What is Vanyarin Quenya like?

Abbreviations used:

LR: The Lost Road and other writings
WJ: The War of the Jewels
PM: The Peoples of Middle-Earth
LOTR: The Lord of the Rings
SIL: The Silmarillion
VT: Vinyar Tengwar
PE: Parma Eldalamberon

Q: Quenya
VQ: Vanyarin Quenya
NQ: Ñoldorin Quenya

External history

The idea of the distinction between a Vanyarin and a Ñoldorin dialect of Quenya must have been conceived by Tolkien during the creation of LOTR. Clearly, in the Etymologies [1-3] (which can be linked to the early drafts of LOTR) the language of the Noldor is not Quenya but Noldorin, part of the Celtic-themed Elvish language branch which was eventually to become Sindarin. This idea goes a long way back - in the Gnomish Lexicon (PE11), the first of the Celtic-themed languages, Goldogrin is introduced as i·Lam na·Ngoldathon 'the language of the Gnomes' and PE11:41 gives Goldogrin golda Qenya noldo as 'gnome, i.e. wise one'. The relation between Quenya, Noldorin and the language of the Vanyar (at that time called Lindar) in the pre-LOTR aera is perhaps best apparent from the Lhammas (LR:167). In Lhammas A and B, the early Lindarin speech is preserved as a written tongue and called 'Quenya', but there is a later speech of the Lindar called 'Lindarin'. In the Lammasethen however, Quenya is a tongue acquired anew from Valarin whereas the originally evolved everyday speech of the Lindar is 'Lindarin' (LR:195). While the characterization of Lindarin as most beautiful and least changeful (LR:172) is not very different from what Tolkien later wrote about Vanyarin, it has to be remembered that the gap between Noldorin as Celtic-themed and Quenya as Finnish-Latin-themed language is much more prominent than the later gap between Ñoldorin and Vanyarin Quenya as two mutually intellegible dialects of the same Finnish-Latin inspired theme.

The association of the Noldor with a Celtic-themed language is removed in Appendix E of LOTR. Discussing variant names of the tengwar, Tolkien states: Where there are variants, this is due to the names given before certain changes affected Quenya as spoken by the Exiles [i.e. Noldor], thus in the linguistic scenario from this point on, both Noldor and Vanyar spoke Quenya, but different dialects.

It seems very likely that Tolkien did not create the differences between Noldorin and Vanyarin Quenya from scratch - early material contains references to dialect forms of Qenya, such as PE14:41 mentions the standard development of some consonant clusters vs. some dialect forms. Thus, presumably existing ideas about various dialects of Q(u)enya were used to map out the difference between Noldorin and Vanyarin Quenya.

However, even if the differences in Noldorin and Vanyarin Quenya were essentially defined, we do not learn much more except of the sound shifts exemplified by the Tengwar names. More information about Vanyarin emerges in the 1959-60 essay 'Quendi and Eldar' [4], chiefly in the context of providing a means by which some Valarin forms could be still known in Middle-earth. Finally, the 1968 essay 'The Shibboleth of Fëanor' [5] introduces some more information on the difference between Noldorin and Vanyarin. Here, Tolkien was struggling with the problem when exactly to place the change of þ > s and presented a solution in terms of politics intruding into linguistic matters.

All in all, the actual evidence of how Vanyarin Quenya was like is rather scarce, there are a few more forms and possible candidates scattered throughout the corpus. Given that it is likely that the elements of Q(u)enya development where roughly fixed at a time when the Noldor still spoke the Noldorin of the Etymologies, we will in the following assume that the sound changes of Quenya follow the framework laid out by Helge Fauskanger in The Evolution from Primitive Elvish to Quenya [6] (mainly based on material of the Etymologies) and that the idea of two dialects of Quenya emerging later did not significantly change this picture.

