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Created by J. R. R. Tolkien
Date c. 1935
Setting and usage Middle-earth, the setting of the novel The Lord of the Rings
Sources influenced by Hebrew in phonology and morphology
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog None

Khuzdul is a constructed language devised by J. R. R. Tolkien. It is one of the many fictional languages set in Middle-earth. It was the secret language of the Dwarves.

External history[edit]

Tolkien noted some similarities between Dwarves and Jews: both 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…".[1] Tolkien also commented of the Dwarves that "their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic."[2] Tolkien based Dwarvish language on the Semitic languages. Like these, Khuzdul has triconsonantal roots: kh-z-d, b-n-d, z-g-l. Also other similarities to Hebrew in phonology and morphology have been observed.[3][4]

Although only a very limited vocabulary is known, Tolkien mentioned that he had developed the language to a certain extent. It is unknown whether such writings still exist.[5]

Internal history[edit]

In the fictional setting of Middle-earth, little is known of Khuzdul (once written Khuzdûl), the Dwarves kept it secret, except for place names and a few phrases such as their battle-cry: Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! meaning Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!. This secrecy extended to Dwarven real names, with the exception of the Petty-dwarves. All Dwarven names are "outer-names" either from another language (Dalish) or nicknames/titles. Dwarves do not even record their true names on their tombstones. The runes written on Balin's tomb in Moria can be transliterated to read BALIN FUNDINUL UZBAD KHAZAD-DŪMU, meaning "Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria". Only few non-Dwarves are recorded as having learnt Khuzdul, most notably the Elf Eöl.

According to the Lhammas, Khuzdul is a language isolate, the sole member of the Aulëan language family, not related to the Oromëan languages spoken by Elves. Aulëan was named from the Dwarvish tradition that it had been devised by Aulë the Smith, the Vala who created the Dwarves.

It is said in The Silmarillion that Aulë, the creator of the first Dwarves, taught them "the language he had devised for them," which implies that Khuzdul is technically, in reality and fictionally, a constructed language. It is also said that because of the Dwarves' great reverence for Aulë their language remained unchanged, and all clans could still speak with each other without difficulty despite the great distances that separated them. Due to their reverence for their cultural heritage, the Dwarves did not learn Khuzdul as a cradle-speech, as this might mutate the language over time. Instead, Dwarves carefully learned Khuzdul through reverent study as they matured, to make sure that their language was passed down unaltered from one generation to the next. The changeability of Khuzdul versus other languages was compared to "the weathering of hard rock and the melting of snow".

For everyday usage, the Dwarves commonly speak the primary language of the region they are living in, i.e. the Common Speech (Westron), though their pronunciation may have a Khuzdul accent.[6] There were many similarities between Khuzdul and the native tongues of Men of the Far-East of Middle-earth. This is because in the early days of Middle-earth, Men of these regions had friendly contact with the Dwarves. Adûnaic, the tongue of Númenor, retained some Khuzdul influences. The Common Speech (Westron) later evolved out of Adûnaic, thus explaining why some words etymologically have Khuzdul roots.

Khuzdul is usually written with the Cirth script.


Besides their aglâb, spoken tongue, the Dwarves used a sign language, or iglishmêk. According to The War of the Jewels, it was learned simultaneously with the aglâb from childhood. In a noisy Dwarvish smithy, the ringing of hammers against anvils was often too loud to allow verbal communication. The Dwarvish sign language was much more varied between communities than Khuzdul, which remained "astonishingly uniform and unchanged both in time and in locality". Tolkien only gave a few examples of the Iglishmêk sign language in his unpublished notes. The command to "Listen!" involved a slight raising of both forefingers simultaneously. The acknowledgment "I am listening" involved a slight raising of the right-hand forefinger, followed by a similar raising of the left-hand forefinger.[7]


The following phonemes are attested in Tolkien's Khuzdul vocabulary.

  Labial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Occlusive b t d k ɡ ʔ
Fricative f s z ʃ ɣ h
Nasal m n
Trill (r) ʀ
Approximant l j
Front Central Back
Close i   u
Close-mid e   o
Open   a  


  1. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, #176, ISBN 0-395-31555-7 
  2. ^ "An Interview with J.R.R. Tolkien". BBC Four. January 1971. 
  3. ^ Fauskanger, Helge K. "Khuzdul - the secret tongue of the Dwarves". Ardalambion. University of Bergen. 
  4. ^ Åberg, Magnus (2007). "An Analysis of Dwarvish". In Stenström, Anders. Arda Philology 1. First International Conference on J. R. R. Tolkien's Invented Languages. Stockholm, 4–8 August 2005. pp. 42–65. 
  5. ^ Pesch, Helmut W. (2003). Elbisch (in German). Bastei Lübbe. p. 37. ISBN 3-404-20476-X. 
  6. ^ 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, p. 84., ISBN 0-9816607-1-1 
  7. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (July 1998). Hostetter, Carl F., ed. "From Quendi and Eldar, Appendix D". Vinyar Tengwar (39): 5, 10. 

Further reading[edit]

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