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Languages of Middle Earth

One of the things that makes J. R. R. Tolkien's stories so believable is the realistic languages created for the races in the stories. Tolkien was a professor with a specialty in old languages but the creation of several languages for his stories was still an impressive feat. The elven languages in particular were proper, well developed languages. A summary of some of the languages is provided below. This variety of languages and they way that they are integrated in to the story, names etc, is the major reason why it is so difficult to translate Lord of the Rings in to languages other than English.

Adúnaic

The language of the Dúnedain, descendants of the men of Numenor.

Black Speech

This language was devised by Sauron to be the language of his servants. The writing on his ruling ring was in Black speech.

Cirith

A form of writing devised by the Sindar elves in the First Age. Many other races later adopted the Cirith characters for writing in their own languages, especially the dwarves. In later years, Cirith writing was influenced by the Tengwar writing of the Noldor elves.

Dunlending

The men of Dunland had their own language which was quite different from the common tongue of Middle Earth. They had lived in Dunland long before the people of middle Earth began adopting the languages of the elves or the Numenoreans. Only a few of them learned Westron and they disliked other races such as the Numenoreans and Rohirrim.

Drúedan

The wild men of the Drúedan forest or woses had a language that was quite alien to other races. When they met with king Theoden of Rohan, they were able to communicate only because some of them, such as their leader Ghan-buri-ghan, were able to speak some Westron.

Dwarvish (Khuzdul)

Language of the dwarves. In later years the dwarves spoke Westron in general and kept their own languages very secret. Few who were not dwarves ever learned it.

Entish

The ents of Fangorn forest had a language that was only used among themselves. They considered most other languages to be hasty. Theirs was a language that was impossible for other races to learn or use. When ents spoke to Merry & Pippin in what appeared to be their own language in Lord of the Rings, in most cases they were actually speaking a form of Quenya which they preferred over the languages of other races (apart from their own language).

Orcish

Originally the orcs never had their own language but simply perverted parts of other languages to suit themselves. In later times there were many different languages in the different tribes of orcs and they generally used Westron when communicating with orcs of different tribes. Their manner of speaking could perhaps be compared to someone who speaks english in an uncouth way, with a lot of profanity.

Quenya

The language of the Noldor elves. When the Noldor elves returned to Middle Earth, most of them adopted the language of the Sindar elves as their daily language. Their own language was still retained and often used as a language of lore. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as an elvin latin.

Rohirric

Language of the Rohirrim. Many words in this language are similar to words used by Hobbits in the shire which is probably due to the fact that both groups originated from the northern vales of the Anduin river. Eg. The Hobbit's word for themselves seemed closely related to the Rohirrim word holbytla or hole builder. Most of the Rohirrim spoke Westron as their main language, though they retained their own language.
The language of the Rohirrim was an older form of the common language of Middle Earth. Since Lord of the Rings was written in English, the language of the Rohirrim was portrayed as Old English. This can be seen in Old English names and phrases used by the Rohirrim. For example, Éowyn's name comes from the old english eoh (horse) and wyn (joy). So her name literally means delight in horses.
When the Rohirrim spoke in their own language, it was written in the story as old english. For example, when Éomer cried Westu Théoden hál!, he was literally saying Be thou healthy Théoden!.

Information about Old English from John Tinkler's essay titled "Old English In Rohan" 1970

Sindarin

The language of the Sindar elves. This language became the most common language among elves.

Silvan

Language of the Silvan elves and the native language of the majority of the elves in places like Mirkwood and Lórien. Most of the silvan elves in Lórien actually spoke Sindarin, but with an accent different to Sindar elves. All the elven speech described in the Lord of the Rings was either Sindarin or Quenya, with Sindarin being the most common.

Tengwar

Originally the written form of the Noldor elves language. The style of writing was originally devised by an elf scribe named Rúmil but was later changed to a very large degree by the great elf Feanor.

Westron - Common Speech

This was the most common language of Middle Earth and the one spoken by the main characters in Lord of the Rings. Tolkien often wrote the books as though he were translating an ancient history rather than writing the story. According to this idea of translation, all the parts of the story that were in Westron, were translated in to English while all the parts that were in other languages stayed the same (eg - words spoken by elves). Westron was heavily influened by Adúnaic though it also had influences from other human languages in Middle Earth.

Written examples

Example of writing using Tengwar.

You can get tengwar fonts like this for Windows from Dan Smith's Tengwar Fonts.

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