J.R.R. Tolkien is widely regarded as the most famous of fantasy writers, even the one that laid the foundation for the modern fantasy genre, but his true passion since his youth was always the field of linguistics. This is easily visible in his stories, with the various languages that he outright invented for the setting in which The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion take place. This dissertation looks at the correlation between languages and myths in Tolkien’s legendarium, and how well the work of the author actually reflects the professor’s belief that myth and language arise in a world simultaneously.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s creative process is one that could arguably be defined as an embodiment of irony simply based on the now infamous account of how The Hobbit came to be (Doughan, Forchhammer and Flowers, 2017). The Hobbit begun due to a purely spontaneous burst of inspiration while Tolkien was grading examination papers turned in by his students at Oxford University, when he noticed that one student had left a page blank in his answer-book. It was on that page that Tolkien all of a sudden wrote the opening sentence of his children’s novel, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” (Tolkien, 2007, p.3). The beginning to a book that would not be written for years, and nearly remained unfinished if not for the writing of The Lord of the Rings which helped Tolkien identify hobbits as the missing piece in his nascent epic . The irony here is that Tolkien did not start all his books, or even the Hobbit in particular, with the expectations or even intent that they eventually become part of the now infamous setting of Arda (Doughan, Forchhammer and Flowers, 2017); instead, the author started off with spontaneous ideas and only afterwards proceeded to “discover” their meaning and the broader world and history his characters lived in, in a way oddly evocative of Michael Ende’s character of Bastian, whose stories did not shape the land of Fantasia any more than they discovered truths that already existed, in The Neverending Story (Ende, 1993).
This anecdote of The Hobbit’s conception is important because it shows the unusual, semi-retroactive manner in which Tolkien’s creative process worked. Though pre-planning certainly plaid a significant role in his later works, the mythos he built was formed in a retroactive method. Tolkien’s early legendarium started to take shape as early as 1925 based on characters, themes and story concepts that Tolkien had been imagining since World War 1, during the author’s time in a military field hospital in 1917 (Forchhammer and Flowers, 2017). The broader meta-plot, however, ultimately formed around the ring that Bilbo found during his adventure with the company of dwarves, and the meta-setting of Arda, with its Ainur and Eru Ilúvatar, formed around the history of Sauron, coming to be known as The Silmarillion (Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977). The only reason Tolkien ended up embarking on the more common method of writing sequels to existing books was due to the mixed reactions that his early legendarium, The Quenta Silmarilion, received (dislike of poetry but appreciation for the prose) and how this prompted his publisher to ask Tolkien (not for the first time) if he could write a sequel to the Hobbit (Carpenter, 2014, p.180). The Lord of the Rings trilogy was the result, but it says much about the author himself that he effectively never wrote a sequel again, after The Return of The King, instead going back to the legendarium that had previously been rejected as too obscure and “too Celtic” (Tolkien and Carpenter, 2006). That the opus became a very stressful trial for the author, was nearly abandoned in the later stages and nearly got him to break off with his publisher, Rayner Unwin, in favour of a rival publisher at one point (Doughan, Forchhammer and Flowers, 2017) only stresses the extent to which this fore-planned and large-scale approach to writing did not agree with Tolkien’s mental process and temperament.
Considering the main theme of Tolkien’s Arda is music, and the way the history of the world, and the world itself, is imagined as an embodiment of celestial music preceding and at once birthing the whole of creation (Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977), this semi-retroactive, evocative creative process that Tolkien exhibits could easily be compared to hearing and interpreting an echo of that music, of events that have already occurred, or perhaps the lessons and stories they gave rise to in turn. Not dissimilar, perhaps, to the way language, according to continuity theorists (Pinker and Bloom, 1990), is born and enhanced from vocal attempts to reproduce or describe sounds, situations and feelings: in essence, Tolkien’s legendarium did not suddenly take form as a complete whole (if indeed something as expansive and complex could ever do such a thing), and this is no different from how language is too complex for it to have appeared from nothing (Pinker and Bloom, 1990). Seeing as Tolkien is, ultimately, first and foremost a linguist, and a highly passionate one at that, perhaps it would not be too outlandish to assume that he went about creating his legendarium the same way he went about learning and, indeed, creating his own languages, be it the Nevbosh he created in his youth (Vos, 2017), the lilting Quenya and Sindarin spoken by his elves, the rough but unchanging Khuzdul of the dwarves, or even Valarin, the language of the Arda powers, spoken in a manner evocative of the natural phenomena and changes in the world, as well as the nature of the Valar themselves, “great and stern” (The War of the Jewels, Tolkien and Tolkien, 2010, p.398).
To quote the author himself, "an author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience, but the ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous," (Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien, 2012, p.xi). Added to this how Tolkien himself stated that the Two World Wars did not inspire the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, this means that his other formative experiences must have played a more significant role. In light of his history as a linguist, it stands to reason that the ties between language and mythos will not be a merely superficial one. Particularly as the opening sentence of “The Hobbit” came about while he was grading language assignments.
