An Introduction to Elvish

From Tolkien Gateway
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.

Discussing the earliest stages of Elvish in The Book of Lost Tales, Christopher Tolkien suggested this book as a reference for the vocabulary of Quenya of the later stages.[1]

Structure[edit | edit source]

Eldarin tongues[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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 Rohanese); 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[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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.[2]

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 fans still appear to consent that the book is one of the best and more serious works, new material have rendered the theories incomplete or outdated. However, some of the parts of the book, like the one concerning real-world names and the writing systems, are still considered to provide useful information.[3]

Proto-Eldarin[edit | edit source]

In their articles, Christopher Gilson and Bill Welden attempt to shed light to the common ancestor of Quenya and Sindarin, dubbed "Proto-Eldarin" and investigate the sound changes from the First Age to the end of the Third Age. The authors claim to have seen some unpublished writings by Tolkien, which may explain how the Proto-Eldarin 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 Proto-Eldarin **wigyā.

The theories also described the evolution of Sindarin through words of palatal-final consonants (-ᶅ, -ɲ, -ᶉ) which sometimes caused umlaut. 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 no palatalisation occurs; a word such as *winjā would evolve to *winia and umlauts are the result of a much later i-affection.

The authors generally assume that Proto-Eldarin lost its final sounds before the Quenya stage. For example, Quenya alda has been wrongly attributed to a Proto-Eldarin word **galdar, with loss of -r; the plural form **galdari produced Quenya plural aldar. In the Sindarin branch, the form **gald produced Sindarin galadh through epenthesis (called svarabhakti in the book).[4]

The analysis also correctly supposed the existence of initial nasal stops, such as mb- which evolved to Quenya m- and Sindarin b-. Ironically, the foreword of the book mentions that the theory was deemed as incompatible to new Elvish data found in the recent Silmarillion, and suggested that the evidence for the nasal stops was only a result of coincidence.[2] However, later sources such as The Etymologies confirmed that initial nasal stops indeed existed in the Primitive Quendian stage (cf. words like ndōro, mbandō, ñgōlē).[5][6]