Note: this work was published in June 2000. Links may be broken and references may be outdated.

What is Lojban?

Lojban is an artificial language created by linguists during a 50-years-long experiment. As its name (nearly) implies, it it a logical language, that is, based on the rules of formal logic. Lojban thus permits one to express exactly what he/she means, no more, no less.

The Logical Language Group is held responsible for centralizing Lojban resources. On their homepage, you can find beside others its complete history and general information on the language itself.

What are the Tengwar?

Information on the Tengwar system itself

“Tengwar” is the name of the letters in the writing alphabet of the elves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology.

For those who haven’t read it or don’t remember, J.R.R. Tolkien is the author of the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy and other heroic fantasy books of the second half of the 20th century. Through his writing, a whole fantastic world is described, along with its inhabitants, customs, habits and so on. Most of today’s role-playing games come from Tolkien’s work, and many people now have heard once in their lifetime about elves and elvish stuff.

Here is a sample of Tengwar writing: the Ring’s curse.

The inscription on the master ring
Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!
Which can be roughly translated as:
One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

From the many things invented and deeply described by Tolkien, the Tengwar are one of the most fascinating. Also called Tîw, it is along with the runic alphabets Certar and Cirth, a topic of research for linguists and a source of interest for many people in sought for shapes pleasant to look at. Tengwar are even about (if not already) to be standardized by the ISO, have a look at the proposal for Unicode/ISO 10646-2 (archive link).

The Tengwar structure

Originally, the Tengwar were not exactly an “alphabet”, but rather a table of phonemic signs.

Several languages of Tolkien’s world use the Tengwar as their written form. The requirements of each differ from one to another, so different writing “modes”, like Quenya, Sindarin and Black Speech, have been created for using the Tengwar system. The above Ring inscription, for example, is written using the mode of Black Speech.

You can find further information about the tengwar system in the corresponding page.

Purposes of this document

All this work started after reading and studying Eric S. Raymond’s proposal to use Tengwar for writing Lojban (archive link), which is mentioned in Chapter 3 of the Lojban reference grammar.

As E.S.R. explains, the Tengwar system is complete enough to be used in many different ways. After the Lord of the Rings became famous, several people started to use Tolkien’s English mode for Tengwar. Today, when studying Lojban, it is obvious that morphology of both Lojban and Tengwar follow similar directions. Therefore, as an exercise of creativeness, and for several other reasons discussed later on, E.S.R, and now I, felt that a Lojban mode for Tengwar is worth much interest, and thus created this document.

I do admit that I’m reusing a lot from his work. Indeed, I intend this document to eventually complete his work and (who knows?) someday become the reference on the topic. However, I often followed different approaches, and the result is therefore somewhat different than his first proposal. You can find a complete summary of the differences in the corresponding page.

Planning of discussion

After a rough summary of the Tengwar and presentation of the letter tables, I shall disgress in some considerations on writing, before going on further in the work of adapting the Tengwar to Lojban. Once the main ideas are in place, I shall describe some interesting incidental features. You can feel free to jump from one part to another at any time, they should be cross-referenced enough.

Credits are given in the corresponding page, while you can find a brief usage guide on this document itself there, a bibliography and some meta information there.