Yrksk Orðabók

Although there is quite a bit of Orkish in the films of The Hobbit, the vocabulary involved in the dialogue is quite small. This is for two reasons: first, the dialogue is fairly repetitive; second, the Orcs are intended to have had a fairly small vocabulary to begin with, supplementing it as needed by words from the languages of Elves, Dwarves, and Men, and also Black Speech, when that became widely used in Middle-earth again at the end of the Third Age. Even what can be considered the foundational vocabulary is itself a mélange of older borrowings, very few of which can be traced back to the aboriginal Orkish of the First Age — which was itself influenced by both Avarin and Eldarin languages, and may even have been a simplified Avarin language to begin with. One such word that might seem to have survived, in various forms, is golug “elf”; but it seems more likely that it was a revival, reimported from Black Speech. The original word, however, may well have been an alteration of the Sindarin word golodh “one of the Noldor.”

Because of the limited nature of this vocabulary, it is possible to list all of the Orkish words that have appeared in the Hobbit films thus far. Some of these words are pan-Orkish; most, however, are probably limited to the Orcs who lived at the northern end of the Misty Mountains, with a standard (if such a thing can be said to exist) originally set by the Orcs of Mount Gundabad, prior to the Dwarf and Goblin war, about 150 years before Bilbo’s journey. But the internal evidence of the language suggests that the vernaculars of several different tribes were combined to form this standard; and in the time since the war, much change and decay had already taken place, particularly the loss of final vowels, which are however retained in some situations. Here then is this short word-list, all that can (so far) be gleaned from the meager evidence.

a-, pref.: away, out
â, cj.: and
ab, pref.: after, behind, following
abgur, v.: follow, chase after, pursue
-ai, -ayi-: plural suffix attached to peoples
adad, n.: being
agor, agr(a), n.: blood
-an(i): past tense suffix
ân, n.: human being
arg, a.: other
argad, n.: another thing
ash, a.: one, some
ashad(o), n.: one thing, a single thing
az, pron.: I
azgar, n.: war [Adûnaic zagar-]

bag, v.: pay [Eldarin *mbakh-?]
bakh, n.: shadow
ban, v.: stay, remain
band, n.: town
bar, a.: advantageous
bir(i), prep./postp.: for, to
bolneg, a.: painless
bolum, n.: pain
borzum, n.: darkness [cf. BS burzum]
buzb, n.: maggot, fly [cf. Eldarin *buzb-]
, v.: passive auxiliary
bun, num.: two
bûn, v.: past tense of na-, “was, were”

, n.: land [*daɣ]
dai, cj.: then, therefore, in that case
dai, pron.: they
-d(o): 3rd person suffix “their”; “him, her, them”
dorg(u), n.: master [*durbgu]
du, cj.: than [probably the same as below]
du, prep.: to [cf. Khuzdul du]
dum, av.: to the end, to completion, to success
dur, av.: soon
durdur, av.: very soon

-esh, postp.: in [BS ishi]
êsh, a.: alone [*ashi-]

-g(i), -g(u): 2nd person suffix “your”
ganzil, v.: remember
gar, av.: already
garm, n.: wolf
gast, n.: fear
gast, v.: fear
gel, av.: around
gelnakh, v.: to surround
gim, v.: find [cf. BS gimb-]
gin, a.: new [cf. Eldarin *win-?]
gin, n.: report, news
gir, v.: try
gloz, v.: sleep
go, postp.: with
golgi, n.: female elf
golug, golg-, n.: elf
gonakh, v.: come together, gather (intr.)
gor, n.: death
gor, v.: kill [*gur-; cf. Eldarin *ŋgur-]
gorb, v.: catch, grab; understand
gorgar, n.: bane, killer, slayer [*gurkar-]
gorgor, v.: slaughter, kill in large numbers
gorun, a.: killed, dead
gorz, v.: end, finish (something)
gud, av.: for a long time
gukht(i), n.: horde [cf. Eldarin *wekt-]
gul, n.: trick, deception, illusion
gun, a.: near
gur, v.: run, go (quickly)
gûr, n.: heart [cf. Sindarin gûr]

ghâsh, n.: fire [pan-Orkish word]

hag, v.: do, act
hakht, v.: speak [Eldarin *pakt-]
har, v.: travel, move
hir, postp.: by, through
hirimbag, n.: controller, wielder [cf. BS krimp-?]
horug, v.: hunt
horuga, n.: hunter
hugum, av.: here
hukh, v.: curse word
hum, av.: now
hur, av.: so
hurnash, intj.: “so it is”; unquestionably, definitely, exactly
huru, n.: eastern region, the east

-i: precedes modifying nouns and adjectives, linked to preceding noun
i, rel. pron.: which, that
-(i)d: 3rd person object suffix: him, her, it, them
ishor, num.: three

kab, v.: have
kair(a), n.: life [cf. Eldarin *koir-]
ker, v.: hide
ki, pron.: you [cf. Eldarin *ki-]
ki, cj.: if
kibul, n.: silver [Khuzdul kibil]
kil, v.: hide, conceal
kin, v.: see [cf. Eldarin *ken-]
kirg, n.: crossing, (mountain) pass
kirm(a), n.: blade
kirz, n.: tooth
kirzad, a.: toothed, dangerous, vicious
kod,dem. pron.: that
kogum, av.: that place, there; where
kom, av.: that time, then; when [*ko-mi]

kharb, n.: beast
khobd(u), n.: head
khozd, n.: dwarf [Khuzdul khuzd]
khun, n.: dog
khurg, n.: guts, bowels

-l: accusative suffix
lo, prep.: beyond, exceeding, excessive, too
log, n.: horse [cf. Eldarink *rok- and Northmannish *loh-]
lôg, n.: lake
loga, n.: horse-rider
lum: suffix indicating units of measure; X-lum = “X by X”
lur, a.: wet
lurdâ, n.: “wet land,” swamp

marg, v.: attack
mazd, v.: think
-m(i): 1st plural suffix, “we”
mig, a.: small, little
migul, migl-, n.: tiny, despised thing
mod, pron.: what?
mog, v.: permit, allow
mogum, pron.: where?
mol, n.: associate, ally
mong, n.: road
mor, pron.: how?
morg(u), n.: bear
moz, dem.pron.: this
murg, a.: many
murg, n.: a multitude
murg, v.: to be many, multiply, abound
murgad, n.: number

-n: definite suffix
na, v.: be [Eldarin na-]
nakh, av.: backwards, back
nakh, v.: come [Adûnaic]
nakht, v.: cause to come, lead
nar(u), postp.: to, toward; till, until
narnar, c.: until
narg, v.: want
nauzd, v.: smell, have a smell
nazd, a.: near
-neg: privative suffix, without, -less
nuzd(u), n.: scent, smell
nuzd, v.: smell (something), track

ô, o, cj.: but
ob(o), prep.: about; with; from
-ob: suffix of deprecation
obgur, v.: escape, get away
obhakht(i), n.: excuse
obhakht, v.: “speak away,” to excuse oneself
obkhurg, v.: remove the bowels, disembowel
obrish, v.: cut off
om-: comparative or superlative prefix (when du is not used)
omash, a./av.: first
omgun, a.: nearer, nearest, next
ommig, a.: less, least
ommurg, a.: more, most
ord, n.: mountain
org, n.: orc

pog, n.: ten
poig, n.: boy

-r: accusative suffix (archaic variant of -l)
ragsh, v.: tear
ran, n.: king [cf. Sindarin aran]
rang, v.: abandon, leave
ri, v.: taste
rish, v.: cut
rizg, v.: impale
ru, prep.: on, upon
ruzad(a), n.: opportunity (literally “on-fall”)
ruzad, v.: come upon, happen on

