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Cover of Parma Eldalamberon 10, illustrated by Patrick H. Wynne. The left part is occupied by a Tengwar text in neo-Quenya describing the death of Glorfindel (The Book of Lost Tales Part 2, p.194).

Neo-Elvish is a term that can refer to Neo-Quenya and/or Neo-Sindarin. Neo-Elvish encompasses attempts to productively standardize, regularize and even reconstruct J.R.R. Tolkien's languages with the intent to be taught, studied and be used in fanon compositions. The terms Neo-Quenya, Neo-Sindarin etc arose so as to distinguish those attempts from Tolkien's own creations.

It must be noted that Neo-Elvish does not refer to original a priori creations; Neo-Elvish forms and grammar emerge from comparative and reconstruction methods from the canonical sources, albeit sometimes arbitrarily.


Overview of the problem

Tolkien did not leave behind a definite, canonical set of rules for his languages, and did not intend to create them in order to be useable. As a result, the information gathered posthumously from his notes might seem like fluid and fragmentary to someone who seeks to see a possible 'whole picture'. The absence of a final, canonical Quenya or Sindarin has the consequence that anyone attempting to compose an e.g. Quenya grammar, would eventually create a conventional, Neo-Quenya grammar.

In order to 'fill the gaps', such a person would rely on speculation, personal instinct and widely subjective interpretation; coping with Tolkien's continuous mutually exclusive revisions, the student would choose to reject Tolkien's older, temporary or 'anomalous' creations in order to keep the most plausibly canonical.

For example, Helge Fauskanger's grammar of Quenya, being such an attempt, is described as a: "synthetic and regularized form of Quenya formed by the selective piecing-together of evidences from across decades of Tolkien's successive versions and elaborations of Quenya".[1]


Attempts to study or write in Elvish date back to at least the 1970s. An example composition of that era is Valinorenna by Björn Fromén, published in the fanzine Palantiren 3 in 1973, using vocabulary only from words found in The Lord of the Rings.[2] Attempts continued the following decades, thanks to the publication of more of Tolkien's works, including the History of Middle-earth series, with most importantly, The Etymologies (1987), and the work of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship.

Such publications allowed the students to infer some grammar rules from Tolkien's writings, and also made known the etymological-derivational mechanics in which the Elvish languages work. It was thus made possible to create Sindarin words from Quenya cognates or artificially derive new words from related ones, or from Proto-Quendian roots.

David Salo has made attempts for the standardization of Sindarin and is often cited as an example of neo-Elvish proponents.

Attempts to write in Tolkien's languages include fanon literature, Tengwar tattoos, translations of Tolkien's works into Elvish,[3] translation of pre-existing literature such as Biblical passages, Christian prayers, original short poems and stories etc. Linguistic plays included the composition of (Neo-)Quenya poems without containing the very frequent vowel a[4] or the translation of Namárië to (Neo-)Telerin[5] or (Neo-)Sindarin[6].

Of course, the resulting 'literature' by no means represents a universal homogeneous consensus on Neo-Elvish. Each work reflects the personal understanding and preferences of its author at the time of writing and the conventions used can be mutually exclusive.

Similar attempts were made to reconstruct Elvish grammar rules, such as inferring a full working pronominal system based on Primitive Quendian evidence;[7] a system according to which the Sindarin verbs are possibly conjugated;[8] or the usage of Noldorin language of The Etymologies to create Sindarin forms. Such interpretations were partially obsoleted by later publications of Tolkien's papers, but offered a framework at their time.

The most prominent appearance of Neo-Elvish was in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, which made use of linguist David Salo's reconstructions. The movie also featured original lyrics in (Neo-)Elvish, (Neo-)Khuzdul, (Neo-)Black Speech and other languages. However the scarcity of information on Khuzdul etc necessitated wholly original creation of vocabulary and grammar rules.

The release of the films also boosted a temporary interest in studying and using Elvish.


While the understanding of Tolkien's languages is a direct result of serious study and Tolkienology and is solely based on canonical linguistic evidence, the quest for Neo-Elvish borders to fanon; critics speak about the "problematic and illusory nature of [Neo-Elvish] as anything other than an approximation and introduction to the study of Tolkien's own linguistic inventions"[9].

Critics say that Tolkien's intention did not move much further than simple creativity and experimentation and his languages are fluid in their very nature; standardizing or enriching them would only result in new original creations. They even claim that since a finalization was never a goal of Tolkien, after uncovering the full range of variation in Tolkien's conception of his languages, these will only frustrate rather than point towards a complete, definite form.

Other common fields of criticism have to do with

  • subjective conventions which eventually are presented and passed over and finally adopted as facts by newcomers to the field;
  • the arbitrary distinction of canon; a preference towards "mature Elvish" and rejection of early Qenya and Noldorin (whereas Tolkien never specifically divided the continuity of his languages as such);
  • the "artificial" distinction between "valid", LotR-style forms vs "obsolete", inconsistent early forms.
  • the simultaneous adoption of those very same Qenya and Noldorin sources to supplement the (Neo-)Quenya and Sindarin arsenal;
  • sources that 'promote' Neo-Elvish, are usually criticized for providing inadequate references; making no distinction between proper Quenya/Sindarin sources; selective or artificial normalizations; selective imports from early Elvish; not making clear the points where the author made personal interpretations. Thus, these sources deprive the reader of the whole image.

As an example, A Gateway to Sindarin was a recent target of criticism for attempting to present a standard ("fabricated") Sindarin, yet being subject to the above failures. Among others, the book describes a plural form of Sindarin gerunds, while such a function was never described or appeared in Tolkien's writings.[10]

See also


  1. Resources for Tolkienian linguistics at The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (accessed 16 June 2011)
  2. Valinorenna
  3. Cf. Quenta Silmarillion Eldalambenen Project
  4. A play
  5. Alatarielo Nainie
  6. Naergon Galadriel
  7. Ryszard Derdzinski's Elvish Pronouns
  8. Helge Fauskanger and David Salo's Reconstructing the Sindarin Verb System
  9. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named resources
  10. See "Elvish as She is Spoke" in the External links

External links