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If someone wanted to learn to speak Tolkien's Elvish languages (Quenya and Sindarin) is there a guide to how to go about doing so?

Are there any authoritative sources regarding which language should be tackled first?

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    Hi Sasha! Welcome! I'm not sure whether you realized this, but the Scifi StackExchange is really focused on questions that have definite answers (that you can look up somewhere); it's not really a discussion forum. We'd be glad to talk with you about Quenya, Sindarin, or the other Elvish languages; but we're not really set up to list recommendations - the site just doesn't work well for that. Jul 4, 2014 at 14:10
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    This could be made an on-topic question by re-focussing it on which real-world languages Tolkien based them on (the answer would be Quenya = Finnish and Sindarin = Welsh, but they're more "influenced by the style of" rather than directly-based-on). That would also answer the (off-topic) question you're asking here.
    – user8719
    Jul 4, 2014 at 14:42
  • @JimmyShelter: Does it really answer the original question? "Which language should I learn first, Finnish or Welsh?" Dunno. Which place would you prefer as a holiday destination? Would you rather read Welsh or Finnish literature in the original language? (I must admit I'm struggling to think of any practical consequences of choosing Quenya over Sindarin or vice versa, but I suppose there might be some...) Jul 4, 2014 at 15:12
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about language learning, not fantasy or science fiction. Dec 23, 2014 at 17:18

3 Answers 3

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Based on this article on elvish.org, the very simplest answer is that you can't. Neither language is sufficiently complete as to allow someone to actually learn to speak them conversationally, something that Tolkien himself addressed in his letter #380;

"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... It must be emphasized that this process of invention was/is a private enterprise undertaken to give pleasure to myself by giving expression to my personal linguistic 'aesthetic' or taste and its fluctuations"


That being said, there are various resources that will allow you to become as knowledgeable in the "elvish languages" as anyone else (including dictionaries and lexicons of Quenya and various online courses in Sindarin) but given their dissimilarity with each other and with spoken English, the fact is that there's no major benefit in learning one over the other, nor will learning one first give you a dramatic advantage in learning the other.

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    Personally, I'd suggest you spend your time learning an actual language or volunteering at your local soup kitchen. Learning an (incomplete) artificial language strikes me as the height of pointlessness.
    – Valorum
    May 12, 2015 at 21:20
  • Additional resources - scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/35016/…
    – Valorum
    May 12, 2015 at 21:22
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    To some of us, learning languages is done for the sheer joy of learning languages, and it matters little whether the language in question is an actual, spoken language or not (remember that Latin is also not spoken anywhere but, liturgically, in the Vatican). Given that, I would definitely propose starting with Quenya. You can usually apply sound changes to Quenya and arrive more or less at proper Sindarin, but the other way does not work; just like you can usually derive French from Latin, but there is no way to go the opposite way. May 13, 2015 at 10:48
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    @janusbahsjacquet - this sounds like the makings of an answer. ..
    – Valorum
    May 13, 2015 at 11:43
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    @Richard following your line of thoughts doing anything that doesn't provide you with any reward is pointless - have you ever read a book that wasn't instructional? Learned to play chess or cards? Played a computer game?
    – Yasskier
    Jan 25, 2016 at 1:46
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I'll post my own opinion on the matter..

I've been learning on my account both Sindarin and Quenya for a couple of years; there is enough material for both of them, so don't worry for it (Use Fauskanger course for Quenya and Pedin Edhellen for Sindarin, both are excellent texts).

Now, about them:

Both languages are gonna be a bit complex because of their grammatical setup; Quenya is based on Finnish (which comes from the uralic-root) and Sindarin is based on Celtic (Celtic-root); mostly of European languages (English, Spanish, French, German, etc.) are based on the indo-european-root, so they are 99.9% gramatically the same. Said that, Quenya is a bit difficult, Sindarin is a hell.

The difficult part in Quenya are the declinations (if you're a spanish/german/french speaker it won't be so difficult, because we have also a lot of declinations in our languages) and in Sindarin are the mutations (there are very very very few in english).

Now, in my opinion.. Quenya is a "Full-Language", meaning, you can express almost anything you want (gramatically speaking), while Sindarin is very weak in that aspect; instead of '100%-specific' phrases, you end up expressing 'ideas' which have to be understood and interpreted by the context (which, again, in my opinion, make it loose a lot of points..).

