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Elvish as a Second Language
Art by Spencer Walts

Students comfort each other at Madison's 9.11 memorial service.

In an increasingly diverse world, having a bilingual education grows ever more important. It's fortunate, then, that the UW-Madison community offers expertise in a wide variety of languages - Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Elvish . . .

That's right, Elvish - the language of elves, those magical and mythical creatures from ancient folklore. David Salo, a graduate student in linguistics, is one of the world's leading experts on the elf languages created by J.R.R. Tolkien for his Lord of the Rings series of novels. Salo's encyclopedic knowledge of Elvish led to an invitation to join the team that made the 2001 hit film The Fellowship of the Ring. Salo's English-to-Elvish translations appear in several places throughout the picture.

"I worked on the movie for three years," says Salo, "almost since the beginning of production." In addition to providing translations between English and Elvish, he gave pronunciation advice to the film's language coaches, who taught the actors to speak with proper elf accents.

Salo's long study of Tolkien's books, he says, is a natural fit with his training in linguistics. "I suppose my interest in Tolkien's languages and my interest in real-world languages have a common origin in a lifetime fascination with languages, scripts, words, names, and their meanings and origins."

The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of three films based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The other two will be released in December 2002 and December 2003, and Salo's work will appear in all of them. His association with the movies has led to other requests for help with Tolkien-related projects, but currently, he's focusing on his own writing.

"I've written a very complete book manuscript on the Elvish language Sindarin, for which I hope to find a publisher," he says, noting that Sindarin is one of the two basic elf tongues in Tolkien's fantasy world. "It is not merely a dictionary, but includes lexical materials among a considerable amount of other grammatical information."

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