Tolkien's Linguistics: The Artificial Languages of Quenya and Sindarin

Laura Coker


J.R.R Tolkien is famously known for his intricate world of Middle-earth, and the complex history that shaped his fantasy world into a literary masterpiece; however, often overlooked, are the languages of Middle-earth, especially the completeness of the Elvish languages, Quenya and Sindarin. Artificial languages or “artlangs,” have been popular for years ranging from Newspeak in George Orwell’s 1984 to Klingon found in Star Trek, and although artlangs were not a new trend when Tolkien created his Elvish languages, Quenya and Sindarin remain the most developed artificial languages created in literature. The first part of the paper discusses Tolkien’s fascination with languages and his career in philology. He used characteristics of natural languages such as Welsh, Finnish, and Latin to create Quenya and Sindarin. This discussion leads to the topic of artificial languages and how Tolkien managed to create two complete languages along with alphabets, writing systems, lexicons, and grammatical structures. Next, Quenya and Sindarin are discussed in detail. In this section, there is a grammatical analysis of both languages, such as the consonant change, lenition, which is found in Welsh and also appears in Sindarin. Quenya, however, has a complex inflectional system much like that of Latin. Quenya and Sindarin are known not only for their complexities, but also for their association with the Elvish race. There is a discussion of the hypnotic qualities of Quenya because of its inflectional system, which could suggest something sinister about the Elves even though they appear as a force of good in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The paper concludes with Tolkien’s influences on popular culture. Tolkien fans and scholars are now attempting to synthesize Elvish so that it might one day be spoken in a world outside of The Lord of the Rings novels.


J.R.R. Tolkien, Elvish, The Lord of the Rings

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