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Cirth word.png
The word "Cirth" written using the Cirth in the Angerthas Daeron mode
LanguagesKhuzdul, Sindarin, Quenya, Westron, English
CreatorJ.R.R. Tolkien
ISO 15924Cirt, 291
Rock carving in Cirth in the Sydney Harbour National Park, dating back to the 1980s at least

The Cirth (Sindarin pronunciation: ​[ˈkirθ], meaning "runes"; sing. certh [ˈkɛrθ]) is a semi‑artificial script, based on real‑life runic alphabets, invented by J. R. R. Tolkien for the constructed languages he devised and used in his works. Cirth is written with a capital letter when referring to the writing system; the runes themselves can be called cirth.

In the fictional history of Middle-earth, the original Certhas was created by the Grey Elves for their language, Sindarin. Its extension and elaboration was known as the Angerthas Daeron, as it was attributed to the Sindar Daeron, although it was most probably expanded by the Noldor in order to represent the sounds of other languages like Quenya.

Although the Cirth was later largely replaced by the Tengwar, it was adopted by Dwarves to write down both their Khuzdul language (Angerthas Moria) and the languages of Men (Angerthas Erebor). The Cirth was also adapted, in its oldest and simplest form, by various races including Men and even Orcs.

External history[edit]

Concept and creation[edit]

Many letters have shapes also found in the historical runic alphabets, but their sound values are only similar in a few of the vowels. Rather, the system of assignment of sound values is much more systematic in the Cirth than in the historical runes (e.g., voiced variants of a voiceless sound are expressed by an additional stroke). A similar system has been proposed for a few historical runes but is in any case much more obscure.

The division between the older Cirth of Daeron and their adaptation by Dwarves and Men has been interpreted as a parallel drawn by Tolkien to the development of the Fuþorc to the Younger Fuþark.[1] The original Elvish Cirth "as supposed products of a superior culture" are focused on logical arrangement and a close connection between form and value whereas the adaptations by mortal races introduced irregularities. Similar to the Germanic tribes who had no written literature and used only simple runes before their conversion to Christianity, the Sindarin Elves of Beleriand with their Cirth were introduced to the more elaborate Tengwar of Fëanor when the Noldorin Elves returned to Middle-earth from the lands of the divine Valar.[2]

Internal history and Description[edit]

First Certhas[edit]

In the Appendix E of The Return of the King, Tolkien writes that the Sindar of Beleriand first developed an alphabet for their language some time between the invention of the Tengwar by Fëanor and their introduction to Middle-earth by the exiled Noldor.

This alphabet was devised to represent only the sounds of their Sindarin language and its letters were entirely used for inscribing names or brief memorials on wood, stone or metal, hence their angular forms and straight lines.[3] In Sindarin these letters were named cirth (sing. certh), from the Elvish root *kir- meaning "to cleave, to cut".[4] An abecedarium of cirth, consisting of the runes listed in due order, was commonly known as Certhas ([ˈkɛrθɑs], meaning "rune-rows" in Sindarin and loosely translated as "runic alphabet"[5]).

The cirth used for voiceless stop consonants were constructed systematically by the combination of a "stem" and a "branch". The attachment of the branch was usually made on the right side. The reverse was not infrequent, but had no phonetic significance[3] (this means that Certh 10.svg would just be an alternative form of Certh 8.svg).
Other consonants were formed following two basic principles:

  1. adding a stroke to a branch added voice (e.g., Certh 1.svg /p/Certh 2.svg /b/);
  2. placing the branch on both sides of the stem added voice and nasality (e.g., Certh 18.svg /k/Certh 22.svg /ŋ/).

The cirth constructed in this way can therefore be grouped into series. Each series corresponds to a place of articulation. This earliest system had three series:

There are also additional cirth that do not have regular shapes. These include liquid consonants ⟨r⟩ and ⟨l⟩, the voiceless glottal transition ⟨h⟩, the voiceless alveolar fricative ⟨s⟩, and vowels.

