Category Archives: Tolkien

Tengwar for Proto-Indoeuropean!

There was a time when I became fascinated by the Proto-Indoeuropean language (also known as PIE), the common ancestor of all Indoeuropean language, a massive linguistic family which includes the whole Germanic branch (languages such as English, German and Icelandic), Italic languages (Latin and Romance!), Greek, Sanskrit and Hindi, the Slavic branch (Russian and most languages of Eastern Europe) and even more. To sum up, it could be said that almost all languages which are currently spoken in Europe (as well as its former American and Oceanic colonies!), as well as in many parts of Asia (such as Iran, Pakistan and most of India) descend from PIE.

Taking into account the huge number of languages it has given rise to, it isn’t surprising that its study is very important to linguists! But, if it is so important, why does most people don’t know it exists? Why have Latin, Greek and Sanskrit gained the status of classical ancient languages, while their common ancestor has fallen from grace?

This is because Proto-Indoeuropean was spoken way before writing spread; we don’t really have a single PIE text. However, this doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about it! Using what’s known as comparative linguistics, linguists have been able to reconstruct most of it to a quite fair degree. It’s true that we can’t be completely sure that ancient PIE (which is also supported by some archaeological evidence!) was actually spoken that way, but it’s the best guess of hundreds of professional linguists.

The language itself is interesting; there’s not just book history there but also an interesting grammar (which is rendered much more interesting once we realize it was the basis for so many languages!) and a rather unusual phonology (which currently unclear (there are various hypothesis), all of them frankly unusual, at least when comparing to modern Indoeuropean languages). If you want to know more about this language and the history of its rediscovery and reconstruction, you should look at this Wikipedia’s article.

Apart from that, I was deep into Tolkien’s languages, especially the ones spoken by the Elves: Quenya and Sindarin. Many conlangers say that Tolkien is the conlanging Shakespeare, and it’s not difficult to understand why: his conlangs are considered by many people to be along the prettiest languages ever spoken, each with a working and thoroughly detailed grammar and history. However, one of its most attractive features lies not in its grammar nor phono-aesthetics, but in its writing system, the Tengwar, which appeals to almost everyone (it’s only drawback is that, as many letters are near mirror-images of each other, it would be very difficult for anyone which dyslexia!).

A Tengwar text (in Tolkien’s Quenya)

At some point, I realized something which proved to be quite interesting: the Tengwar fitted well the Proto-Indoeuropean. In fact, it was even more suitable for it than any other script I knew!

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