First of all a quick note about the terminology. Is it Elfish, Elvish, Elven, Elfic or what? This –I’m sure– is one of those topics fantasy-fans love to argue about.
Of course the Granite kit is based on Tolkien’s work. Tolkien references to the languages of elves as “Elvish” (with a “v”) but uses Elven in every other occasion. I didn’t want to use a term that directly connected to the Middle Earth (eg: Sindarin) so “Elven Tongue” seemed a good idea.
Now to the nerd talk.
The same way humans talk English, Italian, Russian, … elves talk many languages. The most famous are Quenya and Sindarin. The former is older and it literally means “elf-language”; the latter is spoken by Sindar Elves (or Gray Elves) who stayed longer in the land of mortals and for this reason we have a wider dictionary available.
It’s because of the extended vocabulary that we chose Sindarin for our keycap set.
Technically speaking what you see on the keycaps are called Tengwar (and Tehtar). Tengwar is the writing system used by elves. You can think of it as the Latin letters of ours, or the Japanese Kanji.
Even though all elves use tengwar (as far as I know), there are of course differences between Quenya Tengwar and Sindarin Tengwar, in the same way there are differences between written Italian and written French despite both using (mostly) the same alphabet.
For this kit we use Tengwar Sindarin in the Mode of Beleriand, mainly because it’s the phonetic used in the West Gate of Moria, or Doors of Durin. You remember “Pedo Mellon a Minno” (“Speak, friend, and enter”), right?
Tolkien frequently used tengwar to phonetically transliterate English. That could be used for example to write your name in Elvish.
When I created the layout I had to choose how the tengwar were distributed on the keyboard. The first logical step was to follow the English phonetic, so the Sindarin sound for “A” would stay over the letter “A”. That ultimately didn’t work well for various reasons; first and foremost English and Sindarin do not always match and we have multiple very similar sounds in Sindarin that I wouldn’t know where to place on an ANSI keyboard.
Fortunately to the rescue comes the work of Dan Smith. He designed a Windows font (but it also works on other platforms) that could be used on any keyboard to write tengwar. The font is not available on Dan’s website anymore but it can still be found on the interweb. A very nice alternative has been designed by Enrique Mombello few years ago, it is built on Dan’s font so it is also compatible with the Granite kit.
The way tengwar are laid out do not follow any phonetic, so the tengwar over the A key does not sound like “A”, but having installed Dan’s font it is extremely easy to find a specific symbol and actually write in Elvish.
This is how the letters look like on your keyboard.
When you press Q you are actually writing the “P” Sindarin sound, but that’s beside the point; the bottom line is that what is printed on the key is what shows on screen if you have Dan’s font installed.
In the coming days I’ll publish a specific document on how to practically write some words in Elvish.