Calvin George, M.A.
Tolkien’s Linguistic Process for Constructing Fake Languages
Published: April 5th, 2016
Having reflected the real world in the language history of Middle-Earth, Tolkien continued to bring elements of real world languages into his constructed languages. “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit” (Tolkien, Hobbit). This simple line wasn’t developed through linguistics; it was spontaneously written on the back of an exam. However, his work was a linguistic one, so he needed to linguistically justify the name hobbit. To accomplish this, he used a linguistic process called anglicization – a process of making words and sentences sound more natural to English speakers through means like altering sounds or replacing words – in conjunction with his historical linguistics. First, Tolkien’s “hobbits” spoke Westron, not English, so their name for themselves was kuduk. However, kuduk is odd for English speakers; thus, Tolkien developed a historical connection between hobbits and the Rohirrim linguistically and geographically. The linguistic heritage is evident in some words of these two languages, like kuduk. The Rohirric word is kud-dukan, meaning “hole-builder.” With the historical linguistic explanation provided, Tolkien could finally justify the use of the word hobbit. In Old English, one could connote hol-bytla to mean “hole builder,” which could then become hobbit. Thus, kud-dukan is to hol-bytla what kuduk is to hobbit. This is one example of Tolkien’s anglicization of his own language creation.
Other Languages in Middle Earth
Published: February 2nd, 2017
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.
J.R.R. Tolkien's Linguistic Foundation for Middle Earth
Published: September 22nd, 2015
When we enjoy a story, painting, or performance, we experience the full catharsis of the work. We can even evaluate the precision of its parts and judge its merit in comparison to similar works of art. However, to truly appreciate any masterpiece, we must go beyond the level of spectator, seeking the how, why, where, and who underneath that particular work.
Earth Legends in the Middle-Earth Legendarium
Published: December 15th, 2016
Not only did Tolkien weave real-world words and sounds into his constructed languages, but he also wove real-world legends into his languages and tales. These tales often initially wound their way into the story through the use of a name as seen in his previous quote: “To me a name comes ﬁrst, and the story follows.” Several names did not originate in the languages and cultures that he invented, but instead came from his reading of old literature as a philologist and academic. One of these names, possibly one of the first to influence his legendarium was Eärendil. Tolkien found this name in the Old English poem Crist. He was fascinated by these two lines:
(Hail, Eárendil, brightest of angels/over middle-earth sent to men).
Creating Constructed Languages: Conlanging 101
Published: March 15th, 2016
Fake languages like Tolkien’s are called constructed languages ( conlangs for short), and creating them is called conlanging . This requires determining the sounds (phonetics), sound patterns (phonology), word-building rules (morphology), sentence-building rules (syntax), meaning relationships (semantics), and socio-cultural rules (sociolinguistics) of the language . Despite the difficulty, Tolkien wasn’t the first to conlang ; conlanging actually has a long and rich history. The oldest known conlang is Lingua Ignota (a supposed angelic language) created in the 1100s by Hildegard von Bingen. By Tolkien’s birth in 1892, at least 110 conlangs had been recorded, and by the publication of The Hobbit , there were at least 300.