The Elven language, or "Elvish", was largely lost when Elvhenan fell to the Tevinter Imperium and its people were enslaved around two millennia before the Dragon Age. When the elves settled their second homeland, the Dales, they aimed to restore their lost language and lore, but the Dales fell after an Exalted March declared by the Chantry in the early Glory Age. The Elvish of the Dragon Age is thus a fragmented remnant, a few words that are thrown into conversation rather than a working language used to conduct everyday life. The Dalish Elves, self-appointed custodians of the elven language and lore, use more Elvish than their City Elf brethren. Some clans, such as the ones encountered in Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, speak it fluently and exclusively. Living among humans, the City Elves now retain only a few old Elvish words whose origin is almost forgotten, such as shem — derived from shemlen, the old Elvish term for humans meaning "quickling" or "quick children," — and hahren — the leader of an Alienage, meaning "elder" in Elvish.
A differentiating factor between Elvish and other languages in Thedas—particularly as regards aspects like names—is the avoidance of hard consonants.
It has been observed that "Elven is often a game of intents, not direct mapping of phonetic meaning. That means it's a mess" and that it tends "to meander".
Though a number of ancient sites, including the Temple of Mythal, have recently been found to contain examples of Elvish writing, these are few and far between, and jealously guarded by the Dalish. Some Circles have also come to possess old elven texts. In the Dragon Age, clan Keepers are generally the only ones who know the secret of writing Elvish.
Lethallin/Lethallan/Lethallen: Casual reference used for someone with whom one is familiar; generally, lethallin is used for males while lethallan is used for females; lethallen has been stated to be the appropriate gender neutral term unless otherwise stated later in canon, though it is likely to remain the same.
Note: Though "lethallin" is usually used for males and "lethallan" for females, as stated above, there are instances where this is not the case. For example, in the Dragon AgeDalish Elf Origin opening scene on pc, your fellow clansman, Tamlen, will once refer to you as "lethallin" for a female warden, and as "lethallan" for a male. And in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Solas will refer to a female elf Inquisitor as lethallin a few times, as does Minaeve in Haven. However it is unclear if this is intentional or a production error.
Mien'harel: Rebellion; depending on the interpretation, a violent call for justice; a concept that when humans push the elven population too far they must remind them that even a "short blade" must be respected; most commonly a term used by city elf.
Shemlen: The original name elves use for the human race; continues to see use as a slang term amongst the City Elves ("shems") even though its meaning has largely been lost; literally "quick children".
Suledin is "an elven song about enduring and emerging from sorrow, tied to the loss of their ancient lands, but commonly adapted to express personal struggles as well."
Melava inan enansal
ir su aravel tu elvaral
u na emma abelas
in elgar sa vir mana
in tu setheneran din emma na
lath araval ena
arla ven tu vir mahvir
enasal ir sa lethalin
Time was once a blessing
but long journeys are made longer
when alone within.
Take spirit from the long ago
but do not dwell in lands no longer yours.
Be certain in need,
and the path will emerge
to a home tomorrow
and time will again
be the joy it once was
Note: The translated lyrics are described as a "rough" translation in World of Thedas Vol. 1, and shouldn't be used as a guideline for translation purposes.
Mir Da'len Somniar
A traditional Dalish Lullaby found in the children's book "The Seer's Yarn", collected by Seer Agata.
Elgara vallas, da'len
Mala taren aravas
Ara ma'desen melar
Iras ma ghilas, da'len
Ara ma'nedan ashir
Bal emma mala dir
Irassal ma ghilas
Ma garas mir renan
Ara ma'athlan vhenas
Ara ma'athlan vhenas
Sun sets, little one,
Time to dream
Your mind journeys,
But I will hold you here.
Where will you go, little one
Lost to me in sleep?
Seek truth in a forgotten land
Deep with in your heart.
Never fear, little one,
Wherever you shall go.
Follow my voice--
I will call you home.
I will call you home.
Where Willows Wail
An elven version of a lullaby local to Denerim and nearby villages to the south.
Tel’enara bellana bana’vhenadahl,
Sethen’a ir san’shiral, mala tel’halani
Ir sa’vir te’suledin var bana’vallaslin,
Vora’nadas san banal’him emma abel revas.
Ir tela’ena glandival, vir amin tel’hanin.
Ir tela las ir Fen halam, vir am’tela’elvahen.
We/it lost eternity or the ruined tree of the People
Time won’t help when the land of dreams is no longer our journey
We try to lead despite the eventual failing of our markings.
To the inevitable and troubling freedom we are committed.
When we could no longer believe, we lost glory to war.
When the Wolf failed/won, we lost the People to war.
Note: The above translation is described as not being a literal translation, as "some form of lyrical shorthand is employed throughout" and it is completely different from modern formal Dalish. Thus it is impossible to use it to try to deconstruct the language.
The elven language as used in the games is actually a cipher. As such, it doesn't always follow traditional linguistic rules.
↑Dragon Age (tabletop RPG), Game Master's Guide, set 1, p. 56 ('[After the players save the clan of Dalish elves], the Dalish make the characters adopted members of their clan, offering them tokens showing them to be vhenallin, or “friends of the People.”')