[] Jörg Rhiemeier's Conlang Pages

Nur-ellen

"The language of the Elves of today"

Contents

0. Preface
0.1. Motivation
0.2. Abandonment
1. Introduction
1.1. First version
1.2. Second version
1.3. Typology
2. Phonology
2.1. Consonants
2.1.1. Initial mutations
2.2. Vowels
3. Morphology
3.1. Nouns
3.2. Pronouns
3.3. Adjectives
3.4. Verbs
4. Syntax

0. Preface

This page documents an abandoned project, or rather, one that was gradually to become something completely different. I don't know for sure when I started it; I still have a file dated May 04, 2000 on my machine, and a printout (yes, on paper) of another version that is undated but evidently later, as it lays out a more mature version of the language; however, it was probably before August 25 of that year, as that date, according to this post to the CONLANG list, marks the transition from Tolkienian Elves "left behind in the modern world" to the human Elves of later versions, and the printout lays out the old Tolkienian story and makes no mention of the change in the nature of the Elves. The present sketch is based on the printout, with some recourse to the May 04 file, such as in the morphology of the verb that is not treated by the printout.

Nur-ellen is the project with which my current involvement with conlanging started. It was not my first conlang; I had done several in the 1980s, but later, I had pretty much (though not completely) abandoned this hobby. I have been actively conlanging ever since, and my current main project, the Albic languages, has emerged from just this language, even if it is no longer based on Tolkien's Elven languages now.

0.1. Motivation

The idea to this language came to my mind when I found a Tolkien fan fiction story, Home Eleven by Martin Baker, on the Net. In this story, the narrator meets a group of Elves at a folk music festival in present-day England. I asked myself, "What kind of language would such Elves speak?", and soon found the answer, "Probably a descendant of Sindarin" - and started working out that language. The result was Nur-ellen - the language laid out here.

0.2. Abandonment

There were two reasons why I abandoned this language again. One was a practical one: Sindarin, as all Tolkienian languages, is documented incompletely, and I had to make up a lot of things in order to arrive at a well-rounded language. The second was that I eventually came to feel uneasy about ripping off someone else's conlang like this, especially after a new back story arose in my head. When the speakers of Nur-ellen were no longer Tolkienian Elves but humans with an "Elvish" culture who inspired the Celtic and Germanic traditions of elves, it no longer really make sense that they should speak a Tolkienian Elvish language. A third reason was that I could not really justify the development of some traits of my language, such as the active-stative morphosyntactic alignment with degree-of-volition marking, from Tolkien's languages which have no such features. Yet, the language was at no point trashed completely and strated over from zero; rather, the "de-Tolkienization" was a gradual process in which more and more Tolkienien words and morphemes were replaced by new ones, resulting in the Albic project as I still pursue it today.

1. Introduction

1.1. First version

Nur-ellen ('Low Elvish' in the language itself) is the language of the modern Elves, a race of immortal human-like beings that has been living among us for a long time. The language is a descendant of Sindarin, a Quendian language which had become the lingua franca of the Elves of Middle-earth. At the end of the Fourth Age, the western parts of Middle-earth were destroyed and altered in their geographical shape by a cataclysm. The Eldar fled east, mixed with the Avari, and eventually settled in the British Isles, where they became the Tuatha Dé Danann of Irish mythology and the Elves or Germanic mythology. Their numbers dwindled, but there are still a few Elves left behind today, and Nur-ellen is their language.

1.2. Second version

Nur-ellen ('Low Elvish' in the language itself) is the language of the modern Elves, an ethnic group of the British Isles. They are the descendants of a lost civilization which had inspired the Celtic and Germanic traditions of Elves and perhaps the Greek traditions of Hyperborea and Atlantis.

1.3. Typology

Nur-ellen is an inflecting language with SVO basic word order [later changed to VSO] and active-stative morphosyntactic alignment, where the subject of an intransitive verb is treated like a transitive subject if it is an agent (as in 'The boy sings'), and like a transitive object if not (as in 'The stone fell to the ground').

2. Phonology

The phonology of Nur-ellen was never vwery well developed; especially, the diachronic phonology, i.e. the sound changes from Sindarin to Nur-ellen, were never fully clarified and changed several times. The language was transcribed along the rules of the "Universal Transcription System" which I had developed many years earlier, when I was not yet aware of what kind of "exotic" phonemes languages may employ. The language was meant to be written natively in Tengwar, but that orthography was never elaborated, or at least, nothing of that has survived.

2.1. Consonants

  Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar/
Palatal
Velar
Stops p b   t d   k g
Fricatives f v th dh s z sh zh h
Nasals m   n   ng
Liquids   l r
Semivowels w   j  

The position of h as a velar fricative is something I am wondering about. According to the spelling rules I used back then, the letter should represent a glottal fricative, and if I remember correctly, I used to think of it as one, too. One possible "solution" is that this phoneme was meant to be realized as [h] in onsets but as [x] in codas, but I no longer remember.