Tolkien was also of the opinion that one could not create a real and natural language unless they envisioned the stories, the myths that would follow it to the point where he believed that myth and language appear simultaneously (Vos, 2014). Some of his own characters, such as Pengolodh the sage of Gondolin, could even be considered his mouthpiece on this, saying that “the making of a lambe [language] is the chief character of an Incarnate” (WJ, p. 397). Seeing as Pengolodh was speaking of the Valar themselves at the time, this only enforces this notiong of close tie between Tolkien’s languages and his myths. Taking all this into account as well as the unique creative process outlined above and this viewpoint of the author, this dissertation looks at the relationship between Tolkien’s language and his various Myths, to see how the languages were shaped by the myths, and, conversely, how the languages themselves shaped the myths he envisioned. The latter will prove particularly relevant in the case of Westron, the name he gives to English in his writings (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, Tolkien, 2012).
As already touched upon previously, Tolkien’s first brush with creating languages happened during his young, in the 1910s, when he and a group of friends, albeit primarily his cousin Mary Incledon (1895-1940) created Nevbosh (New Non Sense), an entirely artificial language meant for their own use (Carpenter, 2014, p.55). While Tolkien himself later claimed that his role was particularly humble, his contribution limited only to vocabulary and some spelling influences (The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, Tolkien and Tolkien, 2006, p.133), there is no denying the craving that Tolkien felt for language creation, especially since he followed up with the creation of Naffarin not much later, based on Latin and Spanish (Essays, Tolkien and Tolkien, 2006, p.141). According to Helge Fauskanger, already Naffarin shows elements that resembled future Elvish in structure and style: “O Naffarínos cutá vu navru cangor luttos ca vúna tiéranar, dana maga tíer ce vru encá vún' farta once ya merúta vúna maxt' amámen.”
This experience with languages, as well as the author’s studies on the topic combined with his craving to write a series of works dedicated to his country, combined as time went on with others of his strong opinions, such as the idea that language and names were essential elements of a story, with every graphic and phonetic form of a word leading to different artistic images of specific book passages (Carpenter, 2014). The adjective is of particular importance to Tolkien (Doughan, Forchhammer and Flowers, 2017), due to how it affected the development of mythic thinking since it was first invented, that way of thought which explains facts and events through stories of personified supernatural elements (Thales, 2002).
Tolkien went as far as to say he believed that myth and language (as an instrument of thinking) appeared at the same time in the real world, which is why he sought to emulate the same phenomenon in his legendarium (Carpenter, 2014). In this, he was a major adherent of linguopoetics, the branch of philology which studies relative value and “functions of stylistically marked linguistic elements,” or conversely the process of putting together mythological imagery via the words of an artificial language (Doughan, Forchhammer and Flowers, 2017). While this belief is most accurately reflected in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, it was in no way absent from the many other writings of Tolkien, published both before and after his death. In fact, The Silmarillion, infamously, only came out posthumously, after edits done by his son Christopher Tolkien, in 1977 (Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977). Tolkien’s various views can be found in his many scholarly essays, many compiled and reprinted in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (Tolkien and Tolkien, 2006), and it is noteworthy to mention that there is only one other Middle-Earth related work that Tolkien actually published after Lord of the Rings: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, which is really a book containing 16 poems of which only 2 actually deal with Tom Bombadil (Tolkien, 1969).
A major reason why the ties between language and myth in Tolkien’s legendarium should be important to fans of Tolkien and academics alike is the difficulty associated with creation of new word forms, compared to the natural means by which languages change, such as blending (merger of two or more parts of other words), calque (borrowing a word or phrase from another language literally) and neologism (forming a new word via coining) (Lloyd, 2011). Chiefly, a person who sets out to create new word forms will be challenged by the simple fact that one is unavoidably influenced by whichever linguistic traditions they have been exposed to. Tolkien’s Elvish languages (Quenya and Sindarin) are noteworthy in the so-called neutral values assigned to letters, but this is ultimately a rule set adopted from Latin: “c” is always pronounced as “k,” “a” is always pronounced [ɑ] as in “father” rather than in cat, etc. Additionally, the words in these languages correspond to words from Indo-European languages: the Elvish term for star, “El” corresponds to “stella” (lat.) and “etoile” (fr.), Amon (meaning hill, mountain) echoes “mons” (lat.) and montagne (fr.), “fea” (spirit) is similar to the ancient English word for soul, “feorh,” etc. In all, the effort and diligence Tolkien showed when investing so much time and effort in the creation of Arda’s languages is definitely at least on par with the mental and emotional resources he dedicated to the story and mythos itself, even if he could not entirely unshackle himself from the limitations of established linguistic traditions.
