This post will give you a short history of the language of the Elves and some ideas on how to learn it. To give you a visual overview I made a linguistic map of the how the Elvish language developed over time. There is a lot of verbiage on the web, so I thought a clear language tree would clarify how Elvish changed into its modern forms.
Elves and their language
What was the language of the Elves? It was created by Tolkien and contained elements of Finnish and Welsh and I think ancient old Norse. Elvish also took inspiration from Anglo, Saxon, Old Germanic and the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien worked on the languages of the Elves his whole life. The primal Elf language was Quenya and Sindarin. Tolkien being a fan of philological studies was able to create a grammar and structure that people actually learned. I know a few people who were really into the Lord of the ring books and learned the language of the Elves.
Any mention of the Elves and or fantasy worlds and reality conjures up the likes of Sheldon Cooper, however it has a serious academic basis and value as a linguistic study. If there was a college course in Elvish I am sure it would have full enrollment.
Mythology of Elvish
The Elvish languages came about when the Elves awoke in the land of Cuiviénen in ancient times in the years of the trees. The Elves started to communicate with each other in a Primitive Quendian is the proto-language Elvish. Cuiviénen has since been destroyed and the Elves left this land. From Qundian two other modern Elvish language groups evolved.
- Avarin (the ones that did not come to Land of the Valar). From this six other languages evolved.
- Common – kwendī – Eldarin ascended into three branches:
- Quenya, Eldamar Elves who live beyond the great Sea;Telerin
- Teleri Elves, who live in Alqualondë and Tol Eressëa.
- Nandorin the language of the Nandor and Sindarin is a derivative of Nandorin.
The detailed history of the language can be found in the writings and notes of J.R.R. Tolkien. The Elvin tongue was started in 1910 and he worked on it until his passing in 1972.
Invented languages are always interesting. Most are based on some ancient human language. Elf language is similar to the Old Norse language for example. If people can create a language and learn the vocabulary, then speak it, learning a language that is spoken by millions, such as a modern European language is can be done.
The phonetics of of the language is often written in a Latin script but there are a few variation of the a Tolkien created script called Tengwar. I have wanted to create the fonts in a photo editor and then see if I could integrate it in some way with a qwerty keyboard overlay. Or at least make the fonts available for upload in a photo editor so you could write or produce art in the language of Middle Earth. I do not know anyone who has done this. If you have interest in this project let me know.
I think it would be fairly popular over the long-term because interest in Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit and The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin and lesser known work are not going out of style.
I think it would be a worthy study to learn some of the language because it is classical and inflected and although it would be a cognitive challenge you could extrapolate what you learn to other languages.
To learn the Elf language do the same as any language:
- I would create language flashcards to develop vocabulary with pronunciation on the cards until I understood how to read the letters phonetically.
- Focusing on verbs at first are the hardest but allows you to express ideas
- Build the basic vocabulary of about 2,500 words
- Practice by reading Elvish text and try to at least communicate with someone else who is learning it.
- Also take a lot of clues from Scandinavian languages in terms of structure and pronunciation.
Can you imagine if there was actually a community of people who spoke this language? I think it would be interesting.