Tengwarpt is a phonetic alphabet designed in 2006 by Sheldon Ebbeler,
a linguist and analyst of verbal behavior. Tengwarpt is "featural",
like Hangul, but only more systematically so. That is, distinctive
features of the spoken sounds consistently correspond to distinct
features of the written symbols. For example, any written symbol
with one open "bow" to the left of the midline is an alveolar phoneme.
Tengwarpt was originally created to be a cursive version of Tolkien's
Tengwar, also a featural alphabet. However, aside from surface similarities,
the two paradigms are clearly very different systems. For example,
Tengwarpt employs separate written segments to represent vowels-in
line with the goal of a more fluid script-rather than the vowel diacritics
found in Tolkien's Tengwar abjad. Another example is how pairs of written
symbols for otherwise identical phonemes display voicing or lack thereof.
With Tengwarpt, a crossing of the stem of the voiced consonant grapheme
yields the unvoiced analogue. The version of Tengwarpt displayed here
illustrates the phonemic inventory of standard English; however, since
the paradigm is systematically featural, it can be easily extended to
transcribe other languages' sounds.
- Type of writing system: featural (alphabet)
- Direction of writing: left to right, top to bottom
- Used to write: English among many others
There are 3 parts to any given Tengwarpt symbol: (1) the
vertical stem, (2) closed or open bows to the left or right
of the stem, and (3) the cursive crossing of the stem. These
3 components of the written symbols directly correspond to the
spoken elements' distinctive feature categories (1) manner, (2)
place, and (3) voicing respectively. (1) There are 4 types of
vertical stems corresponding to 4 manners of production:
- Tall Stem ↔ Stop / Plosive
- Low Stem ↔ Fricative
- Full Stem (= Tall + Low) ↔ Nasal
- Short Stem ↔ (Semi)Vowel
(2) There are 8 places represented by the closed and opened bows either to the left or right of the stem.
- Labial ↔ 2 open bows left
- Dental ↔ 2 closed bows left
- Alveolar ↔ 1 open bow left
- PostAlveolar ↔ 1 closed bow left
- Lateral* ↔ 1 closed bow right
- Velar ↔ 1 open bow right
- Uvular/Pharyngeal ↔ 2 closed bows right
- Glottal ↔ 2 open bows right
*Note: "Lateral" is traditionally considered a manner of production.
Here it was convenient to alternatively imagine it as a place, corresponding
to the sides of the tongue.
When these are displayed in full, you can see that the first four place representations (corresponding to the front places in the mouth) resemble the last four place representations (farther back in the mouth)-but upside-down and reflected through a mirror. The stem can be imagined as a vertical center line in the mouth such that the bows indicate how far, forward or backward, the given place is relative to this midline. This pattern facilitates learning how the bows correspond to the places of articulation.
It is worth noting that Tolkien envisioned different "modes" of the Tengwar system, corresponding to the different phonologies of different dialects or languages. As such, the Tengwar were later adapted to be able to write a number of other languages including French, Finnish, Esperanto, etc. The same could be done with the Tengwarpt paradigm. For example, if the Dravidian language Tamil were assigned a Tengwarpt mode, retroflex consonants would fit into the bow slot involving one closed bow to the left of the stem, pushing all the other places back.
- Unvoiced consonants are represented by a crossing of the tall or low stem of the equivalent voiced consonant. In English, only stops (=tall stems) or fricatives (=low stems) have unvoiced counterparts.
- Vowels are handled through a similar paradigm that too is conceptually systematic. All vowels have short stems. The higher vowels [i] & [I] and [u] & [U] correspond to the post-alveolar and velar places of articulation respectively. When it is necessary to distinguish between a vowel and its corresponding semivowel counterpart, an accent can be used (e.g, as in the words "east" vs "yeast"). For the lower vowels, the system of bows no longer precisely applies; however, the paradigm remains orderly. Diphthongs are created by combining the 2 symbols representing the component sounds (e.g, [aU] as in "couch" is formed from [a] + [U]).
Other notable features- symbols with undetermined place
If a manner is identified with an unspecified place (i.e, the stem is written without bows), such a symbol takes on the place of a preceding consonant. This is useful in quickly writing frequent sound combinations-like consonant clusters or affricate sounds-that share a common place (like [nd], [st], [tsh], [dz], etc.). Not surprisingly, a short stem with an unspecified place represents the schwa vowel.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Then they said: "Come let us build a town and a tower, whose top will reach
the heavens; and let us get ourselves glory, so that we are not scattered across
all the earth."
Excerpt from Tower of Babel story
Con-scripts by Sheldon Ebbeler
Other constructed scripts
Main Tengwar page,
Tengwar for English,
Tengwar for Hungarian,
Tengwar for Portugese,
Tengwar for Scottish Gaelic (1),
Tengwar for Scottish Gaelic (2),
Tengwar for Spanish,
Tengwar for Latin American Spanish,
Tengwar for Welsh
Tolkien's alphabets and languages
Tengwar, Quenya & Sindarin) |
Uruk Runes |
Tolkien-related links |
Books about Tolkien's invented languages |
Tolkien's books in various languages