Then again, it cannot exactly be claimed that Tolkien ever wished to completely dissociate himself from these language traditions either. The Silmarillion, Lord of the Rings, The unfinished Tales, his whole Legendarium was meant to be a dedication to England, his country (Letter 131, Tolkien and Carpenter, 2006). In light of this, attempting to completely expunge existing language conventions would have worked against his actual goals. Indeed, the mere fact that the English language itself, complete with its standard alphabet, made it into Middle Earth in its natural form as the language Westron (proper names being presented as translations notwithstanding ) lies testament to the notion that Tolkien’s myths determined the nature and emergence of Arda’s languages as much as they were, in turned, determined by the languages themselves. In the same manner than Quenya displaced Valarin and turned Arda from the World of the Valar into the world of Eru’s children (as the next section explores), so did Westron (and its history, and the history of the Edain and Men of Numenor) turned the setting from a completely different world into the same world as out Earth only at a “different stage of imagination” (Newsfrombree.co.uk, 2017).
As angelic beings that communicated through connections of thought, the Valar, like the rest of the Ainur that did not come to Arda, did not start out with the need for speech (Silmarillion, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977). However, upon entering Arda and taking physical form, they created for themselves a language known as Valarin, though one might argue that “language” actually became a concept unto itself when Eru added the note “Eä” at the end of the Music of the Ainur, thus turning Arda into a real thing as opposed to the intangible vision that the One had shown them up to that point (Silmarillion, p.5).
Whether or not the above is the case, and whether or not Pengolodh, the sage of Gondolin, was right in regards to the Valar’s motivations for creating a language for themselves , the Valar adopted a language for themselves the moment they entered the world, the moment that began the first myth. However, with regards to “language shaping myth,” Valarin could be said to be the one language in Arda that did not actually shape myth itself, as it arose outside of Arda. Whatever similarities there are between the sounds involved and natural sounds or phenomena (such as, perhaps, words passing from one Vala to the other like lightning among clouds), odds are equally high that natural phenomena took shape similar to this manner of unbridled communication as the Valar shaped and reshaped the World according to the Music . Unfotunately, the structure and rules of Valarin are almost completely unknown. The few facts that exist are that most words follow the (V)CVCV pattern and that it use infixes, such as the plural -um- in terms like Mâchanâz pl. Mâchanumâz, meaning "Authorities, Aratar" (Fauskanger, 2017). The only clear thing is that Valarin employs a high number of sounds in every word, and consequently many letters are employed in its spelling, possibly suggesting that the Valar pronounced two or more sounds at the same time . To quote Rúmil of Tirion, "the tongues and voices of the Valar are great and stern, and yet also swift and subtle in movement, making sounds that we find hard to counterfeit; and their words are mostly long and rapid, like the glitter of swords, like the rush of leaves in a great wind or the fall of stones in the mountains" (WJ, Tolkien and Tolkien, 2010, p.398). Also, Pengolodh himself bluntly states that “plainly the effect of Valarin upon Elvish ears was not pleasing” (WJ, p.398).
Considering the dearth of information on Valarin grammar, it is perhaps fortunate that Valarin is not so relevant to the notion of “language shaping myth,” at least not in itself. Instead, it is the swiftness with which the Valar set it aside (save for some of their own debates) almost immediately upon the arrival of the Elves in Valinor. Even the words that passed into the speech of the Children of Eru were adapted first to Quenya, like Ezellôchâr and Mâchananaškad which became Ezellohar, the Green Mound, and Máhanaxar, the Ring of Doom, respectively (Fauskanger, 2017). Similarly, Mânawenûz, A3ûlêz, Tulukastâz, Arômêz and Ulubôz (or Ullubôz) became the Quenya terms Manwë, Aulë, Tulkas, Oromë and Ulmo, each a name of a Valar (Fauskanger, 2017). Furthermore, even some Valarin-derived Quenya words did not retain the exact meaning at times, such as the Valarin verb “akašân” (He says, with He meaning Eru exclusively) becoming axan, the Quenya term for “law, rule, commandment,” (Fauskanger, 2017).
Thus the language of the elves shaped the embodiment of the Myth of Arda’s creation: the Lords of the World themselves adapted to better fit the needs and preferences of the Children of Eru, in accordance with His commandment that Arda belonged to the Children, not the Valar themselves. While the exaltation of the Noldor upon seeing the Two Trees could be considered reciprocal of this, it does not change that fact that the Eldar language changed the life and history of Valinor more than the reverse.
The Elvish Language, compared to Valarin, is far more evocative of the (human) concept of music than the alien tongue of the Incarnate Ainur, being based on Latin rules and the use of composition for most derivations. Alqualonde is a composite noun made up from alqua (swan) and londe (harbour), Naugrim is composed of naug (dwarf) and rim (tribe), Nan-Elmot is a fusion of nan (valley), el (star) and mot (twilight), etc. There are single-rooted words of course, such as Teleri (from tel, meaning end, last), Tauron (from taur, forest), but they are very few in comparison. Notably, there are multiple versions of elvish: Quenya (the Language of the Noldor and Vanyar, the tongue spoken by the elves who travelled with Oromë to Valinor), evolved differently from Sindarin (the version spoken by the elves who never left Middle Earth or laid eyes on the Two Trees) (Silmarillion, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977; Appendix F, Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, 2012). These two have their own sub-dialects as well: Quenya had Quendya (Vanyarin) and Noldorin Quenya (Exilic Quenya, the so-called Elven Latin), and Sindarin has Doriathrin (spoken in Doriath), Falathrin (dialect of Falas and Nargothrond) and North Sindarin (spoken in Dorthonion and Hithlum). Common Telerin can also be considered its own strand of Elvish (Telerin for those who reached the Undying Lands, Nandorin for those who adopted Avarin influences, the primitive Elvish strain); nevertheless, the pronunciation is the same, and largely so is the alphabet Tengwar, with only occasional carvings made in Cirth (Appendix F, Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, 2012). This shows that the Elvish language mostly changed due to the Elves’ own divisions and demographics, as opposed to outside influences such as Valarin. Quite the opposite of Mannish languages, Westron especially, as will be seen later.
