Quenya grammar

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Quenya is a fictional language devised by J. R. R. Tolkien, and used in his fictional universe, often called Middle-earth. The known grammatical rules of the late Quenya version have been established from Tolkien's writings c. 1954–1973. It is almost impossible to extrapolate the morphological rules of the Quenya tongue from published data because Quenya is a fictional irregular language that is heavily influenced by natural languages, like Finnish and Latin – not an international auxiliary language with a regular morphology. Tolkien wrote several synchronic grammars of Quenya, but only one has been published: The Early Qenya Grammar. Apart from that, he wrote several diachronic studies of Quenya, three of which have been published: The Qenyaqetsa (dealing with early Quenya or Eldarissa), Outline of Phonetic Development, and the Outline of Phonology.

Tolkien imagined a diglossic Elven society with a vernacular language for daily use, Tarquesta, and a more formal and conservative language for use in ceremonies and lore, Parmaquesta.

Quenya is a highly inflected language with ten cases for nouns and a regular inflection of verbs. Although the word order is highly flexible, the usual structure is subject–verb–object.

Nouns[edit]

Numbers[edit]

Contrary to many auxiliary languages which have fairly simple systems of grammatical number, Quenya nouns can have up to four numbers: singular, general plural ("plural 1"), particular/partitive plural ("plural 2"), and dual.

Not all Quenya nouns can have all four numbers since some of them are pluralia tantum having no singular variant for referring to a single object, such as armar "goods (things for sale, or the things that you own)"; some other nouns, especially monosyllabic ones, use only one of the two plurals judged the most aesthetic by Elves (i. e. Tolkien).

In late Quenya Tarquesta, the plural is formed by a suffix to the subjective form of the noun.

For plural 1 the suffix is -i or -r (depending of the type of the noun). In Parmaquesta the is (not always) long (the precise rules have not yet been published).
For plural 2 the suffix is -li (-lí in Parmaquesta).

Tarquesta:

lasse "leaf", lassi pl. 1 "leaves", lasseli pl. 2 "some/several/a number of leaves"[1]
alda "tree", aldar pl. 1 "trees", aldali pl. 2 "some/several/a number of trees"[1]
Elda "Elf", Eldar pl. 1 "Elves (as a kind)", Eldali pl. 2 "some/a lot of Elves"[2]

Noun declension[edit]

Quenya nouns are declined. Declining is the process of inflecting nouns; a set of declined forms of the same word is called a declension. Parmaquesta has ten cases (including short variants). These include the four primary cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, and instrumental; three adverbial cases: allative (of which the dative is a shortened form), locative (also with a shortened form), and ablative; and an adjectival case.

Primary cases:

  • The nominative is the subject of a verb. It is also used with most prepositions.
  • The accusative is the direct object of a verb. It has the same form as the nominative in Tarquesta, but is distinct in Old Quenya and in Parmaquesta.
  • The genitive is mainly used to mark origin (e.g. the best painters of France). Its usage sometimes overlaps the ablative, sometimes the adjectival.
  • The instrumental marks a noun as a means or instrument.

Adverbial cases:

  • The allative expresses motion towards: elenna, 'toward a star, starward(s)'.
  • The dative is the indirect object of a verb.
  • The locative expresses location or position: Lóriendesse, 'in Lórien'.
  • The ablative expresses motion away from: earello, 'from the sea'.

Adjectival case:

  • The adjectival case describes qualities, and turns almost any noun into an adjective. It is also used to indicate possession or ownership. In Tarquesta, this usage sometimes overlaps with the genitive.

The declension of the noun in Parmaquesta has been published in the so-called "Plotz Declension" that Tolkien provided in a letter to Dick Plotz in 1967.[3] This provides the "classical" declension of two vocalic-stem nouns cirya "ship" and lassë "leaf", in four numbers: singular, pl. 1, pl. 2, and dual. The declension has eight chief cases in three groups that Tolkien labelled a, b, and c. Of these cases, Tolkien named only

  1. the primary cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, and instrumental; and
  2. the adverbial cases: allative, locative, and ablative.

