Tengwar - The Mode of Beleriand


Sample language: Sindarin

Samples: DTS 8, DTS 21, DTS 29, DTS 30, DTS 31, DTS 58


The name of this Grey-elven Tengwar mode is given in the caption to DTS 8. It seems safe to assume that the mode was created in Beleriand, or at least that it came to be used there. The Noldor are given the honour of being the first to apply the Tengwar to Sindarin [QE App.D 20], though we cannot be certain if the mode of Beleriand was the mode they created.

At present our sources for the mode of Beleriand are limited to six specimen: DTS 8, DTS 21, DTS 58, and three almost identical draft inscriptions for the Doors of Durin (DTS 29, DTS 30, DTS 31). There are also a few notes in AppE. All the sources are in complete agreement.

Note: the different tengwar are frequently referred to below by their Quenya names. For a complete list of these, see the article Tengwar Names.


This “antique S[indarin] mode” [DTS 58] is a mode of quanta sarme (“full writing”), meaning that both consonants and vowels are written with tengwar. In this it followed the quanta sarme which Feanor created “for the Loremasters” to represent Quenya. It is said that for languages such as Sindarin, “the diacritic method of indicating vowels was inconvenient” [FQD]. Diacritic marks, tehtar, are used to modify the sound values of the tengwar.

Figure 1 shows the sounds of the tengwar in the mode of Beleriand, according to the transcription method used in The Lord of the Rings. Unattested sounds are marked with an asterisk (*). For the pronunciation of Sindarin, refer to AppE. Notes are given below. In most browsers you will be able to click on each tengwa to jump to the relevant note.

Figure 1: The tengwar

ampa noldo arda alda hwesta sindarinwa a *mh i '


ampa. In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien transcribed final v as {f}. That practice has no correspondence in the Tengwar, so final {f} should be written with ampa using the mode of Beleriand.

noldo. “NG represents ng in finger, except finally where it was sounded as in English sing.” [AppE] The former sound would in the mode of Beleriand be represented by anga with a nasalization tehta (see Nasalized Consonants below). We do not know how the latter sound was written, but possibly noldo was used.

arda and alda. These letters are not attested in the mode of Beleriand, but AppE states that they “were frequently used for voiceless r (rh) and l (lh)”, sounds which occurred in Sindarin and needed a way to be written. If arda and alda were used at all in the mode of Beleriand, they were certainly used for these sounds.

hwesta sindarinwa. According to AppE, hwesta sindarinwa (or “Grey-elven hw”) was “mostly used (if at all) for voiceless w”. We have no Sindarin examples of this tengwa, even though its name strongly suggests that it was created for Sindarin. One theory is that Sindarin hw was pronounced chw at the time when the Noldor first encountered the language. In Quenya hw represents a voiceless w, and therefore the Noldor felt a need for a tengwa distinct from hwesta to represent the Grey-elven sound. It seems, though, that what Tolkien transcribed as hw later represented a voiceless w in both Quenya and Sindarin [AppE].

The tengwar representing a and i can be more clearly distinguished by marking them with a superimposed dot. This is especially useful when these tengwar risk being mistaken for the bow or stem of an adjacent letter. In this mode either the long or the short carrier may be used to represent i.

In one of the drafts for the Doors of Durin (DTS 31), a slightly different tengwa for m is used in the word mellon. It seems probable that the swash on vala is intended to signify that the sound is lenited, a feature of Sindarin which Tolkien perceived differently over time. If this is correct, the tengwa should be pronounced as a “spirant m (or nasal v)” [AppE]. A similar tengwa occurs in DTS 49. Later, Tolkien decided that mellon on the Doors of Durin was not in a context that triggered lenition, and so the tengwa does not occur in the finished inscription.

gasdil. The tengwa otherwise known as halla could be used to indicate a g that had been lenited, and as a result, silenced [ACE, Appendix III]. No samples of this are known.

