Khuzdul

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Khuzdul
Created by J. R. R. Tolkien
Date c. 1935
Setting and usage Middle-earth, the setting of the novel The Lord of the Rings, the secret and private language of the Dwarves.
Purpose
Cirth
Sources Influenced primarily by Hebrew in phonology and morphology and other Semitic Languages
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 Khuzdul on Semitic languages. Like these, Khuzdul has triconsonantal roots: √KhZD "dwarf", √BND "head", √ZGL "silver (colour)". 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. A small amount of material on Khuzdul phonology and root modifications has survived and will be published in the future.[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 and Balin's tomb in Moria, which read respectively:

Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!
Balin Fundinul uzbad Khazad-dûmu Balin son of Fundin, lord of Moria.

The highest level of secrecy applied to Dwarves' "inner-names", their personal names, with the possible exception of the Petty-dwarves. The names of all Dwarves are "outer-names" either from another language (Dalish) or nicknames/titles, sometimes in Khuzdul: e.g. Azaghâl, Gamil Zirak.

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. Later Tolkien dropped the origins of Elvish being taught language by Oromë, but kept the origins of Khuzdul the same. It is said in The Silmarillion that Aulë created the dwarves, and taught them "the language he had devised for them", making Khuzdul in both fiction and reality, a constructed language.

The Dwarves had a great reverence for Aulë. Because of this, Khuzdul remained unchanged in respect for Aulë, and that all Dwarven clans could speak with each other without difficulty despite the great distances that separated them, and Khuzdul having existed for more than 12,000 years. Khuzdul was to the dwarves “a tongue of lore rather than a cradle-speech”, and was carefully learned through reverent study as they matured, to make sure Khuzdul 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".

Dwarves were unwilling to teach outsiders Khuzdul, even to their non-dwarf friends. Dwarves would speak the languages of the region "but with an accent due to their own private tongue...",[6] and being careful not to even speak Khuzdul around non-dwarves. Only few non-Dwarves are recorded as having learnt Khuzdul, most notably the Elves Eöl, Fëanor's son Curufin, and reluctantly to the Noldor loremasters of the Second Age: "They understood and respected the disinterested desire for knowledge, and some of the later Ñoldorin loremasters were allowed to learn enough of both their "aglâb" (tongue) and their "iglishmêk" (gesture-code) to understand their systems".

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, in which "were not unwilling to teach their own tongue to Men with whom they had special friendship, but Men found it difficult and were slow to learn more than isolated words, many of which they adapted and took into their own language". Adûnaic, the language of Númenor, retained some Khuzdul influences and said to have influenced its basic structure.

Dwarves were however, willing to reveal the names of places in Khuzdul, as shown with Gimli revealing the names of the landmarks of Moria: "I know them and their names, for under them lies Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf... Yonder stands Barazinbar, the Redhorn...and beyond him are Silvertine and Cloudyhead:...that we call Zirakzigil and Bundushathûr." (LotR1/II ch. 5).

Khuzdul is usually written with the Cirth script, with two known modes used, Cirth Moria and Cirth Erebor.

Iglishmêk[edit]

Besides their aglâb, spoken tongue, the Dwarves used a sign language, or iglishmêk,[7] which was also just as secretive as Khuzdul. 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.[8]

Phonology[edit]

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

  Labial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive b t d k ɡ ʔ1
Aspirated Plosive (ɡʰ)2
Fricative f s z ʃ (ɣ)2 h
Nasal m n
Trill (r) 3 ʀ 3
Approximant l j
Front Central Back
Close i   u
Close-mid e ə4 o
Open-mid     ʌ4
Open   a  

Only one diphthong is attested in Khuzdul: ai [ai], as seen in ai-mênu.

1 Often at the start of words that begin with a vowel, often not written in the Latin alphabet, but has its own rune in Angerthas Moria.
2 Supposedly in Azaghâl, 'gh' [ɣ] is used to represent this sound in Black Speech and Orcish, but wasn't said of Khuzdul. Could also be [ɡh] or [ɡʰ].
3 Alveolar trill [r] a later variant in pronunciation, the uvular trill [ʀ] being the original Khuzdul pronunciation.
4 No examples found, Tolkien explicitly states these were frequent in Khuzdul, and have their own Cirth runes. Possibly in between incompatible consonant formations or current vowels in known corpus.

