I was sitting in church behind a music stand waiting for the mass to begin when my daughter turned and spoke to me in Elvish.
I have little idea what she said, beyond the vague knowledge that it was some kind of salutation. It was not even the first time she has spoken to me in Elvish. But it took me by surprise because it was so utterly effortless.
It was as though we were all speaking Elvish all of the time and indeed, the congregation might pipe up in a hymn written in this tongue which is, when all is said and done, completely fictional.
Maddie is increasingly using Elvish. She has a compatriot in school, I believe, who is learning Elvish with her during lunchtimes. I can see the trend growing. And what if she began to write in Elvish? Would her stories catch on? Where would this Elvish tale end?
J.R.R.Tolkien has become rather a way of life these days. Even when I was small I had a map of Middle Earth up in the wall, which I would study solemnly as I read and re-read his work. Had Elvish tutorials been readily available, needless to say I would have learnt the language too.
But the original language Tolkien created before the outbreak of the first world war had a different name: Quenya.
It is easy to forget that before the stories, came Tolkien’s love of language. The man was a philologist: a discipline which combines literary studies, linguistics and history. By the time Quenya came along, Tolkien was already familiar with Latin, Greek, Spanish, Norse, Old English and Gothic languages. He loved words and their provenance.
And then he met those magician storytellers, the Finns, and read their Kalevala. And the lilting beauty of their tongue birthed the possibility of a High Elvish for Tolkien.
He began with what the linguists call a proto-language, a root language from which others stem. He made it up, of course, but it provided root words on which he could build different outcomes.
And then he began to build the fictional tongue which hordes strive to learn and speak today. The language grew and evolved and it seemed to Tolkien that the words needed those to speak it, and they would need a back story. In a letter to a reader he wrote: “I find the construction and the interrelation of the languages an aesthetic pleasure in itself, quite apart from The Lord of the Rings, of which it was/is in fact independent.”
He never intended it to be used for communication, it is said. But by the 1970s people were creating new words and adding elements to make this something in which one could actually speak to other people. As of 2008 about 25,000 Elvish words were included in an encyclopaedia of Elvish.*
And now, surf the net and it’s all out there. the chance to find out what your Elvish name is. Phil is Dínendal Anwarünya. Macaulay the dog is Arminas Anwarünya. We have the opportunity to speak Elvish phrases and learn the way the author-philologist intended.
Or did he? Where does Tolkien’s language end and our wishful thinking begin?
Maybe, simply the groundswell of will to speak this piece of make-believe will take it where Klingon never ventured: to the creation of an Elvish state, and a new Rivendell.
*Kloczko, Edward (2008). L’Encyclopédie des Elfes (in French). Le Pré aux Clercs.