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Elvish languages (Middle-earth)

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For Elvish languages in general, see Elvish languages.

J. R. R. Tolkien constructed many Elvish languages. These were the languages spoken by the tribes of
his Elves. Tolkien was a philologist by profession, and spent much time on his constructed languages. The
Elvish languages were the first thing he imagined for his secondary world. Tolkien said that his stories grew
out of his languages. Tolkien also created scripts for his Elvish languages, of which the best known are
the Sarati, the Tengwar, and the Cirth.

1 External history

1.1 Publication of linguistic papers

2 Internal history

2.1 Internal development of the Elvish word for "Elves"

2.2 Fictional philology

3 Pronunciation of Quenya and Sindarin
4 Elvish scripts

4.1 List of known Elvish scripts devised by Tolkien

4.2 Internal history of the scripts

5 See also
6 References
7 External links

External history[edit]
J. R. R. Tolkien began to construct his first Elvin tongue c. 19101911 while he was at the King Edward's
School, Birmingham. He later called it Qenya (c. 1915). Tolkien was then already familiar

with Latin, Greek, Spanish, and several ancient Germanic languages, Gothic, Old Norse andOld English.
He had invented several cryptographic codes (one called Animalic), and two or three constructed
languages (one called Naffarin). But then he discovered Finnish, and was filled with joy. Tolkien wrote,
many years later: "it was like discovering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a
kind and flavour never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me." [1] He had started his study of the Finnish
language to be able to read the Kalevala epic.
The ingredients in Quenya are various, but worked out into a self-consistent character not
precisely like any language that I know. Finnish, which I came across when I first begun to
construct a 'mythology' was a dominant influence, but that has been much reduced [now in late
Quenya]. It survives in some features: such as the absence of any consonant combinations
initially, the absence of the voiced stops b, d, g (except in mb, nd, ng, ld, rd, which are favoured)
and the fondness for the ending -inen, -ainen, -oinen, also in some points of grammar, such as the
inflexional endings -sse (rest at or in), -nna (movement to, towards), and -llo (movement from); the
personal possessives are also expressed by suffixes; there is no gender.[2]
Tolkien with his Quenya pursued a double aesthetic goal: "classical and inflected". [3] This urge, in fact, was
the motivation for his creation of a 'mythology'. While the language developed, he needed speakers,
history for the speakers and all real dynamics, like war and migration: "It was primarily linguistic in
inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of history for Elvish tongues". [4]
The Elvish languages underwent countless revisions in grammar, mostly in conjugation and
the pronominal system. The Elven vocabulary was not subject to sudden or extreme change; except during
the first conceptual stage c. 1910c. 1920. Tolkien sometimes changed the "meaning" of an Elvish word,
but he almost never disregarded it once invented, and he kept on refining its meaning, and countlessly
forged new synonyms. Moreover Elven etymology was in a constant flux. Tolkien delighted in inventing
new etymons for his Elvish vocabulary.
From the onset, Tolkien used comparative philology and the tree model as his major tools in his
constructed languages. He usually started with the phonological system of the proto-language and then
proceeded in inventing for each daughter languages the many mechanisms of sound change needed.
I find the construction and the interrelation of the languages an aesthetic pleasure in itself, quite
apart from The Lord of the Rings, of which it was/is in fact independent.[5]
In the early 30s Tolkien decided that the proto-language of the Elves was Valarin, the tongue of the gods or
Valar: "The language of the Elves derived in the beginning from the Valar, but they change it even in the
learning, and moreover modified and enriched it constantly at all times by their own invention." [6] In
his Comparative Tables[7] Tolkien describes the mechanisms of sound change in the following daughter
languages: Qenya, Lindarin (a dialect of Qenya), Telerin, Old

Noldorin (or Fanorian), Noldorin (or Gondolinian), Ilkorin (esp. of Doriath), Danian of Ossiriand, East
Danian, Taliska, West Lemberin, North Lemberin, and East Lemberin.
In his lifetime J.R.R. Tolkien never ceased to experiment on his constructed languages, and they were
subjected to many revisions. They had many grammars with substantial differences between different
stages of development. After the publication of The Lord of the Rings (19541955), the grammar rules of
his major Elvish languages Quenya, Telerin and Sindarin went through very few changes (this is late
Elvish 19541973).

