J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien constructed over 20 languages with unique vocabulary

The languages constructed by J. R. R. Tolkien are a set of constructed languages, of which most but not all were created for his fictional universe, often called Middle-earth. They are used in The Hobbit in a few names like Elrond or Bolg, in The Lord of the Rings for names (like Galadriel or Aragorn) and several poems (“Namárië”), and in The Silmarillion almost all names, including the title and a few sentences,

Tolkien wrote in one of his letters : “what I think is a primary ‘fact’ about my work, that it is all of a piece, and fundamentally linguistic in inspiration. [. . .] It is not a ‘hobby’, in the sense of something quite different from one’s work, taken up as a relief-outlet. The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows. I should have preferred to write in ‘Elvish’. But, of course, such a work as The Lord of the Rings has been edited and only as much ‘language’ has been left in as I thought would be stomached by readers. (I now find that many would have liked more.) [. . .] It is to me, anyway, largely an essay in ‘linguistic aesthetic’, as I sometimes say to people who ask me ‘what is it all about’.”

List of languages constructed by Tolkien

Tolkien is among the most famous and prolific of conlangers. He constructed – to varying degrees of detail – more than twenty languages, each with a unique grammar and vocabulary. The exact number of languages constructed by Tolkien is unknown, for many of his linguistic papers are still unpublished.

Constructed languages used in Tolkien’s fictional universe

The Elvish language family is a group of languages related by descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language. The family was constructed from c. 1910. Tolkien worked on it up to his death in 1973. He constructed the grammar and vocabulary of at least fifteen Elvish languages and dialects in roughly 3 eras: 1910-c.1930 Primitive Quendian the proto-language, Common Eldarin, Quenya and Goldogrin; the middle era from c. 1935 till 1955, where Goldogrin had significantly changed and was now Noldorin, joined by Telerin, Ilkorin, Doriathrin and the Avarin. The late and mature stage dispensed with Ilkorin and Doriathrin and Noldorin matured into Sindarin.

The languages of Men of Middle-earth were many, but most were only alluded to by Tolkien. He developed at least three with a grammar and a vocabulary: Taliska, Adûnaic, and the Soval Pharë (‘Common Speech’), called Westron in English, spoken by Hobbits and Men in the Third Age. Other Mannish languages which were less developed included: Dalish (represented by Old Norse), Rohirric (represented by Anglo-Saxon), Rhovanion (represented by Gothic), Haladin, Dunlendish, Drûg, Haradrim, and Easterling.

  • The secret language of the Dwarves: Khuzdul. They also used a sign language called Iglishmêk.
  • The language of the Ents: Entish.
  • The language of the “Powers” or Valar: Valarin.
  • The language of the Orcs of the First Age created for them by Morgoth.
  • The Black Speech, created by Sauron for his “empire”.
  • The many languages of the Orcs of the Third Age, often incorporating debased forms of words from the Black Speech and other languages.

Other constructed languages

  • Naffarin was the first language Tolkien constructed by himself during his adolescence; only one sentence remains which shows a Spanish affinity.
  • Gautisk is a Germanic “unrecorded” language in which Tolkien called himself Undarhruiménitupp.
  • Mágo/Mágol is based on Hungarian.