Elvish Language FAQ -- *Please Read BEFORE Posting*

Tolkien's worlds were birthed out of his love of language and his work at creating new ones. Enter into discussions surrounding Tolkien's languages.

Elvish Language FAQ -- *Please Read BEFORE Posting*

Postby NiennaSorrowing » Thu Apr 11, 2002 5:12 pm

Overwhelmed by the number of new threads posted here in recent months, most of which ask the same questions, I have decided to post a FAQ that will hopefully help to answer common questions. If anyone has a question that is not answered here, please ask it in this thread and I or one of the regulars will do our best to answer it. I will be periodically updating this thread so that all questions are addressed in the first post, so it will be easier to find answers to questions anyone might have. Anyone and everyone is welcome to contribute.

Update: *Elbereth* has started Language Forum's own adoption thread, where those wishing to learn Tolkien's languages can go to get "apprenticed" to a teacher. Both teachers and students are encouraged to register here.

*WARNING* Please do NOT go to the this website, known as the Grey Company. http://www.grey-company/Language/ It does NOT contain ANY real Elvish.

What is "Elvish"?

"Elvish" is actually two seperate languages, called Quenya and Sindarin, created by J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien was above all a linguist, and claimed that he wrote his stories of Middle Earth not for themselves but to give background and life to the languages he created. He said: "I would rather write in Elvish, but as I can not, I must write about it." He eventually created several languages, but only Sindarin and Quenya were given enough words and rules to make them anything like real languages. Khuzdul, or "Dwarvish", has a vocabulary of approximately 15 words, for example.

What is the difference between Sindarin and Quenya?

In the internal history of the languages, Quenya and Sindarin were originally one language, often called plain "Primitive Elvish" by Tolkien. When some of the Teleri remained behind in Middle Earth and did not go to Aman, their language changed drastically to become modern Sindarin. Those Elves that crossed the Sea to Aman spoke a language that was much closer to Primitive Elvish, called Quenya. Later, when the Noldor fled back to Middle Earth in exile, they still spoke their language, Quenya, but learned to speak Sindarin in everyday convorsation like the native Elves (the Sindar) of Middle Earth. Quenya was preserved as a language of ritual(thus Galadriel sings it to Frodo when he leaves Lothlorien), but Sindarin became the common tongue.

The external (outside the story) history is somewhat different. Tolkien created two languages that could have etymologically derived from one language. The greatest amount of vocabulary we have in both Sindarin and Quenya come from the Etymologies, which are word-histories that give the Primitive Elvish root and then the Sindarin and Quenya derivations. With concerns to phonetics and grammatical structure, Sindarin is based on the real language Welsh, and Quenya is based on Finnish. However, they are distinctly their own languages.

What language did they speak in the movie?

That would be Sindarin (mostly). Saruman's spell for calling the storm down on Caradhras was Quenya, but the rest of the Elvish lines in the movie were in Sindarin, as is correct for Third Age Elves in Middle Earth.

How do I learn Elvish (either one)?

There is no simple way to learn either Sindarin or Quenya. First of all, they are real languages, and learning them is just as difficult as learning, say, French if you are a native English speaker. Moreover, as Sindarin and Quenya are created languages, they are not complete, and there are many things we do not know how to do or say in Elvish. To make it even more difficult, Tolkien spent almost his entire life revising and revising and revising his languages, so that one thing that we can be sure is valid at one point in Sindarin may not be valid in later Sindarin. The words given in the Etymologies, for example, must often be changed slightly to make them valid according to the rules of LotR-era (called "Third Age" or simply "mature" ) Sindarin or Quenya.

I do not mean to make it sound like learning Elvish is impossible. It isn't. I am proof of that, as are the many who know Elvish much better than I. But it is more complicated than learning a normal foreign language, and is not something that can be picked up just by going online and typing in "Elvish". If you really want to learn Elvish, this is basically the only way to go about it:

1) get a copy of HoME Series #5, The Lost Road. This contains the Etymologies, the closest thing to a dictionary we have. Also important are HoME Series #11, The War of the Jewels (see the essay "Quendi and Eldar" ), and the Appendicies of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings.

2) download Helge Fauskanger's Quenya course from his website Ardalambion. (http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/)) While you're at it, download every article he has on Sindarin or Quenya. His essays and course are his own interpretation of the data we have on Elvish, and I (and others) disagree with him on many different points, his works remain the easiest to deal with when starting out.

