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205Gliding sound, palatalized /l/ and [w] vs. [u] (was Re: i and y in Quenya: two phonemes or one?)

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  • Sébastien Bertho
    Aug 14, 2002
      About the pronunciation of /j/ in Finnish, Petri Tikka wrote :

      > The _j_ is an easening sound here, it is sometimes not pronounced at
      > all, but most often it is a gliding sound to help the transition to the
      > next vowel after an _i_.

      This makes me think of Tolkien's statement about the pronunciation of /l/
      in Elvish languages in the Appendices E of LotR :

      « [The /l/] was, however, to some degree 'palatalized' between /e/, /i/ and
      a consonnant, or finally after /e/, /i/. »

      I'm not a specialist of phonetics and of its terminolgy, but it seems to be
      the same kind of 'gliding sound' and the fact that it occurs after /i/ and
      /e/ is interesting (Elvish /e/ and /i/ are very near, phonetically
      speaking). Is it possible that Tolkien 'borrowed' this 'gliding sound' from
      Finnish or does this kind of sound exist in other languages that could
      have influenced Tolkien ?

      This question is of great importance because this kind of combination
      occurs in very significant words and names of both the corpus and the
      mythos (_Eldar_, _Galadriel_, _Eärendil_ just to cite few of them), and
      because this rule works in Quenya and in Sindarin too.

      Returning to Appendix E's statement about /l/, Tolkien says here :

      « The Eldar would probably have transcribed English _bell_, _fill_ as
      _beol_, _fiol_ »

      I always had some problems to figure out the resulting pronunciation of
      names like _Galadriel_ or _Eärendil_ (*_Galadrieol_ or *_Eärendiol_ seem
      very weird to me !)... More : Tolkien writes « the Eldar would have
      *transcribed* ... » (emphazis is mine). This seems to imply that this
      'gliding sound' appeared in the writing. But how was it represented ? The
      _o_ in _beol_ and _fiol_ seems to point to a /w/ influenced palatalization
      rather than a /y/ one, but I'm rather ignorant in phonetics and I could be
      wrong. Does anybody have an idea about the way to render this 'gliding
      sound' with the IPA or the SAMPA ? (I hope this is not a silly question !)
      And in tengwar ? Although Tolkien specifies that the « /l/ was [...] to
      some degree palatalized », should (in IPA or SAMPA transcription) the
      'palatalization' apply to the vowel preceeding it or to the /l/ itself ?

      About the questionable independance of [u] and [w] (i.e. could [w] be a
      variant of [u]) :

      That's true about Quenya, but in Sindarin (as in Celtic tongues like Welsh
      or Breton) /w/ can be semi-consonnatic [w] or vocalic [u] : Welsh _gwaneg_
      « wave » (Breton _gwag_) vs. _gwraig_ « wife, woman » (Breton _gwreg_).
      This happens also in the transcription of some Sindarin words : in _nedhw_
      « bolster, cushion » (V:378) the /w/ is clearly a vocalic [u] and has been
      normalized as _nedhu_ in Didier Willis' Sindarin dictionary (In "Normalized
      entries", X/W : « After a consonnant, final vocalic -/w/ [...] becomes -/u/
      in Sindarin », based on a statement in XII:344 that the sindarized form of
      _Finwë_ would have been _Finu_ and on words from the Etymologies that have
      aither -/u/ or -/w/, showing Tolkien's inconsistency about this issue).


      [I think that in writing that "The Eldar would probably have transcribed
      English _bell_, _fill_ as _beol_, _fiol_", Tolkien is drawing a contrast
      between the usual articulation of _l_ in the post-_e_/_i_ environment in
      English, and that in the Eldarin tongues, by giving us through the
      "transcription" some quite precise phonetic information. The _o_ in the
      Eldarin "transcription" of the English words is intended to show that to
      the Eldarin ear, the transition between _e_/_i_ and the following _l_ in
      the English pronunciation differs from the Eldarin in having a distinct,
      intermediary glide sound, the representation of which, _o_, mid back round
      open, reflects its intermediary position between the starting sound
      _e_/_i_, mid/high front close ("tense") unround, and the ending sound,
      which in these English words is a _dental/alveolar_ lateral in which the
      posterior parts of the tongue are _lowered_ from the mid/high position
      they occupy in the vowel sounds. (To illustrate this to yourself, position
      your tongue as if to say _e_ or _i_, but instead of giving voice, exhale
      air through your mouth; and then do the same while positioning your tongue
      for the _l_ at the end of "bell"/"fill". You will be able to hear and feel
      the significantly different degrees of obstruction of the air's passage.)
      Whereas, in the Eldarin tongues, the _l_ sound in the same environment is
      a _palatal_ lateral (the inverted "y" of the IPA), in which the posterior
      parts of the tongue _remain_ in the mid/high position they occupy in the
      vowel sounds. Note that "palatal(ized)" in this strict articulatory
      context does _not_ mean that the _l_ is either preceded or followed by a
      palatal consonant or glide (that would be represented as a sequence, e.g.,
      "lj", in the IPA), any more than saying that a vowel or consonant is
      "nasal(ized)" means that it is either preceded or followed by a nasal
      consonant; rather, it means that the _l_ in the Eldarin environment is
      articulated with the (point of the) tongue against the _palate_, rather
      than against the teeth/alveolar ridge as in the English environment. If
      you try to pronounce "bell" or "fill" _without_ the _o_ glide, by keeping
      the tongue "tense"/"close" to the roof of the mouth, just as it is when
      pronouncing _e_/_i_, I think you will naturally end in (something like)
      the palatal _l_ sound that Tolkien had in mind. To my mind, this sort of
      distinction is part and parcel with the distinction that Tolkien makes in
      the Appendices between the pure vowel sounds of Eldarin (and Italian),
      as opposed to the diphthongal nature of the corresponding vowels in
      English, and carries with it the same admonition to the English reader
      against employing the complex sounds natural to them, but instead to
      articulate the sounds purely. Carl]
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