Sindarin, in J.R.R. Tolkien's mythos, was the most spoken Elvish language ever. While originally in his conception the language spoken by the Noldor (second clan of elves, hence the name Noldorin in the Etymologies) Tolkien later decided it was the language of the Sindar, who had stayed on in Middle-Earth while many of their friends had gone on to Valinor. When the Noldor came back to Middle-Earh, they adopted the Sindarin language, though they believed their native Quenya to be the more beautiful. Most of the men of Númenor also spoke the language. Tolkien based his Noldorin/Sindarin on Welsh, and indeed, Sindarin has many of the mutations that characterise the Celtic languages.

Sindarin plurals are characterised by "i-affection", as Tolkien calls it. The Sindarin term for this is prestanneth (disturbance, affection) and the English term is "umlaut", a German word used to describe much the same process. What it all comes down to is this: All Sindarin words form their plurals like man/men -- by changing the vowels in the word. The reason for this was that the primitive plural ending "-i" affected the vowels in the word by making them closer to itself. Having done it's dirty work, it disappeared. So Sindarin plurals no longer have "i" at the end, but still have its "residue".

Sindarin has a complex series of mutations. These occur when a short phrase (usually a preposition) occurs before the mutated word, changing its (the mutated word's) first consonant. Many times, the preposition also changes. Also, mutation occurs in many other places (to mention a few, in compounds (elvellyn, from mellyn, "friends") or in direct objects).

Sindarin verbs are also quite complex. There are strong and weak verbs, also called i-stems and a-stems respectively. Just like English (and German) strong and weak verbs, the strong ones are more "irregular" than the weak ones. Sindarin also has quite a large number of irregular verbs.

Sindarin is one of the two languages (the other is Quenya) in which we can write texts that are quite large in size. A lot of information can be found in Helge Fauskanger's Sindarin article, http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/sindarin.htm. Didier Willis also has an online Sindarin dictionary at http://www.geocities.com/almacq.geo/sindar/. A lot of information can be found on Sindarin from other sources as well.

(J.R.R. Tolkien > Arda > languages)

The "house speech" of the Grey-elves or Sindar, this language evolved from proto-Eldarin when the Teleri tarried in Beleriand, becoming the Sindar. Although originally a private speech, it became the common speech of the Elves after the Noldor returned to Middle-Earth from Valinor after the Kinslaying at Alqualondë (though Quenya, although forbad by Thingol, remained as a liturgical tongue and was regarded by the immigrant Noldor as "more beautiful"). The language was also adopted by the Dúnedain of Númenor, and became either the primary or secondary language of the largely bilingual Elves and Men west of Ered Luin (the other often being either Westron (the Common Speech) or a Silvan variant of Sindarin).

In early conceptual stages Sindarin was called Noldorin and was spoken initially by the second kindred of the Eldar, the Noldor (hence the name is given in the Etymologies).

It is often said that Noldorin/Sindarin was based on Welsh, but whilst it shares many characteristics of the Welsh language I would not say this is the case. Rather, Tolkien based his Sindarin on the sound, the feel, the taste of Welsh, just as he based Quenya on those of Finnish. That is not to say, however, the Sindarin does not behave like Welsh:

  1. Sindarin plurals employ what Tolkien called "i-affection", so called due to a primitive plural ending "-i" having disappeared, but still influencing endings. It is characterised by vowel affection, "umlaut", or S. prestanneth (disturbance, affection). To explain it in a nutshell, almost all Sindarin plurals form themselves akin to the English man > men paradigm.

  2. However, to complicate things further, Sindarin also employs lenition and nasal mutation. Basically this means that under certain circumstances (usually when prefixed by a definite article or preposition, or when as a direct object) the first consonants in words mutate. Sometimes the preposition changes too. This is the reason why we see bess "a woman", but i vess "the woman".

Like many Germanic languages, Sindarin also employs strong and weak verb paradigms as regards their conjugation, and tense formation. Like English and German, so-called "strong" verbs exhibit irregularilty, whereas "weak" ones follow a pattern based on similarities between verbs.

See also these w/us:

[Sindarin consonant mutation]
[Sindarin verbs]
[Sindarin nouns]
[Sindarin "to be"]
[Sindarin pronouns] &
[Sindarin parts of speech]

Sindarin can be written using the Tengwar, specifically the Full or "Open" Mode of Beleriand.

Tolkien created many languages, including many Elvish ones (e.g. Telerin, Ilkorin, etc.), however Sindarin and Quenya are the only two in which texts of any real magnitude or meaning can be assembled. Two major contributors to modern understanding of Sindarin as a linguistic construct include Helge Fauskanger, author of various articles on the Eldarin tongues, and Ryszard Derdzinski, author of an English/Polish-Sindarin dictionary, and a comprehensive grammar.

With the advent of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, the work of David Salo, a Madison Wisconsin PhD candidate, cannot be underestimated. In being given the daunting task of translating new poems and dialogue into Sindarin, Salo has begun to piece together, or "make sense" of Tolkien's language in a new, dynamic, and vital way.

Of course that is not to say that the "Quest for Standard Sindarin" is anywhere near finished. Although creating the allure of a homogenous and standardised language for the screen, Salo's work ands further discussion on the Elfling list, among others, have revealed various inconsistencies in the primary sources (i.e. LotR, the HoME series, the Gnomish lexicon, etc.). This is further exacerbated by the fact that a lot of the primary sources date from conceptual stages where in the pre-LotR period Sindarin was rather Noldorin, and mixing the two into a hybrid tongue would undoubtedly not properly reflect Tolkien's thoughts or intentions on the language(s) at any time in their development.

For further information, see quoted sources underneath.


Further reading, references & sources:

  • Derdzinski, Ryszard, Summary of Sindarin Grammar, at http://www.elvish.org/gwaith/sindarin_intro.htm
  • -, Gobeth e lam Edhellen ("Sindarin Dictionary PLUS"), CD-ROM (see http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/gobeth.htm)
  • -, Sindarin Pronouns - A reconstruction, at http://www.elvish.org/gwaith/ce_pronouns.htm#sindarin
  • Fauskanger, Helge K., Sindarin the Noble Tongue, at http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/sindarin.htm
  • -, Suggested Conjugation of all known or inferred Sindarin verbs, at http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/sindverb.htm
  • -, proposed Sindarin Course, [avail. Online, but URL unknown at present]
  • Willis, Didier, On-line Sindarin Dictionary, available at http://www.geocities.com/almacq.geo/sindar
  • David Salo biography at http://yarinareth.net/
  • Ulumuri's Sindarin write-up

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