Tengwar – Later or Westron Convention (Northern Variety)


Sample languages:

Samples: DTS1 DTS10:2, DTS13, DTS14, DTS22, DTS45, DTS48, DTS49, DTS53, DTS54:1, DTS71, DTS85, DTS86, DTS87, DTS88


The “later or Westron convention, in its northern variety” (Pictures:24; henceforth “Later Convention”) was used by Ori the Dwarf in the Book of Mazarbul (DTS 13, 14) in 2994 of the Third Age, 25 years before the fall of Sauron [AppB]. Tolkien’s English version of the original Westron text uses “orthographic spelling” – i.e., it adheres to the peculiarities of English spelling with the Roman alphabet, which would correspond to a “correct” way of writing in Westron (cf. the English General Use). Maybe it is this that Gimli refers to when he states that Ori “could write well”.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Later Convention is also used (with slight differences) in the letter from King Elessar to Sam Gamgee (DTS 45, 48, 49), written in Minas Tirith in the year 14 of the Fourth Age. It might seem strange that this mode was used by a scribe of Gondor, who would normally employ the General Use when writing Westron. The most probable explanation seems to be that the scribe adopted a mode which the recipient would be familiar with. Like the Book of Mazarbul, the spelling used in the King’s letter is orthographic, transcribing e.g. the silent letters <gh> in “daughters”. Two versions of the letter also attest a variant of the same mode used for Sindarin and Quenya (DTS 45, 48). An exhaustive analysis of the modes used in the different versions of the King’s letter is found in Vinyar Tengwar #29.

In 2941 TA, 53 years before Ori wrote in the Book of Mazarbul, Thorin Oakenshield used a variation of the Later Convention in his note to Bilbo Baggins (DTS 71). Unlike Ori, Thorin makes use of phonemic spelling, representing the spoken phonemes in writing rather than following a predetermined orthography. His mode differs from the established Later Convention primarily in its transcription of vowels.

That it is in fact Thorin himself that wrote the note, and not one of his companions, is established in DTS 86, where the text is described as being “in Thorin’s rather free and bold style”.

A similar mode was also used for an inscription on a jar in Erebor (DTS 1). The inscription must have been executed before 2770 TA, when Smaug ransacked the Dwarf-kingdom [AppB] (but probably no earlier than 2644, since it mentions Thráin II (2644–2850 TA)). This text exhibits traits that are not found in other samples of the Later Convention, and might be interpreted as an early variant of the mode. However, it supports the impression that the Later Convention (or variations thereof) was used by the Dwarves of the line of Durin for more than two hundred years.

We are not told how the “northern variety” of the Later Convention differed from other varieties of the mode. However, it is clear that it was widely known in the north of Middle-earth, from The Shire in the west to the Lonely Mountain in the east. Especially noteworthy is the fact that two of the known texts written in the Later Convention are addressed specifically to Hobbits. Since one of these two texts – the letter from King Elessar – was written in Minas Tirith, it is possible that their slight differences from Ori’s mode distinguish them as being written in a “southern variety” of the mode. Another possibility is that the General Use, though markedly different in many ways, constitutes a southern variety (since this mode is what “a man of Gondor” would normally use when writing Westron).

The description of Thorin’s mode in DTS 87 observes: “in writing the common language new letters for vowels were made – but there was a great deal of variation and disagreement about how to use them.” There is indeed some variation in our samples regarding which tengwar are used for which vowels. Among our samples written in full modes where series IV represents velars, some might be regarded as variants of either the Later Convention or the “Qenya Alphabet”. For the purpose of this description, I regard all texts that use osse for /e/ and/or a 2-shaped tengwa for /w/ as samples of the Qenya Alphabet, and all others as samples of the Later Convention.


The Later Convention is a mode of quanta sarme (“full writing”), meaning that both consonants and vowels are written with tengwar. The sound values of the tengwar in the different variants of the mode are given in the figures below. Note: the different tengwar are frequently referred to below by their Quenya names. For a complete list of these, see the article Tengwar Names.

Orthographic spelling

The tengwar used are given in Figure 1. With each transcribed tengwa, at least one word is cited for which the letter has been used. The Roman letters that correspond to each tengwa in these words have been underlined. In cases where the tengwar represent a specific sound, the pronunciation of the tengwa is given in square brackets after the Roman-letter transcription.

Where the mode in the King’s letter (DTS 45, 48, 49) differs from the mode in the Book of Mazarbul (DTS 13, 14), the tengwar are presented against a grey background.

Figure 1: Orthographic Tengwar of the Later Convention (Northern Variety)

An unusual feature of the Later Convention as used in the Book of Mazarbul is the use of rómen for w. The King’s letter diverges from this, using rómen for r before vowels, and úre for w. In two versions of the King’s letter (DTS 45, 49), rómen is also used for final r.

The tengwa rómen is also used for its more common value r in DTS 54. Hesitation regarding the representation of r is evident in DTS 10:2, where the first r is transcribed using rómen, and the following are written with the expected óre. In this case it is clearly a slip, since the text follows directly after another text written with the General Use where rómen has its more common value.

