What you didn’t know about Tolkien’s languages

It’s quite an art to invent languages ​​for fictional settings. JRR Tolkien may not have invented the concept, but he was the one who standardized the practice and gave it a name, glossopoeia. Tolkien’s vast lore describing Middle-earth consisted of several such invented languages. It is common knowledge that he based most of his work on Old English and the Old Germanic languages, which were his academic domain.


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Tolkien was not just a writer. He was also an artist, calligrapher and linguist, and his linguistic creations are among the many details that made the the Lord of the Rings such an immersive story. There’s even an annual meeting for anyone interested in Tolkien’s languages, Middle-earth traditions, or linguistics in general: the Omentielva, or International Conference on the Languages ​​Invented by JRR Tolkien. But for those interested in learning more, these details are a good place to start.

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6 Inspired by the tradition of Finland

Tolkien drew inspiration from Icelandic heroic sagas and the Finnish language. He also based the primitive mythology of Arda on the ancient legends and stories of Norse gods. In The Letters from JRR Tolkien, he once compared his discovery of a Finnish grammar book to discovering a vast wine cellar filled with unique new vintages.

The grammar and structure of Finnish formed the basis of many Middle-earth languages, especially the language of the Elves. His specialty was the study of ancient Germanic languages, which he used when creating the languages ​​of Middle-earth, Numenor and Valinor. However, it was a dialect outside his area of ​​expertise that inspired Tolkien the most.

5 The Lhammas

The languages ​​Tolkien created were so important to world-building and the backstory of stories that he published the llamas, a sociolinguistic piece on all the languages ​​of Middle-earth. It was included in The Lost Road and Other Writingswhich was published in 1987, and is volume 5 of the series The History of Middle-earth.

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“Lhammas” is a Noldorin word, which is one of the oldest Elvish languages ​​of Arda, and it means “count of tongues”. He theorizes, as any linguistics book would, that all languages ​​spoken in Middle-earth in the Third Age descended in some way from the Valar. However, Tolkien seems to have changed his mind about this later. He decided that the Elves developed their own language and that Sauron preferred to use languages ​​of his own invention because of his hatred for anything the Elves or Valar created.

4 The Oromean language family of the Elves

The name of this language family is taken from the name of the Valar Oromë, who first taught the Elves how to speak. Tolkien assigned the languages ​​of the Elves to the Oromëan language family. Some of the languages ​​of humans share some of the same characteristics, but it depends on time and place. In the later years of Numenor, for example, when Sauron dominated the Imperial rulers, Elvish culture – including their language – came to be frowned upon.

Tolkien invented many different languages, but he spent the most time on Elvish dialects. Between 1910 and 1955, he created up to 15. Sindarin and Quenya are the best known of these, being the vernacular of two major branches of the Elvish race.

3 The Dwarven Aulëan Language Family

It makes sense that the language of the Dwarves bears the name of the Valar who created them, Aulë. The languages ​​of humans also borrow from the Khuzdul language to some extent, but this language is unique among others in Middle-earth in the sense that it is mostly a secret. The dwarves only speak it among themselves in the privacy of their mountain homes.

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Not only do the dialects of this language family sound different from those of the Oromëan group, but they also use a different script. The runes are distinctive and were inspired by ancient Semitic languages ​​as opposed to Norse or Germanic, which Tolkien clarified in a 1971 BBC interview.

2 Melkian, the language of evil creatures

The language of Orcs, Goblins, and other twisted inhabitants of Mordor should bear the name Maia Melkor. The Melkian languages ​​were meant to be an anti-artistic, ugly, guttural speech, the opposite of everything that made the ancient Elvish languages ​​a thing of beauty. The Melkian dialect dates back to the First Age and is not the same as the Black Speech, a formal language derived from Quenya by Sauron.

Black Speech was an artificially constructed language that was intended to function as a vernacular among Sauron’s various servants. That’s why he used it to decorate the One Ring.

1 Tolkien created not only the words, but also the script

One of the most talented writers of the 20th century, Tolkien was also an accomplished visual artist. Popular media tout Tolkien’s obvious writing talent, but he was also an accomplished illustrator, painter, and calligrapher.

Tolkien had a special love for calligraphy, which was also useful when creating the alphabet and writing for the languages ​​he created. He didn’t just use this talent for his work of fiction either. Tolkien invented scripts for personal use in his diary, letters, and other works. Even the boring Old Modern English language got the Tolkien treatment. Fans and aficionados will be able to find this type of work in the 1996 book, JRR Tolkien: artist and illustrator.

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