silz, v.: lie
silig, v.: let, release, loose

-sh(i): 3rd person subject suffix: he, she, it, they
shâ, av.: not
shad, n.: nothingness, void, destruction
shadgar, n.: destroyer
shâgum, n.: no place, nowhere
shâhakht, v.: say no, refuse
shast, v.: hear [cf. Eldarin √slas]
shâzil, a.: unknown
shâz’liz, a.: any, whatever (literally “I don’t know”)
shir, a.: fresh
shirz, n.: fragment, piece; “cut”
shirzlum, av.: piece by piece, piecemeal, by pieces
shog, v.: drink [cf. Eldarin √suk-, √sok-]
shorâ, a.: pale
shorakh, shrakh, n.: scum, filth
shotag, v.: break [cf. Eldarin √stak-]
shûg, a.: foul
shûg, n.: filth
shul, v.: wait, stay, tarry, stop
shulun, a.: delayed, late

tar, v.: cross [cf. Sindarin thar “across”]
torag, v.: bring, fetch, summon
torask, v.: beat, strike
torkh, n.: nest, lair
tud, v.: watch [Westron]
tung, n.: price
tunum, num.: thousand
tur, v.: have power, be able

-ug: suffix of completeness or generality; “all”
ulg(u), a.: each, every
ul(u), a.: all
um, a.: bad, worse
-un: impersonal verbal suffix, “one” (archaic)
-un: passive participle suffix
unar(u), n.: father
undag(u), adj.: born [*ontaku]
undum, n.: birth

-ya: future suffix
yaz, n.: name [cf. Q esse]
yaz, v.: to call, to name
-yesh: locative suffix, “in”
yun, n.: offspring, spawn

-z(a): 1st person possessive suffix, my
zad, v.: fall
zadgar, v.: cause to fall, cut down
zag, pron.: self (oneself, himself, herself, themselves)
zail, v.: learn
zey, n. & a.: light
zeyborz, n.: “light-dark,” a cycle of day and night
zidgar, v.: inform, make known
zidg(u), n.: wizard
zib, a.: fast
zibzib, a.: very fast
zil, v.: know
zog, v.: look for, expect, seek
zor, a.: hard
zorzor, a.: very hard
zung, a.: safe, secure
zungum, n.: safety, security
zur, v.: lose, lose track of

Kíla steinn

I’ve received an inquiry about the meaning of the runes on Kíli’s talisman stone. The words inscribed on it are innikh dê.

The first is the singular imperative of the verb nanakha “return, come back”, which has a triliteral root √n-n-kh which obviously has been formed from the biliteral root √n-kh “come,” which is in turn clearly related to Adûnaic nakh-. The pattern is iCCiC, as is generally the case with other imperatives.

combines a preposition d(u) “to, toward” (whose real-world inspiration is the Gothic preposition du) with the 1st person singular pronominal suffix .

The meaning of the phrase on the stone is therefore “return to me.” Its precise application in Kíli’s case is something I’m not privy to, and I expect that passionate film fans can guess it more easily than I can.

From the mailbox

The Dwarrow Scholar has forwarded me a number of questions, more than I can answer all at once, and some of which will be answered as the blog progresses. I’ve picked three which I think I can answer briefly:

You’ve mentioned on your blog that you used Aramaic as a source (amongst others) to “find” the roots of the neo-Khuzdul words that you are devising. Why not mainly Hebrew (as Tolkien stated he had the Jews in mind when writing about the dwarves) and Akkadian (as Aulë spoke Valarin, he devised the dwarven language, and Tolkien used Akkadian as the main source for Valarin)?

Also what about Old Norse/Icelandic ? “Forn” is the name the dwarves give to Tom Bombadil. It is known that the dwarves have outer names of Old Norse origins (Völuspá). Though I see no reason why they would give one that is not of their own people an outer name, hence this name “Forn” must have a meaning in their own tongue. “Forn” means “ancient” in Old Norse. So if the dwarves use Old Norse for this word, why not for others ?

