Sindarin is the language of the Grey Elves, invented by J.R.R. Tolkien and exemplified in his masterful epic story The Lord of the Rings.
Noldorin, as Goldogrin before it, is an earlier development stage, from the 1930s (roughly), of the language that would eventually lead to Sindarin, although the conceptual history of the language was then different.
This dictionary project aims at providing a lexicon of words invented by Tolkien from The Etymologies in the 1930s to his last writings.
The project now spans over several decades and its motivations have obviously changed in this long time frame.
A few Sindarin lexicons (not to mention Quenya) were floating here and there around the net, but they were generally inaccurate and outdated, beside being usually unimpressive in appearance. They often consisted in mere compilations of the material available in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion only without taking into account the The History of Middle-earth series.
Most of these lexicons did not deserve to be called dictionaries. Words were listed without any annotation, indication of use and textual reference. Generally the compiler had neither real scholarship in Elvish linguistics, nor the will to build a real dictionary worthy of the name. Henceforth, there was often no attempt to mention and to correct misunderstandings from The Silmarillion index and The Etymologies (in The Lost Road). And when the latter source was used, the so-called “Noldorin” vocabulary was not clearly identified and distinguished from later Sindarin. J.R.R. Tolkien constantly revised his languages, and although the language known as “Noldorin” in The Etymologies evolved into Sindarin when The Lord of The Rings was written, it underwent several fundamental changes. Ignoring the “Noldorin” words would have left us with very few words, but on the other hand using this vocabulary required some care.
Therefore, it appeared that serious students of J.R.R. Tolkien’s invented languages were in great need of a true dictionary, that would try to be complete, accurate and consistent in its presentation. On a minimal basis, the Sindarin words shall be presented with their definition (either a translation or an explanation), their grammatical role (part of speech), and the textual references (books and pages where the word is mentioned). For a pertinent use, cognate entries and inflected forms shall be related to each other. Probable misreadings should be corrected, but mentioned to the reader. Additionally, information not indicated by Tolkien himself but derived from his own presentation of the language and the rules he designed would make an highly valuable contribution to the study of the Sindarin language. Among these improvements, phonetics, hypothetical forms and deduced words can be listed.
And this is what guided this project…
When it was initiated, this work aimed at:
… being a complete Sindarin dictionary, addressing not only Tolkien fans wishing to understand the elvish sentences from The Lord of the Rings or to build simple sentences in Sindarin, but also scholars wanting to study Sindarin for what it is: the complex linguistic invention of a philology professor, and also a beautiful piece of art.
Out of these two aims, the first (addressing Tolkien fans) was largely successful. The first public PDF version of the dictionary, in February 2001, had more than 18400 unique downloads (based on registration e-mails, for a total of more than 30000 download attempts). Between the theatrical release of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation in Dec. 2001 and mid-2002, it had a daily average of 50-100 unique downloads, and the downloads remained fairly high (up to 25-50 daily) until the first quarter of 2003. The subsequent on-line search engine, the Dragon Flame and Hesperides applications (2003-2004) and finally the full lexicon on the web also had their huge momentum. All in all, the dictionary certainly contributed to foster interest in Tolkien’s linguistic invention, on grounds that were seldom achieved by other lexicons on the Internet at that time.
The second aim (satisfying the experts and more serious students) had a more mitigated outcome… On one hand, some good and serious sites referred to the dictionary (e.g. the Tolkien Gateway encyclopedia), imported it into a larger framework (e.g. Parf Edhellen) or later used it as an inspiration and for cross-checks (e.g. Eldamo). So it would certainly be wrong to consider all the efforts were done for naught… However many other less serious works re-used the dictionary, though not always properly acknowledging it — and in nearly all cases, without any contribution back…
Thus, the feedback to the compiler was limited, the community was hard to engage in a collaborative effort and criticism started to arise when the main compiler admitted he would not be able, on his own, to take into account the large bodies of new posthumous publications that were since published…
By 2008, the situation could not be compared to that prevailing at the start of the project. The scope had become much larger: Initially, we only had The Etymologies and scattered words in Tolkien’s major works. But years afterwards, thanks to the continuous efforts of the scholars responsible for Parma Eldalamberon and Vinyar Tengwar to decipher and present several hitherto unpublished linguistic works, we had now access to many additional sources, leveraging our understanding of the language. Parma Eldalamberon no. 17, notably, is the largest source of information since The Etymologies. But it also constitutes an intricate and complex material. As stated, it was felt too huge a task, to re-invent the dictionary and project it in the future with so little effective contributions.
Still, the project had tried to re-invent itself and to engage new contributors…
Contacts were found with programmers to develop a successor to Dragon Flame / Hesperides. After all, we had done it in the past and it wasn’t so hard, why shouldn’t others be able to pursue the work? Despite several attempts, this was however an utter failure. The would-be contributors disappeared, or shifted interests. Obviously, part of the failure might be explained by misunderstandings or miscommunication. It doesn’t explain all, though…
Contacts were taken and huge efforts were engaged to propose a French and a German translation of the dictionary. Regarding the latter, Das Sindarin Lexikon had, after all, used the dictionary as an early basis for their own German version. Why couldn’t we join efforts towards a common lexicon? Nevertheless, despite tenuous discussions and even the release of a version branded to their colors, the leading contributors disappeared and their successors had other views. Obviously again, part of the failure might be explained by misunderstandings or miscommunication. It still doesn’t explain all, though… And that was the final nail into the coffin, as far as public visibility is concerned.
The project went on hiatus, but under the hood, there was still some hope to complete a new version one day.
There was an effort to revive it in 2011-2014, with a number of core changes that included a new format, the original XML file being converted and split in smaller subsets. The lexicon was updated, in several steps, to include a larger part of the newly published sources. However, this went very messy after the compiler got robbed in 2014. To keep the story short here, the new tooling and sources were then lost. The project was all broken, in scattered pieces… And that was yet another nail in the coffin.
But lo and behold! Around 2019, work resumed to recollect the bits and pieces that were once thought lost, and to repair and share a somehow working XML/TEI version (as it proved to be the easiest path), reassembling what could be reconstructed from earlier versions.
That “reloaded” lexicon is now hosted on GitHub, with its tooling, so it cannot get lost again. And it is all yours, would you wish to have a look at it.
“The ancient Sea-serpent was waking, or half thinking about it. He had been in a sound sleep for years, but now he was turning (…) - as all worms will at odd and unexpected moments.”
(J.R.R. Tolkien, Roverandom)