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The Tengwar, or Fëanorian Characters, was a script invented by the Elf Fëanor in the First Age. It was originally used to write a number of the languages of Middle-earth, including Quenya and Sindarin. However, Tengwar can also be used to write other languages, such as English. The word Tengwar is Quenya for "letters"; the corresponding singular is tengwarr, "letter."

First article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in English)

Internal history & terminology

According to The War of the Jewels (specifically Appendix D to "Quendi and Eldar"), Fëanor, when he created his script, introduced a change in terminology. He called a letter, i.e. a written representation of a spoken phoneme (tengwë), a tengwa. Previously, any letter or symbol had been called a sarat (from *sar "incise"). The alphabet of Rúmil of Valinor, on which Fëanor supposedly based his system, was known as Sarati; it was later called "Tengwar of Rúmil". The plural of tengwa is Tengwar, and this is the name by which Fëanor's system became known. Since, however, in commonly used modes, an individual Tengwa was equivalent to a consonant, the term Tengwar in popular use became equivalent to "consonant sign", and the vowel signs were known as ómatehtar. By loan-translation, the Tengwar became known as tîw (singular têw) in Sindarin when they were introduced to Beleriand. The letters of the earlier alphabet native to Sindarin were called cirth (singular certh, probably from *kirte "cutting", and thus semantically analogous to Quenya sarat). This term was loaned into "exilic Quenya" as certa, plural certar.

External history


The Sarati, described in Parma Eldalamberon vol. 13 as a script developed by J. R. R. Tolkien in the late 1910s, anticipates many features of Tengwar, especially the vowel representation by diacritics (which is found in many Tengwar varieties), different Tengwar shapes and a few correspondences between sound features and letter shape features (though inconsistent).

Even closer to Tengwar is the "Valmaric" script, described in Parma Eldalamberon 14, which J. R. R. Tolkien used from about 1922 to 1925. It features many Tengwar shapes, the inherent vowel [a] found in some Tengwar varieties, and the tables in the samples V12 and V13 show an arrangement that is very similar to the one of the primary Tengwar in the classical Quenya "mode."

Jim Allan (in An Introduction to Elvish, ISBN 0-905220-10-2) compared Tengwar to the Universal Alphabet of Francis Lodwick of 1686, both on grounds of the correspondence between shape features and sound features, and of the actual letter shapes. A corresponance between shape features and sound features is also found in the Korean Hangul alphabet. It is not known whether Tolkien was aware of these previous scripts. However, considering the Sarati and the Valmaric scripts, it is conceivable that Tolkien developed the idea of a general correspondence between shape features and sound features by himself.


Tolkien developed the Tengwar in the late 1920s or in the early 1930s. The Lonely Mountain Jar Inscription, the first published Tengwar sample, dates to 1937, found in most editions of The Hobbit. The full explanation of Tengwar was published in Appendix E of The Lord of the Rings in 1955.

The Mellonath Daeron Index of Tengwar Specimina (DTS) lists 67 known samples of Tengwar by Tolkien.

There are only few known samples predating publication of The Lord of the Rings (many of them published posthumously):

  • DTS1 - The Lonely Mountain Jar Inscription, published 1937
  • DTS 22 - Ilbereth's Greeting from The Father Christmas Letters, dating to 1937
  • DTS 50/51 - Edwin Lowdham's Manuscript from The Notion Club Papers has Old English language text written in Tengwar (with a few Adûnaic and Quenya words), dating to 1945/6
  • DTS 10 - The Brogan Tengwa-greetings, appearing in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, No. 118, tentatively dated to 1948
  • The following samples presumably predate the Lord of the Rings, but they were not explicitly dated: DTS 16, DTS 17, DTS 18 - Elvish Script Sample I, II, III, with parts of the English poems Errantry and Bombadil, first published in the Silmarillion Calendar 1978, later in Pictures by J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as DTS 23 - So Lúthien, a page of the English Lay of Leithan text facsimiled in HoME 3:299.

A few other samples, e.g. a Tengwar mode for Gothic are known to exist, but remain unpublished to date [1].

Spelling and pronunciation


Just as with any alphabetic writing system, any specific language written in Tengwar requires a specific orthography, depending on the phonology of that language. These Tengwar orthographies are usually called modes.

Elfse Alfabet.png

Some modes, called ómatehtar (or vowel tehtar) modes, represent vowels with diacritics called tehtar ("signs"; corresponding singular: tehta, "sign"), while other modes, called full writing modes, represent vowels by normal letters. Some modes map the basic consonants to /t/, /p/, /k/ and /kʷ/, while others use them to represent /t/, /p/, /tʃ/ and /k/. Some modes follow pronunciation, while others rather follow traditional orthography. The "full writing" modes are sometimes called Beleriandic modes because a well-known "full writing" mode is called the "mode of Beleriand".

Since the publication of the first official description of Tengwar at the end of The Lord of the Rings, others have created modes for other languages such as English, Spanish, German, Polish, Esperanto and Lojban.

Tengwar letters

The most notable characteristic of the Tengwar script is that the shapes of the letters correspond to the features of the sounds they represent.

The letters are constructed by a combination of two basic shapes: a vertical stem (either long or short) and either one or two rounded bows (which may or may not be underlined, and may be on the left or right of the stem).

The principal letters are divided into four series ("témar") that correspond to the main places of articulation and into six rows ("tyeller") that correspond to the main manners of articulation. Both vary among modes.