The original display of Cirth should have been this:[3]

Certh Sindarin
IPA Certh Sindarin
IPA Certh Sindarin
IPA Certh Sindarin
IPA Certh Sindarin
Certh 1.svg ⟨p⟩ /p/ Certh 8.svg ⟨t⟩ /t/ Certh 18.svg ⟨c⟩ /k/ Certh 29.svg ⟨r⟩ /r/ Certh 13.svg ⟨h⟩ or ⟨s⟩[D] /h/ or /s/
Certh 2.svg ⟨b⟩ /b/ Certh 9.svg ⟨d⟩ /d/ Certh 19.svg ⟨g⟩ /ɡ/ Certh 31.svg ⟨l⟩ /l/ Certh 35.svg ⟨s⟩ or ⟨h⟩[D] /s/ or /h/
Certh 5.svg ⟨m⟩[A] /m/ Certh 12.svg ⟨n⟩ /n/ Certh 22.svg ⟨n⟩, ⟨‑ng⟩[C] /ŋ/ Certh 36.svg [E]
Certh 6.svg [B]
Certh 39.svg ⟨i⟩[F] /i/, /j/ Certh 42.svg ⟨u⟩[G] /u/, /w/? Certh 46.svg ⟨e⟩ /ɛ/ ⟨a⟩[H] /ɑ/ Certh 50.svg ⟨o⟩ /ɔ/

The known ancient cirth do not cover all the sounds of Sindarin: there is no certh for ⟨rh⟩, ⟨lh⟩, ⟨mh⟩, ⟨y⟩ or ⟨œ⟩. Perhaps this system had been devised for the Old Sindarin tongue, as many of the above-mentioned sounds did not exist in that language.
However, still frequent sounds ⟨w⟩ and ⟨a⟩ are missing, too. This indicates that some ancient, unknown cirth could have existed, but did not make it to the later systems; a fuller table therefore cannot be reconstructed.
Long vowels were evidently indicated by doubling.

A. ^ The original value of the certh Certh 5.svg was not given by Tolkien, but he mentions that it took the value ⟨hw⟩ after Certh 6.svg was adopted for ⟨m⟩. As he did not indicate the former certh for ⟨m⟩, we can infer that it was this one, judging by both its labial shape and the typical symmetry of nasals.
B. ^ The original value of the certh Certh 6.svg cannot be guessed but, judging from its shape, it was probably a labial consonant.
C. ^ The certh Certh 22.svg was used to represent ⟨n⟩ followed by ⟨c⟩ or ⟨g⟩. In these positions, ⟨n⟩ is not pronounced /n/ but assimilates to /ŋ/ instead: Certh 22.svgCerth 18.svg /ŋk/ and Certh 22.svgCerth 19.svg /ŋɡ/.
The certh Certh 22.svg was also used for the grapheme ⟨‑ng⟩ at the end of a word. In fact, although the grapheme ⟨ng⟩ usually represents the consonant cluster /ŋɡ/ in Sindarin, it represents a simple velar nasal /ŋ/ when final (the ⟨g⟩ is silent, like in the English word ⟨sing⟩ /ˈsiŋ/).
D. ^ The sound attributed to the certh Certh 13.svg and the certh Certh 35.svg was interchangeable.[3]
E. ^ The certh Certh 36.svg will later have the value ⟨ss⟩ in Elvish languages. It could have had another unknown value before.
F. ^ In Sindarin, ⟨i⟩ represents /j/ when initial before vowels, /i/ everywhere else.
G. ^ Perhaps the certh Certh 42.svg was used for both /u/ and /w/, like Latin ⟨v (e.g., ⟨vvlnvs⟩, Classical pronunciation: [ˈwuːɫnʊs]) and similarly to the certh Certh 39.svg, used for both /i/ and /j/.
H. ^ The earliest certh for ⟨a⟩ cannot be guessed: it was likely one of some other cirth that did not survive in later systems.

Angerthas Daeron[edit]

Before the end of the First Age the Certhas was rearranged and further developed, partly under the influence of the Tengwar. This reorganisation of the Cirth was commonly attributed to the Elf Daeron, minstrel and loremaster of king Thingol of Doriath. Thus, the new system became known as the Angerthas Daeron[3] (where "angerthas" [ɑŋˈɡɛrθɑs] is a compound of the Sindarin words "an(d)" [ɑn(d)] and "certhas" [ˈkɛrθɑs], meaning "long rune-rows"[6]).

Unlike the previous system, the flipped form of a certh had now a phonemic significance: it signalled the lenition of the original rune. These new cirth were needed in order to represent fricatives that were developed at one point in Sindarin (e.g., Certh 8.svg /t/Certh 10.svg /θ/).

Some new runes were introduced in the Angerthas with the purpose of writing:

  • the frequent sounds /ɑ/ and /w/;
  • long vowels, that evidently used to be written by doubling the certh of the corresponding short vowel (e.g., Certh 50.svgCerth 50.svgCerth 51.svg /oː/);
  • two front vowels, probably originated as ligatures of the corresponding back vowel with the /i/-certh: Certh 42.svgCerth 39.svgCerth 45a.svg /y/, and Certh 50.svgCerth 39.svgCerth 52.svg /œ/;
  • two common consonant clusters: /ŋɡ/ and /nd/.

