Major splits and variations were a result of the Great March of the Elves and the other migrations of the following millennia.
- Primitive Quendian (language of the Elves in Cuiviénen)
- Various Avarin languages (some later merged with Nandorin)
- Common Eldarin (the early language of all the Eldar)
- Quenya (the language of the Ñoldor and the Vanyar)
- Common Telerin (the early language of all the Lindar)
- Telerin (the language of the Teleri who reached the Undying Lands; considered a dialect of Quenya, although of different branch)
- Nandorin (languages of the Nandor — some were influenced by Avarin)
- Sindarin (language of the Sindar)
Tolkien used the Roman alphabet to write the names and words of Elvish origin in his works. Sindarin and Quenya have in most aspects very much the same rules in his spelling of the names. Tolkien used the Roman letters having in mind "neutral" values, close to their original Latin ones: open, consistent and straightforward pronunciation, without glides.
It's important to remember that, while most samples of the Elvish language are written with the Latin alphabet, within the fiction the languages were written using Tengwar, or occasionally carved in Cirth.
The following table gives pronunciation for each letter or cluster in international phonetic script and examples:
|Letter / Digraph||Pronunciation||IPA||Further comment|
|a||as in father, just short||[ɑ]||never as in cat|
|á||as in father||[ɑː]||/|
|â||(in Sindarin) as in father, but even longer||[ɑːː]||/|
|ae||(in Sindarin) the vowels described for a and e in one syllable.||[ɑɛ̯]||Similar to ai|
|ai||a diphthong, similar to that in eye, but with short vowels||[ɑɪ̯]||never as in rain|
|au||a and u run together in one syllable. Similar to the sound in house||[ɑʊ̯]||never as in sauce|
|aw||(in Sindarin) a common way to write au at the end of the word||[ɑʊ̯]||/|
|e||as in pet||[ɛ]||/|
|é||the same vowel lengthened (and in Quenya more closed; as in German)||S: [ɛː], Q: [eː]||Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound as in English rain|
|ê||(in Sindarin) the vowel of pet especially lengthened||[ɛːː]||Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound as in English rain|
|ei||as in eight||[ɛɪ̯]||never as in either (in neither pronunciation)|
|eu||(in Quenya) e and u run together in one syllable||[ɛʊ̯]||never as in English or German|
|i||as in machine, but short||[i]||not opened as in fit|
|í||as in machine||[iː]||/|
|î||(in Sindarin) as in machine, but especially lengthened||[iːː]||/|
|iu||(in Quenya) i and u run together in one syllable||[iʊ̯]||later by men often as in English you|
|o||open as in British got||[ɔ]||/|
|ó||the same vowel lengthened (and in Quenya more closed; as in German)||S: [ɔː], Q: [oː]||Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound of "long" English cold|
|ô||(in Sindarin) the same vowel especially lengthened||[ɔːː]||Rural Hobbit pronunciation allows the sound of "long" English cold|
|oi||(in Quenya) as in English coin||[ɔɪ̯]||/|
|oe||(in Sindarin) the vowels described for o and e in one syllable.||[ɔɛ̯]||Similar to oi. Cf. œ!|
|œ||(in Sindarin) as in German Götter||[œ]||in published writing often oe has falsely been used, as in Nírnaeth Arnoediad!|
|u||as in cool, but shorter||[u]||not opened as in book|
|ú||as in cool||[uː]||/|
|û||(in Sindarin) the same vowel as above, but especially lengthened||[uːː]||/|
|y||(in Sindarin) as in French lune or German süß, but short||[y]||not found in English|
|ý||(in Sindarin) as in French lune or German süß||[yː]||/|
|ŷ||(in Sindarin) as in French lune or German süß, but even longer||[yːː]||not found in English|
(Only those differing from English are mentioned)
- The letter c is always pronounced like the letter k, even before i and e.; for instance, Celeborn is pronounced Keleborn, and Cirth is pronounced Kirth.
- The letter k, is by exception attested in early, unpublished manuscripts by Tolkien, before he settled on c. It can be found on some published names such as Ekkaia, although it would be identical with *Eccaia (the difference would be only aesthetic.
- Also, note that k is used by tradition to asterisked Primitive Quendian and Old Sindarin words, in order to differentiate them from later forms.
- The letter g is never pronounced in the soft form, as in giant. For instance, Region is pronounced unlike the English word region.
- The letter r is lightly trilled, as in Spanish.
- The digraph dh, as in Caradhras, is pronounced like the th in this.
- The digraph ch, as in Orch, is pronounced as in German ach.
Other versions of the legendarium
Other Elvish languages
Since Tolkien, others have invented Elvish languages in their own fiction. Some of them borrow elements from Tolkien, or simply retain similar structure and appearance.
- Darnassian and Thalassian, the languages of the Elves in the Warcraft universe.
- Ssamath, the language of the Dark Elves or Drow of Dungeons & Dragons settings
- Common Elvish, the language of the surface Elves of D&D
- Eltharin, the language of the elves of Warhammer
- Fan-Eltharin, the language of the Wood Elves
- Tar-Eltharin, the language of the Sea Elves and High Elves
- Drukh-Eltharin, the language of the Dark Elves
- Elvish language of Andrzej Sapkowski's Hexer saga, based on Welsh and English
- The Ancient Language The language of the elves in Eragon, also spoken by the riders.
- Reymond E. Feist has coined the words Caledhel and Moredhel for races of his Elves in Midkemia; these are perfect Sindarin for "light elf" and "black elf" although as such, they haven't appeared in Tolkien's works (calben and morben are the actual Sindarin terms).
J. R. R. Tolkien created many languages for the Elves to compliment his books set in the fictional universe of Middle-earth. His interest was primarily philological, and he said his stories grew out of his languages. Indeed, the languages were the first thing Tolkien ever created for his mythos, starting with "Qenya", the earliest form of elvish.
Tolkien had experimented with inventing languages during his youth long before creating his legendarium.