Bill Welden visits the set. On the language in the movie

Fragments of Bill Welden's relation from his August visit in The Lord of the Rings set. Bill Welden is a Tolkien scholar. He has been studying and writing about about Tolkien's invented languages for over thirty years. He was one of several Tolkien language experts who were consulted in the making of New Line Cinema's feature film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Three years ago a friend dropped a web-page print-out on my desk at work. Peter Jackson might (or might not) be producing and directing a film version of The Lord of the Rings. I wrote a letter, offering to help with Tolkien's languages, and got a friendly, encouraging response. We continued to exchange letters, and then one day I was on the phone with the producer, negotiating terms of employment (...)

The actors are as different from one another as the seven races of Middle Earth. Elijah Wood (who plays Frodo) is warm, sincere and enthusiastic. He unsheathes Sting and shows it to me. It is a product of Weta Workshop: a perfectly functional sword, or rather a knife, scaled up (though it has not been sharpened). At the base of the blade is a beautiful filigree design incorporating Elvish lettering. In fact, the words are Sindarin. In the middle I read dagnir in meaning '...killer of the...', but then Elijah must dash off to resume filming. He is delighted that his sword has a history (...)

We are walking from one set to another, and John Rhys-Davies (who plays Gimli) thunders by. He is a large man, and clearly on an errand of some urgency. We catch up and pace him, and I am introduced together with my role on the film. "Elvish???" he bellows, "A language for sissies!!! You should learn Dwarvish! Now there's a language for you!!!" And he quickens his pace, and is gone (...)

Viggo Mortensen (who plays Aragorn) is quiet and thoughtful. He understands the way in which the bits of Elvish language deepen the reality of the story, and wants to have more. Andrew Jack and Róisín Carty, dialect coaches and creative language consultants for the film, say that he reads Elvish so that it sounds like real language (...)

It is exceptional to have two dialect coaches on one film, but the linguistic challenges of Tolkien's creation are exceptional as well. Andrew and Róisín are responsible not just for Elvish, but for the broader issues of pronunciation and dialect. They are on their way to doing a flawless job. You may have heard Róisín in a recording from the official web site, reciting an Elvish spell verse written by David Salo. I listened to it carefully, and although she was doing it off the top of her head, every vowel was exactly right. The verse itself was brilliant too, in Sindarin (with no newly invented words), yet rhyming and scanning to match Tolkien's own model.

Sindarin and Quenya are, however, only two of the languages used in the film, and probably the easiest to get right. Archaic English, Old English, and Norse words are common, and Andrew and Róisín are clear on which is which, and on the rules for each. It takes tremendous vigilance on their part, nonetheless, when there are over fifty speaking parts and dialog may be recorded on as many as three sets simultaneously. As an example, there is a natural tendency for English speakers to darken the second "a" in "Gandalf" and swallow the "l" (so that is sounds more like "Gandoff"). They are determined that it will not happen.

Almost all of the dialog for the film will be looped. This means that each of the actors will sit in a sound studio after filming is complete, and re-read their dialog repeatedly until it matches the filmed lip movements. This offers a second chance to fix up aspects of pronunciation, but the process cannot change the filmed lip movements, so it is still important to get it right the first time.

Each character speaks a carefully selected dialect of English. The strategy is well thought out, subtle, and rigorously applied. I had some part in its development, and am delighted with the result. All of the actors read their lines effortlessly, in dialect.