Being a skilled calligrapher, Tolkien invented scripts as well as languages. Some of his scripts were designed for use with his constructed languages, others for more practical ends. The Privata Kodo Skauta (Private Scout Code) from 1909 was designed to be used in his personal diary; it had both an alphabet and some whole-word ideographs. Late in his life, he created a New English Alphabet structured like Tengwar but written in characters resembling those of Latin and Greek.
In chronological order, Tolkien's Middle-earth scripts are:
- Tengwar of Rúmil or Sarati
- Gondolinic runes (Runes used in the city of Gondolin)
- Valmaric script
- Tengwar of Fëanor
- The Cirth of Daeron
In addition, there are some pre-Fëanorian variants including Falassin, Noriac, Banyaric, and Sinyatic, and some non-Middle-earth alphabets, in manuscripts from the 1920s, and a Goblin Alphabet used in The Father Christmas Letters.
The Cirth, meaning "runes" is a semi‑artificial script, based on real‑life runic alphabets, invented by Tolkien for his constructed languages. Cirth is written with a capital letter when referring to the writing system; the letters themselves can be called cirth. In the fictional history of Middle-earth, the original Certhas was created by the Sindar or Grey Elves for their language, Sindarin. Its extension and elaboration was known as the Angerthas Daeron, as it was attributed to the Sinda Daeron, despite the fact that it was most probably arranged by the Noldor to represent the sounds of other languages like Quenya and Telerin. Although it was later largely replaced by the Tengwar, the Cirth was nonetheless adopted by the Dwarves to write down both their Khuzdul language and the languages of Men. The Cirth was adapted, in its oldest and simplest form, by various races including Men and even Orcs.
The Sarati was Tolkien's first script for the Elves. It eventually developed into the Tengwar, supposedly created 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", tengwar meaning "letters" in the Elvish language Quenya. "Sarati" is the Quenya name for Rúmil's script.
Sarati was usually written top-to-bottom, but it could also be (and originally was) written left-to-right, or boustrophedon, going left and right alternately, like an ox pulling a plough back and forth in a field. 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".
Within the fictional context of Middle-earth, the Tengwar were invented by the Elf Fëanor, and used first to write the Elven tongues Quenya and Telerin. Later a great number of languages of Middle-earth were written using the Tengwar, including Sindarin. Tolkien used Tengwar to write samples in English.
- Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina (1995). J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. London: HarperCollins. p. 190. ISBN 0-261-10322-9. OCLC 34533659.
- Smith, Arden R. "Writing Systems". The Tolkien Estate. Retrieved 28 October 2022.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955). The Return of the King. London: George Allen & Unwin. Appendix E.
- 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. Vol. 1. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 1239–1242. ISBN 978-3-11-012223-7.
- Smith, Ross Inside Language, p. 107
- 'The Silmarillion' by J. R. R. Tolkien (63)
- Björkman, Måns. "Les Sarati - Forme Phonétique". Ambar-eldaron.com. Archived from the original on 17 January 2018. Retrieved 26 January 2021.
- Björkman, Måns. "The Sarati of Rumil". mansbjorkman.net. Archived from the original on 22 March 2022. Retrieved 24 September 2022.
- The War of the Jewels, Appendix D to Quendi and Eldar
- Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina (2005). The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion. HarperCollins. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-00-720907-1.