Helge writes:

I believe you once mentioned that you had started to work out verb paradigms for Movie Khuzdul? One has to imagine a Hebrew- or Arabic-like system, with varous “conjugations” (a “qal” of simple verb, a corresponding causative, the passive equivalents of both, and possibly even intensive conjugations).

The concept, and to an extent the forms of the Khuzdul verb, as I worked it out some thirteen years ago, were considerably influenced by the structure of the Semitic verbs, particularly Arabic.

Semitic verbs, like other parts of the language, are generally based on triliteral roots. From each root a number of bases can be formed, which allow for verbal formations like passives, causatives, iteratives, reflexives, and so forth. In Arabic there are ten normal ways in which such bases can be formed, in Hebrew seven, in Aramaic usually six (though in more ancient forms of Aramaic there were more). Not all of these bases are exemplified for each root, and their meanings are not always predictable. Although they are generally grouped together in dictionaries, to a certain extent they can act like independent verbs, not necessarily more closely related than such English verbs as conceive, deceive, receive, and perceive. Sometimes the basic form of the verb (which in Hebrew is called the qal form) doesn’t even exist, just as there’s no such verb as **ceive in English.

Within each base, there are forms which carry some of the qualities which in Indo-European languages are allocated to tense, mood, and aspect. The main distinction in most Semitic languages is between perfect forms and imperfect forms. Arabic has several other forms which — from the point of view of their shape alone — can be considered as variations of the imperfect.

Defining the difference between perfect and imperfect is a task of extreme complexity. The uses are different in the different Semitic languages, and they have also changed over time. One might say that perfect refers to actions which are over and done, while imperfect refers to actions that are in the process of happening, or are going to happen, but that would be a drastic oversimplification and in many respects would be inaccurate. It is, in any case, not really relevant to Khuzdul since, although I postulated a distinction that was formally similar to the perfect-imperfect distinction in Semitic, it ended up being functionally different.

However, the formal parallels are relevant, and to demonstrate them I’ll give an example of the perfect forms of the Arabic simple stem of the root KTB “write”:


Person/Number Singular Plural
1st common katabtu katabnâ
2nd masculine katabta katabtum
2nd feminine katabti katabtunna
3rd masculine kataba katabû
3rd feminine katabat katabna

Other than the 2nd and 3rd persons having a distinction between masculine and feminine subjects, this actually looks a lot like an Indo-European verb. There’s a basic stem katab-, and all of the information about person and number is provided by suffixes. (Arabic also has dual verb forms, but I haven’t shown them because I never created dual forms for Khuzdul.)

If we turn to the imperfect forms of the same verb we see something quite different from what we’re accustomed to see in Indo-European languages:


Person/Number Singular Plural
1st common aktubu naktubu
2nd masculine taktubu taktubûna
2nd feminine taktubîna taktubna
3rd masculine yaktubu yaktubûna
3rd feminine taktubu yaktubna

Here we see that the base form is different, ktub instead of katab, and that the job of distinguishing person and number forms is borne not just by suffixes but also prefixes. In some cases we can attribute some separate meaning to each affix; for instance, ya– is 3rd person masculine, but ta– doubles in function as both 3rd person feminine and 2nd person general, while there is no common prefix for the 1st person forms. There’s a consistent suffix set marking masculine plurals (-ûna) and feminine plurals (-na), but all of the other forms end in –u, except for the 2nd feminine singular. It is rather a messy system, and kind of hard to memorize.

All of this was in the front of my mind when I started designing the Khuzdul verbal system. Let’s take a look at the Khuzdul forms comparable to the “perfect,” using the root ZRB “write, inscribe.”

Person/Number Singular Plural
1st common zarabmi zarabmâ
2nd masculine zarabsu zarabsun
2nd feminine zarabsi zarabsin
3rd masculine zaraba zarabôn
3rd feminine zarabai zarabên

The superficial similarities are obviously very close. For starters, I imitated the Semitic characteristic of having distinctively feminine 2nd person and 3rd person forms. Unfortunately (perhaps), most of these forms never got used: the 2nd person forms because there aren’t any female Dwarf characters (we think!) for a Dwarf to speak Khuzdul to; and the 3rd person forms because I never worked out which nouns would be feminine. In fact, I think that as with most languages of Middle-earth, masculine and feminine are not lexical properties; the only grammatical gender is “natural gender,” which could distinguish a male person or animal from a female, but not otherwise. I suppose the so-called “masculine” in Khuzdul is really a masculine/neuter, or a default form, while the “feminine” (if it really exists) is the marked form; a state of affairs which is objectionable to my ideas of social fairness and structural balance, but which is probably to be expected in a society where males outnumber females by two to one.
The base patterns correspond exactly to Semitic, being CaCaC. The suffixes are pretty self-explanatory; the endings –mi and – suggest a 1st person element –m-. The second person is marked by an element –s-, and then –u and –i mark masculine and feminine. Second and third person plurals are marked by –n.
Zarabôn and zarabên must be *zaraba-un, *zaraba-in, with contraction of the diphthongs *au, *ai > ô, ê. The 3rd feminine ending –ai is distinctive, and is probably not from *zaraba-i (which would have given zarabê) but *zaraba-ai.

These forms, in meaning, are not comparable to the Semitic perfect. The Khuzdul “perfect” is not a past tense, nor does it necessarily refer to completed action. Rather, it refers to actions which can be considered as dependable facts, as opposed to evolving and uncertain realities. These might be statements about the past, such as one might find in a chronicle, or statements of general truth, such as Izgil taraza zann ra zann: “The Moon rises every night” (literally “night and night”, sc. one night after another) or Uslukh sharaga “A dragon lies” — i.e., comtinually, compulsively, and dependably. It’s the sort of form that would be used in an aphorism. It could also be used to describe events that will predictably and with certainty take place in the future: Durin zabakana “Durin will awake” — to the Dwarves, an undoubted fact about the future.

The Khuzdul forms corresponding to the imperfect of the root ZRB are as follows:

Person/Number Singular Plural
1st common azrabi mazrabi
2nd masculine sazrabi sazrabîn
2nd feminine sazrabiya sazrabiyan
3rd masculine tazrabi tazrabîn
3rd feminine tazrabiya tazrabiyan

In a sense, this can be looked on as a partial rationalization of the Semitic imperfect. The person/number forms are still defined by a combination of suffixes and prefixes, but there is a consistent pattern: sa– marks 2nd persons, ta– 3rd persons; the suffixes are predictably -i, -în, -iya, -iyan. Only the 1st person plural breaks the pattern, and that because a 1st person plural is not, strictly speaking, a plural of the 1st person singular, but a 1st+2nd or 1st+3rd form. It will be noted that s– in a prefix in the “imperfect” corresponds to an –s– in a suffix in the “perfect.”

The stem, as in Semitic, is CCVC — in this root, ZRB, the stem vowel happens to be –a– (-zrab-) but in other roots it could be different. For instance, “I am writing” is azrabi, but “I am sleeping”, from the root ZLF, is azlifi. This is a purely lexical distinction, is unpredictable, and does not correspond to any kind of semantic class. It may point to a period in the past in which (as in Eldarin and Adûnaic) vowel distinctions were an integral part of the root; however, other than in these forms, no trace of this remains in Khuzdul.

The meaning of the Khuzdul “imperfect” is also different from its Semitic counterpart. It refers, not to incomplete action, but to vividly imagined action — either because one sees it directly in front of one, or imagines it as something which is playing out in the mind’s eye. It has no regard to tense. A Dwarvish storyteller would use this form to describe events he wanted his audience to vicariously experience, regardless of whether they had happened in the distant past or were prophecies of the future. It can also be used to describe an ongoing action that is taking place at the present: Durin tazlifi “Durin is (now) sleeping.” Durin zalafa could mean “Durin typically sleeps, as a matter of course” and would be a rather insulting thing to say to a dwarf; though in the right context, it could mean “Durin slept,” as an historical fact.

