The Cirth ("Runes") are the letters of an artificial script which was invented by J. R. R. Tolkien for the constructed languages he devised and used in his works. The initial C in Cirth is pronounced as a K, never as an S.
The runic alphabet used by the Dwarves of Middle-earth was adapted by J.R.R. Tolkien from real-life runes. In The Hobbit, the Anglo-Saxon futhorc was used in the publication with few changes; in The Lord of the Rings a new system of runes, the Cirth, was devised.
Since the Cirth is an alphabet, one rune generally stands for one sound (phoneme) and sounds that would be written with a digraph in English (such as "sh" and "th") are written with one rune. Words are separated by a dot rather than a space, and double consonants are grouped together into one rune, the same as if it were a single consonant. Presumably this alphabet was meant to be used in conjunction with a Dwarf language, but mostly it is used for transliterations.
In the fictional history of Middle-earth, the original Certhas Daeron was created by the elf Daeron, the minstrel of king Thingol of Doriath and was later expanded into what was known as the Angerthas Daeron. Although the Cirth were later largely replaced by the Tengwar (which were enhanced and brought by Fëanor), they were adopted by Dwarves to write down their Khuzdûl language (Angerthas Moria and Angerthas Erebor) because their straight lines were better suited to carving than the curved strokes of the Tengwar. Some examples of Cirth writings are the inscription on Balin's tomb in Moria and the inscriptions on the top of the title pages for The Lord of the Rings. Cirth was also adapted, in its older and simpler form, by various kinds of Men and even Orcs. For example, it was used by the Men of Dale and the Rohirrim and the Orcs of Moria.
Cirth is plural and is written with a capital C when referring to the writing system—the runes themselves can be called cirth. A single rune is a certh.
Many letters have shapes also found in the historical futhorc runes (used in The Hobbit), but their sound values are only similar in a few of the vowels. Rather, the system of assignment of sound values is much more systematic in the Cirth than in the historical runes (e.g., voiced variants of a voiceless sound are expressed by an additional stroke). A similar system has been proposed for a few historical runes (e.g. p ᛈ and w ᚹ as variants of b ᛒ), but is in any case much more obscure. There are a few coincidental identities between cirth and runic letters, i with runic ᛁ, k with Younger Futhark ᚴ and ch with the Futhorc ᚳ; p is furthermore reminiscent of Latin P (runic ᚹ w).
Cirth is written according to a certain mode specifically adapted for a language, and the values of individual certh may vary greatly according to the mode used. Three modes for Cirth are described in detail in Appendix E of The Lord of the Rings, and others are known to exist or have been developed by enthusiasts.
The Cirth are not yet part of the Unicode Standard. However the ConScript Unicode Registry has defined the U+E080 to U+E0FF range of the Unicode "Private Use Area" for Cirth.
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