It is well-known that Tolkien's forte is linguistics and he created various fictional languages in his writings. Although Klingon language started off kind of slow, it's emerged as a viable language, even known to be taught in some schools and is readily spoken and conventions and the like.

Which language is the most developed, one of Tolkien's such as Quenya/Sidarian? Or Klingon?

For the purposes of this question, developed means being able to use it conversationally or written like a regular language like English or German.


Definitely Klingon

Although Tolkien's writings on Quenya and Sindarin are extensive, there simply isn't enough to carry on realistic conversations; unless you're willing to go into some of the fan attempts to flesh the language out, you and your Elvish-speaking partner are basically limited to quoting passages of the Legendarium at each other.

Tolkien himself actually acknowledged this in Letter 297 (emphasis his):

It should be obvious that if it is possible to compose fragments of verse in Quenya and Sindarin, those languages (and their relations one to another) must have reached a fairly high degree of organization – though of course, far from completeness, either in vocabulary, or in idiom.


Also of interest to some, and agreeable to me, would be an historical grammar of Quenya and Sindarin and a fairly extensive etymological vocabulary of these languages of course far from 'complete', but not limited to words found in the tales. But I do not intend to engage in these projects, until my mythology and legends are completed.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 297: To 'Mr. Rang' (draft). August 1967

Klingon, on the other hand, is quite a bit more extensively-developed, to the point where you actually can read (and perform) Shakespeare "in the original Klingon."

John McWhorter, professor of linguistics (among other things) at Columbia University, discusses fictional constructed languages ("conlangs") in this Ted-Ed video, and comes to the same conclusion:

Relevant transcript (emphasis mine):

McWhorter: The truth is, though, that Elvish is a sketch for a real language than a whole one. For Tolkien, Elvish was a hobby rather than an attempt to create something people could actually speak. Much of the Elvish that characters in the Lord of the Rings movies speak has been made up since Tolkien by dedicated fans of Elvish, based on guesses as to what Tolkien would have constructed. That's the best we can do for Elvish, because there are no actual Elves around to speak it for us. But the modern conlangs go further: Dothraki, Na'vi, and Klingon are developed enough that you can actually speak them.

  • That's what I was thinking, but Wikipedia claimed that there are 25,000 Sindarin words. Is that right? Is it just 24,999 words for Elvish artifacts or something? It seems like you could have a conversation with that vocabulary easily. Actually, maybe the video will answer my question.
    – Molag Bal
    Jun 18 '16 at 4:32
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    @amaranth - It also says "Attempts by fans to write in Sindarin began in the 1970s, when the total corpus of published Elvish was only a few hundred words. Since then, usage of Elvish has flourished in poems and texts, phrases and names, and tattoos. But Tolkien himself never intended to make his languages complete enough for conversation; as a result, newly invented Elvish texts, such as dialogue written by David Salo for the films directed by Peter Jackson, require conjecture and sometimes coinage of new words." So 20,000 of those words are basically fanon.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 18 '16 at 4:38
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    The number of words is immaterial, if the syntax is not sufficiently fleshed out for actual use. @JasonBaker is correct, I think: there simply isn't enough corpus in the published materials to specify a working language. However, it's certainly possible that there's enough material there to allow a novel language to evolve (and that that material is consistent with human language). What you need to do is to memorize those 25,000 words and what grammar you can derive from the books. Then, have a few children, and only ever expose them to those words and that grammar and see what happens. Jun 18 '16 at 5:03
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    "That's the best we can do for Elvish, because there are no actual Elves around to speak it for us." - so glad there are actual natives of the modern conlangs - actual Dothraki, actual Na'vi, and actual Klingons - around to speak them for us ;) Jun 18 '16 at 11:31
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    @amaranth 25,000 words sounds like an awful lot. That's more than the average commonly used vocabulary of a normal English speaker in English. I'm guessing that number probably counts inflectional forms of the same base words as separate words, which seriously inflates the number in languages like Sindarin and (especially) Quenya, which are highly inflected languages. As Jason says, though, the number of words hardly matters—it's the holes in the grammatical systems that make us unable to carry conversations. Grammar is more essential than large vocabularies there. Jun 19 '16 at 17:51

That letter was written in 1963... he finalized the etymology in the 1970s so there is more than enough words to carry basic conversation. if you count base words, Quenya has 2500 words and if you use past, present, and future words on top of the base words it could total up to 12k words. If it was 25k base words, that would be overly extensive to carry a conversation; even counting past, present, and future words. But yes, a basic conversation is easy with Quenya. An advanced conversation is just as easy with Klingon. To answer the question at hand, Klingon is more extensive but if you don't plan to use it everyday and want to speak it every so often and also want a more beautiful sounding language, go with Quenya, but if you are going to use it a lot and want a more complex conversation then go with Klingon.

  • 2
    Welcome to SFF.SE! This would be a much better answer if you could provide a source for your claim that Tolkien expanded Quenya beyond a few hundred words, as the currently accepted answer seems to contradict that.
    – F1Krazy
    Feb 27 '18 at 16:49

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