Tongues of Gondor: 1. Tongues of Gondor

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1. Tongues of Gondor


What languages might Gondorians have spoken? They had a very unique history, culturally tied to the elf-friends of Númenor and (after the time of Eorl) politically tied to their neighbors in Rohan. Also, as the most stable mannish kingdom in the Third Age of Middle-earth, they might have the luxury of becoming a cultural center for the South. This would have drawn people from near and far. Just what languages would Gondorians have been likely to learn?

Of course the number of languages any one individual actually learns is limited by his social station, the anticipated need for such languages, and his own natural ability to learn (or interest in learning) a language. Sons of merchants would probably know the language of the people with whom they would be trading, if their likely clients came from areas besides those that usually spoke Westron. Nobility or, in some cases, their servants would probably learn the language of their masters and possibly the languages of the people their masters might welcome into his home; high nobility might also learn something of the tongues of people they had been at war with, as proof that they hoped to eventually re-establish diplomatic relationships.

Girls, like boys, would first learn the language their parents spoke most often. If they learned a second language after this, it would probably be either because they were expected to help in a business where knowledge of the language would be helpful, or because knowledge of such a language would improve their odds of marriage. "Accomplishments" like skill at playing an instrument or in singing, fluency in a cultured language, or the ability to write and appreciate fine literature might be important in in attracting a suitable husband, and so nobles might have their daughters tutored in different languages. If the woman became mistress of a house that entertained visitors from foreign land, the ability to break her guests' native language fluently could become a very important aspect of hospitality.

This is for the most part speculation. There is very little canon relating to the education of women in Gondor, or even of non-nobility men. The more interesting (and more answerable) question, then, is "What languages might a Gondorian nobleman speak?


Westron was the lingua franca of the areas of Middle-earth inhabited by Men:

[T]he language represented in this history [Lord of the Rings] was the Westron or "Common Speech" of the West-lands of Middle-earth in the Third Age. In the course of that age it had become the native language of nearly all the speaking peoples (save the Elves) who dwelt within the bounds of the old kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor; that is along all the coasts from Umbar northwards to the Bay of Forochel, and inland as far as the Misty Mountains of the Ephel Dúath. It had also spread north up the Anduin, occupying lands west of the Rive and east of the mountains as far as the Gladden Fields. (Appendix F, "The Languages and peoples of the Third Age")

This probably created a situation similar to that of the Mediterranean world under the Roman Empire. Most people living within the Empire would have spoken Latin, and so there would have been little need to learn the native language of regions within the Empire. However, those people whose travel took them to or beyond the borders of the Empire (or to more isolated pockets within it) might learn other languages. Similarly, Westron would be spoken by most men throughout the region that had been part of Gondor and Arnor at their height, but some living near that area's borders might have learned other languages as well.


Adûnaic was the language spoken in the later days of Númenor by most of that island's inhabitants (the Faithful being the notable exception).

But the native speech of the Númenoreans remained for the most part their ancestral Mannish tongue, the Adûnaic, and to this in the latter days of their pride and their kings and lords returned, abandoning the Elven-speech, save only those few that held still to their ancient friendship with the Eldar. [...] There [at Pelargir] Adûnaic was spoken, and mingled with many words of the languages of lesser men it became a Common Speech that spread thence along the coasts among all that had dealings with Westernesse.

Adûnaic was related to Westron, and would likely have influenced the dialect of the Common Speech spoken in southern Middle-earth (both in Gondor and Umbar). Since Elendil and his followers were of the Faithful and Adûnaic was favored by the other people of Númenor, Elendil probably would have frowned upon its use in Gondor. Similarly, Sauron would probably have discouraged it in the east because of its ties to Númenor. However, it would still most likely have influenced the dialect of Westron spoken in southern Gondor as well as the Corsairs' language.

Adûnaic in its pure form would probably not be widely studied in Gondor, though words of Adûnaic origin would surely survive in Westron. It might have been studied by loremasters, however, so that they could read ancient manuscripts from Númenor and those written in southern Gondor before the Akallabêth.


By the time of the Ring War, Westron was the dominant tongue in Gondor, but Sindarin was still spoken in certain regions:

There [in Middle-earth] many already dwelt who were in whole or part of Númenorean blood; but few of them remembered the Elvish speech. [...] They [the Dúnedain] used therefore the Common Speech in their dealing with other folk and in the government of their wide realms; but they enlarged the language and enriched it with many words drawn from the Elven-tongues.

