Were any of his languages developed enough that he could just write or even talk with them without using any kind of dictionary, wordlist, or grammar helper? In other words, did he actually know them?

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    In general, Tolkien's languages were all written form his head. He occasionally was kind enough to write us wordlists, and sometimes even little tidbits about the grammer, but the real stuff was all in his head. – ibid Mar 10 '16 at 2:24
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    @ibid What a head then! – CHEESE Mar 10 '16 at 2:28
  • It is possible to make a good answer to this with references, but I don't remember HoME well enough to find them. – ibid Mar 10 '16 at 2:40
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    Elvish as She Is Spoke” by Carl F. Hostetter is a great essay that adresses a lot of the misconceptions about Tolkien's languages. It may help you. – ibid Mar 10 '16 at 18:06

I don't believe there is any way to truly know, but personally I believe that he knew every word he ever made by heart. This is due to the fact that in every instance where a made up word is used, it is applied to the story in a very specific manner, like songs, greetings, or names which have meaning (Gandalf - Gand Alf - Wand Elf). Also, the fact that he worked on Lord Of The Rings for 17 years, makes me believe that he got pretty familiar with his languages. (Not to mention that Tolkien developed some of the languages before even the Hobbit!)

  • Not a bad first post. Personally, I disagree, and this is definitely speculation, which is frowned upon here. Welcome to the site. – CHEESE Mar 10 '16 at 2:30
  • Wand Elf, though, that's pretty awesome. – CHEESE Mar 10 '16 at 2:30
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    +1 Tolkien created most of these languages based on real-life languages. For example, Dwarf runes are similar to old Norse runes. And he was a pro in languages and alphabets. It is possible that he knew every word he ever made by heart. – apollo Mar 10 '16 at 10:30
  • @CHEESE Gandalf isn't a coinage of Tolkein's, though - it's several hundred years older than his writings. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandalf_(mythology) – recognizer Mar 11 '16 at 22:45
  • @recognizer Still, pretty awesome derivation there. – CHEESE Mar 11 '16 at 22:48

It is often cited that Tolkien developed his languages mainly with the thoughts of creating names for his characters and locations, and even small phrases. He admitted in a letter himself (sorry but I don't have the citation available right now) that he didn't develop their grammar and vocabulary as much as to make compositions or talk with them.

Common logic says that since he worked on them for many decades, of course he had already memorized many elements and could easily invoke them from his mind, especially the most common ones, and create new words and names on the fly.

However common logic also says that it's impossible to remember all that corpus, and indeed Tolkien made notes which he consulted while writing so that he could keep a consistency with his previous ideas. Such a work is the document "Etymologies", a set of his personal etymological notes which he started in the 1930s and still revised and consulted it while writing LOTR. The document as published in the fith volume of the History of Middle-earth.

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