I know you have used quite a bit of (more or less distorted) Indo-European and Proto-Germanic roots into your version of Khuzdul. I was wondering how prominent it is compared to the other sources you’ve used (Quenya, Aramaic, etc.).

I did not use Aramaic “as a source” for neo-Khuzdul roots or for anything else except as an inspiration for generic Semitic-style patterns, and that only together with Hebrew and Arabic. I mentioned that Aramaic was a Semitic language whose style I liked, but in spite of that it was not really a major influence on Khuzdul.

As for Akkadian, I could hardly use it as an influence when I know so little of it — though I know enough to strongly doubt the assertion that Akkadian was “the main source for Valarin.” The language of the Valar, as revealed in Tolkien’s Quenya and Eldar did influence one or two neo-Khuzdul words, but the phonetic and structural style of Valarin is so unlike Khuzdul that it could not be a major influence.

Akkadian, as I noted in one of my comments, had some small influence on Adûnaic, and Adûnaic was a significant influence on Khuzdul, because I felt their linguistic styles to be very similar.

There is a certain amount of influence from Germanic languages on Khuzdul. I don’t know exactly the proportion of roots which can be traced back to various real world languages, various Tolkien languages, or pure inventions. I imagine that all sources are roughly balanced, but I could be wrong.

I should add that using Semitic roots in Khuzdul is the very last thing that would have occurred to me. Since the pattern-structure of Khuzdul was inspired by and to some extent (as we’ll see) modeled on Semitic languages, using Semitic roots would have effectively made it another language in the Semitic family, and that would hardly be consistent with the notion that this is a language of long ago, before Semitic or any other language family that we know today existed.

…. you’ve changed direction concerning the word “mountain.” In your previous works it was Abad (as in Gundabad), while now it is Urd (seems very alike the Sindarin Orod), why this change? Mountain would, in my opinion, be one of the words that Aulë taught the Dwarves in the language he devised for them (prior to the Elves awaking). I can see that words not native for the dwarves would have been “borrowed” from the Elves, but surely mountain would not be one of those.

There are a lot of different ways of answering this question, which fall into two main categories: the external, real-world reason why the words arose in this shape, and the internal reason why this might be true in Middle-earth. I take it that the question is mostly directed toward the second reason, but perhaps an answer to the first is wanted as well.

While I try, nowadays, to make fairly exhaustive explanatory notes of what I mean when I invent a word or a linguistic device, I don’t usually make a note of why. That means that real-world explanations for the shape of a particular word are limited by fallible memory.

It might be the case, for instance, that in looking for a word for “mountain” I simply overlooked the earlier word abad = “mountain.” This seems to me unlikely, because, although it appears only in the phrase undu abad “under the mountain” in one lyric, it does appear in my Khuzdul glossary. Nonetheless, I can’t rule this possibility out.

The other possibility is that, in looking for a word for “hill, mountain” I was unsatisfied with this word abad — possibly not liking the implication that it was an element in Gundabad, which is, I think, better interpreted as an early Mannish name; or perhaps simply finding it phonetically weak or inappropriate. In any case, I did decide to use urd in certain instances.

The conclusion that urd is strongly influenced by Elvish *oroto is inescapable, and it’s obvious why such a form would occur to me in the real world. The question as to how or why the words could be related in Middle-earth must, of course, have a different answer, which is this:

Erebor was not one of the original seats of the Khazâd; it was not settled until very late in Dwarvish history, in Third Age 1999, by Dwarves who escaped from the ruin of Khazad-dûm eighteen years earlier. The region was then little peopled; the Northmen for the most part still lived far down the River Running to south, and Dale was still a small village.