Internal history

Vanyarin Quenya is only visible to us in Tolkien's writings at a very specific period of time - just before the Noldor left Valinor. While both Vanyar and Noldor dwelt together, there apparently was hardly any difference in language: This [the Ñoldorin love of change and novelty] had been restrained and modified while they [the Ñoldor] still lived in a single speech-community with the conservative Vanyar, whose assent had to be obtained before any innovation could become recognized as genuine Quenya. (VT41:7), i.e. changes in the language were co-ordinated with the loremasters of the Vanyar.

However, after the Noldor left for Middle-Earth and into Exile, no information about Vanyarin Quenya can be found. Only very few incarnates leave the blessed land later on, among them Gandalf, Radagast and Glorfindel, and while they could have provided information how Vanyarin Quenya has developed since, there is no account given in which they actually do so.

Thus, our knowledge of Vanyarin Quenya is limited to Quenya as it was just before the Exile of the Noldor, and as we do know some of the changes which affected the Quenya of the Exiles during their time in Middle-Earth, we can get a plausible picture of how some elements of Vanyarin Quenya may have been like. Given the conservativeness of the Vanyarin loremasters without the influence of the Noldor, chances are the language has not changed much in the blessed land though.

Differences between Ñoldorin and Vanyarin

Tolkien summarizes the difference between the two dialects as follows: After the separation, though the two dialects remained readily intellegible to Vanyar or Ñoldor, the Ñoldorin Quenya soon acquired many new words, and new grammatical devices; but in the department of phonetics and sound structure the only serious divergence was this treatment of þ. (VT41:7).

This, unfortunately, means that we only know the smallest part of the difference between the dialects - while we have some understanding about the difference in the department of phonetics (which are, since Ñoldorin Quenya as we usually discuss it has developed further in Middle-Earth, not limited to the change mentioned at the time of the separation), we can in most cases only guess what new words were acquired and we have no single example of a grammatical construction being different in Ñoldorin and Vanyarin.

Most of the phonetic changes can be inferred from the variant names of the tengwar described in LOTR appendix E. The relevant list is (with the older form given in brackets): &súle (þúle) 'spirit' harma 'treasure' or aha 'rage' noldo (ngoldo) 'one of the kindred of the Noldor' nwalme (ngwalme) 'torment' vilya (wilya) 'air, sky'. Tolkien explains Where there are variants, this is due to the names given before certain changes affected Quenya as spoken by the Exiles. Thus No. 11 was called harma when it represented the spirant ch in all positions, but when this sound became breath h initially (though remaining medially) the name aha was devised. áre was originally áze, but when this z became merged with 21 [óre], the sign was in Quenya used for the very frequent ss (...). (LOTR Appendix E). This maps out most of the sound changes.

It is interesting to note that the Vanyar seem to have been less conservative at earlier times. In PM:402, we find the following: Thus it was that when the name Banyai of old was changed to Vanyar this was done only because the sound b was changed throughout the language (...) and this change (...) began among the Vanyar; whereas for the showing of many the new device of -r was brought in and used (...) and this (...) was begun among the Noldor. Thus, here we see the Vanyar as the aesthets changing the phonetic structure of the language, whereas the Noldor are seen as theoreticians changing grammatical devices (here plural formation).

Let us now discuss the individual known differences in detail and illustrate their consequences by investigating how certain words may have appeared in Vanyarin Quenya.

-þ- and -s-

The change þ > s happening in Ñoldorin Quenya only clearly was to Tolkien's mind the most prominent difference. It is the chief topic of the essay 'The Shibboleth of Fëanor' (PM:331), and Tolkien's purpose for writing the essay can be summarized in his own words: Since Sindarin made great use of þ, the change þ > s must have occured in the Ñoldorin Quenya in Valinor before the rebellion and exile of the Ñoldor, though not necessarily long before it, from where he launches into a detailed account how Fëanor viewed the matter of the sound change by the Ñoldor as a personal insult to the memory of his mother and resisted it.