Khuzdul features a 'CV(C)(C)' syllable structure. Words that begin with either a vowel or diphthong have a glottal stop at the beginning to fill the place of an initial consonant. Words can not start with a consonant cluster, and are found in medial or final positions of a word. It is unknown what all the consonant clusters are, few are attested as shown in the corpus above, but presumably are more flexible and varied than of the consonant clusters found in the Elvish languages, as the language was said to be "cumbrous and unlovely" (Silmarillon ch. 10) to the elves, with Tolkien describing it as having a cacophonous quality.

Writing Khuzdul[edit]

Tolkien wrote most of Khuzdul in the Latin alphabet, and in Cirth within Middle-Earth. The dwarves had adopted the Cirth from the elves by the end of the first age, and made changes to their liking to represent the sounds of Khuzdul. There were two methods known of writing Khuzdul, Angerthas Moria when the dwarves still lived in Khazad-dûm before its fall, and Angerthas Erebor once they fled, and further developed the cirth when they settled at Erebor, The Lonely Mountain.

The following tables present the corresponding cirth and Latin alphabet characters using the keymapping devised by Daniel Smith,[9] and will only display correctly on devices with Smith's Cirth Erebor typeface installed.

Angerthas Moria
2 3 6 8 8V 9 @ % w e eV r uI, a d f g l ll ? ; S D z x c v b nIM . / > Z ?
b f m t th d r sh z k kh g n l nd h ʔ, ‘ i î y u û e ê a â o ô s ə ʌ
Angerthas Erebor
2 3 6 8 8V 9 @ % e eV r uI, a d fIg l ; S D z c b bÎIn . / > Z ? X C
b f m t th d r sh k kh g n l nd s i î y u û z e ê a â o ô h ə ʌ ps1 ts1
The Cirth runes used to write Khuzdul.

1 Cirth used only by dwarves. It's unknown if ps was written for Khuzdul or for other languages, as [p] is yet to be attested in Khuzdul.

As an example, the dwarvish battle-cry can be written as thus:

Mode Khuzdul
Moria
KhuzdulBattleCryCirthMoria.png
Latin baruk khazâd khazâd ‘aimênu
Erebor
KhuzdulBattleCryCirthErebor.png
Latin baruk khazâd khazâd aimênu

And the only source of Khuzdul written in cirth in the Angerthas Moria mode, as seen in The Lord of the Rings:

Angerthas Moria Latin
KhuzdulBalinsTomb.png
balin
fundinul
uzbadkhazaddûmu

Grammar[edit]

Little is known of Khuzdul grammar to even construct a sentence, but was known to have its morphology based mainly on Hebrew, and other Semitic languages. Tolkien states that Khuzdul was complicated and unlike the other languages of Middle-Earth at the time in terms of phonology and grammar. It has been said the grammar of Khuzdul influenced the basic grammar of Adûnaic, but little material is given to show these influences other than the mention of where Adûnaic's grammar differs from Quenya. Even then, differences could be influenced by other languages than Khuzdul.

Nouns & Adjectives[edit]

Nouns and adjectives are known to have singular and plural forms, and like the Semitic languages, and can be in the absolute state, or the construct state. The construct state is used to indicate a connection with a following noun, being a quality, belonging or part of that noun. The construct comes before the absolute noun and when compounding words. e.g.: Baruk Khazâd! (Axes of - Dwarves) "Axes of the Dwarves" stating that the Axes belong to the dwarves, Khazad-dûm (Dwarves of - Delving) "Dwarrowdelf", stating it's a Dwarvish delving. There are no known (if any) definite or indefinite articles in Khuzdul.

Nouns and adjectives appear to share different declensions that dictate the formation and number. How many declensions there might be in Khuzdul is currently unknown. Tolkien has stated that plural formations were said to be similar to Arabic's broken plurals, which would make for many irregular plurals, but little is provided to make such a comparison.

