One of the most fascinating things about Middle Earth (at least to me) is its languages, especially Elvish. J.R.R. Tolkien was a philologist, a master in the study of languages, long before he was a storyteller. In fact, that’s how The Lord of the Rings got started: he made up his own language, and then decided to create a world where it was spoken. Now there are actually fourteen languages used in Middle Earth: Black Speech, Common Speech (English), Dunlending, Old Entish, Hobbit dialect, Khuzdul (or Dwarvish), Numenorean, Orkish, Pre-Numenorean, Quenya, Rohirric, Sindarin, Sylvan, and Wose.
But my favourites, by far, are the Elves’ Quenya and Sindarin. Those are the most complete languages, and I think they’re beautiful. I’ve always wanted to become fluent in one form of Elvish or another. I’m not yet, since I suck at learning languages even with the help of a teacher, but I have at least learned how to pronounce the Elvish passages in the book correctly. Here’s the basic pronunciation guide, which I’ve found super helpful. This is paraphrased from The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth by Ruth S. Noel.
A Guide to Elvish Pronunciation:
c – always makes the “k” sound.
ch – makes the throat sound used in Scottish “loch,” never the forward sound used in “church.”
dh – is used like the soft “th” in “them.”
f – is basically the same as in English; it makes the hard sound, as in “find,” except at the end of words, when it sounds like a “v.”
g – always makes the hard sound; that’s why Region has three syllables in Elvish, not two.
h – when it’s by itself, it sounds like the “h” in “house;” as we’ve already seen, it has different values when paired with other consonants. In Quenya, “ht” sounds like the German “cht.”
i – when it comes at the beginning of a word, it sounds like the “y” in “you.”
k – isn’t used much in Elvish, though Dwarves and Orcs like it a lot.
l – sounds like the English version, except when placed between “e” or “i” and a consonant, or after “e” or “i” at the end of a word; then, it’s pronounced with the middle of the tongue rather than the tip of the tongue, giving an unvoiced sound. This sound is sometimes represented with “lh” or “hl.”
ng – sounds like the kind in “finger,” except at the beginning or end of a word; there, it sounds like the kind in “sing.”
qu – always sounds like “kw.”
ph – always sounds like a hard “f.”
r – is trilled, like a Spanish “r.”
s – always makes the hard sound, never the “z”-like sound.
th – is voiceless, as in “thin.”
ty – makes a sound like the beginning of the British “tune.”
v – always makes the soft sound.
w – is voiceless, as in “whale.”
y – in Quenya, it’s a consonant; in Sindarin, it makes a short “u” sound, as in the French word “lune” (which I had to look up). But the men of Gondor pronounce the Sindarin “y” like the “i” in “sick.”
a – makes the long sound, as in “father.”
e – makes the short sound as in “bed,” and is always pronounced, even in the middle or at the end of a word.
i – makes the short sound, as in “sick.”
o – makes the short sound, as in “hot,” but with the mouth open wider than in English.
u – makes the “oo” sound.
ae – sounds like “eye.”
ei – makes the sound in “grey.”
ie – each vowel is pronounced separately, not as one “ee” sound as in “piece.” Nienna has three syllables.
oe, oi – both make the sound in “boy.”
ui – makes the sound in “ruin.”
au, aw – both make the sound in “loud.” Contrary to popular belief, Smaug’s name does NOT rhyme with “fog.”
er, ir, ur – before a consonant or at the end of a word, make the sounds “air,” “eer” and “oor,” respectively.
ea, eo – each form two syllables.
There you have it! I hope that helps next time you want to read an Elvish poem out loud – and who hasn’t, from time to time?