Phonemic spelling

The tengwar used in the phonemic version of the mode are given in Figure 2. The sound values are given according to the International Phonetic Alphabet. With each transcribed tengwa, at least one word is cited for which the letter has been used. The Roman letters that correspond to each tengwa in these words have been underlined. (Where no word is cited, the tengwa is only given a sound value in DTS 87 or 88.)

Figure 2: Phonemic Tengwar of the Later Convention (Northern Variety)

As can be seen, this variant follows the mode in the King’s letter rather than the Book of Mazarbul in using rómen to represent /r/ before vowels and óre in other positions. In DTS 1, óre is used for /r/ before both consonants and vowels.

According to DTS 87, “the Dwarves occasionally used [the tengwa hwesta]” for /h/. The same source states that the letter osse, used to write /ɔ/, is distinguished with an extra stroke when occurring before the tengwar from the third column of the table, so as to avoid being mistaken for a bow belonging to the next tengwa. In the Mode of Beleriand the same problem is solved by adding a dot above the tengwa. However, both signs – osse with a dot above, and with an extra stroke – are used to write /œ/ according to DTS 88, which lists a few tengwar for exotic vowels (given in the bottom row in Figure 2).

As noted above, the sources attest “a great deal of variation and disagreement” [DTS 87] on the usage of the letters for vowels. The following table shows variant spellings of vowels as well as /j/. Absence of any tengwa in the table indicates that it is either unattested or the same as in Figure 2.

Source e æ o ɔ ʌ j
DTS 1 úre
DTS 22 anna yanta
DTS 53 osse
DTS 85 yanta anna silme nuquerna osse with dot above íre

Elvish spelling

As mentioned above, DTS 45 and 48 attest a mode for the representation of Sindarin (and Quenya, in the name Elessar Telcontar). Figure 3 gives the known sound values for Elvish spelling. With each transcribed tengwa, at least one word is cited for which the letter has been used. The Roman letters that correspond to each tengwa in these words have been underlined.

Figure 3: Elvish Tengwar of the Later Convention (Northern Variety)

In the older of the two sources (DTS 48), r is written thrice with rómen (twice in the name Meril ‘Rose’ and once in Echuir ‘February’) but usually with óre. In the later source (DTS 45), only óre is used. The use of alda in DTS 45 (in Edhelharn ‘Elfstone’) might be a mistake, unless we assume that l is de-voiced in front of h.

Note that the distinguished version of osse in this variant is used for a in word-final position. The tengwa vilya, transcribed “(a)” above, only occurs in the monogram of Aragorn Elessar. It should probably not be used to write a in Elvish spelling.


In orthographic spelling, double sounds can be indicated by a horizontal bar below the baseline of the tengwa. This is used with both consonants and vowels.

A preceding homorganic nasal (or a double nasal) is usually indicated by a horizontal bar above the tengwa. Whereas other modes attest nasal bars above a limited number of tengwar, the Later Convention makes use of the nasal bar on more unusual letters, such as silme nuquerna.

A hook or curl extending from the lower end of the rightmost bow of a tengwa indicates a following s or z. According to some sources, an open hook indicates a voiceless s and a curl crossing itself a voiced z (DTS 87, 88); but in others the open and crossing forms seem to occur in free variation (DTS 48).

In orthographic spelling only, a vertical dash below a tengwa can be used to indicate a following (silent) h. This use is only attested in the word Christmas.

A following w or /ʊ/ can be indicated by using the “modified u-curl”. This can be used on both vowels and consonants.

A following palatal (/ɪ/, or i, y in orthographic spelling) can be indicated by placing two dots above the tengwa. This can be used on both vowels and consonants.

In phonemic or Elvish spelling, long vowels or semivowels can be indicated by placing an ‘acute accent’, or andaith, above the tengwa. (On i the andaith replaces the dot above the tengwa.) Compare the Mode of Beleriand.

In Sindarin only, when writing diphthongs ending with e, the final vowel is indicated by the tengwa yanta placed above the tengwa of the initial vowel.

In orthographic spelling, an underposed dot is used to indicate a “silent e”. Under óre, it indicates that the tengwa takes the sound [ə]. In phonemic spelling, the same mark is used to indicate that the tengwa represents a syllable (or that it is preceded by [ə]).


The Later Convention attests the usual shorthand signs for the common English words “the”, “of”, and “of the”. In addition, a special letter is used in the Book of Mazarbul for the indefinite article “a”, “an”, apparently based on the letter for /ə/ (otherwise unused in orthographic spelling), or a tengwa representing the numeral 1. (In other sources the indefinite article is written with the usual tengwa for “a”.)

As in other modes, ando with a nasal bar (optionally with an underposed dot) is used as shorthand for “and”. In the King’s letter two other shorthand signs based on the nasal bar are used: anna with a bar for “on”, and Elwe with a bar for “in”. Note that in these two shorthand signs, the nasal bar represents a following /n/ rather than a preceding one.

Sample Text

Using orthographic or phonemic spelling, the following texts can be written in the Later Convention.

Orthographic spellingPhonemic spelling

The Westron was a Mannish speech, though enriched and softened under Elvish influence.
— Tolkien, Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings.