Various Mannish Tongues - the sadness of Mortal Men?

Some Mannish tongues are mentioned in Tolkien's works, but except in the case of Adûnaic, our knowledge is fragmentary. Concerning the early linguistic history of Men, see the opening paragraphs in the article about Adûnaic. Many Mannish languages were influenced by Elvish. When Felagund so quickly deciphered the language of Bëor and his men, it was partly because "these Men had long had dealings with the Dark Elves east of the mountains, and from them had learned much of their speech; and since all the languages of the Quendi were of one origin, the language of Bëor and his folk resembled the Elven-tongue in many words and devices" (Silmarillion chapter 17).


In LotR2/III ch. 6, when Aragorn and Legolas were approaching the Golden Hall of Rohan, Aragorn recited a poem in an alien tongue. "That, I guess, is the language of the Rohirrim," the Elf commented, "for it is like to this land itself; rich and rolling in part, and else hard and stern as the mountains. But I cannot guess what it means, save that it is laden with the sadness of Mortal Men."

We don't know much genuine Rohirric, for in LotR, Tolkien rendered it by Old English: He tried to reproduce for English readers its archaic flavour in relationship to the Common Speech (itself represented by modern English - but it must be understood that Rohirric was not the ancestor of the Common Speech the way Old English is of modern English). Thus, names like Éomer and phrases like ferthu Théoden hál are not transcriptions of the actual words used back in the Third Age. Nontheless, a few words of genuine Rohirric have been published. Appendix F informs us that trahan means "burrow", corresponding to genuine Hobbit trân "smial"; the language of the Hobbits had at some point in the past been influenced by Rohirric or a closely related language. Another example is Hobbit kast "mathom", corresponding to Rohirric kastu. The word hobbit itself represents the actual Third Age word kuduk, a worn-down Hobbitic form of Rohirric kûd-dûkan, "hole-dweller" - itself represented by Old English holbytla in LotR.

After the publication of The Peoples of Middle-earth we have a few more words. According to PM:53, the frequent element éo- "horse" (in Éowyn, Éomer etc.) represents genuine Rohirric loho-, -, evidently a cognate of the Elvish words for "horse" (cf. Quenya rocco, Sindarin roch) - demonstrating the influence of Elvish on the Mannish tongues. Éothéod, "Horse-folk" or "Horse-land", is a translation of genuine Rohirric Lohtûr. Théoden represents tûrac-, an old word for "king" (cf. the Elvish stem TUR- referring to power and mastery; LR:395).

According to UT:387, the actual Rohirric word for "wose" (wild man) was róg pl. rógin. The plural ending -in is also known from Doriathrin, so this may be yet another testimony of Elvish influence on the Mannish tongues. Cf. also Nóm pl. Nómin in the language of Bëor's people (Silmarillion ch. 17).


When defending the Hornburg, Éomer could not understand what the attackers were crying. Gamling explained that "there are many that cry in the Dunland tongue... I know that tongue. It is an ancient speech of men, and once was spoken in many western valleys of the Mark....they cry[:] 'Death to the Forgoil! Death to the Strawheads!...' Such names they have for us." (LotR2/III ch. 7). Appendix F mentions forgoil "Strawheads" as the one Dunlending word that occurs in LotR: perhaps for-go-il "straw-head-plural"? The ending -il could be taken from Elvish, ultimately a cognate of the Quenya partitive plural ending -li (LR:399).


Of the language of the Haradrim far down in the south there is not much we can say. One word is mûmak "elephant", pl. mûmakil. Is the plural ending -il related to the one in Forgoil, or is it an independent borrowing from Elvish? A certain wizard once stated that "many are my names in many countries: Mithrandir among the Elves, Tharkûn to the Dwarves; Olórin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten, in the South Incánus, in the North Gandalf; to the East I go not" (LotR2/IV ch. 5). According to UT:399/402, Incánus or Inkâ-nus, Inkâ-nush is a word from the tongue of the Haradrim meaning "North-spy". But Tolkien was not quite sure about this; he wondered if Incánus might not be Quenya for "Mind-leader" instead.


The wild men of the Drúadan Forest used a tongue wholly alien to the Common Speech. In ancient times, their race was called Drûg by the people of Haleth, "this being a word of their own language" (UT:377). Their voices were "deep and guttural" (UT:378); indeed Ghân-buri-Ghân's voice is so described even when he spoke Westron (LotR3/V ch. 5). He repeatedly used the word gorgûn, evidently meaning "Orcs".


An early Mannish tongue called Taliska is mentioned in LR:179; this was the language of Bëor's people, the ancestor of Adûnaic. It was influenced by Green-elven (Nandorin). "An historical grammar of Taliska is in existence," Christopher Tolkien informs us (LR:192, footnote). Years ago, Vinyar Tengwar reported that one of the Elfconners was editing the Taliskan grammar, and Carl F. Hostetter confirms that it will be day.

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