The allative and locative in turn have (unnamed) short forms (except in the loc. dual), of which the short allative form appears to correspond to the dative case. The third group, c, has only one member (and only in singular and in plural 2), which appears to correspond to the adjectival case as described in the essay "Quendi and Eldar – Essekenta Eldarinwa" written in c. 1960.

The declension of cirya and lasse given below is taken from the Plotz Declension and reflects the forms of Classical Quenya. The declensions of ondo "stone", nér "man", and cas "head" are taken from an earlier conceptual period of Quenya (c. 1935).[4]

Singular ciry lassë ondo nér cas
Nominative cirya lassë ondo nér cas
Accusative ciryá lassé ondo nera cara
Genitive ciryó lassëo ondo nero caro
Instrumental ciryanen lassenen ondoinen nerinen carinen
Allative ciryanna lassenna ondonta nerta casta
Dative ciryan lassen ondor neren caren
Locative ciryassë lassessë ondosse nerissë casse
Short Locative ciryas lasses ondos neris cas
Ablative ciryallo lassello ondollo nerullo callo, carullo
Adjectival ciryava lasseva ondova nerwa carwa
Plural 1 cirya lassë
Nominative ciryar lassí
Accusative ciryai lassí
Genitive ciryaron lassion
Instrumental ciryainen lassínen
Allative ciryannar lassennar
Dative ciryain lassin
Locative ciryassen lassessen
Short Locative ciryais lassis
Ablative ciryallon lassellon
Plural 2 cirya lassë ondo nér cas
Nominative ciryalí lasselí ondoli  ? cari
Accusative ciryalí lasselí ondoli  ?  ?
Genitive ciryalion lasselion ondolion  ?  ?
Instrumental ciryalínen lasselínen ondolínen  ?  ?
Allative ciryalinna(r) lasselinna(r) ondolinta(n)  ?  ?
Dative ciryalin lasselin ondolir  ?  ?
Locative ciryalisse(n) lasselisse(n) ondolissen  ?  ?
Short Locative ciryalis lasselis  ?  ?  ?
Ablative ciryalillo(n) lasselillo(n) ondolillon  ?  ?
Adjectival ciryalíva lasselíva  ?  ?  ?
Dual cirya lassë ondo nér cas
Nominative ciryat lasset ondos nerut carut
Accusative ciryat lasset ondos nerut carut
Genitive ciryato lasseto ondu neru caru
Instrumental ciryanten lassenten ondoinent  ?  ?
Allative ciryanta lassenta ondontas  ?  ?
Dative ciryant lassent ondur nerur carur
Locative ciryatsë lassetsë ondoset  ?  ?
Ablative ciryalto lasselto ondollut  ?  ?

Adjectives[edit]

According to Tolkien adjectives appear only in -a, -e, -o (rare), and -n (stem nearly always -nd); melin "dear", pl. melindi.

Quenya adjectives may be freely used as nouns.[5]

Comparison[edit]

The comparative forms of adjectives are in late Quenya normally expressed by the use of the preposition , much as in French plus:[6]

A (ná) calima lá B. "A is brighter than B."
French: A est plus brillant que B.

Note that the use of the copula , when in the present tense, is optional.

Some adjectives are irregular. The following table provides the comparative and superlative forms of the adjective mára "good":

Positive Comparative Superlative
(good) (better) (best)
mára arya i arya + gen. case
A (ná) arya B. "A is better than B."

Verbs[edit]

Tolkien wrote: "The inflections of [Qenya] verbs are always pretty regular".[7] According to Tolkien's own terminology, Quenya verbs are either in a personal form or an impersonal form. Usually in linguistics, an impersonal verb is a verb that cannot take a true subject, because it does not represent an action, occurrence, or state-of-being of any specific person, place, or thing. This is not how Tolkien used the term "impersonal". An impersonal verb form is a verb to which no pronoun is attached, as care or carir ; carin "I do" is a personal form (-n).

The impersonal conjugations provided below were written by J.R.R. Tolkien in the late 1960s,[8] but only in singular forms. There are apparently two main types of verbs in late Quenya: weak transitive verbs, which are usually 'root' verbs, such as car- "make; do" from the Elvish base or root KAR-, and derivative intransitive verbs with a strong conjugation, whose stems end mainly in -ta, -na, -ya, formed by putting a verbal suffix to a base or root, like henta- "to eye", from the Elvish base KHEN- "eye".