In theory (though not in fact), this region was still under the sway of the Elvenking of Mirkwood, and had been known from ancient days by the Silvan Elves, a branch of the Nandor, though since the rise of the Necromancer they rarely went beyond the edge of the Wood. The Lonely Mountain, though its Sindarin name was Erebor, was better known in those parts by the Silvan Elvish name Orth: “The Mountain.” The Dalemen adopted this name and turned it, in their own tongue, into Orð. When Thráin and his people came to Erebor, they adopted this word and turned it into the Khuzdul form Urd.

Since this was the only mountain of significance to the Dwarves of Erebor, the word became an “Ereborism,” not used by Dwarves of other houses; but in the language of Erebor, a dolven mountain-realm ruled by a king might be described as an Urd, even if not referring to Erebor specifically, and it was used in reference to some of the Dwarvish dwellings in the Grey Mountains. This word was therefore also used by Grór, descendant of Thráin, when he went to the Iron Hills and founded a kingdom there; though, since the halls under those mountains were more extensive, though not richer, than those of Erebor, he devised a distinctive plural form: Urâd, or — from the iron that was mined there — Urâd Zirnul.

“But they could understand no word of the tongue of the Naugrim, which to their ears was cumbrous and unlovely” (The Silmarillion, Chapter 10). With the absence of the harsh fricative [x], the language does not seem to be that “cumbrous” or “unlovely”; in fact, I find it sounds quite nice to the ears. Have you thought to make it sound more in line with what the elves thought of the tongue of the Naugrim?

I cannot account for the failure of the Sindar to appreciate the beauty of the Khuzdul language. Possibly they were disturbed by the lack of the fricative [x], which is, after all, quite common in Sindarin. On the other hand, their reaction may have been more due to their shock at discovering that they were not the only speaking people in Middle-earth than to purely phonæsthetic reasons. However, I must admit that it has never crossed my mind to alter the phonetic character of Khuzdul in an effort to justify the purported Elvish opinion of it.

Question about Dwalin’s axes

Michelle writes:

I have a question about Dwalin’s battle axes Grasper and Keeper. The first appears to be pronounced Uk Lat, but is the second pronounced Umrak (Angerthas Moria) or Umraks (Angerthas Erebor)? Angerthas Moria seems more likely, but I was hoping Angerthas Erebor might be used somewhere in the movie.

The two axes are supposed to be named Ukhlat “grasper, holder” and Umraz “keeper”, pointing toward roots KhLT “hold tight” and MRZ “keep, retain”, both with the same pattern uCCaC. The z-rune used is indeed the one used in the Angerthas Moria. I don’t remember my exact reasoning behind using the Angerthas Moria, but possibly I thought of the axes as very ancient relics, made before the settlement of Erebor.

The actual sources of the name-meanings (which I did not come up with) were the names of two dogs belonging to the novelist Emily Brontë.

If all the runic writing I created for the films actually appeared on screen, there would be a lot of Angerthas Erebor! But I don’t know how much will be seen; possibly more once the setting actually gets to Erebor itself.

Language Creation 101

Working on creating an extended version of Khuzdul for The Lord of the Rings was a different challenge, both from translating into Quenya and Sindarin, and from simply inventing a new language out of the blue. In the first case, I had a large vocabulary and a general grammatical framework. In the second, I could do pretty much as I pleased. Khuzdul, however, though it had almost no indications of grammar and a very small vocabulary, nonetheless had a definite and distinctive sound and feel to it. It was going to be my task, before all else, to determine what that feel was and replicate it.

The first part of the job was relatively simple: to determine what the sounds of Khuzdul were, and the constraints upon the way those sounds could be organized. Simply by going through a list of all the Khuzdul words and names, I found the following sounds:

Vowels, short: i, e, a, o, u

Vowels, long: î, ê, â, û

Diphthongs: ai

Consonants, stops: b, d, g, t, th, k, kh, ʔ (glottal stop)

Consonants, fricatives: f, s, sh (i.e., /ʃ/), z, h

Nasals: m, n

Liquids and glides: l, r

Of course I knew that, given the small size of the Khuzdul corpus (the total number of words, names, and phrases in the language) this might not be all the sounds there were in the language, but each sound was repeated enough that it seemed to be pretty characteristic of the language. I decided that I wasn’t going to go outside this set of sounds without a very good reason.

The list of letters in the Angerthas, or runic alphabet, which is said to be used by the Dwarves that appears in Appendix E of The Return of the King appears, at first glance, to give a much larger variety of sounds. On closer consideration of its history and use, however, it turns out to be unreliable as a guide to Khuzdul sounds. The Dwarvish Angerthas is a fairly superficial remodelling of an earlier Elvish Angerthas, at first used for writing Sindarin (which explains the existence, for instance, of vowel sounds for ü and ö) and then supplemented by additional letters to write sounds found in other languages, which might include Khuzdul, but would also include Quenya, the Nandorin Elvish languages, and Mannish languages. And since the Dwarves always lived in contact with Men and Elves, they might have retained the same symbols for the same reason. The only sound that the description of the Angerthas specially pointed to as being part of Khuzdul was ʔ, “the clear or glottal beginning of  a word with an initial vowel that appeared in Khuzdul.” By this I understood that when a word appears to begin with a vowel in Khuzdul — like uzbad, iglishmêk, or azanulbizar — it actually began with a ʔ, and this sound would or could be written in Khuzdul with the certh (rune) #35. (However, the word uzbad on Balin’s tomb actually doesn’t begin with this symbol.)

Appendix E’s pronunciation guide also pointed toward another distinctive characteristic of Khuzdul. Dwarvish is there said not to “possess the sounds represented… by th and ch (kh)” (meaning the sounds of English thick and German ach, represented in IPA by /θ/ and /x/) and that the written combinations of Roman letters th and kh actually represented aspirates — that is, IPA /tʰ/ and /kʰ/. The absence of /pʰ/ was notable, as was the presence of /f/ (as in felak-gundu, the Khuzdul name of the Elvish king Finrod Felagund). But my interpretation of these facts will be noted later.

The vowel system seemed fairly straightforward, with one exception: the extreme rarity of o (and the total absence of ô). The vowel o only appears in the name Gabilgathol, Khuzdul for Belegost/Mickleburg, and presumably also meaning “Great Fortress”. I decided that using a lot of o’s in my Khuzdul words would make it look very different from Tolkien’s, and I decided to avoid o where possible (though, as the language later developed, an ô later got in through the backdoor!).  A system of just i, e, a, u looks somewhat “unbalanced,” when charted out: /i/ has /u/ as its back counterpart, but /e/ has no back counterpart at all. Of course, these symbols are, in principle, derived from equating the Khuzdul vowel-signs with their Elvish counterparts, and it’s quite possible that the Dwarvish values ascribed to these symbols were somewhat different. For instance, e might actually represent /æ/, a low front vowel, and a might represent /ɑ/, a low back vowel, in which case the symmetry would be complete. On the other hand, many natural languages do have asymmetrical vowel systems; so I decided not to worry too much about it.

The other question was about possible combinations of sounds. This was easy: there seemed to be no limitations. There was gl in aglâb, ʃm in iglishmêk, zb in uzbad, zd in Khuzdul, kʰs in rukhs, rb in Mazarbul, rbh in Sharbhund, rg in Nargûn, rk in bark and Tharkûn, nd in Bundushathûr, and various other combinations in what were more obviously compound words, like lg in Gabilgathol or lb in Azanulbizar. It seemed that wherever two consonants came together, they remained without change — and this, of course, made the task of construction considerably easier. It also gave the resulting words a very distinctive sound, less mellifluous, perhaps, than the Elvish languages, but more powerful.

But sounds were only the raw materials, the bricks and mortar of a building. In order to start building phrases and sentences, I needed words; and to get words, I needed an architectural plan, a way of bringing those sounds together in consistent shapes that would do two things at the same time: first, carry meaning; second, look and sound like Khuzdul. With this in mind, I proceeded to step two.

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.