Hey, crazy linguophile! This brief guide is about the Entish language, which is, in The Lord of The Rings’ world, that spoken by Ents, which are trees gifted with superpowers. 🌳
Whether you’ve only seen the films or read Tolkien’s books too, it doesn’t matter: I’m going to include both here.
But ⚠️ beware: either films or books, you got to be familiar with something of this. Otherwise, it’s going to sound like Greek to you. ⚠️
If you search the web for Entish, there’s not a lot coming up. 😆 Well, Mr Google: Entish is a thing.
It sprung from Tolkien’s pen, along with about twenty other languages: he created them then placed them in a fully-formed universe so that they could exist and be spoken. It’s mind-boggling.
In this short guide, we’re going to look at some juicy details: who the Ents are, where they come from, how their language came about, who speaks it. 🧐
Let’s get started.
Tolkien and languages
Tolkien was a philologist from 9 to 5, and a creator of fictitious languages from 5 to 9. ⌚
He taught several ancient languages at the university, and in the time he could spare from his professorship, he created. A lot. Not only languages, as that would not have been enough to him, but also:
- A place for his languages to exist;
- people that would speak them;
- myths about the creation of the world, prejudices, landscapes. 🏔️
It’s hard to exaggerate the extent of Tolkien’s magnificence. Linguistically, he crafted whole language families, he let his primordial languages evolve and turn into new ones, he made some of them extinct and others fading into cultural usage when not oblivion.
Tolkien gave languages to the gods, the angels, all the races: dwarves, elves, men, orcs, and also Ents. He gave each race a language that fit them and so so he did with the Entish. 🍃
It is enlightening what he first says about the Ents in Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings:
The oldest people still alive in the Third Age were the Onodrim or Enyd. Ent was the form of their name in the language of Rohan.
Before delving deeper into the Entish language, it is worth focusing for a second on who the Ents are and what traits make them special.
Who the Ents are
The language of the Ents. How does one conceive of a language for a race of arboreal beings? 🤔
A special race, of course: the Ents are shepherds of the forest, primordial spirits of Arda. The most famous among them, Treebeard, is also the oldest Ent: it is not for nothing that when he meets Gandalf again after the fall of Orthanc, he greets him with “Young Master Gandalf!”. 👴
In the myth of creation, the Vala Aulë creates the dwarves: they would spend their time below ground, usually oblivious to what goes on above the ground, but would covet the wood for their underground activities. 🪓
It is more complex than this, but I’ll try to be brief.
Aulë cannot generate life: only Eru, the supreme God, could. But Aulë believes that it is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, so he goes his way, and he makes the first seven dwarves.
But then, when Eru scold him severely, he fears that his first seven dwarves are going to be destroyed. That provokes a great sorrow in his heart: Eru takes pity and agrees to let the dwarves live on. 👍
Aulë (sorry if it’s starting resembling a soap opera) has a wife who is Yavanna, another Vala, the one of everything that grows in Arda. 🌍
Yavanna becomes aware of the dwarves’ personality and that Eru allows them to populate Arda. Thus, she turns to Manwë, King of the Valar, to convince Eru to protect the wilderness: from the dwarves and any other threat.
In the end, Eru takes pity and creates an arboreal Seal Team Six to protect the forest: the Ents are born. 🌳
But despite Eru being the all-powerful God of Tolkien’s Legendarium, the creation of the Ents seems to go awry: among other things, the Ents are unable to speak, at first. So how do they come to have the gift of speech?
The Ents learn to speak
Just born, the Ents are as mute as fish: it is only later that they learn to speak, for the Elves teach them.
In The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers, Treebeard tells that the elves cured them of their dumbness, something for which they would be eternally grateful. 🙏🏻 But why do the elves teach them to speak? We don’t know for sure.
According to Treebeard, elves have always sought to nurture and establish a dialogue with the creatures of Arda: a curious parallel, that of the Ents as shepherds of trees and the elves as shepherds of all bipedal beings. 🤸
At this point, we can assume that Entish has an Elvish basis, but from the little info we have, it is difficult to find any elvishness in Entish: maybe, then, just at the beginning it was Elvish-like.
