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Spoken in: Middle-earth, Aman
Timeline/Universe: Tolkien's legendarium
Total speakers:
Genealogical classification: Quendian
Basic word order: SVO
Morphological type: agglutinating
Morphosyntactic alignment: accusative
Created by:
J. R. R. Tolkien 1917-

Quenya is the most famous of the diachronic conlangs of J. R. R. Tolkien, the language of the High Elves of Arda. It was the language developed by those non-Telerin Elves who reached Valinor (the "High Elves") from an earlier language called Common Eldarin, which also evolved from the original Primitive Quendian. Of the Three Houses of the Elves, the Noldor and the Vanyar spoke slightly different, though mutually intelligible, dialects of Quenya (Quenya [also Noldorin Quenya and later when they followed Fëanor in Arda Exilic Quenya] and Vanyarin Quenya [also Quendya], respectively). The language was also adopted by the Valar, who made some new introductions into it from their own original language, though these are more numerous in the Vanyarin dialect than the Noldorin one. This is probably the case because of the enduringly close relationship the Vanyar had with the Valar. Those of the Third House, the Teleri, who reached Aman and founded the city of Alqualondë spoke a different, closely related language, (Amanya) Telerin, although this was by some seen as a dialect of Quenya, which is untrue in a historic perspective but plausible in a linguistic one; the languages do not share a common history, but are very much alike, and later grew very close due to contact.

During the Third Age Quenya was no longer a living language in Middle-earth: most Elves spoke Sindarin, and Men mostly spoke Westron. Quenya was mainly used in official names and writings and as a ceremonial language, much as the Latin language was in medieval Europe. For this reason it was sometimes called "an Elven-Latin" by Tolkien.

In Tolkien's fictional world, Quenya is usually written in Tengwar, although it was earlier written in Sarati. The language can also be written in other alphabets: modes for Cirth exist. In the real world Tengwar is not uncommon, but it is usually written in the Latin alphabet.


Tolkien, an enthusiastic philologist, wanted to create as beautiful a language as possible. This urge, in fact, was the motivation for his creation of Middle-earth. While the language developed, he needed speakers, history for the speakers and all real dynamics, like war and migration, to be able to make the artificial language complete, and of these thoughts Middle-earth was initiated.

Tolkien was keen on legends and sagas, and studied foreign languages to be able to read them in their native language. Amongst others, he studied some Finnish to be able to read Kalevala, the Finnish national epic.

Outside the fiction, the grammar of Quenya was influenced by Finnish, which is an agglutinative language; grammatical inspiration also came from Latin and Greek. The phonology was also based on Finnish and, to a lesser extent, Latin, Italian and Spanish. Some interesting phonological rules are that no consonant cluster can begin or end a syllable (with one exception, the dual dative ending -nt); voiced stops must be preceded by sonorants; and a word may not end in a non-coronal consonant. The Finnish influence also extends to vocabulary; some words, such as tule "come" and anna "give", have a Finnish origin. Latin influence is also evident in certain words (e.g. aure, "dawn"), and Germanic influence in others (e.g., Arda, the Quenya name for the world).

Standard (Noldorin or Exilic) Quenya appears to be the most influenced by Finnish phonology, as it has the most restrictive rules regarding consonant clusters. The influence of Italian, which Tolkien also loved, appears somewhat stronger in the related language Telerin, and the Vanyarin dialect of Quenya, which retained certain features such as the retention of /d/ and /z/ in places where they were lost in standard Quenya. Examples of Vanyarin Quenya include the title of the poem Aldudenie and words like ezello "green" (borrowed from Valarin), as well as the name of language itself, Quendya.

The most striking feature of Quenya is that it is a highly agglutinative language, meaning that multiple affixes are often added to words to express grammatical functions. It is possible for one Quenya word to have the same meaning as an entire English sentence. For example, one can say "I have found it" in Quenya in a single word, utúvienyes (= utúvie- "have found" + -nye "I" + -s "it").

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, the Ascian language and Lapine.

In Tolkien's early writings (see: The History of Middle-earth), this language was called Qenya (although pronounced the same as Quenya). It underwent countless revisions in both grammar and vocabulary before it reached the form found in The Lord of the Rings and again went through changes before the completion of The Silmarillion. The term Qenya is now used to distinguish between old Qenya and the new Quenya. However, the fluid nature of Quenya (or Qenya, for that matter) makes such a distinction a highly disputed one.