Derivative verb (strong) Root verb (weak)
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Stem henta- car-
Aorist henta hentar care (cari-) carir
Present (continuative) hentëa hentëar cára cárar
(Aorist) Past hentanë hentaner carnë carner
Future hentuva hentuvar caruva caruvar
Perfect ehentië ehentier acárië acárier

Irregular verbs[edit]

Some Quenya verbs have an irregular conjugation. The verb auta- comes from the root AWA-, meaning "depart, go away, disappear, be lost, pass away".[9] This verb is used in a sentence in the chapter "Of the Fifth Battle" in The Silmarillion: "Auta i lómë! The night is passing!".

Mixed conjugation
Singular Plural
Stem auta-, av-, va- (< wa-)
Aorist ava avar
Present (continuative) avëa, auta avëar, autar
(Aorist) Past vánë (< wánë), avantë váner (< wáner), avanter
Future auva, autuva auvar, autuvar
Perfect (a)vánië (a)vánier

Negation of verbs[edit]

As explained by Tolkien,[10] verbs in Quenya are negated by prefacing a "negative verb" ua- (not marked for tense) to the impersonal form of the same tense:

Negation of verb car-
Quenya English Quenya English
carin 'I make' uan care 'I do not make'
cáran 'I am making' uan cára 'I am not making'
carnen 'I made' uan carnë 'I did not make'
caruvan 'I shall make' uan caruva 'I shall not make'
cárië 'I have made' uan cárië 'I have not made'

Note that the pronoun is added on the negative verb, not on the main verb, and that the endings are regular. The negative verb concept was apparently borrowed from Finnish.

In Parmaquesta (and in verse) the verb ua- could be completely conjugated.

Moods[edit]

In late Quenya moods (other than the indicative) are expressed by particles, a short function word that does not belong to any of the inflected grammatical word classes:

a and á for the imperative mood: A laita të! "Bless them!", Á hyamë rámen! "Pray for us!".

The Present Imperative of the verb auta-, cited above, is á va usually written áva as in Áva márië! "Go (away) happily!".

The prohibitive mood negates the imperative mood. The two moods have in late Quenya distinct verbal morphology. In late Quenya prohibition is expressed by the particle áva.

Áva carë! "Don’t do it! Don't make it!"
Á carë! "Do it!"

When used alone, the particle is avá (sometimes ává, with two long a) meaning: "Don't!" (I forbid you to do as you intend).[11]

Nai is used for the optative mood:

nai tiruvantes.

Other particles like cë, cé are used in the corpus of published Quenya texts, but their precise functions are not known from any of Tolkien's published linguistic papers.

Agreement[edit]

The plural forms (suffix -r in late Quenya) are used only with a detached plural subject. "When the emphatic pronoun is used separately the verb has no inflexion (save for number)".[12]

Finwë carë. 'Finwë is making'.
Quendi carir. 'The Elves are making'.
Carinyë. 'I am making'.
Carimmë. 'We are making'.
Elyë carë. 'He/She is (really) making'.
Emmë carir. 'We are (really) making'.

Late Quenya verbs have also a dual agreement morpheme -t:

Nai siluvat elen atta. "May two stars shine."[13]

In the imperative mood plurality and duality are not expressed. There is no agreement. The verb stays singular.[14] If a plural verb is used as in Á carir it means "let them do it" referring to persons not present or at any rate not addressed directly.

Copula[edit]

The copula in late Quenya is the verb na-. Tolkien stated that it was used only in joining adjectives, nouns, and pronouns in statements (or wishes) asserting (or desiring) a thing to have certain quality, or to be same as another, and also that the copula was not used when the meaning was clear.[15]

Eldar ataformaiti can be translated as either "Elves are ambidexters" or "Elves were ambidexters".[16]
A mára. "A is good" or "A was good".[15]
Copula Exist (have being)
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Stem na- ëa-
Aorist na nar ëa ëar
Present (continuative) nár ëa ëar
(Aorist) Past ner engë enger
Future nauva nauvar euva euvar
Perfect anaië anaier engië engier

Prepositions and adverbs[edit]

In Quenya there are many similarities in form between prepositions and adverbs. Many Quenya prepositions have adverb-like uses with no complement. In Common Eldarin, these prepositions were postpositions instead, and later became inflectional endings. Case markings combine primarily with nouns, whereas prepositions can combine with phrases of many different categories. This is why most prepositions in Quenya are used with a noun in the nominative case.

an i falmali = i falmalinna(r) "upon the many waves"

The preposition an is related to the -nna case ending.