It would be, perhaps, that which Treebeard indicates as Old Entish in his own chapter of The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers:
Real names tell the story of what things belong to, in Ancient Entish we may say.
Then the drift would take hold and the Entish language would change under the pressure of the Entishness: a slower perception of time, a different phonatory apparatus, their very personality.
The Ents are said to be lovers of all growing things, as well as linguophiles: Tolkien makes them talented in languages and crazy about Quenya (the language of the culture of elves and good people of Middle-earth). To all account, several of them are also fluent in Westron (the Common Tongue of Middle-earth, which everybody speaks).
The Onodrim – as their former language teachers call them – get on with the Elves as with old pals; the Ents, on the other hand, are wary of the dwarves: it does not help that the axe is their weapon of choice… 🪓
But the trees of Middle-earth are not only threatened by the dwarves: forests once immense are reduced to patches, at the end of the Third Age.
Logging, the lay of Beleriand and those orc bastards have a hugely detrimental effect: in the years of the War of the Ring, the Fangorn Forest is all that remains; a bit like the Białowieża Forest on our planet, and in both cases, in grave danger.
Fun fact: “Fangorn” is the real name of Treebeard and it’s Quenya for “tree-beard”, in Entish.
As Tolkien recounts in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, Entish is a language:
(…) slow, sonorous, cumulative, repetitive, long-breathed indeed; made up of a multiplicity of vowel nuances and distinctions of pitch and quantity which even the most learned among the Elves did not attempt to represent.
We may derive from this that Entish was a tonal language, like Mandarin Chinese; that it repeats elements, perhaps to avoid ambiguity; that it aims to be as exact as it can, probably as John Quijada wanted to do with his Ithkuil.
The Ents do not resort to Entish except in isolated cases, even when talking to each other.
Treebeard is a case in point: except burárum, most of his words are in Westron or Quenya, though sometimes strung together in an Entish manner, like this one:
Taurelilómëa-tumbalemorna Tumbaletaurëa Lómëanor.
In this short video, you have Tolkien himself reading a paragraph with sentences in Entish:
As much as we have noted, the rapidity of the narrative contrasts with what we have just said of Entish 🤨 as an unhurried language, of few sounds smeared over soooooooo much time.
In the film The Two Towers, we have a prime example in the Entmoot of Derndingle, when Ents gather to discuss whether and how to become involved in the ongoing contest: after all, it takes a day for the Ents to only welcome each other. 😲
The Entish uttered by Tolkien is rapid, rhythmic: we must assume that it is because Ents are going to war. ⚔️
That the Ents wage war is an event that Saruman cannot foresee. Not only because they talk as slow as hell, but because they are more guardians than a shock force, and not terribly bright either… for Treebeard notices the indiscriminate felling of his forest when the crime of the orcs had already been consummated. 🤯
Ents are like that quiet friend we all have: they’re all introversion and shyness, until one day they get angry and turn into Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. 🐲
Indeed, as we saw, the Ents are capable of apocalyptic fury: in their wake, Isengard is torn to shreds. 💣 But in the forest, there is more than Ents, trees and shrubs.
If Ents are the policemen of the forest, Huorns are their paramilitary group.
Numerous, quick and silent in movement, they can create fog and backwaters of darkness at their wish. Huorns do not have Ents’ sense of mission: some are so evil that, compared to them, Attila would look like a Persian kitten. 🐱
Nevertheless, generally speaking, they are just outlaws and enemies of the orcs: not the ideal company to drink a glass of spring water with, but neither does crossing paths with them equate to sudden death. Ents, Treebeard reports, have to keep an eye on them. 🤨
Despite everything, Tolkien sets them up to do an excellent job when, at the end of the battle of Helm’s Deep, they warmly welcome the thousands of orcs fleeing the battle: Huorns return the courtesy of having made wood at Fangorn. You know: revenge is a dish best served among fronds. 🌲
Uhmmm what was I getting at… ah yes: Huorns would be, according to some author’s notes, a different species from the Ents, but they can communicate with them.
