The success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies brought the languages that J.R.R. Tolkien invented for the Elves to the attention of a much wider public. There are now numerous books and websites that allow devotees to learn Quenya and Sindarin. The origins of Quenya in Finnish and the Welsh inspirations of Sindarin have fascinated Tolkien fans, with many learning and expanding on the tongues that were created by the author the best part of 100 years ago.

Though enchanting, language invention has also baffled readers and critics alike. Bewildered critic Robert Reilly exclaimed in 1963: “No one ever exposed the nerves and fibers of his being in order to make up a language; it is not only insane but unnecessary.” But that’s where he was completely wrong.Language invention for works of fiction has a long history, from Thomas More’s Utopia and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, all the way to Tolkien’s immediate predecessors, such as Percy Gray and Edward Bulwer Lytton.

Tolkien himself began composing his Middle-earth mythology at a time when the vogue for artificial languages was at its zenith. At the turn of the 20th century, Esperanto was taking the world by storm, and it competed with more than 100 other artificial languages, including Volapuk, Ido, and Novial. It is also worth remembering too that this same period was a time of language experimentation. Russian zaum, the Dada movement and Modernism (among others) were attempting to break language and make it afresh…

Source: J.R.R. Tolkien’s guide to inventing a fantasy language – Quartz

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