1st Declension
Root Template Dwarf: Kh-Z-D Orc: R-Kh-S Shadow: ʔ-Z-N Head: B-N-D
Sing. Plural Sing. Plural Sing. Plural Sing. Plural Sing. Plural
Absolute CuCC CaCâC Khuzd Khazâd Rukhs Rakhâs ‘uzn ‘azân* Bund Banâd*
Construct CuCC CaCaC Khuzd Khazad Rukhs Rakhas ‘uzn ‘azan Bund Banad*
Root Template Hill: H-N-D Cave hall: G-N-D Beard: T-R-G
Sing. Plural Sing. Plural Sing. Plural Sing. Plural
Absolute CuCC CaCâC Hund Hanâd* Gund Ganâd* Turg* Tarâg
Construct CuCC CaCaC Hund Hanad* Gund Ganad* Turg* Tarag*

Note that only Khuzd "Dwarf" and Rukhs "Orc" are the only nouns fully attested in this table. Words that are theoretical constructions are marked with an asterisk *.

Some words have identical nominative and construct states, both within their singular and plural forms. Only Bark "Axe" is attested.

2nd Declension: Same Absolute & Construct
Singular Plural
Pattern CaCC CaCuC
Axe: B-R-K Bark Baruk
Staff: Th-R-K Thark Tharuk*
Bald / Clearing: Sh-R-B Sharb Sharub*
Write / Writing: Z-R-B Zarb* Zarub*

Other noun declension types are likely to exist, but little detail is provided to show a full singular/plural and absolute/construct state relations. Of these, the only hints that point to their existence is in compounded attested words and single words. Some attested examples provided that might provide parts of declension are:

Other Declensions
Singular Absolute Singular Construct
Root Pattern Word Root Pattern Word
River-course N-L-ʔ CâCaC nâla’ Shadow / Dim ʔ-Z-N CaCaC ‘azan
Pool, Lake Z-R-M zâram Red, Ruddy B-R-Z baraz
Black N-R-G CaCâC narâg Black N-R-G narag
Fortress G-Th-L CaCoC gathol Hollow Z-H-R zahar
Spike, Tine, Peak Z-R-K CiCaC zirak Great in size G-B-L CaCiC gabil
Horn N-B-R ‘iCCaC ‘inbar Glass, Mirror Kh-L-D CeCeC kheled
Hall T-M / D-M CûC tûm1, dûm1 Silver (metal) K-B-L CiCiC kibil
Valley D-B-N CuCaC duban
Lord, Ruler Z-B-D ‘uCCaC ‘uzbad
Plural Absolute Plural Construct
Root Pattern Word Root Pattern Word
Gesture Sh-M-K ‘iCCêC ‘ishmêk

Some patterns can be seen that hint at some details of what state and/or number a noun is in:

  • A CVCVC pattern, seen in CaCaC, CeCeC and CiCiC for common singular construct patterns:
baraz, kheled, zigil.
  • A ‘VCCVC pattern, seen in ‘iCCaC and ‘uCCaC for a common singular pattern:
‘inbar absolute form
‘uzbad, construct form.
  • Vowel orders of "i - a" and "u - a" seem to apply for singular nouns:
zirak, ‘inbar
duban, ‘uzbad.
  • Long vowel sounds seem to appear only in the absolute state, and can be any number, but more likely in plural forms:
Singular: nâla’, zâram, narâg, dûm / tûm.
Plural: khazâd, rakhâs, tarâg, ‘ishmêk.

Another possible declension based from Nâla’ and Nulukkhizdîn, construct likely singular, but uncertain:

Possible Declension
Sg. Absolute Sg. (Pl.?) Construct
Pattern CâCaC CuCuC
River-course N-L-ʔ Nâla’ Nulu’1
Pool, Lake Z-R-M Zâram Zurum*

1 Possible assimilation of (’kh) → (kkh): Nulu’khizdîn → Nulukkhizdîn

Another noun form that may exist is the collective numbers, along with the singulative form. This is from observation of the names Buzundush and Tumunzahar, where "-n-, ân-, -în-, -ûn-" means a person / place; as seen in Gabilân, Nargûn, Nulukkhizdîn, Tharkûn. Thus making a singular instance of what makes the collective, e.g. a single hall, out of a group of halls. Although being "absolute" in state within names, it's shortened to "-un-" as in the composition form, due to long vowels possibly being shortened before a consonant cluster.

