Neo-Quenya and/or Neo-Sindarin (collectively also called Neo-Elvish) represent attempts of post-Tolkien use of the Elvish languages. The attempts include a productive standardization, regularization and even reconstruction of J.R.R. Tolkien's languages with the intent to be taught, studied and be used in fanfic compositions or even in dialogue. The terms Neo- arose so as to distinguish those attempts from the canonical creations by Tolkien.
It must be noted that Neo-Elvish does not refer to original a priori creations; Neo-Elvish forms and grammar emerge from comparative and reconstructive methods from the canonical sources, albeit with varying arbitrarity.
Overview of the problem
In his youth, Tolkien composed a grammar on the language called Goldogrin. He also attempted to compose an Adûnaic grammar which he left unfinished. Other than these, he did not leave behind a definite set of rules for his later languages (which we would accept as "canonical") because he did not intend to create them with the purpose to be usable. 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 compile a grammar, would eventually create a conventional and subjective 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 be forced to become selective and follow some priorities; this usually means a tendecy to reject Tolkien's older, temporary or 'anomalous' conceptions in favor of those that (for whatever reason) seem most stable and 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".
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. 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.
Attempts to write in Tolkien's languages include fanfiction, tattoos or creations written in Tengwar, translations of Tolkien's works into Elvish, 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 or the translation of Namárië to (Neo-)Telerin or (Neo-)Sindarin.
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 among authors.
Similar attempts were made to reconstruct Elvish grammar rules, such as inferring a full working pronominal system based on Primitive Quendian evidence; a system according to which the Sindarin verbs are possibly conjugated; 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 a priori 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".
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 finalization was never a goal of Tolkien, uncovering the full range of variation in Tolkien's conception of his languages will only make a complete, definite form less rather than more achievable.
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.
As mentioned earlier neo-Elvish vocabulary is not a priori, but it is derived from the existing canon by means of reconstruction or analogy. Methods to create a needed word is:
(Neo-Elvish words are marked with a #)
- Analyse the etymology of a compound word and isolate the words it is composed of.
- Combine a known word-stem with a known affix.
- Create a meaningful compound from existing Elvish words.
- An example is Q #lapselunga for "pregnant" (lit. "baby-heavy"); compound of lapse "babe" and lunga "heavy"
- Borrow words from earlier versions of the languages (Qenya, Gnomish, Noldorin) and "update" them according to (mostly) regular changes made by Tolkien in the process.
- The Q word #vandil for "staff", from early Quenya vandl since no word can end in -dl in canonical Quenya. This is based on the Qenya word findl, later updated by Tolkien as findil.
- The Sindarin Dictionary maintained by Didier Willis includes a version containing Noldorin words from the Etymologies "normalized" to Sindarin according to how similar words appear in LotR or post-LotR texts. For example such Noldorin words as bein, bui, bior, camland, rhoeg have been updated to Sindarin as #bain, #boe, #bŷr, #cae, #camlann, #raeg although they haven't been confirmed so by published Tolkien texts.
- Translate or derive a cognate from Sindarin to Quenya or vice-versa and create supposed cognates.
Around 2000, some wordlists of already established neo-vocabulary have been compiled online in order to facilitate authors who might need useful words for newer compositions, and likewise establish a fan "canon" or word repository.
- Carl F. Hostetter
- A Gateway to Sindarin
- David Salo
- Helge Fauskanger
- Fiona Jallings
- A Fan's Guide to Neo-Sindarin
- Resources for Tolkienian linguistics at The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (accessed 16 June 2011)
- Björn Fromén, "Valinorenna: Celebrían’s Farewell to Elrond" dated 24 September 2012, Forodrim.org (accessed 7 December 2019)
- Cf. Quenta Silmarillion Eldalambenen Project
- Ales Bican and Helge Fauskanger, "A play", ELM (accessed 7 December 2019)
- Vicente S. Velasco, "Alatarielo Nainie: Galadriel's Lament in Telerin", The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (accessed 7 December 2019)
- Ryszard Derdziński, "Naergon Galadriel: Galadriel's Lament in Sindarin", The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (accessed 7 December 2019)
- Ryszard Derdziński, "Elvish Pronouns", The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (accessed 7 December 2019)
- Helge Fauskanger, "Reconstructing the Sindarin Verb System", Ardalambion (accessed 7 December 2019)
- See "Elvish as She is Spoke" in the External links
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Alphabet of Rúmil & Early Noldorin Fragments", in Parma Eldalamberon XIII (edited by Carl F. Hostetter, Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, Patrick H. Wynne, and Bill Welden), p.163
- Helge Fauskanger's Quettaparma Quenyallo
- Anthony Appleyard, Quenya Grammar Reexamined PREFACE, Vinyakaarie
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies", entry KYELEP/TELEP
- Newwords list compiled by Ales Bican
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part One, p.264
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Eldarin Hands, Fingers & Numerals and Related Writings — Part Three" (edited by Patrick H. Wynne), in Vinyar Tengwar, Number 49, June 2007, p. 14
- Parma Penyane Quettaron - Word coined by Petri Tikka
- Preface to the Parma Penyane Quettaron
- Midgardsmal on Web Archive - David Salo's blog concerning neo-Elvish in Peter Jackson's movies.
- Merin Essi ar Quenteli - Lists of words, names, phrases and tutorials, intended for writers of fan fiction and RPGamers.
- Thorsten Renk's A rogue's guide to Sindarin reconstruction - Inquiry on the creation of Neo-Sindarin words, with examples of deriving one from Primitive Quendian.
- Gwaith-i-Pethdain - Page with essays, reconstructions, Neo-Elvish wordlists and a big list of Neo-Elvish texts.
- Newwords - sample of Neo-Elvish vocabulary
- Parma Penyane Quettaron - More expanded Neo-Elvish vocabulary, maintained by Boris Shapiro until 2003
- List of Neo-Elvish compositions
- Ardalambion - Apart from a resource for Tolkien's languages, it also contains some original 'post-Tolkien' compositions (poems and Biblical fragments), essays like "The Quest for Standard Sindarin" and "Suggested Conjugation" and a (Neo-)Quenya course.
- Elvish.org FAQ — Article by Carl F. Hostetter. Presents a succinct counterpoint citing Tolkien's own views of the purpose, completeness and usability of his languages.
- "Elvish as She Is Spoke" — Article by Carl F. Hostetter. A thorough examination of Tolkien's purposes in inventing his Elvish languages and his practices in describing them, their consequent nature, and the inherent pitfalls in any attempt to "speak Elvish". Republished with permission from The Lord of the Rings 1954-2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder (Marquette, 2006), ed. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.
- "Are Goldogrin and Qenya “primitive”?" by Patrick H. Wynne - criticizing the usual selectivity of "LotR-style" Elvish over early forms of "immature" Elvish.