GISHing for Tengwar?

Moral of the lesson: This is why you don’t want an inexperienced transcriber doing Tengwar for you.

For two days now, I, and Tolkien expert friends of mine, have been bombarded by people doing the GISH scavenger hunt. It’s starting to get old. Mostly because this transcription is truly awful. It’s supposed to be in English, but I don’t blame you if you found it unintelligible, for reasons that you’ll soon see.

Here is the picture:

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First off, the font is hard to read. It’s difficult to tell what is a closed or open Lúva, which is important for reading a tengwar text. Fonts like Tengwar Annatar, Tengwar Parmaite, and Tengwar Telcontar are much better for clarity. But, that’s hardly the only problem, because the transcriber clearly had no idea how to use the Tengwar, and was probably trying for the first time.

Second biggest mistake, nowhere in the text are vowel carriers used properly. If there is no tengwa for a vowel to go on, the vowel can’t sit in the open air, it needs a vowel carrier. And fonts like this one have the vowels designed to go over different types of tengwa. The ones for the top line are for the broad tengwar, ones with two lúvat. The ones on the bottom line are for vowel carriers, which are just a single line. The result is that there are some vowels hanging out in mid-air, others not combined properly with tengwar therefore ending up invisible, and sometimes, in worse cases, on top of each other.

The third big mistake is actually a whole host of little ones. Many of the tengwar are switched because the transcriber couldn’t read the chart correctly, or because they couldn’t find the right letter, so they chose a random unused one. This can only be shown by breaking down all of the mixed-up letters.

  1. The tengwa Anga, which is usually used for J or a soft G is used for all Gs.
  2. The tengwa Ñoldo, which is usually used for NY or Ñ (like in “el niño”), was used for the vowel Y. This is a case of the transcriber not properly searching their tengwar chart to find Anna, which is a more common mistake amongst beginners, because the Tengwar are for consonants, not vowels. This text is clearly trying to be a Tehtar-tengwar transcription, so they should have used the double dot or wedge tehta (with the proper vowel carrier!) for the Y.
  3. The tengwa Calma, which is usually used for the CH sound like in “church” was used for C.
  4. The tengwa Essë, which is usually used for Z, was used for S.
  5. The tengwa Anca, which isn’t used in non-phonetic transcriptions for English, was used as Q. When used in English, Anca usually represents the sound the S makes in the word “treasure.” I think they ended up doing that because they couldn’t find the Q (just use a K!) so they used the first unused tengwa they could find.
  6. The tengwa Vala, which is usually used for W, was used for a V, probably based on the first letter of the tengwa’s name.

Then, whoever did this didn’t realize that some letter combinations in English are used to represent single sounds. Those single sounds have single Tengwar. Here’s a list of the digraphs they transcribed letter by letter.

  1. Tinco+Hyarmen for TH instead of Thúlë or Anto.
  2. Calma+Hyarmen for the CH in “character” instead of Hwesta.
  3. Númen+Anga for NG instead of Ñwalmë.
  4. Essë+Hyarmen for SH instead of Aha.

There are also Tehtar for combining Tengwar. The Nasal-tehta (puts an N or M in front of another letter), the sa-rincë (a little Silmë you can attach to a tengwa for the S following another consonant), The W-tehta (puts a W after the tengwa, used for KW/QU), and the consonant doubler were ignored, as well as the silent E tehta.

Certain words like “the” and “of the” have abbreviated forms, which of course were ignored.

It’s less annoying to me because hardly anyone does it correctly, but English punctuation was used, not Tengwar punctuation.

And one final problem – they forgot two words in their transcription, probably because the script is so unfamiliar to them that they couldn’t check their work.

Here is the transcription properly done. Reading this should be much easier. Good luck GISHers!

If you want me to just hand you the answer, please consider donating to my Kickstarter! I provide a lot of services here for free, like over four thousand phrases, over twenty thousand names, in multiple languages and dialects that Tolkien invented, as well as courses on those languages. Thank you! Message me, and I’ll give you the answer.

All this (and other recent developments) remind me that I really should have a free basic English in Tengwar course on in the Realelvish Academy. I’ll see what I can do!


  1. Hi! I just wanted to say that this site is great and I appreciate your assistance on this Gish task. I’m going to give it a go on my own using your transcription above. Also I’m going to donate to your KS account. Thanks so much! I’m a huge Tolkien fan and would love to come back soon and try to learn more.

    1. <3 Thank you so much!!! I'm glad that you guys are finding this post helpful, and I hope that this GISH challenge introduces many more people to the incredible work Tolkien did!

  2. Thanks for the help with the revamped image of the transcription. The original was really bugging me because even at my low skill level, I could see what looked like a lot of mistakes. Kickstarter backed for the assist!

  3. Thank you for posting the correct phrase. As a Tolkien fan and someone who has been fascinated with Tengwar for a while, I was so excited to see this as a scavenger hunt item, but I knew something was not right almost as soon as I started working on it. I want to work out the answer for myself, but I supported your kickstarter and wish you luck with it.

  4. It really wasn’t all the complicated. They just chose font and started typing. That’s it. There was no attempt to be thorough in their transcription, you just needed to find the same font and start spelling things out.

  5. You’re awesome! Couldn’t find the message button. But will happily donate to Kickstarter for an assist. Happy to see it wasn’t right as it didn’t look correct to my unknowledgeable eyes lol

    1. If you’re logged into the website, in the “House of Guests” section, there is a link labeled “Inbox”. It’s a PM system for You can also message me when you’re logged in at Kickstarter, and there is a contact form, also in the “House of Guests.”

      Thank you for your help! It really means a lot to me.

  6. Another GISHer who has donated to your Kickstarter! Thanks so much – translating from yours was SO MUCH EASIER. And maybe I’ll come back and sign up for your course L)

    1. The courses are on the spin-off website, the Realelvish Academy (link is in the top menu). If you subscribe (which is free) you will get the updates sent to your inbox.

      And THANK YOU so much for the donation! Every little bit helps me keep the content on my website as free and accessible to everyone as I can.

  7. Thank you from GISH participants everywhere! I happily contributed to your Kickstarter! Thank you for helping with this item. GISH is not only fun and not only allows us to be creatively expressive but it also opens our eyes to so many different things like what you do.

  8. I found you through the Scavenger Hunt. Thank you. And thank you for the Tolkien scholarship; I have a great respect and fondness for his work.

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