Language is the lifeblood of society. Without a way to communicate, everything would fall apart. The sheer number of languages is staggering, each with its own characteristics that make it unique.
Fortunately for us, fantasy makes use of this as another way to immerse the reader in the richly layered story world. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The tricky thing with creating languages is that it’s harder to do well than it sounds. You can look at the languages Tolkien created and think anyone can do the same and make it sound as realistic, but Tolkien was a linguist. He knew words inside and out and had a foundation of knowledge he could draw from.
Other fantasy writers have taken a stab (with their swords, of course) at creating languages, some more extensively than others. A made-up language isn’t one of the pillars of fantasy, but it helps add a dimension of realism and believability. After all, not all the races have the same language.
I’m not a linguist or language specialist, so in my stories I stick to a handful of phrases or words and leave it there—mainly so I don’t end up embarrassing myself. However, I enjoy seeing languages done well, even if they’re not extensive or central to the world building.
Which brings us to today’s topic: favorite fantasy language.
Plenty of options to choose from, but in reality, there’s only one correct answer. My favorite fantasy language is…
Spoiler alert: Tolkien wins this contest every time. Even if Elvish isn’t your favorite language, Tolkien, in his unending genius, also created languages for the dwarves, orcs, and ents. Those are fine, but for me, there’s no question Elvish reigns supreme.
I don’t know about you, but when I read Lord of the Rings the first time, I had difficulty with the parts in Elvish. It was beautiful to look at, but the words were long and complicated, containing more vowels than my brain knew what to do with and all sorts of queer little marks above the letters.
In the movies, however, Elvish is revealed in its glory. The characters don’t speak it often, but when they do you can hear the underlying beauty of the language—it’s cadence and lyrical quality. It has an ethereal feel that summons thoughts of gentle wind, fluttering leaves, rippling grass, and moonlit nights.
As I’ve stated before, words are powerful, but somehow, in Elvish, they seem more potent—beautiful but weighty, laden with a sense of timelessness.
Another thing I love about Elvish is how seamlessly it blends with music. If you don’t know, music is one of my favorite things ever. I could wax eloquent all day about the wonderful qualities and countless benefits of music, but my point is that Elvish has a melodic quality only heightened when put to music.
Two songs come to mind:
They contain Elvish and are perfect examples of what I’m getting at. That depth and emotion is one of the reasons Elvish rules the world of fantasy languages.
What’s your favorite fantasy language? Have you read a fantasy language you hated? I would love to hear your thoughts.