The Lord of the Rings – Appendix F: I. The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age

Here it is.  We have arrived to the part of Middle-Earth that makes it what it is today: languages.

The language represented in this history by English was the Westron or “Common Speech” of the West-lands of Middle-earth in the Third Age.  In the course of that age it had become the native language of nearly all the speaking-peoples (save the Elves) who dwelt within the bounds of the old kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor…

Doesn’t it give you chills of geekiness to know that when you read The Lord of the Rings, you’re reading it in translation from a once common language, now dead far longer than Sanskrit?  But that’s really the heart and soul of what makes this story for Tolkien.  For the Professor, Middle-Earth evolved when he created languages and then tracked their evolution over time through the peoples who would speak them.  In other words, the evolution of the language is the history of Middle-Earth.

As with the previous entries about The Appendices, it’s difficult to summarize a summary.  It’s pretty much an exercise in futility.  But if you’re reading this far, odds are good you’ve either read it already or are about to do so in short order because your interest is clearly there.  With that in mind, I can at least offer a brief outline of which languages Tolkien discusses in regards to which races.  And I mean brief, as in there’s no way to feasibly list out each language and dialect, let alone a history for each one, without retyping what Tolkien offers.  So… the basics:

As the quote above suggests, Westron is the common language of Men that other races picked up and used as a matter of convenience, a second language to their own native tongues.  The further out from the center of Gondor you get, the less the language is used.  For the Rohirrim, it’s a second language, and among the Wild Men, it’s broken.

The Elves spoke Eldarin.  This is broken into two tongues: the High-elven Quenya and the Grey-elven SindarinQuenya was an ancient tongue of Eldamar beyond the Sea, the first to be recorded into writing.  Over time it became less of a common tongue, used only for ceremony and high lore, an “Elven-Latin” as Tolkien describes it.  The histories of both Quenya and Sindarin parallel one another, with Sindarin being the language of those who had lingered on the coast rather than come across the Sea.  It was adopted by the Exiles for daily use, again for convenience being that they were outnumbered by the Grey elves.

Tolkien backtracks and discusses more of Westron and the Mannish languages in regards to the early history with the Elves and the isle of Númenór.  The native tongue of the Númenóreans was the Adûnaic.  This would later evolve into Westron, influenced by Sindarin and other languages (thus allowing it to evolve as a common speech).  Hobbitish was a dialect of Westron, influenced by the languages of the Northmen.  The Northmen spoke Dalish and Rohirric.

Old Entish is based on Common Eldarin, but of course evolved somewhere (very slowly) into “New” Entish.

Orc is a name used by other peoples to describe Orcs, related to the word uruk in the Black Speech.  Their own Orkish language was supplanted by the Third Age, wherein they used Westron.

The Black Speech, it is said, was devised by Sauron himself.  If you consider the idea that words have power and all of Middle-Earth is constructed from sound, this is truly epic level dark magic at work, which explains why no wizard or Elf would want to speak it in the first place.  The Black Speech was influenced by Valarin, consisting eventually of its “Pure” version and the “Debased” dialect influenced by Orkish.  Trolls started out with their own tongue, but somewhere along the lines they spoke little and knew only the Black Speech.

Dwarves had an interesting origin story according to The Silmarillion, being both like Elves and Men, and yet no real knowledge of it was passed on.  While they spoke Westron in the company of others, among themselves their language was Khuzdul, created for them by Aulë, the smith of the Valar who created the Dwarves in the first place.  They also used a sign language known as Iglishmêk.  Gimli and many of his kin have names of Mannish origin, their secret names never being revealed outside of their own people, not even being inscribed upon their tombs.

One final part remains in The Lord of the Rings

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