Mining for meaning

Helge asks:

I take it that the words Ukhlat “grasper, holder” and Umraz “keeper” are based on the pattern seen in Tolkien’s uzbad “lord”, which is then taken as an agentive formation meaning *”ruler” or similar (*ZBD “rule”?) So assuming ZRB as the root meaning “write” (underlying the word Mazarbul), a “scribe” or “writer” would be *uzrab, if the theory holds?

That’s exactly right, and it brings me right to the next stage of the process of creating neo-Khuzdul: extracting every possible bit of meaning from the existing body of Khuzdul-vocabulary, and using it as a basis for further expansion.

As I’ve already shown, every Khuzdul word is the combination of a meaning-bearing root, and a syntactically or structurally significant pattern. Some of those patterns have already been seen:

Root\Pattern C u C C C a C â C
Kh Z D khuzd “dwarf” khazâd “dwarves”
R Kh S rukhs “orc” rakhâs “orcs”

This looks like a simple singular-plural pattern. But obviously things must be more complex: not all nouns have the CuCC pattern, and we have plurals of a different type, e.g.: bark “axe”, plural baruk “axes”.

This suggests that the CuCC/CaCâC type of pattern applies only to nouns of a specific class. Now, these classes could be arbitrary, like some declensional systems, or like the classes of Arabic “broken plurals”, in which case there would be nothing to do except to randomly assign new words to one class or another. But it also might be the case that there’s some connection between the form of the word and its semantics: in this case, considering the contents of the class, it might be that the CuCC/CaCâC pattern applies to animate or rational beings. Such a theory is reinforced by the plural form Sigin-tarâg “Longbeards” — the name of a tribe of Dwarves.

We can easily guess that sigin means “long” and tarâg means “beards” (though the reverse is not impossible). But we can’t assume that the normal form for “beards” is tarâg outside of this compound — since beards as such are neither animate nor rational, while a Longbeard (dwarf) is. Presumable a single Longbeard is a Sigin-turg, but a beard by itself might be a targ, or something else with the same TRG root but a different pattern.

Incidentally, this is another “philological jest” — Longbeards translates a Germanic word derived from *Langabardôs, Latinized as Langobardi — this was the name of a Germanic tribe who invaded Italy, and whose name was gradually corrupted into “Lombard.” An early mediæval text in Latin, relating the origin of this people (the Origo Gentis Langobardorum) says that on the occasion of a war between the Vandals and a tribe called the Winniles, the women of the Winniles came to battle with their long hair let down and arranged around their faces in the shape of beards. This being seen by the deity Godan (=Óðinn), he said (in apparent astonishment) Qui sunt isti longibarbæ? — “Who are those longbeards?” — and from this came their name. The Longbeard dwarves owe nothing to this tribe other than the name, but perhaps the myth influenced Tolkien’s idea that the Dwarf-women resembled (and were bearded like) the Dwarf-men.

Anyway, I decided that I would use CuCC/CaCâC for all words referring to peoples: hobbits, elves, trolls, and so forth. As it happened, the only word of this type that I needed to create was “elf” — which became fund, plural fanâd. This is a “jest” of my own, although one which makes good sense in terms of the history of Middle-earth. The Dwarves had arisen in the early years of the First Age, after the Elves but before Men. They were unknown to the Eldar until after they reached Beleriand and met them in the Eryd Luin; but the Dwarves must have met other Elves before they encountered either the Sindar or the Noldor, and these were most likely either Nandor or western groups of the Avari, who (at this early stage in their history) probably went by the name of *Pendi. At any rate, fund is clearly an adaptation of pend– to Khuzdul phonology, substituting f for the p that is absent in Khuzdul, and using the CuCC pattern for “incarnates.”

Other words provided different meanings and patterns. On Balin’s tomb in Moria, we find him described as Uzbad Khazaddûmu “Lord of Khazad-dûm.” Now, it’s possible that uzbad “lord” is just a word, incapable of further analysis. But obviously it would be very convenient for me if I could get more out of it. I assumed that “lord” actually meant “ruler”, and that therefore the sequence ZBD meant “rule, govern” and the pattern uCCaC was the normal form for an agent — that is, in relation to any verb, a noun of this form would mean “one who [verb]s”. So, as Helge says, if ZRB was the root for “write, record” then a writer — most probably a professional writer, a scribe — would be an *uzrab. This was a pattern that I made considerable use of.

