Definite accusative prefix

As I mentioned in one of the comments on the previous blog post, one of the characteristics I invented for neo-Khuzdul is a prefix marking the definite accusative — that is, it comes before a noun which is the direct object of a verb, if that noun is not being newly introduced into the universe of discourse — that is, it has been previously mentioned or implied, or can be assumed to be well-known to the person or persons spoken to. Discussing this is moving a bit ahead and outside of chronological sequence, but as this is a detail which doesn’t have major effects on the rest of the language, it seems to do no harm to treat it out of order.

I have received a couple of questions about this prefix. The Dwarrow Scholar asks:

 What is the neo-Khuzdul prefix in question please (or is it indeed “al” just as in Arabic) ?

The prefix is (in theory) id-, and appears as such before a word beginning with a vowel (e.g. id-urus “the fire”) but it appears assimilated to following stops, e.g. ib-bekâr “the weapons.” Whether it assimilates to other types of consonants I’m not yet sure; probably it does assimilate to nasals (m, n) but not to liquids or glides (l, r, y).

This prefix certainly resembles the Hebrew prefix ʔeṯ– and I can hardly doubt that it was inspired by it, as Mad Latinist suggests; yet what I actually remember from the time when I invented it was thinking of the Persian definite accusative suffix –. Most likely the fresher memory of the one and a somewhat dimmer memory of the other combined to influence this choice.

Helge asks:

Is the variation in form of the definite article/prefix meant to reflect actual phonological changes (like say, assimilation) taking place over time? If I had been developing Khuzdul, I would be careful not to presuppose any really substantial “developments”, since Tolkien insists that this was a language that largely resisted change. (The only attested “sound-change” is that the preposition aya can be reduced to ai!) I like the idea that F may represent original P (a nod to Arabic), but to suggest that there was an older stage where consonantal roots were connected with a distinct “characteristic vowel” (as in Adunaic) hints at a pretty substantial structural change taking place over the course of history. Isn’t this more dramatic change than what Tolkien seems to presuppose? Do you have an vision of what the originial “Pure Aulean” Proto-Khuzdul was like as well as your suggestion for the “historical” version?

I have not explored the internal history of neo-Khuzdul to any great extent, and I’ve assumed that its current form is not unlike that of its original form. Accordingly, I used Arabic rather than Hebrew or Aramaic as an inspiration, because Arabic, at least in its classical form, is very archaic and conservative in structure. But there are two reasons to suppose that Khuzdul ought not to be constructed as if it had never undergone any change. The first is that Aulë, as a language-creator was completely capable of building in elements that resemble the processes of language change, even if they had never taken place in history, and that, if he was anything like Tolkien, he probably did! The second is that although change in Khuzdul was slow and slight, it was not nonexistent: “After their awakening this language (as all languages and all other things in Arda) changed in time, and divergently in the mansions that were far sundered… the change in Khuzdul… was ‘like the weathering of hard rock compared with the melting of snow.'”

Accordingly, an assimilation here or there hardly seems like an outrageous development to postulate. In Arabic, although for the most part root-consonants remain intact without assimilation, some affixes do assimilate; notably the definite prefix al-, which assimilates to following coronal consonants, and also the infixed –t– of the derived verb stem conventionally numbered VIII, which assimilates in voice and emphasis to a preceding coronal obstruent. Whether the Khuzdul assimilation took place in Longbeard Dwarvish over the long years between the awakening of Durin and the end of the Third Age, or whether it was something which Aulë/Mahal built into the language from the beginning is a question I haven’t felt the need to answer definitively.

7 Responses to “Definite accusative prefix”

  1. Jay Lawson

    What are your thoughts on the -u ending/suffix seen in mênu, Khazad-dûmu, and Felak-gundu? To me it seems quite certain that this is an accusative suffix. It would mean the latter two samples are objective genitives formed in part by the accusative case. This exact structure is found in Arabic and Hebrew, and even more closely in Adunaic, including the -u suffix.

    • David Salo

      I agree (as I mentioned in some of the comments) that the –u in ai-mênu and Khazad-dûmu is an accusative suffix or perhaps a case ending. I am not sure about felakgundu/felaggundu containing this suffix (note the assimilation of kg > gg!). Tolkien’s notes on the name specify that gundu means “underground hall,” and he says nothing about it being accusative or objective genitive. So possibly it is just a word that happens to end in –u.

      • Jay Lawson

        F-L-K is apparently a verbal root “to hew rock” (stated as “√felek hew rock” PoME:352), so it meets that portion of the criteria for an objective genitive.

        Meanwhile, Gundabad is stated to be “in origin a Khuzdul name” PoME:301. That shows the lack of the -u ending and thus probably a nominative form. Granted, -u may have been elided due to compounding with ‘abad, but I think the evidence leans (strongly) towards gundu being accusative.

        So, a word from a verbal root + a noun (most likely) in accusative case = objective genitive.

  2. Mad Latinist

    … and also the infixed -t- of the derived verb stem conventionally numbered VIII, which assimilates in voice and emphasis to a preceding coronal obstruent.

    I suspect this is a very old phenomenon, as the same thing happens to the /t/ in the Northwest Semitic verbal prefix *hit-, when the root begins with a sibilant.

  3. H.K. Fauskanger

    Are proper names considered definite by default, so that they can receive the definite accusative prefix? E.g. _kalata id-Durin_ “he heard Durin”, _rukhs darafa ib-Balin_ “an/the Orc killed Balin”.

    Incidentally, did I just become the first post-Salo composer in Saloan Neo-Khuzdul?

    • David Salo

      Probably! But I think that proper names are definite by default, and therefore don’t require an additional definite marker.

  4. Travis Henry

    I would model the degree in difference in speech between the various Mansions of the Dwarves, on the degree of difference in the Yiddish language:
    …with Eastern Yiddish equivalent to Eastern Khuzdul (in Rhun), and Western Yiddish equivalent to Western Khuzdul (in the West-lands). As a nod, I might even actually make the distinctions in vowels exactly like the various Yiddish dialects:


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