Further evidence for the change (or variant forms) can be found e.g. in 'Quendi and Eldar', cf. the forms VQ: þinde, Ñ dialect sinde 'grey, pale or silvery grey' (WJ:384) or VQ: aþar, Ñ asar 'fixed time, festival' (WJ:399).

Conceptually, the change is rather easy to grasp: In Ñoldorin Quenya all instances of -þ- are shifted to -s-, this does not happen in Vanyarin Quenya. The sound þ in the evolution of Quenya is either directly part of the root as -TH- (in which case it can be inside a word) or is created by initial ST-. Thus, the number of known words affected by this rule is therefore rather limited. One may e.g. have

According to LOTR Appendix E, the tengwar-writing in Ñoldorin preserves the distinction in origin by using silme and súle where applicable. Naturally, in Vanyarin þúle would be used for þ.

-z- and -r-

The next important rule is evident from the old name of the tengwa áze - it concerns a shift z > r which takes place in Ñoldorin but not in Vanyarin Quenya. As a further example example, we find Aurel < aw(a)delo Oärel < awādelo. In the Vanyarin dialect Auzel and Oäzel. (WJ:363).

The problem with this rule, if one is (as the author of this article) more familiar with Ñoldorin Quenya, is that Vanyarin forms cannot simply be inferred by replacing every -r- with a -z-. The reason is that while the Vanyarin -z- is in Ñoldorin almost always shifted to -r-, not every -r- in Ñoldorin Quenya comes originally from -z- (the exception to the shift is described by Tolkien as Medial z < s had become r in the Ñoldorin dialect of Q except when an adjacent syllable, or (as here [i.e. Kasar, not **Karar]) the same syllable, already contained an r. (WJ:413)

Thus, in order to understand how -z- appears in Vanyarin Quenya (and thus which -r- in Ñoldorin Quenya comes from this shift), it is necessary to study the development of Quenya in a little more detail ([6] is a good reference for the interested reader, the following examples are adapted from Helge Fauskangers presentation). Ultimately, primitive -d- and -s- can potentially become -z-. An internal s is voiced to z if followed by a vowel or voiced consonant in pre-record Quenya:

However it remains s if it is followed by an unvoiced consonant: The spirant ð, developed from an original post-vocalic d also changes into z: All -z- which develop this way would remain in Vanyarin, but change to -r- in Ñoldorin, thus we might expect to see A special rule may apply when -s is final - in this case olos 'dream' (UT:396) would suggest that in this position -s remains in Vanyarin as well (if we had ?oloz at some point, this form should be ?olor in Ñoldorin, which is indeed the form found in the Etymologies (LR:379)). Of couse, the plural would then still be VQ: olozi or NQ: olori. There is however no evidence that a final primitive -d would not lead to a -z, such as e.g. VQ:*taz NQ: tar 'thither' (cf. LR:389).

The Vanyarin sound would be written in tengwar with áze. In Ñoldorin, rómen or óre take this position.

-f- and -hw-

A somewhat curious problem is presented by two rather technical remarks: Similar, the labial spirant f was bilabial, and so remained in Vanyarin. (VT41:7) and The Ñoldor, before they made the change, accused the Vanyar of confusing the two sounds [i.e. f and hw]. In fact, if left to unheeded change they would probably have merged in Quenya hw. Their near approach (by slackening the spirantal friction of f) before the separation of Vanyar and Ñoldor is seen in the development phu- > hwu- > hu-, as in Quenya huine 'gloom' (...). Later, when the merging had been checked in Ñoldorin it was one of Fëanor's jests to declare that the Vanyar called his father Hwinwe and himself Hwëanáro (VT41:8). What this seems to mean is that f (from primitive PH- or SP-) was a very soft sound in Quenya before the separation, and became even more so over time, threatening to merge with hw (from primitive SW-). The Ñoldor opposed this merging and introduced (from Telerin) the normal f sound, but apparently the Vanyar did not such thing.

