For the complete ignorants: Once upon a time - from 1892 to 1973, to be exact - there lived a man by the name of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. In 1937 he published a children's book, The Hobbit, that sold quite well. The story is set in a remote past when Elves, Dwarves and other fabulous beings still walked the earth. Tolkien started to work on a sequel, but the story exploded and grew into a mammoth novel that took well over fifteen years to write. In 1954-55 Tolkien finally published the ultimate fantasy novel, the trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Following Tolkien's death his son Christopher edited and published a constructed mythology, The Silmarillion, from his father's manuscripts. This provided the "historical background" for the two other books. Together these books describe an entire imagined world, complete with geography, demography, history - and languages. The languages are absolutely crucial. Tolkien had been inventing languages since early childhood. And he repeatedly stated that he invented his world for the one purpose of having a setting where his "Elvish languages" could exist, though others found this hard to believe.
Why study these languages? In my essay Tolkien's Not-So-Secret-Vice, found on this website, I list several possible reasons: "The very fact that no real Elvish grammars written by Tolkien have been published makes it a fascinating challenge to 'break the code'. Or it may be pure romanticism, a special form of literary immersion: By studying the Eldarin languages, you try to get closer to - indeed into the heads of - the immortal Elves, fair and wise, the Firstborn of Eru Ilúvatar, teachers of mankind in its youth. Or, less romantically, you want to study the constructions of a talented linguist and the creative process of a genius engaged in his work of love. And many simply enjoy the Elvish languages as one might enjoy music, as elaborate and (according to the taste of many) gloriously successful experiments in euphony." The entire mood and flavour of Tolkien's world is somehow captured and contained in his languages. And by all means: they are not "fake"! To call them "constructed" as opposed to "natural languages" is not very helpful, for all languages are "constructed". The languages some call "natural" are simply constructed over many centuries by people who for the most part were little conscious of what they were doing. Though Tolkien's languages were made by one man who definitely knew what he was doing, they too have a history of change and evolution - even in two dimensions, both the (all too numerous) revisions made by Tolkien during his lifetime and the imaginary development inside the invented world. In my opinion, Tolkien's linguistic constructions are best considered "simulated languages".
But though people have been studying Tolkien's languages quite seriously for decades, I found that there was relatively little information about these languages on the net. What there was turned out to be mostly amateurish, incomplete, inaccurate and outdated, or in one case - namely Anthony Appleyard's work - very concentrated and technical, excellent for those who are already deep into these things, but probably difficult to absorb for beginners. This lack of good information on the net was all the more surprising considering that the Tolklang list has as much as seven hundred subscribers, more than the regular Tolkien list! So I set out to make a site devoted to Tolkienian linguistics. An attempt is here made to extract the purely linguistic information from the published writings and present it in a form that is hopefully easily accessible. I especially want to help writers and provide them with up-to-date information (and plausible theories) concerning Quenya and Sindarin. In Tolkien's mythos, Quenya was "an ancient tongue of Eldamar beyond the Sea, the first to be recorded in writing", while Sindarin was the living vernacular of the Grey-elves in Middle-earth (LotR Appendix F). These two were ever the most important languages in the mythos, and they are the only languages that are so complete that it is possible for us to use them (though the gaps in our knowledge sometimes make such efforts comparable to that of Ernest Wright, who wrote a whole book - Gadsby - never once using the letter e).
However, the information found here will not make much sense if you are not familiar with Tolkien's mythos. Tolkien's languages and Tolkien's world are intimately connected and basically inseparable. Here I extract, analyze and present naked linguistic information, but these essays are intended to supplement and not to replace Tolkien's own writings - including all the material made available to us by Christopher Tolkien's painstaking editing work over so many years. Indeed I am happy to dedicate this web-page to him. I can only reiterate that the information on this page will make very little sense if it is removed from the context and the background it belongs to: Tolkien's incredibly detailed "secondary world". This is merely a linguistic supplement to Tolkien's writings, providing linguistic information just like Robert Foster's excellent Complete Guide to Middle-earth provides historical and factual information, but who would skip The Lord of the Rings for this guide? See below concerning what books students of Tolkien's languages should get.
Then a few practicalities.
The documents on this web page are written in the Common Tongue of this age, Anglian or in its own term English. Anglian is a not-so-ancient tongue of Britannia beyond the Sea, definitely not the first to be recorded in writing, but once it was recorded, its users never took courage and revised the spelling - no matter how irregular and ridiculous it became as the centuries passed by and numerous sound-changes caused great upheavals in the phonology. Later, the Anglians decided that the rest of the world was just dying to be ruled by them and did their best to comply. Thus their tongue was spread to many lands and continents. Unfortunately, the colonies eventually proved ungrateful and rejected the beneficient, civilizing rule of the Anglians. An early and prominent case was the great (very great, actually) isle of America, but later a number of other states followed suit, and the Empire crumbled. Nonetheless, the Anglian tongue had become very widespread. Moreover, the great (still very great) isle of America rose to a position of immense political power and cultural dominance, flooding the world with movies, soap operas and songs in the Anglian tongue (the songs, at least, could not be dubbed). Though others often found this tongue difficult to pronounce, not just because the spelling only hinted how the words were pronounced but also because the language was full of blurred vowels and weird spirants and sibilants, it at least had a fairly simple grammar. In particular, the language had disposed of cases and different genders of the noun. So after all, it was about as good a lingua franca as one could realistically hope for. In any case, there was no real alternative, to the great regret of the Esperantists and the French.