All of this was, of course, only the beginning; as I developed the verb, more and more complications arose, and the newly-invented forms often do not look anything like Arabic or any Semitic language.

8 Responses to “Paradixis”

  1. The Dwarrow Scholar

    Very interesting, thank you again.

    A few questions on the matter…
    What about the verb forms “Gunud” (CuCuC) or “Felek” (CeCeC)? Would these turn to “ganad..” and “falak..” in perfect form or keep the stem vowels as described ? Similar question for imperfect, are “i” and “a” the only options for the verb stem vowel ? If so, when are the forms “CuCuC” and “CeCeC” used ? Or would these be other forms entirely, based on the type of verb ? Thanks again David.

  2. H.K. Fauskanger

    Our one-and-only Tolkienian Khuzdul pronoun is mênu, accusative “you”, from the battle-cry meaning “the Dwarves are upon you”. Your 2nd person inflections contain nothing readily similar. Then again, the Hebrew 2nd person inflections (like –ta in the 2nd person sg. perfect) are not similar to the independent pronoun for accusative “you” (ending –kha added to an accusative particle).

  3. The Dwarrow Scholar

    Apologies in advance for the series of questions here related to your khuzdul version. :)

    The word for “moon” you mentioned is Izgil, using the same root (ZGL) as Zigil (of silver colour). As iCCaC likely refers to the shape of somthing (as in inbar), why is this izgil and not izgal ? Or is this iCCiC form a form that refers to celestial objects ? If so would this not need to be zagûl ? (word for “clouds” using the form CaCûC – as in shathûr from Bundushathûr )

    • David Salo

      In real-world languages of this type — and, from the few examples we have, in Khuzdul as well — the match between word-pattern and semantic class isn’t nearly as consistent as that. That is, there are some classes of words which have a consistent mapping of pattern to semantics — more usually in verbal derivatives — but there are a lot of words where the word-meaning and word-pattern appear to have little to do with each other. So I have felt free to innovate new patterns as necessary; probably the only word where I would feel constrained to match the pattern for izgil would be a word for the sun — probably abraz. These are secondary formations, so the vowel is derived from the bases zigil, baraz and has no meaning in itself. The form VCCVC in these is probably an intensifier — izgil “the (bright) silver one”, abraz “the (bright) red one.” But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be words of the VCCVC form that mean something else.

  4. The Dwarrow Scholar

    The word used for dragon “Uslukh”, apperently uses a pattern uCCuC that is similar to the one used for the agent uCCaC form (as in uzbad). It was my understanding that incarnate forms would use CuCC/CaCâC form (as in Khuzd, Khazâd) and the unpersonified agent form aCCaC (as in abzag). So, why this uCCuC form, is it used for incarnates in non-human form?

    • David Salo

      I don’t think that uslukh is derived from a Khuzdul verbal root, so it can’t really be an agent noun. In fact, evidence points to it being a borrowing from an Eldarin (or possibly Avarin) word, from the root √slok, from which Quenya (h)lókë and Sindarin lhûg are derived. Quite possibly the initial -u- was added (in Khuzdul or even in its elvish original) to support the consonant cluster, since **slukh would not be permissible.

  5. The Dwarrow Scholar

    …. but there is a consistent pattern: sa- marks 2nd persons, ta- 3rd persons; the suffixes are predictably -i, -în, -iya, -iyan…

    Can you please have a look at the chart you provided for the imperfect. I believe there is a mistake in the suffixes used there. You’ve used “în” as singular feminine 3rd person and “iya” as plural 3rd person masculine. Shouldn’t this be the other way around?


Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>