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Getting Started

This document is aimed at readers who are relatively inexperienced with Tolkien’s Elvish Languages. More knowledgeable readers may wish to start with the discussion of the Motivations and Methodology of this lexicon.

Although this lexicon contains a great deal of Elvish vocabulary, it is not intended to be a teaching tool for learning the Elvish languages. If this is something you are interested in, I suggest you look at the various Elvish course available online, for example:

Of the two major Elvish languages, the “High Elvish” language of Quenya was more completely described by Tolkien, and I feel that it is more accessible to beginners. However, many students of Tolkien’s languages are more interested in learning Sindarin despite its added complexity, since it was the Elvish language more commonly spoken in Middle Earth and more prevalent (for example) in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.

Once you have a basic understanding of the grammar of the Elvish languages, you can use the vocabulary in this lexicon as a source of words for new Elvish compositions:

There are a few things to consider when using Elvish vocabulary from these or other Elvish word lists. First, Tolkien worked on the Elvish languages throughout his life, and was constantly revising the grammar, vocabulary and linguistic history of the languages. This lexicon divides Tolkien’s languages into three conceptual periods: Early, Middle and Late (sometimes called “Mature” Elvish by other authors). If you are concerned with consistency, you should take care when mixing vocabulary from different time periods, since Tolkien’s shifting conceptions of his languages could render words from earlier periods invalid according to the rules and phonology of later versions of the languages:

PeriodHigh ElvishCommon Elvish
Early (roughly 1910-1930) Early Qenya Gnomish
Middle (roughly 1930-1950) Middle Qenya Noldorin
Late (roughly 1950-1973) Late Quenya Sindarin

Second, while this lexicon provides Elvish-to-English translations, it does not provide a reverse dictionary of English-to-Elvish. Given Tolkien’s shifting linguistic conceptions, it can be difficult to pin down an exact English translation of many of his Elvish words. Furthermore, given the sparsity of the available Elvish vocabulary, there are many English words for which there is no Elvish equivalent. Often you will need to search for Elvish words that similar to your intended meaning if you cannot find an exact match. There are several ways you can look for the Elvish translation of an English word in this lexicon:

  1. Use your browser’s search function in the word lists to locate an appropriate English word, considering that there may be multiple Elvish words that match a given English word, and that you may need to search for similar words if you cannot find an exact match.
  2. Look at the semantic categorization of Elvish words, which group Elvish words with similar meanings together (TBD - semantic categorization is currently a work in progress).
  3. Use the Search feature of the lexicon.

Third, you should bear in mind that Tolkien’s motivations for creating his Elvish languages were primarily artistic and aesthetic, and as such he never intended to “finish” the languages in a way that would allow them to be spoken, as you might expect with other invented languages such as Esperanto. For a discussion of the incomplete nature of the Elvish languages, see Carl Hostetter’s article on “Elvish as She Is Spoke” on the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship web site.

Finally, given the uncertain and ever-evolving nature of Elvish vocabulary and grammar, all interpretations of Tolkien’s languages are necessarily subjective, including those in this lexicon. In fact, many of these interpretations (again including this lexicon) are better designated as “Neo-Quenya” or “Neo-Sindarin”, which means they are extrapolations from Tolkien’s work rather than a precise representation of them. For a more nuanced understanding of the Elvish languages, you may wish to compare the vocabulary appearing in this lexicon with those in other Elvish word lists (TBD - this is doubly true given the current draft nature of this lexicon):

Better yet, look at the original source material and formulate your own opinions on the meaning of Elvish words. Both this lexicon and the ones listed above have extensive references to Tolkien’s writings indicating the contexts in which various Elvish words originally appeared.