Consonant Modifications

Long or Double Consonants

The only long or double consonants attested in our samples of the mode of Beleriand are ll, mm, nn. Long l is written with two consecutive lambe, as in the transcription. Long m and n are written with malta and númen, respectively. The latter two are doubtless shorthand writing for doubled vala and óre, the normal signs for m and n in this mode. It may be assumed that all other long consonants were written with doubled tengwar.

Nasalized Consonants

States AppE, “a bar (or a sign like a Spanish tilde) placed above a consonant was often used to indicate that it was preceded by the nasal of the same series (as in nt, mp, or nk)” — the nasal being either m or n, depending on which column in the table contained the tengwa. That the nasalization tehta occurred in the mode of Beleriand is attested in DTS 8. In loose compound words, where the first word ends in a nasal which is homorganic to the initial consonant of the second word, it was apparently preferable to separate the two sounds and write them both with tengwar. This is suggested by DTS 21, in which the word palan-díriel (the hyphen has no counterpart in the tengwar writing) has n written out with óre.

Labialized Consonants

“The sign for following w (required for the expression of au, aw)” was in the mode of Beleriand “the u-curl or a modification of it ~” [AppE]. No actual sample is found, but other Grey-elven Tengwar modes employ a tehta for following w which looks approximately like a mirrored tilde (~). It is doubtless this tehta that Tolkien describes. Not all labialized consonants must have been written using the tehta, however.

When describing the systematics of the primary letters, AppE speaks of a mode in which the first four tengwar in the fourth series of the table have the labial sound values kw, gw, khw/hw, ghw/w. There are no actual texts where the letters are used with these sounds. However, the sounds of the first three series in the same mode fit perfectly with those in the mode of Beleriand, and since vilya has the sound w in the mode of Beleriand we know that the fourth series was reserved for labialized consonants. Vilya is also the only tengwa of the primary letters in the fourth series that occurs in our samples of the mode. It is possible that, had gw occurred in the samples, it would have been written with ungwe. The rest of the sounds — kw, khw/hw, and ghw/w — are more problematic.

Following w is found in a number of consonant clusters in Sindarin, but of these only gw and hw are covered by the sounds listed above. The rest of the sounds in the list do not occur in Sindarin at all. It could be that the list was only theoretic, used by AppE as being the most systematic layout of a labialized series, but not occurring in actual use. Most of the following w’s had to be written with the “modified u-curl” (hw was probably written with hwesta sindarinwa as noted above). Rather than furthering the stress on memory by using a unitary tengwa for gw, that sound was probably also written using the tehta, on analogy with dw and rw.

Vowel Modifications

Long Vowels

Figure 2: Long mark

Long vowels were indicated in this mode by superimposing “the ‘acute accent’, called in that case andaith ‘long mark’.” [AppE]. It is often assumed that the “specially prolonged” vowels, marked by Tolkien with a circumflex, were not distinguished from normal long vowels, but that is pure speculation. It could be that they were marked with, for instance, a doubled andaith. The long vowels are shown in figure 2.


Figure 3: Diphthongs

Diphthongs were in the mode of Beleriand written in several different ways, depending on the vowels involved. They are summarized in figure 3. In diphthongs that end with -i, the first vowel is represented by its tengwa, and the second by the double dots.

Regarding au, AppE describes a tehta “required for the expression of au, aw”, as discussed in the section Labialized Consonants above. The tehta is shown in figure 3.

The paragraph cited above continues: “But the diphthongs were often written out in full, as in the transcription”; i.e. both the first and the second vowel were represented by a tengwa. This is, in fact, how the diphthong ae is consistently written in all samples of the mode of Beleriand. We may assume that oe was written according to the same principle.

Sample text

Using the mode of Beleriand, a text such as the following can be written:

Aníron teithad i lam Thingol a Daeron o Beleriand iuithad i thiw Feanor.

“I want to write the language of Thingol and Daeron of Beleriand using the letters of Feanor.”