The serendipity of error

Helge wrote:

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).

This is true, and it was never my intention to have the verb forms exactly mirror the independent pronouns or pronominal affixes (about which more will be explained it is place). However, you bring up something else interesting and problematic for neo-Khuzdul.

The phrase Khazâd ai-mênu “The Dwarves are upon you” has been well-known for nearly sixty years. Yet for most of that time one could only conjecture how ai-mênu meant “upon you.” It was quite possible, for instance, that ai was “you” and mênu was a postposition. Or perhaps ai was “they are” and mênu was an inflected form of “you”. This state of ignorance still prevailed when I started creating neo-Khuzdul. Therefore I simply disregarded these words, fearing more to mischaracterize them than to create a system which omitted them.

By the time we found out that ai was a clipping or combining form of aya “upon” and that mênu was the accusative of a plural “you” (Parma Eldalamberon #17, p. 85), I had already established a detailed pronominal morphology for neo-Khuzdul in which the independent form of “you plural” is astun (feminine astin). In all likelihood (I do not remember the details) –st– was a strengthening of 2nd person –s-, while –u– and –i– were masculine and feminine elements, and –n was obviously a plural element — the 2nd person singulars are astu/asti.

I don’t apologize for making forms inconsistent with ai-mênu — for the reasons I mentioned, it seemed more prudent at the time. My mistake was that when I learned about the meaning of mênu, I did not at once go back and try to find a way to fit it in with the morphology. At the time, however, the three Lord of the Rings films had been produced, there was no prospect of any more films, and I shelved neo-Khuzdul without expecting to do any more work on it ever. By the time I had to start work on neo-Khuzdul again, I was concentrating on making it consistent (insofar as possible) with the earlier work, and I neglected to note that there had been an inconsistency which I could have fixed. As a result, I created several phrases containing neo-Khuzdul 2nd person pronoun forms which are consistent with my earlier pronominal morphology, but not with mênu.

This was unquestionably an error on my part, a serious oversight — the more so because it concerns the most famous phrase in the Dwarf-language! It is not, however, an irreparable error. In fact, it creates an opportunity to expand and enrich neo-Khuzdul’s pronoun system.

Tolkien in multiple places indicates that both Elvish and Mannish languages possessed a distinction between two types of 2nd person pronoun: one formal/respectful/courteous/polite/deferential, the other familiar/imperious/endearing. I do not recall Tolkien saying anything about Khuzdul having such a distinction, but he also never says that Khuzdul doesn’t; and it provides a neat way of getting out of my self-inflicted 2nd person trap. The distinction need not have been an original Khuzdul one; it might, perhaps, been imitated from other languages, using an appropriate noun or title to fill out one of the 2nd person slots, much like Spanish usted and Portuguese você (< vuestra merced/vossa mercê), or the Quenya use of the ending –tar “high one, lord” (in some paradigms) to create honorific verbal forms.

Coincidentally helpful is the fact that mênu fits with certain established facts about neo-Khuzdul. The –u ending can be taken as the same as that seen in Khazad-dûmu — an accusative ending following verbs and verblike forms. In fact, it is quite possible that aya is really a verbal root “go over, be above, be superior to.” That leaves mên, of which the –n ending is the same as the existing pronominal plural ending in neo-Khuzdul.

The question now is to which category to assign mên — formal or familiar? There are valid arguments for both. The you-pronoun in Khazâd ai-mênu refers to hated enemies such as Orcs. If the familiar form is one exclusively used for endearments or for close personal friends, then presumably the formal would have to used for Orcs, whom one presumes the Dwarves would not tutoyer, as they say in French: to treat someone as such an intimate that one uses familiar pronouns with them. On the other hand, if the distinction is not one of familiarity vs. unfamiliarity, but of respect vs. the absence of respect (if not disrespect), then presumably the Orcs would get hailed with the less respectful pronoun.

Something very like this has happened in the history of English. The Old English pronouns þū (>thou) and (>ye) simply distinguished singular (one “you”) from plural (many “yous”). In the later Middle Ages, however — probably through imitation of French — thou was used for intimates, ye (accusative you) in formal situations for singulars as well as plurals. One used thou to speak to sweethearts, children, animals — and to God. But thou was also used for enemies, as a sort of insult, as if to suggest that one’s foe was no better than a child. In Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, in the Tale of Sir Gareth (which I use because it is probably not a translation from French) Gareth always respectfully addresses the damnsel Lyonet who accompanies him as ye, whereas she (assuming him to be a kitchen boy) calls him thou; when Gareth fights with other knights, they address each other as thou; but when Gareth’s enemies yield and offer him homage, their relationship is changed, and they now call each other ye. By the 17th century in standard English thou had fallen out of ordinary use, and the accusative you was replacing ye in all situations; thou only remained in archaic, especially religious language, and in some non-standard dialects (both geographic and class-based), where the actual form in use was a little different, e.g. tha or thee.

Since I also have to keep consistency (if possible) with my established usage, I have just checked to see where I used astun and related forms (e.g. the pronominal suffix –zun). It looks like it was primarily in situations that can be described as military, where one dwarf is ordering or encouraging another to perform some action. These cases would seem to fit the “respectful” profile. Therefore I conclude that astun is the respectful 2nd person plural, and mên is the familiar (if not disrespectful!) 2nd person plural, probably with as a singular form. I did, unfortunately already have a word “we” already in the pronominal paradigm, but since it doesn’t appear to have been used anywhere, that doesn’t create any particular problem; I’ll just have to create a new pronoun in its place, perhaps ammâ.

This is all new — I hadn’t really thought about the issue until last week, when Helge’s question forced me to consider the discrepancy. But the error has serendipitously enriched neo-Khuzdul, making it both more complex (and therefore more natural) and more consistent with Tolkien’s Khuzdul.

5 Responses to “The serendipity of error”

  1. Travis Henry

    I respect your effort to rationalize existing Neo-Khuzdul words which have appeared in the Films. Because Salonian Neo-Khuzdul already has a certain reality and existence in the “New Line version of Middle-earth”. “New Line Neo-Khuzdul” deserves to unfold organically, while respecting what has already actually appeared in the film, in the same way that once JRRT published some Elvish material, it could be considered “fixed” (except for the small changes he made for the revised edition of the LotR.)

  2. David Salo

    A writer points out to me that an explanation of ai-mênu had already appeared in The War of the Ring in 1992. Although I must have run across this gloss whenever I first read the book, clearly it did not make much of an impression (I would have read it concentrating on Eldarin material) and I must have wholly forgotten it at some point.

    • The Dwarrow Scholar

      I believe the earlier explanations of “ai-mênu” do not speak of “u” (in “mênu”) being an accusative ending. Does that mean you would abandon the idea of the accusative ending or will you still use “-mên” as a base instead of “mênu” ?

      • David Salo

        If it’s distinctively accusative (as opposed to nominative or anything else) then it has to be marked somehow, and the –u seems as good a guess as any.

  3. 1of3

    Menu doesn’t even have to be a word for you, assuming the known translation isn’t literal. Maybe it’s actually “overhead”, maybe something even more opaque, like “at the slopes”, “at the sun” (the enemies are in the shadow).


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