Q. vocalic nouns grammar.
Tolkien generally referred to nouns ending in a vowels as “vocalic” nouns, for example on PE14/42 (1920s) and PE21/76 (1950s). Nouns can end in any of the five vowels: i, e, a, o, u. Since many noun inflections begin with a consonant, such inflections simply add the suffix to the final vowel of the noun:
Quenya is an agglutinative language able to add multiple suffixes to a noun, and since such suffixes typically end in a vowel, they are likewise inflected like vocalic nouns:
For the most part, vocalic nouns use the same set of inflections regardless of the vowel. There are rare exceptions, where phonetic developments produces a few unexpected results. This happens occasionally with those few noun suffixes beginning with a vowel, most notably the genitive suffix -o which combines with a final -a to produce -o:
However, nouns ending in -e have a distinct set of plural inflections, as discussed in the entry on e-nouns. There are enough differences that most Quenya authors treat e-nouns as a separate noun class.
Finally, some vocalic nouns change their vowel when inflected. These are mainly nouns that anciently ended with a short -ĭ or -ŭ, since short final [i], [u] became [e], [o] in the phonetic development of the Elvish languages. In inflected forms, this ĭ, ŭ was not final and was thus preserved. In dictionary entries, this is shown by distinct stem forms for such Quenya nouns: súre (súri-) “wind”, ulco (ulcu-) “evil”. This stem form is used in inflections:
Origins of vocalic nouns: Tolkien described the origins of Quenya’s vocalic nouns in Common Eldarin: Noun Structure written in the 1950s. Many of these nouns originated from ancient words ending in ē, ā, ō, either as a vocalic extension of the root or from some ancient suffix (PE21/81). Common Eldarin (CE) nouns did not end in long ī or ū:
It is notable that -ī, -ū are absent. This is probably an indication that the long-vowel type were really suffixal in origin; for clearly ī, ū were not used to form the stems of indeterminate nouns because of the very ancient specializing of ī, ū as signs of number (PE21/81).
Thus nouns did not end in -ī in CE because it was a plural marker, and -ū was not used because it was a dual marker. However, in the history of the Quenya language, both ī and ū were introduced as noun endings primarily with a feminine and masculine significance:
The masculine -ū, and feminine -ī that appear in the earlier forms of the derived languages, apparently are not derived from CE suffixal -ū/ī. They are the products of the many divergent forms developed by the sex-suffixes (or prefixes): wo, je (PE21/81).
These can be seen in Quenya word like tári “queen” and Eru “the One, God”. These are distinct from nouns that anciently ended in short ĭ or ŭ because the base of the inflected and uninflected forms are the same:
Another class of CE nouns ended in short vowels ĭ, ĕ, ă, ŏ, ŭ. Members of this class frequently did not produce vocalic nouns in Quenya, because often primitive short final [e], [a], [o] vanished. This was especially true of vowels preceded by sonants like n, m, l, r (PE21/71) and vowels at the end of long compounds (PE19/59). After such vowel losses these nouns effectively became consonantal. However, primitive short vowels sometimes survived in Quenya, especially after consonant clusters in short words:
Where the vowels survived, the Quenya inflections of nouns that primitively ended in short ĕ, ă, ŏ are indistinguishable from those that originally ended in long ē, ā, ō. This makes it nearly impossible to determine which ancient nouns ended in a short vs. long vowel (excluding ĭ, ŭ, which had special developments as noted above). Tolkien seems to have vacillated on when and whether such primitive short final vowels survived. However, it is probably notable that in the Early Qenya of the 1910s and 20s, monosyllabic nouns with stems ending in consonant clusters were fairly common, representing frequent short-final-vowel-loss, but by the Late Quenya of the 1950s and 60s such cluster-ending monosyllabic stems were rare.
Conceptual Development: Tolkien had a distinct class of vocalic nouns all the way back in the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) of the 1920s (PE14/42, 71). In his lengthy Declension of Nouns from the early 1930s, he listed declensions for each possible primitive final vowel as a separate noun class (PE21/4-6, 10-15). Although listed separately, the declensions for nouns primitively ending in ā, ē, ō were largely the same, except for a distinct set of short plurals for e-nouns (PE21/6), similar to those appearing the Plotz letter from the 1960s. Nouns primitively ending in ĭ, ŭ, ī, ū were somewhat different, mainly in the occasional use of the accusative suffix -a usually reserved for consonantal nouns:
Even in this early document, nouns anciently ending in ī, ū were reserved for feminine and masculine nouns (PE21/14-15).
In the Declension of Nouns, Tolkien also described an interesting class of nouns anciently ending in a semi-vowel ı̯ or u̯ followed by another vowel, which was later reduced to ǝ and then lost (PE12/13-14). Examples include (ancient) polı̯ǝ “flour” and malu̯ǝ “rust”. Their uninflected Qenya forms came to end in -e and -o as with nouns that anciently ended in short ĭ, ŭ, but in some cases these ı̯ǝ, u̯ǝ nouns were inflected as if their stems ending in y, w: pole (poly-) and malo (malw-). This gave them consonantal-like inflections in the accusative, dative and genitive, but vocalic-like inflections in other cases like the instrumental, allative and ablative:
It’s not clear whether Tolkien imagined such “half consonantal/half vocalic” nouns in later conceptions of Quenya, but hints of it appear in unusual plural forms of some nouns that primitively ended in ŭ:
Conceivably these nouns might use stems ending in w with consonantal-like inflections for other noun cases: dative *rusquen “for a fox”, ablative *angwello, “from snake”. But I think it is safer to assume the later irregularities of these nouns were limited to plural forms, and other noun cases were declined like ordinary vocalic nouns: *ruscun “for a fox”, *angullo “from a snake”.
References ✧ PE21/80-81
ᴹQ. vocalic nouns grammar.
References ✧ PE21/2-5, 8-12, 14-15, 38-39, 41, 43, 51