Questions (interrogatives) in Quenya can be indicated by intonation alone, just like in English: túlalye? “you are coming?” However, more often they are marked with the interrogative particle ma. This particle was derived from the ancient root √MA, which was mentioned in several places (PE17/68, 162; VT47/19). Tolkien discussed its use in some detail in Late Notes on Verb Structure (LVS) from 1969:
Questions appear in Q. to have had in colloquial speech the same form as statements, distinguished in tone only, not by word order. But all questions could be preceded (and usually were in writing) by the particle ma (a always short) … Where ma was used it had to be placed immediately before the subject or a verb with a pronominal subject inflexion, and this group normally came first (PE22/160-161).
Thus ma túlalye “are you coming?” or ma i nér túla “is the man coming?” This default order can be modified for purposes of emphasis:
If some other element was given special emphasis it could precede ma, but not intrude between it and the subject. Thus if Galadriel had asked: “Will Varda now refill the cup for me?”, the normal order would have been: Ma Varda enquantuva i yulma nin, with sí placed either at the end or before i yulma; more emphatic for sí would be to place it after Varda; quite exceptional emphasis would allow sí to be placed first of all (LVS, PE22/161).
To increasingly emphasize sí “now”:
- Ma Varda enquantuva i yulma nin sí? “Will Varda refill the cup for me now?”
- Ma Varda sí enquantuva i yulma nin? “Will Varda now refill the cup for me?”
- Sí ma Varda enquantuva i yulma nin? “Now will Varda refill the cup for me?”
But **ma sí Varda with the emphasized element between ma and the subject would not be valid.
This ma could similarly take pronominal affixes when the previous verb was not repeated. But note that a previous negation was also held to be repeated. So that in such a case as “you are to come/are not to come” or “you must say this/must not say this” or “he did it, but you did not/he did not do it, but you did”, the rejoinder manye “what? me?” would be equivalent to “am I/aren’t I” or “must I/mustn’t I” or “did I/didn’t I?” (LVS, PE22/160).
Such an inflected interrogative can follow other statements where the verb was implied: atarelya lende ostonna noa; malye? “your father went to the city yesterday; did you?” In such cases, neither verb tense nor any negative particle are repeated: ui lendelye ostonna noa, malye? “you did not go to the city yesterday, did you?” Or in answer to a command áva lelya ostonna “do not go to the city!” manye? “mustn’t I?”
The interrogative particle is the basis for a number of other question words:
- man “who” (LotR/377).
- mana “what” (PM/395).
- masse “where [lit. at what]” (PE22/124) = ma + locative -sse.
- manna “whither [lit. towards what]” (PE22/124) = ma + allative -nna.
- mallo “whence [lit. from what]” (PE22/124) = ma + ablative -llo.
- manen “how [lit. by what means]” (PM/395) = ma + instrumental -nen.
Of basic question words, only “when” and “why” are not attested; popular options are the Neo-Quenya forms *malume (= ma + lúme: lit. “what time”) and *manan (= mana + dative -n: lit. “for what”). According to Tolkien, word order is freer with interrogative pronouns:
Where the sentence contained an interrogative pronoun as subject the order was freer, but the order in GL is not normal, since the object is usually placed after the verb, unless great emphasis is placed on it (not the case here), and even so that is more frequently shown by tone only. The emphasis is in GL on sí now, since Galadriel is thinking of her present state as a “rebel” who refused the pardon and recall of the Exiles to Valinor (LVS, PE22/161).
In this paragraph, Tolkien was describing the following sentences from the Namárië poem, and was still discussing the emphatic meaning of placing sí at the beginning of the sentence:
- sí man i yulma nin enquantuva? “(lit.) now who the cup for me shall refill?” (LotR/377).
In almost all examples, the question word is placed at the beginning of the phrase:
- man tiruva fána cirya? “who shall heed a white ship?” (MC/222).
- mana i coimas Eldaron? “what is the ‘coimas’ of the Eldar?” (PM/395).
- manen lambe Quendion ahyane? “how did the language of the Elves change?” (PM/395).
- [ᴹQ.] masse lante Veleriande, masse láta sí? “where did Beleriand lie, where lies it now?” (PE22/126).
