8. J.R.R. Tolkien famously made up his own languages, including Elvish, basing them on the many real languages he was fluent in
Not only was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (better known by his pen-name J.R.R. Tolkien) an accomplished polyglot in both ancient and modern languages, he also made up several languages of his own. Indeed, several of them are still spoken and studied by science fiction fans to this day. Tolkien was a true Renaissance man, excelling in a number of fields during his eventful life. However, he will forever be known as the father of modern fantasy fiction, and above all for his much-loved Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series of books.
Since he was born and raised in South Africa to German immigrants, Tolkien was surrounded by numerous different languages from the very start of his life. He revealed he learned Latin, French and German from his mother and then, while at school, he also picked up Greek, Italian and Spanish, as well as Welsh. But that wasn’t enough for the language-loving young man. At university, he specialized in Old Norse, plus he also taught himself a number of other rare, near-extinct old tongues, including Old Icelandic and Medieval Welsh. Unsurprisingly, a career in academia beckoned for Tolkien.
After serving in the First World War, he took up a position as the youngest professor in the languages department of the University of Leeds. Here, he taught English, but also brushed up on some other languages he had some knowledge of, including Norwegian, Russian, Dutch, Danish and Swedish. Then, it was off to his beloved University of Oxford. It was here, while working as a professor and private tutor, that he wrote his famous books. Alongside writing fiction, he also created a number of constructed languages, including the Elvish languages that would feature in his stories. Tolkien’s own languages were influenced by the old languages he loved, as well as by Welsh and Finnish.
After his father’s death in 1973, Tolkien’s son published a number of works by the great man. These included guides to his invented languages, meaning future readers and scholars could learn them too. While the exact number of languages Tolkien could read, write and speak is unclear – he himself struggled to put a number on it – he is remembered for being the quintessential polyglot, both for his skills and his passion for languages.