Publication of linguistic papers[edit]

Two magazines (Vinyar Tengwar, from issue 39 in July of 1998, and Parma Eldalamberon, from issue 11 in
1995) are exclusively devoted to the editing and publishing of J.R.R. Tolkien's gigantic mass of previously
unpublished linguistic papers (even weren't published by Christopher Tolkien in "The History of Middleearth"). Almost each year, new Elvish words are published and the grammar rules of the Elvish languages
are disclosed. Access to the unpublished documents is severely limited, and the editors have yet not
published a comprehensive catalogue of the unpublished linguistic papers they are working on.

Internal history[edit]
The Elvish languages are a family (or phylum) of several related languages and dialects. Here is set briefly
the story of the Elvish languages as conceived by Tolkien c. 1965. They all originated from:

Primitive Quendian, also called Quenderin, the proto-language of all the Elves who awoke together
in the Far-East of Middle-earth, Cuivinen, and began "naturally" to make a language.
All the Elvish languages are presumed to be descendants of this common ancestor.
Tolkien invented two subfamilies (subgroups) of the Elvish languages. "The language of the Quendelie
(Elves) was thus very early sundered into the branches Eldarin and Avarin". [8]

Avarin is the language of various Elves of the Second and Third Clans, who refused to come
to Valinor.
Avarin developed into at least six Avarin languages.

Common Eldarin is the language of the three clans of the Eldar during the Great March to
Valinor. It developed into:
Quenya, the language of the Elves in Eldamar beyond the Sea; it divided into:

Vanyarin Quenya, colloquial speech of the Vanyar, the Elves of the First Clan;

Noldorin Quenya (and later Exilic Quenya), colloquial speech of the Noldor, the
Elves of the Second Clan.

Telerin, the language of the Teleri, Elves of the Third Clan, living in Tol
Eressa and Alqualond.
Nandorin, the language of the Nandor, a branch of the Third Clan.

Nandorin developed into various Nandorin or Silvan languages.

Sindarin is the language of the Sindar, a branch of the Third Clan, who dwelt in Beleriand. Its
dialects include:

Doriathrin, in Doriath;

Falathrin, in the Falas of Beleriand;

North Sindarin, in Dorthonion and Hithlum;

Noldorin Sindarin, spoken by the Exiled Noldor.

The acute accent (, , , , ) or circumflex accent (, , , , , ) marks long vowels in the Elvish
languages. When writing Common Eldarin forms, Tolkien often used the macron to indicate long
vowels. The diaeresis (, , ) is normally used to show that a short vowel is to be separately
pronounced, that it is not silent or part of a diphthong. For example, the last four letters
of Ainulindal represent two syllables, rather than the English word dale, and the first three letters
of Erendil represent two syllables rather than the English word ear.

Internal development of the Elvish word for "Elves" [edit]

Below is a family tree of the Elvish languages, showing how the Primitive Quendian
word kwend "people" (later meaning "Elves") was altered in the descendant languages. [9]




Primitive Quendian
The tongue of all Elves at Cuivinen

d March

Vanyar andNol

Common Eldarin
The tongue of the Elves during the March

Avari, those Elves who stayed
at Cuivinen and from there
spread across Middle-

earth (many languages)

Kindi, Cuind, Hwenti, Windan,

The First
Age of
the Sun
Teleri in AmanP

Elves of the
Third Clan in
of Ossirian
Beleriand did not
use it:
"P.Q. *kwende,
*kwend disappe
ared altogether.".
exiledNoldor use The Wood-elves of the Vale
d in their
of Anduin
pl. Penidh[11]

Fictional philology[edit]
There is a tradition of philological study of Elvish languages within the fiction. Elven philologists are
referred to by the Quenya term Lambengolmor. In Quenya, lambe means spoken language or verbal
The older stages of Quenya were, and doubtless still are, known to the loremasters of the
Eldar. It appears from these notices that besides certain ancient songs and compilations of
lore that were orally preserved, there existed also some books and many ancient inscriptions.

