The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Originated at the time of the awakening of the first Elves1
First spoken at Cuiviénen, but spread across Middle-earth and Aman
Primarily spoken by Elves, but also adopted by certain Men, particularly the Dúnedain
A generic term for the many languages of the Elves
Other names
Elf-speech, Eldarin (an approximately equivalent term, although strictly Eldarin excludes the languages of the Avari, while Elvish does not), Elven-tongue


About this entry:

  • Updated 26 May 2015
  • Updates planned: 1


The rich and ancient languages of the Elves

Tongues of
the Avari

A general term for the languages of the Elves. In Middle-earth, it most commonly refers to Sindarin, but can also apply to Quenya, the High-elven tongue. Other Elvish languages in Middle-earth include dialects derived from Sindarin (for example, the language of the Wood-elves of Thranduil).

There were numerous branches and sub-branches of the Elvish tongues spoken by different peoples in different parts of Middle-earth and Aman. The list below highlights the main variations.

Eldarin In principle, this term refers to the root tongue spoken by all the Eldar, from which most other widely-spoken variations of Elvish derived. In practice, the term tends to be used as a synonym for High Eldarin, more commonly called Quenya, the language spoken among the Vanyar and the Noldor who crossed the Great Sea to dwell with the Valar in Aman.
Nandorin The Nandor were a group of Teleri who abandoned the Great Journey east of the Misty Mountains. Their language was therefore presumably an offshoot of Telerin, but we have little record of it. In combination with elements of Sindarin, ancient Nandorin gave rise to the Silvan Elvish tongue.
Noldorin The branch of the Elvish tongue spoken by the Noldor, which itself broke into several branches, primarily due to the exodus of many of the Noldor back to Middle-earth. The Noldorin spoken by these Exiles was greatly influenced by the Sindarin language more commonly used in their new home, absorbing and adapting new words and concepts. After the First Age ended, many of the speakers of this Exilic Noldorin returned across the Sea to dwell in Tol Eressëa, and Noldorin was an important language on that island.
Quenya An ancient Elvish language preserved by the High Elves in Aman. In Middle-earth it was far less common than the Sindarin tongue, with which it indeed shared a common root recognisable in many words and names. East of the Great Sea, therefore, Quenya tended to remain the preserve of loremasters and poets rather than the common people.
Silvan Elvish The Silvan Elves were a branch of the Nandor, and their language grew out of Nandorin, at least in part. At one time Silvan Elvish was the native tongue of the peoples of Lórien and Mirkwood, but the influence of Sindarin leaders in both those lands meant that the Silvan tongue fell out of use. By the end of the Third Age, Silvan Elvish only survived in a handful of historical names.
Sindarin In origin the language of the Grey-elves or Sindar, a branch of the Teleri who settled in the central forests of Beleriand. Led by the great King Thingol and his Maia Queen Melian, they were the most noble of all the Elves east of the Great Sea, and their language became the pre-eminent form of Elvish spoken in Middle-earth. Being so widely used, Sindarin divided into several dialects, such as the Númenórean Sindarin used by the Dúnedain, or a variant incorporating Quenya forms used by High Elves in Middle-earth.
Telerin The language of the Third Clan of the Elves, the Teleri, would have formed part of the linguistic foundation for Sindarin (as the Sindar were a part of the Teleri). It was also spoken West of the Sea by the Falmari, those of the Teleri who completed the Great Journey to Aman. Though not generally spoken outside this people, it did have some wider influences (notably, the name Telperion for one of the Two Trees incorporates the Telerin word for 'silver').



From the beginning, the Elves called themselves Quendi, the speaking people. From this name that they chose for themselves - and indeed from the fact that they could choose a name for themselves - it seems that the Elves were capable of some form of language from the moment that they awoke in Middle-earth.

See also...

Aeglos, Aerandir, Afterborn, Aftercomers, Agathurush, Akallabêth, Alcarinquë, Aldalómë, Aldúya, Alfirin, Alphabet of Daeron, Amon Amarth, Amon Sûl, Anadûnê, Anardilya, [See the full list...]


About this entry:

  • Updated 26 May 2015
  • Updates planned: 1

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