how to speak elvish

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Language, 299 pp.
This book focuses on the languages of Middle-Earth, specifically dealing with Quenya
and Sindarin forms of Elvish. This book provides syntax, sentence structure, word-
pronunciation and a dictionary, among other things.

    An Introduction to Elvish was compiled because there is little pure linguistic material
in Tolkien’s published writings on the first three ages of Middle-earth; much less than
many of Tolkien’s readers’ desire. The book begins with a comprehensive forward on the
development of Tolkien’s Middle-earth and the languages spoken therein. There is a list
of charts, abbreviations, and symbols for the ease of the readers and writers to refer
back to throughout the book. Then the book is broken down into the “Eldarin Tongues”
and “Other Tongues.”
     In “Eldarin Tongues,” the chapter begins with a Quenya Grammar and Dictionary,
focusing on the structure of Quenya, its origin, sounds and spelling, nouns, adjectives,
articles, pronouns, verbs, and syntax. There is also a Quenya-to-English Dictionary and
an article written by Bjorn Fromen entitled Valinorenna. The next section deals with the
Sindarin Grammar and Dictionary. This also includes Sindarin’s structure, origin, sounds
and spelling, and consonant mutation. There ensues another article entitled Formation of
Plurals by Bill Welden, and following that there are the articles, pronouns, verbs, syntax,
and rounding out with a Sindarin-to-English Dictionary. Also included in the “Eldarin
Tongues” sections are an English-to-Quenya/Sindarin Entry Index and some special
sections entitled Photo-Eldarin Vowels: A Comparative Survey by Nina Carson,
Alexandra Tarasovna Kiceniuk, and Jim Allan; Photo-Eldarin Consonants by Jim Allan,
Chris Gilson, and Bill Weldon; Elvish Loanwords in Indo-European: Cultural Implication
by Lisa Menn; A Calendar of Imladris by Jim Allan; and Tolkien’s pronunciation: Some
Observation by Laurence J. Krieg.
    The next section deals with the “Other Tongues” developed by Tolkien. This section
was written primarily by Jim Allan and includes sections titled “Khuzdul,” “The Black
Speech,” “The Adunaic Languages,” and “More Obscure Languages.” In this section is
also included the portion “Personal Names.” There follows an article entitled An
Etymological Excursion Among The Shire Folk written by Paula Marmor. Jim Allan also
writes a portion called “The Giving of Names,” including the Germanic system of
Nomenclature, Elvish Names, Old Rhovanion Names, Hobbit Names, Names of the
Rohirrim, Northern Names, The Names of the Early Edain, and Old English and Hobbit
Month Names. There is another section in “Other Tongues” called Writing Systems. This
deals with The Tengwar of Feanor by Laurence J. Krieg, “How to Learn the Tengwar
Fact Sheet Notes,” and Shape-Sound Correspondence: A Supplement; The Evolution of
the Tengwar; A Survey of Some English-Tengwar Orthographies by Laurence J. Krieg,
Orthographic Theories; Tengwar Spelling Systems, Conclusions; Parallel to the
Tengwar; The Runes; Old English Runes; The Certar or Cirth; and finally; the Wielders
of the Three and Other Trees by Paula Marmor.

      This book is very strong in providing a comprehensive background of the
languages of Middle-earth. The history of each language is covered from the forward of
the book onward. This is important because it helps the reader and learner to
understand the significance of what they are undertaking in learning these languages. It
provides the learner with the words to speak, but also the feeling and emotion with which
to speak them.
       This book also provides very accurate translations. It was released before
Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, yet the release did not change much of the foundations of the
language given in this book. Allan and the other writers have given an accurate
translation of the languages as best as or perhaps better than Tolkien himself.
       Because this book is written so well as far as language is concerned, it is almost
impossible to grasp without some sort of linguistic background prior to reading. The book
relies heavily on syntax, grammar, and pronunciation, as any good language book does.
However, the downfall with this is that most likely, there is no native speaker of any of
the tongues in this book who can provide you with some accurate pronunciations. The
learner has to teach his or herself, and without any linguistic background, this has been
proven a very difficult thing to do.
       According to world-renowned scholar David Bratman, “…it provides a neat clean
body of data, and it limits itself to material Tolkien released and therefore couldn't be
considered withdrawn drafts. However, some of the material is highly technical, and in
general the more linguistic training the reader has had, the more that reader will
understand.” Another scholar who actually contributed much to this book, Bill Welden,
had this to say: “Introduction to Elvish was the first (and is still the only) book of its kind
which was written by people with a solid understanding of Tolkien’s languages…It was a
product of the community.”

   Despite the fact that this book is difficult to read without any philological background, I
was still able to pull out some great and meaningful points about the languages of
   The first thing that caught my eye was the extensive detail of the history of the Elves.
This was very helpful to me because I was able to see how their culture progressed
along with their language; thus, I was helped to identify the significance of their story and
the languages in which they tell it. I was able to understand the cultural implications of
the words I was uttering despite the fact that I might not have been saying them with the
correct pronunciation.
   I also picked up a lot out of the section on giving names and the significance of the
names of characters in Middle-earth. I enjoyed this portion from the section on Quenya:

               “Faramir, the name of the second son of Denethor (last of the Ruling
               Stewards of Gondor), seems to be pure Quenya, however (pg 4).”<br/

I found this interesting due to the way Faramir’s character is portrayed in the books. He
is often described as “noble,” “upstanding,” and “as One of a Lost Race.” I thought this
was quite significant because these are also some of the words used to describe the
race of Elves and those who speak Quenya.
    Having not a lick of background in linguistics myself, I found this book incredibly
difficult to read. Not only could I not understand the technical terms in the book, but the
type size was incredibly difficult to read, being in Courier 10 point font. I found my eyes
and my mind being strained simultaneously.
          I would venture that this book is not for the average reader interested in learning
more about how to speak Elvish. This book, however, can be useful for those who are in
the business of language learning and philology. My advice to average readers would be
to give it to a linguist for a present and then ask them to teach it to us in return.

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