Tolkien’s legendarium is one hundred years old this year and, as far as we can tell, so is the invention that launched it into life: the language he came to call Qenya (and later spelt Quenya). This and other invented languages continued to feed his overall creativity, and they deserve closer scrutiny from Tolkien scholars for the light they shed on his inspirations, methods, and ideas. Four principles govern his linguistic creation. First, sound should fit both sense and speaker. Second, languages develop through time according to regular “laws”; and third, different languages may interrelate. Fourth, as he realized in 1914, artificial languages need a mythology, a story, in which to live. The story is his legendarium; and the fitness of sound is superbly demonstrated by the invented names and words within it. However, his second and third governing principles generated an archive of linguistic papers so huge and complex that his son Christopher felt obliged to leave it almost completely out of The History of Middle-earth.
This deep bedrock of work, laid down by steady accretion or in laval bursts across nearly six decades, is steadily being uncovered in the journals Parma Eldalamberon and Vinyar Tengwar. Just as The History of Middle-earth reveals how Tolkien revised, refined, deepened, and broadened his great story throughout his life, these two journals reveal how he did the same with his Elvish languages. So two timescales need to be borne in mind: the fictional, along which Primitive Quendian evolves and bifurcates into Quenya and its sibling tongues; and the factual, along which Tolkien as creator continually tinkered with this fiction.
For Quenya, Parma Eldalamberon’s editors have attacked the bedrock in different ways, depending on the nature of the strata. When Tolkien’s work on the language was in its earlier stages, we could see all his papers from a given period within a single issue. But the sheer complexity and scale of his later treatises has called for entire issues devoted to particular aspects of the language as developed by Tolkien in major iterations at long intervals. One issue covered Eldarin morphology or word building, another dealt with Quenya phonology or sound-change laws; now in Parma Eldalamberon 21 it is the turn of noun structure.
Although these papers date from the 1930s onwards, they contain a couple of backward glances at Tolkien’s earliest efforts in Qenya, so it is appropriate also to review here Qenyaqetsa, the phonology and lexicon in which Tolkien first codified this language and gave it to the “High Elves” of Eldamar. This, rather than any story or poem, is [End Page 226] the first writing we can unquestionably regard as part of the matter of Middle-earth. Qenyaqetsa was published in 1998, before the inception of Tolkien Studies, but under review here is the 2011 revision of the text. If any item of Tolkienian linguistics belongs in the library of the serious student of Tolkien, it is this. As a solid, diverse example of scholarship on Tolkien’s languages, the proceedings of the Omentielva Nelya conference provide a tailpiece to this review.
Qenya Noun Structure
Like its inspiration, Finnish, Quenya comes with a magnificent array of...