Foundation or history of the Elven Tongues – The Lhammas
The Lhammas – or the “account of tongues,” describe the foundation of the Elven Tongues (Elvish Languages).
In the beginning, the Valar had speech and brought it to the world to name and glorify all things in it.
Ages after, the Qendi (Elves) awoke and were found by Oromë. All the tongues after this were called Oromian or Quendian.
The Elves were divided into three kindreds, which were
- Lindar the fair,
- Noldor the wise, and
- the Teleri which were the last as they were the last to have awakened.
The Lindar and Noldor dwelt in Valinor for nine hundred (900) Valian years! And the Teleri had dwelt with them for eight hundred (800) of them.
As more Elves dwelt in Middle-earth the languages have shifted. They started “altering the tongue of the Valar, and each of their kindreds after their own fashion” (HoME # 5, “Of the tongues of the Elves in Valinor”)
The tongue of the Lindar and especially that of the house and folk of Ingwë – was the most beautiful and also didn’t change as much as the others. However they were soft spoken and initially altered the Elvish speech less than the others.
This grew to be a custom in Valinor. An ancient form of Lindarin speech became fixed and later became known as Qenya, or Elvish Tongue.
(This can be what we perceive as dialects.)
The Noldor, however, were brought the knowledge of Elf-Latin into Beleriand, devising letters. Until the days of Fëanor, the Noldor wrote in books and many things they documented in Qenya.
Furthermore, the names of the Valar were only used in Qenya.
The separation of tongues in the Lindar and Noldor
The Lindar grew to love the trees, while the Noldor became more skilled in writing and further developed their own words.
The Noldor were ruled by Finwë, and only met with their kin when they journeyed to Valinor for a council.
This was later called Noldorin, the Korolambë or Kornoldorin. They were further developed “by new words and devices of languages not [originated by Valian origin] nor common to all the Eldar, but invented anew by the Noldor” (HoME # 5, “Of the Tongues of the Elves in Valinor”).
The same occurred with the tongues of the Qendi – though the Noldor became the chief inventor of languages and were restless in spirit even before Morgoth.
Thus, in Valinor there was Elf-latin, which was the written and spoken Qenya made by the Lindar. For a while it was not known to mortal men.
Fading of the Green-elves’ Speech
In Beleriand, the tongues gradually became estranged – or completely different from the tongues of the Eldar in Valinor. Later, the speech of the Green-elves in Ossiriand would become estranged from that of their own kindred in Eredlindon.
Their speech eventually faded and diminished – though this tongue was recorded in Gondolin and known by the Teleri and those who have kinship with them, such as Elwing and Eärendil.
Thus it can be said that they became dead languages.
After the Fall of Gondolin and the War of Beleriand, the survivors spoke Noldorin. However, the Noldor and Teleri kept their own tongues and since some of them would not leave Middle-earth, their speeches would eventually fade.
Elven Tongues in the Third Age
Quenya and Sindarin are the two most commonly heard of Elvish languages and also languages in Middle-earth. This was also known by the Men as well – with the Dunedain speaking an Elvish tongue.
Before the Third Age, they were first spoken by the Noldor and Vanyar in Valinor – though they had slightly different dialects.
However, they are:
- High-Elven, or Quenya, also known as Elven-Latin. It may be thought of as similar as the Latin language and used in ceremonies, lore and song.
- Grey-elven, or Sindarin, the language of those along the coasts of Beleriand, but haven’t passed over the sea and ruled under King Thingol.
- Exiles (part of the Grey-Elves) were adopting Sindarin, which is then known as the tongue of Elves and Elf-lords.
By the time of LOTR, The Common Speech, or Westron became more commonly used than any of the elvish languages. However, the elvish languages were still used, but mainly in names of people and places. The languages were a driving force in the writing of LOTR.
Scripts and letters were all written in Eldarin origin. The Tengwar was more ancient, having been developed by the Noldor. The Cirth were devised by the Sindar in Beleriand, and also became known to Men and Orcs.
However, since the Cirth was rearranged back in the First Age in Beleriand under the influence of the Tengwar of the Noldor – the alphabet of Daeron was formed, and named after the lore master King Thingol of Doriath.