Known members of the Lambengolmor were Rmil, who invented the first Elvish script
(the Sarati), Fanor who later enhanced and further developed this script into his Tengwar, which later
was spread to Middle-earth by the Exiled Noldor and remained in use ever after, and Pengolodh, who
is credited with many works, including the Osanwe-kenta and the Lhammas or "The 'Account of
Tongues' which Pengolodh of Gondolin wrote in later days in Tol-eressa". [14]
Independently of the Lambengolmor, Daeron of Doriath invented the Cirth or Elvish-runes. These
were mostly used for inscriptions, and later were replaced by the Tengwar, except among
the Dwarves.

Pronunciation of Quenya and Sindarin[edit]

Sindarin and Quenya have a very similar pronunciation. The following table gives pronunciation for
each letter or cluster in international phonetic script and examples:

Letter / Dig



Further comment

as in father, but shorter.


never as in cat [*]

as in father


(in Sindarin) as in father, but even




(in Sindarin) the vowels described

for a and e in one syllable.

[ ]

Similar to ai


a diphthong, similar to that in eye,

but with short vowels

[ ]

never as in rain [*e]


a and u run together in one syllable.

Similar to the sound in house

never as in sauce [*]


(in Sindarin) a common way to

write au at the end of the word


as in pet


the same vowel lengthened (and in S: [],

Quenya more closed; as in German) Q: [e]

Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound as in

English rain

(in Sindarin) the vowel of pet

especially lengthened


Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound as in

English rain


as in eight

[ ]

never as in either (in neither pronunciation) [*i]



(in Quenya) e and u run together in


never as in English or German [*ju] [*]

one syllable

as in machine, but short


not opened as in fit [*]

as in machine


(in Sindarin) as in machine, but

especially lengthened



(in Quenya) i and u run together in

one syllable


later by men often as in English you [ju]

open as in sauce, but short


the same vowel lengthened (and in S: [],

Quenya more closed; as in German) Q: [o]

Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound of

"long" English cold [o]

(in Sindarin) the same vowel

especially lengthened


Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound of

"long" English cold [o]


(in Quenya) as in English coin

[ ]


(in Sindarin) the vowels described

for o and e in one syllable.

[ ]

Similar to oi. Cf. !

(in early Sindarin) as in German



in published writing, has been incorrectly

spelt oe (two letters), as in Nrnaeth Arnoediad.
Later became e.

as in cool, but shorter


not opened as in book [*]

as in cool


(in Sindarin) the same vowel as


above, but especially lengthened

(in Sindarin) as in French lune or

German s, but short


not found in English

(in Sindarin) as in French lune or

German s


(in Sindarin) as in French lune or

German s, but even longer


not found in English

Consonants (differing from English)

The letter c always denotes [k], even before i and e; for instance, Celeborn is
pronounced Keleborn, and Cirth is pronounced Kirth; thus, it never denotes the soft c [*s] in cent.

The letter g always denotes the hard [], as in give, rather than the soft form [*dd], as in gem.

The letter r denotes an alveolar trill [r], similar to Spanish rr.

The digraph dh, as in Caradhras, denotes [] as in English this.

The digraph ch, as in Orch, denotes [x] as in German ach, and never like the ch [*td] in
English chair.

The digraph lh denotes [] as in Welsh ll, a cross between "h" and "l".

Elvish scripts[edit]
Most samples of the Elvish language done by Tolkien were written out with the Latin alphabet, but
within the fiction Tolkien imagined many writing systems for his Elves. The best-known are the
"tengwar of Fanor", but the first system he created, c. 1919, is the "tengwar of Rmil", also called
the sarati.

List of known Elvish scripts devised by Tolkien[edit]

In chronological order :

Tengwar of Rmil or Sarati


Gondolinic Runes (Runes used in the city of Gondolin)


Valmaric script






Tengwar of Fanor


The Cirth of Daeron