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If I want to read Tolkien's text aloud, or appreciate the rhythm and rhyme in his poems, I find it distracting not to know how names including these characters (and similar ones) were meant to be pronounced. Unfortunately I only have the main books in e-book format; if this is answered in some background material I would highly appreciate a summary or even a literal quote thereof.

I am in particular interested in these letters, from which I assume it would be more or less straightforward to generalize to others reusing the same accents:

  • ä (e.g. Eärendil): I suspect umlaut (German) or separation of sounds (French) or both, but I'm having a hard time in making the first verse trochaic (in accordance with the rest of the poem) in

    Eärendil was a mariner

    that tarried in Arvernien;

    he built a boat of timber felled

    in Nimbrethil to journey in [...]

  • û (e.g., Nazgûl or Khazad-dûm): I'm pretty sure that this is just the sound I know as "u" (sounds like the /oo/ in /doom/):

    The shadow lies upon his tomb

    In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.

    What's the difference to "u" then?

  • é (e.g., Sméagol or Éoden): here I only have the pronunciation they adopted in the movie adaptation, the problem of which is that it plainly ignores any diacritics and says "Smeagol" in English pronunciation. I very much doubt that is what was intended. Similarly to the above, how to differentiate "é" from "e"?

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Tolkien answers these questions in the appendices of the physical copies of many of the original books. (Some editions of the books don't include the pronunciation guides, but most do.) A more detailed pronunciation guide, however, appears in the back of the Silmarillion, which was kindly reproduced by this blogger. You can also find some more details on the Tolkien Gateway.

Your specific questions, answered:

  • You're correct about the dieretic marks. They split words into two syllables around a vowel pair. However, more generally, you should read dipthongs - especially in Elvish - this way, even without this mark; the mark is largely for convenience. Eärendil, believe it or not, is occasionally spelled Ëarendil - they're the same.

  • û is pronounced as in boom, as you've listed in your question; however, it extends the sound. Think, "NAZ-goo-ool," instead of "NAZ-gool," and you'd be close to the right sound. (It's not perfect, because it doesn't actually split into two syllables like that, but it's closer to that length.)

  • Sméagol is actually pronounced somewhat incorrectly in the movies. The 'é' sound has more of an "ay" than an "ee," and as it's a dipthong, it also splits into two syllables. Where the movies say "SMEE-gul," it should really be something more like "SMAY-ah-gol." And, as with the û in Nazgûl, the vowel is slightly extended. However, it's not extended quite as much as û.

Useful for reading the above reasources: if you're familiar with IPA: e is [ɛ], é is [ɛː], and ê is [ɛːː]. Each "ː" adds a little bit of extension; a "::" feels almost, but not quite, like two syllables.

  • Btw. I think in French both ways of using the ¨ also exist (and mean the same), and that there has been a recent shift in the official recommendation. Just a vague thought – it might have been Spanish, too. – The Vee Jan 20 '17 at 10:31
  • Heh, well the German dub of the Jackson films did it right then. But I noticed that unusual pronunciation of Sméagol in the 1978 film, where even the German dub didn't correct it. – Cahir Mawr Dyffryn æp Ceallach Jan 20 '17 at 13:26
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For vowels the letters i, e, a, o, u are used, and (in Sindarin only) y. As far as can be determined the sounds represented by these letters (other than y) were of normal kind, though doubtless many local varieties escape detection. That is, the sounds were approximately those represented by i, e, a, o, u in English machine, were, farther, for, brute, irrespective of quantity.
In Sindarin long e, a, o had the same quality as the short vowels, being derived in comparatively recent times from them (older é, á, ó had been changed). In Quenya long é and ó were, when correctly pronounced, as by the Eldar, tender and 'closer' than the short vowels.
Sindarin alone among contemporary languages...

...

In Sindarin long vowels in stressed monosyllables are marked with the circumflex, since they tended in such cases to be specially prolonged, so in dûn compared with Dúnedan. The use of the circumflex in other languages such as Adûnaic or Dwarvish has no special significance, and is used merely to mark these out as alien tongues (as with the use of k).

Final e is never mute or a mere sign of length as in English. To mark this final e it is often (but not consistently) ë.

This is from The Return of the King, Appendix E.

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