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457Sindarin consonant mutation

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  • Aaron Shaw
    Jul 3, 2003
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      It is not entirely obvious, to me, how the various assimilations
      referred to as the "consonant mutations" evolved, from both an
      internal and external perspective. Is this (as I suspect) tied directly
      into the phonological history of the language's complex evolution,
      or is it rather grammatical in origin, which then became displayed
      in the sound system of the language as time progressed (from
      an internal perspective)? While I am certain that much if not all
      information upon this subject would be highly hypothetical I am
      very intrigued and am interested in discussing even the remotest
      possibilities. Thanks for your time.

      Aaron Shaw


      [Tolkien himself answered this question succinctly in a letter
      to Richard Jeffery dated 17 December 1972 (#347 in _The Letters
      of J.R.R. Tolkien_). He wrote: "The lenitions or 'mutations' of S.
      were deliberately devised to resemble those of W[elsh] in phonetic
      origin and grammatical use; but are not the _same_ in either
      p[honetic] o[rigin] or g[rammatical] u[se]." To this he added
      a footnote stating that "though of _phonetic_ origin, [Sindarin
      mutations] are used _grammatically_, and so may occur or
      be absent in cases where this is not phonetically justified by

      This concept of a series of consonant changes originating via
      regular phonetic processes but subsequently generalized into
      grammatical rules dates back to the (externally speaking)
      earliest form of Sindarin, the "Goldogrin" or "Gnomish" of _The
      Book of Lost Tales_. In the Gnomish Grammar (Parma Elda-
      lamberon No. 11, p. 7), Tolkien wrote that the Gn. article
      _i_ was "followed by 'interior changes'"; thus, for example,
      _pand_ 'book', _i-band_ 'the book' (PE11:63), with initial
      P > B following the article, which was also the normal phonetic
      development of this consonant in "interior" position, e.g.
      †_pel_ 'village, hamlet' > _-bel_ in _Tavrobel_, _Darosbel_,
      etc. (PE11:64). Tolkien also states in the Gnomish Grammar
      that these interior changes were "the normal scheme of
      changes and may be referred to under head of 'grammatical
      mutation' for it was generalized to a rule and is now used in
      many cases not justified purely on phonological grounds.
      It is used in a good many other cases besides that of the
      article." (PE11:7)

      -- Patrick H. Wynne]
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