|Creator||J. R. R. Tolkien|
As Tolkien strove to create a world that would be as authentic as ours, he realized that for that to be possible, he must invent accompanying scripts for his languages. And, being a perfectionist, he acknowledged that a fully-fledged writing system could not have just appeared out of nowhere. Therefore he set out to create a series of scripts for the elves as well as for the men and dwarves that would indicate a certain degree of evolution and development. The first script for the elves was the Sarati which eventually developed into Tengwar by Fëanor. Known as the first writing system of Arda, Sarati was invented by the Ñoldorin chronicler Rúmil of Valinor in the Valian Year of 1179. It was he "who first achieved fitting signs for the recording of speech and song" The writing system is officially called Sarati as each letter of the script represents a "sarat". However, Tolkien sometimes called the writing system “The Tengwar of Rúmil", where the word "tengwar" means letters in Quenya. Sarati is the Quenya name for Rúmil's script.
Upon marrying and getting a job as an assistant on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Tolkien began to keep a diary that was written exclusively using the "alphabet of Rúmil". It has been described as a script that looks like a "mixture of Hebrew, Greek, and Pitman's shorthand." Unfortunately, there are no clues as to what writing systems influenced Tolkien's scripts. This also might mean that his invented scripts found their origins from his mind alone.
The sarati can be written in several different directions, though the most prominent is from top to bottom. Others are left to right, right to left, and boustrophedon.
Each full character represents a consonant, while vowels are represented with diacritics (called tehtar in the terminology associated with the Tengwar). In Sarati, vowel signs are written to the left if the vowel comes before or to the right if after the consonants in vertical writing, above and below in the same principle in horizontal writing. According to Tolkien, consonants were considered more salient than vowels, and vowels were considered merely modifiers. When writing Quenya, the sign for "a" is usually omitted, as it is the most common vowel in Quenya. This makes Sarati an abugida with an inherent vowel of "a".
In accordance with the leading theory at the time, the consonants were created as the main characters of Sarati, while the role of vowels was secondary and were used to accentuate the consonants. It is important to note that the consonants, more so than the vowels, appear differently throughout the texts. Only the shapes of a select few sarati are stable, varying just slightly. The alterations of the shapes can be mostly attributed to Tolkien's constant work on the development of the script.
As mentioned above, the role of the vowels was to emphasize linguistically and, possibly, aesthetically, the consonants of the script. Therefore, the vowels fill the role of diacritics, which can be pronounced either before or after the consonant. The vowel diacritics often can also double the sound or indicate an adjacent "s" or a preceding homorganic nasal. Though vowel diacritics vary considerably less frequently than the consonants, vowels had undergone considerable changes throughout the years.
As Sarati was created for the Eldar who were known to be ambidextrous, the script is known to be written in the following directions:
- Top-to-bottom, from the right
- Top-to-bottom, from the left
A notable point is that when writing from right-to-left, the left hand would be employed, whereas when writing left-to-right, the right hand was used. This approach prevented the accidental smudging of ink as well as allowed the writer to see what he or she had just written. Also, as Sarati was meant to represent an older script, its distinguishing trait of allowing the script to be written in multiple directions is meant to mirror the more ancient scripts of our world that are known for their less formal nature.
While a fair amount of punctuation marks have been created for the script, Sarati has established only two punctuation marks (both of which serve as a period) that are used consistently throughout texts.
- 'Inside Language' by Ross Smith (107)
- 'The Silmarillion' by J.R.R. Tolkien (63)
- 'J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography' by Humphrey Carpenter (51)
- Martínez, Helios De Rosario. "Rúmilian Numerals." Tengwestië (2007).
- Tolkien, J.R.R. "The Alphabet of Rúmil." Parma Eldalamberon 13 (2001).
- Smith, Arden R. "The Túrin Prose Fragment: An Analysis of a Rúmilian Document." Vinyar Tengwar 37 (1995): 15-23.
- Smith, Arden R., Irmengard Rauch and Gerald F. Carr. "The Semiotics of the Writing Systems of Tolkien's Middle-earth." In Semiotics around the World: Synthesis in Diversity, I-II, ed. Irmengard Rauch, 1239-42. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter, 1997.