However, the principal additions to the former Certhas were two entirely new series of regularly-formed cirth:

Since these new series represent sounds which do not occur in Sindarin but are present in Quenya, they were most probably invented by the Exiled Noldor[3] that spoke Quenya as a language of knowledge. By loan-translation, the Cirth became known in Quenya as Certar [ˈkɛrtar], while a single certh was called certa [ˈkɛrta].

According to Tolkien, the Angerthas Daeron was used primarily for carved inscriptions, as for most other forms of written communication the Tengwar were used after their introduction in Middle-earth. Apparently, the Elves abandoned the Cirth altogether, with the exception of the Noldor dwelling in Eregion, where the Angerthas was maintained and became also known as Angerthas Eregion.

Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA
Certh 1.svg p /p/ Certh 16.svg zh /ʝ/ or /ʒ/ Certh 31.svg l /l/ Certh 46.svg e /ɛ/
Certh 2.svg b /b/ Certh 17.svg nj /ɲ/ or /n̠ʲd͡ʒ/ Certh 32.svg lh /ɬ/ Certh 47.svg ê /eː/
Certh 3.svg f /f/ Certh 18.svg k /k/ Certh 33.svg ng /ŋɡ/ Certh 48.svg a /a/
Certh 4.svg v /v/ Certh 19.svg g /ɡ/ Certh 34.svg s /s/ Certh 49.svg â /aː/
Certh 5.svg hw /ʍ/ Certh 20.svg kh /x/ Certh 35.svg Certh 50.svg o /ɔ/
Certh 6.svg m /m/ Certh 21.svg gh /ɣ/ Certh 36.svg ss—z[B] /ss//z/ Certh 51.svg or Certh 51a.svg ô /oː/
Certh 7.svg mh[D] /ṽ/ Certh 22.svg ŋ /ŋ/ Certh 52.svg or Certh 52a.svg ö /œ/
Certh 8.svg t /t/ Certh 23.svg kw /kʷ/ Certh 38.svg or Certh 38a.svg nd /nd/
Certh 9.svg d /d/ Certh 24.svg gw /ɡʷ/ Certh 39.svg i, y /i//j/ Certh 54.svg h[C] /h/
Certh 10.svg th /θ/ Certh 25.svg khw /xʷ/
Certh 11.svg dh /ð/ Certh 26.svg ghw /ɣʷ/
Certh 12.svg n /n/ Certh 27.svg ngw /ŋɡʷ/ Certh 42.svg u /u/
Certh 13.svg ch[A] /c/ or /t͡ʃ/ Certh 28.svg nw /ŋʷ//nʷ/ Certh 43.svg û /uː/
Certh 14.svg j /ɟ/ or /d͡ʒ/ Certh 29.svg r /r/ Certh 44.svg w /w/
Certh 15.svg sh /ç/ or /ʃ/ Certh 30.svg rh /r̥/ Certh 45.svg or Certh 45a.svg ü /y/

Whereas the regular Sindarin spelling is used in this article to transliterate the primitive Certhas, the Angerthas follows the peculiar transliteration introduced by Tolkien in the Appendix E. For example, the Sindarin spelling for /y/ is ⟨y⟩, but the same sound is spelled ⟨ü⟩ when transliterating the Angerthas (where ⟨y⟩ represents the sound /j/). The motivation behind this peculiar transliteration is that this alphabet was meant to cover a much larger set of sounds than the previous one.

In this article, the cirth of the Certh 13.svg‑series present two IPA transcriptions each. The reason is that the palatal consonants of Noldorin Quenya are realised as palato-alveolar consonants in Vanyarin Quenya (or Quendya). For example, the Quenya world ⟨tyelpë⟩ is pronounced [ˈcȷ̊ɛlpɛ][7] in the Noldorin dialect, but [ˈt͡ʃɛlpɛ][8] in Vanyarin.
Although in the fictional history of Middle-earth this series of consonants was introduced by the Noldor, it is deemed necessary to show the Vanyarin pronunciation as well, given that the very transliteration used by Tolkien is more similar to the Vanyarin phonotactics than the Noldorin.

