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Quenya
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Quenya

Quenya is one of the languages spoken by the Elves in J. R. R. Tolkien's work. It was the language that developed among those non-Telerin Elves that reached Valinor (they are at times called High Elves) from an earlier language called Common Eldarin. Of the Three Houses of Elves, the Noldor and the Vanyar spoke slightly different, though mutually intelligible dialects of Quenya. The language was also adopted by the Valar who also made some new introductions into it from their own original language. The Third House, the Teleri, spoke a different, closely related language: Telerin.

The written script alphabet of the Elven languages is typically Tengwar, although Cirth can also be used.

The Noldor that fled to Middle-earth following the Darkening of Valinor spoke Quenya among themselves. However when Thingol of Doriath, who was the king of the Sindar (Elves of the Telerin line who remained in Beleriand instead of journeying to Valinor) learnt about their slaying of the Teleri, he forbade the use of Quenya between his people and the Noldor, and forced them to communicate in Sindarin only.

The Quenya used in Middle-earth of the Third Age (the time of the setting of The Lord of the Rings) had come to be a scholarly pursuit — something akin to Latin in our time. (Indeed, Tolkien referred to Quenya as "Elf-Latin".) It was meant to be used as a formal language and for writing, and Sindarin was the vernacular of all Elves. However the Noldor still remembered it and valued it highly, which we can see in the way they treat Frodo's greeting elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo. ("A star shines on the hour of our meeting.") Galadriel is perhaps the only major Elf character in Middle-earth during the events of The Lord of the Rings that learned Quenya as a cradle-tongue: she was born in Valinor, during the days of the Two Trees. Noldorin (Exilic) Quenya differed somewhat from Valinórean Quenya, because the language continued to evolve after exile, and it underwent some regularisation as it became a language of lore. There were also a few changes in pronunciation.

The most striking feature of Quenya is that it is a higly agglutinated language, meaning that words are regularly modified (usually by means of a suffix) to express gramatical function. It is quite normal for one Quenya word to have the same meaning as an entire English sentence, for example, one could say "they have seen it" in Quenya in a single word (namly Ecénientes).

Outside the fiction, its grammar is influenced by Finnish, being agglutinated, but the primary grammatical inspiration comes from Latin and Greek. The phonology is also based on Finnish, and to a lesser extent Italian and Spanish; namely, no consonant cluster can begin or end a syllable (with one exception, the dual dative ending -nt). Another rule is that a word may not end in a non-coronal consonant.

Tolkien wrote much more material about Quenya and his other languages than he published in his lifetime. The journals Vinyar Tengwar and Parma Eldalamberon are devoted to editing and publishing Tolkien's linguistic papers.

Quenya is one of many constructed languages introduced over the years by science fiction and fantasy writers, some others being Klingon, Newspeak, Nadsat and Lapine.


In early Tolkien's writings (see: The History of Middle-earth), this language was called Qenya, and it underwent countless revisions in both grammar and vocabulary before it reached the form found in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

See also: Languages of Middle-earth, Sindarin, Tengwar

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