With regards to how the language gave birth to mythic creations, numerous examples can be identified, though a truly exhaustive exploration of them is beyond the scope of this dissertation . The new word tauron, for example, became a name for Oromë used by the Sindar elves and appeared in the story about Aran Tauron (Lord of Forests), naugrim preceded the actual stories about Tolkien’s dwarves, mor led to the emergence of the myth of Moria, and teleri eventually evolved into the myth of the Sea Elves, those who did not travel further into the Undying Lands due to their attachment to the sea (Appendix F, LoTR, Tolkien, 2012).
Interestingly, Tolkien originally intended for early Elvish to emerge from the Elves’ attempt to learn Valarin, but this idea was later rejected upon Tolkien’s decision that the Elves would already have a language by the time Oromë found them (Fauskanger, 2017), showing that the natural emergence of language took precedence over storytelling in the author’s mind.
To further show that Tolkien’s languages quite likely preceded the actual myths of Arda and even shaped them, it perhaps bears looking at the word ent. This term is taken from Anglo-Saxon (a language the professor taught for many years at Oxford). Specifically, the term comes from a verse in an Anglo-Saxon poem called The Wanderer, from the line “Earl enta geveorc idlu stodon.” (Anglo-saxons.net, 2017). The line translates as “the old creation of giants” (Ent stemming from eoten, Norse jotun) (Drout, 2017). This prompted Tolkien to imagine Ents into his Legendarium, as well as their creation by the Valar, which incidentally also contributed greatly to the inclusion and imagining of the actual children of Eru, born or adopted alike, especially the dwarves . Of further significance is the song sung by Aragon in chapter 6 of the Two Towers, a song of Rohan also adopted from The Wanderer (“Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?”), further supporting the conclusion that the myth of the Ents, and possibly the some of the nature of the dwarves, arose when Tolkien read this poem, even if the actual ideas stayed hidden and silent in his mind until he could put them on paper, according to whatever creative process enabled him to spontaneously write a sentence about Hobbits before he even knew what they were (Tolkien and Carpenter, 2006).
Eärendil is another example, not just the name itself but the character as well. Tolkien was inspired to use the word by the Old English Poem Crist, by Cynewulf, specifically the line “éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended.” (Cynewulf, 2017). Not only is the name Eärendil a faithful adaptation of the term used by the poet, but the role played by the characters in each work reflects that of the other quite faithfully as well. Cynewulf’s poem Crist (Crist II as it is specifically known) concerns the Ascension of Christ, and the epithet “éarendel” is used when addressing the brightest of the Angels that appear to escort Christ back to heaven. This is possible a metaphor for John the Baptist, who preceded and foretold of God’s embodiment on earth as Christ, the god who would bring hope and salvation. Though in Quenya Eärendil means “devoted to the sea” and “sea-lover,” the old english word means “day-star.” More importantly, just like Cynewulf’s éarendel (whether it was really meant to refer to John the Baptist who brought word of God’s coming, or just the “brightest of angels”) acted as herald and companion of Christ in the poem, so does Eärendil travel to Valinor in order to entreat the Valar to come and free the men of Middle-Earth from the dominance of Morgoth, acting as messenger and herald after his pleas are answered, even becoming the spearhead of the Valar’s hosts during the War of Wrath (Silmarillion, Chapter 24, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977, pp.121-126). Eärendil’s other epithets (the Blessed, the Bright) only further emphasize his similarities with Cynewulf’s brightest of angels.