2.1.1. Initial mutations

Nur-ellen had an initial mutation based on the Sindarin soft mutation (thus ultimately based on the soft mutation of Welsh). As in Sindarin, voiceless stops were voiced and voiced stops became voiced fricatives (bv, ddh, but gj). But unlike Sindarin, the rule affected also fricatives: voiceless fricatives were voiced (h became j), voiced onces became semivowels (v became w, all others became j). Also, words beginning with nasal or liquid were mutated by inserting j after the first consonant, and vowel-initial words by prefixing j.

2.2. Vowels

  Front
unround
Front
round
Back
unround
Back
round
Close i y   u
Mid e ö   o
Open   a  

In addition, some versions of the language had a mid-central "auxiliary vowel" that resulted from reduction of unstressed vowels, and written ', or not at all.

There was an umlaut rule triggered by original /i/, which became the morphological means to mark the plural. This rule was changed several times.

3. Morphology

3.1. Nouns

Nouns were inflected for number (singular and plural) and case (agentive and objective). Only animate nouns had an agentive case. The plural was marked by umlaut, the objective by initial mutation, resulting in paradigms like this (sample word: brog 'bear'):

  Singular Plural
Agentive brog brög
Objective vrog vrög

Other grammatical relations were expressed by prepositions, most of which governed the objective, e.g. e partitive genitive, ni instrumental, na 'to'. A few governed the agentive and thus required an animate argument, such as na dative, e possessive genitive, an benefactive, dan malefactive. What we can see here is the germ of the two-tiered case system of the Albic languages.

Nur-ellen already had a system for marking degrees of volition. Full volition was marked by the agentive case; accidental action by the dative (na + agentive; e.g. Na Turin dagnent Veleg 'Turin (dat.) killed Beleg'), while action under external force was marked by the instrumental (ni + objective). The latter was the only degree of volition available to inanimate nouns (e.g., Ni i gond ristent i henth 'The stone (inst.) broke the window').

The definite article was an indeclinable i. There was no indefinite article.

3.2. Pronouns

The printout features the following pronoun table:

  Clitic Agentive Dative Objective Possessive Partitive
1st singular -en im nim eim -en -ein
1st pl. inclusive -um um num uim -um -uin
1st pl. exclusive -am am nam aim -am -ain
2rd singular -es es nes eis -es -eis
2rd plural -is is nis ies -is -ies
3rd sg. masculine - ho njo hoi -jo -joi
3rd sg. feminine - he nje hei -je -jei
3rd sg. common - ha nja hai -ja -jai
3rd sg. inanimate - - - haung - -jaung
3rd pl. animate - han njan hain -jan -jain
3rd sg. inanimate - - - haing - -jaing

The missing forms did not exist; there were no 3rd person clitic pronouns, and no inanimate agentive, dative and possessive pronuns. Next to this chart, there is another pencilled, with a big question mark and partly crossed out:

  Clitic Agentive Dative Objective Possessive Partitive
1st singular -im im nim jim ? ?
1st pl. inclusive -imis imis nimis jimis ? ?
1st pl. exclusive -ime ime nime ? ? ?
2rd singular -es es nes jes ? ?
2rd plural -is is nis jis ? ?
3rd sg. masculine - ho no jo -o -io
3rd sg. feminine - hi ni ji -i -ii
3rd sg. common - ha na ja -a -ia
3rd sg. inanimate - - - i - -i
3rd pl. animate - he ne je -e -ie
3rd sg. inanimate - - - ii - ?

The question marks stand for missing forms that should have existed, but apparently were not yet decided on.

3.3. Adjectives

Adjectives followed the noun and agreed with it in number and case. The declension was the same as with animate nouns.

3.4. Verbs

In the printout, the section on verbs is empty, but the file from May 04, 2000 lists the following suffixes:

-ntpast tense
-tafuture tense
-oimperative
-olpresent active participle
-elpast active participle
-nnenpast active participle
-dgerund

With suffixes beginning with a vowel, that vowel replaces the stem vowel, e.g. linna 'to sing' → linnol 'singing', but linnent 'sang'. Verbs did not inflect for person and number of the subject or object, but 1st and 2nd person subjects were expressed by clitic pronouns: linnen 'I sing'.

4. Syntax

The printout does not include a well-developed syntax section, and the May 04 file none at all. According to the printout, basic word order was SVO, but "VSO?" is pencilled in the margin. Topics could be fronted, but no examples are given. Also, "Any phrade can be omitted in a sentence, even the agent and the patient"; again, no examples.


© 2020 Jörg Rhiemeier
Last update: 2020-06-11