Writing With Elvish Fonts

This is a tutorial for some of the fonts and tools that can be used for writing in Tengwar on a Windows PC.


Direct links to some notes in the text: "About installing fonts"; "A frequently asked question about TengScribe"; "A possible problem with Windows 2000 and XP".

About this tutorial


This tutorial will show how the Tengwar, J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish letters can be used under Windows. We will use Daniel Smith's Tengwar fonts (and compatible ones). First, we consider the problems of encoding and typing Tengwar, and the support that is available from software tools. After that, examples of using some of the tools are given.

The text is primarily targeted for readers with little or no previous experience in using the Tengwar. On the other hand, I will not try to teach how the writing system itself works, only to demonstrate how to input characters. Sources for learning about Tengwar are suggested in the section Further reading.

Some of the tools that are introduced here can in fact be used without knowing much about the Tengwar, but the user should be aware of their limitations. For most languages, automatic transcription from the Latin alphabet to Tengwar cannot be completely accurate. In particular, Tolkien's methods for writing English in Tengwar are not easy to reproduce by a software tool. The orthographies he invented were often influenced by both the traditional spelling of English and the actual pronunciation, which causes problems when these two do not have a straightforward relationship. The Elvish languages are simpler in this respect, but occasional etymological spellings complicate things.

About the Tengwar


Tengwar is the most prominent of Tolkien's invented writing systems. (The name can be translated as "letters", which is why I will mostly use it as a plural word.) The best known example is undoubtedly the Ring-inscription from The Lord of the Rings. The Tengwar also appear in the illustration for the Moria gate, and Appendix E of the novel contains a detailed description of the system. The angular letters on Balin's tomb, however, are Cirth ("runes"), and will not be discussed here.

In their fictional setting, the Tengwar came to be known in a wide geographic area, and were used for writing many Elvish and non-Elvish languages. As is to be expected, each language had a somewhat different orthography, or even several of them. These orthographies, the different ways of applying the letters and signs for representing sounds, are known as modes.

Using a keyboard designed for the Latin alphabet for writing in any of these modes is far from ideal. The situation is complicated further by the relatively free nature of the writing system, because a letter can potentially have very different sound values in different modes. This is a problem to a font maker. To what code positions should the letters be assigned, so that the font is easy to use?

In the mapping developed by Daniel Smith, which we use in this tutorial, the placement of letters on the keyboard actually has no connection to any of their possible sound values. For example, to write Elessar in the Quenya mode using these fonts, you would type `VjR,E6. The author explains the solution and its reasons in more detail in his FAQ, under the question "Why is the Tengwar letter for 'B' not found at 'B' on the keyboard?"

An additional techical problem is caused by the heavy use of additional symbols that are placed above or below letters. These symbols, called tehtar ("signs", singular tehta), indicate vowels in some modes, and are also used to abbreviate frequent consonant combinations. The full letters (that is, tengwar, singular tengwa) come in many widths, so there must be a way to produce properly aligned tengwa-tehta pairs. In the fonts we will discuss, this is done by first inserting the tengwa and then adding a separate tehta character that has an appropriate (negative) offset. There are variants of each tehta for different tengwa widths, plus some extra variants for special letter-shapes.

The tools that are introduced in the next section offer various solutions for creating Tengwar inscriptions and documents. All of them solve the tengwa-tehta alignment problem by automatically selecting the appropriate tehta variant. Some go further by implementing mode-specific transcription rules, so that the user can mostly write according to the normal Latin spelling of the language in question. The choice of input method probably depends on the exact needs of the user, such as the length of the text and availability of support for the mode to be used.

The fonts


We will utilise the TrueType fonts that use the encoding originally created by Daniel Smith. The following fonts of this type were known to me at the time of the latest update. They are available as freeware (or postcardware).

Most of the newer fonts are in practice fully compatible with Daniel Smith's originals. A few individual characters may be different or missing, but these are usually described in each font's documentation. An exception to this is Tengwar Cursive, which only contains only the most frequently needed letters and symbols. Some of the omissions may cause problems: for example, one cannot be certain that the output of a transcriber is displayed correctly with Cursive.

