In English the most common responses to questions are “yes” and “no”. Quenya further distinguishes its answers based on whether they were simple statements of fact or whether they expressed the will of the respondent. As such, there are two different words for “yes”:
In Q. the forms used were þá, aþa in response to requests, orders, or expressions of intention expecting agreement or disagreement. The latter was the more forcible, but was most used when the speaker regarded the question as unnecessary. “Close the door, please!” (á þak’ i fende, mekin); “very good/all right/I will” (þá).
Not opinion[s] of fact which are answered by ná, nása “it is (so): yes”, as in rokkor i Erulingaron mare nar (ma naite)? “The horses of the Rohirrim are good (are they not, lit. is it true)”. To which the answer is ná, nása “it is a fact (= yes)”, or nár (naitie) “they are (indeed = truly)”. But if mára tyen “good to you” = our “like”, the question would mean: “Do you like their horses — you like them, don’t you?” The answer might then be aþa “I agree of course, of course I do” (PE22/166).
Thus the normal word for “yes” in answer to questions of fact is ná, which simply means “it is”. Somewhat more emphatically: nása “it is so” or náto “it is that” (VT49/28). There is also a more hesitant “yes”: náce “it may be seeming” = ná + cé “*yes perhaps” (VT49/28). However, in response to requests and commands it is †þá (in modern Tarquesta sá) “I agree, I will”. For example:
- ma harnes máresse? “did he stay at home?”: ná “yes”.
- ma tultalyes? “will you send for him?”: sá “I will”.
There are likewise two forms of “no”. The first is in answer to questions of fact, either lá (PE22/166) or ui (VT49/28) depending on whether you are using la-negation or u-negation; both mean “no, it is not”. There is also a more emphatic uito “it is not that” (VT49/28). The other type of response is in answer to commands and requests: vá “no, I won’t” (PE17/143; PE22/166).
- ma harnes máresse? “did he stay at home?”: lá or ui “no”.
- ma tultalyes? “will you send for him?”: vá or ván “I won’t”.
At one point Tolkien also described the physical motions associated with both types of “no”:
BĀ appears to be a primitive ejaculation accompanied with jerk back of head (as still is [Sindarin] baw! or [Quenya] vá). Ū similarly with pursed lips and shaking of head (PE17/145).
Thus vá “I won’t (pulling head back)” and ui “it is not” (shaking head side to side). Perhaps ná “yes” involves nodding the head as is the case with English speakers, but Tolkien never said so one way or the other.
Conceptual Development: Many of the ideas expressed above appear only in Tolkien’s later writing: vá “I won’t” wasn’t introduced until 1959 (PE17/143) and þá “I will” appears in Late Notes on Verb Structure (LVS) from 1969 (PE22/168). The possibilities for “no” were tied to Tolkien’s vacillation between la-negation or u-negation as discussed in the entry on the negative. At one point when la-negation was out of favor, Tolkien even considered using (a)lá as the word for “yes”, along with an opposing word fó “no”, both of which most likely were transient ideas (linguistic notes from 1959, PE17/158, 181).
Neo-Quenya: One somewhat annoying feature of Tolkien system of question-answers in LVS is that they are all very similar to each other: they are all consonant + á (ná, þá, lá, vá). For this reason, I favor ui for “no” and ván for “I won’t”, to make them a bit more distinctive.