As a way to close this section on the languages that shaped the early stages of Arda’s mythos, it bears noting that Quenya was actively maintained by the elves so as to control the amount of language drift, but this did not preclude changes over time (unlike for the Dwarves’ Khuzdul, which survived the ages completely unchanged as explored in the next section). For example, the Noldor abandoned the exile—þ (“th”) sound after they reached Aman, adopting “S” instead. The reason this is worth bringing up here is because this change was, ironically enough, one of the recorded misgivings of Fëanor, who was strongly against this change due to how it eliminated his mother’s preferred pronunciation of her own name, as recorded in Tolkien’s essay titled The Shibolleh of Fëanor (The Peoples of Middle-Earth, chapter 2, Tolkien and Tolkien, 2010). Interesting about this essay is that Tolkien realised at one point that the common use of S instead of þ in Quenya despite the frequent incidence of þ in Sindarin before and after the return of the Noldor to Middle-Earth meant that the shift from þ to S must have been “conscious and deliberate” at some point between the births Míriel and that of her son Fëanor. Particularly as the written Exilic Quenya of the Noldor definitely retained the symbol for the sound. From this, once again Tolkien’s creative process embarked on retroactive discovery, unravelling the historical context of this change: Fëanor disdained the change due to his and his Mother’s preference for the þ in Míriel’s mother-name, Þerindë ('Needlewoman') and further argued that the way the Noldor increasingly used “S” worked to confuse stems and derivatives and generally cause Noldor speech to resemble that of the Vaniar more. What is more relevant to this dissertation, however, is that this Míriel’s voluntary death happened during this time, and was followed by Finwe (Fëanor’s father) to take a second wife, which became Indis, close kin of Ingwë, King of the Vanyar (Silmarillion, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977). With Indis’ influence on Finwe making the latter resemble the Vaniar even more, especially in speech, this caused animosity between father and son and turned the þ > s shift into a political issue (as Finwe was the High King of the Noldor). In essence, that the shift had to have been “conscious and deliberate” led to Tolkien’s “discovery” of how Fëanor felt that his father and step-mother were committing a deliberate insult against his mother by promoting the shift, and also suspected it to be a plot by the Valar to sabotage his influence on the Noldor (The Shibolleh of Fëanor, 2010). This, naturally, would have contributed to his antagonistic refusal, later, to sacrifice the Silmarils after the Darkening of Valinor (Silmarillion, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977).
As a final observation, The Shibolleh of Fëanor was written at some point after 1968 (The Peoples of Middle-earth, Introduction to "Part Two: Late Writings”), yet it explores some of the underlying causes to events Tolkien wrote and tried to publish decades prior. This makes for a compelling closing note for this overture into the semi-retroactive creative process that shaped Tolkien’s legendarium. Shows how deeply it was not just influenced but conceived according to his expertise in, and experience with, language. Even in such a small language-related misgiving, hints of the headstrong and resentful person that Fëanor would later become can be seen: this refusal to “surrender” to the Valar with regards to one sound can easily qualify as foreshadowing for his refusal to give up the Silmarils after the draining of the Two Trees by Ungoliant (Silmarillion, Chapters 8-9, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977, pp.33-41).
It is perhaps strange to look at these two languages side by side as if they were in any way similar, whether in their use or in their nature, but in the context of language-myth correlation, this section will seek to show that the two are opposite reflections of each other even as they are alike in their subordination to myth, as opposed to the myth being subordinate as was previously shown to be the case with Elvish.
To first provide some context, Khuzdul is the language of the dwarves, and it is not a language that arose naturally but one that their Vala creator, Aulë (Mahal in Dwarvish), personally taught to the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, in the early days of Arda before even the first children of Eru, the Elves, awoke (Silmarillion, ch. 2). Khuzdul, or Dwarvish, makes for an interesting comparison to Elvish languages because, despite being technically much more ancient than the latter, Khuzdul avoided being splintered into dialects and survived through the passing of ages almost completely unaltered, something perhaps unsurprising seeing as it has a completely unique language phylum that, to other races, sounding “complicated and cacophonous” (Letter 31). “[The Elves] understand no word of the tongue of the Naugrim [Dwarves], which to their ears was cumbrous and unlovely; and few ever of the Eldar have achieved the mastery of it" (Silmarillion ch. 10, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977).
Very few details are known about Dwarvish, save for the defining battle-cry “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!” and the language structure based on triple consonant as roots, such as kh-z-d, b-n-d, and z-g-l (Fauskanger, 2017). The only definitive fact about it is that it has many similarities to Hebrew in sound, which Tolkien himself considered fitting given the history of the dwarves themselves: at once part of and rejected by the world (as they were made by Aulë against Eru’s plan and were only adopted out of pity), something mirrored in their speech, as they 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” (Letter 176, Tolkien and Carpenter, 2006). It is perhaps unsurprising that, in keeping with Tolkien’s intent to make Dwarvish completely alien to Elvish and Mannish tongues (fitting considering it was a language created by a Vala, and Valarin was itself completely alien to these peoples, as already discussed), the author created a semi-analogue to Hebrew , a language unlike any of the European languages that Elvish and Mannish were based on.
In any event, with regards to the chosen topic of this dissertation, what is important about Khuzdul is not specifically its structure and grammar, but the way it endured throughout the ages almost entirely unchanged, for the dwarves taught it to their children carefully and maintained its purity with a fervor above even that of the Eldar, while they also guarded it jealously, rarely speaking it in the presence of other races (Foster, 2003). Even in the very few instances where this rule was eased or waived, Khuzdul did not itself change but instead influenced the language of whoever they were in contact with, as was the case with the tongues of the men in the early ages of the world, most specifically Taliska, the language spoken by the first and third houses of the Edain. This was detailed in The War of Jewels, Part Two, The Later Quenta Silmarillion: Concerning the Dwarves, (Chapter 13). Thus, it can be said that Khuzdul resulted from the Myth of Aulë’s impatience and maintained its nature through the ages as a result of the myth of the dwarves: the language resisted “corruption” by outside sources the same way the dwarves were made to resists corruption by Morgoth . A reverse of how Elvish effectively displaced Valarin almost as soon as the Eldar reached the Undying Lands, as seen previously.