In the days of the Númenorean kings this ennobled Westron speech spread far and wide, even among their enemies; and it became used more and more by the Dúnedain themselves, so that at the time of the War of the Ring the Elven-tongue was known to only a small part of the people of Gondor, and spoken daily by fewer. These dwelt mostly in Minas Tirith and the townlands adjacent, and in the land of the tributary princes of Dol Amroth. (Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of Men")

It is still spoken by a fair number of Gondorians, though, including many of Faramir's rangers:

They [Faramir's rangers] spoke together in soft voices, at first using the Common Speech, but after the manner of older days, and then changing to another language of their own. To his amazement, as he listened Frodo became aware that it was the Elven-tongue that they spoke, or one but little different; and he looked at them with wonder, for he knew then that they must be Dúnedain of the South, men of the line of the Lords of Westernesse. ("Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit", The Two Towers)

Interestingly, nowhere does Tolkien say that these rangers are nobility. The distinction between those Gondorians who knew Sindarin and those who didn't seems more geographical than political; families in a certain region continued to teach their sons the tongue, whatever their social position.

As Frodo notes, it is of a different dialect to the one he learned in the West; Aragorn might have had similar difficulties when he first came to Gondor. This is because the Sindarin of Gondor is not a "living tongue" but is instead learnt from tutors:

The Atani had learned the Sindarin tongue in Beleriand and most of them, especially the high men and the learned, had spoken it familiarly, even among themselves: but always as a learned language, taught in early childhood; their native language remained the Adûnaic, the Mannish tongue of the Folk of Hador (except in some districts of the west of the Isle where the rustic folk used a Beorian dialect). Thus the Sindarin they used had remained unchanged through many lives of Men (HoME vol 12, Pt 2 [Late Writings], "Of Dwarves and Men", Note 71)

Bilbo's and Aragorn's Sindarin, on the other hand, was probably learnt from the Elves directly, and so it would have changed slightly from generation to generation. Given the long generation span of Elves, this change would have been gradual, but it would have existed nonetheless.


Quenya was probably less widely spoken than Sindarin in Gondor. Faramir does not know many stories about the Elves:

"You don't say much in all your tales about the Elves, sir," said Sam, suddenly plucking up his courage. He had noted that Faramir seemed to refer to Elves with reverence, and this even more than his courtesy, and his food and wine, had won Sam's respect and quieted his suspicions.

"No indeed, Master Samwise," said Faramir, "for I am not learned in Elven-lore. But there you touch upon another point in which we have changed, declining from Númenor to Middle-earth. For as you may know, if Mithrandir was your companion and you have spoken with Elrond, the Edain, the Fathers of the Númenoreans, fought beside the Elves in the first wars, and were rewarded by the gift of the kingdom in the midst of the Sea, within sight of Elvenhome. But in Middle-earth Men and Elves became stranged in the days of darkness, by the arts of the Enemy, and by the slow change of time in which each kind walked further down their sundered roads. Men now fear and misdoubt the Elves and knew little of them. And we of Gondor grow like other Men, like the Men of Rohan; for even they, who are the foes of the Dark Lord, shun the Elves and speak of the Golden Wood with dreamd." ("The Window on the West", The Two Towers)

This does not preclude the possibility that Faramir knew Quenya, though he would have little reason to learn it if not to study Elven-lore. Quenya was the language spoken by the Noldor, most of whom left Middle-earth at the beginning of the First Age. Since Gondor was not founded until the end of the Second Age, there is little practical reason to learn the language. Even among the Elves it was not still commonly spoken:

Of the Eldarin tongues two are found in this book [Lord of the Rings]: the High-elven or Quenya, the grey-elven or Sindarin. The High-elven was an ancient tongue of Eldamar beyond the Sea, the first to be recorded in writing. It was no longer a birth-tongue but had become, as it were, an "Elven-latin", still used for ceremony, and for high matters of lore and song, by the High Elves." ("The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of the Elves", Appendix F)

Even in their prime, it was primarily the loremasters of the Dúnedain who learned this tongue:

The Dúnedain alone of all races of Men knew and spoke an Elvish tongue; for their forefathers had learned the Sindarin tongue, and this they passed on to their children as a matter of lore, changing little with the passing of the years. And their men of wisdom learned also the High-elven Quenya and esteemed it above all other tongues. ("The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of Men", Appendix F)

If Faramir did not speak Quenya, other Gondorians were even less likely to do so. As Sam observes, Faramir speaks of Elves with reverence, but most of Gondor "grow like other Men, [... who] shun the Elves." Quenya, like Adûnaic, was probably only studied by loremasters, instead of by the population at large.


