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"The High-elven was an ancient tongue of Eldamar beyond the Sea, the first to be recorded in writing. It was no longer a birth-tongue, but had become, as it were, an ‘Elven-latin’, still used for ceremony, and for high matters of lore and song, by the High Elves, who had returned in exile to Middle-earth at the end of the First Age."

Quenya (Q, pron. [ˈkʷwɛɲa])[2] was one of the languages spoken by the Elves. It was the tongue that developed among those non-Telerin Elves who reached Aman (the High Elves) from an earlier language called Common Eldarin. Quenya was typically written with the Tengwar of Fëanor. An older script, Rúmil's Sarati, was used also.


Of the three clans of Elves in Aman, the Noldor and the Vanyar spoke slightly different, though mutually intelligible, dialects of Quenya (Valinorean Quenya and Vanyarin Quenya respectively). Following the Exile of the Noldor in the First Age, a third dialect, Exilic Quenya or Noldorin Quenya, developed among the Noldor who had journeyed to Middle-earth. In general practice, the word Quenya usually refers to Noldorin Quenya, since it was the only Quenya dialect spoken in Middle-earth.

The language was also adopted by the Valar who made some new introductions into it from their own language, though these loanwords are more numerous in the Vanyarin dialect than the Noldorin one. This is probably the case because of the enduringly close relationship the Vanyar had with the Valar. The third clan in Aman, the Teleri, spoke a different, closely related language: Telerin. This was by some seen as a dialect of Quenya which was untrue in a historic perspective but plausible in a linguistic one; the languages did not share a common history but were very much alike.

The Noldor who fled to Middle-earth following the Darkening of Valinor spoke Quenya among themselves. However, when Elu Thingol of Doriath, who was the king of the Sindar (Elves of the Telerin line who remained in Beleriand instead of journeying to Valinor) learnt about their slaying of the Teleri, he forbade the use of Quenya in all his realm. The Sindar had been slow to learn Quenya anyway, while the Noldor at this time had fully mastered Sindarin.

Noldorin Quenya (Exilic) differed somewhat from Valinorean Quenya, because the language continued to evolve after exile, and it underwent some regularisation as it became a language of lore. There were also a few changes in pronunciation.

The Quenya used in Middle-earth of the Third Age had come to be a scholarly pursuit; it was not typically used in conversation. It was preserved as a formal language and for writing; Sindarin was the vernacular of all Elves. However, the Noldor still remembered Quenya and valued it highly and were delighted when other wanderers knew anything from the "Ancient Speech"; for example, Gildor and his party appreciated Frodo Baggins's greeting Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo ("A star shines on the hour of our meeting"). Galadriel was perhaps the only known High Elf in Middle-earth during that time who (having being born in Valinor) had learned Quenya as a cradle-tongue.

The poem Namárië is the longest piece of Quenya found in The Lord of the Rings. It is also known as Galadriel's Lament.


Main article: Quenya Grammar


Main article: Category:Quenya texts


The ingredients in Quenya are various, but worked out in a self-consistent character not precisely like any language that I know.

Quenya's phonology and grammar are most strongly influenced by Finnish, which is an agglutinative language; grammatical inspiration also comes from Latin and Greek. The phonology is also based on Finnish, and to a lesser extent Latin, Italian and Spanish. Some interesting phonological rules are that no consonant cluster can begin or end a syllable (with one exception, the dual dative ending -nt), a word may not end in a non-dental consonant, and voiced stops must be preceded by sonorants. The first two of these phonotactic rules also exist in Finnish.

The most striking feature of Quenya is that it is a highly agglutinating language, meaning that multiple affixes are often added to words to express grammatical function. It is possible for one Quenya word to have the same meaning as an entire English sentence. For example, one could say "I have found it" in Quenya in a single verb, namely utúvienyes.

Tolkien intended Quenya to be an archaic, ancient and august language for the peoples of Middle-earth of the Third Age, being the cultural analogue of Latin in Europe[3][4]. For that reason, he decided to make Quenya look like Latin ocularly[5] and substituted K for C and Q for QU.

