A translation labeled “Neo-Elvish” just means that Tolkien didn’t do the translation, someone else did. That means that ANYTHING not directly attested by Tolkien is Neo-Elvish. All of the Elvish in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies is Neo-Elvish, and so are the translations on this website. Tolkien didn’t create complete language systems and vocabularies, so if you want translations in Tolkien’s languages, there’s no way to get them without using Neo-Elvish.
For example, let’s take the Sindarin word “linnon – I sing.” Now, through analysis of other forms of the verb like “linnathon – I will sing” and through analysis of other verbs like “nallon – I cry out” we can deduce that “linnon” is made of two morphemes, “linna– to sing” and “-on – I”. The morpheme “-on” is Neo-Elvish because it isn’t attested on its own. When we have a verb like “minna- to enter” we can put it together with “-on” to make “minnon – I enter.” Being able to break down and analyze the grammar means that as scholars creating Neo-Elvish, we can generate new phrases that follow the linguistic logic of the attested examples.
While Neo-Elvish requires us to contribute a significant amount of our own creativity and linguistic knowledge to language creation, we do not randomly make up our own grammar and vocabulary and call it Elvish. Everything in Neo-Elvish must align with the way Tolkien approached his own work, or it is rejected by the community at large. This isn’t something that we take lightly, and we argue over fan-made words and grammar extensively.
Purely fan-made vocabulary is marked with an asterisk to differentiate between it and a word made by Tolkien. We make new vocabulary in several ways:
- Compound words: using two words of Tolkien’s creation to make a new word. For example, we made a Neo-Sindarin word for “Hatter” by echoing the form of “círdan – ship wright” putting together the words for “carab – hat” and “tân – maker, smith” to make “*carabdan – hatter.”
- Reconstruction: making new words the way that Tolkien did. This means taking the ancient roots that Tolkien listed (there are hundreds of these), making an ancient compound word, then putting the compound through the phonetic history of the target language. For example, we’ll make a Neo-Quenya word for “to blush” by modeling it after a similar word, “niquita– to whiten.” We take the ancient word “karanĭ – red” and add the causative suffix “-tā“, then put the new word through Quenya sound changes to make “*carnita- to redden, blush, make red.”
Both of these methods require extensive knowledge of Tolkien’s languages, their histories, and how Tolkien himself made words. We’re doing our best to imitate Tolkien’s process so we can make vocabulary that fits into his languages, while building on his work and transforming it into languages we can use for everyday speech and translation.
Of course, this means that there are some things that we can’t translate while being faithful to Tolkien’s ethos. We accept these limitations because we want to be as authentic and true to Tolkien’s vision for his languages as we can.
Neo-Orcish and Neo-Dwarvish
There is so little of these languages attested by Tolkien that the only way to make new phrases is to make your own conlang without building upon a significant amount of Tolkien’s own work, as we do with Elvish. The Dwarvish and Orcish in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies are the creations of David Salo.
If you want original phrases in Tolkien’s languages, they have to be Neo-languages. There is no way around it. But, just because they weren’t created by Tolkien doesn’t mean that they aren’t Tolkienesque.