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  • Tengwesta Qenderinwa and Pre-Fëanorian Alphabets Part 2
  • John Garth
Tengwesta Qenderinwa and Pre-Fëanorian Alphabets Part 2, by J.R.R. Tolkien, including "Tengwesta Qenderinwa," edited by Christopher Gilson and Patrick H. Wynne; and "Pre-Fëanorian Alphabets, Part 2," edited by Arden R. Smith. Mountain View, CA: Parma Eldalamberon, 2009. 149 pp. $35 (oversize paperback) [no ISBN]. Parma Eldalamberon XVIII.

The on-going publication of Tolkien's writings on his invented languages has revealed diverse delights, ranging from lexicons to treatises on Eldarin numerals, from toponymy to poetry. All this furnishes a wealth [End Page 324] of evidence about fundamental aspects of the languages, in particular semantics (word meanings) and phonology (speech sounds and their development). The first substantial publication in the field, the mammoth "Etymologies" of the 1930s, provides thousands of words in several languages, glossed and grouped under the common "Elvish" roots from which they notionally derive; and much can be deduced about the divergent sound-developments that produced Qenya, Noldorin, and several other tongues of Eldamar and Beleriand, in Tolkien's conception. But a third, equally important aspect of the Elvish vocabularies has remained relatively opaque: the morphology of the originating language—that is, the rules underpinning the structure of its words. Introducing "The Etymologies" in 1987, Christopher Tolkien mentioned that his father "wrote a good deal on the theory of sundokarmë or 'base structure' … but like everything else it was frequently elaborated and altered, and I do not attempt its presentation here" (Lost Road 343). In his original outline of Elvish, the c. 1915 "Qenyaqetsa," Tolkien never reached the section he planned on "Root forms" (Parma Eldalamberon XIV, v). During his Leeds years, 1920-25, he dealt with the topic directly in his "Early Qenya Phonology" (Parma Eldalamberon XIV, 63-6) but those pages constitute no more than a sketch.

Now, in "Tengwesta Qenderinwa" (translated as "Quendian Grammar"), we have a fully-fledged essay focusing largely on base structure and standing as a companion piece—indeed as the skeleton key—to "The Etymologies." Evidence from nomenclature suggests it was begun in 1937. This issue of Parma Eldalamberon thus resumes the more-or-less chronological sequence of publication which makes the series a linguistic counterpart to The History of Middle-earth. Issue XVII leapt ahead of chronology by reproducing J.R.R. Tolkien's linguistic notes on words and phrases in The Lord of the Rings, but the current issue felicitously dovetails with that material, too: it contains a revised "Tengwesta Qenderinwa" from about 1951, when Tolkien was returning to the fundamentals of his legendarium with a view to publishing his writings on the First Age at last (it appears this revision is only part of a larger work on phonology and grammar, yet to be published). Thus the two versions of the essay (designated editorially TQ 1 and TQ 2) bracket the writing of The Lord of the Rings, and represent his conception of Quendian morphology at the end of the first continuous phase of his work on the legendarium (The History of Middle-earth volumes I to V) and at the beginning of the final phase (volumes IX to XII). To ratchet up this textual history to the customary Tolkienian complexity, there is an intermediate text called "Elements of the Structure of Quendian Languages." This was a condensation of TQ 1 but also in parts an elaboration, much as Tolkien's 1925 "Sketch of the Mythology" compressed and refined the original "Book of Lost [End Page 325] Tales." TQ 2 was then an enlargement of this intermediate text, as "The Silmarillion" enlarged upon the "Sketch."

But that is to simplify matters considerably. All in all, Christopher Tolkien's decision not to venture into the realms of sundokarmë becomes quite understandable, and one can only commend Christopher Gilson and Patrick Wynne for their fortitude and patience in presenting all this. These are difficult texts both in subject and in form—each has layers of corrections. But as we have come to expect, the editors have been assiduous in analysing and explaining them, and judicious in organising them. TQ 1 appears in its first full surviving manuscript, with footnotes conveying any...