coming of the Noldor to Middle-earth, during the Mereth Aderthad or Feast of Reuniting, "the tongue of the Grey-elves was most spoken even by the Noldor, for they learned swiftly the speech of Beleriand, whereas the Sindar were slow to master the tongue of Valinor" (Silmarillion ch. 13). Quenya as a spoken tongue was finally abolished by Thingol when he learnt that the Noldor had killed many Teleri and stolen their ships to get back to Middle-earth: "Never again in my ears shall be heard the tongue of those who slew my kin in Alqualondë! Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken." Consequently "the Exiles took the Sindarin tongue in all their daily uses" (Silm. ch. 15). It seems that Thingol's edict merely accelerated the process; as noted, many of the Noldor spoke Sindarin already.
Later, mortal Men appeared in Beleriand. Appendix F in LotR (and UT:216) informs us that "the Dúnedain alone of all races of Men knew and spoke an Elvish tongue; for their forefathers had learned the Sindarin tongue, and this they handed on to their children as a matter of lore, changing little with the passing of the years". Perhaps it was the Dúnedain that stabilized the Sindarin language, at least as used among themselves (UT:216 states that Sindarin spoken by mortal Men otherwise "tended to become divergent and dialectal"). Whatever the standard of Mannish Sindarin might have been in later ages, back in the First Age "the most part of [the Edain] soon learned the Grey-elven tongue, both as a common speech among themselves and because many were eager to learn the lore of the Elves" (Silmarillion ch. 17). Eventually, some Men knew and spoke Sindarin just as well as the Elves. The famous lay Narn i Chîn Húrin (as it is properly spelt) was made by a Mannish poet by the name of Dírhavel, "but it was prized by the Eldar, for Dírhavel used the Grey-elven tongue, in which he had great skill" (UT:146. On the other hand, the people of Haleth did not learn Sindarin well or with enthusiasm; see UT:378). Túrin learnt Sindarin in Doriath; one Nellas "taught him to speak the Sindarin tongue after the manner of the ancient realm, older, and more courteous, and richer in beautiful words" (UT:76).
The Elves themselves continued to use Sindarin throughout the First Age. In a Noldo-colony like Gondolin one might have thought that the Noldor would have revived Quenya as their spoken language, but this appears not to have been the case, except in the royal house: "For most of the people of Gondolin [Quenya] had become a language of books, and as the other Noldor they used Sindarin in daily speech" (UT:55). Tuor heard the Guard of Gondolin speak first in Quenya and then "in the tongue of Beleriand [Sindarin], though in a manner somewhat strange to his ears, as of a people long sundered from their kin" (UT:44). Even the Quenya name of the city, Ondolindë, always appears in its Sindarized form Gondolin (though this is a mere adaption and not "real" Sindarin; primitive *Gondolindê should have produced *Gonglin, if the word was inherited).
Many speakers of Sindarin perished in the wars of Beleriand, but by the intervention of the Valar, Morgoth was finally overthrown in the War of Wrath. Many Elves went to Eressëa when the First Age was ended, and from now on Sindarin evidently became a spoken tongue in the Blessed Realm as well as in Middle-earth (a passage in the Akallabêth, quoted below, indicates that the Númenóreans held converse with the Eressëans in Sindarin). The Valar wanted to reward the Edain for their sufferings in the war against Morgoth and raised an island out of the sea, and Men, following the Star of Eärendil to their new home, founded the realm of Númenor.
Sindarin was widely used in Númenor: "Though this people used still their own speech, their kings and lords knew and spoke also the Elven tongue, which they had learned in the days of their alliance, and thus they held converse still with the Eldar, whether of Eressëa or of the westlands of Middle-earth" (Akallabêth). The descendants of the people of Bëor even used Sindarin as their daily speech (UT:215). Though Adûnaic was the vernacular for most of the Númenórean population, Sindarin was "known in some degree to nearly all" (UT:216). But times later changed. The Númenóreans started to envy the immortality of the Elves, and eventually they turned away from their ancient friendship with Aman and the Valar. When Ar-Gimilzôr "forbade utterly the use of the Eldarin tongues" in the 3100s of the Second Age, we must assumed that even the Bëorians dropped Sindarin and took up Adûnaic instead (UT:223). The story of the folly of Ar-Pharazôn, Sauron's cunning "surrender", the total corruption of the Númenóreans and the Downfall of Númenor is well known from the Akallabêth. After the Downfall, the surviving Elf-friends set up the Realms in Exile, Arnor and Gondor, in Middle-earth. PM:315 states: "The Faithful [after the Downfall]...used Sindarin, and in that tongue devised all names of places that they gave anew in Middle-earth. Adûnaic was abandoned to unheeded change and corruption as the language of daily life, and the only tongue of the unlettered. All men of high lineage and all those who were taught to read and write used Sindarin, even as a daily tongue among themselves. In some families, it is said, Sindarin became the native tongue, and the vulgar tongue of Adûnaic was only learned casually as it was needed. The Sindarin was not however taught to aliens, both because it was held a mark of Númenórean descent and because it proved difficult to acquire - far more so than the 'vulgar tongue'." In accordance with this, Sindarin is stated to have been "the normal spoken language of Elendil's people" (UT:282).
Among the Elves themselves, Sindarin crept eastwards in the Second and Third Age and eventually displaced some of the Silvan (Nandorin, Danian) tongues. "By the end of the Third Age, the Silvan tongues had probably ceased to be spoken in the two regions that had importance at the time of the War of the Ring: Lórien and the realm of Thranduil in northern Mirkwood" (UT:257). Silvan was out, Sindarin was in. True, we get the impression from LotR1/II ch. 6 that the language used in Lórien was some strange Wood-elven tongue, but Frodo, the author of the Red Book, got it wrong. A footnote in LotR Appendix F explains that in Frodo's day, Sindarin was indeed spoken in Lórien, "though with an 'accent', since most of its folk were of Silvan origin. This 'accent' and his own limited acquaintance with Sindarin misled Frodo (as is pointed out in The Thain's Book by a commentator of Gondor)". UT:257 elaborates on this: "In Lórien, where many of the people were Sindar in origin, or Noldor, survivors from Eregion, Sindarin had become the language of all the people. In what way their Sindarin differed from the forms of Beleriand - see [LotR1] II 6, where Frodo reports that the speech of the Silvan folk that they used among themselves was unlike that of the West - is not of course now known. It probably differed in little more than what would now be popularly called 'accent': mainly differences of vowel-sounds and intonation sufficient to mislead one who, like Frodo, was not well acquainted with purer Sindarin. There may of course also have been some local words and other features ultimately due to the influence of the former Silvan tongue." Standard Sindarin, with no "accent", was evidently spoken in Rivendell and among Círdan's people in the Havens.
But by the end of the Third Age, the Elves were fading away in Middle-earth, no matter what tongue they spoke. The rule of Mortal Men, the Second-born of Ilúvatar, was about to begin. Tolkien notes that at the end of the Third Age there were more Men who spoke Sindarin or knew Quenya than there were Elves who did either (Letters:425). When Frodo and Sam met Faramir's men in Ithilien, they heard them speak first in the Common Tongue (Westron), but then they changed to "another language of their own. To his amazement, as he listened Frodo became aware that it was the Elven-tongue that they spoke, or one but little different; and he looked at them with wonder, for he knew then that they must be Dúnedain of the South, men of the line of the Lords of Westernesse" (LotR2/IV ch. 4). In Gondor, "Sindarin was an acquired polite language and used by those of more pure N[úmenórean] descent" (Letters:425). The talkative herb-master of the Houses of Healing referred to Sindarin as the "noble tongue" (LotR3/V ch. 8: "Your lordship asked for kingsfoil, as the rustics name it, or athelas in the noble tongue, or to those who know somewhat of the Valinorean [= Quenya]...").
How Sindarin fared in the Fourth Age we shall never know. Like Quenya, it must have been remembered as long as the realm of Gondor endured.
It has to be mentioned that Tolkien for about forty years misunderstood the history of Sindarin and entertained a wholly wrong idea about its origin. He thought that this was the language, not of the Sindar, but of the Noldor! This is why Sindarin words are marked with "N" for "Noldorin" in The Etymologies (LR:347-400). Later, Tolkien must have started to wonder how the Elves of Valinor could have developed two languages as different as Quenya and "Noldorin" when they were living side by side, the Elves being immortal and all. In the end, Tolkien sorted it out: In its origins, Sindarin had nothing to do with the Noldor and was not a Valinórean language at all; it was developed by the Sindar in Middle-earth. PM:78 documents how Tolkien finally realized this while writing the Appendices to LotR. Of course, the misunderstanding was quite understandable, given the fact that the most prominent speakers of Sindarin in the tales of Middle-earth were in fact Noldor. In that sense, Sindarin was indeed a "Noldorin" language.
Designations of the language
"Sindarin" is the Quenya name of this language, derived from Sindar *"Grey ones" = Grey-elves; it may be (and is) translated Grey-elven. What Sindarin was called by its own term is not known with certainty. It is said of the Elves in Beleriand that "their own language was the only one that they ever heard; and they needed no word to distinguish it" (WJ:376). The Sindar probably referred to their own tongue simply as Edhellen, "Elvish". As noted above, the herb-master of the Houses of Healing referred to Sindarin as the "noble tongue" (while "the noblest tongue in the world" remains Quenya, UT:218). Throughout LotR, the term usually employed is simply "the Elven-tongue", since Sindarin was the living vernacular of the Elves.
In 1954, in Letters:176, Tolkien stated that "the living language of the Western Elves (Sindarin or Grey-elven) is the one usually met [in LotR], especially in names. This is derived from an origin common to it and Quenya, but the changes have been deliberately devised to give it a linguistic character very like (though not identical with) British-Welsh: because that character is one I find, in some linguistic moods, very attractive; and because it seems to fit the rather 'Celtic' type of legends and stories told of its speakers". Later, he found that "this element in the tale has given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it" (MC:197).
A Welsh- or Celtic-sounding language was present in Tolkien's mythos from the beginning. This language was originally called Gnomish or I·Lam na·Ngoldathon, "the tongue of the Gnomes (Noldor)". Tolkien's original Gnomish dictionary, dating from about 1917, was published in Parma Eldalamberon #11 and turns out to be a be a very comprehensive document, with thousands of words. Many Gnomish words are also found in the appendices to LT1 and LT2. Parma also published a (never completed) Gnomish grammar. But though Tolkien put much work into this language, it was in effect rejected later. In PM:379, in a late document, Tolkien refers to Gnomish as "the Elvish language that ultimately became that of the type called Sindarin" and notes that it "was in a primitive and unorganized form". Some of the central concepts of Gnomish grammar, in particular certain consonant mutations, were later recycled in Sindarin. Even so, Gnomish was really a wholly different language, though it had a phonetic style somewhat similar to that of Sindarin (lots of ch 's and th 's, and most words end in a consonant!) An important feature of Sindarin, the umlaut or affection of vowels, reportedly first appears in grammars written by Tolkien in the twenties. But only in the thirties, with the Etymologies, did a language really close to mature Sindarin emerge in Tolkien's notes. This was, as noted above, called "Noldorin", for like its predecessor Gnomish it was conceived as the language of the Noldor, developed in Valinor. Quenya, or "Qenya", was thought of as the language of the Lindar (later: Vanyar) only. As already described, only as late as when the appendices to LotR were being written did Tolkien abandon this idea and turned Noldorin into Sindarin, making Quenya the original language of both the Vanyar and the Noldor - the latter simply adopted Sindarin when they came to Middle-earth. In the former conception, the native Elves of Beleriand spoke a language called Ilkorin, that Sindarin in effect displaced (Edward Kloczko has argued that Ilkorin was transformed into the northern dialect of Sindarin).
Sindarin phonology is less restrictive than that of Quenya. Many consonant clusters are allowed in all positions, while initial and final clusters are virtually absent in Quenya. The sounds ch (German ach-Laut, NOT "tsh" as in English church) and th, dh ("th" as in think and this, respectively) are frequent. Tolkien sometimes used the special letter eth (ð) to spell dh, but we will here use the digraph, as in LotR. The unvoiced plosives p, t, c never occur following a vowel, but are lenited (see below) to b, d, g. Note that as in Quenya, c is always pronounced k (standard example: Celeborn = "Keleborn", not "Seleborn"). At the end of words, f is pronounced v, as in English of. (In Tengwar spelling, a word like nef is actually spelt nev.) R should be trilled, as in Spanish, Russian etc. The digraphs rh and lh represent unvoiced r and l (but sometimes these combinations may actually mean r + h or l + h, as in Edhelharn - not surprisingly, our alphabet cannot represent Sindarin quite adequately). Sindarin has six vowels, a, e, i, o, u and y, the last of which corresponds to German ü or French u as in Lune (pronounce ee as in English see with rounded lips as when you pronounce oo, and you've got it). Long vowels are marked with an accent (á, é etc.), but in the case of stressed monosyllables the vowels tended to become especially long and are marked with a circumflex: â, ê etc. The Sindarin diphthongs include ai (as in English aisle, NOT as in mail), ei, oi, ui (as "ooy" in too young) and au (as in German Haus, or as "ow" in English cow). At the end of words, au is spelt aw. There are also the diphthongs ae and oe, with no English counterparts; Tolkien actually suggests substituting ai and oi if you don't care about such details (indeed he sometimes anglicized Maedhros as "Maidros", but anyone reading this document probably does care about the details). Ae and oe are simply the vowels a, o pronounced in one syllable with the vowel e (as in English pet), just like ai and oi are a and opronounced together with i.
Important samples of Sindarin in LotR include:
-Glorfindel's greeting to Aragorn: Ai na vedui Dúnadan! Mae govannen! (LotR1/I ch. 12). The first words are not translated, but probably mean *"Ah, at last, Westman!" Mae govannen means "well met" (Letters:308).
-Glorfindel's cry to his horse: Noro lim, noro lim, Asfaloth! (same chapter). Untranslated; evidently meaning *"run fast, run fast, Asfaloth!"
-Gandalf's fire-spell: Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth! The first part literally means, according to TI:175, "fire be for saving of us". (Actually there seems to be no word meaning "be".) The second part must mean *"fire against the werewolf-host!" (Cf. Gandalf's remark the morning after the wolf-attack: "It is as I feared. These were no ordinary wolves.") (LotR1/II ch. 4)
-Gandalf's invocation before the Moria Gate: Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen! Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!"Elvish gate open now for us; doorway of the Dwarf-folk listen to the word of my tongue" (LotR1/II ch. 4, translated in RS:463). An earlier variant of the invocation is found in RS:451.
-The inscription on the Moria Gate itself: Ennyn Durin Aran Moria: pedo mellon a minno. Im Narvi hain echant: Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i thiw hin. "The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter. I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin [Eregion] drew these signs."
-The song A Elbereth Gilthoniel/ silivren penna míriel / o menel aglar elenath! / Na-chaered palan-díriel / o galadhremmin ennorath, / Fanuilos le linnathon / nef aer, sí nef aearon (LotR1/II ch. 1). It is translated in RGEO:72 and means roughly, "O Elbereth Starkindler, white-glittering, sparkling like jewels, the glory of the starry host slants down. Having gazed far away from the tree-woven lands of Middle-earth, to thee, Everwhite, I will sing, on this side of the Sea, here on this side of the Ocean" (my translation based on Tolkien's interlinear rendering). An earlier variant of the song is found in RS:394. (The hymn is quite similar to Lúthien's Song [untranslated] in The Lays of Beleriand p. 354: Ir Ithil ammen Eruchîn/ menel-vîr síla díriel / si loth a galadh lasto dîn! / A Hîr Annûn gilthoniel, le linnon im Tinúviel.)
-Sam's "inspired" cry in Cirith Ungol: A Elbereth Gilthoniel o menel palan-diriel, le nallon sí di-nguruthos! A tiro nin, Fanuilos! "O Elbereth Star-kindler, from heaven gazing afar, to thee I cry now in [lit. beneath] the shadow of death. O look towards me, Everwhite!" (translated in Letters:278 and RGEO:72).
-The praise received by the Ringbearers on the Fields of Cormallen (LotR3/VI ch. 4): Cuio i Pheriain anann! Aglar'ni Pheriannath!... Daur a Berhael, Conin en Annûn, eglerio!... Eglerio!This is translated in Letters:308 and means "may the Halflings live long, glory to the Halflings... Frodo and Sam, princes of the west, glorify (them)!... Glorify (them)!"
-Gilraen's linnod to Aragorn in LotR Appendix A: Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim, translated "I gave Hope to the Dúnedain; I have kept no hope for myself".
Outside LotR, the most important source - indeed the longest Sindarin text we have, and the longest prose text in any Elvish tongue - is the King's Letter, a part of the Epilogue to LotR, that Tolkien later dropped. It was finally published in SD:128-9: Elessar Telcontar: Aragorn Arathornion Edhelharn, aran Gondor ar Hîr i Mbair Annui, anglennatha i Varanduiniant erin dolothen Ethuil, egor ben genediad Drannail erin Gwirith edwen. Ar e aníra ennas suilannad mhellyn în phain: edregol e aníra tírad i Cherdir Perhael (i sennui Panthael estathar aen) Condir i Drann, ar Meril bess dîn; ar Elanor, Meril, Glorfinniel, ar Eirien sellath dîn; ar Iorhael, Gelir, Cordof, ar Baravorn, ionnath dîn. A Pherhael ar am Meril suilad uin aran o Minas Tirith nelchaenen uin Echuir. (The names Elessar Telcontar are Quenya; the Sindarin translation of Elessar, Edhelharn [Elfstone], occurs in the text.) This translation is given in SD:128: "Aragorn Strider the Elfstone [but the Elvish text reads "Elessar Telcontar: Aragorn Arathornson Elfstone"], King of Gondor and Lord of the Westlands, will approach the Bridge of Baranduin on the eight day of Spring, or in the Shire-reckoning the second day of April. And he desires to greet there all his friends. In especial he desires to see Master Samwise (who ought to be called Fullwise), Mayor of the Shire, and Rose his wife; and Elanor, Rose, Goldilocks, and Daisy his daughters; and Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Hamfast, his sons. To Samwise and Rose the King's greeting from Minas Tirith, the thirty-first day of the Stirring [not in the Elvish text :], being the twenty-third of February in their reckoning." The words in the paranthesis ("who ought to...") are omitted from the translation in SD:128, but cf. SD:126.
Other samples of Sindarin include:
-Voronwë's uttering when he saw the Encircling Mountains around the realm of Turgon: Alae! Ered en Echoriath, ered e·mbar nín! "Alae [= ?behold]! [The] mountains of Echoriath, [the] mountains of my home!" (UT:40, translated in UT:54 note 19.)
-Gurth an Glamhoth!, "death to [the] dinhorde", Túrin cursing the Orcs in UT:39 (cf. UT:54).
-The battle-cry of the Edain of the North, given in UT:65: Lacho calad! Drego morn!"Flame Light! Flee Night!"
-An exclamation of Húrin's: Tûl acharn, "Vengeance comes", emended from Tôl acharn (WJ:301, 254).
-The Sindarin names of the certain Great Tales in the Silmarillion, the Nern in Edenedair or *"Tales of the Fathers of Men", given in MR:373: 1) Narn Beren ion Barahir, "Tale of Beren son of Barahir", also called Narn e·Dinúviel, "Tale of the Nightingale". 2) Narn e·mbar Hador *"Tale of the house of Hador" including Narn i·Chîn Hurin "Tale of the Children of Hurin" (also called Narn e·'Rach Morgoth "Tale of the Curse of Morgoth") and Narn en·Êl "Tale of the Star" (or Narn e·Dant Gondolin ar Orthad en·Êl, *"Tale of the Fall of Gondolin and the Rising of the Star").
-A sentence from the so-called "Túrin Wrapper": Arphent Rían Tuorna, Man agorech?, probably meaning *"And Rían said to Tuor, What did you do?" (Compare agor "did" in WJ:415; see the upcoming Vinyar Tengwar #39 for a full discussion of the Túrin Wrapper.)
The structure of Sindarin
In the following discussion of the structure of the Grey-elven language, we will deal with the complex rules for variation of initial consonants while discussing the noun, though other parts of speech are also affected by these unfamiliar phonological phenomena. But first of all, it may be practical to discuss the articles.
1. The Articles
Like Quenya, Sindarin has no indefinite article like English "a, an"; the absence of a definite article indicates that the noun is indefinite: Edhel = "Elf" or "an Elf".
The definite article, "the", is i in the singular: aran "king", i aran "the king". These examples might just as well be Quenya. Unlike Quenya (and English), Sindarin has a special plural form of the article, in. "Kings" is erain (formed from aran by vocalic umlauts, see below); "the kings" is in erain.
The genitival article : Sindarin often expresses genitival relationships by word order alone, like Ennyn Durin "Doors (of) Durin" and Aran Moria "Lord (of) Moria" in the Moria Gate inscription. However, if the second word of the construction is a common noun and not a name as in these examples, the genitival article en "of the" is used if the noun is definite. Cf. names like Haudh-en -Elleth"Mound of the Elf-maid" (Silmarillion ch. 21), Cabed-en -Aras "Deer's Leap", *"Leap of the Deer" (UT:140), Methed-en -Glad "End of the Wood" (UT:153) or the phrase orthad en ·Êl "(the) Rising of the Star" in MR:373. Cf. also Frodo and Sam being called Conin en Annûn "princes of the West" on the Field of Cormallen. (This genitival article sometimes takes the shorter form e; cf. Narn e· Dinúviel "Tale of the Nightingale", MR:373. See below concerning its various incarnations and the environments in which they occur.) In the plural, the normal pl. article in is normally used even in a genitival construction, cf. Annon-in -Gelydh "Gate (of) the Noldor" (UT:18). But there is one example of the explicitly genitival article en being used in the plural: Bar-en -Nibin-Noeg, "Home of the Petty-dwarves" (UT:100).
Note that the article i triggers lenition of the following noun; see below. The final n of the article in is often swallowed up in a process called nasal mutation ; the n disappears and the initial consonant of the noun is changed instead. Once again, see below.
The articles are also used as relative pronouns; cf. Perhael (i sennui Panthael estathar aen) "Samwise (who ought to be called Panthael)" in the King's Letter, or the name Dor Gyrth i chuinar "Land of the Dead that Live" (Letters:417 - this represents *Dor Gyrth in cuinar, an example of nasal mutation. Dor Firn i Guinar in the Silmarillion ch. 20 employs singular i as a relative pronoun even though Firn is plural; the reading Dor Gyrth i chuinar from a very late letter (1972) is to be preferred).
It will be noted that Tolkien sometimes, but not always, connects the Sindarin articles to the next word by means of a hyphen or a dot. This is apparently optional.
2. The Noun
Originally, the Sindarin noun had three numbers: singular, plural and dual. However, we are told that the dual form early became obsolete except in written works (Letters:427). On the other hand, a so-called class plural developed; see below.
As in most languages, the singular is the basic, uninflected form of the noun. The plural is in most cases formed by changing the vowels of the word instead of adding endings: Amon "hill", emyn"hills", aran"king", erain"kings". There are a few English nouns that form their plurals in a similar way: man pl. men, woman pl. women (pronounced "wimen"), goose pl. geese, mouse pl. mice etc. Yet English usually relies on the plural ending -s. In Sindarin, the trick of changing the vowels is the usual way of forming the plurals. Ultimately, this goes back on umlaut phenomena. The primitive language had a plural ending *-î, still present in Quenya as -i (as in Quendi, Atani etc). When the plural form of, say, tulus "poplar-tree" is tylys, this is because the u's were affected by the old plural ending *-î while the latter was still present. The plural form of tulus must have been something like *tulus(s)î (or even older *tyulussî, cf. LR:395); then the u's were assimilated to the final *î and became y: *Tylys(s)î. Later still, the final vowel responsible for the assimilation was lost, but left its mark on the plural form of the word: The y's remained. The umlauted vowels had in effect become the indicator of plurality, since the ending had disappeared.
Sindarin plural patterns
Here are some of the Sindarin plural patterns, though the following is by no means all there is to say about this complicated subject. The examples include some adjectives; adjectives agree in number and form their plurals according to the same patterns as the nouns do. (Some obsolete "Noldorin" plural patterns may have crept into this list.) The stems referred to (SMAL, PAN etc.) are found in the Etymologies in LR:347-400.
Long âbecomes plural ei:
mâl"pollen", pl. meil (SMAL)A single, short afollowed by only one consonant becomes ai:
tal"foot, leg" pl. *tail(see the Silmarillion Appendix for tal, while the lenited pl. dail is found in tad-dail[WJ:388]. In the Etymologies we find tâlpl. teil [TAL], cf. above.)