3) make your own dictionary. There is no real dictionary online or available anywhere else (many dictionaries claim to be "Elvish" but are really incorrect interpretations of insufficent data), so your only recourse is to make your own. Helge's wordlists should help you get started.

4) if you truely want to really learn Elvish, do the above and only then go onto a serious discusion list about Tolkien's languages like Elfling, TolkLang, or Elfscript (also the list Quenya for discussions in Quenya). Elfling and its like are for discussion of things like "the question of nn or nd in evolution from "Noldorin" to Third Age Sindarin", not for questions about "how do I say 'Legolas is hot' in Sindarin". To get a complete understanding of either language, one must spend a great deal of time keeping up with the different debates that go on about such things, and Elfling etc. is a very good way to do that. But a working knowledge of the two languages must be obtained before any of it will make sense.

Where can I find a Elvish-English dictionary?

You can't. There are several offered online, but they are almost without exception incorrect. Helge has several wordlists which are incomplete, but most of Helge's work is up to date and correct, which is more than you can say for most people who claim to know Elvish online. Galadhorn's website Gwaith-I-Phethdain (http://www.elvish.org/gwaith/language.htm) also has several very accurate essays and wordlists.

The only real way to get an Elvish-English dictionary is to make your own. Get a copy of the Etymologies (The Lost Road, HoME Series #5), get a handful of Helge's and Galadhorn's essays, and start translating.

How do I get an Elvish name?

Well, you could go to the (in)famous Barrowdowns Elvish Name Translator, but that only gives you something that sounds vaguely Elvish and bears no real relation to the actual Elvish languages. If you want something that actually means something, you have two choices: 1) If you want a translation of your own name, go to the Quenya Lapseparma. It has translations of common English names using their root meanings. 2) If you want a name that means a specific thing, like, say "SeaStar", learn the Elvish -- Quenya is usually used for names, but Sindarin is perfectly acceptable (but don't forget your mutations!) -- for the words you want and put them together for a name. Eärel, for example, is Quenya for "SeaStar". (Actually, Eärel happens to be my middle name, so I would prefer if people didn't use that.)

How do I write those pretty Elvish signs?

Tolkien created, among other things, an alphabet to write Elvish in, called Tengwar (which means "letters" in Quenya). Examples of this alphabet can be found on the Moria Gate inscription, and on the title pages for Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. A complete explanation of Tengwar is found in Appendix E of LotR, but I will try to some it up here:

- In the internal history, the Elves developed two forms of writing in Valinor: one, the Cirth (normally translated "runes" ), was designed for carving onto stone or metal, and the second, Tengwar ("letters" ), was designed for writing with brush or pen. The original design of Tengwar was by a Noldorin scribe Rúmil, but Fëanor, "bettering the work of Rúmil, devised those letters which bear his name, and which the Eldar used ever after". (Rúmilian letters were then called sarat, Tengwar being reserved for Feanorian letters.) Tengwar was brought to Middle Earth by the Exiles, but adopted quickly by all speaking peoples, including Men when they awoke. Cirth was designed by the Sindar in Beleriand, and used more by the Dwarves than by its own people, due to its ease in writing on stone.

- Tengwar does not match up, letter for letter, to the Roman alphabet (what we use to write English), so transliteration is sometimes difficult. Each letter of Tengwar stands for a particular phoneme, like our alphabet. Tengwar is also written in a chart form, instead of in a line. (The chart can be seen on pg 396 of RotK.) The alphabet is arranged according to classification of sound: there are series (Q témar, going down), which classify letters by their form series I is the dentals, series II is the labials, etc.; and there are grades (Q tyeller, going across), which classify letters by their mode grade 1 is unvoiced, grade 2 is voiced, etc. The letters are formed by a stem (telco) and a bow (lúva), which vary in placement according to form and mode. Examination of the chart with its accompanying phenomes will quickly reveal these relations.

- It is important to notice that Tengwar, strictly speaking, contains no vowels. The letters in Tolkien s chart contain only consonants. Vowels are normally written by tehtar, diacritical signs above the letters. Tehtar are placed either above the consonant preceding the vowel, in the case of languages such as Quenya where most words end in a vowel, or above the consonant following the vowel, in the case of languages such as Sindarin where most words end in a consonant. If there is no consonant available, as in the case of dipthongs, the tehta is placed on a carrier, either long or short in form depending on if the vowel in question is long or short. There was later a form in which Tengwar achieved full alphabet status, that is, it had letters for vowels as well as consonants. This is the mode used on the Moria gate inscription. It must be noted that, although the full alphabet might seem easier to people used to the Roman alphabet, most writers (including Tolkien) seem to prefer the tehtar.

