Somewhere else I heard that Tolkien's languages had some purposeful non naturalistic diachronics with stuff like elvish languages having the elves make some purposeful changes to them partially due to their longer lifespans.

I want to try and mimic that kind of thing with my conlang spoken by a small collection of gods but I don't really know what I could/should do differently to get that effect.

Edit: I saw another question about Tolkien's diachronics here but I didn't see any mentions about which of those wouldn't have normally occurred.

  • I'm not sure if I understand the question. To my knowledge, Tolkien's Elvish languages appear to have changed the way natural languages do through out the fictional history, regardless of whether the Elves made the changes purposefully.
    – Eugene
    Feb 19 at 4:21
  • And the sound changes in his Elvish languages are quite normal in real world languages, that Tolkien even listed the real world inspirations of each while putting up his comparative tables, quote: "Telerin is of an approximately Latin type but with labialization of qu > p ... Danian has in general a Germanic type ... Ossir[iandic] has approx[imately] Old English type, East Danian Old Norse, Taliska Gothic ..."(Parma Eldalamberon 19)
    – Eugene
    Feb 19 at 4:25

2 Answers 2


Tolkien discussed "why did Elvish language change" in Dangweth Pengoloð ("the Answer of Pengolodh" to said question).

Both Men and Elves willfully change their speech during their lifetime:

when the union of the thought and the sound is fallen into old custom, and the two are no longer perceived apart, then already the word is dying and joyless, the sound awaiting some new thought, and the thought eager for some new-patterned raiment of sound.

But to the changefulness of Eä, to weariness of the unchanged, to the renewing of the union: to these three, which are one. the Eldar also are subject in their degree.

The Elves make innovations and popularize them consciously.

though many be the patterns and devices so made that prove in the end only pleasing to a few, or to one alone, many others are welcomed and pass swiftly from mouth to mouth, with laughter or delight or with solemn thought ... For to the Eldar the making of speech is the oldest of the arts and the most beloved

And the changes they introduce are not "at haphazard".

none among the Eldar would change the sounds of some one word alone, but would rather change some one sound throughout the structure of his speech


... albeit more wittingly, albeit more slowly, the tongues of the Quendi change in a manner like to the changes of mortal tongues ...

Tolkien also came up with a quite unconvincing excuse as to why the Eldar don't remember their languages of old, but that's another topic.

For we have much lore concerning the languages of old, whether stored in the mind or in writings; but we hear not ourselves speak again in the past save with the language that clothes our thought in the present.

The Shibboleth of Fëanor details the history of a conscious change or merger (θ > s).

It was attacked by the loremasters, who pointed out that the damage this merging would do in confusing stems and their derivatives.

But then Fëanor made it political and almost everybody hated him so s prevailed in the end.

As you can see (θ > s) is nothing abnormal, the difference may be that the Elves were (more) witting of the change.

There's an interesting note following the Dangweth I just found while researching into this.

The Eldar had an instinctive grasp of the structure and sound-system of their speech as a whole, and this was increased by instruction; for in a sense all Eldarin languages were ‘invented’ languages, art-forms, not only inherited but also material engaging the active interest of their users and challenging awarely their own taste and inventiveness. This aspect was evidently still prominent in Valinor; though in Middle earth it had waned, and the development of Sindarin had become, long before the arrival of the Noldorin exiles, mainly the product of unheeded change like the tongues of Men.


That the Elves (specially the Noldor) made purposeful changes to their language is mainly an in-world statement in Tolkien's work. I don't see much unnaturalness in the sound shifts of the different Elvish languages, they all feel rather natural and not even rare or unusual. A strange aspect may be the rate of language change given the enormous lifespan of the Elves. The Elvish languages change at a pace that would be rather normal for human languages transmitted over many generations.

One may also wonder about the noun inflection in Quenya with its ten cases. There is no described way how it came into being and it is also not declared to be just the starting point of Elvish language evolution.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.