Black Speech is similarly subordinate to myth, resultant of myth, but it is also an inverted reflection of Dwarvish for the simple fact that it proved to be the opposite of enduring. Sauron created the language during the Dark Years, that period of the Second Age after the War of Wrath and Morgoth’s removal from Middle-Earth by the Valar at Eärendil’s plea (Silmarillion, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977). Up to that point, the Orcs he ruled communicated in many different forms of Orkish which were often useless outside single tribes due to them being based on corrupted borrowings from the languages spoken by the other peoples of Middle-Earth they took words from (LoTR, Appendix F). Setting aside whatever reasons Morgoth may have had for not going out of his way to create a language for his fell servants, the Black Speech only endured so long as Sauron ruled in Mordor. After he was deposed through the War of the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age, the “pure” form of the Black Speech faded from memory, and was replaced by the “debased” form well before Sauron actually returned to Mordor in the third age (LOR, Appendix F, “On Translation”). That even afterwards the “pure” Black Speech never again gained traction, and that Common Speech (Westron) was largely used instead of it and Orkish both, only emphasizes the lack of substance and endurance in this language, in spite of Sauron’s intent.
To this day, the known lexicon of the Black Speech is almost as elusive as that of Valarin, the inscription on the One Ring being the only true sentence known. Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, / ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul. Tolkien deliberately made this language sound harsh and ugly, and perhaps this is a reason why it is one of the most incomplete of all languages in his legendarium, as the forces of good consistently avoided uttering it throughout all three books of The Lord of the Rings. Some similarities with the ancient Mesopotamian language Hurrian have been observed by Russian historian Alexander Nemirovski (Fauskanger, 2017), based on shape of words and grammar. However, ultimately Tolkien himself avoided putting much effort into detailing or using the language in his legendarium, much like his characters themselves as already noted. Regardless, as with Khuzdul the relevance of Black Speech to this dissertation stems not from its nature and corpus, but from the fact that it ultimately failed to amount to anything, and even its one, famed sample was carried through by the use of the Evlish Tengwar script , further emphasizing Tolkien’s intention that the forces of Evil were incapable of creating anything, let alone anything lasting. This is in complete reversal of Khuzdul which, as already noted, endured throughout the ages unmarred and on the strength of its own corpus and alphabet.
In summary, where Elvish showed how language could define Myth in Tolkien’s writings, Khuzdul and the Black Speech show the reverse of that in a way, how Myth defined language for Tolkien. Whereas Dwarvish reflects the unchanging and incorruptible nature of dwarves in how it survived the ages without degeneration, Black Speech evokes the lack of beauty, endurance and substance in all works stemming from Morgoth and his servants, chiefly Sauron. That Sauron was originally a Maia of Aulë (Silmarillion, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977, p.9), the same who created the Dwarves and their language, this contrast only becomes more poignant. It is perhaps not out of place to compare the swift and irrecoverable degeneration of the “pure” Black Speech with the way Mairon lost all ability to take on a beautiful mien along with the sinking of Númenor.
Westron is the name of the language spoken by most of the races inhabiting Middle-Earth, be they Elves, Men or Hobbits, which is why it is also known as the Common Speech (LoTR, Concerning Hobbits, Tolkien, 2012). It is named such because it originally belonged to the Dúnedain of Middle-earth, the descendants of the “men of the west” who sought refuge in the Westlands of Middle-Earth, a region also now known as Eriador, after the Downfall of Númenor, popularly known as Westernesse in the Third Age (Silmarillion, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977). Like the Adûnaic used by the men of Númenor as their national tongue, from which Westron evolved after the sinking of the island kingdom, the language is, in truth, descended from the ancient Mannish languages of the First Age, particularly those of the Edain, the men who allied with the elves against those who fell under the sway of Morgoth in those dark days (Silmarillion, Tolkien and Tolkien, 1977, p.70). Taliska was best represented, being the main origin of Adûnaic itself, but many elements of Dalish, Rohirric and even Halladin and Dunlending, among others (LoTR, Appendix F, “The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age”).
