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Shortly after the first Elves awoke at Cuiviénen, they began to devise names for the various things they encountered in the world. For this reason, they referred to themselves as Quendi ("speakers") as they had not met any other creatures that spoke or sang. In time, the speech of the Elves began to develop into a form of language. The Elves were later discovered by the Vala Oromë, who dubbed them the Eldar (meaning "star-folk" in their tongue). He invited the Elves to live with the Valar in Valinor, the Uttermost West, where they would be protected from the monstrous creatures of Melkor.
Those who undertook the Great Journey to the West adopted the Eldar name, while others chose to remain in their original homelands in the East. This latter group was known as the Avari ("unwilling"). The sundering of the Elven kindreds led to the first split in their language's development. During the long years of the Journey, the language of the Eldar changed and evolved into a form known as Common Eldarin. The language of the Avari however developed along different lines in the eastern lands, eventually splitting into the various Avarin tongues. As the ages passed and the languages of the Elves continued to change amid migrations, war, and the rise and fall of kingdoms, there were few (if any) of the Firstborn left in Middle-earth who still remembered the earliest form of their speech.
 Use within the legendarium
Primitive Quendian is a retroactive term used by the loremasters for the earliest ancestor of the Elvish languages. The etymologies published in The Lost Road and Other Writings and later etymological essays often derived terms common to Eldarin languages from Primitive Quendian bases, and a list of some Primitive Quendian words is given in an essay Quendi and Eldar (in The War of the Jewels).
See also: Languages
According to Ross Smith, the description of how Elves created languages encapsulates Tolkien's notions about the birth of language. In that primitive stage, there was an original semantic unity among sign, signifier, and signified, which then fragmented into more complex systems, resulting in speech and naming. According to Smith, Tolkien's views coincide with those of Owen Barfield.
|Languages in Tolkien's works|
|Elvish languages||Avarin · Common Eldarin · Mátengwië · Nandorin · Primitive Quendian · Quenya (Exilic · Valinorean · Vanyarin) · Silvan · Sindarin (Doriathrin · Falathrin · Númenórean · Mithrim · Old) · Telerin|
|Mannish languages||Adûnaic · Dalish · Drúedainic · Dunlendish · Pre-Númenórean · Rohirric · Taliska · Westron (Hobbitish)|
|Dwarvish languages||Iglishmêk · Khuzdul|
|Other languages||Black Speech · Entish · Orkish · Valarin · Warg-language|
|Earlier legendarium||Gnomish · Ilkorin · Noldorin (Kornoldorin) · Qenya|
|Outside the legendarium||Animalic · Arktik · Mágol · Naffarin · Nevbosh|
|Real-world||AB language · Celtic · English (Old English, Middle English) · Finnish · Germanic · Gothic · Hebrew · Welsh|
|Scripts||Angerthas/Cirth (Daeron · Erebor · Moria) · Gnomic Letters · Goblin Alphabet · Gondolinic Runes · Moon-letters · Tengwar · Sarati · Valmaric script|
|"A Secret Vice" (book) · "The Lhammas" · "The Tree of Tongues" · Sub-creation|