“Buddy the Elf, What’s your Favorite Language?” Learning About Elvish

We have learned about conlangs (constructed languages) before, when we covered Dothraki and Klingon. As a refresher, a conlang is a language which was created for a specific purpose instead of developing naturally in the world. Usually, a conlang is developed for use in popular culture (in literature, television, movies, or videogames).

Many readers have probably heard of “Elvish” before, but may not know the background of how/why it was developed. Let’s learn a little bit more about Elvish!

The Creation of Elvish

The original collection of Elvish languages were created by none other than author J.R.R. Tolkein. In Tolkein’s works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, elves are an ancient, graceful, intelligent race of creature that inhabits Middle-earth. In order to build on the mythology of the Elves, Tolkein (a well-known philologist) constructed a primitive form of Elvish called “Qenya.” This language evolved and developed over time. Tolkein’s constructs were strongly influenced by the Finnish and Welsh languages.

Tolkein actually published linguistic papers based on his grammatical rules and lexical terms of the Elvish language. Even though Tolkein has passed away, these papers are updated whenever a change is made to his version of Elvish. Tolkein’s Elvish includes its own complex written structure called tengwar.

The creation of Tolkein’s Elvish inspired many other versions of Elvish, which have appeared in movies, video games, and board games alike over the past century.

Types of Elvish 

Middle-earth Elvish: Tolkein developed a complex family of Elvish languages. The two most complete Elvish languages, however, are Quenya (High-elven) and Sindarin (Grey-elven). Tolkein first started developing these circa 1910.

Elven: There are two types of “Elven.” The Elves of RuneScape speak one version of Elven, which is based off of the Welsh language; conversely, the Elves in Dungeons and Dragons speak another version of Elven, of which there are several dialects.

Darnassian, Nazja, and Thalassian: These three Elvish dialects are the Elvish tongues utilized in the Warcraft universe. In this world, these three languages evolved from ancient Elvish. Each dialect is spoken by different type of elf in the series.

Middle-earth Elvish Phrases 

Below are some common Middle-earth Elvish phrases which may help you should you ever find yourself there.

Gi suilon!: I greet you!

Pedig edhellen?: Do you speak Elvish?

No dirweg!: Beware!

Ego!: Go away!

Galu: Goodbye/ Good luck

If you’d like to learn more, you can visit this Elvish tutorial site.

While we here at Lionbridge onDemand do not offer Elvish translation services (yet), we do offer translation services for more than 250 different languages. Check us out over at the portal.