Motivations and Methodology

This lexicon is my attempt to organize information about Tolkien’s Elvish languages, Quenya and Sindarin, into a coherent system. It examines Tolkien’s linguistic works as an integrated whole, linking Quenya and Sindarin both to each other and to their ancient past. It also considers how these languages developed over Tolkien’s lifetime, as well as how those languages have been interpreted by later students of his languages, both casual and scholarly.

I started working on this lexicon in 2008, and it originally began as an attempt to determine the “best” Quenya words to use in my own writing, inspired by Helge Fauskanger’s Quenya word list, the Quettaparma Quenyallo (http://folk.uib.no/hnohf/quen-eng.doc). As I dug deeper into the original source material, I soon realized that my initial understanding of Tolkien’s languages was extremely naïve. I recognized that I could not properly understand Quenya without also considering Sindarin and Tolkien’s other invented languages. Furthermore, I realized that the question of which Elvish words are “better” cannot be answered in any definitive way.

As anyone who has carefully studied Tolkien’s languages knows, Tolkien himself never finished developing his languages. This was not his goal; he engaged in language creation as an artistic endeavor, and was more interested in linguistic aesthetics than in producing a “finished” language. Tolkien left us a large collection of linguistic ideas, often contradictory, as his own thoughts on his languages evolved over time. Many fundamental questions (such as how negation was expressed) were never fully resolved. This makes it impossible to fully describe the Elvish languages as Tolkien intended them, because Tolkien himself never decided what they would ultimately be.

Despite the impossibility of producing any kind of authoritative work, I still wanted to produce the best description of Tolkien’s languages that I could, incorporating as much material as possible while maintaining internal consistency. Needless to say this is an extremely ambitious project. It necessarily involves a lot of subjective decisions and considerable guesswork. Furthermore, there is no single way to approach such a project. Someone with a different focus than mine could include different words in an Elvish dictionary, with an equal level of “correctness”.


As much as possible, this lexicon is based on primary sources, those written by Tolkien himself. Very little of Tolkien’s linguistic work was published during his lifetime. Fortunately, there is a large body of posthumous publications to work from, without which the creation of this lexicon would be impossible. The authors of these works, most notably Christopher Tolkien and the scholars responsible for Parma Eldalamberon and Vinyar Tengwar (Christopher Gilson, Carl Hostetter, Arden Smith, Bill Welden, Patrick Wynne and others), have already done the extremely difficult work of deciphering much of Tolkien’s unpublished writings and presenting them in a format useful to the general public.

The linguistic elements of Tolkien’s writings form an elaborate web of relationships to one another. To manage these relationships, I’ve organized the material into an XML data model. This data model lets me correlate the information in various ways to examine different linguistic features. Though the data model itself is based on primary sources, I also consulted a number of secondary sources, as indicated in the Reference Index, to help improve my understanding of the primary material.

The atomic elements of this lexicon’s data model are what I call references. A reference is single linguistic form appearing in Tolkien’s writing, each with a unique identifier, generally in the form [book]/[page].[word position], such as: LotR/0305.0604. These references stand in various relationships to one another, including grammatical inflection, etymological derivation, and cognates from different languages. These references are grouped into words, each of which is a candidate for a valid word in a language.

In ordinary dictionaries, a word is a concept collecting a set of possible expressions for different grammatical contexts. For example, the English word “woman” conceptually includes both its singular from (woman), its plural form (women) and its possessive form (woman’s). Most dictionaries use words as their organizing principle, listing different forms as variations in the entry for each word. This lexicon must also address the word variations from different conceptual periods of Tolkien’s writings. For example, Tolkien considered several different forms for the word “finger”, including lepsë, lepta, leper in Quenya and lhebed, leber in Sindarin. It is useful to group the references to these conceptual variations together so that we can evaluate how Tolkien’s ideas about his languages evolved.

The nature of this organization is necessarily subjective. The boundaries between linguistic elements is rarely clear even in real-world languages, much less the ever-evolving conceptions of Tolkien’s fictional languages. I have done my best to group the various elements together in a useful way. Once established, this lexicon’s data model can be used to further examine the structure of Tolkien’s languages. For example, it should be possible extract all of the past tenses of verbs to compare them with each another, which can be used to formulate theories on how Tolkien intended the past tense of Elvish words to be formed, and also how his ideas on the Elvish past tense changed over time.