I’m not sure if lay-fans have noticed, but something obvious to Tolkien-language scholars is that the Elven languages aren’t being used exactly the same way in the TV show as they were in the Peter Jackson movies, and the languages themselves are slightly different too.
There are a few things going on here. The main thing is that the Tolkien Estate has more power over the script, and therefore had a say in who did the translating. They chose people to whom they had already given permission to handle, transcribe, and interpret Tolkien’s notes on his languages.
Because of the philosophies of translating at work here, they didn’t want much in the way of conlanging not done by the professor himself. As a result, very little in the way of Neo-Black Speech and Neo-Dwarvish appears in the show. Also, little in the way of Sindarin appears because a lot of Tolkien’s writings on Sindarin haven’t been published yet, and they couldn’t use as sources anything not yet published. Because of these constraints, they have all the elves speaking in Quenya.
I consider this to be a “translation filter,” since these tales would be added to the Noldorin records, and they’d write them in proper Quenya. This is also how characters are known by names that in the story, they wouldn’t have yet. A great example is Galadriel. As a child, she’d be called Nerwen by family and Artanis by non-family. She wouldn’t be called Galadriel until she came to Middle-earth; and Galadriel itself is a translation of the name her husband gave her: Alatáriel. This is a story recorded after the fact by some Noldorinwa or Elendilwa scholar, choosing to use the most recognizable name for each character, and writing in one language throughout.
The art department, however, didn’t have these constraints. They have used Neo-Elvish and Neo-Dwarvish translations with glee, from what I assume are the same sources, given their accuracy. It is quite fun to read their texts and seeing that indeed, these artists put a ton of effort into their work.
The grammar and vocabulary are also different because a small mountain of Tolkien’s writings on his languages have been published since the Peter Jackson movies came out. Thus the translators have a lot more material to work with.
Overall, the translations and transliterations on display are excellent. Say what you want about the writing and lore changes, but a massive number of people have put a ton of effort and skill into this show, and let’s give credit where credit is due. They engaged some of the top scholars on Tolkien’s languages, and the evidence for that is clear.
I’ve gone through the first two episodes in detail to show you what I’m talking about. Enjoy!
“No Words for Death”
This is kind of true, but also kind of not. If you think about it, the Elves eat meat and enjoy going hunting. They had words for death already like ñgurū, ñkwalē, wanwē, and the verb pʰiri, but the idea that such words could apply to them perhaps hadn’t yet occurred.
“Valaron kalanen firuvantë!”
Quenya: By the light of the Valar they will die!
- Vala – Power, one of the gods of Eä.
- -ron – plural genitive suffix, “of the.”
- Kala – Light.
- -nen – singular instrumental suffix, “by the.”
- Fir- Die (the verb).
- -uva – future tense suffix, “will.”
- -ntë – nominative 3rd person plural verb suffix, “they.”
- Hris- likely shortened version of “Hrisse – Snowfall.”
- *Torco – A fanmade word meaning “troll.” It’s based on the Sindarin word Torog. It’s been in use among Tolkien-language scholars for decades.
Elrond Writing in Lindon
It goes by much too quickly to read, for the most part, but I could see enough bits and pieces to be able to tell that he’s writing in Sindarin with Tengwar in the Mode of Beleriand. What I can see is:
“[…]yr amverin hin […]mhen, turiel. An im[…]thrond athangail, […]”
↪“[…]these boldest […]us, masterfully. For […] beyond star, […]”
In the second cut to it, I can see the ends of a few lines:
“[…]l, thestiel […]n chyth mhîn […]gath lavan”
↪“[…] having terrified […] our enemies […] animal”
Just enough to know that someone in the art department wrote out a page of text in Sindarin then transliterated it with the proper writing system.
- -yr is likely the plural version of -or, which is an agental suffix. Knowing the speech that comes from it, I’m guessing that it’s plural of “maethor – warrior.”
- Am- above
- Verin – plural and mutated version of “beren – bold.”
- Hin – mutated version of “sin – these.”
- Mhen – mutated version of “men – us.”
- Turiel – perfect participle or adverb of “tur- to master.” It could mean “having mastered” or it could mean “masterfully.”
- An – to, for
- -thrond could be the end of too many different words to guess at its meaning. We have contenders like “Nargothrond – Narog’s Cavern,” “Merethrond – Feast Cavern,” and “othrond – cavern, cave with vaulted ceiling.”
- Athan – beyond
- Gail – a star, speck of light, spark
- Thestiel – perfect participle or adverb of “thosta- to terrify.” It could mean “having terrified” or “terrifyingly.” It’s a fanmade word based on the Quenya verb “þosta-” which has the same meaning. Not to be confused with the Noldorin word “thosta- to stink.”
- Chyth – plural and mutated version of “coth – enemy.”
- Mhîn – mutated version of “mîn – our.”
- -gath could be the ending of too many words to guess its meaning. Basically, there’s a suffix meaning “all of” which is “-ath,” and thus this could be any word ending with a G with the “-ath” suffix attached. What is certain, however, is that this word isn’t “dead,” because in Sindarin word order, adjectives follow their nouns. Elrond crosses out that idea before he finishes writing it.
- Lavan – animal.
“I palannúmen… i alfirimë nóri… na metta avantë…”
Quenya: The far west… the immortal lands… left to an end…
- I – the
- Palan- far
- Númen – west
- I – the
- Al- not
- Firimë – plural of “Firima – Mortal”
- Nóri – plural of “nóre – land.”
