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An Introduction to Elvish

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An Introduction to Elvish
AuthorJim Allan (ed)
PublisherBran's Head
ReleasedJanuary 1978

An Introduction to Elvish and to Other Tongues, Proper Names and Writing Systems of the Third Age of the Western Lands of Middle-Earth as Set Forth in the Published Writings of Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a book by Jim Allan that discussed the languages of Middle-earth.

The book comprises various articles written by members of the Mythopoeic Society and its publication was authorized by the Mythopoeic Linguistic Fellowship (a forerunner of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship).

Authors to the articles include: Jim Allan, Bill Welden, Paula Marmor, Christopher Gilson, Lise Menn, Laurence J. Krieg and others.



Eldarin tongues

The first articles offer analyses of the Elvish texts published. Extrapolation of a sketchy grammar is offered based on the available data, as well as meaning of the names found in the books.

There is also a chapter that goes on to discuss the relationship of Quenya and Sindarin and analyze a possible "Proto-Eldarin" through comparative linguistics.

These chapters are followed by glossaries pointing at possible real-word similarities.

An article written from Tolkien's secondary world perspective, explains how Elvish possibly influenced the Indo-European languages.

Other tongues

More obscure languages like Khuzdul, Black Speech, "Adûnaic tongues" and more obscure ones (Westron, Mannish, Entish, "Valinorean") are also briefly discussed. Their sources are primarily information as given in the Appendices.

Personal names

A part of the book is dedicated to tolkiennymy and provides etymologies of the Old English, Gothic and Norse names and other words which represent Mannish languages (Westron and Rohirric); possible influences from British and Celtic folklore are pointed out.

There is also a "Baby-book" with all the known Germanic, Celtic and other real-world ("translated") Hobbit names by category and gender, along with their etymologies.

Writing systems

An extensive section with analyses of the Tengwar and Cirth in which aims to be more clear and readable presentation of the information of Appendix E, followed by theoretical and structural background, with a possible history of their evolution through time.

Examples of English-tengwar texts used by fans are given, with analyses and commentaries.

Also, a chapter compares Francis Lodwick's "Universal Alphabet" with Tengwar.

Sources and validity

The book was compiled shortly before The Silmarillion was published therefore its material was only the works published during Tolkien's lifetime: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, The Road Goes Ever On and Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings

The book was complete in 1977 but publication was halted for a year. The Silmarillion was published in the meantime which included new material that (in few points) obsoleted the theories of the book. A year later, and while the book was still in a hiatus, Jim Allan wrote about those points in the postscript of his Foreword; he points out that updating the text by incorporating the new information would not be possible, and encourages critical comparison by the reader.

Since 1977, a great amount of material was published in the History of Middle-earth series, not to mention magazines such as Vinyar Tengwar and Parma Eldalamberon; while the fans consent that the book is one of the best and more serious works[1], new material renders the theories incomplete or outdated. In reality some of its parts, like the one concerning real-world names and the writing systems, still provide useful information.


In two articles by Christopher Gilson and Bill Welden attempt to shed light to the common language of the Elves "of the First Age". The authors claim to have seen some unpublished writings by Tolkien, which may explain how the PE reconstructions correctly end in long vowels. Of course, with limited material (The Etymologies and similar works where Tolkien discusses Primitive Quendian and Roots were not published until 10 years later) there were some implausible reconstructions. For example, the words vilya and gwai are treated as cognates, derived from PE **wigyā.

The theories also described the evolution of Sindarin through words of palatal-final consonants (-ᶅ, -ɲ, -ᶉ) which sometimes caused i-affection. For example *winjā > *weiɲ (written weiny) > -wain. The Etymologies and other works have revealed the evolution of Sindarin through Common Telerin and Old Noldorin where *winjā would evolve to *winia.

It is generally assumed that Proto-Eldarin lost its final sounds before the Quenya stage. For examples Q. alda and S. galadh have been falsely attributed to a PE word **galdar, with loss of -r; the plural form **galdari produced Q. pl. aldar. In the Sindarin branch, the form **gald produced S. galadh through epenthesis (called svarabhakti in the book).

The analysis also correctly supposed the existence of initial nasal stops, such as mb- which evolved to Q. m- and S. b-. Ironically, the prologue of the book says that the theory was incompatible to evidence from the recent The Silmarillion, and attributable to coincidences. However, The Etymologies showed that initial nasal stops indeed existed in the PQ stage.