Getting started

Hi! This is the first post on the Midgardsmal blog. I’m starting this blog because I know there are a lot of questions about my linguistic work on Tolkien’s languages, particularly in connection with the movies made by Peter Jackson. Instead of trying to write the same answers to a lot of different people, I thought it would be better to put some of these answers out where they can be publicly viewed.

Creating languages to supplement the work of one of the best known language creators in the world is a daunting task. It might have been too daunting if I’d ever thought about it in those terms when I started out. Actually, I kind of got sucked into it gradually.

When I worked on Quenya and Sindarin translations for The Lord of the Rings, over a decade ago, I had a fair-sized vocabulary to start with, and a general grammatical scheme. I tried to stick as closely as possible to what was known, and though I had to improvise at some points, it was less a question of invention than of extending or elaborating along known lines. To use an artistic metaphor, it was like retouching a mural from which some flakes of paint have fallen — from the existing lines and colors, it’s usually not too hard to guess what went in the gaps, though of course you can never be 100% sure.

When I was asked to come up with some Dwarvish-language lines and lyrics for The Lord of the Rings, I initially balked. It wasn’t my first experience with constructing Khuzdul — I had invented some names for the Middle-earth Role Playing Game several years earlier — but that had been with the understanding that I was, in a sense, contributing to a new world, related to Tolkien’s but not quite the same. This felt a bit different. I pointed out that the amount of written Khuzdul could fit on a couple of pages (this is still basically true) and that almost nothing was known about its structure. I said that whatever I wrote in it would be largely a new invention, and that I wasn’t going to pass it off as Tolkien’s own work. I got the go-ahead anyway, and plunged in.