Yandex is the top search engine in Russia. It also has a translation function to which a strange new language has just been added. Sindarin is the language of the Elves in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books. Sindarin was also spoken in Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptations of the books and has an obsessive fan base among geeky linguists.
The function was added last week to celebrate Tolkien’s birthday. Sindarin, which is written in Tengwar, an ancient Elvish alphabet, is not the only Elvish language. The original language of the elves was Quenya which means “language”. When a group of elves called the Noldor returned to Middle Earth from the Eldamar, they met the Sindarin-speaking Grey-elves. The Noldor then also adopted Sindarin but used Quenya as a ritual language and for poetry.
While Tolkien based the archaic Quenya language on Finnish, Latin and Greek, Sindarin was based primarily on Welsh. Sindarin was also influenced by two Germanic languages; Old English (the language of the Anglo-Saxons) and Old Norse (the language of the Vikings).
Tolkien was a philologist and an expert on languages so he loved inventing new ones for his books. Not only was he Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1945 but also Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford from 1945 to 1959.
Similar to Google Translate, the Yandex translation service was launched back in 2012. It has 66 languages besides Sindarian on offer, but to begin with it only offered three — English, Russian and Ukrainian. This elfish publicity stunt may have been inspired by Google’s recent move to add a Star Wars language script to Google Translate.
If you are interested in this Elvish translation service, you might also like to read about a real life “elf” language called Elfdalian, which is spoken in the forests of central Sweden.