Short ausually becomes ewhen it is followed by two consonants:
lalf"elm-tree", pl. lelf(ÁLAM)...but when these two consonants are nt, the vowel may become ai instead: cant"outline, shape", pl. *caint. (The plural is attested in the compound morchaint, "shadows", lit. "dark shapes"; see the Silmarillion Appendix, entry gwath. The change c > chfollowing r is regular.)
In one attested case, a becomes ei: alph "swan", pl. eilph (UT:265).
Long êbecomes plural î:
hên"eye", pl. hîn(KHEN-D-E)Short ebecomes eiwhen it is followed by only one consonant:
cef"soil", pl. ceif(KEM)...but i before a consonant cluster:
fern"dead", pl. firn(PHIR)Cf. also the final element in muinthel,pl. muinthil ("dear sister", muin+ thel; see THEL, MOY) and muindor "dear brother", pl. muindyr (TOR).
Stems in o have plurals in y; similarly, stems in ô have plural forms in y^ (for some reason it is utterly inconceivable to many computers that someone might actually want to place a circumflex over a Y):
orch"Orc" pl. yrch(ÓROK)The combination ioalso becomes y (for *iy):
hniof"noose", pl. hnyf(SNEW)For hniofpl. hnyfwe should probably read *niofpl. *nyf; the sound hn(unvoiced n) is hardly valid in mature Sindarin. (In LotR Appendix E, we learn that unvoiced nasals "were of very rare occurrence in the languages concerned".)
In the "Noldorin" of the Etymologies, stems in au (spelt aw finally) form their plurals in ui:
naw"idea", pl. nui (NOWO)Note, however, that eminent Sindarist David Salo thinks this is an obsolete "Noldorin" pattern and assumes that in mature Sindarin, such nouns have plurals in oe: *noe, *rhoe, *soe, *gwoen.). In WJ:187, Neben-naug "Petty-dwarf" seems to have the plural form Nibin-noeg (plural form also in UT:148).
Ei-stems form their plurals in î:
feir"mortal" (noun), pl. fîr (PHIR, WJ:387)
Evidently geil"star", pl. gîl, belongs in the same cathegory, though in the published Etymologies we get the impression that gîlis the singular and geilthe plural form (stem GIL). Christopher Tolkien notes that the entries under G "present much the same appearance as those under E", which are in turn described as "particularly confused and difficult" (LR:357, 355). Therefore, it is by no means unlikely that he misunderstood his father's original manuscript. By the way, geil should probably be gail in LotR-style Sindarin.
Stems with the vowels A-A form plurals in E-AI:
aran"king", pl erain(3AR)(In the Etymologies there are a number of examples of a-apluralizing in e-eiinstead of e-ai; these forms are apparently obsoleted by a revision Tolkien did later. There are also examples of a-abecoming e-ein the plural; some of these forms may be valid. See below.)
Stems of the pattern A-O have plurals in E-Y:
annon"gate" pl. ennyn(AD)Cf. also Olfannorand Gulfannor, Sindarin epithets of the Valar Mandos and Lórien, collectively known as i-Fennyr (or Fennir, but there are no other examples of A-O becoming E-I).
The vowels I-O become I-Y: ithron "wizard", pl. ithryn (UT:388, 390)
Stems with the vowels A-E have plurals in E-I:
angren "iron [adj]", pl. engrin(ANGÂ)
Stems of the pattern E-E have plurals in E-I:
elen"star" pl. elin(WJ:363)Cf. also penedh"Quende, Elf", pl. penidh(KWEN[ED]). But this word from the Etymologies is evidently not valid in mature Sindarin (WJ:362 states that no cognate of Quenya Quendë was used in Sindarin).
Final ebecomes i also in the case of stems of the pattern I-E or Í-E:
Lindel"Nando-elf" pl. Lindil(WJ:385)
Stems of the pattern O-E also change final eto i, but o is changed to oe:
Morben"Dark-elf" pl. Moerbin(WJ:376)Concerning compounds of this pattern, however, Tolkien notes: "The normal form of the first element was often restored when the nature of the composition remained evident" (WJ:376). Thus rochben"rider" (roch"horse" + pen, -ben"person") could have the plural rochbinas well as roechbin. (If the first element had the vowel a, however, it was usually umlauted to e: arphen"a noble", pl. erphin.)
Stems of the pattern O-O have plurals E-Y, OE-Y or (rarely) E-E:
golodh"Noldo", pl. gelydh(see Golodhrim in the Silmarillion Index) OR goelydh(WJ:379)The variation oevs. e(goelydhor gelydh) may be easily harmonized. It seems that oetended to become e; in the Etymologies we find both arnoediad and arnediadfor "innumerable" (NOT), and also double forms like doelio or delio "conceal" (DUL) or hoenoor heno"begin suddenly" (KHOR - by the way, this is undoubtedly a misreading for *hoerio and *herio). So the pl. of nogothmight be negyth just as well as noegyth (the form negyth is actually attested in WJ:338: Athrad-i-Negyth, "Ford of the Dwarves"). People writing in Third Age Sindarin should probably let O-O pluralize in E-Y rather than the archaic pattern OE-Y.
The vowels U-U become Y-Y: tulus"poplar-tree", pl tylys(TYUL)
Plural patterns of doubtful authority: In the Etymologies there are some plural patterns that are probably not valid in mature Sindarin; Tolkien did revisions. I stated above that the regular plural of A-A stems is E-AI, but in Etym there are examples of A-A becoming E-EI instead:
adar "father" pl. edeir (or eder) (ATA)I think all of these can be safely ignored by people writing in mature Sindarin. In the Silmarillion, the plural of Balanis stated to be Belain, not Beleinor Belen (see val - in the Silmarillion Appendix). Of the forms nawagpl. neweig, newegwe may accept nawag pl. newegas valid, cf. WJ:209. Nonetheless, the normal Sindarin word for "dwarf" is Nogothpl. Noegyth or later Negyth (WJ:388, 338), and these forms are to be preferred. The forms hebeidand teleifwere evidently obsoleted by the same revision that changed beleinto belain. The pattern A-A > plural E-AI is very well attested in mature Sindarin, so writers should probably ignore the plurals hebeid and teleif and use *hebaid, *telaif instead. Even in the Etymologies, the pl. of aran "king" is stated to be erain, not **erein. The stem in question is 3AR, and interestingly, Christopher Tolkien informs us that "the few entries under the initial back spirant 3 were struck out and replaced more legibly" (LR:361). Perhaps this replacing was done after the first version of the Etymologies had been completed, and Tolkien had made the revision E-EI > E-AI in the meantime.
There is also one example of o-o having a plural form in e-ei: orodpl. eredor ereid (ÓROT). Eredis the usual form elsewhere, though eryd also appears; regularly, we would expect a noun with the vowels o-o to have a plural form in e-y. In Letters:224, Tolkien gives enydas the pl. of onod "ent" and states that ened might be a form used in Gondor. Orod pl. ered may be a similar case, but it seems that ereid should be ignored.
In the Etymologies we also find a few examples of A-A plualizing in E-E instead of E-AI:
adab "building, house", pl. edeb(TAK)and we may add belenbeside belein (BAL). The forms belen, neweigand edeircan be safely ignored, for reasons discussed above. Edercan also be ignored (the form edair"fathers" is well attested in mature Sindarin). However, feles, edeb, neweg and selebmay stand as slightly irregular forms, instead of the expected *felais, *edaib, *newaig, *selaib. Sindarin is meant to be a natural, non-constructed language, so a few irregularities are to be expected.
The Class Plural
Beside the normal plural, Sindarin also has a so-called Class plural, or a collective plural. In RGEO:74, Tolkien states that "the suffix -ath (originally a collective noun-suffix) was used as a group plural, embracing all things of the same name, or those associated in some special arrangement or organization. So elenath (as plural of êl, [irregular] pl. elin) meant 'the host of the stars': sc. (all) the (visible) stars of the firmament. Cf. ennorath, the group of central lands, making up Middle-earth. Note also Argonath, 'the pair of royal stones,' at the entrance to Gondor; Periannath, "the Hobbits (as a race)," as collective pl. of perian, 'halfling' (pl. periain)." The King's Letter provides more examples: sellath dîn "his daughters" and ionnath dîn "his sons", referring to all of Sam's sons and daughters as groups. In some cases, -ath seems to have a longer form -iath. WJ:387 gives firiath as the class plural of feir "a mortal" (normal plural fîr); cf. also the "collective pl." form giliath in LR:358 stem GIL (as in Osgiliath, "Citadel of the Stars"). It seems that the extra i before -ath is a remnant of an earlier y that is here preserved (earlier firya "mortal", gilya "star").
