Not all of Tolkien’s languages were as fully developed as Sindarin and Quenya. One language’s lack of development is explained through another real-world language attribute – sociolinguistics. The dwarves of Middle-Earth had one language, made for them by the Valar Aulë. This language is Khuzdûl. Tolkien’s dwarves were a rather xenophobic race. As such, they preferred to learn the languages of others rather than teach their language to anyone. Thus, the dwarves spoke Sindarin and Westron whenever they were among the other races and kept their own language secret. This cultural attribute of the dwarves directly affected their language and how much of the language that Tolkien actually had to develop. An example of the dwarves’ multilingualism can be seen in the Sindarin, not Khuzdûl inscription over Moria’s gate.

 

Speaking of Moria, some of Tolkien’s development of Khuzdûl can be seen in the name of the dwarvish city. Khazâd is the Khuzdûl word for dwarves. Dûm means “mansion.” Thus, Moria, Khazâd-dûm, is the “dwarf mansion.” The dwarves also had their own name for Gandalf – Tharkûn. The interesting thing to note here is that the orcs had a very similar name for Saruman in the Black Speech – Sharkû, which means “old man.” Since both the Black Speech and Khuzdûl were invented by Vala (Morgoth and Aulë respectively), it is interesting that such similar words would be ascribed to separate wizards in separate languages.

Since Tolkien did not fully develop the language, David Salo was hired to further develop the language for use in the movies. Because of the secretiveness of the dwarves, very little of the language was even portrayed in the movies. The most common dwarvish sentences were insults. When meeting with Thranduil, Thorin says, “Imrid amrâd ursul” – “Die a fiery death.” When Thorin then recounts the meeting to Balin from his prison cell, he states that he told Thranduil “to ‘Ishkh khakfe andu null’” – “pour my excrement on his head.” Another dwarvish insult came from Gimli in The Fellowship of the Ring when the company was stopped by Haldir’s company in Lóthlorien. Gimli asks him to speak in the common speech so everyone can understand. He then says, “Ishkh khaqwi ai durugnul” – “I spit on your grave.” Comparing Thorin’s insult to Gimli’s can show a little bit about the Khuzdûl language’s syntax and morphology.

One other language in The Lord of the Rings shows another real-world aspect of languages – the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This hypothesis basically states that language can manipulate how one perceives reality and vice versa. An extreme view of this would mean that people whose language only has two different color words would only actually perceive two different colors in the world (many shades, perhaps, but only two distinct colors), or a language with no words for time would not perceive the linear nature of the passage of time. A looser interpretation of this would mean that a people group who culturally hold that gratitude is truly only shown by actions won’t have words to express thanks.

Tolkien’s Entish language demonstrates this theory despite being largely undeveloped. Jim Allen stated that the Ents’ language would be repetitions upon repetitions upon repetitions with slight variations. This is very similar to the rings inside the trunk of a tree repeating endlessly upon each other the longer the tree lives. Since the Ents are basically living trees, this correlation is interesting. Another aspect of this in the Ents’ language is the length of their words, names, and conversations. Ents are immortal and ever-growing (like trees), so they view time very differently. Nothing happens quickly for them, so their language likewise carries that detailed, methodical feel. Treebeard says his name is ever growing and that the Entish name for orcs is “like years of torment.” The only sample of Entish in The Lord of the Rings is “a-lalla-lalla-rumba-kamanda-lindor-burúmë” which is part of the name of a hill.

Reflections of Middle-Earth in the Real World

While many linguistic aspects of real-world languages went into Tolkien’s creation of the languages of Middle-Earth, his love of the world, peoples, and stories that he created was reflected in his own life as well. After his death in 1973, he was buried in the same grave as his wife (she died two years earlier), and on the headstone, he was named Beren. Beren was a mortal man during the First Age of Middle-Earth who fell in love with and married the elf-maiden Lúthien. Their story is remembered even to the end of the Third Age when Frodo overhears Aragorn singing “The Lay of Lúthien.” Tolkien wasn’t narcissistically imagining himself as the hero of one of his stories. Instead, he saw himself as a mere mortal who had fallen in love with an unattainable beauty and somehow gained her love back. On the same headstone, his wife Edith is named Lúthien. Thus, the real-world is reflected in the languages of Middle-Earth, the foundation of the world and stories, and the fantasy world is reflected in Tolkien’s own life. Namarië.


 

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