Ruth S. Noel's

The Languages of Tolkien's Middle Earth

The following is a slightly edited version of a critique written by Irene Gates ( It is republished here with permission.

Ruth Noel's The Languages of Tolkien's Middle Earth is outdated. Most of the text from which we derive Quenya grammar has been published since1980. We can now use Quenya much more fluently than was the case then, and while this renders RN's book largely irrelevant, it is hardly her fault.

However, RN's book contains many avoidable sins of omission and of commission. The omissions result from her failure to derive all that could be derived from the material she had, and so are regrettable. The sins of commission (which are many), in a book which purports to be a tutorial, are completely inexcusable.

Here are some comments on some of the worst parts.

Quotations Translated

Using Elvish

There is, unfortunately, very little in this chapter that is correct.

I think that's enough.

English to Elvish Glossary; the Tolkien Dictionary

The glossary seems to contain a lot of words not marked as either Q. or S., although it's usually quite obvious which they are. Both sections are riddled with errors. Look at maryat on p. 166. RN thinks it is ma-r-ya-t , with -r- the plural suffix and -t the dual suffix. This doesn't even make sense. It is actually ma-rya-t , where -rya- is 'her'. Yet a few pages further on, she finds -rya- correctly in omaryo . Go figure. On p. 154 she fails to notice -nya 'my' in hildinyar . As this is the only occurrence of 'my' in the texts she had available, this is a major oversight.

I used to use these sections when writing in Quenya, thus: I would look in the Glossary for the English word I needed, to get the Q. equivalent; then look that up in the Dictionary to find where in LotR or The Silmarillion it came from; then go to that text to see how it was originally used. If you do this, the fact that the Glossary and the Dictionary are unreliable becomes less important.

There are two other books which are better (one a little better, one much better but even more outdated) than RN, but if you don't want to spend the money, I can offer another suggestion: do what I did.

The 'Rosetta Stone' Approach to Quenya

You'll need all your Tolkien books and lots of paper. Find all the fragments in all the books and write them down with lots of space between the lines. Write the translations alongside, then use RN's dictionaries and The Etymologies in The Lost Road to sort out which English word(s) correspond to which Quenya word(s), and write the Quenya stems and their English equivalents under each word. Thus:

Anar kaluva tielyanna!
'The sun shall shine upon your path' (Unfinished Tales p. 22)
(Anar ) (kal- ) (tie )
Sun shine path

If you do this for all the Quenya you can find, you have a database. Now, say you want to study noun suffixes. Copy all the nouns from your database that show a suffix beyond the stem onto separate sheets, grouped by suffix, and copy their meanings with them. You will quickly spot, for example, that the nouns ending in -nna or -nnar all have the sense of 'towards' or 'upon', and you have your allative case ending (and its plural). Go back and annotate your database:

Anar kaluva tielyanna!
'The sun shall shine upon your path' (Unfinished Tales p. 22)
(Anar ) (kal- ) (tie ) (-nna )
Sun shine path upon

It is now a no-brainer to spot -lya- 'your' in the middle of tielyanna , and you have a possessive adjective. And, by the way, that is the only place in the Quenya published so far that that very useful adjective appears.

I used this basic approach to derive all the Quenya grammar that I know. It sounds time-consuming, but once you have the database, you can study adjectives, or present-tense verbs, or make a list of conjunctions, or find out how to construct present participles, or whatever else you need.

One benefit of this approach is that, after you have done this work, you will not need to memorize points of Quenya grammar. You will know them!

Sooner or later, you will get stuck, and this is where TolkLang comes in. If you can't make sense of the patterns you're seeing, post a message to the Lambengolmor . They have little patience with newcomers who come online looking for a ready-to-go Quenya grammar book, but if you show that you have done your homework, and are willing to do more, you will get helpful answers from some of the world's foremost experts in the field that you are studying.

Subscribe to TolkLang and come share the fun!

Nai tengwestie nóle kalyuva kuilelya
'May the study of Language illuminate your life'

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Last modified February 25, 2000.

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