Tolkien wrote much more material about Quenya and his other languages than he published in his lifetime. In fact, Tolkien, a professor of linguistics, originally invented Middle-earth and its inhabitants as a means of imposing upon his artificial languages a history of war, migration and suffering. The famous novels might be considered incidental to his further and more passionately developed linguistic hobby. The journals Vinyar Tengwar and Parma Eldalamberon are devoted to editing and publishing Tolkien's linguistic papers.

Quenya is one of many constructed languages introduced over the years by science fiction and fantasy writers, some others being Klingon, Newspeak, Nadsat, the Ascian language and Lapine.


The word Quenya is in origin an adjective meaning “belonging to the Quendi”, but despite this unspecific derivation is only ever used as a name of the language. It descends from an older form kwendjā, with the d surviving only in the Vanyarin dialect, where the name is still Quendya.[6]

In Sindarin and Telerin, the descendants of the word kwendjā became too unrecognisable after the sound shift kw > p. There the language is instead called “speech of the Ñoldor” (because both groups did not frequently interact with the Vanyar), that is Goldórin or Goldolambe[7] and Golodhbaeth or Paeth e Ngolodhrim[8] respectively.

Other versions of the legendarium

Quenya is possibly one of the very first creations of Tolkien's legendarium, as he started constructing it (see: Qenya Lexicon) around 1915, at the age of 23 years old; as he said various times, the languages came first, and stories followed out of the names.

In those early times, the language was called Qenya (although pronounced the same as Quenya), and it was spoken mainly by the "Teleri" (an early name for the High Elves that would be renamed Vanyar). The language underwent countless minor revisions in both grammar and vocabulary before it reached the form found in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. The spelling "Qenya" is used by the fandom to refer to the earlier concepts of the language as distinct from the LotR-style Quenya. However, the fluid nature of the revisions makes such a distinction a highly disputed one.

See also

External links


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of the Elves", p. 1132
  2. John D. Rateliff, Jason Fisher, Patrick H. Wynne, et al. (mailing list discussion), "a quick question" (#24071 and related messages; dated 29 January 2013), Mytsoc mailing list (accessed 30 January 2012)
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of the Elves"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 347, (dated 17 December 1972)
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144, (dated 25 April 1954)
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Three. The Wanderings of Húrin and Other Writings not forming part of the Quenta Silmarillion" p. 360, 361, 393.
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Three. The Wanderings of Húrin and Other Writings not forming part of the Quenta Silmarillion", p. 375.
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), p. 126.
Languages and scripts in Tolkien's works
Elvish Angerthas (Angerthas Daeron) · Avarin · Cirth (Certhas Daeron) · Common Eldarin · Mátengwië · Moon-letters · Nandorin · Primitive Quendian · Quenya (Exilic · Valinorean · Vanyarin) · Sarati · Silvan Elvish · Sindarin (Doriathrin · Falathrin · Númenórean · Mithrimin · Old) · Telerin (Common) · Tengwar
Mannish Adûnaic · Dalish · Drúadan · Dunlendish · Halethian · Northern Mannish · Pre-Númenórean · Rohanese · Taliska · Westron (Bucklandish · Hobbitish · Stoorish)
Dwarvish Angerthas (Erebor · Moria) · Aulëan · Iglishmêk · Khuzdul
Other Black Speech · Old Entish · Orkish · Valarin · Warg-language
Earlier legendarium Gnomish · Gnomic Letters · Gondolinic Runes · Ilkorin · Keladian · Noldorin (Kornoldorin) · Melkian · Oromëan · Qenya · Valmaric script
Outside the legendarium Animalic · Arktik · Gautisk · Goblin Alphabet · Mágol · Naffarin · New English Alphabet · Nevbosh · Privata Kodo Skauta
Real-world Celtic · English (Old · Middle · AB) · Finnish · Germanic · Gothic · Hebrew · Runic alphabet · Welsh
"A Secret Vice" (book) · "The Lhammas" · "The Tree of Tongues" · Sub-creation