Links Between Welsh and Elvish

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A new book from Cardiff University Professor Dr Carl Phelpstead gives Welsh geeks one more reason to be proud of their heritage: it was the inspiration for Sindarin, one of two elven languages created by fantasy author J.R.R Tolkien. The other, Quenya, is based more on Finnish.

Tolkien was entranced by the sounds of Welsh. In “English and Welsh,” a speech he gave in Oxford, he notes that the sounds of Welsh had always called to him: “I heard it coming out of the west. It struck at me in the names on coal-trucks; and drawing nearer, it flickered past on station-signs, a flash of strange spelling and a hint of a language old and yet alive; even in an adeiladwyd 1887, ill-cut on a stone-slab, it pierced my linguistic heart.”

It’s only natural, then, that Tolkien would use one of his favorite languages as the inspiration for the speech of the Grey Elves. As Dr. Phelpstead explained to the BBC,  “It’s not so much that he borrowed Welsh words, more the sounds. This particular Elfish language is very like the sounds of Welsh and deliberately so. I have a friend of mine who is a Welsh translator who went to see the Lord of the Rings films and when they started speaking Elfish in the film she turned to her daughter and said ‘they are speaking Welsh’ so people do see this relationship.”

Tolkien’s created languages are far enough away from any real existing languages that they are not mutually intelligible. Still, if you look closely you can see how Sindarin was inspired by Welsh. Similarities between the two tongues include the sounds and sound structure as well as some grammatical elements.

Just for fun, here’s a brief list of some phrases in Sindarin, via Lord of the Rings fan site ArwenUndomiel.com:

Suilaid: Greetings.
Gîl síla na lû govaded: A star shines on the time of our meeting.
Pedich Edhellen?: Do you speak Elvish?
Le hannon: Thank you.
Navaer: Farewell.
And for your enemies: “Nai Ungoliant meditha le” means “May Ungoliant (a giant otherworldly spider) devour you!”