Quenya used by fans for post-Tolkien composition of poems and texts, phrases and names, is usually nicknamed neo-Quenya, or Quenya Vinyakarmë (Q. for "neologism") by scholars. Since Tolkien's own ideas were rather fluid, any attempt to actually use the language must involve a number of "editing decisions" by the post-Tolkien author. See Neo-Eldarin.

In 2001, the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was released in theaters. The resultant increased popularity of Quenya led to an Onion article, "Don't Come Crying to Me when You Need Someone who Speaks Elvish".

History (fictional)

As told in The Silmarillion (chapter 3), the Elves devised the language at Cuiviénen, before they encountered the Vala Oromë:

they began to make speech and give names to all things that they perceived. Themselves they named the Quendi, signifying those that speak with voices; for as yet they had met no other living things that spoke or sang.

Since the stars were the first thing seen by the Elves as they awoke, the word el "star" was the first invented, originally an exclamation of adoration, and Oromë named the elves Eldar "people of the stars" in their own language. Similarly, according to the Cuivienyarna,

Imin, Tata and Enel awoke before their spouses, and the first thing that they saw was the stars, for they woke in the early twilight before dawn. And the next thing they saw was their destined spouses lying asleep on the green sward beside them. Then they were so enamoured of their beauty that their desire for speech was immediately quickened and they began to ‘think of words' to speak and sing in. (HoME 11, p. 421)

Over time, however, the Eldar changed the language, adding to it words of their liking and softening it from its origins in Valarin speech. The Valar adopted this language in order to converse with the Eldar in Valinor.

The Noldor who fled to Middle-earth following the Darkening of Valinor spoke Quenya among themselves. However, when Elu Thingol of Doriath, who was the king of the Sindar (Elves of the Telerin line who remained in Beleriand instead of journeying to Valinor) learned about their slaying of the Teleri, he forbade the use of Quenya in his realm. The Sindar, however, had been slow to learn Quenya, while the Noldor at this time had fully mastered Sindarin. (The Silmarillion, chapter 15).

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 occasionally refers to Quenya as "Elven-Latin"). Quenya was used as a formal language and for writing; Sindarin was the vernacular of all Elves. However, the Noldor still remembered Quenya 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 who learned Quenya as a cradle-tongue: she was born in Valinor, during the days of the Two Trees; she was also most likely the most powerful elf in Middle-earth at the time, as well as the oldest save Círdan. Noldorin (Exilic) Quenya differed somewhat from Valinórean Quenya, because the language continued to evolve after exile and underwent some regularisation as it became a language of lore. There were also a few changes in pronunciation.



All consonants are written according to their values in IPA, unless otherwise noted.

  Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab. plain lab.
Nasals m n
<ng>, <ñ>
<ngw>, <ñw>
Plosives p  b t  d   c
k ɡ
<c> <g>

Fricatives f  v1 s   ç
<h>, <hy>
Trill   r          
Approximants lateral   l   ʎ
central       j
  ʍ  w
  1. written <f> when final or before /n/.

/f/ is voiced to [v] when final or before /n/.

/h/ was originally [x] in all positions, but later debuccalized to [h] when in initial position. It retains the pronunciation [x] intervocalically, as in aha [axa] ('rage'), and between the back vowels /a, o, u/ and /t/, as in ohtar [oxtar] ('warrior'). Between the front vowels /e, i/ and /t/, /h/ is palatalized to [ç], as in nehta [neçta] ('spearhead').

The pronunciation of hy, originally written as a single letter, weakened to [h] by the Third Age, and so the sequence /h/ /j/ was then used to express [ç].

Tolkien vacillated between ng and ñ in writing Quenya's velar nasal, but is said to have favoured the latter in late writings up until his death. By the Third Age, the pronunciation of initial [ŋ] had advanced to [n].


Front Central Back
long short long short long short
Close ɪ u
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open ɑː a

The short vowels are transcribed i, e, a, o, u, as one would expect; the long vowels carry an acute accent (e.g. é for /e:/).

The diphthongs are ai, oi, ui, au, eu, iu.

External links

This article incorporates text from Wikipedia, and is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.
For the original article please see the "external links" section.

This article is part of a series on the languages and worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien.

Conlangs: Adûnaic * Avarin * Black Speech * Khuzdul * Quenya * Quendian * Sindarin * Westron
Conworld: Middle-earth
Conpeoples: Elves
Terms and techniques coined: Diachronics * Legendarium * Lámatyáve * *