About installing fonts: If you are not familiar with installing fonts under Windows, see the links to instructions at Font Freak. You are also going to need an unzip program like WinZip or FreeZip.

A number of other Tengwar fonts in TrueType and other formats are available, but they use different key mappings, and the instructions given here do not apply to them. As far the selection of letters and symbols is concerned, the fonts listed above (with the exception of Tengwar Cursive) should be quite enough for most purposes.

Input methods and tools


At least four different ways of using these fonts can be distinguished:

  1. Transcribers. Transcriber programs take a text written in Latin letters as their input. When the user specifies a mode, the transcriber determines, using a set of transcribing rules for the selected mode, how the text should be written in Tengwar. It then produces the correct string of characters to represent that spelling in Daniel Smith's fonts. For example, when asked to transcribe the Quenya word quanta 'full' according to the Quenya mode, it would determine that

    • qu represents a sound written with a single tengwa called <quesse>
    • nt should be written with the tengwa <anto>
    • the vowel a (occurring twice) is written as three dots placed over the previous tengwa.

    The output would probably then be zE4# , which looks like this when shown in Tengwar Quenya:

    [quesse + three dots above, anto + three dots above]

    Several good transcribers were available at the time of writing, such as:

    • The Tengwar Scribe. TengScribe was the first program that I am aware of to provide automatic transcription into Tengwar using an editable set of rules. It has word processor capabilities for working with rich text documents, though many tend to use it as a simple transcription utility. The other software transcribers are usually TengScribe compatible in the sense that they can use its mode files. Freeware.
    • oTT (online Tengwar Transcriber). A web based transcription service that can optionally give its output as an image. This means that the user does not have to install anything, not even the fonts. Publicly available.
    • YaTT (Yet another Tengwar Transcriber). YaTT adds lots of extra features on top of the "standard" functionality familiar from TengScribe. It apparently also avoids the problem TengScribe is reported to have with displaying tehtar under Windows 2000 and XP. Available for a donation.
    Even if you don't understand Polish (I don't), you might want to visit Tengwar Fëanora: programy for a listing of Tengwar software that is likely to be much more up-to-date and complete. It also includes software for Linux.
  2. Clickable "virtual keyboards". Some utilities ease the burden on users' memory by allowing them to type Tengwar by clicking buttons that have labels appropriate for some mode. To write the letter that represents the t sound, you would click the button "T". Daniel Smith has created macros for Word that provide this kind of service.
  3. The Keyman software. With Tavultesoft Keyman, one can create "keyboards" that map keypresses to characters using user-defined rules. The keyboards can be used with word processors and other applications. Because surrounding characters can be taken into account in the conversion, it is possible to create keyboards that do the same things as dedicated Tengwar transcribers. The Keyman runtime (for using keyboards) is free for personal use, while Keyman Developer (the editor) is shareware.

    Currently the keyboard selection compatible with Daniel Smith's fonts is not as extensive as with TengScribe mode files. I am aware of one page, Typing Tengwar, that has keyboards for English, Dutch and Quenya Tengwar modes. Unfortunately it seems that distributing keyboards created with a trial version of Keyman is more or less forbidden; these keyboards gave me warnings to that effect when installed.

  4. Manual typing. Even with all the helpful software listed above, the fastest way to create a short inscription might be to start a word processor and type. The keyboard layout is mostly very logical, assuming you are familiar with Tolkien's Tengwar table from Appendix E of The Lord of the Rings. The font distributions should contain a document that can be used as a reference.


Transcribers (reproducing the One Ring inscription with TengScribe)


[Note: this example should probably be rewritten to use Tengwar Annatar.]

For this example, we need to have at least some of the fonts, as well as The Tengwar Scribe, installed.

All the necessary instructions for using TengScribe are included with the program, but to explain the idea very briefly: you write something into the Source Pane on the left, select a mode, select a Tengwar font for the Target Pane on the right, click the transcribe button, and the Tengwar transcription appears.

