The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Languages
With the release of the new film based on the book The Hobbit, Language Connections examines the many new languages created by J.R.R. Tolkien for his popular novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Languages of Middle-Earth
In many works of fictional literature, authors will create fantastic new languages for the strange new worlds they imagined. Among the most famous are the languages constructed by J. R. R. Tolkien which were created for his fictional universe, often called Middle-earth, and are the basis for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Many of the names of characters in Tolkien’s books, such as Elrond and Bolg in The Hobbit and Galadriel and Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, are derived from Middle-earth languages. There are many who consider Tolkien a linguistic genius because of his creative ability to compose these new and complex languages.
Tolkien’s world was one composed of many different creatures, each with their own unique language, dialect and accent.
“What I think is a primary ‘fact’ about my work, that it is all of a piece, and fundamentally linguistic in inspiration. The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes ﬁrst and the story follows. I should have preferred to write in ‘Elvish’. But, of course, such a work as The Lord of the Rings has been edited and only as much ‘language’ has been left in as I thought would be stomached by readers.”- J.R.R. Tolkien
The characters, as well as the stories behind them, are based largely on Tolkien’s languages of Middle-earth. He develops these characters through the tones and rhythmic patterns of their speech and gives the reader a sense of their culture.
The Elvish Language
The Elvish language family is a group of languages descending from a common ancestor called the proto-language, also known as Primitive Quendian.
Tolkien began to construct his first Elvin tongue while he was at the King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England (c. 1910–1911), and later called it Quenya. Tolkien was familiar with several established languages including Latin, Greek, Spanish, and several ancient Germanic languages, e.g. Gothic, Old Norse and Old English. But it was his discovery of the Finnish language that truely inspired him. Tolkien wrote about it many years later: “It was like discovering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavor never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me.” Although he began his study of the Finnish language to enable him to read the Kalevala, a 19th-century work of epic poetry from Finnish and Karelian folklore, it later became the basis for early Quenya.
“The ingredients in Quenya are various, but worked out into a self-consistent character not precisely like any language that I know. Finnish, which I came across when I first begun to construct a ‘mythology’ was a dominant influence, but that has been much reduced [now in late Quenya]. It survives in some features: such as the absence of any consonant combinations initially, the absence of the voiced stops b, d, g (except in mb, nd, ng, ld, rd, which are favoured) and the fondness for the ending -inen, -ainen, -oinen, also in some points of grammar, such as the inflexional endings -sse (rest at or in), -nna (movement to, towards), and -llo (movement from); the personal possessives are also expressed by suffixes; there is no gender.”
The Elvish languages underwent numerous grammatical revisions, mostly involving conjugation and the pronominal systems. Other than during its conception, however, the Elven vocabulary was not subject to major changes. Once a word was created, he was continually refining its meaning and creating new synonyms for it. Tolkien greatly enjoyed inventing new etymons, and thus Elven etymology was in a constant flux.
Languages of Men
Although the Languages of Men of Middle-earth were numerous, most of them were merely mentioned in his novels. However, he did develop grammar and vocabulary for at least three, Taliska, Adûnaic, and the Soval Pharë, which were spoken by both Hobbits and Men in the Third Age. Taliska, based on the Gothic language, was an early interest of Tolkien. Despite the fact that he developed a grammar and a lexicon of Taliska, these have not yet been published.
Adûnaic, the language used in everyday speech by the majority of the population, was derived from closely related dialects of Taliska. Soval Pharë, also known as “Common Speech” or Westron in English, comes closest to being a lingua franca in Middle-earth particularly during the time period of The Lord of the Rings. The name Westron is derived from the English word “West” and not from the actual language itself. Other less developed languages included: Dalish (derived from Old Norse), and Rohirric (derived from Anglo-Saxon), Rhovanion (derived from Gothic), as well as Haladin, Dunlendish, Drûg, Haradrim, and Easterling.
The Dwarvish Language
Khuzdul was the secret language of the Dwarves. Tolkien based Dwarvish on the Semitic languages, due to his observation of similarities between Dwarves and Jews: both were “at once natives and aliens in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue…”. Tolkien also commented of the Dwarves that “their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.” Like the Semitic languages, Khuzdul has triconsonantal roots: kh-z-d, b-n-d, z-g-l. Other similarities to Hebrew in phonology and morphology have been observed.
It is said in the novel The Silmarillion that Aulë, the creator of the first Dwarves, taught them “the language he had devised for them,” which implies that Khuzdul is technically a constructed language. It is also said that because of the Dwarves’ great reverence for Aulë, their language remained unchanged, and all clans could still speak with each other without difficulty despite the great distances that separated them. Due to their respect for their cultural heritage and in an effort to preserve the language, the Dwarves did not learn Khuzdul as young children. Instead, Dwarves learned the language through reverent study as they matured, to make sure that it was passed down unaltered from one generation to the next. Variation of Khuzdul has been compared to that of other languages as “the weathering of hard rock and the melting of snow.”
The Entish Language
Entish is the language of the Ents, although originally they had no “language” of their own. However the first Elves encountered the first Ents in the primeval forests of Middle-earth, not long after the dawn of both of their races. Apparently recognizing the sentience of Ents and the more “awake” trees, the Elves taught them the concept of communicating using sounds rather than words. Because of continued contact with the Elves, the Ents learned much from them. The Ents were enchanted by the Elvish language, Quenya, and adapted it for their own everyday use by transforming Quenya vocabulary using Old Entish grammatical structure. As a result, unlike Old Entish, the individual words of “New Entish” that characters such as Treebeard spoke were easily translatable.
The Black Speech
The Black Speech is spoken in the realm of Mordor, a black volcanic plain in Middle-earth. It is one of the languages of Arda in Tolkien’s Middle-earth fictional universe in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien describes the language as being created by Sauron as an artificial language to be the sole language of all the servants of Mordor, thereby replacing the many different dialects of Orkish and other languages used by his servants. The language exists in two forms, in the ancient “pure” forms used by Sauron himself, the Nazgûl, and the Olog-hai, and the more “debased” form used by the soldiery of the Barad-dûr at the end of the Third Age.
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