A. ^ The certh Certh 13.svg (that had been used for /h/ in the original Certhas) was chosen as the basis for the new series of palatal consonants. This means that it was given the value ⟨ch⟩, i.e. the voiceless palatal stop /c/ (or the voiceless palato-alveolar affricate /t͡ʃ/, in the Vanyarin dialect).
N.B., this sound is completely unrelated to Sindarin ⟨ch⟩, which is pronounced /x/, and is transliterated ⟨kh⟩ in the Angerthas.
B. ^ Tolkien gives the sound /z/ to this certh (probably in non-Elvish languages), but points out that it was used as /ss/ in Quenya and in Sindarin.[3]
C. ^ This certh was made anew for the sound /h/. It is similar in shape both to the former /h/-certh Certh 13.svg (here used for /tʃ/), and to the tengwa hyarmen Tengwa hyarmen.svg.
D. ^ In archaic Sindarin a certh for ⟨mh⟩ (representing the sound /ṽ/) was needed, and the most appropriate solution was to flip the certh for ⟨m⟩ to indicate its lenition.[3] But, being the certh Certh 5.svg horizontally symmetric, it could not be flipped. Therefore, the value ⟨m⟩ was given to Certh 6.svg (which until then had a different, unknown value), ⟨mh⟩ was given to Certh 7.svg, and the certh Certh 5.svg assumed the value ⟨hw⟩.[3] The sound /ṽ/ merged with /v/ in later Sindarin.

Angerthas Moria[edit]

According to Tolkien's legendarium, the Dwarves first came to know the runes of the Noldor at the beginning of the Second Age. The Dwarves "introduced a number of unsystematic changes in value, as well as certain new cirth".[3] They modified the previous system to suit the specific needs of their language, Khuzdul. The Dwarves spread their revised alphabet to Moria, where it came to be known as Angerthas Moria, and developed both carved and pen-written forms of these runes.

Many cirth here represent sounds not occurring in Khuzdul (at least in published words of Khuzdul: of course, our corpus is very limited to judge the necessity or not, of these sounds). Here they are marked with a black star ().

Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA
Certh 1.svg p /p/ Certh 31.svg l /l/ Certh 46.svg e /e/
Certh 2.svg b /b/ Certh 17.svg z /z/ Certh 32.svg lh /ɬ/ Certh 47.svg ê /eː/
Certh 3.svg f /f/ Certh 18.svg k /k/ Certh 33.svg nd /nd/ Certh 48.svg a /a/
Certh 4.svg v /v/ Certh 19.svg g /ɡ/ Certh 34.svg h[A] /h/ Certh 49.svg â /aː/
Certh 5.svg hw /ʍ/ Certh 20.svg kh /x/ Certh 35.svg ʻ /ʔ/ Certh 50.svg o /o/
Certh 6.svg m /m/ Certh 21.svg gh /ɣ/ Certh 36.svg ŋ /ŋ/ Certh 51.svg or Certh 51a.svg ô /oː/
Certh 7.svg mb /mb/ Certh 22.svg n /n/ Certh 37.svg ng /ŋɡ/ Certh 52.svg or Certh 52a.svg ö /œ/
Certh 8.svg t /t/ Certh 23.svg kw /kʷ/ Certh 38.svg or Certh 38a.svg nj /ndʒ/ Certh 53.svg n /n/
Certh 9.svg d /d/ Certh 24.svg gw /ɡʷ/ Certh 39.svg i /i/ Certh 54.svg s /s/
Certh 10.svg th /θ/ Certh 25.svg khw /xʷ/ Certh 40.svg y /j/ Certh 55.svg or Certh 55a.svg [B] /ə/
Certh 11.svg dh /ð/ Certh 26.svg ghw /ɣʷ/ Certh 41.svg hy /j̊/ or /ç/ Certh 56.svg or Certh 56a.svg [B] /ʌ/
Certh 12.svg r /ʀ/ or /ʁ/ Certh 27.svg ngw /ŋɡʷ/ Certh 42.svg u /u/
Certh 13.svg ch /tʃ/ Certh 28.svg nw /nʷ/ Certh 43.svg û /uː/
Certh 29.svg j /dʒ/ Certh 44.svg w /w/ Certh 59.svg +h[C] /◌ʰ/
Certh 15.svg sh /ʃ/ Certh 30.svg zh /ʒ/ Certh 45.svg or Certh 45a.svg ü /y/ Certh 60.svg &[D]

Notes on Angerthas Moria[edit]

A. ^ The Khuzdul language has two glottal consonants: /h/ and /ʔ/, the latter being "the glottal beginning of a word with an initial vowel".[3] Thus, in need of a reversible certh to represent these sounds, Certh 54.svg and Certh 34.svg were switched, giving the former the value /s/ and using the latter for /h/, and its reversed counterpart Certh 35.svg for /ʔ/.
B. ^ These cirth were a halved form of Certh 46.svg, used for vowels like those in the word ⟨butter⟩ /ˈbʌtə/. Thus, Certh 55.svg represented a /ə/ sound in unstressed syllables, while Certh 56.svg represented /ʌ/, a somehow similar sound, in stressed syllables. When weak they were reduced to a stroke without a stem (Certh 55a.svg, Certh 56a.svg).[3]
C. ^ This sign denotes aspiration in voiceless stops, occurring frequently in Khuzdul.[3]
D. ^ This certh is a scribal abbreviation used to represent a conjunction, and is basically identical to the ampersand ⟨&⟩ used in Latin script.
Runes in the upper inscription of Balin's tomb use Angerthas Moria, reading left-to-right:

In Angerthas Moria the cirth Certh 14.svg /dʒ/ and Certh 16.svg /ʒ/ were dropped. Thus Certh 29.svg and Certh 30.svg were adopted for /dʒ/ and /ʒ/, although they were used for /r/ and /r̥/ in Elvish languages. Subsequently, this script used the certh Certh 12.svg for /ʀ/ (or /ʁ/), which had the sound /n/ in the Elvish systems. Therefore, the certh Certh 22.svg (which was previously used for the sound /ŋ/, useless in Khuzdul) was adopted for the sound /n/. A totally new introduction was the certh Certh 53.svg, used as an alternative, simplified and, maybe, weaker form of Certh 22.svg. Because of the visual relation of these two cirth, the certh Certh 17.svg was given the sound /z/ to relate better with Certh 54.svg that, in this script, had the sound /s/.[3]

Angerthas Erebor[edit]

At the beginning of the Third Age the Dwarves were driven out of Moria, and some migrated to Erebor. As the Dwarves of Erebor would trade with the Men of the nearby towns of Dale and Lake-town, they needed a script to write in Westron (the lingua franca of Middle-earth, usually rendered in English by Tolkien in his works). The Angerthas Moria was adapted accordingly: some new cirth were added, while some were restored to their Elvish usage, thus creating the Angerthas Erebor.[3]

While the Angerthas Moria was still used to write down Khuzdul, this new script was primarily used for Mannish languages. It is also the script used in the Book of Mazarbul.

Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA Certh Translit. IPA
Certh 1.svg p /p/ Certh 16.svg zh /ʒ/ Certh 31.svg l /l/ Certh 46.svg e /e/
Certh 2.svg b /b/ Certh 17.svg ks /ks/
Certh 3.svg f /f/ Certh 18.svg k /k/ Certh 33.svg nd /nd/ Certh 48.svg a /a/
Certh 4.svg v /v/ Certh 19.svg g /ɡ/ Certh 34.svg s /s/
Certh 5.svg hw /ʍ/ Certh 20.svg kh /x/ Certh 35.svg Certh 50.svg o /o/
Certh 6.svg m /m/ Certh 21.svg gh /ɣ/ Certh 36.svg ŋ /ŋ/
Certh 7.svg mb /mb/ Certh 22.svg n /n/ Certh 37.svg ng /ŋɡ/ Certh 52.svg or Certh 52a.svg ö /œ/
Certh 8.svg t /t/ Certh 23.svg kw /kʷ/ Certh 53.svg n /n/
Certh 9.svg d /d/ Certh 24.svg gw /ɡʷ/ Certh 39.svg i /i/ Certh 54.svg h /h/
Certh 10.svg th /θ/ Certh 25.svg khw /xʷ/ Certh 40.svg y /j/ Certh 55.svg or Certh 55a.svg /ə/
Certh 11.svg dh /ð/ Certh 26.svg ghw /ɣʷ/ Certh 41.svg hy /j̊/ or /ç/ Certh 56.svg or Certh 56a.svg /ʌ/
Certh 12.svg r /r/ Certh 27.svg ngw /ŋɡʷ/ Certh 42.svg u /u/ Certh 57.svg ps /ps/
Certh 13.svg ch /tʃ/ Certh 28.svg nw /nʷ/ Certh 43.svg z /z/ Certh 58.svg ts /ts/
Certh 14.svg j /dʒ/ Certh 29.svg g /ɡ/ Certh 44.svg w /w/ Certh 59.svg +h /◌ʰ/
Certh 15.svg sh /ʃ/ Certh 30.svg gh /ɣ/ Certh 45.svg or Certh 45a.svg ü /y/ Certh 60.svg &

Angerthas Erebor also features combining diacritics:

The bottom inscription of Balin's tomb is written in English using the Angerthas Erebor. It reads left-to-right: "Balin sʌn ov Fu[nd]in lord ov Moria"

The Angerthas Erebor is used twice in The Lord of the Rings to write in English:

  1. in the upper inscription of the title page, where it reads "[dh]ə·​lord·​ov·​[dh]ə·​riŋs·​translatᵊd·​from·​[dh]ə·​red·​b[oo]k..." (the sentence follows in the bottom inscription, written in Tengwar: "...of Westmarch by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Herein is set forth/ the history of the War of the Ring and the Return of the King as seen by the Hobbits.");
  2. in the bottom inscription of Balin's tomb—being the translation of the upper inscription, which is written in Khuzdul using Angerthas Moria.

