According to a BBC News story by Justin Parkinson, “Zainab Thorp, a special needs co-ordinator at Turves Green Boys’ Technology College in Birmingham, is offering after-hours classes” in Sindarin. If you can’t make it to Turves Green, there are courses online (here and here, for example), but there doesn’t seem to be anything as thorough as this Quenya course:

This is a non-commercial project, so I can very well afford to be honest: This course is for the serious student who really wants to study one of the most highly developed languages Tolkien ever made, scrutinizing it in all its rich and intricate detail – a study undertaken largely (or entirely) for its own sake. Knowing Quenya will hardly be of much help in finding a job. This course is not for the faint-hearted who are unable to truly appreciate a lengthy discussion of (say) whether ny is to be considered a consonant cluster n + y or a single consonant like Spanish ñ. I do try to present the structure and grammar of Quenya in an attractive fashion, but the student must have no fear of “technicalities”; this course is all about technicalities.

Now, that’s my kind of language course. But if you really want to know about Elvish languages, you need to sit at the feet of David Salo. (News story courtesy of Simon Ager, proprietor of Omniglot: a guide to writing systems, who of course has a page on the Tengwar alphabet.)


  1. Helge’s reliable, especially on Quenya. Definitely recommend his course.

  2. But don’t take anybody’s website or book as gospel; look analytically at what Tolkien actually wrote. The most knowledgeable people out there may well turn out to be wrong on a lot of things.
    (I feel like I tell this to every student I meet once they figure out that Sindarin and Quenya are not codes for English…)

  3. Seems rather geeky to be learning a fabricated language for a fabricated race in a fabricated world.
    Having said that I have read the trilogy about 5 times myself. Self-proclaimed geek here, but maybe I’m not geeky enough. After all I only got 32.93886% – Total Geek on the geek test

  4. More creative still, and if you aim to study a highly developed language, why not invent your own?
    (Ignore me. I haven’t enjoyed any of the LOTR books enough to read past the first ten pages. And I hated the film. This isn’t a troll – it’s a point of view).

  5. When I was a kid I was very envious of my Jewish classmates’ after-school Hebrew classes.

  6. More creative still, and if you aim to study a highly developed language, why not invent your own?
    Well, of course, many people do just that. I don’t see any necessary contradiction between the two activities, though. For one thing, if you’re going to go around creating languages, some familiarity with previous endevours would probably be useful (albeit not a useful as a general knowledge of linguistics and command of several natural languages).

  7. I don’t understand the need for the use of emboldening since I haven’t suggested that nobody else has ever created a language: children, for instance, often invent their own secret languages without referring to other artificial languages. A language which is the creation of a single mind lacks the richness and depth that is acquired through sharing and describing the experiences of generations of speakers. The benefit of learning Quenya is surely limited to additional insights into LOTR. This is interesting if you happen to be fascinated by the books, otherwise it’s of limited benefit.

  8. Unless, of course, enough people learn Quenya that a critical mass is reached, they start teaching it to their children, and it takes off on its own. Unlikely, but in a world in which people blog in Klingon, anything can happen.
    (Incidentally, Tim wasn’t bolding for emphasis, he was linking to invented-language pages.)

  9. One day, one day perhaps not too far away, just after cloned humans are born perhaps, some pair of loonies will succeed in speaking enough Klingon to their infant that the first native speaker will be created. And the poor child will be told it’s doing it all wrong, but the child will be the one and only person in the world potentially capable of saying: no I’m not, who’s the native speaker then?

  10. I’d be interested in fictional-language acquisition by kids and whether it’s possible. 🙂 Though I would probably not go so far as to teach Quenya or Sindarin to my possible future children…

  11. Well, there was at least one attempt to raise a bilingual Klingon/English speaking child. It made the papers. I guess in the end the child dropped Klingon because of the limitations of its vocabularly. Afterall, they needed to borrow, coin, or circumlocute to say simple things like “diaper.”
    A coupld of mad latinists I’ve met do speak Latin with their children. One even does it to such an extent that the child, who was maybe four or five, was frighteningly fluent- she was able to get around fine at the conventiculum for instance.
    I would love to speak Latin with my future children, but I would not feel right in teaching it to them as their mother language (or should I say “father language”?)

  12. Eliza – I did not intend to suggest that you thought people did not create their own languages – indeed, the phrase “of course” was meant to suggest that this was something you were probably well aware of. (If I had so intended, I wouldn’t have chosen those three words to emphasize.)
    It’s clear that no constructed language can equal the completeness and complexity of a a living language, but Tolkien was a highly accomplished philologist and his languages, developed over decades, may be appreciated as works of art by those who are so constituted as to find such things interesting. In principle, if not in practice, I do not see why they should be regarded merely as a means to greater insight into his literature. Tolkien himself appears to have held rather the opposite view; he created a world to add depth to his languages.
    It would be difficult to argue that students of Elvish gain any direct benefit from their study, and any indirect benefit could probably be acheived more efficiently by other means*. But as human beings, we’re permitted to enjoy things which are not directly useful.
    *Although this would be difficult to prove, human motivation being what it is.

