Tolkien: The Languages of Middle-Earth

J.R.R. Tolkien. Three initials and one name, known all over the world as the author of the famous books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Within these books, he achieved his greatest work, even greater than writing the books themselves: he created languages. And we’re not talking about a couple of words in one or two invented languages. He invented proper languages, with grammar and vocabulary ,and lots of them.

Tolkien was a linguist who was fascinated by languages. It appears he may have started to create some languages as early as 1910, and his major work in the field is the creation of all the languages spoken in the world he invented for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Middle Earth.

This work is colossal and answering the question “how many languages did Tolkien create?” remains difficult, even today. But let’s try to have a (very succinct) overview of it.

The two main languages created by Tolkien, are Quenya and Sindarin which are the most famous ones because they’re the most comprehensive. These are two languages spoken by elves.

Quenya is said to be the “noble” language, and is inspired by Finnish, Latin and Greek. Sindarin, on the other hand, is supposedly the language most commonly spoken by Elves in the Western part of Middle Earth. It is even referred to as the “elf-tongue” in The Lord of the Rings, which shows how common it is among this community. It is inspired by Old Norse and Welsh.

However, these two languages, despite their differences, were related. It is worth noting that, Tolkien, being a linguist, was always searching for new elements to add to these languages and all the languages he created, but these two in particular, were modified a lot before finally becoming “fixed” with the publication of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Apart from these two famous and really comprehensive languages, the two main ones spoken by elves among the dozens he invented for this community, Tolkien invented languages, or parts of languages, for a lot of different people in his books.

  • Khuzdul is the language of dwarves. Phonetically speaking, it leans towards Hebrew, but some traits sound Arabic. Tolkien constructed it so that it would seem “umbrous and unlovely” compared with the elves languages.
  • Black Speech is the language created by Sauron, the novels’ antagonist, to be the languages of all the servants of Mordor (Sauron’s realm). There is only one sentence in this language in the whole saga, which is the engraving on the ‘One Ring’.
  • Westron is the language of men, spoken in all of Middle Earth. In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Westron was presented as having been completely translated into English.
  • Entish is the language of Ents, though we don’t know a lot about this language.

These are the main languages we can present, but Tolkien created dozens of languages, some being archaic forms of others, like Valarin, Orkish, Quenderin Avarin Common Eldarin Nandorin, Doriathrin, Falathrin, North Sindarin  Noldorin Sindarin, Oromëan, Adûnaic, and many others.

In any case, Sindarin and Quenya remain usually the most well- remembered languages from Tolkien, for they are really comprehensive. So, if you feel bored or if you are still hesitating between learning Spanish or German, why not choose Tolkien’s linguistics? You may never be fluent in Elvish, (or get the chance to speak it!) but there’s a whole world to study! After all, as Gandalf would say “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Interesting article! I enjoyed it very much.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. R. Jane Bowen says:

    You learn sommat every day, and today I learnt a little bit more about J.R.R. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Michelle says:

    Super interesting way to talk about Tolkien without drooling over the books like we’re (read I’m) prone to doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi and thank you for your fantastic review . I surely like the way you write. After i found your book review i started searching and found the book on http://www.goreadabook.org/book/395547695/a-tale-of-two-cities . Not sure if i am allowed to paste a link(forgive me if not) . I almost finished reading the book and i I think A Tale of Two Cities is a fantastic book and everyone should read it. You must make more book reviews because you are good at.

    Liked by 2 people

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