Collective Nouns
Root Template Root: B-Z Hall: T-M
Number Collective Singulative Collective Singulative Collective Singulative
Absolute CûC CuCûn bûz* buzûn* tûm1* tumûn*
Construct CuC CuCun buz* buzun tum1* tumun

1 Possible assimilation of (dt) → (dd): Khazad-tûm → Khazad-dûm.

Most compounded words feature an Adjective-Noun pattern, however a Noun-Adjective pattern has also been observed. This could hint into a flexible pattern that allows both forms of Adjective-Noun and Noun-Adjective patterns, with the adjective taking the construct state. This could be done to stress the first element or for artistic purposes.

An example of Adjective-Noun pattern include:

  • Barazinbar:
Baraz "red" + Inbar "horn"
  • Kibil-nâla:
Kibil "silver (metal)" + Nâla "path, course, river-course or bed"
  • Kheled-zâram:
Kheled "glass, mirror" + Zâram "pool, lake"

and one example of a Noun-Adjective pattern:

  • Zirakzigil:
Zirak "spike, tine" + Zigil "silver (colour)"

Verbs[edit]

Only four verb words are known. The exact tense or use of these verbs are unknown:

Felak : To use a tool like a broad-bladed chisel, or small axe-head without haft.
Felek: hew rock.
Gunud : delve underground, excavate, tunnel.
S-L-N, Sulûn, Salôn : "fall, descend swiftly" (VT48:24).

Lexicon[edit]

Placenames & Names[edit]

Khuzdul Name Translation Khuzdul Name Translation
Azaghâl Presumably an 'outer name' or title. Not an inner name. Mahal the Maker, Aulë.
Azanulbizar 'Dimrill Dale' lit: "Rills of the Shadows". Mîm A Petty-Dwarf, possibly an 'inner name'.
Barazinbar 'Redhorn' (Caradhras), also shortened to Baraz. Narag-zâram 'Black-lake', early name, Mirrormere?
Bundushathûr 'Cloudyhead', also shortened to Shathûr. Nargûn Mordor.
Buzundush 'Blackroot', earlier name of the Silverlode. Nar(u)kuthûn Nargothrond?
Felakgundu Cave-hewer; epessë of Finrod. Origin of Felagund. Nulukkhizdîn Nargothrond?
Gabilân 'Great River'. Sigin-tarâg The Longbeards, the house of Durin.
Gabilgathol 'Great Fortress' (Belegost). Sharbhund Amon Rûdh, possibly meaning 'Bald Hill' as is in Sindarin.
Gamil Zirak 'Old Spike', Nickname of a Firebeard smith. Tharkûn Gandalf, said to mean 'Staff-man'.
Gundabad Mount Gundabad. Tumunzahar 'Hollowbold' (Nogrod).
Ibun A Petty-Dwarf, possibly an 'inner name'. Udushinbar Earlier name of Bundushathûr.
Kibil-nâla a name for (possibly not a translation of) the Silverlode. Uruktharbun Earlier name of Khazad-dûm or Azanulbizar, meaning unknown.
Khazad-dûm Dwarf-mansion, Dwarrowdelf' (later known as Moria). Zigil-nâd earlier name of the Silverlode.
Kheled-zâram 'glass-lake', i.e. Mirrormere. Zirakinbar 'Silverhorn', earlier name of Zirakzigil.
Khîm A Petty-Dwarf, possibly an 'inner name'. Zirakzigil 'Silvertine' (Celebdil), also shortened to Zirak.

