Quenya, originally spelt "Qenya", goes back to at least 1915. It seems that it was this year 23-year-old Tolkien compiled the "Qenya Lexicon", one of the very first Elvish word-lists (see LT1:246). Countless revisions affecting both grammar and vocabularly separate the earliest "Qenya" from the more-or-less final form that is exemplified in The Lord of the Rings, but the general phonetic style was present from the beginning. Nearly mature Quenya gradually emerged in the thirties, but minor revisions were being done even while LotR was being written, such as changing the genitive ending from -n to -o. There are also a few changes in the revised second edition of LotR, like when Tolkien decided that the word vánier in Galadriel's Lament should rather be avánier.

Throughout his life, Tolkien continued to refine the High-Elven tongue, that according to his son Christopher was "language as he wanted it, the language of his heart" (from the TV program J.R.R. Tolkien - A Portrait by Landseer Productions). In one of his letters, Tolkien himself wrote: "The archaic language of lore is meant to be a kind of 'Elven-latin', and by transcribing it into a spelling closely resembling that of Latin...the similarity to Latin has been increased ocularly. Actually it might be said to be composed on a Latin basis with two other (main) ingredients that happen to give me 'phonaesthetic' pleasure: Finnish and Greek. It is however less consonantal than any of the three. This language is High-elven or in its own terms Quenya (Elvish)" (Letters:176). Quenya was the ultimate experiment in euphony and phonaesthetics, and according to the taste of many, it was a glorious success. The grammatical structure, involving a large number of cases and other inflections, is clearly inspired by Latin and Finnish.

The longest sample of Quenya in The Lord of the Rings is Galadriel's Lament, sc. the poem Namárië near the end of the chapter Farewell to Lórien (LotR1/II ch. 8, starting Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen...) Many of the examples referred to in the following discussion are drawn from this poem. Other important Quenya texts include the Markirya poem in MC:222-223 and Fíriel's Song in LR:72, though the grammar of the latter differs somewhat from LotR-style Quenya; it represents one of Tolkien's earlier "Qenya" variants. (Markirya is very late and fully reliable.)



©Helge Fauskanger