The Book of Mazarbul shows some additional cirth used in Angerthas Erebor: one for a double ⟨l⟩ ligature, one for the definite article, and six for the representation of the same number of English diphthongs:

Certh English spelling
Certh LL.svg ⟨ll⟩
Certh Article.svg ⟨the⟩[A]
Certh AI.svg ⟨ai⟩, ⟨ay⟩
Certh AU.svg ⟨au⟩, ⟨aw⟩
Certh EA.svg ⟨ea⟩
Certh 47.svg ⟨ee⟩
Certh 38a.svg ⟨eu⟩, ⟨ew⟩
Certh OA.svg ⟨oa⟩
Certh 51.svg ⟨oo⟩
Certh 38.svg ⟨ou⟩, ⟨ow⟩

Notes on Angerthas Erebor[edit]

A. ^ This certh is a scribal abbreviation used to represent the definite article. Although in English it stands for ⟨the⟩, it can assume different values according to the used language.
∗. ^ The cirth marked with an asterisk are unique of Angerthas Erebor.

Other runic systems of Middle-earth[edit]

The Cirth is not the only runic writing system devised by Tolkien for Middle-earth. In fact, he invented a great number of runic alphabets, of which only a few others have been published. Most of these runic scripts were published in the "Appendix on Runes" in The History of Middle-earth, vol. VII, The Treason of Isengard, edited by Christopher Tolkien.

Runes from The Hobbit[edit]

According to Tolkien, those used in The Hobbit are a form of "our ancient runes" deployed in the book to transliterate the actual Dwarvish runes.[9] They can be interpreted as an attempt made by Tolkien to adapt the Fuþorc (i.e., the Old English runic alphabet) to the Modern English language.

These runes are basically the same found in Fuþorc, but their sound may change according to their position, just as the Latin script letters do: the writing mode adopted by Tolkien for these runes is mainly orthographic.

This system has one rune for each letter, regardless of pronunciation. For example, the rune Certh 13.svg ⟨c⟩ can sound either /k/ (in the word ⟨cat⟩) or /s/ (in the word ⟨cellar⟩) or even /ʃ/ (in the word ⟨ocean⟩) and // (in the digraph Certh 13.svgCerth 47.svg ⟨ch⟩).

A few sounds are instead written with the same rune, regardless of the way it is spelled with the Latin script. For example, the sound /ɔː/ is always written with the rune Certh 24.svg either if in English it is written ⟨o⟩ as in ⟨north⟩, ⟨a⟩ as in ⟨fall⟩, or ⟨oo⟩ as in ⟨door⟩. The only letters that are subject to this phonemic spelling are ⟨a⟩ and ⟨o⟩.

In addition, there are also some runes which stand for particular English digraphs and diphthongs.

Here the runes used in The Hobbit are displayed along with their corresponding English grapheme and Fuþorc counterpart:

Rune Fuþorc English grapheme Rune Fuþorc English grapheme
Tolkien's Futhorc A.svg phonemic[table below] Certh 28.svg ⟨p⟩
Certh 9.svg Certh 2.svg ⟨r⟩
Certh 6.svg ⟨b⟩ Certh 40.svg ⟨s⟩
Certh 13.svg ⟨c⟩ Certh 12.svg ⟨t⟩
Certh 38.svg ⟨d⟩ Certh 48.svg ⟨u⟩, ⟨v⟩
Tolkien's Futhorc E.svg ⟨e⟩ Certh 1.svg ⟨w⟩
Tolkien's Futhorc F.svg ⟨f⟩ Certh 22.svg ⟨x⟩
Certh 36.svg ⟨g⟩ Certh AU.svg ⟨y⟩
Certh 47.svg ⟨h⟩ Certh 17.svg ⟨z⟩
Certh 39.svg ⟨i⟩, ⟨j⟩ Certh 57.svg ⟨th⟩
Tolkien's Futhorc K.svg ⟨k⟩ Certh 27.svg ⟨ea⟩
Certh 8.svg ⟨l⟩ Tolkien's Futhorc ST.svg ⟨st⟩
Tolkien's Futhorc M.svg ⟨m⟩ Certh 42.svg ⟨ee⟩
Certh 32.svg ⟨n⟩ Certh 43.svg ⟨ng⟩
Certh 24.svg phonemic[table below] Tolkien's Futhorc EO.svg ⟨eo⟩

Two other runes, not attested in The Hobbit, were added by Tolkien in order to represent additional English graphemes:

Certh 5.svg
Certh 41.svg
English grapheme


  • ^ This table summarises the transcription of ⟨a⟩ and ⟨o⟩ in runes:[10]
English grapheme Sound in IPA Rune
⟨a⟩ /æ/ Certh 9.svg
every other sound Tolkien's Futhorc A.svg
/ɔː/ Certh 24.svg
⟨o⟩ every sound
⟨oo⟩ /ɔː/
every other sound Certh 5.svg
  • Tolkien always wrote the English digraph ⟨wh⟩ (representing the sound [ʍ], or /hw/, like in ⟨whine⟩) as Certh 47.svgCerth 1.svg ⟨hw⟩.
  • There is no rune to transliterate ⟨q⟩: the digraph ⟨qu⟩ (representing the sound [kʷw], like in ⟨queen⟩) is always written in runes as Certh 13.svgCerth 1.svg ⟨cw⟩.
  • ^ The three runes marked with an asterisk were invented by Tolkien and are not attested in real-life fuþorc.

Gondolinic Runes[edit]

Not all the runes mentioned in The Hobbit are Dwarf-runes. The swords found in the Trolls' cave (which were from the ancient kingdom of Gondolin) bore runes that Gandalf allegedly could not read. In fact, the swords Glamdring and Orcrist, forged in Gondolin, bore a type of letters known as Gondolinic runes. They seem to have been obsoleted and forgotten by the Third Age, and this is supported by the fact that Tolkien writes that only Elrond could still read the inscriptions of the swords.
Tolkien devised this runic alphabet in a very early stage of his shaping of Middle-earth. Nevertheless, they are known to us from a slip of paper written by J.R.R. Tolkien, a photocopy of which Christopher Tolkien sent to Paul Nolan Hyde in February 1992. Hyde then published it, together with an extensive analysis, in the 1992 Summer issue of Mythlore, no. 69.[11]
The system provides sounds not found in any of the known Elven languages of the First Age, but perhaps it was designed for a variety of languages. However, the consonants seem to be, more or less, the same found in Welsh phonology, a theory supported by the fact that Tolkien was heavily influenced by Welsh when creating Elven languages.[12]

Labial Dentals Palatal Dorsal Glottal
Rune IPA Rune IPA Rune IPA Rune IPA Rune IPA Rune IPA Rune IPA
Plosive Gondolin rune p.svg p /p/ Certh 8.svg t /t/ Certh 57.svg k (c) /k/
Gondolin rune b.svg Gondolin rune b2.svg b /b/ Certh 12.svg d /d/ Certh 6.svg g /ɡ/
Fricative Gondolin rune f.svg f /f/ Certh 9.svg þ /θ/ Certh 35.svg s /s/ Gondolin rune sh.svg š /ʃ/ Certh 40.svg χ /x/ Certh 59.svg h /h/
Certh 27.svg Certh 22.svg v /v/ Certh 19.svg ð /ð/ Gondolin rune z.svg z /z/ Gondolin rune zh.svg ž /ʒ/
Affricate Certh 60.svg tš (ch) /t͡ʃ/
Gondolin rune j.svg dž (j) /d͡ʒ/
Nasal Certh 43.svg m /m/ Certh 54.svg n /n/ Certh 2.svg ŋ /ŋ/
Gondolin rune mh.svg (mh) /m̥/ Certh 28.svg χ̃ /n̥/? Gondolin rune ŋh.svg Gondolin rune ŋh2.svg (ŋh) /ŋ̊/
Trill Certh 29.svg r /r/
Certh 33.svg rh /r̥/
Lateral Certh 36.svg l /l/
Gondolin rune lh.svg Gondolin rune lh2.svg
Gondolin rune lh3.svg
lh /ɬ/
Approximant Certh 13.svg Tolkien's Futhorc K.svg
Gondolin rune y3 (consonant).svg
j (i̯) /j/ Certh 42.svg w (u̯) /w/
Certh 37.svg ƕ /ʍ/
Rune Translit. IPA Rune Translit. IPA Rune Translit. IPA Rune Translit. IPA Rune Translit. IPA
Gondolin rune a.svg a /a/ Gondolin rune e.svg e /ɛ/ Certh 39.svg i /i/ Certh 48.svg o /ɔ/ Gondolin rune u.svg u /u/
Certh 38.svg ā /aː/ Gondolin rune e-.svg Certh 38a.svg ē /eː/ Certh 31.svg ī /iː/ Certh 49.svg Gondolin rune o-2.svg ō /oː/ Gondolin rune u-.svg Gondolin rune u-2.svg ū /uː/
Gondolin rune æ.svg Gondolin rune æ2.svg æ /æ/ Certh AU.svg œ /œ/ Gondolin rune y.svg Certh 44.svg y /y/
Gondolin rune æ-.svg Gondolin rune æ-2.svg ǣ /æː/ Gondolin rune œ-.svg œ̄ /œː/ Gondolin rune y-.svg Certh 5.svg
Gondolin rune y-3.svg Gondolin rune y-4.svg
ȳ /yː/

Encoding schemes[edit]


Equivalents for some (but not all) cirth can be found in the Runic block of Unicode.