A simple transcription

Below is an image of the text we are going to reproduce (thanks to Milton Gardner III for this one). The image has been created using Tengwar Cursive, except for the flame-like symbols in the beginning and end of the first line. These symbols are not found in the font.
[The Tengwar writing on the Ring]

Tolkien's original picture of the inscription can be found in the chapter "The Shadow of the Past". In that chapter we also hear Gandalf tell Frodo that the language of the writing "is that of Mordor". Appendix F (I) more precisely identifies the language as the ancient Black Speech, so we should select the Black Speech mode of TengScribe. In "The Council of Elrond" we find the text itself that we should type into the Source Pane, that is, the following:

ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

It might seem logical to select Tengwar Cursive as the font for the Target Pane, since it has a style similar to the Ring-inscription. That font, however, has a few compatibility problems which would make this example more complicated. Therefore, select some other font for the Target Pane, Tengwar Quenya for example, and hit the transcribe button. The result should be something like this:
[The Tengwar transcription is displayed in the Target Pane: <aha w/ extended stem><a><númen><áre nuquerna><a>...]

The bottom line is missing a space, and punctuation is not quite identical to the original, but otherwise this is already a very accurate representation of the writing on the Ring. The rest of this section deals with things that are specific to the Tengwar Cursive font. You might want to skip it and move on to the next example.

A frequently asked question about TengScribe: If you get something like AE5,Ex26Y etc. instead of Tengwar, the font to be used in the Target Pane has not been set. Click the pane so that it has the cursor and select one of the Tengwar fonts from the font list on the left. If there are no Tengwar fonts in the list, see About installing fonts above. The panes work like any typical word processor (you can paint an area and change its font, and so on).

A possible problem in Windows 2000 and XP: The rich text controls in these Windows versions seem to have trouble displaying the tehtar. An empty space is shown after each tehta, which makes the text look broken. If the program you are using does this, copying the text to a full-featured word processor should make it look as intended. I have checked this in Windows XP, where TengScribe and Wordpad showed the extra spaces but Word 2002 did not. Graphics programs from Paint to Photoshop are also likely to work fine (thanks to Jelle for pointing this out).

Using Tengwar Cursive

We will now make some small changes to the inscription to make it look more like Tolkien's original. This also gives me a chance to explain a few peculiarities of my own font. These notes apply to the version 1.00 and can become outdated if I ever release a new version.

Let us first change the font of our text to Tengwar Cursive. With the space added, the text looks like this:
[The same text displayed in Tengwar Cursive]

The main problem is that the curls on top of the letters just before the spaces on both lines are not doubled as they should be. They should represent the long vowel û in durbatulûk and thrakatulûk. In fact the inscription still has two curls to mark each doubled curl, but they are placed so that they overlap completely.

Tengwar Cursive has a special symbol for the doubled curl which is not included in the other fonts. By looking at the .doc file that came with the font, we can see that it can be produced by typing Alt+0179 (see the section "Signs unique to this font"; there are two other versions of the symbol, but this is the one suitable here).

We should now find the end of the word durbatulûk in the Tengwar text, delete the curls on top of the letter which corresponds to k and add the doubled curl. As you will notice, the tehtar are implemented as characters with a width of zero, which can make it hard to tell if the cursor is on the right or the left side of a particular symbol.
[Correcting durbatuluk to durbatulûk by removing the curl(s) on the <quesse> and replacing them with a doubled curl character]

Next we can compare the second line with the Ring inscription, and do the same changes with the word thrakatulûk. Other improvements that could be made include:

Finally, here is my suggestion for the character string to use for writing the Ring-inscription with Tengwar Cursive:

AE5,Ex26Yw1E¾^z³= AE5,ExxwP%1Ej^
AE5,Ex37zE1E¾^z³= X#w6Ykt^AT`Bz7qpT1Ej^

It does look rather evil that way, doesn't it?

