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Elvish languages (Middle-earth)

For Elvish languages in general, see Elvish languages.

J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy fiction contains several languages for Elves. The author, a philologist by profession, spent much time on these constructed languages. His interest was primarily philological, and the languages were the first thing Tolkien created for his mythos. He said his stories grew out of his languages; he created a whole fictional mythology and history, complete with races, to speak the tongues he had constructed.

Tolkien started with what he originally called "Qenya", the first primitive form of Elvish. This was later called Quenya (High-elven) and is one of the two most complete of Tolkien's languages (the other being Sindarin, or Grey-elven). The phonology, vocabulary and grammar of Quenya and Sindarin are strongly influenced by Finnish and Welsh, respectively. In addition to these two, he also created several other (partially derived) languages.

Tolkien also created the Tengwar and Cirth scripts for his languages.

Fictional development

In Tolkien's mythology, these languages originated as follows:

Below is given a simplified diagram over how the Elvish languages are said have developed from their common origin, Quendian. Where this is known, the descendant of the Quendian word kwendī 'people' is shown in italics for each language.

Time Period Language
The Awakening Quendian
Common for all Elves at Cuiviénen
kwendī
The Westward March Quenya
Vanyar and Noldor in Aman
quendi
Common Telerin
Teleri during the march
pendi
Avarin
Avari, those who stayed at Cuiviénen and from there spread across Middle-earth (many languages)
kindi, cuind, hwenti, windan, kinn-lai
The First AgeAmanya Telerin
Teleri in Aman
Sindarin
Teleri in Beleriand (Sindar), as well as the exiled Noldor after the speaking of Quenya was banned in Beleriand by Elu Thingol.
*-bind, *-bin
Nandorin
Teleri in Rhovanion, Eriador and Ossiriand (Nandor)
   
The Second Age Silvan
The Wood-elves of the Vale of Anduin
penni
 

Primitive Quendian split into Common Eldarin and the many Avari languages. The Etymologies published in The Lost Road and Other Writings and also later etymological essays often derived terms common to Eldarin languages to Primitive Quendian bases, and a list of some Primitive Quendian words is given in an essay Quendi and Eldar (in The War of the Jewels).

*Tolkien wrote little about Avarin, languages of the Avari. In The War of the Jewels, names of six tribes of Avari in their own languages are given, all being cognates of the Quenya word Quendi (the Speakers): Kindi, Cuind, Hwenti, Windan, Kinn-lai, Penni. They are the only certain Avarin words ever mentioned in the published Middle-earth material.
*Common Eldarin is the primordial tongue of the Eldar, those Elves who left for Valinor.

Common Eldarin split off from Primitive Quendian, the original language of all Quendi, or Elves, when the Eldar left Cuiviénen.

Common Eldarin led to the later languages Quenya, Telerin, Sindarin, and various Nandorin languages.
*Quenya is the language developed by those non-Telerin Elves who reached Valinor (the "High Elves") from an earlier language called Common Eldarin, which also evolved from the original Primitive Quendian.
Quenya itself split into several dialects: Exilic Quenya, the "standard" version most familiar to readers of Tolkien's works, used in Middle-earth; Noldorin Quenya, which is very close and spoken by the Noldor who remained in Aman; and Vanyarin Quenya, which seems to be more conservative, retaining more features of Common Eldarin, such as medial d and z (and possibly others).
*Common Telerin is the primordial tongue of the Teleri or Lindar clan of the Elves.

It split off Common Eldarin at some time during the Great Journey, which itself split off Primitive Quendian, the original language of all Quendi, or Elves.

Its descendants are the language of the Teleri of Valinor, as well as Sindarin, and the various Nandorin languages.

The language of the Teleri of Valinor was influenced by and in turn influenced Quenya, and these languages remained very closely related and mutually intelligible to some extent, about like Spanish and Italian). One Telerin change was that where Quenya uses 'QU' (KW), Telerin typically uses 'P'. This parallels a similar real-life change in Brythonic Celtic languages, including Welsh, which has similarities to and may have been an inspiration for Sindarin (see Q-Celtic (Goidelic) and P-Celtic (Brythonic).
*Telerin is the tongue of the Teleri who reached the Undying Lands, also called Lindalambë (tongue of the Lindar).

