What writing system(s) does this language use?
Quenya is a constructed language invented by British author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. His most well-known books are the Lord of the Rings series and the Hobbit. Tolkien uses Quenya as well as other languages he created in many of his books. This language uses a special kind of a writing system named Tengwar. "Tengwar" in Quenya means "letters". Letters of the Tengwar script are different than those of the Roman alphabet, which is used for writing English. However, it is possible to write Quenya using the letters of the Roman alphabet, too. Quenya uses the following letters:
- a, á, b, c, d, e, é, f, g, h, i, í, l, m, n, o, ó, p, q, r, s, t, u, ú, v, w, x, and y.
There are also several combinations of these letters used to represent other tengwar: ny, ty, ly, gw, nw, cw (which is usually spelled as qu), etc.
Since the Roman alphabet is not the original alphabet used for writing Quenya words, some differences may appear when two different persons write the same word using the letters of the Roman alphabet. For example, some would write cirya (ship), while the others would write kirya. You may also find the letter e having two little dots over it: ë. This does not affect the pronunciation, but is used sometimes to mark the letter e when it is final in a word: minë (one).
constructed language — a language that someone invented. This is unlike English and other natural languages whose rules and vocabulary evolved over hundreds or thousands of years.
How many people speak this language?
There are many people who study this language for fun. In Tolkien's stories, Quenya is spoken by some Elves and Humans in the lands named Middle-Earth and Valinor. However, very few people actually speak the language.
Where is this language spoken?
Tolkien has created a world just like ours, named Arda. There are many peoples living in Arda, and Quenya is the language of the Elves. Some Elvish peoples speak other languages such as Sindarin, Telerin, and Nandorin, just like how not all humans speak the same languages. The other Elvish languages are all similar to Quenya because Tolkien created them as related languages. Many human languages are related also, for example Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian are all similar because they are related languages.
People who studied Quenya for fun usually use it for writing poems and songs as it is said to be a pleasant and musical-sounding language.
What is the history of this language?
Already when J.R.R. Tolkien was young, around the year 1900, he got involved in a made-up language some of his friends had invented, and soon he was inventing languages of his own. He loved languages and had a talent for them, and he came to especially like Welsh and Finnish. As he grew up, and became a professor, he kept pursuing this love of language. He wrote an academic paper about Beowulf, an ancient epic in the language Anglo-Saxon, in which he maintained that it was beautiful poetry. The language Anglo-Saxon, also called Old English, is an ancestor of the modern English language from a thousand and more years ago, and Anglo-Saxon, and Beowulf, were usually treated as dry academic subjects; but Tolkien was fluent in Anglo-Saxon and so was able to see beauty in the ancient epic. He also wrote about inventing languages, which he said would never truly flourish as an art form as long as it was practiced in secret. He told the Esperanto community that a language must have a mythology behind it; otherwise the language would remain lifeless.
For his own languages, over many decades he created a detailed mythology. His two principle invented languages, entwined with this mythology, were based largely on the two languages that especially inspired him: Welsh and Finnish. Those two languages aren't closely related in real life; but in Tolkien's mythology, his two languages based on them, Sindarin and Quenya, were spoken by two races of elves, and were both descended from a common ancestor language called Primitive Quendian.
Eventually he got a book published, telling a story within his mythology, called The Hobbit, which was successful. Later he wrote a bigger book —in fact, it's usually published in three volumes— called The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings was a huge success, and made Tolkien wealthy in his later years. For decades after, movie-makers tried to find a way to turn The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings into movies, and eventually it was done successfully, in the twenty-first century.
But all those stories were motivated by the languages Tolkien spent his entire life creating, rather than the languages being created for the stories. In a letter to his son Christopher in 1958, he wrote,
- Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real. But it is true. An enquirer (among many) asked what the L.R. [The Lord of the Rings] was all about, and whether it was an allegory. And I said it was an effort to create a situation in which a common greeting would be elen si-'la lu-'menn omentielmo ["A star shines on the hour of our meeting"], and that the phrase long antedated [pre-dated] the book.
In the early 1990s, the internet made it possible for people all over the world who invent languages to contact each other, and discuss their common interest in creating languages. Language creation is now being practiced in the open, rather than in secret, and is beginning to flourish as an art form. As Tolkien said could not happen while language creation was only done in secret. And many of the people who do it were first introduced to the idea by Tolkien's stories.
Tolkien kept working on the Quenya language throughout his life, improving it right up until his death. Because of this, early Quenya words and grammar were very different from the way they would end up at the end of Tolkien's life. And it all started with a childhood love of language that he never gave up.
Quenya is usually used for writing poems, stories, and songs.
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973) is the creator of Quenya and several other Elvish languages. His son, Christopher Tolkien, continued publishing Quenya-related material after his father's death.
Helge K. Fauskanger and Thorsten Renk are considered some of the best researchers of Tolkien's languages today. They wrote textbooks of Quenya and Sindarin languages, and articles about Tolkien's languages.
What are some basic words in this language that I can learn?
- Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo - A star shines on the hour of our meeting. (In other words: "Hello.")
- aran - king
- tári - queen
- Elda - Elf
- Eldar - Elves
- atto ar mamil - Dad and Mom
- malta - gold
- ondo - stone, rock
- cár - head
- masta - bread
- Anar - Sun
- Isil - Moon
- lírë - song
- laire - poem
- minë 1
- atta 2
- neldë 3
- canta 4
- lempë 5
- enquë 6
- otso 7
- tolto 8
- nertë 9
- cainen 10
- minquë 11
- rasta 12
- carnë - red
- culuina - orange
- fána or fánë - white (like clouds)
- helwa - pale blue
- laiqua - green
- laurëa - golden
- lossë - white (like snow)
- luin - blue
- malina - yellow
- morë or morna - black
- ninquë - white
- silma - silver, shining white
- sindë or sinda - grey
- varnë - dark brown
What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language?
Try to learn this little song from "The Lord of the Rings" named Rhyme of Lore:
Hallë ciryar ar hallë arani
neldë lúr neldë,
man tuncet Atalantello
or i úlëa eär?
Otso eleni ar otso ondor
ar minë ninquë alda. *
- * - translation to Quenya by David F. Ponessa
It sounds like this:
Halle keeryar ar halle aranee
nelde loor nelde
man toonket atalantello
or ee oolea ear
otso elenee ar otso ondor
ar meene neenkwe alda
And that means:
Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree.
Authors and Contributing •