Three runic letters invented by Tolkien were added to the block in June 2014, with the release of Unicode 7.0:


A formal Unicode proposal to encode Cirth as a separate script was made in September 1997 by Michael Everson.[13] No action was taken by the Unicode Technical Committee (UTC) but Cirth appears in the Roadmap to the SMP.[14]

ConScript Unicode Registry[edit]

(128 code points)
ScriptsArtificial Scripts
Major alphabetsCirth
Assigned109 code points
Unused19 reserved code points
Source standardsCSUR
Note: Part of the Private-Use Area, font conflicts possible

Unicode Private Use Area layouts for Cirth are defined at the ConScript Unicode Registry (CSUR)[15] and the Under-ConScript Unicode Registry (UCSUR).[16]

Two different layouts are defined by the CSUR/UCSUR:

  • 1997-11-03 proposal[17] implemented by fonts like GNU Unifont[18] and Code2000.
  • 2000-04-22 discussion paper[19][20] implemented by fonts like Constructium and Fairfax.

Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols below instead of Cirth.

Cirth (1997)[1][2]
ConScript Unicode Registry 1997 code chart
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+E0Ex      
1.^ As of 1997-11-03 version (differs from 2000-04-22 proposal)
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Cirth (2000)[1][2]
ConScript Unicode Registry 2000 proposal
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
1.^ As of 2000-04-22 proposal (differs from 1997-11-03 version)
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


  1. ^ Simek, Rudolf (2005). Mittelerde: Tolkien und die germanische Mythologie [Middle-earth: Tolkien and Germanic Mythology] (in German). C. H. Beck. pp. 155–156. ISBN 3-406-52837-6.
  2. ^ Smith, Arden R. (1997). "The semiotics of the writing systems of Tolkien's Middle-earth". In Rauch, Irmengard; Carr, Gerald F. (eds.). Semiotics Around the World: Synthesis in Diversity. Proceedings of the Fifth Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, Berkeley, 1994. 1. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 1239–1242. ISBN 3-11-012223-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Tolkien, J.R.R. (1955). The Return of the King – Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings; Appendix E. London: George Allen & Unwin.
  4. ^ "Sindarin Words: certh". Retrieved 2019-03-31.
  5. ^ "Sindarin Words: certhas". Retrieved 2019-03-31.
  6. ^ "Sindarin Words: angerthas". Retrieved 2019-05-11.
  7. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (2015-06-12). "Quenya consonants". Parma Eldalamberon (22): 66. ⟨ty⟩ is pronounced as a 'front explosive' [c], as e.g. Hungarian ty, but it is followed by an appreciable partly unvoiced y-offglide.
  8. ^ "Quenya pronunciation". Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  9. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (1937). The Hobbit. London: George Allen & Unwin.
  10. ^ Lindberg, Per (2016-11-27). "Tolkien English Runes" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-03-27.
  11. ^ Hyde, Paul Nolan (July 1992). "Gondolinic Runes". Mythlore, no. 69. 18 (3).
  12. ^ "Study explores JRR Tolkien's Welsh influences". BBC. 2011-05-21. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
  13. ^ Everson, Michael (1997-09-18). "N1642: Proposal to encode Cirth in Plane 1 of ISO/IEC 10646-2". Working Group Document, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 and UTC. Retrieved 2015-08-08.
  14. ^ "Roadmap to the SMP". 2015-06-03. Retrieved 2015-08-08.
  15. ^ "ConScript Unicode Registry". Retrieved 2015-08-08.
  16. ^ "Under-ConScript Unicode Registry". Retrieved 2015-08-08.
  17. ^ "Cirth: U+E080–U+E0FF". ConScript Unicode Registry. 1997-11-03. Retrieved 2015-08-08.
  18. ^ "GNU Unifont". Retrieved 2015-07-24.
  19. ^ Everson, Michael (2000-04-22). "X.X Cirth 1xx00–1xx7F" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-08.
  20. ^ "Cirth, Range: E080–E0FF" (PDF). Under-ConScript Unicode Registry. 2008-04-14. Retrieved 2015-08-08.