- Na – to, towards
- Metta – end
- Avantë – past tense of “Auta – to leave, go, pass away, vanish”
“Lindon elye cáva lissenen.” – “Lissenen ni cavina.”
Quenya: Lindon is receiving you with grace. – With grace I am received.
- Elye – emphatic formal singular second person, “you.”
- Cáva – present progressive tense of “cav- to receive.”
- Lisse – grace, sweetness.
- -nen – singular instrumental suffix, “with.”
- Lisse – grace, sweetness
- -nen – singular instrumental suffix, “with.”
- Ni – first person singular, “I, me.”
- Cav- receive
- -ina – passive participle suffix, “-ed.”
Galadriel’s paper with the symbol inscribed
This text is in English, written with the full mode (the vowels as separate letters) and written pretty phonetically. This time we can see a good amount of it, though her thumb covers some of it and the screen cuts off the rest.
“[…]ōranust hāls and k[…]ērin the smal ov d[…] hong hēvi. An emblem apērd”
↪[…] halls and […] the small of […] hung heavy. An emblem appeared”
The Cirth on Gil-Galad’s Court Cloak
It’s quite heavily worn down, but I can still read it. It’s written in Cirth, and it’s the Sindarin word “Aran Einior,” which is the Sindarin name for Manwë. Both of the straps say this.
Song for Returning to Valinor
I couldn’t hear a lot of it very well – the consonants got lost easily in the singing. This is what I could make out:
“To you we will come.”
Celebrimbor’s Tower Designs
Various parts of the texts are covered, but I can make out a lot of it. They are mostly in English, written in the full mode of Tengwar reminiscent of the Mode of Beleriand. They’re also written phonetically. One weird thing I saw come up again and again was a mix in the way the 3rd and 4th Témar of the Tengwar are used. Calma was used for K instead of CH, while Quesse was also used for K. Anga was used for G, while Ungwe was used for J, which is usually the opposite in English Tengwar. CH was represented with Harma, which is usually used for SH. It feels a lot like the transliterator was using the Sindarin Mode of Beleriand to sound out the English words, then use the spare letters to fill in sounds that Sindarin doesn’t have.
These are listed from the page on top to the bottom-most page we can see.
This one is in something Quenya-ish? Maybe? It looks like the writing was aged or smeared out a little bit. Take this interpretation with a large heaping of salt. It’s in the Mode of Beleriand, but little is discernible.
“Lle lakwenien mithikwessir tanka 042 harwar tenna ielw[…] san.”
This one is in the English with Mode of Beleriand I described above.
“Eregion moutīfs stil ondər development.”
↪“Eregion motifs still under development.”
“Penants fō ðə sīzon ār cheingd fō īch festival.”
↪“Pennants for the season are changed for each festival.”
“[…] a daunhil chænəl tū kontein its flow.”
↪[…] a downhill channel to contain its flow.
“Bai kæpchuring wātər in its jōni from ðə mountəns, ðə hils ænd ðə rūftops ænd gaiding it in chænəls, wi kæn delivər it to whē it wil bī neseserī, yūsful, ōr simpli biūtiful – a glædnəs to ðə aiz ænd hāt.”
↪By capturing water in its journey from the mountains, the hills and the rooftops and guiding it in channels, we can deliver it to where it will be necessary, useful, or simply beautiful – a gladness to the eyes and heart.
“[…]on midlevel arches”
↪[…]on mid-level arches”
“[…] bī konsidərd.”
↪[…] be considered.
“Upər gāden wōls.”
↪Upper garden walls.”
“Ðə desain fōr ðə top[…] livz ov ðə tōwər iz[…] ov aur pīpəl in eregio[…] and kōl tu maind ðə tri[…] ov Valinor.”
↪The design for the top[…] leaves of the tower is[…] of our people in Eregion […] and cool to mind the tree[…] of Valinor.
“Nōrthwest o[…] tōwər h[…] […]r[…]l l[…]”
↪Northwest […] tower […]
“Ð netted ent[???] f[…] ðis sīmz aprōpriat […] ð prevalens ov […] in Eregion ðō ðə […] dōr areinjment kuld […] bī konsidərd.”
↪The netted […] this seems appropriate […] the prevalence of […] in Eregion though the […] door arrangement could […] be considered.
“Upər gāden wōls.”
↪Upper garden walls.”
“Smōl satelait tauwərs kan link tu ð mein tauwer on ðə nōrth ōr īst saidz ōr bōth, konekting at ðə lōngr balestreid.”
↪Small satellite towers can link to the main tower on the north or east sides of both, connecting at the longer balustrade.
Door of Khazad-Dûm
“Long Beards” in Dwarvish. Which means Elrond is asking for the “rite of the long-beards.” It’s something made up for the show.
This is based on an earlier version of Quenya that Tolkien made. He made a noun, “Elmenda – wonder,” and the fan named Helge Fauskanger made it into an adjective.
Khuzdul: Dwarf Halls
Quenya: Where is fire/heat?
In the subtitles, it lists this as “mana úrë” but the actor is saying “manna úrë” which makes much more sense. “Mana” just means “what.” It wouldn’t be the first time that the subtitles got a line a little wrong as well, seeing as they wrote “Elmendëa” as “Elmendéa” instead.
- Ma- interrogative pronoun “where.”
- -nna – allative suffix, “to, towards.”
- Úrë – fire, heat.
Cirth on the Hammer Given to Elrond
It’s in English this time, and it says:
Iron in our hands.