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I'm not a D&D pro but I'm writing a thesis about how Tolkien created his languages and which was/is their following influence.

A friend of mine told me that the languages of Faerûn are inspired by Tolkien, isn't it?

I would like to find something technical about the origins of Faerûn languages.

Have you got any suggestions? What is the origin of Faerûn's languages?

[Just to be clear: how inventors developed the languages, on which basis]

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to illustrate the point of the question, could you provide example of Faerûn languages usage in D&D source books? I'm asking because I can't find any (instead, there are descriptions like "a tome written in Dwarvish" without any actual examples of the language usage). The only exception is an alphabet, but alphabet is not language. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor, I know there are examples of names in the players' handbooks, and that gives hints about the sounds in the languages. Some editions give meanings of the elf names. Knowing that Amakiir means Gemflower, Amastacia means Starflower, and Ilphelkiir means Gemblossom that's a hint that "Ama" may be the word for "flower", and it's a hint that elvish might tend to put modifiers after nouns. There might be other information scattered throughout with references to a language being "guttural". \$\endgroup\$
    – Jetpack
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 6:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jetpack so, names and rare random traits? Still not enough for a proper language. Let me be clear, the OP asks "how inventors developed the languages", but the answer might be "they didn't". \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor, I agree that these are not languages. I'm just providing pointers to what development is there in case Giulia Serra wants to analyze that data, and compare sounds and vocabulary to Tolkien's languages. A few other people's analyses can be found here: conlang.stackexchange.com/questions/589/…. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jetpack
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ The 1e Forgotten Realms boxed set description of elves states that they call themselves, in elvish, “Tel qessir,” meaning “the people.” They call all non-elves “N’tel qess,” meaning “not the people.” The language wasn’t really created, but some words were, and that’s an example of it in a published source. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 1:18

3 Answers 3

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Unlike Tolkien, the creators of the Forgotten Realms setting were not experts in languages and language construction. So I do not think you can find anything technical. Below is a quote from an answer by Ed Greenwood on the Candlekeep forums (June 2005):

Most of us haven’t the time to delve into full linguistic development, particularly as most publishers would regard promoting such a thing (as anything but a web enhancement) to be financial suicide. What most DMs and Realms fiction writers are looking for is a handful of useful, cool-sounding words or phrases to give flavour to the speech of nonhumans (like the orc guards the PCs are creeping up on, the elf courtiers they’re eavesdropping on, or the dragon they overhear). In many cases, these will be used mixed in with Common, just as many English speakers of today lard their speech with individual words or even phrases from Spanish or French.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That would make the true origin something like "in a deep dark cavern that looks suspiciously like Ed's large intestine..." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 16:53
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There is little evidence that Faerun's Dwarvish and Elvish are significantly inspired by Tolkien.

Much about the dwarves and elves of Dungeon's and Dragons was heavily inspired by JRR Tolkien, though they are not entirely lifted from his pages. That they each have their own languages distinct from common is a feature of both Tolkien's elves and dwarves and the 1e D&D rules (and all subsequent editions of D&D, as far as I know). So Greenwood's giving the elves and dwarves of Faerun their own languages is as much in keeping with the 1e rule set with which he created the Realms as it is with Tolkien.

The dwarves of Faerun use runes, much like Tolkien's dwarves did. While there could be some inspiration there, the fact that dwarves live in mountains and work with stone makes runes kind of a natural choice. Further, Tolkien's dwarf runes and Greenwood's dwarf runes are quite different. This is in contrast to other games which lifted Tolkien's dwarf runes directly, such as the Ultima computer games. In terms of Faerunian dwarvish as an actual language, the other answer to this question demonstrates that it was never developed beyond a few words.

As for elvish, we see the same differences in Tolkien's written script and Greenwood's. While both alphabets are, I think most would agree, aesthetically pleasing in a graceful and artful way--in keeping with the character of elves--they are not really very similar, and Tolkien's written elvish includes numerous markings that go above the letters to assist in pronunciation, which Greenwood's alphabet does not have. Again, Faerunian elvish was never developed beyond a few words.

While there are similarities between the languages of Tolkien and Greenwood--the dwarvish use of runes and the elvish use of aesthetically pleasing characters--these similarities can be attributed more to the degree to which the elves and dwarves of D&D as a whole, not Faerun specifically, were inspired by Tolkien in their character and culture.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, great answer—roughly what I had in mind myself, but that I didn’t have the evidence to back up. But I would comment that “aesthetically pleasing” is a pretty subjective description—one I happen to agree with, but nonetheless—and I believe we can come up with a more objective description of what is similar between the two. I see “graceful,” “fluid,” and “curvy” used as descriptors that are at least somewhat better, though particularly that first one is still very subjective. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is an excellent point. I think 9 out of 10 people, if not more, would agree with the assessment, but it is subjective nonetheless. I'll try to qualify it a little better. In fact, the two alphabets are actually different enough that entirely objective adjectives may not really apply to both. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 22:29
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Faerûn and the other core D&D settings don't really have languages so much as made-up words used with varying degrees of consistency.

Tékumel, a related setting also published by TSR, was created by a linguist and features several constructed languages, such as Tsolyáni. Perhaps that would make for a better comparison to Tolkien's languages?

If you're interested in following up on it, I would recommend contacting the Tékumel Foundation.

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