Telerin was considered by some to be a dialect of Quenya, but the Teleri themselves considered it to be an independent language, which seems more reasonable considering that Quenya and Telerin are about as far apart as Italian and Spanish. It was much more conservative than Quenya, and was the closest to Common Telerin (from which Sindarin and Nandorin were also derived), and even to Common Eldarin of the later Elvish languages.
*Nandorin is the language of the Nandor, a group of Teleri, who, under their leader Lenwë (Dan in their own language) turned south along the Great River (Anduin), and disappeared from written history.

Nandor eventually became their term for themselves, and meant people of Dan in their own language. Although it should also be noted that the meaning given by Christopher Tolkien in his index to The Silmarillion said that Nandor meant "those who turn back". These Elves were later called Silvan Elves or Wood-elves.

Nandorin gradually disappeared from Middle-earth after the end of the First Age, when Sindarin elves merged with the Silvan folk and were taken as their lords. Nandorin gradually became extinct, surviving only in placenames such as Laurelindórinan/Lindórinand (old names for Lórien) and proper names such as Amroth. The daily tongue of the Silvan elves became Sindarin, or Sindarin with some Silvan influences.
*Sindarin is the Elvish language most commonly spoken in Middle-earth in the Third Age. It was the language of the Sindar, those Teleri which had been left behind on the Great Journey of the Elves. It was derived from an earlier language called Common Telerin. Although the Telerin spoken in Aman remained relatively close to Quenya, Sindarin diverged significantly, so that it was now about as far from Quenya as Brithenig is from Italian.
*Doriathrin is an extinct dialect of Sindarin.

The Sindar of Beleriand were divided in several groups, and their language had several dialects. Doriathrin, the flavour of Sindarin spoken by the Sindar of Doriath, the heart region of Beleriand, was seen as an archaic variant of Sindarin, contrasting with the more common dialect Falathrin. Doriathrin and Falathrin were mutually intelligible without problems.

Doriathrin preserved many archaic features which had been lost in Falathrin, and was seen by the Sindar of Doriath as a more noble form of it. Unlike the other dialects Doriathrin remained free from Quenya influences. However this dialect was also quite recognisable, so that even after Túrin had left Doriath he kept a Doriathrin accent until his death, which immediately pinpointed his origin to speakers of other variants of Sindarin.

Doriathrin became extinct at the end of the First Age after Beleriand was destroyed, although some of the oldest written material preserved in Númenor was written in this dialect, likely taken by refugees from Doriath to Arvernien, and from there to Númenor.

Little about Dorithrin morphology, and how it contrasts with other Sindarin variants, is known. One interesting feature is the use of the suffix -a for a genitive case, while most variants of Sindarin simply place two words beside each other for the same effect.
*Falathrin is an extinct dialect of Sindarin.

The Sindar of Beleriand were divided in several groups, and their language had several dialects. Falathrin, the flavour of Sindarin spoken by the Sindar of the Falas, the coastal regions of Beleriand, was the mainstream southern variant of Sindarin (the other being Doriathrin). Falathrin and Doriathrin were mutually intelligible without problems.

Spoken by the followers of Círdan the Shipwright, Falathrin was also adopted by the Noldorin king Finrod Felagund when he removed to Nargothrond, partially to make sure that his people would speak a slightly different language than the followers of the Sons of Fëanor, who spoke a Quenyarized form of North Sindarin. As Finrod had close family relations to king Thingol of Doriath and had more contact with Thingol and Círdan than with the Fëanorians, it was an economic and political advantage to speak a more common form of Sindarin. During this time Falathrin was changed much, partially due to the adoption of Quenya features, and partially due to the love of the Noldor for making linguistic changes.

Falathrin is the direct ancestor of the Sindarin of the Third Age, as this was the base of the language which was adopted at Arvernien by the last survivors of Beleriand. Although altered some by contact with other languages, it was this form of Sindarin which was studied in Númenor and the later Númenórean realms in exile. As such, it stood at the base of Westron.
*North Sindarin is an extinct dialect of Sindarin.