  13. Two things about reading Tolkien: One, Tolkien changed his mind about some things — a lot of things — hell, almost everything — at some point or other. So some of his stuff is self-contradictory.
    Two, you can’t always trust the transcriptions that have been made of Tolkien’s MS. _Vinyar Tengwar_ just published part of a major overhaul of the _Etymologies_, for instance.
    David points out that the article in question got some stuff wrong; my transcription of his email here.

  14. A brief Wired article on d’Armond Speers’s (mostly unsuccessful) attempt to raise his son as a native speaker of Klingon. It’s my understanding that when you try to raise a bilingual child by having each parent use one language exclusively, there are often problems if one of the languages receives little external reinforcement and the child realises that the respective parent can understand the other language. Presumably it would be particularly difficult to overcome this if the parent is not fully fluent in the minority language, and I doubt it is possible to acheive that kind of fluency in Klingon as it currently exists.
    There have been quite a number of children raised as native speakers of Esperanto. While not a fictional language as such, the problems involved would seem to be similar. An interesting livejournal thread on the subject here.

  15. I once had fantasies of raising a child as a native speaker of Ancient Greek. Fortunately, I never had any to experiment on.

  16. joe tomei says

    It’s my understanding that when you try to raise a bilingual child by having each parent use one language exclusively, there are often problems if one of the languages receives little external reinforcement and the child realises that the respective parent can understand the other language.
    It really depends on what you (or the child) wants to use the language for. Passive bilingualism is not really such a bad thing (much better than having to learn these languages as an adult (no offense LH)) and external reinforcement is not something that parents can control . Here in Japan, oftentimes, kids from bilingual households go into the japanese school system and they don’t want to stand out in English classes, and not only hide their ability (it is both hilarious and sad to hear kids like this speak with an absolutely flawless katakana English accent) but avoid studying because they don’t want to show up their peers (who would then dismiss their score as being due to genetics rather than hard work)
    Unfortunately, a lot of parents give up on the one parent/one language, giving precisely the reason that Tim does, that the child will not be completely fluent. I think that’s a shame, as 1.5 languages is better than just one.

  17. Montaigne, I think, spoke Latin before he spoke French. Yep. Until he was six, everybody spoke Latin to him. And then there’s whatshisface, JS Mill.

  18. no offense LH
    None taken. As it happens, I was equally fluent in Japanese and English at the age of four, which doubtless has something to do with my later facility with languages. (The Japanese, however, was quickly forgotten.)

  19. Unfortunately, a lot of parents give up on the one parent/one language, giving precisely the reason that Tim does, that the child will not be completely fluent.
    Just to be clear, I certainly wasn’t arguing against making an effort, and I agree with everything you say.

  20. joe tomei says

    Sorry, didn’t mean to imply that you were, Tim. It’s just that I often hear that reasoning from people who try the 1 parent/1 language and I do think it is sad. In the more than you may wish to know category, my wife is Japanese and I’m American and we are raising our daughter to be bilingual. We’ve adopted the situational approach (English at home, Japanese outside, the other approach is divided by time, one day, one language) It was a little worrying when she sent to preschool and had trouble communicating with her peers, but now she natters on in Japanese (with a Kumamoto accent) The downside is that my Japanese is slowly disappearing.
    I should also note that there are two things that I will cheerfully lie about to convince my daughter of its necessity are getting her to be bilingual (honey, Snow White only speaks English) and dental health. When she starts dating, though, I might add a third…

  21. Check out the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship.http://www.elvish.org/
    They’ve been working with Christopher Tolkien producing studies and info on the language.

  22. Language Hat, since you are interested by artificial languages as well, I think you should appreciate Nick Nicholas’ (Νίκος Νικολάου) homepage. He is a (Greek-) Australian linguist with a prolific side-activity on Klingon (he participated, among other things, to the translation of Hamlet, but he has Lojban and Esperanto pages as well (and of course natural languages like Greek, which I am glad to see mentioned so often in your recent posts). Of course, ignore this if you already know it.
    As an aside, I happen to be in Taipei right now. Do you want me to 問候 for you (if I recall correctly, you have lived here for some time)?

  23. I realise that the tone of the last sentence is maybe too familiar. Sorry about that.

  24. Jimmy: You can be as familiar as you want in these unhallowed precincts. But alas, I haven’t lived in Taiwan for over 25 years now; if I were there, I’d definitely invite you to drop by. (I still miss the food…) Anyway, thanks for the links; I wasn’t aware of him.

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