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Mythopoeic Society

a non-profit organization devoted to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, the Inklings, and the genres of myth and fantasy


Reviews

Parma Eldalamberon 19

Parma Eldalamberon 19. Christopher Gilson, ed.

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Reviewed by Edward J. Kloczko


[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:2 (#343) in February 2011.]

Parma Eldalamberon No. 19, “Quenya Phonology”, was published just in time for Christmas 2010. Thank you, Mr. Gilson! This issue is entirely dedicated to Elvish historical linguistics. It contains three linguistic papers written by J.R.R. Tolkien, never published before.

First we have Tolkien’s “Comparative Tables” (pp. 18–28). In them he describes the mechanisms of sound change in his invented languages. These are “laws” that took place in all his twelve Elvish languages, and not just Quenya (then spelled Qenya). For example, the Valarin primary initial combination nd- became n- or and- in Qenya (p. 20). In the early 1930s J.R.R. Tolkien had decided that the proto-language of the Elves was Valarin, the tongue of the holy Valar. About ten years later Tolkien changed his mind about the origin of the protolanguage of the Elves, but not so much about the sound laws he had invented. Elves were capable in making their own tongue, called Quenderin in Quenya. (Quenderin together with Common Eldarin are grammatically described in the “Tengwesta Qenderinwa”, published in PE:18.) Between these two conceptual stages, Tolkien kept intact the many roots he had invented for Valarin. They became Quenderin roots.

For the first time we learn also something about the Eastern group of the Elvish tongues. These three dark Avarin tongues, then first called Lemberin/Lembarin, were based on Irish, Finnish and Lithuanian phonology (p. 22). So after all, the Elvish constructed languages were inspired only by the languages used in Europe. Personally, I was expecting maybe something Oriental …

The second part of PE:19 is dedicated to the “Outline of Phonetic Development” (pp. 29–67) and “Outline of Phonology” (pp. 68–107). These two very important documents describe in minute detail the phonological changes that took place in Common Eldarin as it became the Quenya tongue of Eldamar. Tolkien imagined a diglossic Elven society with a Parmaquesta and a Tarquesta. A literary style, or “Book Quenya”, in which the Elven scriptures, the “Ainulindalë”, and other classical works were written, and a more vernacular speech.

From the start, Tolkien made the Noldor speak a Welsh type language in their city of Túna. It was called Old Noldorin. Later, in their exile in Beleriand, it became the Noldorin tongue (as per The Etymologies). At the same time, in Eldamar the Elves of the First Clan, then called Lindar, spoke a vernacular Quenya, or Lindarin tongue. The Parmaquesta was used by all, the Second Clan (Noldor), the First Clan (Lindar), and the Valar. This is the situation described in the “Outline of Phonetic Development”. Sometime later, Tolkien changed his mind. He decided that the Quenya Tarquesta had two dialects: Vanyarin Quenya and Noldorin Quenya. The Noldor spoke Quenya in Eldamar. They did not conceive an “Old Noldorin” tongue (based on Welsh). Instead, the Welsh-type language took the name of Sindarin, and became the language spoken in Beleriand by the Sindarin Elves. This is the situation described in the “Outline of Phonology”, and also in The Silmarillion (1977).

From the “Outline of Phonology” we learn a lot about the First Clan’s way of speaking, of which we had previously known very little. For exemple, hy- was pronounced sh- (p. 75), a sound which until then was not known to be part of the Quenya tongue. We knew that various phonotactic constraints limited the permissible sequences of sounds in Quenya — e.g., Quenya only tolerates final dentals sounds. But the complete set of “rules” imaged by Tolkien was not, and could not be deduced from the Corpus. The phonology of Quenya is not simply a copy of Finnish, Latin, or Greek. Thanks to the “Outline of Phonology” we now know all the various phonotactic constraints of the Quenya tongue. Regarding the tengwar, we also learn from PE:19 quite a few useful things. We know how and when the tengwar with extended stems above and below the line where used in Quenya. We have also a better understanding of the use of the tengwa halla, and that of the hwesta sindarinwa.

You could ask yourself, why undertake something so difficult, why bother to conceive such a detailed account of an imaginary language and its scripts, indeed, of many constructed languages? Just imagine for one moment Tolkien as an aerospace engineer. One of the best, working with NASA. If one day such a man decided to build a plane in his garage, what would it be? A plastic model, or a true plane with a roaring engine capable of flying with a man carried safely on board? Tolkien decided to follow the “hard road”: build languages which mimic the patterns and processes of natural languages as closely as possible. Elvish languages have everything, including flesh and bones, sc. a long history and irregularities. They are not easy to master, just as natural languages are not. Without Tolkien’s own explanations it is impossible to “crack the Elvish code”, as so many enthusiastic amateurs have tried to do, for there is no “code”. These are irregular constructed languages made to look like natural languages, not international auxiliary languages with a set of symmetric grammatical rules and few or no exceptions. But when you have mastered some Elvish, even a little, it is such a pleasure to use them!

Thanks to Parma Eldalamberon No. 19, we can now pronounce Quenya exactly as Tolkien intended it to be pronounced. And you can even choose to use that special “Vanyarin accent”, with a lot of ch (as in “church”), and quite a few sh (as in “sheriff”), or you can stick to that old good “Exilic style” of the Noldor. Márienna!


Parma Eldalamberon 19. Christopher Gilson, ed.

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