It is up to anyone's guess if the sounds in the end did truly merge in Vanyarin or just became very similar. In the following examples, we will assume that they merged and thus all words from roots with PH- and SP- would develop to hw- in Vanyarin (but PHU- > hu-):

The sound is written using formen in Ñoldorin. Presumably the Vanyar would have preserved this way of writing and just changed the sound value instead of using hwesta.

h- and ch-

The following differences are chiefly inferred from the fact that the tengwa aha had a precursor harma with an initial ch- sound. Thus, by the time of the separation, there was still a difference between the sound ch- developed from KH- and SK- and the sound h- from 3- which only became absent in Ñoldorin Quenya. IF so, one might expect but The sound would then be written with harma in Vanyarin but with hyarmen in Ñoldorin.

v- and w-

Likewise, from the fact that the tengwa vilya was previously wilya a sound change in Ñoldorin Quenya w- > v- can be deduced. It has also been assumed, based on the fact that the unvoiced f in Vanyarin was a very soft sound that the same is true for its voiced counterpart, the Vanyarin v. While this is plausible, there is no evidence anywhere in Tolkien's writings and we will in the following represent the Vanyarin sound with v-, keeping in mind that it could be softer than a Ñoldorin v-. In mapping out the difference between Vanyarin and Ñoldorin, we now have to understand what roots would result in a w- which is preserved in Vanyarin. This is rather easy - all roots in W- and GW- result in Vanyarin w-, all roots in B- lead to v- instead. Thus, one might find but Naturally, the writing of the sound uses vilya in both dialects.

ñ-, n-, ñw-, nw-

Finally we can argue for a sound change (not accompanied by a change in writing) in Ñoldorin Quenya concerning the tengwar ñoldo and ñwalme. Thus

Case inflection

Helge Fauskanger in [6] also mentiones several changes in inflectional forms which happened in the Quenya of the Exiles based on the so-called Plotz letter. Vanyarin Quenya would presumably not have undergone these changes and thus still be close to the so called 'Book-Quenya'. In detail, the forms affected are:

The Nominative Plural of nouns ending in would be *-í < *-ei in Vanyarin and not shortened as in Ñoldorin Quenya. Hence one may find VQ: lassí instead of NQ: lassi 'leaves'.

The Genitive Singular of nouns ending in -a would be *-ó < *-ao in Vanyarin and not shortened to -o as in Ñoldorin. Thus VQ: Vardó instead of NQ: Vardo 'of Varda'

The Accusative Singular of Vanyarin Quenya would be as in 'Book Quenya', i.e. marked by a lengthening of the final vowel. Hence VQ: *Tirin kiryá. 'I watch a ship'.

The Accusative Plural of Vanyarin Quenya would be -i for nouns which in Ñ receive -r and otherwise, thus VQ: *Tirin kiryai 'I watch ships' or VQ: *Tirin elení 'I watch stars.'

Adjectives in -a may preserve the plural *-ai in Vanyarin instead of undergoing the change to as in Ñoldorin, thus VQ: *lintai kiryar 'swift ships'

Adjectives in -ëa may preserve the plural *-ëai instead of changing to -ië as in Ñoldorin, thus VQ: laureai lassí 'golden leaves'

The first two lines of Namárië might therefore render in Vanyarin as:

Ai! laurëai lantar lassí súrinen,
yéni únótimai ve rámar aldaron!

Other sound changes

As indicated above, Vanyarin Quenya seems to be more conservative in the sense of preserving more original consonant clusters. One further example of this is found in the name of the language Quendya, which remained in the Vanyarin dialect, but in Ñoldorin became Quenya. (WJ:361).

However, since -ndy- does not seem to be a consonant cluster frequently encountered, this does not seem to be a big influence on the overall flavour of the language. As an amusing side-note, since the Vanyar accepted it [the name Vanyar] but continued to call themselves most often by their old numerical name Minyar (WJ:382), they would probably have called their own dialect Minyarin Quendya rather than Vanyarin Quenya.