Some Entish specimens
Let’s go back to the language. What samples do we have of Entish? We have one that Tolkien finds in the Red Book of Westmarch, which he himself notes is an imprecise phonetic transcription. It is:
which would mean… “hill”, or perhaps, it would be an Entish syllable of his word for “hill”. On closer inspection, some Quenya flair seems to be there. 🤔
In Entish, words make explicit everything that is explicitable about the object they describe, but Ents resort also to shorter nouns. Here are some samples of the latter:
- Laurelindórenan: that would be Lothlórien, the realm of Galadriel.
- Bregalad: something like “Quickbeam”, the name of an Ent.
- Fimbrethil: “slender-beech”, name of Treebeard’s wife, before he vanished.
And Merry and Pippin’s auditory sensation, when Treebeard talks to himself, and they only catch: boom, boom, rumboom, rumboom, boorar, boorar boom boom, dahrar boom boom boom, dahrar boom boom. 👂
Ents and us
What should we copy from the Ents’ linguistic configuration? Several things:
#1 Ents are willing to speak only if what they are going to say is worth saying. In the blink of an eye, we would have to shut down every social network and a few million loudmouths. 😶
#2 Ents have their language but they are also fluent in the languages of others: they are polyglots.
#3 Ents are extremely peaceful, but if you touch their heartstrings, they fight back hard: another trait to copy. It’s not linguistic, but it’s worth mentioning. 😆
The future of Entish and Ents
The future of the Ents does not look good, at the start of the Fourth Age. What’s the situation in that moment? Well, the War of the Ring ends, the destruction of Sauron completed and the coronation of Aragorn celebrated. Why, then? Because of three factors:
#1 The Entwives disappeared. No one knows where they are. 😟 Without them, allegedly, no Entbabies.
#2 Many Ents died in the war.
#3 As time goes by, the Ents become more and more arboreal, and this feralisation leads to the loss of the Entish language. This despite the fact that King Aragorn, as a result of their contribution to the common cause against evil, cedes the kingdom of Isengard to them as an autonomous Entic territory.
As to why their Entish-ness should disappear, I have found nothing. 😕 If you have any hypotheses, I’m all ears.
FAQ about the Entish language
Q: Can I learn Entish?
A: Well, there is some material available, as you have seen: if you wanted to extrapolate a theoretical corpus and create a Neo-Entish, in the same way that we have Neo-Sindarin and Neo-Khuzdul, go ahead! 👍
Potential drawbacks: if it takes the average Ent a whole day to say Hello and another day to say Howdy, we’ll be retired before we’ve finished a conversation.
Alternatively, you could take a look at how, in our world, trees and plants communicate: Stefano Mancuso has done an excellent job in his The Nation of Plants. Spoiler alert: you’re going to freak out more than Pippin and Merry when they meet Treebeard for the first time. 🤯
All of this would be overshadowed if you found an Ent in a forest somewhere and had time, as Treebeard reported about the Entish:
It is a lovely language, but it takes a long time to say anything in it, for we never say anything, except when it is worth spending a lot of time talking and listening.
As a last option, try to perfect your Burárum: like a deep noise, like a discordant note on a great organ. With this, you already have a B1 of Entish. 👍
Q: Do Ents speak Quenya as slowly as Entish?
A: I don’t think so. Elves are immortal but that doesn’t mean they don’t run out of patience. 😶
When they express themselves in other languages (Quenya or also Westron, as in the film The Two Towers), Ents come close to the speed of their interlocutors.
Q: Did the Entwives speak a different language because they lived a secluded life?
A: Entwives are a complicated matter. We know nothing about their language and little about anything else. 😒
Treebeard notes that they were all about gardening and tidiness, unlike male Ents, who prefer massive vegetation and letting nature take its course.
They had a lot of dealings with humans, who they taught a lot about agriculture, so it could be that they spoke human languages as well, since the Entish language was never mastered by any human group.
Q: Do you like Entish?