This, then, was the tongue the present writer - himself a Norwegian - had to use when he prepared the material for this site, having a world-wide audience in mind. In some cases, he observed that the British and the American Loremasters do not agree on certain points when it comes to the representation of Anglian in writing. In such cases I feel perfectly free to make my own choice. I write colour instead of color, for that is what I learnt at school. In the case of British analyse vs. American analyze and similar words, such as realise vs. realize, I go with the Americans: the sibilant is voiced Z! For some stupid reason, the Americans and the British don't agree on which quotation marks to use, "..." or '....'. Here I use "..." for primary quotation and '...' for a quotation inside a quotation, following American (and Norwegian) usage. However, the Americans have introduced a weird (not to say WRONG) order of symbols when a quotation mark occurs together with a full stop; they insist on placing the quotation mark at the end even if the quotation does not embrace the whole sentence:
American: Tolkien's linguistic constructions are best considered
British: Tolkien's linguistic constructions are best considered 'simulated languages'.
The British system is clearly the most logical; the quotation marks should be treated like parentheses: Who would conclude a sentence with .) unless the parentheses embraced the whole sentence? Well, I guess many ignorants would. But in this case, I go with the British, except that I use the American quotation marks. (Tolkien's linguistic constructions are best considered "simulated languages".) Norwegian, of course, uses the nice, correct, logical system.
Many American Loremasters insist that the abbreviation i.e. should be followed by a comma. The British Loremasters tend to disagree. So do I.
The system outlined here is just the one I use myself. I will not impose it on articles written by other people (especially native speakers of English), if such articles are added to my page.
There is also the problem of giving references to the core literature: The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. (The Hobbit has very little linguistic material.) There are so many editions and translations around that I cannot simply refer to a certain page. Unfortunately, the references can be no more accurate than the chapter or appendix in question.
The Lord of the Rings, hereinafter LotR, is typically published in three volumes. Tolkien did not think of it as a "trilogy", for the volumes 1-3 tell just one story and cannot be read independently. Nonetheless, the volumes have individual titles: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. We will call them simply LotR1, LotR2 and LotR3. Each of these contains two "books": I and II in LotR1, III and IV in LotR2 and V and VI in LotR3. These "books", unlike the volumes, represent the logical division of the story. Each of them has its own chapters 1, 2, 3 etc. So a reference like "LotR3/VI ch. 5" means that you are to look up The Return of the King, find Book Six that is in this volume, look up chapter 5 and start to turn the pages frenetically until you either find the reference or have a nervous breakdown. The Appendices to LotR are simply referred to as Appendix A, B etc. In the case of The Silmarillion, I simply refer to the chapter in question by its number (and to the Ainulindalë, the Valaquenta and the Akallabêth by name).
Luckily, many of the other books exist in one edition only, so here I can give exact page references. These are the abbreviations used:
RGEO: The Road Goes Ever On (Second Edition 1978, ISBN
UT: Unfinished Tales (1980, ISBN 0-04-823208-4)
Letters: The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981, ISBN 0-04-440664-9)
MC: The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (1983, ISBN 0-04-809019-0)
and the twelve volumes of the History of Middle-earth series (called HoME as a whole):
LT1: The Book of Lost Tales 1 (1983, ISBN 0-04-823231-5)
LT2: The Book of Lost Tales 2 (1984, ISBN 0-04-823338-2)
LB: The Lays of Beleriand (1985, ISBN 0-04-440018-7)
SM: The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986, ISBN 0-04-440150-7)
LR: The Lost Road (1987, ISBN 0-04-440398-4)
RS: The Return of the Shadow (1988, ISBN 0-04-440669-X)
TI: The Treason of Isengard (1989, ISBN 0-261-10220-6)
WR: The War of the Ring (1990, ISBN 0-261-10223-0)
SD: Sauron Defeated (1992, ISBN 0-261-10305-9)
MR: Morgoth's Ring (1993, ISBN 0-261-10300-8)
WJ: The War of the Jewels (1994, ISBN 0-395-71041-3)
PM: The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996, ISBN 0-216-10337-7)
From a linguistic point of view, the most important books in HoME are The Lost Road and The War of the Jewels. LR is absolutely indispensable if you want to study Tolkien's languages seriously, for this book reproduces the all-important Etymologies, our prime source of Elvish vocabulary. The War of the Jewels contains the essay Quendi and Eldar, that deals with the Elvish names of various incarnates and incidentally gives away much information about the languages in question. These two books should - indeed must - be in the library of any serious student of Elvish.
What other books you should purchase depends on your interests. If you want to study Adûnaic (Númenórean) the book to get is Sauron Defeated. Here is found an extensive and detailed, though never completed account of this language. SD also includes quite a few Tengwar inscriptions, both in English, Sindarin and Old English. The longest Sindarin text that has ever been published, The King's Letter, is also found in SD. If you are interested in Westron, The Peoples of Middle-earth gives many more "original" forms of the names Anglicized by Tolkien than the ones mentioned in the appendices to LotR. If you want to study the earliest forms of the languages that finally became Quenya and Sindarin (sc. "Qenya" and "Gnomish"), you should get the two volumes of The Book of Lost Tales, where Christopher Tolkien quotes many words and forms from the very first Elvish wordlists made by his father, dating back to about 1915.
Outside HoME, the most interesting books are The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, The Road Goes Ever On and The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. MC contains Tolkien's essay A Secret Vice, with Tolkien's thoughts and theories about language-making, plus one "Gnomish" and some early "Qenya" poems - one of them with a translation into mature Quenya, providing us with a unique opportunity to compare the two versions directly. The Road Goes Ever On contains Tengwar calligraphy of the poems Namárië and A Elbereth Gilthoniel as well as interlinear translations of them, followed by Tolkien's notes. Much valuable information about the Elvish languages is also found scattered around in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien; see for instance letters # 211, 297 and 347.