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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 17:28 GMT
Do you speak Elf?
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Elvish speakers: do they want love or just a nice cuppa?

It's a hard life being an elf.

As if murderous orcs and magic spells weren't enough to contend with, there are two languages to learn - loosely based on Welsh and Finnish.

Undeterred by the challenge, a group of schoolboys has volunteered for lessons in Sindarin, the "conversational" form of Elvish, invented by Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien.

Zainab Thorp, a special needs co-ordinator at Turves Green Boys' Technology College in Birmingham, is offering after-hours classes, where pupils struggle through vocabulary and verb tables.

She said: "The recent success of the Lord of the Rings films has increased the interest in learning Elvish.

"The children really enjoy it. It breaks the idea that education should simply be aimed at getting a job."

A little romance

Tolkien, an Oxford academic who was expert in ancient languages, developed two forms of Elvish.

Sindarin - based on the sounds of Welsh - is the more commonly used. Quenya - related to Finnish - is largely a ceremonial language.

Tolkien, who died in 1973, only wrote down around 350 words in Sindarin, so Lord of the Rings experts have had to work together to increase the vocabulary for everyday use.

Mrs Thorp, who studied ancient Egyptian at university, said: "Tolkien never left a word meaning 'to love'.

Bast - Bread
Toss - Low-growing tree
Bess - Woman
Edhel - Elf
Annabon - Elephant
Salch - Grass

"In one film, there was an early scene where the word 'aniron', usually meaning 'I want' - in the sense of wanting a cup of tea - was adapted to mean 'I love' between Aragorn and Arwen, two Elvish speakers.

"So this word now had romantic associations. David Salo, the expert working on the script, had to think of another word to mean 'I want', in case it seemed like one male elf asking another for something later on was mistakenly thought to have amorous intentions.

"So, he had to come up with another phrase roughly meaning 'It's necessary for me to have your help'.

"We have to be very careful to use words properly, as Sindarin was invented by Tolkien and we should show it respect."

But other than declaring one's undying love in an unusual fashion, what use does Elvish have?

Railway sounds

Mrs Thorp said: "A couple of the boys are very into role-playing games. Knowing Sindarin is useful when giving orders to their Elvish armies.

"The reason I'm offering the lessons is to give the boys, some of whom have special educational needs, something to boost their self-esteem.

"They have responded very well and are eager to learn more. It's also very useful if they want to go on to university to study, as it involves looking at some of Tolkien's old manuscripts. This develops some very complex skills."

The number of Sindarin speakers worldwide is unknown but thought to be growing rapidly, following the success of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

The final part, The Return of the King, won 11 Oscars on Sunday and has grossed more than $1bn (£540m).

Tolkien based the sounds of Sindarin on the Welsh words he was exposed to as a boy, living in a house overlooking the railway line from Wales to Birmingham.

Mrs Thorp said: "Tolkien liked to create beautiful sounds. It's very different from just studying a language like French: the boys are doing this for fun, like he did. That has to be a good thing."

Do you speak Elvish?

Your comments:

Fun though it may be, I'm always a bit concerned when I hear that someone can speak fluent Elvish/Klingon etc instead of another more vocationally and/or socially advantageous second language like French or German...
Muzzy, Edinburgh, Scotland

Once you have acquired the skills of language learning, it is much easier to pick up another language,
Suzy Cox, Xalapa, Veracruz, México
I really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings and as a translator myself the idea of learning elvish does appeal to me in a weird sort of way! I think that it is really great that these children want to learn it, because once you have acquired the skills of language learning, it is much easier to pick up another language, thus what they see as a fun pastime could actually turn out to be a big help to them in the future.
Suzy Cox, Xalapa, Veracruz, México

yr dwen on orrrfen, nac oes y droffen. Ond doonen zlagoyfen. Which in English means, what a great idea - the more of us who can speak Elvish the better! Anyone off to Mordor for their holidays this year?!
Piers King, Bath

I don't speak Elvish, but one of a group of Tolkien fans I hung around with at Poly set about learning it, the written form as well. My daughter, obsessed with Lord of the Rings, would love to have a go at this.
Ian Pearse, Harmondsworth, England

Excellent stuff. They'll probably learn more grammar studying Sindarin than they will in modern mainstream education French or German. More elves in our schools, that's what I say! Equip all teachers with longbows? Hmm. Not a bad idea. Now if only we can get that past the whining liberal orcs, there's a fighting chance of improving our education system.
Mike Tittensor, Cambridge

Great. Will be really handy when these kids grow up into the real world and need to get jobs.
Helen, Wirral, UK

Elvish could be the new Esperanto!
Michelle W, Birmingham, UK
Maien Quel! Lle quena i'lambe tel' eldalie? Brilliant idea! Elvish could be the new Esperanto! Will there be GCSE courses in it?
Michelle W, Birmingham, UK

Don't go learnin' Sindarin - it's bad for yer' elf.
Edward, Cambridge

Quetenye i lambe Eldarion well, just learning at the moment

No, I am very glad to say that I do not speak "Elvish" and it will be a cold day in hell before I do.
Fran Burden, London, England

I think it's really interesting. I never thought that elvish would be that cool, especially after I know that Mrs Thorp said Tolkien never left a word meaning 'to love'. That is very interesting. That's why I want to learn to speak Elvish.
Roxana Li, Hong Kong

Elvish has just left the building...
Darren, UK

My daughter (aged 14) and her friends have been studying Elvish in their school lunch hours for two or three years now. They really seem to enjoy it. It amazes me how deeply they get into the grammar of it, but this can only be helpful for their learning the more "mainstream" languages.
Jane, Guernsey

My daughter has gone to school today dressed as Arwen. The children were encouraged to dress up to celebrate world book day. Being able to say a few words in Elvish would have completed the look, as it were. I am sure this will capture the imagination of any children who are enchanted by Lord of the Rings.
Pamela Coppola, Brighton

Most of the children I come across can't even speak English
John Buckley, Reading, UK
What an absurd idea. Most of the children I come across can't even speak English, never mind French or German or any other useful language. If grunting is a major element of elf vocabulary, the children should be brilliant at it.
John Buckley, Reading, UK

I never learned to speak Elvish, but as a school boy in the late 1970s and 1980s I used to use Elvish charaters to write secret messages that couldn't be understood by non-Rings fans
Tim, Newcastle, England

When a boy (aged nine) I work with at school had memorised almost all of the three films by heart (and acting them out during break times) he started mumbling something under his breath. I started to tell him off for swearing but as it turned out, it was Elvish from the films.
Nathan Rae, Oldham, England

My wife Carole is an elf and I have been learning Sindarin from her for the last approximately five years
Guy Skilton, Stone Staffordshire England

I can't speak Elvish. But I wouldn't say no to learning it if all the Elvish-speaking fellas are as hunky as that Aragorn. I wouldn't mind being his Bess!
Caroline R, Accrington, England

Zainab Thorp, teacher
"The sound system is very similar to Welsh"

Rings 'religious themes' praised
02 Mar 04  |  England
Jackson celebrates Oscars glory
01 Mar 04  |  Entertainment
The phenomenon of the Rings
01 Mar 04  |  Entertainment


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