The only exceptions are where there is an emphatic particle at the beginning, as in [ᴹQ.] e man antaváro “(lit.) indeed what will he give” (LR/63), and one aberrant poetic sentence from the 1931 version of the Markirya poem: [ᴱQ.] hui oilima man kiluva “(lit.) the last evening who shall see?” (MC/214); presumably the placement of the object initially is emphatic.
In cases where the interrogative pronoun is the object rather than the subject, there is one example from the 1930s that seems to indicate that, like English, the question word still comes at the beginning of the phrase: ᴹQ. man antaváro “what will he give” (LR/63). Thus: “whom did the man see, whom did he see?” = man i nér cenne, man cennes?
Indirect Questions: In English, it is possible to embed a question in a declarative sentence as a subordinate clause: “I will ask whether he lives in town”. Tolkien indicated that such indirect question are possible are possible in Quenya as well:
In indirect questions ma was always present (equivalent of E “if, whether”) (LVS, PE22/160).
Thus “I will ask whether/if he lives in town” = cestuvan ma maris ostosse. This formation is distinct from conditionals, which would use qui: “I will stay if he comes” = haruvan qui tulis. Presumably such indirect questions are also valid with other question words, such as cestuvan masse maris “I will ask where he lives”.
However, Quenya has a distinct set of relative pronouns used to form subordinate clauses in situations where English might use a question word: Vardo luini tellumar yassen tintilar i eleni “Varda’s blue vaults wherein the stars tremble”: yasse not masse. See the entries on relative pronouns and subordinate clauses for more details.
Conceptual Development: There are no clear interrogatives in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1920s, but in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon Tolkien gave the interrogative base ᴱ√DO (GL/30) vs. the root for indefinites ᴱ√MA (GL/55). In the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) from the 1920s, ᴱ√MA seems to be the basis for the indefinite suffix -(u)ma “a; some, certain” (PE14/42, 71). The participle ᴱQ. mai was used to introduce the only question appearing in this document: ᴱQ. mai ke·tule “do you come?” (PE14/53). In EQG the particle mai was also given as the word for “if”, as in: ᴱQ. mai ni·tule tu·tulil “if I come, they come” (PE14/59). Thus indefiniteness, uncertainty and interrogatives all seemed to be entangled in Early Qenya.
In the late 1920s, the interrogative particle ᴱQ. ma first appeared in early drafts of the ᴱQ. Oilima Markirya poem: ᴱQ. ma kaire laikven [read laiqen] ondolissen kirya maita? “*does a ship lie maimed on green rocks?” (PE16/77). The word ᴱQ. man “who” appeared in the final 1931 version of the poem, as in: man kiluva kirya ninqe? “who shall see a white ship?” (MC/213).
Later in the 1930s, ᴹQ. man appeared as the word “what” in several questions in the unfinished story, The Lost Road:
- ᴹQ. man-ie, atto? “what is it, father?” (LR/59).
- ᴹQ. e man antaváro “what will he give indeed” (LR/63).
- ᴹQ. man táre antáva nin Ilúvatar, Ilúvatar? “what will the Father, O Father, give me” (LR/72).
The particle ma can be seen as an element in several question words appearing in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS), some of which are mentioned above: ᴹQ. masse lante Veleriande, masse láta sí? “where did Beleriand lie, where lies it now?” (PE22/126). A couple of interrogative adjectives appeared in QVS that may or may not to be compatible with Tolkien later ideas (PE22/124): ᴹQ. malka “how great” (malkar i·aldar i·ólar nóressella “how great are the trees that grow in your land?”) and ᴹQ. manima “of what kind, of what sort” (manima i lie? “(and) of what sort are the people?”). In much of Tolkien’s writing, the suffix -ima frequently represents “possibility”, but it can also be used as a general adjective suffix. As for malka, its origin is unclear, but it might be a variant of ma + ᴹQ. alta “how large”.
Neo-Quenya: The use of ma for questions is pretty wide spread in Neo-Quenya, as is the placement of question words at the beginning of a phrase. There is some dispute on how to form certain question words like “how many” or “how much”.
The origin of mana “what” isn’t clear, but I suspect it is a nominalized adjective: ma + -na, much like sina “this” and tana “that”, the latter being usable as both an adjective (PE49/11) and pronoun (Ety/TA). Perhaps this is the case with mana as well, and both of the following are valid: mana meril “what do you want?” mana quile mára lyen (ná) “what/which color do you like?” (lit. “is good to you?”). However, it is possible manima “of what sort” can also function as general interrogative adjectival “which, what”.