It would perhaps be easy to dismiss the history Tolkien conceived for Westron as a mere authorial conceit, since as ultimately all instances of Westron in the legendarium are rendered in the English language. Even the runic text on Balin’s gravestone in Moria, supposedly written in Khuzdl and Westron, is actually rendered in English, only written in Cirth alphabet (LoTR, ch.5). Admittedly, Tolkien could not be expected to write books in any language but English considering it was the native tongue of both himself and his intended reader base. Doubly so when taking into account that The Silmarillion was meant as a dedication to his country in the first place, as already mentioned (Letter 131, Tolkien and Carpenter, 2006). Even the notion that the proper nouns such as Baggins and Bagshot Row were actually translations of Westron to English would not change the fact that all other elements in the language are identical to or at least rendered always in English. However, dismissing this matter such would mean leaving a significant blind spot in this dissertation, considering that Westron is arguably the language that best illustrates the close manner in which Tolkien’s languages and myths are intertwined.
To explain this point, a look at the English language itself is in order. English is a West Germanic language that, since it was first spoken in Medieval England, has undergone a dramatic number of changes, evolutions and shifts, both deliberate and natural, gaining common ground with many other tongues, as well as becoming global lingua franca after being proliferated worldwide via the United Kingdom’s expansionism during the time of the British Empire (centuries 16-18) (Crystal, 2016). Despite this, it would not be a stretch to call English a wild language. Not only was the original tongue warped and complicated when the Romans did all they could to force it to accept Latin-based grammar despite its incompatible Germanic roots, but there are other deliberate deliberate, as well as natural, influences by various other peoples which were inflicted upon the language over the centuries, especially prior to the British Empire times: all the various Germanic words and rules, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Latin, French and even Norse influences combined and affected the development of the language throughout the ages (Hogg, 2010), not in the least due to attempts by various authorities and empires to force the tongue to comply with whatever grammar was considered most appropriate at any given time. Later, the English language spread across the world by land and ship, particularly the latter given that most colonies were reached, occupied and controlled chiefly thanks to naval power and generally superior means and technology available to the British (Louis, Porter and Low, 2009). The language which for so long had been the target of various attempts at change became, in turn, the one that influenced and outright displaced the tongues of many other peoples, eventually becoming the most widespread language in the world, as it has remained to this day (Hogg, 2010). In all, it would not be a stretch to describe the English language as a wild and untended language, one that assimilated new words and patterns before older rules and complexities even have a chance to fade . Then, too, can the language be reliably described as the tongue belonging to a fierce and (at least occasionally) warlike people, who are fond of open lands but are in equal measure city dwellers as well as seamen. Furthermore, the increased consistency of the language and the now mature, if not necessarily simple, grammatical rules (even those related to irregular verbs and other complex parts of sentence or speech), one might be able to intuit that the changes to English stopped or at least slowed not too long ago in the grand scheme of things (Graddol, 2007).
What is Westron if not a mannish language belonging to a fierce and warlike people who can be described in equal measures as city-dwellers, lovers of open lands and mariners? The Dúnedain are the descendants of the people of Westernesse, the isle of Númenor which the Valar built for the displaced Edain after the War of Wrath that destroyed much of the face of old Middle-Earth. Tolkien describes the men of Númenor quite thoroughly in the Silmarillion: politically a monarchy, the people regularly explored the eastern part of Arda by ship, becoming skilled and famed mariners. Additionally, they often touched down on the shores of Eriador, where they instilled wonder and awe into the so-called Middle Men of Middla-Earth with their lordly bearing and superior crafts. Like the British, Númenor became a mighty naval power that touched down on foreign shores and, though generally not via strength of arms, they took over the native peoples and passed on their own culture upon them. The men of Númenor taught the men of Eriador, by then weak and fearful due to Sauron’s dominion, various crafts and trades, such as agriculture, masonry and smithing, but also their language, laying down the foundation of Westron long before they actually turned on the Valar and met their doom with the sinking of their whole island kingdom (Silmarillion, pp. 127-130). The Númenoreans even intimidated Sauron into surrendering and eased the pall that his shadow had cast upon the people of Middle-Earth, for a time.
These similarities between Númenor and the Britsh Empire, and by extension the virtually identical evolutionary path taken by the languages spoken by each, could not plausibly be assumed to have been merely coincidental. It would be on the same level as dismissing any similarities between the ultimate fate of Númenor and the ancient myth of Atlantis, despite the recurring “Atlantis dream” that Tolkien referred to in his various letters (Tolkien and Carpenter, 2006). In all, since Tolkien was primarily a linguist and not a historian, and further claimed that the Wars did not actually inspire or overmuch affect his legendarium despite his direct participation in them as an officer , we can perhaps reliably assume that his awareness of the language’s evolution, and his believe that myth and language appear simultaneously in any world, are at least part of the reason for these similarities between Númenor and the British Empire. Thus, like Elvish, Westron shaped the myth of Númenor in Tolkien’s legendarium, only unlike Elvish the correlation exceeds the bounds of Arda and establishes a connection between the myths of Arda and those of Earth.
Meanwhile, Tolkien seems to have taken great pains to ensure that there was sufficient in-universe evidence for this evolution of Westron and its ties to the various other mannish tongues, even while Rohirric, Dalish, Dunlending and continued to propagate. In the few instances where the author deigned to actually provide a corpus for Westron, the early influences of Khuzdul are as visible as those of Elvish : elvish influences can be seen in the borrowed Sindarin elements such as nîn (water, from Quenya/Sindarin nen) while the word hobbit is apparently a translation for the Khuzdul-inspired Westron word kuduk, for example.