Differences in vocabulary

Let us now turn away from phonetics and sound changes and investigate the other two areas of change - vocabulary and grammar. There are very few words which are known to be used exclusively in either Vanyarin or Ñoldorin. Words peculiar to Vanyarin chiefly seem to be loanwords from Valarin, as Pengolodh also cites the colour-words, which he says may be found in ancient verse, though they are only used by the Vanyar, 'who, as Rúmil reports, adopted many more words than did the Ñoldor': ezel, ezella 'green', nasar 'red' ulban 'blue' tulka 'yellow' (WJ:399). However, since our knowledge of Valarin is not very rich, the information doesn't help much beyond the four colors.

On the other hand, common sense can tell us which words could not possibly have been used in Vanyarin - chiefly these are words which the Ñoldor could have only learned about in Middle-Earth and vocabulary influenced by the contact with Sindarin. A few examples might suffice:

certa 'rune' adapted from Sindarin certh (WJ:396) clearly could not have been known by the Vanyar, as the runes were developed in Doriath.
orko as variant for to urko 'bogey, orc' is said to show the influence of Sindarin and thus would not exist in Vanyarin (WJ:390)
kasar 'dwarf' was coined by the Exiles and would be absent in Vanyarin (WJ:388)

Implications of linguistic conservativism

As stated above, the Vanyar loremasters were characterized as 'conservative' in VT41:8. Thus, they would tend to keep old forms instead of replacing them by analogical formations. Evidence for this can e.g. be found in Tolkien's discussion of the Quenya word for 5th: lemenya must be abandoned, the Old Quenya reflex in Vanyarin was lepenya (as in Telerin). In Noldorin Quenya its aberration was corrected by lempea (with -ea of the other ordinals) derived from lempe, and before the Exile this was already the usual spoken form of 5th in Noldorin Quenya, though the Noldor all knew lepenya since that was used in Vanyarin and also in Telerin. (VT42:26)

Thus, Vanyarin Quenya would show less analogical formations. For example, in LR:391 we find telko 'leg' with an analogical plural telqi. What this means is that the plural is coined after examples like urko pl. urqui < *urkui in which the stem ends with -u, but that the stem of telko does in fact end in -o. Thus, maybe the Vanyarin plural would be *telkor and would not show the analogical formation.

Analogical levelling is a strong force in compounding words (see [7]). This raises the question to what degree the dominant development seen in Ñoldorin Quenya, i.e. 'simple' analogical behaviour of compounds would be realized in Vanyarin Quenya. Unfortunately, we don't know too many compounds in Vanyarin, but there is one case which might be:

SIL Chapter 8 has Of the deeds of that day much is told in the Aldudénië [Lament for the Two Trees] that Elemmírë of the Vanyar made and is known to all the Eldar. Aldudénië can hardly be Ñoldorin Quenya as it contains a single intervocalic -d- which does not occur in this dialect. Furthermore, the word is explicitly linked to a Vanya. Thus, there is some chance that we deal with a Vanyarin compound here.

If so, it however raises more questions than it provides answers. There is no known sound development in Quenya which creates a single -d-, thus we have to assume that it would be part of the primitive root. A root DEM 'sad, gloomy' can be found in the Etymologies (LR:354), given that we're not dealing with precisely the same linguistic scenario in SIL and LR this is at least a candidate. But early in the evolution of Quenya, a shift d- > l- occurs (except in a few cases where strengthening to ND- occurs or a word driving analogical development exists, in which case d- > n- is found). Thus, a 'simple' compounding should result in **aldulénië.

On the other hand, following a historical development, intervocalic -d- > -ð- > -z-, so we'd find **alduzénië. Thus, the attested word cannot be explained either as the result of simple compounding or a historical development. Could the linguistic conservatism go back so far as to restore the original root consonant? But why then is intervocalic -d- shifted in examples like Auzel < aw(a)delo (WJ:363). Just devising a way to write the form in a Quenya mode of the tengwar seems to be complicated. Thus, we essentially have to leave the question of compounding in Vanyarin unanswered.