A more detailed explanation of all of this may be found in RotK Appendix E. Examples of Elvish calligraphy can be found in Galadhorn's collection, here.

Where do I get Tengwar fonts?

The most common Tengwar fonts are those created by Dan Smith, found [url=http://www.geocities.com/fontmaster.geo/index.html"]here[/url]. Please be aware that Tengwar fonts do not correspond directly to the keys on your keyboard. Instead, they are mapped out using Tolkien s chart. Reading the help file before using the font is a must.

Other fonts and related materials can be found at Amanye Tenceli and at Writing with Elvish Fonts. (Thanks to Elfetawen for the links.)

I do hope this helps, and I hope it furthers the enjoyment of anyone wishing to learn Tolkien's beautiful languages. Yes, they are a lot of work, but they can also be a wonderful adventure.

Please, again, if anyone has any further questions, please post them IN THIS THREAD to help cut down on duplicate threads in this forum. Thank you.

--Nienna

(updated by White Council Moderator/July 2007)
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Postby orliesmyhusband » Thu Apr 11, 2002 6:49 pm

GO NS! You did it! I will try and help you on all accounts ok? We are faced with a problem though. How will we keep this post on the front page? I guess since its a FAQ thread people wont hafta make as many posts and will just read here? lol If it gets pushed back to the second page I'll rescue it ok? Just a suggestion for a ? how about where can I find my name in Elvish. And I know that elvish is mostly talked about here but we should try to include a little of the other speeches too, just to cover everything and not be biast :- ) <BR><BR>luv<BR>Oricon ( my name in elvish lol just in case you were wondering where the relationship between Oricon and orliesmyhusband was. lol Can U guess what my name is? )
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Postby Middle-earth » Thu Apr 11, 2002 10:15 pm

Thanks; that answered my question <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><BR>
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Postby elfetawen » Thu Apr 11, 2002 10:38 pm

Oops <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif"border=0> I didn't see this! Please forgive me <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif"border=0> My question isn't answered here but still, that is no excuse. I hate making boo-boo's like that <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif"border=0>
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Postby Eluchil » Fri Apr 12, 2002 12:32 am

Wonderful! Thank you NiennaSorrowing!
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Postby orliesmyhusband » Fri Apr 12, 2002 4:51 am

Ns this is quite successful so far wouldnt you say?
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Postby khelekhenmiriel » Fri Apr 12, 2002 9:34 am

I have a book by Ruth S. Noel, called <u>The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-Earth</u>, and while incomplete, it is a pretty good resource. It also has family trees of the royal houses, so if you're interested in that, find the book.
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Postby elfetawen » Fri Apr 12, 2002 1:02 pm

I have that one also but I've been told that it isn't complete, and that it's outdated. I still use it for some things but mostly just for the alphabet and runes.
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Postby Maedhros » Fri Apr 12, 2002 1:34 pm

Finally! Good job Nienna! You rock!
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Postby Eluchil » Fri Apr 12, 2002 1:53 pm

Noel's book has some things in it that are interesting but, read this knowledgeable <a target=new href="http://www.elvish.org/articles/LRH.html">review</a> which is quite accurate I'm afraid.
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Postby Darkmagus » Fri Apr 12, 2002 7:10 pm

Nice job Nienna!
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Postby Eleniant » Fri Apr 12, 2002 8:49 pm

Rock on, Nienna!!(a virtual hug to you)
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Postby Vegan » Fri Apr 12, 2002 10:15 pm

I wonder if we can get this thread sticky. I don't know if this messageboard software even supports it, though...
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Postby GlamdringsFire » Sat Apr 13, 2002 6:10 am

Nienna!!! awesomejob!!! (just to prod you, that's Khuzdul not Kuzdul <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0>) great! "Oricon" is right about the names thing, and i suggest ther be a tengwar/writing system portion of the FAQ, and if you want, i can help out with that since i consider myself good at that... hehe... thanks!
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Postby Balance_Keeper » Sat Apr 13, 2002 8:28 am

Very good... finaly, thanks Nienna.
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Postby Darkmagus » Sat Apr 13, 2002 11:04 pm

Nienna, here's another link you might think about adding to the FAQ. It's the one for elvish names. <a target=new href="http://www.inf.upol.cz/~mullerr/theresa/names.html">http://www.inf.upol.cz/~mullerr/theresa/names.html</a><BR><BR>DM
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Postby Maedhros » Sun Apr 14, 2002 10:29 am