Then there are certain mythic elements which are not immediately recognizable as a matter of language, but the subtlety of which only adds more weight to the idea of a tight correlation between language and myth in all works written by Tolkien. Few examples would serve better here than the character of Gollum. Or, more specifically, the Smeagol-Precious dual personality. Gollum undoubtedly came before The One Ring for Tolkien, considering that he was initially imagined only as the challenge Bilbo needed to pass in The Hobbit in order to attain the ring of invisibility (Tolkien, 1978) . However, in light of the Smeagol-Precious dynamic and the mere fact that the malicious personality is named precious, a case could be made that the “discovery” of Bilbo’s “lies” regarding his acquisition of the Ring became inevitable the moment Tolkien “discovered” the Elvish language and, from there, the myth of Sauron himself. Moreover, it could be said that Smeagol’s naming of the split-personality “Precious” and the resulting dynamic, this fundamental part of the character itself, is owed to languages, specifically the Quenya Elvish and, for once, the dissimilarity between the two rather than any influences. That Frodo, by the end of the quest, comes to consider the ring equally precious while grandly declaring that the Ring was now his only adds more weight to this interpretation (RoTK, Book VI, ch.3).
The above claim cannot be understood until one remembers that the original name of Sauron, when he was still one of Aule’s maiar, was Mairon. A word which, like its root maira, means precious . When taking into consideration that the One Ring corrupts its wearer , and the mental and spiritual influence this would have had on Smeagol over the centuries of being a ring-bearer, the name he gives to the ring, and himself, as “Precious” suddenly becomes a deeper matter than just the relatively straightforward obsession with and desire to (re)possess the Ring. As Mairon’s Westron name would be “Precious” and Smeagol lacked knowledge of Quenya, he had no choice but to go with whatever frame of reference he did possess in order to call the ring the correct name (as the will of the One Ring counted as the will of Sauron, as noted in FoTR, Book 2, ch.2. And since it was transmitted via thought (not dissimilar to how Valar and Maia did in the beginning, and continue to do in the case of those dwelling in Aman), Smeagol unavoidably ended up using the closest equivalent available to him in his own language, specifically Westron. Thus, he would have given the Ring (and the resulting second personality) the name Precious because that was the closest thing he knew (though without realising it) that could fit the actual name. One wonders if this dichotomy of “Precious” as obsession and “Precious” as proper noun resultant from the language-myth correlation is just another example of the same creative process that spawned the first sentence of The Hobbit, only in reverse.
Considering all this, as well as the noted similarities between Westron and English in terms of developmental history, as well as the histories of their speakers, Westron qualifies not only as a language correlated with the myths of Tolkien’s legendarium, but also as a vessel through which Tolkien’s Arda and our own world, Earth, are correlated. Fitting for the world at a “different level of imagination” which was always meant to be a dedication to Tolkien’s own country.
Much like the term Middle-Earth itself was taken whole from the Middle English word midel-erde (or erthe), as well as the Old English word Middengeard , so were many elements of various other languages adopted, adapted and translated in order to create the various languages used in Arda. Yet the languages give no indication that they are deliberate constructs of an external will when taken together with the setting, for Tolkien took care to, in his own words, “discover” the legends that accompanied the emergence of his languages . This dissertation looked at Tolkien’s myths and languages together, as the author himself intended them, in an attempt to rediscover the correlation between the two, something perhaps not just worthwhile but necessary now that the various film adaptations of the legendarium have rekindled interest in the professor’s Arda.
This paper makes no claim of having truly plunged the depths of this topic. The exploration of all particularities and peculiarities of language, as used by Tolkien, is beyond the scope of any single study. Even disregarding the various languages that this project barely succeeded in touching on (such as Entish, Orkish, the various Haradrim languages), and the ones that were set aside entirely in favor of the more prominent ones (warg-language, thrush-language) (LoTR, Appendix F), sufficient evidence exists to show that languages, both those created by Tolkien as well as those he did not (specifically English in its various forms), defined his myths at least as much as they were defined in turn. From the political scandal started by a tonal shift in Quenya that seeded resentment against the Valar in Fëanor, to the compulsion felt by Gollum to name his Ring (and himself) a term thatwould fit the name of the Ring’s creator, Mairon, language has shown itself to be a defining characteristic of the setting, as well as a cause of many of the myths and their resulting stories, at least as much as it was a consequence of such.
Finally, between the spontaneous sentence that birthed the Hobbit and the roundabout manner in which Gollum’s personality took shape, a definitive correlation between this myth-language interdependence and Tolkien’s unusual, semi-retroactive creative process has been highlighted, one made even more obvious by how Westron is universally “translated” into English throughout all of his stories. All told, one can definitely see the justification behind Tolkien’s own view that he only discovered his legends rather than creating the stories himself (Chance, 2001).
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