Possible differences in grammar

While we have no actual attested example of a Vanyarin sentence or a construction peculiar of Vanyarin Quenya, we can at least make some educated guesses based on known changes of Ñoldorin Quenya in Middle-Earth and the conservativism of the Vanyar loremasters.

With regard to a distinction of Genitive and Possessive in Quenya, WJ:369 has there remained naturally many cases where either possessive-adjectival or partitive-derivative genitives might be used, and the tendency to prefer the latter, or to use them in place of the former, increased. Thus, in modern Quenya it seems more and more possible to just use a (partitive) Genitive. This is at least consistent with the idea that a Sindarin-speaker using Quenya would have problems with the distinction of possessive and partitive Genitive as Sindarin does not have this feature. Thus, it may be reasonable to assume that in Vanyarin a distinction remained.

A similar case is found in WJ:366 where it is said that the forms of past and perfect became progressively more closely associated in Quenya. This is likewise a change which could be expected for a Quenya-speaker who is primarily used to Sindarin (where to our knowledge no distinction between past and perfect can be made).

A final example might be the short phrase et i péti '*out of the lips' (VT47:35). Somewhat surprisingly, it uses the preposition et without a following ablative. The idea that it should be followed by Ablative however can be traced back to the Etymologies (VT45:13) and is also seen in Et earello (...) (LOTR). The change would (although there is no actual evidence that this is the underlying idea) be consistent with what a speaker of Sindarin (where case endings are absent) would perhaps produce.

In all these cases, Vanyarin Quenya would presumably not show the change.

Inspiration from Vanyarin? - the Ataremma IIa

Although any story-internal connection with Vanyarin Quenya is clearly absent, let us finally take a look at Tolkien's translation of the Lord's Prayer into Quenya. Most interesting in connection with historic Quenya is the version IIa of the Ataremma found in VT43:9:

A ataremma i menelzea, na aire esselya, na tule túrinastalya, na carina mendelya ier menelze tier cemenze. Alye anta men hyáze ilyázea mastamma ar avatyara mello i luciemmar ier emme avatyarir ta va menya lucindor úalye mittanya me terpelienna ono na etrúna me va ulco. san na.

Quite clearly, there are some elements which we have above identified as being characteristic for an older form of Quenya. Most telling is the use of áze in hyáze 'today' or ilyázea 'daily'. However, other sound changes are not displayed, cf. va 'from' derived from AWA which we'd expect as **wa in the scenario outlined above; neither does any form show the book-accusative.

It is thus unclear to what degree this text should influence our idea of what Vanyarin Quenya is like. Should we assume that -ze was a usual locative ending in Vanyarin istead of -sse? Can we assume that va instead of the Ablative was in frequent use? Clearly, one cannot be certain, and in any case Tolkien decided to remove the archaic elements like ilyáze in the subsequent versions of the prayer. Nevertheless, the brief appearance of some archaic elements in this text is an interesting side-note.


Helge Fauskanger's The Evolution from Primitive Elvish to Quenya has been extremely useful as a resource to understand the sound-shifts in the development of Quenya.


[1] The 'Etymologies' in 'The Lost Roand and Other Writings', edited by Christopher Tolkien
[2] Addenda and Corrigenda to the 'Etymologies' part I , Vinyar Tengwar 45, edited by Patrick H. Wynne and Carl F. Hostetter
[3] Addenda and Corrigenda to the 'Etymologies' part II , Vinyar Tengwar 46, edited by Patrick H. Wynne and Carl F. Hostetter
[4] 'Quendi and Eldar' in 'The War of the Jewels' edited by Christopher Tolkien
[5] 'The Shibboleth of Fëanor' in 'The Peoples of Middle-Earth', edited by Christopher Tolkien
[6] The Evolution from Primitive Elvish to Quenya by Helge Fauskanger
[7] Analogical leveling in Quenya compounds (and prefixed words) by Thorsten Renk

Thorsten Renk

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