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Cent o HedhellemAn Examination of the Elven Tongues
As many Tolkien enthusiasts know, the world of Middle-earth was first conceived as the result of Tolkien's enthusiasm for linguistic invention.
As he wrote in 1967 (in a suggested correction to an article about him),
"The imaginary histories grew out of Tolkien's predilection for inventing languages.
He discovered, as others have who carry out such,inventions to any degree of completion,
that a language requires a suitable habitation, and a history in which it can develop" [Letters, #294].
Certainly, one of the most distinctive features of Tolkien's works is the extensive use of complex
and consistent languages, of which the most visible and best developed are the Elvish languages.
Almost all of the exotic place-names in The Lord of the Rings are Elvish in origin, as (of course)
are the names of the Elves, the N´ umenoreans of Gondor, and even some weapons. A large number of
Tolkien's readers many more than he expected have studied the Elvish languages and their alphabets,
and have employed them for a variety of personal uses.
Unfortunately, Tolkien himself never wrote a work explicitly describing the vocabularies, phonologies,
and grammars for these languages, leaving his readers with the task of reconstructing them by inference
on the basis of the material available, much as professional linguists reconstruct ancient languages.
This makes it difficult for the non-specialist to employ the Elvish languages effectively. The situation
is exacerbated by the fact that the only widely available book on the subject for a general audience,
Ruth Noel's The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth (Houghton Mifflin, 1974 and 1980) is generally
regarded with scorn by Tolkien language enthusiasts (sometimes known by the Quenya word lambengolmor),
not only because it is outdated it pre-dates the publication of the twelve volumes of The History of
Middle-earth ‹ but because it is filled with misleading and incorrect information. This article, then,
is intended as a very rudimentary introduction to Tolkien's Elvish languages. It does not attempt to
'teach Elvish' or provide a detailed treatment of their structures. Instead, we hope to give a general
feel for the 'features' of the languages for Tolkien fans who have not yet investigated the subject to
any great extent, and direct them to other resources for further study.