Rohirric might have been spoken by those living in northern Gondor, near the border of Rohan, so that they could communicate with their neighbours. (Rohirrim near the border of Gondor were also probably more likely to learn Westron for the same reasons.)

In addition, Théoden seemed to expect most Gondorians to understand Rohirric:

"Stay, strangers here unknown!" they [the Riders of Rohan] cried in the tongue of the Riddermark, demanding the names and errand of the strangers. Wonder was in their eyes but little friendliness; and they looked darkly upon Gandalf.

"Well do I understand your speech," he answered in the same language; "yet few strangers do so. Why then do you not speak in the Common Tongue, as is the custom in the West, if you wish to be answered?"

"Itis the will of Théoden King that none should enter his gates, save those who know our tongue and are our friends," replied one of the guards. "None are welcome here in days of war but our own folk, and those that come from Mundburg in the land of Gondor." ("The King of the Golden Hall", The Two Towers)

This suggests two possibilities. Either the Rohirrim were able to easily identify a Gondorian on sight and would speak the Common Tongue with them, or those Gondorians who travelled to Rohan could speak Rohirric.

If the Rohirrim routinely spoke the Common Tongue with Gondorians, they might have spoken it on this occasion. After all, Aragorn is described as similar in appearance to Denethor:

"Denethor II was a proud man, tall, valiant, and more kingly than any man that had appeared in Gondor for many lives of men; [...] Indeed he was as like to Thorongil [Aragorn] as to one of nearest kin." ("Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion", Appendix A)

So these guards might have assumed Aragorn was Gondorian, if they could recognize those from that land. By extension, he would have resembled Boromir who was "like him [Denethor] in face and pride" ("Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion", Appendix A). Boromir spoke Rohirric well enough to converse with the Rohirrim when he passed through there on his way to Rivendell. As Éomer said, "Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer, and the horse that we lent him came back riderless." ("The Riders of Rohan", The Two Towers)

It should be noted that on their first meeting, Éomer greets Aragorn in the Common Tongue. However, this could be an indication of Éomer's unwillingness to submit to the decree, or simply evidence that the decree was not passed before Éomer rode out with his Riders. In any case, at least one Rohir recognizes Aragorn as someone likely to speak the Common Tongue, and his manner and tone "like to the speech of Boromir, Man of Gondor" suggest he probably assumed Aragorn was Gondorian. If a different guard addresses a man he probably assumed to be Gondorian in Rohirric, this suggests that the Rohirrim expected Gondorians, or at least those from Mundburg [Minas Tirith] to speak the language of the Riddermark.

Again speaking of Boromir, Éomer said,

"He came seldom to the Mark, for he was ever in the wars on the East-borders; but I have seen him. More like to the swift sons of Eorl than to the grave Men of Gondor he seemed to me, and likely to prove a great captain of his people when his time came." ("The Riders of Rohan", The Two Towers)

The implication is clear: Boromir came seldom to Rohan because he was always on Gondor's East-borders. If Gondorians in general did not often come to Rohan, why would …omer need to qualify his statement? Furthermore, …omer knows enough about the Men of Gondor to describe them as "grave", and to judge that Boromir will make a great captain for that people. If men from Gondor often traveled to Rohan, they would surely use their language, and the Rohirrim might reasonably expect them to understand it.

This strong connection between the two countries is supported by Boromir's statement that "Only from Rohan now will any men ride to us when we call" ("The Council of Elrond", The Fellowship of the Ring), and Faramir's that "[N]o stranger, not even one of Rohan that fights with us, shall see the path we now go [toward Henneth Annûn] with open eyes" ("The Window on the West", The Two Towers). Clearly Gondor still expected Rohirrim to fight with them, and Rohan fulfilled that expectation. (The divide between the two countries seems to be a movie fanon, but that is a topic beyond the scope of this essay.) If Rohirrim often fought with Gondorians, it seems logical that Gondorians might have also travelled to Rohan, in which case they probably learned Rohirric.


These are, for the most part, my opinions of canon. I intend them as reasonable extrapolations that would apply to most Gondorians. I would not, for instance, consider a Quenya-speaking Ranger uncanonical, although I would think him slightly abnormal and would like to see some reason why he would possess this skill.

You are of course free to disagree. At the very least, I hope the quotes I have assembled here prove instructive and help you write a more realistic and developed Gondor.

Happy writing!

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Marta

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Critical Essay

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/09/13

Original Post: 02/28/05

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