The Language of Mythology


“I wish life was not so short, he thought. Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about.”

J. R. R. Tolkien


I consider J.R.R. Tolkien to be one of my favourite fiction authors ever since I first read “The Fellowship of the Rings” when I was 15 years old.  I confess that last night I watched the movie “LOTR – The Fellowship of the Ring” until 2:00am, knowing full well that I would have an early morning start.  It was worth it! Tolkien’s love of words and languages was clearly evident even in his early adolescence when he constructed his first language, “Naffarin.”

Languages were to be his life’s work; up until his death in 1973, he continued working on the grammar and vocabulary of 15 Elvish languages.  He created a secret as well as a sign language for the Dwarves and went on to construct languages for Hobbits, Ents, Orcs and even Black Speech for Sauron.  I have often wondered whether he constructed the language for his mythology or whether it was the other way around. The answer comes in the “Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien,”

“The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.”

What brought me back to Tolkien was a question that has been in the back of my mind ever since my first post on languages.  Will we create new languages in the future?  Perhaps they are now being formed even as we wrestle with the loss of so many of our languages.   The idea of a planned language, which is intentionally invented, as opposed to a natural genesis, is not out of the realm of possibility.  We live in interesting times. As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote:

“Don’t adventures ever have an end?  I suppose not.  Someone else always has to carry on the story.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring