Westron

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Westron
Adûni
Created by J.R.R. Tolkien
Setting and usage Fantasy world of Middle-earth
Purpose
Sources a priori language, but relative to other languages of Arda
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)

Westron, or the Common Speech, is a fictional language in the fantasy works of J. R. R. Tolkien.

Westron is the closest thing to a lingua franca in Middle-earth, at least at the time during which The Lord of the Rings is set. "Westron" is an invented English word, derived from West. It is not a word from the language itself.

Fictional history[edit]

The Westron speech is derived from contact between the Adûnaic tongue of Númenor, and the languages of the western coastlands of the continent of Middle-earth, when the Númenóreans began to establish trade outposts and forts there.

When the Edain, forefathers of the Númenóreans (the Dúnedain), first entered Beleriand in the First Age, they spoke two different languages, of which Taliska was the predecessor of Adûnaic. Of the Three Houses of the Edain, the House of Haleth spoke Haladin, while the House of Bëor and House of Hador both spoke Taliska. The Bëorian dialect of Taliska was slightly different from the Hadorian dialect (though not an outright separate language), but in any case, the House of Bëor was practically destroyed after the Dagor Bragollach, about a century and a half before the end of the First Age. The few surviving women and children of the House of Bëor subsequently merged into the other Houses and ceased to function as an independent entity. Taliska itself appears to have been a creole of several Avarin (Dark Elf) languages, with some influence from Dwarvish Khuzdul, due to trade contact with Dark Elves and Dwarves as the Edain migrated from the east to Beleriand. The Haladin language had a somewhat similar origin but had branched off so that it became mutually unintelligible with Taliska and ultimately a separate language. Following the end of the First Age, this division between the two major branches of "Northern Mannish" languages (descended from Taliska), and "Southern Mannish" languages (descended from Haladin) would persist throughout most of the Men living in the known regions of north-west Middle-earth (the languages of the Easterlings and Southrons are of entirely different origins). Due to contact with the Grey Elves while dwelling in Beleriand, Taliska was influenced by Elvish (Sindarin) and ultimately evolved into Adûnaic, which became the common language spoken on Númenór itself.

Several centuries after the end of the First Age, the Númenóreans began expanding their power back to the coasts of Middle-earth itself, establishing trading posts and forts from the Blue Mountains in the north to the Haven of Umbar in the south. There they came into contact with the languages of the local coastal peoples. It was soon realized that these languages were (mostly) closely related to the Taliska language which had stood at the basis of Adûnaic itself. As such the coastal peoples and Númenóreans themselves adopted each other's languages relatively quickly. Most of these peoples were indeed of related kin to the Edain and would later form most of the population of Gondor and Arnor.

From these early trade outposts and forts Westron spread throughout Eriador and neighbouring lands (where the action of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place), with the notable exception of Mordor. The peoples of Rhovanion did not come into contact with the Númenóreans at this time and kept their own languages, which were nonetheless closely related, being a separate branch of Northern Mannish (from Taliska) that had less contact with Elvish. Peoples that spoke unrelated languages, such as the Gwathuirim (forefathers of the Dunlendings), the Men of the White Mountains and the Drûg, who spoken Southern Mannish languages, were shunned by the Númenóreans and indeed often became enemies of Númenor.

After the Downfall of Númenór, the Faithful escaped to the outposts in Middle-earth and founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. In reaction to how the Númenóreans had turned against the Elves in their downfall, the survivors in Middle-earth embraced the learning and speaking of Elvish, and as a result neglected the common speech. Within several centuries it had mutated wildly into a vulgate form, and merged with the Southern Mannish languages of the coastal peoples such as the ancestors of the Dunlendings. However, several centuries later the Dúnedain kingdoms refocused their attention onto it, and enriched it with additions from Elvish. The resulting creole was then taken up as the language of trade and diplomacy throughout all of the regions that at one time or another were controlled by Arnor and Gondor, and even beyond that along trade lines at least as far east as Dale and the Lonely Mountain. Even Sauron's Orcs had to rely on using Common Speech (albeit in a much-debased form) for communication between themselves, because different Orc sub-dialects change so haphazardly that they are not mutually intelligible from one clan to the next.

