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J. R. R. Tolkien Writes & Speaks in Elvish, a Language He Invented for The Lord of the Rings


J. R. R. Tolkien was undoubtedly a storyteller, however he was much more of a world-builder. One might learn the Lord of the Rings novels the primary time for the excessive journey, however one re-reads them to proceed inhabiting the painstakingly crafted alternate actuality of Center-Earth. Tolkien put critical effort and time into the range of not simply its magic, its geography, and its inhabitants, but additionally of its languages. Certainly, the entire of his masterwork might pretty be stated to have served his linguistic pursuits in the beginning: “Invention of languages is the inspiration,” he as soon as wrote. “The ‘tales’ had been made reasonably to supply a world for the languages than the reverse.”

An Oxford philologist with a particular curiosity in Outdated Norse, Tolkien had been experimenting with constructed languages since adolescence. Nevertheless it was The Lord of the Rings that allowed him to interact absolutely in that pursuit, spurring the creation of such tongues as Adûnaic, Dwarvish, and Entish. Like anybody of his linguistic experience, he understood that, in actuality, most languages come to us not in isolation however in households, and it’s the household of Elvish languages — together with Quendya, Exilic Quenya, Telerin, Sindarin, and Nandorin — that represents the top of his language-construction mission.

In the video on the prime of the put up, Tolkien himself reads aloud an Elvish-language poem. Slightly below, you possibly can see him writing in Elvish script, or Tengwar, one of many seven writing programs he created for The Lord of the Rings alone. He didn’t simply assemble it out of kinds that regarded good to him: a lot as with the Elvish language itself, he made certain that it plausibly descended from extra fundamental ancestors, and that it mirrored the historical past, social practices, and mythology of its fictional customers. However nor are Elvish or Tengwar fully freed from any affect from what’s spoken and written in our personal world, on condition that Tolkien might draw on English, Outdated Norse, and Latin, but additionally Outdated English, Gothic, Spanish, Italian, and Greek.

Tolkien additionally took a powerful curiosity within the Finnish language. In a letter to W. H. Auden, he likened it to “a whole wine-cellar full of bottles of a tremendous wine of a form and taste by no means tasted earlier than.” The affect of Finnish manifests in sure traits of the Elvish language of Quenya — “the absence of any consonant combos initially, the absence of the voiced stops b, d, g (besides in mb, nd, ng, ld, rd, that are favored) and the fondness for the ending -inen, -ainen, -oinen” — however one suspects that Tolkien’s broader literary sensibility was formed extra by the Kalevala, the nineteenth-century nationwide epic that impressed him to take up the examine of Finnish within the first place. How shut he ever bought to mastery historical past hasn’t recorded, however as a fellow Finnish-learner, I can attest that se ei ole helppoa.

Associated content material:

Map of Center-Earth Annotated by Tolkien Present in a Copy of Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien, Utilizing a Tape Recorder for the First Time, Reads from The Hobbit for 30 Minutes (1952)

When J. R. R. Tolkien Labored for the Oxford English Dictionary and “Realized Extra … Than Any Different Equal Interval of My Life” (1919-1920)

Animated Video Explores the Invented Languages of Lord of the Rings, Sport of Thrones & Star Trek

Uncover Lincos, the Language a Dutch Mathematician Invented Simply to Speak to Extraterrestrials (1960)

Primarily based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His tasks embrace the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the e book The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by means of Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.


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