Durin’s song: verbs

The first major text which I had to translate into neo-Khuzdul, and the last really significant work I did on the language prior to The Hobbit was Durin’s Song/The Balrog, the lyric which plays in the the background of the Moria scene in The Fellowship of the Ring. I received the request for this on February 27, 2001 (although, due to time zone issues, it was dated February 28), and returned a reply on March 4 — an unusually long delay of a little over 4 days, of which doubtless not all was spent working on this text.

The original English text, written by Philippa Boyens, was as follows:

Durin who is Deathless / Eldest of all Fathers. / Who awoke / To darkness / Beneath the mountain / Who walked alone / Through halls of stone

Durin who is Deathless / Lord of Khazad-dum / Who cleaved / The Dark / And broke / The silence/  This is your light! / This is your word!/ This is your glory! /  The Dwarrowdelf of Khazad-dum!

A crown of stars in the cold, black water of Kheled-zaram. Durin sleeps.

Deeper into the earth/ The dark grows heavy/ Cold snaps our bones/  Deeper into the earth. / There, the glint of Mithrail / sharp and far away/  Deeper into the earth/ That sound again / Dread surrounds us. /  Can no one hear us?A great shadow / Moves in the dark/ The earth shakes! / Cracks! Splits! / Will no one save us?! / Fire! / Fire in the deep! / Flames lick our skin! / Fear rips our heart! / No! No! No! /  The demon comes!

My translation was:

Durin ku bin-amrad / Ugmal sullu addad / Ku bakana / Ana aznân / Undu abad / Ku ganaga / Tur ganâd abanul

Durin ku bin-amrad / Uzbad Khazaddûmu / Ku baraka / Aznân / ra karaka / atkât / ala lukhudizu! / ala galabizu! / ala ukratizu! / Khazad-dûm!

Kilmîn thatur ni zâram kalil ra narag, Kheled-zâram. Durin tazlifi.

Ubzar ni kâmin / Aznân taburrudi / Iklal tanzifi bashukimâ / Ubzar ni kâmin / gilim Sanzigil / shakar ra udlag / Ubzar ni kâmin / tada aklat gagin / Ugrûd tashurrukimâ / Maku kataklutimâ? / Askad gabil / Tashfati ni aznân / Kâmin takalladi / Tabriki! Takarraki! / Maku zatansasimâ? / Urus! / Urus ni buzra! / Arrâs talbabi fillumâ! / Ugrûd tashniki kurdumâ! / Lu! Lu! Lu! / Urkhas tanakhi!

This was a pretty literal translation, with a few necessary reductions of redundancies, e.g. “the Dwarrowdelf of Khazad-dûm.”

Analysing the features of this text will take some space, yet as it was foundational for the later versions of neo-Khuzdul, it deserves to be treated in depth.

Let’s first look at the verbs, since we have already covered their forms to some degree. They are:
bakana “awoke”
ganaga “walked”
baraka “cleaved”
karaka “broke”
tazlifi “sleeps”
taburrudi “grows heavy”
tanzifi “snaps”
tashurrukimâ “surrounds us”
kataklutimâ “can hear us”
tashfati “moves”
takalladi “shakes”
tabriki “cracks”
takarraki “splits”
zatansasimâ “will save us”
talbabi “lick”
tashniki “rips”
tanakhi “comes”

All of these are 3rd persons, mostly singular. They fall into two obvious classes: “perfects” like bakana, ganaga, baraka, karaka, mostly translating preterites, but only because these refer to historical facts. The others, “imperfects” containing the prefix ta– refer to present experiences or present or future possibilities. It will be observed that three of the forms contain the 1st person plural suffix –, which doubles as a possessive marker “our” with nouns and as an object suffix “us” with verbs.

The verb roots are heavily laden with “jests,” most of which should be obvious to those familiar with the history of Germanic languages, or even just with English. However, I had better go over them, since the puns may be somewhat less obvious in the present constructions. For the most part I can remember the sources easily.

BKN “wake” is from Gothic gawaknan “awaken” and of course English waken, with substitution of B for W, which doesn’t exist in neo-Khuzdul.
BRK “cleave” from Gothic brikan, English break.
GNG “walk” from Gothic gangan “go.”
KLT “hear” from Indo-European *klutos “heard.”
KRK “break” from English crack.
NSS “save” from Gothic nasjan “save.”
ShFT “move” from English shift.
ZLF “sleep” from Gothic slêpan “sleep”, whose preterite is saizlêp.

Please note that these are not intended to suggest any historical or other relationship between Khuzdul and these languages — they were simply sound-sequences that seemed appropriate at the time.

Others are from Tolkien languages:
BRD “grow heavy” from Adunaic burôda “heavy.”
LBB “lick” from Eldarin LAB “lick” (though this is also an Indo-European root of the same meaning).
NKh “come” from Adûnaic unakkha “he came.”

Others appear to be pure inventions, or at least I cannot remember the source or association with certainty. Perhaps a perceptive reader can figure them out!
KLD “shake”
NZF “snap” — possibly simply the consonants of “snap” rearranged and altered.
ShNK “rip” — this might be onomatopœic, from a sound of tearing, shnik!
ShRK “surround” — possibly from a badly maltreated Latin circum “around.”

Four of the examples show a doubled medial consonant: taburrudi “grows heavy,” tashurrukimâ “surrounds us,” takalladi “shakes,” and takarraki “splits.” This was supposed to be an auxiliary stem indicating long-continued, repeating, or otherwise extreme action: e.g. takalladi “shakes over and over,” takarraki “splits into many small pieces, ‘shivers’.”

Also of interest are the prefixes ka– and za-. These mean, respectively, “can” and “will/shall”, and their forms were suggested by can and shall – or perhaps, in the latter case, German sollen. Their usage is very un-Semitic, and for that matter rather un-Indo-European. I may have imagined them as reduced auxiliary verbs that eventually got attached to verbs as clitics; as they refer to potential or future states, which are certainly non-factual, they are attached to the “imperfect” verbs.

16 Responses to “Durin’s song: verbs”

  1. H.K. Fauskanger

    Gandalf observed that the Dwarves had a special name for mithril that they would not reveal. So it turns out to be sanzigil? Sounds rather like “true-silver” to my ear (Norwegian sann = “true”!)

  2. H.K. Fauskanger

    Kilmîn = “a crown”, urkhas = “the demon”? I take it that Neo-Khuzdul has no articles, and that in English translation, “a” or “the” must be supplied according to context, or sometimes quite randomly? (I guess urkhas could just as well be translated “a demon” here?) I believe Proto-Semitic also lacked articles, though some of its major descendents introduced a definite article (like Arabic al and Hebrew ha).

    • David Salo

      This is partially the case. As subjects, definite and indefinite nouns are not distinguished in neo-Khuzdul, but they are distinguished by a prefix when they are direct objects.

      • The Dwarrow Scholar

        In such cases, when they are direct objects, what is the prefix used ?
        Is it a variable prefix, depending on the declination or form or a fixed prefix ?

        • David Salo

          Morphologically it’s always the same prefix, but — like Arabic al — it can change form depending on the initial consonant of the following word.

          • H.K. Fauskanger

            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?

      • Mad Latinist

        Akkadian and Ugaritic (and, I would assume, Eblaite) don’t have articles, but as far as I remember all the later Semitic languages do. Hebrew ha- shows up in Ugaritic as the demonstrative han.

        Anyway, David, your nota accusativi Reminds me of Hebrew את־ et- (modern pronunciation, just for simplicity), which is put before direct objects, but only if they are definite.

        The idea of definiteness being marked only in certain constructions also reminds me of Egyptian, where only a definite noun can take a relative clause (indefinites have to use a “circumstantial clause” instead)… interestingly this rule runs the whole history of the Egyptian language, even *before* definite articles developed. So, fascinatingly, the Egyptians apparently had an idea of “definiteness” in their heads even before they had a word for “the.”

  3. Bj Ward

    It’s interesting that you label the base BRK as being a “philological jest” on the English word “break”.

    I assume that you primarily founded this base formation on the word baruk “axes-of” that Tolkien provided. Perhaps Tolkien himself built this pun into the language. He did enjoy such things, as we all know. It’s an intriguing thought.

  4. The Dwarrow Scholar

    If CiCCîn is used for “…-place”, like “Khizdîn” (dwarf-place), can you please explain why we see the same structure for “(a) crown”? Would this rather not be “Kalm” or perhaps even “Kelam”, instead of Kilmîn (which I believe would translate as “crown-place”) ?

    • David Salo

      In this case, the reference isn’t actually to a real crown, but to a constellation, or apparent arrangement of stars, visible in the Mirrormere. The structure of the word is intended to represent the difference between the object on the one hand and the constellation (which is, one might say, a “place”) on the other. It was presumably a neologism (at some point in Khuzdul history, not necessarily very recent) — showing that the different patterns could be utilized in expanding the language, with a variety of different possible senses. Presumably a “kilmîn” might also mean “a place where crowns/helms are stored,” as well as “place or region somehow resembling a crown,” but the former sense was not needed.

  5. pieta


    Can somebody help in translating Gimli’s speech:

    “Kilmin malur ni zaram kalil ra narag, Kheled-zâram… Balin tazlifi.”

    Sounds very similar to the Durin’s song.


    • David Salo

      I can’t explain the malur; I don’t think it’s something I came up with. It implies a singular mVlr, and that’s a little unlikely even for Khuzdul. It should be thatur “stars.”

  6. Dwarrow Scholar

    You say that za- and ka- are attached to the “imperfect” verbs, yet you’ve used “Durin zabakana” as “Durin will awake” which is a perfect form. As you’ve mentioned yourself, the perfect could even be used to describe dependable future events. So I don’t understand why you say that za- and ka- are only attached to the imperfect form. Surely the possibility exists with both perfect and imperfect forms, no?

    • David Salo

      Seems reasonable. But it could just be a mistake on my part — I don’t know where the phrase occurs.
      Use of a future marker with a perfect ought to refer to a future event which is known or believed to be happening with a factual certainty — e.g., part of a future history foretold by a prophet or seer, or a reliable scientific projection, e.g. about the stars or the weather. The prophet would probably recount the foresight using the imperfect, but the foretelling could be recorded in the perfect! As Durin’s reappearance is one of those things which is subject to foretelling, and was believed to be certain, a perfect future might well be warranted; as would, for instance, “the sun will rise tomorrow,” or “it will snow next winter.” But in general, statements about the future are more often guesses or projections (subject to qualifications) than solid facts, and as such would warrant the imperfect.


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