Westron renderings in Tolkien's literature[edit]

The term Westron is used as a translation of the original name Adûni. In Sindarin the language was called Annúnaid (Westron), or Falathren (Shore-language). The alternate term "Common Speech" translates the Westron term Sôval Phârë, of identical meaning.

In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Westron was presented as having been completely translated into English. This had certain important implications: first of all, proper names with derivations somewhat evident to speakers of Westron had been 'translated', to preserve the effect. Thus, names like "Baggins", "Bagshot Row", "Peregrin", "Rivendell", etc. are presented as not the actual names. For example, Meriadoc Brandybuck's actual name is supposed to have been Kalimac Brandagamba, short Kali (meaning jolly, merry). 'Meriadoc', short 'Merry', is designed to maintain the reference to merriness contained in the original name. Likewise Peregrin Took's actual name was Razanur Tûc, short Razar (name of a small apple). 'Peregrin', short 'Pippin' contained both the actual meaning of the full name (traveller, stranger) and the reference to an apple. Sam Gamgee (shortened from Samwise Gammidgy) was actually named Ban Galpsi, short for Banazir Galbasi. The ending of the 'true' Hobbit name Bilbo was also changed: in Westron it was Bilba, but Tolkien changed this to -o because -a is usually a female ending in English, whereas it was a male ending in Westron.

Placenames and other features were also presented as having been translated from an original form: Rivendell (Sindarin Imladris, "cloven valley") was actually called Karningul, and Bag End was actually called Labin-nec, after Labingi, the real form of Baggins. In some cases the explanations became quite involved, such as the river Brandywine (Sindarin Baranduin, "golden-brown river") was actually called Branda-nîn, a punning Westron name meaning "border-water", which was later punned again as Bralda-hîm, meaning "heady ale".

The translation went one step further by also changing all languages akin to Westron. Rohirric, the language of the Rohirrim, was translated as Old English, as Rohirric is an archaic relative of Westron (since the Edain from whose speech Westron is derived were related to the ancestors of the Rohirrim) much as Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon) is an archaic relative of English. Similarly, the tongue of Dale, from which came the names of the Dwarves of Durin's house, was translated by Old Norse, a language related to Old English and modern English as Dalish was related to Rohirric and Westron.

This complete translation into English is also paralleled in the historical development of Westron within the narrative. Adûnaic and its related language Rohirric are both in the "Northern Mannish" language branch, and are represented as Germanic languages. The coastal people that originally inhabited the lands of Arnor and Gondor were the Gwathuirim, whose language was "Southern Mannish". They were the shared ancestors of the Dunlendings, Men of the White Mountains, and Bree-landers; these groups are culturally represented as pseudo-Celtic. The result is that the original pseudo-Germanic language Adûnaic was allowed to wildly mutate and become influenced by the pseudo-Celtic language of its neighbors, as Old English was influenced in the early Middle Ages. Finally, this polyglot was intentionally enriched by scholars with additions from Quenya (Elf-Latin) and Sindarin, as Old English was influenced by the Latin of the medieval Church.

This utter translation of Westron by English was taken so far that some sources that should give actual Westron have been turned to English too. For instance, in Moria, an illustration of the runic text on Balin's gravestone is given. The text is said to mean "Balin son of Fundin, Lord of Moria" in both Khuzdul and Westron, but while the first part of the inscription is in Khuzdul, the second part is actually plain English, just written in certar.

Outside the context of the story, it is clear that most of the "original" forms in Westron or other languages were devised by Tolkien long after the English "translations" were chosen. Several of the Westron forms given above were not published in Tolkien's lifetime. Tolkien never worked out Westron to the same extent as Quenya and Sindarin or even Adûnaic.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Solopova, Elizabeth (2009), Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books, "7. Invented Languages". pp. 77-78., ISBN 0-9816607-1-1