This theory about the meaning of uzbad also helped me explain why it is Khazaddûmu and not *Khazaddûmul, using the adjectival or genitival suffix which occurs so often elsewhere. I assumed that -u was the ending used for an objective genitive, one that can be used when the noun modified has verbal force, and the modifying noun is, in a sense, its object: that is, if uzbad Khazaddûmu can be understood to mean “one who rules Khazad-dûm.”

10 Responses to “Mining for meaning”

  1. Ed Heil

    I once did a very very tiny amount of the sort of thing you’re doing here and it was great fun: retconning fictional languages.

    Wait, does that mean that your version of Khuzdul is a…. retconlang?

    Somebody has to have come up with that word before!

    Yes, Google says they did, but they were using it disparagingly. :(

    I think retconlanging is awesome if you’re doing it on purpose. :)

    • H.K. Fauskanger

      This is similar to what David Peterson did for the “Dothraki” language in Game of Thrones. He took the limited material appearing in the original novels by George R.R. Martin and went from there, developing the language heard in the TV series adapted from the books. (In this case, the original author is still alive, but presumably too busy writing to develop entire languages for this universe.) Compare Wikipedia:

      • Mad Latinist

        David Peterson was asked to contribute some Dothraki place names for Lands of Ice and Fire, which I understand to be official for the books rather than the TV series. That would seem to imply that Peterson’s version of Dothraki has Martin’s approval.

      • Mark Mandel

        That also could be used of Marc Okrand’s development of tlhIngan Hol (Klingon) from the few words invented by James Doohan.

  2. Paul Strack

    You marked khuzd with a * (unattested) but it is now attested twice, on PE17/35 and PE17/85, in both cases explicitly as the singular of plural khazâd. Of course, this only bolsters your case.

    • David Salo

      You are right, but there is a certain amount of justification for the asterisk: since this is an historical description of my thought processes as I approached the problem of constructing neo-Khuzdul some 14 years ago, it’s worth mentioning that at that time the resource you mention had not been published, and would not be published until years later, in 2007. So at the time, *khuzd really was a reconstruction. Nonetheless, the asterisk isn’t appropriate to the context, so I’ll remove it.

  3. Mark Mandel

    :-) I recognized “Longbeards” = “Longobards” = “Lombards” maybe the first time I saw it, but I never knew (dramatic pause) The Rest of the Story!

    It would be really great if Godan had said “Qui sunt istæ longibarbæ?”. I’d expect the compound substantive to be “longibarbus”, pl. “-ī”, and therefore “longibarbæ” to be feminine: “Who are those long-bearded women?” But by that analysis “isti longibarbæ” fails in concord, so I suppose the Origo keeps the declension of “barba” in compounding. Oh well, you can’t have it all.

  4. Olivier van Renswoude

    It must have been quite a burden having to come up with a word in any of Tolkien’s languages for something so central to his work as ‘Elf’. But your solution seems elegant and plausible.

    I was wondering, did you find evidence for any other ways of agentive formation in Khuzdul? Languages often have more than one way, certainly over longer periods. Though I suppose with Khuzdul being such a secretly used language, it would have been quite conservative and strictly formalised.

    With regard to Khuzdul Sigintarâg ‘Longbeards’ and words having formal variants to denote inanimate objects on the one hand and animate beings on the other, there are instances of just such a system in the Germanic languages. Take for example Old Saxon:

    sahs (pl. sahs) ‘a certain type of long knife or short sword’
    Sahso (pl. Sahson) ‘Saxon, one of the Saxon people’

    It seems the latter is not so much derived form the former, but more properly understood as the same word with a different stem, namely the masculine n-stem, which is often described as having an ‘individualising’ quality. Old Norse also had many such cases with personal names which were originally nicknames, as with for instance Skeggi (masculine n-stem) next to skegg ‘beard’ (neuter a-stem). Note that Old Saxon sahs was also a neuter a-stem.

    I don’t think, however, that such a system was every wholly regularised in any Germanic tongue.

  5. david

    I think that uzbad means more high ruler (king); zubad means something as ruler or minister, or also ruler. Uzbad applies to rules of superlative zubad > uzbad.

    • David Salo

      Hey, I think it’s great that you’re coming up with your own rules for your variation on Khuzdul. Your interpretation sounds very plausible; it just doesn’t happen to be the one I chose.


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