Conjugated prepositions[edit]

Quenya has a conjugated preposition formed from the contraction of a preposition with a personal pronoun.

ótar "(together) with you (Sir or Mam)", and ótari "(together) with you (Milords or Miladies)".[17]
rámen "for us".

Pronouns[edit]

As with all parts of Quenya grammar, the pronominal system was subject to many revisions throughout Tolkien's life. The following table of late Quenya is taken from two sources of c. 1965–1973, and does not reflect the pronominal system as it stood when Tolkien invented "Qenya" around 1910, which was the early Quenya.

In late Quenya, pronouns have both separate or independent forms, and suffix forms. One source is used for the stressed separate pronouns,[18] the other for the rest of the table.[19]

Early Noldorin Quenya Forms Long subjective Short subjective Separate Possessive English
1st person singular -nyë -n -nya I
2nd pers. imperious/familiar sg. -tyë  – tyé -tya (thou)
2nd pers. formal/polite sg. -lyë  – lyé -lya you
3rd animate person singular -stë -s -rya/-ya he, she
3rd inanimate person singular -ssa -s -rya/-ya it
Impersonal singular agreement nil  –  – nil
1st pers. pl. inclusive -lwë/lvë  – wé/vé -lwa/-lva we (with you)
1st pers. pl. exclusive -lmë  – -lma we (without you)
2nd person imperious/familiar plural -ncë  – (?) -nca you lot, you guys,
youse, y'all
2nd person formal/polite plural -ldë/-llë  – -lda/-lla you
3rd animate person plural -ntë  – -nta they
3rd inanimate person plural -nta  – sa1 -nta they
Impersonal plural agreement + -r  –  – + -ë/-r
1st pers. dual inclusive -ngwë/-nquë  – wet -nqua you and I
1st pers. dual exclusive -mmë/-nwë  – met -mma (s)he and I
2nd person imperious/familiar dual -xë/-ccë  – tyet -xa/-cca you two
2nd person formal/polite dual -llë/-stë  – let -lla both of you
3rd person dual -sto/-ttë  – -twa those two
Impersonal dual agreement +-t  –  – +-t
  1. Printed sa in the source, it is probably a casual error for . But , not , was used by the Gondorians: cf. a laita të in The Lord of the Rings. Maybe both forms (sa, sá; té, të) were used in Low Quenya.

The separate pronouns have both a short (lyé, , ) and long form (elyë, emmë, essë, elwë). Evidence from the published corpus suggests that long separate forms were intensive pronouns, a complete list of which has not been published yet. Tolkien named them "emphatic disjunct pronouns", while short independent pronouns could normally be used in place of enclitic ones.

"I love him" (or "her") can be expressed in Quenya as Melinyes or Melin sé.[20] "I love them" would be then Melinyet or Melin té (these two forms are reconstructed). As with regular nouns, Quenya lacks a distinction between nominative and accusative case, so the same direct case is used for both; melin is the first person singular form of the verb, making it clear that is the object and not the subject.

The verbal inflexions are subjective but an -s (singular) and a -t (plural and dual) may be added to the long subjective pronouns as objectives of the 3rd person:[21]

utúvie-lye-s, "You have found it/him/her".
utúvie-lye-t, "You have found them".

Noldorin dialect[edit]

In the internal development of the language, similar to English, Dutch, and Portuguese, the second person familiar was abandoned in colloquial Noldorin Quenya before the Exile, (see T-V distinction). The following forms became obsolete:

-tyë, -ncë, -xë, -ccë
-tya, -nca, -xa, -cca
tyé, tyet

The ancient polite forms became used in an ordinary context, and so, perhaps at the time when Fëanor was banished from Tirion, a new honorific form was created in Late Noldorin Quenya by adding tar, the Quenya word for sir and madam.[22]

Carilyë tar, "you do, sir", became Carlitar.

Possessive determiners[edit]

The possessive determiners (analogous to English my, his, etc.) are used to indicate the possessor of the noun they determine. They mark the person and number of the possessor, and are inflected to agree with the noun they are attached in number and case. While the English language distinguishes between masculine and feminine singular possessors (his vs. her), late Quenya does not. As in English, possessive determiners do not necessarily express true possession.

Their forms in Early colloquial Noldorin Quenya are as follows:[23]

  possessed
one two three or more
possessor first person singular -(i)nya1 -(i)nyat -(i)nyar
dual -(e)nqua, -(e)mma -(e)nquat, -(e)mmat -(e)nquar, -(e)mmar
plural -(e)lwa/-(e)lva, -(e)lma2 -(e)lwat/-(e)lvat, -(e)lmat -(e)lwar/-(e)/lvar, -(e)lmar
second person singular -tya, -lya -tyat, -lyat -tyar, -lyar
dual -xa, -cca, -lla -xat, -ccat, -llat -xar, -ccar, -llar
plural -nca, -lda, -lla -ncat, -ldat, -llat -ncar, -ldar, -llar
third person singular -rya, -ya -ryat, -yat -ryar, -yar
dual -twa -twat -twar
plural -nta -ntat -ntar
  1. The i forms, -inya, are used with consonantal nouns: atar, atarinya 'my father'.
  2. The e forms, -emma, are used with consonantal nouns: atar, ataremma 'our father'.

"Since by Quenya idiom in describing the parts of body of several persons the number proper to each individual is used, the plural of parts existing in pairs (as hands, eyes, ears, feet) is seldom required. Thus mánta "their hand" would be used, (they raised) their hands (one each), mántat, (they raised) their hands (each both), and mánte could not occur".[24]

Ortanentë mánta. They raised their hands.
Ortaner mánta. They raised their hands.
Varda ortanë máryat. Varda has uplifted her (two) hands.[25]

So far, according to the published corpus of Quenya texts, mántë is the sole possessive determiner with a plural ending in (< -ai). The usual plural ending is -r, hildinyar, "my heirs". This was probably an older device from Parmaquesta.

Syntax[edit]

Quenya allows for a very flexible word order because it is an inflectional language like Latin. Nevertheless, it has word order rules. The usual structure is subject–verb–object. The adjective can be placed before or after the noun that it modifies.[26]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages", Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 63.
  2. ^ J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages", Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 135.
  3. ^ First published in the fanzine Beyond Bree in March 1989.
  4. ^ Parma Eldalamberon 16, p. 113–115
  5. ^ JRR Tolkien, "Early Qenya Grammar", Parma Eldalamberon 14, p. 77.
  6. ^ J.R.R. Tolkien, "Comparative in Eldarin", Parma Eldalamberon 17, pp. 90–91.
  7. ^ J.R.R. Tolkien, "Early Qenya Grammar", Parma Eldalamberon 14, p. 56.
  8. ^ Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 77 for henta- and p. 144 for car-
  9. ^ Parma Eldalamberon, 17, p. 63.
  10. ^ Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 144.
  11. ^ J.R.R. Tolkien. "DLN", Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 143.
  12. ^ Parma Eldalamberon, 17, p. 76.
  13. ^ Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 43.
  14. ^ J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages", Parma Eldalamberon 17, pp. 93–94.
  15. ^ a b Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 9.
  16. ^ Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 7.
  17. ^ Vinyar Tengwar 43, p. 29
  18. ^ "Quenya Pronominal Elements", in Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 51.
  19. ^ Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 57.
  20. ^ Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 15.
  21. ^ "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 110.
  22. ^ Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 58.
  23. ^ Only the singular forms are provided by Tolkien in the table, the plural and dual forms are deduced from the published corpus and are conjectural. Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 57.
  24. ^ Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 161.
  25. ^ From the Namárië poem by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  26. ^ Pesch, Helmut W. (2003). Elbisch. Grammatik, Schrift und Wörterbuch der Elbensprache von J.R.R. Tolkien (in German). Bastei Lübbe. pp. 117–119. ISBN 3-404-20476-X. 

References[edit]