Clickable virtual keyboards (rendering a modern name using Word macros)


The macro package for Microsoft Word can be downloaded at Dan Smith's Tengwar Fonts (mirror). After installation, your Word has a toolbar with five buttons that represent different modes. (Refer to the instructions that come with the package for details.)

Suppose we want to write the name John Smith in Tengwar. Now, it clearly makes the most sense to use a mode created for writing English. The only problem is that there are several different ways to represent English with Tengwar. The macros support two modes: an "alphabetical" mode (one where vowels are written with tengwar) by J.R.R. Tolkien, and a "tengwa/tehta" mode used by his son Christopher Tolkien. C. Tolkien's Tengwar inscriptions appear on the title pages of books such as The Silmarillion.

We choose Christopher Tolkien's mode, mainly because it is meant to be used in a semiphonetic manner, that is, mostly following normal English orthography. That should make it relatively easy to use. It is also close to the well known mode his father used in the title page Tengwar inscription of The Lord of the Rings. The result may not be the best possible way of representing the name, but quite many people should be able to read it.

Click the button that the tool tip identifies as "English Mode CJRT" to display the input window. We will now mostly ignore the pronunciation of the name, and simply write out the Latin letters by clicking at the corresponding buttons. J-O-H-N is quite straightforward to write, while S-M-I-TH offers some alternatives. There are two tengwar labeled "S": the one pointing upwards is preferred. Also note that th should be transcribed with the single tengwa labeled "TH", when it has the sound value it does in this name. This should be the result:

[<anga><hyarmen><o><númen> <silme><malta><súle><i/e>]

This can be compared to how Tolkien wrote his first name John in the LotR title page inscription. The spellings are identical except for the placement of the tehta: Tolkien actually wrote the name as "jhon". Here we probably have a case of the imagined Gondorian writer "hesitating between the values of the letters familiar in his 'mode' and the traditional spelling of English", as the author describes the text in Appendix E, or even a scribal error. Another observation we can make is that in C. Tolkien's mode the tehtar for i and e have switched places compared to their use on the LotR title page. Many people will probably read the above as "john smeth" at first. J.R.R. Tolkien is known to have used the reverse arrangement as well, but to ensure readability, it is probably better to use the accent (seen above) for e and the dot for i.

Manual typing (writing Quenya)


So far we have been creating inscriptions somewhat blindly, without trying to understand the details of what is being done. Such an approach is not going to get us very far, and in this final example we look at how to find the information needed for writing in some mode without the help of utilities.

As our example text we will use a part of the ceremonial phrase in High-elven that Aragorn speaks at his coronation. It is said that the words were originally spoken by Elendil, and we could perhaps imagine this being engraved on the pedestal of some statue of the legendary king in Minas Tirith:

Sinome maruvan
"In this place will I abide"

The mode used for writing High-elven (Quenya) is described in several places. We could look at Daniel Smith's documentation for his fonts, or read Per Lindberg's Quenya Tengwainen available at Tengwar Guides. After we have an understanding of how Quenya is written, it is time to open a document that describes the key mapping. There is one available from each author of the fonts; any of them will do.

As the accounts of the Quenya mode tell us, the sound s is normally written with the letter <silme>([<silme>]), but since we want to place a tehta on top of it, it is better to use the turned variant <silme nuquerna> ([<silme nuquerna>]) instead. Looking this tengwa up in the key mapping, we find that the correct key appears to be i (I would be an acceptable variant).

The Quenya vowel i is written with a single dot placed above the previous consonant. The fonts have the tehta in several versions, to be used with tengwar of different widths; some experimentation reveals that the one produced by typing T fits in nicely with <silme>. Thus we have written "si", iT.

Continuing the same way, we should eventually arrive at the following solution:

[<silme nuquerna><i><númen><o><malta><e> <malta><a><rómen><u><vala><a><númen>]
iT5^t$ t#7UyE5

Further reading


Suggested reading about the Tengwar is listed in various FAQs, and I will simply point the reader to them:

The following links should interest those who want to use the Tengwar for a special, one-time purpose: