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.

8 Responses to “From the mailbox”

  1. H.K. Fauskanger

    One potentially “unattractive” feature to Elvish ears might be the strong aspirates of Khuzdul. According to Tolkien’s late writings, the Elves were generally unable to remember just how their tongue had been in earlier times, so only the Loremasters would know that Elvish once had aspirates as well …

    Also, the sounds of sh and z did not occur in Sindarin, but were prominent in Khuzdul (and the Black Speech!) They might sound like weird and unattractive sibilants to the ears of the Sindar.

    But primarily they wouldn’t like Khuzdul because they didn’t like its speakers very much. As simple as that.

  2. Travis Henry

    I’m not sure whether Dwarrow Scholar is suggesting that is an actual Khuzdul word or not:

    JRRT says it is not, that it’s an Old Norse translation:

    “Forn is actually the Scandinavian word for ‘(belonging to) ancient (days)’. All the dwarf-names in this tale are Norse, as representing a northern language of Men” (Guide to Names)

    The Mannish word in the Actual Northern language of Dale would have the meaning “ancient, old”, but would be a different wordshape than forn. (Note that is only one of three ON words that mean old, along with gamall and aldinn; the Actual Northern language probably has a similar array of synonyms.)

    But I suppose that the actual Khuzdul name (which the use amongst themselves) for Tom Bombadil might very well be a Khuzdul word for “ancient, old (one)”. The name Forn would be used when they were speaking of Bombadil in Westron or in the Northern language.

    The reason he would have his own “outer name” is because he is an exceptional figure in the eyes of the Dwarves, who would remember having occasional dealings with Bombadil over the long milennia since they awoke.

    • Travis Henry

      I had some typos and formatting difficulties my previous comment.

      I meant to quote Dwarrow Scholar’s assertion:
      “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.”

      And some words disappeared because I enclosed them in brackets: the other ON words for “old” (besides forn) are gamall and aldinn. In JRRT’s Guide to Names, he says the word Forn has the further connotation of “belonging to ancient days”.

      The Khuzdul name might have the same connotation, instead of just the generic meaning of “old”.

      Another typo: I was trying to say that Actual Northman word for “ancient” would have a different wordshape than forn.

      Since JRRT usually designs the Actual Mannish word and the Translated Mannish word to have a similar length and syllables (e.g. kuduk and “hobbit”), the Actual Northern word probably is shaped like CVCC.

  3. Menelion Elensúle

    Adding to what Helge has said, I believe not only the sounds “z” and “sh” are unlovely to Elvish ears, but namely several consonant clusters such as zd, zr, zb, nb etc. They are not unlovely to me just because I’m a linguist and I’m used to find beauty and interesting features in every language (oh yes, even the Black Speech has something interesting in it!), but I can fairly understand those Sindar.
    And, by the way, I read somewhere (I wish I remembered the source) that some dwarves pronounced the “r” as a uvular trill. If it’s true, than you have one more reason for the Sindar to dislike Khuzdul: this sound is present in the Black Speech, and Tolkien especially stated that it was hideous to Elvish ears.

  4. Jay Lawson

    “I read somewhere (I wish I remembered the source) that some dwarves pronounced the “r” as a uvular trill.”

    This is true. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to my LotR books at the moment, but I’m fairly certain this is mentioned in the Return of the King Appendices. I’ll check when I get a chance.

    My guess is that the influence of Germanic-style language on Khuzdul would be fairly small. Tolkien talks about Khuzdul being similar to Hebrew and Arabic in certain aspects, that it was different from the other languages in Middle-earth, and it changed very little over time. Since “Forn” comes from Old Norse, the name is probably typical of an “outer” name commonly used by the Dwarves, just like “Thorin”, “Dwalin”, etc. etc.

    On the other hand, it can’t be totally ruled out as a Khuzdul name. The sounds & syllable structure fit into Khuzdul. The Dwarves of the Blue Mountains (from Gabil-gathol & Tumunzahar) seemed to use Khuzdul outer names: Azaghâl, Gamil Zirak, and (in my opinion) Telchar. If they encountered Tom Bombadil first or more than Durin’s Folk, then perhaps “Forn” truly is Khuzdul.

  5. Jay Lawson

    Confirmed on the uvular trill. On pg. 1088 in Appendix E regarding the pronunciation of R:

    “The Orcs, and some Dwarves, are said to have used a back or uvular r, a sound which the Eldar found distasteful.”

  6. Jay Lawson

    “…an element in Gundabad, which is, I think, better interpreted as an early Mannish name;”

    I mentioned this in reply to another post, but thought I would reference it here as well: on pg. 301 of PoME, it states that Mount Gundabad is “in origin a Khuzdul name”. That doesn’t invalidate the invention & use of urd in any way, especially since we have only guesses as to the meaning of ‘abad.


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