A: I like the way it sounds, as I like the voice of the trees too. Speaking of which, I am obliged to recommend the song below, sung by Christopher Lee before a ship took him to Valinor to rest for eternity. ⛵
He is the legendary English actor who played Saruman in Peter Jackson’s sagas: perhaps to as repetance for his crimes as white wizard, he sings Treebeard’s Song here, his voice deep as the soil in which the trees take root:
Be careful not to fall asleep while listening to it: it happened to two friends of mine and now they are pomegranate bushes. 🍎
Q: Will there be Ents in Amazon’s upcoming series?
A: Ents clearly existed in the Second Age. I hope they will be in Amazon’s Lord of the Rings and play big.
Questions without answers about Entish
Many questions remain: Does Entish features insults? Do Ents taunt each other with lines like “You’re as nice as fire” or “I love you like I love an axe”? 😏
Do they have variants according to the species? Pine Entish, Poplar Entish, Oak Entish, etc. Has it ever been written down?
Do Huorns speak Huornish? What is the intelligibility with standard Entish?
The question of questions, echoing in my ears: Why on earth would you write a guide to Entish? I mean no offence but…
No offence, sure. I think I did for three reasons:
#1 Too much leisure time.
#2 Tolkien saw how, during his lifetime, the English forests were falling like pins under the advance of the industry. A kingfisher or a wolf still has a chance, if not to defend themselves, at least to escape: but a tree? 😔
Thus the British writer dreamt that trees could have a praetorian guard. Today we have threatened forests everywhere on the planet: the notion that in another universe there were Ents is comforting. 💪
#3 Haven’t you realized that I’m crazy about languages, about Tolkien, and that I can’t shut up?
Reasons for knowing bits of Entish
You see, there are several reasons to learn about Entish:
- Entish gives us the opportunity to learn more about the mind of Tolkien, a true genius of our time;
- to broaden our knowledge of Middle-earth, so that we can enjoy it more when watching the films and reading the books again;
- to arouse interest in the communication systems in vogue in the plant world (because they exist and are mind-boggling), 🌲🌳
- understand why in so many ancestral beliefs there are talking and moving trees,
- imagine the day when humans and plants can communicate (we’re already ahead of the curve with machines).
Actually, if you’ve read this far, instead of having gone to Instagram long ago to see what your friends had for dinner, you already know a lot about the language of Ents. 😆
But just in case, I’ll leave you some tips, in case you feel like expanding on Ents, Entish and the closest thing we have to them in our world.
To expand on Ents
It’s impossible to begin anywhere else
The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings – Boxed Set, illustrated by Alan Lee.
Words matter, but images are gorgeous:
A Middle-earth Traveller: Sketches from Bag End to Mordor, drawn by John Howe.
Alan Lee and Howe are the two major Tolkien-inspired artists. Everything depicted in Peter Jackson’s two trilogies came from their pencils. Howe’s book is more graphic than the preceding one: a visual delight.
Tolkien wasn’t just a fine author, he was also as deep as the ocean:
The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All, by Gregory Bassham and Erin Bronson.
Beyond the cover, which I find trashy 😀 the book is very good. It unpacks the points that you had glimpsed throughout the work but had not reasoned about in the way proposed here.
Beautiful. It’s like a love letter to Nature.
Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard.
This essay is going to blow not only your mind but your entire self. Spoiler alert: trees take care of each other, they have social structures and… they communicate in ways unfathomable to the human mind.
The Secret Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben: at school, they don’t teach this. A tree, a forest, are terrific. After reading this book, I haven’t been able to watch at a tree the same way.
Conclusions about Entish
This rant about Entish is coming to an end. More Tolkien language geekery is coming soon. Stay tuned. 😏
In short, wherever you are:
- Don’t get tired of dreaming;
- learn several languages: Khuzdûl or French, you choose;
- when you walk in forests, don’t litter, don’t damage any trees, or an Ent will discover you and take revenge for it. 🌲
A big nudge, see you in Tauremorna. 😉
Your personal tolkienosophist,