In some cases, other endings than -ath seem to be used, such as -rim "people"; in WJ:388, Nogothrim is said to be the class plural of Nogoth "Dwarf". Yet another ending is -hoth "folk, host, horde", cf. Dornhoth "the Thrawn Folk", another Elvish term for Dwarves. The Silmarillion Appendix (entry hoth) states that this ending is "nearly always used in a bad sense" and mentions the example Glamhoth "Din-horde", an Elvish kenning of Orcs. The one who first called the Snowmen of Forochel Lossoth (for *Loss-hoth, loss = "snow") evidently did not like them. In Letters:178, Tolkien explains that while the normal plural of orch "Orc" is yrch, "the Orcs, as a race, or the whole of a group previously mentioned would have been orchoth " (for *orch-hoth, evidently). It could be discussed whether forms like Nogothrim and Lossoth are really "plural" forms or simply compounds: Dwarf-folk, Snow-horde. Words with the "collective" ending -ath are seen to take the plural article in, so they are evidently considered plurals. We don't know whether words in -rim and -hoth also take the plural article. In Letters:178, Tolkien does state that "the general plurals [italics mine] were very frequently made by adding to a name (or a place-name) some word meaning 'tribe, host, horde, people' " - namely the endings we have been discussing here.
The Sindarin noun, as well as other parts of speech, is often subjected to certain regular changes of the initial consonants. To these we must now turn our attention.
Lenition, "softening", is a prominent feature of Sindarin (and Welsh!) phonology. It is also referred to as "soft mutation". In certain contexts, the initial consonant of a word is altered. The unvoiced plosives p, t, c are turned into their voiced counterparts b, d, g; similarly, lh and rh become voiced l and r. The voiced plosives b and d are turned into spirants v and dh, while g disappears altogether. M, like b, is lenited to v. Sometimes the lenition product of m is spelt mh, though this was evidently pronounced v in the Third Age; in older times mh was a distinctly nasal v. (Compare LotR Appendix E, in the discussion of the Runes: "For (archaic) Sindarin a sign for a spirant m (or nasal v) was required.") The lenition of mto v and g to nothing is sometimes ignored. Sometimes it also seems that the lenition of d to dh is ignored, but this may be due to inaccurate transcription on Tolkien's part: Observes Christopher Tolkien, "My father originally altered the voiced form of th (as in Modern English then) in Elvish names to d, since (as he wrote) dh is not used in English and looks uncouth. Afterwards he changed his mind on the point," linguistic accuracy prevailing (UT:267). Nonetheless, the inaccurate transcription persists in many published texts. We list Dor Dhínen as an example of the lenition d > dh below, the second element being dínen when it stands alone - but the inaccurate form "Dor Dínen" is used in the published Silmarillion.
These are examples of various lenitions:
p> b - the phrase "and Samwise (Perhael)" is in Sindarin a Berhael (a = "and", though ar is used in the Quenya-influenced Sindarin of the King's Letter)
t> d- e.g. palan"far" + t iriel "having gazed" = palan-d iriel"having gazed far away" (RGEO:73, cf. Letters:427). Cf. also A Tolkien Compass p. 195, where Tolkien explains that Nind alf "Wetwang" is a compound of nîn "wet" and t alf "flat field".
c > g - compare calen "green" with galen in the name Tol G alen "Green Isle" (Silm. chapter 14).
d> dh- e.g. dínen"silent" becoming dhínen in Dor Dhínen "Silent Land" (WJ:333, 338; inaccurate transcription "Dor Dínen" many other places.)
b > v - e.g. i Varanduiniant for "the Baranduin bridge" in the King's Letter.
g> nothing, sometimes marked by 'to indicate that a g has been lenited to zero: Curunír "Saruman" + *glân"white" = Curunír 'Lân"Saruman (the) White" (UT:390).
m> v - compare Eryn"Wood" + M orn "dark" = Eryn V orn"Dark Wood" (UT:436, 262); cf. also Elv ellyn"Elf-friends", which is El+ m ellyn (WJ:412)
lh> l- e.g. aer"holy" + lh inn "song" = aerl inn"hymn, holy-song" (RGEO:70, in Tengwar writing)
rh> r - e.g. mith"grey" + rh andir "pilgrim" = Mithr andir"Grey Pilgrim" (MITH, RAN, LotR passim)
s> h - e.g. calen "green" + s ad "place, spot" = Calenh ad "Green Space" (UT:425)
From these examples, some rules can be made out:
1) Particles like the conjunction a "and" trigger lenition of the following word. Other particles include various prepositions and the article i "the": rhass "precipice", i rass "the precipice" (see KHARÁS in the Etymologies). In Letters:279, Tolkien comments upon the lenition c > g and notes that it is used "after closely connected particles (like the article)".
2) When a noun is used as the second element of a compound, it is lenited (Calenhad for *Calensad, Nindalf for *Nintalf). In accordance with this, Tolkien states (in Letters :279) that "the initials of words in composition" are lenited (he uses the example Gil-galad, that represents *Gil-calad "Starlight"; cf. unlenited calad "light" in UT:65 - another explanation of the element galad is given in PM:347, though). In RGEO:73, Tolkien mentions the "the S. change of medial t > d ": palan-díriel for *palan-tíriel.
3) When an adjective follows the noun it describes, the adjective is lenited (Tol Galen for *Tol Calen "Island Green", Eryn Vorn for *Eryn Morn "Wood Black").
A fourth rule seems to be that a noun is lenited when it occurs as the object of a sentence (but only when it follows immediately after the verb). Compare Gandalf's invocation before the Doors of Moria: Lasto beth lammen, "listen to the word of my tongue" (beth being the lenited form of peth "word"). Cf. also a line from the King's Letter: ennas aníra i aran...suilannad mhellyn în, "there the king wants...to greet his friends ", mhellyn being the lenited form of mellyn "friends" (variant spelling of vellyn as in Elvellyn "Elf-friends" above?) One wonders if this was the reason why Gandalf misunderstood the inscription on the Gate of Moria: Pedo mellon a minno, "say 'friend' and enter". Gandalf, as we recall, at first thought it meant "speak, friend, and enter". Normally, mellon should presumably have been lenited as the object of pedo "speak" (*pedo vellon), but the ones who made the inscription had evidently ignored the normal lenition rules and given the word mellon in exactly the form it had to be spoken for the doors to open. (Of course, we don't know exactly how the "magic" or para-technological mechanism behind the doors worked, but it must have been some kind of artificial intelligence responding to the sound-sequence M-E-L-L-O-N only.) Perhaps it was because of this Gandalf did not at first understand that mellon was the object of pedo "say, speak" and took it to be a vocative instead: "Speak, o friend!" However, since the lenition of m > v is also ignored in the next sentence (a minno instead of *a vinno for "and enter"), it may be that the form of Sindarin used in this inscription did not use this lenition at all.
NOTE: Tolkien revised the lenition rules repeatedly. One obsolete rule may be mentioned. As noted above, the genitive may be expressed by word order alone in Sindarin: Ennyn Durin Aran Moria, "Doors (of) Durin Lord (of) Moria". According to a rule that Tolkien later rejected, the second noun of such a construction is lenited. Therefore, the first draft of the Moria Gate inscription had the reading Ennyn Dhurin Aran Voria, with Durin and Moria lenited. Compare Ar Vanwë, Ar Velegol, Ar Uiar for "Day of Manwë", "Day of Belegol (Aulë)", "Day of Guiar (Ulmo)" in LR:369 (b and m leniting to v and g to zero). After the revision, the forms would presumably be *Ar Manwë, *Ar Belegol, *Ar Guiar.
The spirants f, th, chundergo no kind of lenition, cf. muinthel"dear sister" (muin+ thel); normally the second element of a compound would be lenited. See MOY, THEL in the Etymologies.