Words[edit]

Khuzdul Meaning Khuzdul Meaning
-âb / -b Abstract collective? kheled Glass, mirror.
‘aglâb Spoken language. Khuzd / Khazâd Dwarf / Dwarves.
‘aya, ‘ai- Upon. Khuzdul Dwarvish language, lit. "Dwarf-of(gen.)".
‘azan Dark, dim. kibil Silver, the metal.
‘iglishmêk Sign-language of the dwarves. ma- Passive participle?
‘inbar Horn. mazarb Written documents, records.
‘ûl Streams. mazarbul Records, The Chamber of Mazarbul, Book of Mazarbul.
‘uzbad Lord. mên* / mênu 2nd person plural, "you" - Nom.* / Acc.
‘uzn Dimness, shadow. -n / -ân / -în / -ûn One, person or place.
baraz Red. nâla’ Path, course, river-course or bed.
bark / baruk Axe / axes. narâg Black.
bizar / bizâr? Dale or valley. Rukhs / Rakhâs Orc / Orcs.
bund Head. sigin Long.
buz / bûz Root? sulûn / salôn Fall, descend swiftly.
duban Valley. sharb Bald?
dûm / tûm1 delving, subterranean mansion, hall. shathûr Clouds.
dush / dûsh? Black, dark? tum / tûm Hall / delving1
felak Tool for cutting stone. thark / tharuk* Staff / staffs*
felek Hew rock. turg* / tarâg Beard / beards.
gabil Great. -u Of. / accusative marker
gamil Old? -ul Of, patronymic genitive ending.
gathol Fortress. zahar Hollow?
gund Underground hall. zâram Pool, lake.
gunud Delve underground, excavate, tunnel zigil Silver, the colour.
hund Hill? zirak Spike.

1 Seen in Tumunzahar in 'Hollowbold', with 'bold' as an obsolete term for dwelling. Assimilates to 'D' when precedes one, e.g. d-t = d-d : Khazad-dûm

Consonantal Roots[edit]

Biconsonant Roots
Khuzdul Root Translation Khuzdul Root Translation
ʔB Abstract Collective? DSh Dark, Darkness
ʔL Streams HL ??? - Azaghâl
ʔN Person / Place KhM ??? - Khîm
ʔY Upon MM ??? - Mîm
BZ Root of plant? MN 2nd Pers. Pronoun
DM or √TM Excavation, Hall, Mansion ND See NLʔ - Zigil-nâd
Triconsonant Roots
ʔBD  ??? - Gundabad MHL Create, Maker?
ʔBN  ??? - Ibun NBR Horn
ʔGL Speech, Language, Dialect NLʔ Path, Course, River-course or bed
ʔRK  ??? - Uruktharbun NRG Black
ʔZG  ??? - Azaghâl RKhS Orc, Goblin
ʔZN Dimness, Shadow SGN Long
BND Head SLN Fall, Descend swiftly
BRK Axe ShMK Gesture, Hand, Sign?
BRZ Red ShRB Bald?
BZR Dale, Valley ShThR Cloud
DBN Valley TRG Beard
FLK Hew, Hewer ThRB ??? - Uruktharbun
GBL Great in size ThRK Staff
GML Old, Great in age? ZBD Lord
GND Cave, Tunnel ZGL Silver (Colour)
GThL Fortress ZHR Hollow?
HND Hill? ZRB Write, Inscribe
KBL Silver (Metal) ZRK Spike
KhLD Glass, Mirror ZRM Pool, Lake
KhZD Dwarf --- ---

References[edit]

  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. ^ Hostetter, Carl F. (November 26, 2004). "reply to: Khuzdul - mostly to Aelfwine/Carl Hostetter". Lord of the Rings Fanatics Forum. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  6. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 176, ISBN 0-395-31555-7 
  7. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1994), The War of the Jewels (volume 11 of The History of Middle-earth), Harper Collins, part 4 appendix D p.395; ISBN 0261 10314 8
  8. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (July 1998). Hostetter, Carl F., ed. "From Quendi and Eldar, Appendix D". Vinyar Tengwar (39): 5, 10. 
  9. ^ Tolkien Gateway, Dan Smith

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]