Each series is headed by the basic signs composed of a vertical stem descending below the line, and a single bow. These basic signs represent the voiceless stop consonants for that series. For the classical Quenya mode, they are /t/, /p/, /k/ and /kʷ/, and the series are named tincotéma, parmatéma, calmatéma, and quessetéma, respectively; téma means "series" in Quenya.


In rows of the general use, there are the following correspondences between letter shapes and manners of articulation:

  • Doubling the bow turns the voiceless consonant into a voiced one.
  • Raising the stem above the line turns it into the corresponding fricative.
  • Shortening it (so it is only the height of the bow) creates the corresponding nasal. It must be noted though that in most modes, the signs with shortened stem and single bow don't correspond to the voiceless nasals, but to the approximants.

Here is an example from the parmatéma (the signs with a closed bow on the right side) in the general use:

  • The basic sign (with descending stem) represents /p/ (it happens to look much like the letter p).
  • With the bow doubled, it represents /b/.
  • With a raised stem, it represents /f/.
  • With a raised stem and a doubled bow, it represents /v/.
  • With a short stem and double bow, it represents /m/.
  • With short stem and single bow, it represents /w/.

In the classical Quenya mode, the rows are used differently:

  • With descending stem and double bow, we have /mb/.
  • With raised stem and double bow, we have /mp/.

There are additional letters that don't have regular shapes. They may represent e.g. /r/, /l/, /s/ and /h/. Their use varies considerably from mode to mode. Some aficionados have added more letters not found in Tolkien's writings for use in their modes.

Encoding schemes


The contemporary de facto standard in the Tengwar user community maps the Tengwar characters onto the ISO 8859-1 character encoding following the example of the Tengwar typefaces by Dan Smith. This implies a major flaw: if no corresponding tengwar font is installed, an awful string of nonsense characters appears.

Since there are not enough places in ISO 8859-1's 191 codepoints for all the signs used in Tengwar orthography, certain signs are included in a "Tengwar A" font which also maps its characters on ISO 8859-1, overlapping with the first font.

For each Tengwar diacritic, there are four different codepoints that are used depending on the width of the character which bears it.

Other Tengwar typefaces with this encoding include Johan Winge's Tengwar Annatar, Måns Björkman's Tengwar Parmaite, Enrique Mombello's Tengwar Élfica or Michal Nowakowski's Tengwar Formal (note that most of these differ in details).

The following sample shows the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written in English, according to the traditional English orthography. It should look similar to the picture at the top of the page, but if no Tengwar font is installed, it will look a random jumble of characters because the corresponding ISO 8859-1 characters will appear instead.

j#¸ 9t&5# w`Vb%_ 6EO w6Y5 e7~V 2{( zèVj# 5% 2x%51T`Û 2{( 7v%1+º 4hR 7EO 2{$yYO2 y4% 7]F85^ 2{( z5^8i`B5$i( 2{( dyYj2 zE1 1`N ]Fa 4^(6 5% `C 8q7T1T W w74^(69~N2º


A proposal was once made to include the Tengwar in the Unicode standard. The following Unicode sample is meaningful when viewed under a typeface supporting Tengwar glyphs in the area defined in the Tengwar proposal for the ConScript Unicode Registry (U+E000–U+E006F; see External links).

Currently, the only typefaces that support this proposal are James Kass' Code2000 and Code2001 (see also the Tengwar Telcontar Unicode font).

The following sample repeats the above one according to the Unicode proposal. It will only display correctly if either of James Kass's fonts is installed.

            ⸬                   ⸬

See also


Foreign Language Translated name
Amharic ጠንግዋር
Arabic تنغار
Armenian Թենգվար
Belarusian Cyrillic Тенгўар
Bengali টেংয়ার
Bulgarian Cyrillic Тенгвар
Chinese (traditional) 談格瓦文字 (tángéwǎ wénzì, literally "Tengwar the writing system")
Chinese (simplified) 腾格瓦字母 (ténggéwǎ zìmǔ, literally "Tengwar alphabets")
Esperanto Tengvaro
Georgian ცენგვარ
Greek Τένγκουαρ
Gujarati તેંગ્વાર
Hebrew טנגוואר
Hindi तेंगवार
Japanese テングワール
Kannada ತೆಂಗ್ವಾರ್
Kazakh Тенгвар (Cyrillic) Tengvar (Latin)
Kyrgyz Cyrillic Тэнгvар
Korean 텡과르
Macedonian Cyrillic Тенгвар
Marathi टेंगवार
Mongolian Cyrillic Тэнгвар
Nepalese टेंग्वार
Persian تنگوار
Punjabi ਟੈਂਗਵਾਰ
Russian Тенгвар
Sanskrit टेङ्वर्
Serbian Тенгвар (Cyrillic) Tengvar (Latin)
Sinhalese ටෙන්ග්වර්
Slovenian Tengvar
Tajik Cyrillic Тенгvар
Tamil டேங்வார்
Telugu తెంగ్వార్
Thai อักษรเทงกวาร์
Ukrainian Cyrillic Тенгвар
Urdu ٹینگوار
Uzbek Тенгвар (Cyrillic) Tengvar (Latin)
Yiddish טענגוואַר
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  • Christopher Tolkien, The Tengwar Numerals, in Quettar 13, Feb. 1982, pp. 8-9; a further, untitled, explanation of the Tengwar numerals by Christopher Tolkien appeared in Quettar 14, May 1982, pp. 6-7.

External links


International modes