"Nasal mutation" may sound like something out of a horror movie (or out of Pinocchio). It refers, however, to another important phenomenon in Sindarin phonology, often seen in connection with the article in, "the" before a plural noun. Tolkien tells us that "the nasal mutation...appears after the plural article in: thîw, i Pheriannath " (Letters:427 - it seems that Humphrey Carpenter editing this letter thought that "in" was the English preposition rather than the Sindarin article in, since he does not use italics!) The phrase i thiw "the letters" in the Moria Gate inscription seemingly does not contain in, though "runes" is a plural noun. Another anomaly seems to be that "runes" is given as thiw, while LotR Appendix E (section II, "Writing") gives tîw instead: "The Tengwar or Tîw, here translated as 'letters'..." The long î becomes short i because the word is no longer a monosyllable when the article is prefixed, but why does the initial t become th? Actually i thiw represents *in tiw! At some point in the evolution from Common Telerin to Sindarin, the n was assimilated to the following t, so a form like *it tiw arose. Later, double tt was turned into the spirant th, producing i thiw (compare th for tt in cognates like Quenya quetta = Sindarin peth "word"). Similarly, n was assimilated to a following p or c, producing pp and cc, that later became ph (= f) and ch. When the next word began in a voiced plosive, like b, d, g, the nasal n merged into the next word producing mb (for *nb), nd, ng, but these combinations did not change later:
n+ p = ph(e.g. in"the (pl.)" + periannath"halflings" = i pheriannath"the halflings", or a Pherhael for *an Perhael "to Samwise" in the King's Letter)
n+ t= th(e.g. in"the" + tîw "letters, marks" = i thiw "the letters, the marks")
n+ c= ch(e.g. in"the" + cirth"runes" = i chirth"the runes)
n+ b= mb(e.g. in"the" + bair"lands" = i mbair"the lands")
n+ d= nd(e.g. in"the" + dengin"slain" = i ndengin "the slain")
n+ g= ng(e.g. nuin"under the" + giliath "stars" = nui ngiliath"under the stars" - but this is often ignored; see below.)
It seems that n + h produces ch; cf. i chîn "the children" (as in Narn i Chîn Húrin), presumably for *in hîn.
Tolkien is inconsistent in his spelling of n+ g. For "under the Stars", one of the examples above, we find not only nui Ngiliath (LR:249), but also simply nuin Giliath(LR:378). He is also inconsistent about n+ d. "Hill of Slain" (dengin) is variously Haudh-i-Ndengin(LR:374) and the double-N form Haudh-in-Ndengin (Silm ch. 20). There is also Bar-en-Danwedhinstead of the expected *Bar-e-Ndanwedh (UT:100, Silm ch. 21). The strictly correct rule appears to be that n + d properly yields initial nd, but Tolkien sometimes used a spelling he thought would look less unfamiliar to his readers: as Bar-en-Danwedhinstead of the actual Sindarin form *Bar-e-Ndanwedh. After all, the pronunciation would be much the same. The form Haudh-in-Ndenginseems to be over-complete; the reading Haudh-i-Ndenginfrom LR:374 is to be preferred. (In LotR Appendix A we find Haudh in Gwanur *"Mound of the Twins" instead of *Haudh i Ngwanur. Cf. also Annon-in-Gelydh instead of *Annon-i-Ngelydh for "Gate of the Noldor" in UT:18 and the Silmarillion.)
Another inconsistency is not Tolkien's fault. In Unfinished Tales, read Narn i Chîn Húrin for Narn i Hîn Húrin. In LR:322, Christopher Tolkien confesses: "Narn i Chîn Húrin...is so spelt at all occurences, but was improperly changed by me to Narn i Hîn Húrin (because I did not want Chîn to be pronounced like Modern English chin.)"
Nasal mutation seems to be triggered only be the articles and prepositions that end in n. It does not appear if a word ending in n just happens to be followed by a word with an initial plosive: cf. a name like Emyn Beraid, not **Emy Mberaid. This holds true even in compounds: In Letters:427, Tolkien points out that palan "far" + tíriel "having gazed" does not produce **pala-thíriel "having gazed afar", but palan-díriel with the normal lenition t > d.
Sindarin nouns inflected
Here are some examples of how various Sindarin nouns may be inflected, listed according to their initial sound. I haven't asterisked any of these forms, though most of them are constructed by me according to Tolkien's patterns instead of being actually attested in our very small corpus. In the singular I give the lenited form after the article; the lenited form would also appear when the noun is an object following its verb and after conjunctions like a "and", even if no article is present (e.g. *a rass "and a precipice [rhass] ", *a chaudh "and a mound [haudh] ", *e teithant gerth "he wrote a rune [certh] ").
It is not entirely clear how the n of the plural article in behaves before lh and rh; I have here assumed that it is lost and the following consonant is voiced to l, r. (Before s, m and n, in is simply reduced to i - though Tolkien experimented a little, changing Bar-in-My^l "Home of the Gulls" to Bar-i-My^l, see WJ:418 note 8.)
INITIAL VOWEL: aran"king", i aran"the king". Plural erain"kings" (no special lenited form; the initial vowel cannot undergo any such change), in erain"the kings" or "of the kings". Here we can see the n of the plural article in, that is otherwise often swallowed up in the mutation process.
C: certh"rune", i gerth"the rune". Plural cirth "runes" (lenited girth), i chirth"the runes" or "of the runes"
B: Balan"Vala", i Valan"the Vala". Plural Belain "Valar" (lenited Velain), i Mbelain"the Valar" or "of the Valar". (But in the case of original MB-stems, like bunn"nose" from MBUD, the original initial cluster reappears following the article ifor singular "the": i mbunn, not **i vunn. See "Restoration of primitive initial clusters" below.)
D: doron"oak", i dhoron"the oak", deren "oaks" (lenited dheren), i nderen"the oaks" (But in the case of original ND-stems, like dam"hammer" from the stem NDAM, the original initial cluster reappears following the article ifor singular "the": i ndam, not **i dham.)
G: galadh"tree", i 'aladh"the tree" (OR, if lenition G > zero is ignored, i galadh). Plural gelaidh "trees" (lenited 'elaidh, OR gelaidh), i ngelaidh(OR simply in gelaidh) "the trees" or "of the trees". (But in the case of original NG-stems, like golw "lore" from NGOL, the original initial cluster reappears following the article i for singular "the": i ngolw, not **i 'olw or **i golw.)
H: harw"wound", i charw"the wound". Plural herw(lenited cherw) "wounds", i cherw "the wounds" or "of the wounds"
LH: lhoch"ringlet", i loch"the ringlet", lhych "ringlets" (lenited lych), i lych(?) "the ringlets" or "of the ringlets"
M: mellon"friend", i mhellon/i vellon"the friend". Plural mellyn"friends" (lenited mhellyn, vellyn), i mellyn"the friends" or "of the friends"
P: perian"halfling, hobbit", i berian"the halfling". Plural periain"halflings" (lenited beriain), i pheriain "the halflings" or "of the halflings"
RH: rhass"precipice", i rass"the precipice". Plural rhess(lenited ress), i ress(?) "the precipices" or "of the precipices"
S: sarn"stone", i harn"the stone". Plural sern"stones" (lenited hern), i sern "the stones" or "of the stones" (compare i Sedryn "the Faithful", pl., for *in Sedryn in UT:431).
T: telch"stem", i delch"the stem". Plural tilch "stems" (lenited dilch), i thilch"the stems" or "of the stems".
Words beginning in the spirants f, th apparently undergo no mutations; the n of the plural article in disappears (cf. i-Fennyr for *in-Fennyr in LR:387, stem SPAN). Words beginning in n behave in the same way, cf. i Negyth for *in Negyth "the Dwarves" (WJ:338). N cannot be lenited.
The behaviour of the "genitival article" en "of the" and its shorter variant e is quite confusing. Sometimes it is seen to trigger soft mutation (lenition), sometimes not. David Salo thinks he can make some kind of sense out of it by assuming that en descends from earlier *ina, but we won't enter into a discussion of the phonological complexities here. The conclusion goes more or less like this:
- Before vowels, before f and probably also before th, the genitival article takes the form en, and the following word is unchanged: en·Êl "of the Star" (MR:373), en-Faroth "of the Hunters" (UT:149). So it does before n; cf. en-Nibin-Noeg "of the Petty-dwarves". No example shows how en behaves before words in m; my best guess is that the short form e is used there.
- Before the unvoiced stops (P, T, C) the genitival article takes the short form e and the following stop undergoes lenition (to B, D or G, respectively). Hence e·Dinúviel "of the Nightingale" (Tinúviel!)
- Before the voiced stops (B, D, G) the genitival article likewise takes the short form e, and the following consonant is unchanged: hence dant "fall" > e·Dant "of the Fall". (But e·'rach "of the curse" shows lenition of *grach "curse", and in en-Glad "of the wood" the long form en is used instead of e. Why not **e-Grach and **e-Glad? Hmmm...)
- An exception to the rule above is that before initial b, d, g that derives from earlier *mb, *nd, *ng, this cluster is resurrected following the genitival article, that in this environment takes the form e: hence e·mbar "of the home", since bar "home" comes from a stem MBAR. The construction Taur-e-Ndaedelos "Forest of the Great Fear" in LotR Appendix F must be explained in a similar way. Normally, we would expect **Taur-e-Daedelos with no change of the initial consonant in Daedelos (cf. e·Dant). It seems that Tolkien decided that this word comes from an older ND-stem (while Daedelos, or Daedhelos, had been derived from DAY, not *NDAY, in the Etymologies). In that case, the initial nd would be preserved following the article e "of the", producing the form e-Ndaedelos that we find in Appendix F. The form Bar-en-Danwedh "House of Ransom" in the Silmarillion must be an alternative spelling of *Bar-e-Ndanwedh, for the initial element in Danwedh clearly derives from the stem NDAN.
Restoration of primitive initial clusters
We have already mentioned some of the effects of this phenomenon. In Appendix E to LotR, Tolkien notes that "the combinations nd, mb, ng were specially favoured in the Eldarin languages at an earlier stage". Initially these clusters were simplified to d, b, g in Sindarin: *ndîse > dîs "bride", *mbundu > bund "nose", *ñgolodô > Golodh "Noldo". However, the nasal of these clusters is resurrected (or was never lost) following the articles i "the" or e "of the" (sg), so "the bride, the nose, the Noldo" is presumably i ndis, i mbund, i Ngolodh. (Note that the long vowels of monosyllabic words become short when the article is prefixed, hence dîs > i ndis, not **i ndîs - unfortunately, the wrong form occurred in earlier versions of this article. But Tolkien is not wholly consistent about this himself; cf. i chîn rather than *i chin for "the children" in LR:322. It may be that the genitival article en, e "of the" does not cause the vowel to become short; cf. en·Êl, not **en·El, for "of the Star".) An attested example of a primitive nasal being restored is *gaurhoth "werewolf-host" > i ngaurhoth *"the werewolf-host" in Gandalf's fire-spell (the normal form gaur "werewolf" is mentioned in the Silmarillion Appendix).
NOTE: This phenomenon must not be confused with the initial clusters nd, mb, ng arising by n being assimilated to a following d, b, g, as when "the noses" is probably *i mbynd (for in bynd). If bund had descended from **bundu instead of *mbundu, "the noses" would still be i mbynd, but singular "the nose" would have been **i vund (with the normal lenition of b to v) instead of i mbund.
Here follow most of the known words involved in this phenomenon. I assume that a verb following i when it is used as a relative pronoun ("that, who") behave in the same way as a noun following i when used as a definite article ("the").
1: B > MB
The "trade" words derived from the primitive stem MBAKH:
bachor"pedlar" > i mbachor"the pedlar"The "doom" pair from MBARAT:
barad"doomed" > i mbarad"the doomed [one]"The "bread" pair from MBAS:
bast"bread", i mbast"the bread"The "duress" group from MBAD and MBAW:
The "festive" group from MBER:
bereth"feast, festival" > i mbereth"the feast" (but mereth > i verethor simply i mereth may be more usual, cf. Mereth Aderthad, not *Bereth Aderthad, in the Silmarillion)
bar"home, land", i mbar"the home" (stem MBAR, but this word is not given in Etym)
2: D > ND
The "slaying"-group from NDAK:
daen"corpse", i ndaen"the corpse"The "hammering" group from NDAM:
dam"hammer" > i ndam"the hammer"
The "head" pair from NDOL:
dôl"head" > i ndol"the head" (I shorten the vowel, but this may be optional)(These may be somewhat uncertain; David Salo argues that dôl behaves like a normal word in D, hence *i dhol. Compare the name of the mountain Fanuidhol.)
dûn"west" > i ndun"the west" (NDÛ)3: G > NG
The "harping" pair from ÑGAN:
gandel, gannel"harp" > i ngandel, i ngannel "the harp"
The "wolf" group from ÑGAR(A)M and ÑGAW:
garaf"wolf" > i ngaraf"the wolf"The "wise" group from ÑGOL:
golw"lore" > i ngolw"the lore"
and finally the word for "death":
gûr"death" > i ngur"the death" (also guruth, i nguruth) (ÑGUR)If the genitival article en "of the" has an alternative form e, we must assume that e·mbar "of the home" (UT:54, MR:373) is an example of original mb being restored rather than the n of en being assimilated to the b of bar "home".
3. The Adjective
Typical adjectival endings are -eb, -en and -ui: aglareb "glorious" (< aglar "glory"), brassen "white-hot" (< brass"white heat"), uanui"monstrous, hideous" (< úan"monster") (AKLA-R, BAN, BARÁS). However, many adjectives have no special endings, and the word-form as such sometimes belongs to more than one part of speech. Morn "dark" can be both adjective and noun, just like its English gloss.
Adjectives agree with their nouns in number. It seems that adjectives form their plurals following patterns similar to the noun plurals, e.g. malen"yellow", pl. melin(SMAL). Note that the initial consonant of adjectives following the noun they describe is lenited (see above).
In PM:358, Aran Einior is translated "the Elder King". Einior is our sole example of the comparative form of the adjective; the uninflected form is iaur (seen in the name Iant Iaur "the Old Brigde"). The prefix ein- seems to be related to the Quenya superlative prefix an -. The prefix may not have the form ein- prefixed to any adjective; it seems to be umlauted by the following i.
It so happens that we may also have the superlative form of iaur "old"; during the Council of Elrond, the Sindarin name of Tom Bombadil was given as Iarwain, meaning "Eldest". The ending -wain would seem to be the superlative suffix. Why not *Iorwain, with the normal monophthongization au > o? (David Salo answers, "Because you are looking at the direct descendant of a form like *Yarwanya (perhaps, I am not sure of the exact form of the final element) in which the vowel was in a closed syllable." I don't feel much wiser, but then I am not so deep into Eldarin phonology as David is.)
4. The Participles
The name Talath Dirnen "Guarded Plain" provides us with an example of a past participle, *tirnen "guarded", here lenited to dirnen like any other adjective following the noun it describes. The stem is tir- "watch, guard" (cf. Minas Tirith "Tower [of] Watching, Watchtower), so the ending corresponding to English -ed would seem to be -nen. A longer form -annen is seen in mae govannen "well met" (Letters:308). According to LR:388, stem SUK, the past participle of sogo "drink" is sogennen; this may be a misreading for *sogannen. Cf. prestannen "affected" as the past participle of presto "to affect" (LR:380, stem PERES). The Etymologies also lists a few past participles in -en: dannen "fallen", dolen "hidden" (DAT, DUL in LR:354-355).
The present (or active) participle seems to have various endings, all corresponding to English -ing. One ending is -l, seen in chwiniol "whirling" from chwinio "whirl" (LR:388, stem SWIN). Cf. also glavrol "babbling" from glavro "to babble" (GLAM). There is also the longer ending -iel, perhaps used on "basic" or endingless verbal stems: cf. *tiriel "gazing" (lenited diriel in palan-diriel "gazing far", RGEO:72). According to Tolkien, palan-díriel with a long stem vowel (í) means "having gazed far away", while palan-diriel with a short vowel means "gazing far away": perfect vs. present (RGEO:73).
The Sindarin verbal system is not fully understood - far from it. Some general observations can be made.
To start with something simple, the imperative has the ending -o. There are many attestations; cf. for instance the Moria Gate inscription (pedo mellon a minno, "say friend and enter ") or the battle-cry of the Edain of the north: Lacho calad! Drego morn! "Flame Light! Flee Night!" (UT:65).
The present tense has the ending -a in some attested examples, like penna "slants" in the hymn A Elbereth Gilthoniel, or thia "it appears" in LR:392 (evidently the present tense of thio, glossed "to seem"). Cf. also guinar as the plural present tense of cuino "to be alive" in the entry KUY in LR:366 (the lenition c > g is incidental and irrelevant). But tûl "comes" in Húrin's exclamation tûl acarn "vengeance comes" (WJ:301) has no ending. Tûl was emended by Tolkien from tôl, and the latter form occurs in the Etymologies (stem TUL), where it is glossed "he comes" - in other words, it is the 3. person singular form. The Etymologies lists two more present-tense forms of this kind, sôg *"drinks" and tôg *"brings", from the stems SUK, TUK. In accordance with Tolkien's change tôl > tûl, these forms should evidently be emended to *sûg, *tûg in mature Sindarin.
Our one-and-only example of a perfect shows the ending -i: ú-chebin estel anim, "I have kept no hope for myself" (from Gilraen's linnod ; the ending -n means "I").
When we get to the infinitive, things get a little more complicated. In the King's Letter, several forms in -ad are translated as infinitives: tírad "to see", suilannad "to greet". The latter word seems to incorporate the word for "give" (lit. *"give greeting"?), but in LR:348 we find anno "to give" with an infinitive in -o. The -o forms of the Etymologies really are infinitives; we have already mentioned thio "to seem" vs. its present tense-form *thia "it appears, *it seems" and [c]uinar as the present tense (with the plural ending -r) of cuino "to be alive" (THÊ, KUY). Does this indicate that Tolkien changed the "Noldorin" infinitive ending -o to -ad in mature Sindarin (anno > annad)? In the Etymologies, there is also another infinitive ending -i, cognate with Quenya -ië. Under TIR "watch, guard", tiri (or tirio) is given as the infinitive of this verb, but in the King's Letter we find tírad instead. This may support the theory that Tolkien revised the verbal system and decided to go for -ad as the infinitive ending. In earlier works, -ad already appears as a verbal noun ending, and there is no great semantic leap from verbal noun to infinitive. (Indeed we could theorize that this change happened within the mythos, -o and -i being the preferred infinitive endings in, say, the First Age, but later they were displaced by -ad!) But there is also another interpretation that allows us to accept all the forms in the corpus: The true infinitives are the forms in -o (-io) and -i that are known from the Etymologies. The forms in -ad are really gerunds. This is the interpretation I presently think is the right one (and David Salo agrees).
The past tense apparently often has the ending -ant. In LR:391 we find teitho "write" (infinitive in -o again!), and the inscription on the Moria Gate provides us with the past tense teithant "wrote". The past tense of tiri, tirio "watch" (> tírad) is given in Etym as tiriant (LR:394, stem TIR), and the past tense of ortho "raise" is given as orthant (LR:379, ORO). This pattern can probably be applied to all verbs in -o and -io in Etym (though damna- "hammer", possibly a misreading for *damma-, has the past tense dammint instead of *dammant - LR:375 stem NDAM). There are also some past tenses that are formed by nasal infixion. The past tense of sogo "drink" is given as sunc, formed directly from the stem SUK (cf. Quenya *suncë, not attested). Note that the infixion of n happened before c became g following a vowel as in sogo, and whatever form sunc is descended from (prob. something like *sunkê), the lost final vowel evidently did not have the same quality as the one that caused u to be umlauted to o, as in sogo. Likewise, the word arphent *"and said" seems to indicate that the past tense of ped- "speak" is *pent (here -phent following an r). Compare Quenya quentë "said" (the branch of Eldarin that Sindarin belongs to turned qu/kw into p). Once again, the infixion happened before T became D following a vowel (stem KWET > Sindarin ped-); the T of *pent as well as the c of sunc were "saved" by the intruding n that shielded them from the preceding vowel, and so did not become d, g. The word echant "made" (lit. "cut out", of letters) in the Moria Gate inscription is yet another example of a past tense formed by nasal infixion. This is not a stem *ech- with the past tense ending -ant, as it may be thought (and as early students inevitably did think). Echant is a past tense formed by nasal infixion from primitive *et-kat, "out-cut" (*et-kant > echant). The infinitive is given in LR:363 as echedi, with the normal change of t > d following a vowel (the a of the preceding syllable becomes e because it is umlauted by the final i). However, it appears that some past tenses formed by nasal infixion were being replaced by the more frequent past tense ending -ant. Under WED (LR:397) the past tense of gwedi "bind" (read *gwedhi?) is given as gwend, formed by nasal infixion before d became dh following a vowel (the assimilated form gwenn is also mentioned). But "later" the past tense became gwedhant, formed from the infinitive with the ending -ant discussed above. This is analogy at work.
We have one single example of a wholly different way of forming the past tense, namely agor"did", past tense of *car- "do" (cf. the stem KAR-, LR:362). In WJ:415, Tolkien mentions "a primitive past tense [formation], marked as such by the 'augment' or reduplicated base-vowel, and the long stem-vowel". He continues, "Past tenses of this form were usual in Sindarin 'strong' or primary verbs: as *akâra 'made, did' > S agor " (WJ:415). There were evidently many past tenses of this pattern; the "primary verbs" are evidently naked roots being used as verbal stems, instead of being derived from primitive roots with endings like -ia or -tha, -da (corresponding to Quenya -ya, -ta).
Another isolated past tense form is ónen "I gave" in Gilraen's linnod. The ending -n means "I"; does this suggest that -e is here the past tense ending, or is it just a connecting vowel between the verb and the pronominal ending? Is ón(e?) a very irregular past tense form of anno, annad "to give", instead of the expected from *annant?
The future tense has the ending -tha; cf. anglennatha "will approach" in the King's Letter or linnathon "I will sing" in the hymn A Elbereth Gilthoniel (*linnatha "will sing" + the ending -n "I", that for some reason causes the a of the preceding syllable to become -o). It is not clear how -tha would be added to stems ending in a consonant.
Verbs seem to agree in number (under the stem SUK, sôg is called a "3 sg." form, evidently meaning "third person singular" and implying that the 3. person plural differs). In the relative clause of the phrase gyrth i chuinar "dead who live" (Letters:417), the verb is seen to take the plural ending -r. Confusingly, -r seems to be a passive ending in the King's Letter: Perhael (i sennui Panthael estathar aen), "Samwise (who ought to be called Fullwise)". Perhaps it is really a third person pl. form: *"who they (= people in general) ought to call Samwise".
Attested Sindarin pronouns include:
1. person sg: Independent pronoun im "I", also the ending -n; cf. also nin, translated "towards me", genitive nín "my", also anim "for myself" (evidently an "for" + im "I, *me").
2. person sg: The ending -ch, assuming that agorech does mean *"you did"; cf. also the reverential dative pronoun le "to thee", said to be of Quenya origin (RGEO:73).
3. person sg: E "he", genitive dîn "his".
1. person pl: Ending -m "we" (in avam "we won't", WJ:371), also ammen "for us" or "of us" (for *an men; an "for, to", men = "us"?)
2. person pl: none found, unless -ch covers both sg. and pl. "you" (cf. PM:45-46)
3. person pl: hain "them" (prob. also subject "they")
When added to a stem ending in -a, the pronominal ending -n "I" seems to change this vowel to -o; contrast avam "we won't" with avon "I won't" (WJ:371, ava = "won't"). Cf. also linnon "I sing" and linnathon "I will sing"; the stems are evidently linna and *linnatha, "sings" and "will sing" (hence *linnam "we sing", *linnach "you sing"?)
Though an independent word for "my" is given in UT:54 (nín), it seems that "my" is expressed with an ending -en in the word lammen "my tongue" in Gandalf's invocation before the Gate of Moria (LotR1/II ch. 4, translated in RS:463). Compare the Quenya ending -nya "my". But the ending -en is easily confused with other endings; writers should probably use nín.
In addition to the genitive pronoun dîn "his", the King's Letter also has în: The king wishes to greet mhellyn în phain, all his friends. Though în, like dîn, is translated "his" in English, it appears that this is actually a reflexive genitive pronoun, referring back to the subject of the sentence. In Sindarin there may be a distinction that is not regularly expressed in English. Two sentences like *i venn sunc i haw în and *i venn sunc i haw dîn would both translate as "the man drank his juice" in English, but the first means "the man drank his (own) juice", while the second means "the man drank his (someone else's) juice" (Norwegian mannen drakk saften sin vs. mannen drakk saften hans, if I may refer to my mothertongue).
Under the stem S- in the Etymologies, some "Noldorin" pronouns are listed, but whether they are valid in mature Sindarin is not known: Ho, hon, hono "he", he, hen, hene "she"; ha, hana "it". The plurals are given as huin, hîn, hein, evidently meaning "they" referring to a group of men, women and things, respectively. Hein was evidently changed to hain later; cf. the Moria Gate inscription: Im Narvi hain echant "I Narvi them [= the letters] made".
These articles have been reproduced, with permission from Helge K. Fauskanger, from his Ardalambion web page.
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