Making an overall evaluation.. Quenya can fully compare to a nowadays language; you can comunicate everything you could in your own language, while Sindarin is like a 'stone-age' language; it can be used to comunicate basic things easily, but if you try to make more complex sentences, you will see a lot of precission loss and a mess due to the mutations.

I believe the reason why people learns sindarin is mainly because it's the language spoken in LOTR dialogues, because, choosing blindly, i would choose Quenya 100 times.

If you have any other questions, i will be happy to help! :)

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  • Indo-European languages are not 99.9% the same grammatically speaking—they’re very diverse. Welsh, which is what Sindarin is loosely based on, for example, is Indo-European (‘Celtic’ is a branch of Indo-European languages, not a language in itself), but is grammatically very different from Hindi, Greek, or Armenian, all of which are also Indo-European. And just to be technical: French and Spanish have very little declension (no cases, just two genders in singular and plural), and declination (the tendenct for a sentence to go down in tone at the end) is not relevant at all. Jan 24, 2016 at 22:07
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    And English doesn’t have very few mutations—it has none at all. If you’re talking about the vowel changes (like orodered in Sindarin, or footfeet in English), that’s umlaut, not mutation; but it is true that English has very little left of it. Also, personally speaking, if I were to learn just one of the two, I would go with Sindarin. Not because it’s what’s spoken in the movies (though that’s an advantage), but because I like it more. It’s more acoustically pleasing to me, and I like initial mutations and umlaut. Jan 24, 2016 at 22:11
  • Celtic and hindi are very very early branches of indo-european (it's like they are not in practice..), greek DIDN'T come from indo-european, it came from 'hellenic'. Umlaut is the formal name for a phonetic mutation to improve the speaking flow. I don't have a problem with the mutations, but with the "non-biyectivity" of the language, which makes n different phrases to be written exactly in the same way. As i said, for a very basic conversation it's okay, but if you want to be specific in what you're saying, i would go with Quenya.
    – Ghost
    Jan 24, 2016 at 23:04
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    And the rule that final o umlauts to y is not completely consistent; ered is one of the exceptions where both forms are found. The maps in Tolkien’s works pretty consistently write Ered Luin, for example, and not Eryd Luin (but never, say *Emen Muil, that’s always Emyn Muil). Jan 24, 2016 at 23:24
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    Well, you’re wrong about that. As someone who has an MA in comparative Indo-European linguistics, I can assure you that Hellenic is a branch of Indo-European; you’re probably thinking of Basque, the last remnant of the putative Vasconic family, which indeed is not Indo-European. There are no other Hellenic languages other than Greek left now, but in Classical and pre-Classical times, there were Mycenaean, Arcado-Cypriot, and a handful of others that were either very divergent dialects or separate languages. Jan 24, 2016 at 23:45
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It looks like the question is still unanswered.

The question asks for a guide to learn either or both Elvish languages. Now, I don't know of an existing guide, I'll try to offer one here.

The materials on either of them are limited. I think you can't fully learn only one of the two (by fully I mean to learn everything that's available), since the two are related. You'll need a better understanding of the other one to better understand the one you prefer. In fact you will have to dig into sources on Old Sindarin, Primitive Elvish, Telerin, Etymologies ... to learn everything that can be learned, in order to coin new words for example. If you don't already have a preference, I would recommend learning Quenya first, as it's more complete and closer to Primitive Elvish.

The most authoritative sources have to be the original. All Tolkien's published texts that contain Elvish are subject of study. Here's a long list - as you can see, Eldamo, where the list is from, will be a great help for studying the original.

But the original materials are definitely not for beginners. If you want more regular courses, Parma Tyelpelassiva is what you need. It has both a Quenya course and a Sindarin course.

Helge Fauskanger has a wonderful Quenya course on Ardalambion, which discusses every detail of the language academically. Most of Tolkien's other languages including Sindarin are also introduced here at length.

And that's it, when you have finished Helge's course and articles on his site, I think you can continue to study on your own. All the while Eldamo serves as a more updated database (dictionaries and reference grammars) to look up.

Ardalambion doesn't cover the writing system, you can learn how to write the Elven languages with Elven letters instead of Latin here.

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