Philological Basis of Tolkien’s Middle-earth

[Philology: The study of language as a vehicle for literature and culture;

historical & comparative linguistics]


“Behind my stories is now a nexus of languages (mostly only structurally sketched). But to those creatures which in English I call misleadingly elves, are assigned two related languages more nearly completed, whose history is written, and whose forms (representing two different sides of my linguistic taste) are deduced scientifically from a common origin. Out of these languages are made nearly all the names that appear in my legends. This gives a certain character (a cohesion, a consistency of linguistic style, and an illusion of historicity) to the nomenclature, or so I believe, that is markedly lacking in other comparable things.”                                                                             

[Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981) p.143]


“It must be emphasized that this process of invention [of elven languages] was/is a private enterprise undertaken to give pleasure to myself by giving expression to my personal linguistic ‘aesthetic’, or taste, and its fluctuations. It was largely antecedent to the composing of legends and ‘histories’ in which these languages could be ‘realized’; and the bulk of the nomenclature is constructed from these pre-existing languages, and where the resulting names have analyzable meanings (as is usual) these are relevant solely to the fiction with which they are integrated.”                                   

[Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981) p.380]


Major Articles by Tolkien on the Languages


“Appendix E: Writing and Spelling”, “Appendix F: I The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age, II On Translation” at end of The Return of the King, being the third part of The Lord of the Rings.


“The Appendix on Languages” in The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996) 19-84.


“Appendix on Runes” in The Treason of Isengard (1989) 451-465.


“Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names” in The Silmarillion (1977) 355-365.


“The Etymologies” in The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987) 341-400.


“Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings” in A Tolkien Compass / ed. Jared Lobdell. LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Press, 1975. 153-201. (dropped in later editions)


“The List of Names” in The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987) 404-407.


“Note on Pronunciation” in The Silmarillion (1977) 310-311.


The Notion Club Papers (Selections); especially, ‘Edwin Lowdham’s various versions & manuscripts (309-327) & “Lowdham’s Report on the Andunaic Languge” (413-440) in Sauron Defeated (1992)


“Quendi and Eldar” in The War of the Jewels (1994) 357-424.


Translations by ‘Aelfwine’ into Old English of the Quenta (205-213), the Annals of Valinor (281-293), the Annals of Beleriand (337-341) in The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986)


Selective Studies by Others


Jim Allen (ed.) An Introduction to Elvish. Frome, Somerset, Eng.: Brian’s Head, 1978.


E. L. Epstein. “The Novels of J. R. R. Tolkien and the Ethnology of Medieval Christendom” Philological Quarterly 48 (1969) 517-525.

[Elvish=Welsh, Finnish, Breton; Rohirric=Old English; Dwarves names=Old Norse]


Christopher Gilson. “Gnomish is Sindarin: The Conceptual Evolution of an Elvish Language” in Tolkien’s Legendarium / ed. Flieger & Hostetter. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. (95-104)


David Lyle Jeffrey. “Recovery: Name in the Lord of the Rings” in Tolkien: New Critical Perspectives / ed. Neil D. Isaacs & Rose A. Zimbardo. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981.


Ruth S. Noel. The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.


David Salo. A Gateway to Sindarin: A Grammar of an Elvish Language from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2004.


Tom Shippey. “Creation from Philology in the Lord of the Rings” in J.R.R, Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam / ed. Mary Salu & Robert T. Farrell. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979. 286-316.


Tom Shippey. The Road to Middle-earth. London: Allen & Unwin, 1982. (New York: HarperCollins, 1980)


Arden R. Smith. “Certhas, Skirditalia, Fupsrk: A Feigned History of Runic Origins” in Tolkien’s Legendarium / ed. Flieger & Hostetter. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. (105-111)


Anthony J. Ugolnik. “Warlord Onleac: The Medieval Source of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Linguistic Aesthetic” Mosaic 10 (Winter 1977) 15-31.




Parma Eldalamberon.

Vinyar Tengwar.


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