The Sindar of Beleriand were divided in several groups, and their language had developed some dialects. North Sindarin, the flavour of Sindarin spoken by the Mithrim, the northernmost group of the Sindar, differed from the Sindarin of Beleriand proper in many aspects. It was this language which was adopted by the exiled Noldor after their return to Middle-earth, and by their mortal allies. During this time North Sindarin was changed much, partially due to the adoption of Quenya features, and partially due to the love of the Noldor for making linguistic changes. Beren's heritage was clear to Thingol of Doriath as he spoke the North Sindarin of his homeland.

North Sindarin retained many features of Archaic Sindarin which had been lost in the Sindarin of Beleriand proper, but also went through several changes of its own: lenition occurred far less in this dialect than in the other dialects.

After the end of the First Age, the survivors of Beleriand's realms generally adopted the more southern variants of Sindarin, but several proper names which are uninterpretable in normal Sindarin which remained in use during the Third Age show North Sindarin influence.

Quenya/Sindarin pronunciation

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

Vowels

!Letter / Digraph
!Pronunciation
!IPA
! Further comment
a as in father, but shorter. [ɑ] never as in cat [*æ]
á as in father [ɑː] .
â (in Sindarin) as in father, but even longer [ɑːː] .
ae (in Sindarin) the vowels described for a and e in one syllable. [ɑɛ̯] Similar to ai
ai a diphthong, similar to that in eye, but with short vowels [ɑɪ̯] never as in rain [*eɪ]
au a and u run together in one syllable. Similar to the sound in house [ɑʊ̯] never as in sauce [*ɒ]
aw (in Sindarin) a common way to write au at the end of the word [ɑʊ̯] .
e as in pet [ɛ] .
é the same vowel lengthened (and in Quenya more closed; as in German) S: [ɛː], Q: [eː] Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound as in English rain
ê (in Sindarin) the vowel of pet especially lengthened [ɛːː] Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound as in English rain
ei as in eight [ɛɪ̯] never as in either (in neither pronunciation)
eu (in Quenya) e and u run together in one syllable [ɛʊ̯] never as in English or German
i as in machine, but short [i] not opened as in fit [*ɪ]
í as in machine [iː] .
î (in Sindarin) as in machine, but especially lengthened [iːː] .
iu (in Quenya) i and u run together in one syllable [iʊ̯] later by men often as in English you [ju]
o open as in British got [ɔ] .
ó the same vowel lengthened (and in Quenya more closed; as in German) S: [ɔː], Q: [oː] Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound of "long" English cold [oː]
ô (in Sindarin) the same vowel especially lengthened [ɔːː] Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound of "long" English cold [oː]
oi (in Quenya) as in English coin [ɔɪ̯] .
oe (in Sindarin) the vowels described for o and e in one syllable. [ɔɛ̯] Similar to oi. Cf. œ!
œ (in Sindarin) as in German Götter [œ] in published writing, has been incorrectly spelt oe (two letters), as in Nírnaeth Arnoediad!
u as in cool, but shorter [u] not opened as in book [*ʊ]
ú as in cool [uː] .
û (in Sindarin) the same vowel as above, but especially lengthened [uːː] .
y (in Sindarin) as in French lune or German süß, but short [y] not found in English
ý (in Sindarin) as in French lune or German süß [yː] .
ŷ (in Sindarin) as in French lune or German süß, but even longer [yːː] 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 [g], as in give, rather than the soft form [*ʤ], as in gem.
  • The letter r denotes an alveolar trill [r], similar to Spanish r.
  • The digraph dh, as in Caradhras, denotes [ð] as in English this.
  • The digraph ch, as in Orch, denotes [x] as in German ach, and never like the ch [*ʧ] in English chair.

Most samples of the Elvish language are written out with the Latin alphabet, but within the fiction the languages were written using Tengwar, or occasionally carved in Cirth. Tengwar can however be used to write many other languages.

See also

References

External links

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