Also, maybe you should make an Official thread for people that need an Elvish word or phrase. That would REALLY help clean this place up.
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Postby Chameleon » Sun Apr 14, 2002 11:24 am

thanks for that name link darkmagus, i was wondering where people got their elvish names from... but i have a question... on there, it has maryanne, and it says maria combined with anne is the same name as that... would that be the same as maria alone?<BR><BR>(that's not my name, it's for someone else)
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Postby NiennaSorrowing » Sun Apr 14, 2002 5:28 pm

Adding away guys, thanks for the support!!! <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><BR><BR>GlamdringsFire, I'll try to add a section on Tengwar today, but I have a lot of catching up to do -- I've been gone this weekend -- and I might not get to it, so if you want to do it just post it here and I'll copy it up to the first post. Make sure to include a link to the best page with Dan Smith's fonts -- which, of course, I don't remember, so I hope <i>someone</i> has it bookmarked. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0><BR><BR>Maedhros, that's a good idea. If someone hasn't started one up by now, I will. We have to be careful and not start posting wordlists -- copyright violation and all that; wouldn't want to annoy Carl or anything. (Ok, those of you who don't subscribe to Elfling can ignore that last comment.) <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0><BR><BR>--Nienna<BR><BR>PS Chameleon, "Maria" is, I believe, the Spanish (and Italian?) form of "Mary", so look up that. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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Postby Maedhros » Sun Apr 14, 2002 8:12 pm

Okay, I will.<BR><BR>Also, it's Mædhros. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0><BR><BR>I don't mind.
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Postby elfetawen » Mon Apr 15, 2002 8:17 am

Dan Smith? You're in luck! Now where...did...I...put...that...thing...Aha! Here is the link for the site <a target=new href="http://www.geocities.com/fontmaster.geo/index.html">http://www.geocities.com/fontmaster.geo/index.html</a>
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Postby Darkmagus » Mon Apr 15, 2002 8:41 pm

<i>wouldn't want to annoy Carl or anything.</i><BR><BR>LOL! <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0>
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Postby NiennaSorrowing » Wed Apr 17, 2002 12:51 am

Just trying to keep this at the top, people...
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Postby Eluchil » Wed Apr 17, 2002 9:56 pm

I don't think Carl reads TORC (which is good for my blood preasure <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0> ) In any event, we will enforce our own policy--only removing blatent piracy unless we recieve a request from the owner. So don't worry about posting a phrase list or anything like that.
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Postby NiennaSorrowing » Wed Apr 17, 2002 10:16 pm

Oooooh, <i>nice</i>!! (Just no one mention this on Elfling, ok? <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0>) (And I agree, Eluchil, good for my blood presure too -- and I don't wear out my finger pressing the "delete" button over and over again <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0>)<BR><BR><BR>I've forgoten about my promise to update this with a Tengwar question, so I'll get right on it. Thanks for the link, elfetawen -- I'm sure I have it bookmarked <i>somewhere</i> but, as normal, I have no idea where that "somewhere" would be. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0><BR><BR>--Nienna
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Postby Eluchil » Sat Apr 20, 2002 3:37 pm

I like Carl, I really do. But he is not a calming influence.
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Postby NiennaSorrowing » Sat Apr 20, 2002 5:12 pm

I do, too -- when he's not jumping up and down over "copyright".
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Postby elfetawen » Sat Apr 20, 2002 5:21 pm

I was looking around and found a couple more cool sites with fonts and related materials<BR><BR>Amanye Tenceli <a target=new href="http://hem.passagen.se/mansb/at/index.html">http://hem.passagen.se/mansb/at/index.html</a><BR><BR>Writing With Elvish Fonts <a target=new href="http://www.sci.fi/~alboin/tengwartutorial.htm">http://www.sci.fi/~alboin/tengwartutorial.htm</a><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR>
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Postby NiennaSorrowing » Sat Apr 20, 2002 5:24 pm

Right!!! Reminds me, I <i>still</i> haven't started that question-and-answer on Tengwar. I'll go do that right away. (Hey, who needs to do homework? That's not important! <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0>) Thanks for the links, elfetawen. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0><BR><BR>Oh, right, and I should put a link in to Galadhorn's collection of Tengwar caligraphy, too. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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Postby NiennaSorrowing » Sat Apr 20, 2002 9:53 pm

Tengwar section is added. If anyone has any questions, comments, or corrections (I rushed through it rather fast), feel free to post them. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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