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. Nonetheless, 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. The Sindarin name Rohan corresponds to the native Lôgrad (in Old English version Éo-marc, the "Horse-mark"). 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; see below).


In the text of LotR, the given names of Gollum and his friend appear as Sméagol and Déagol. According to a footnote in LotR Appendix F, these are "names in the Mannish language of the region near the Gladden". But later in this Appendix, it is explained that these were not their real names, "but equivalents made up in the same way for the names Trahald 'burrowing, worming in' and Nahald 'secret' in the Northern tongues". The phrase "in the same way" refers to Tolkien's substituting Old English forms for the actual Rohirric forms; the names Sméagol and Déagol are likewise made up from Old English elements to serve as "equivalents" of the actual archaic Middle-earth names Trahald and Nahald.

In Tolkien's draft for Appendix F (where the "real" names appeared as Trahand and Nahand), they were translated "apt to creep into a hole" and "apt to hide, secretive", respectively (PM:54). In the same source, Tolkien added that "Smaug, the Dragon's name, is a representation in similar terms, in this case of a more Scandinavian character, of the Dale name Trâgu, which was probably related to the trah- stem in the Mark and Shire". Thus, the made-up names Sméagol (pseudo-Old English) and Smaug (pseudo-Scandinavian) involve the same original stem, representing the relationship between the actual Middle-earth names Trahald and Trâgu. Since Trahald is said to mean "burrowing, worming in" or "apt to creep into a hole", it is interesting to notice that Tolkien stated that the name Smaug (representing Trâgu) is "the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb Smugan, to squeeze through a hole" (Letters:31).


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).

Regarding the language ancestral to Dunlending, see below.


Of the language of the Haradrim far down in the south there is not much we can say. 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. - According to PM:79, Tolkien stated that the names Khand (the land south-east of Mordor) and Variag (the Variags being the people who lived in Khand) were samples of "the speech of Men of the East and allies of Sauron". Another Khandian word is mûmak "elephant", pl. mûmakil. Is the plural ending -il related to the one that possibly occurs in Forgoil, or is it an independent borrowing from Elvish?


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). Its actual form in Drúedainic is quoted in UT:385 as Drughu ("in which the gh represents a spirantal sound"). 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" (see WJ:391).


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 a member of the Editorial Team was editing the Taliskan grammar, and Carl F. Hostetter confirms that it will be day. In the meantime, only a few words from the early Mannish languages of the First Age are known; in WJ:238, 270, 309 we find bar "man", dar "mastery, lordship", hal "head, chief", halbar "chieftain", hal(a) "watch, guard", halad "warden" (pl. haladin), haldad "watchdog", bor "stone" (compounded in Talbor "standing stone", Angbor "Doom-rock", apparently also in Halabor - perhaps meaning "Guard-rock"). It may be noticed that the words cited in WJ:309 come from "an isolated slip" which included name-changes that were not implemented in the associated narrative text: As often, it may be difficult to firmly establish which words and ideas Tolkien would "finally" have considered valid.

In the Silmarillion, chapter 17, it is recorded that Bëor's people called the Elven-king Felagund Nóm, "Wisdom", and his people they called Nómin, "the Wise". Thus, their language would seem to have a plural ending -in, also found in Rohirric (and Doriathrin). Compare haladin above.

Tolkien's ideas about Taliska and its history seems to have changed over time. Ellen Schousboe notes (private communication, reproduced here with her permission):

As for the external history of Taliska, such as I have found in HoME: If haladin sounds like a familiar word, that's because it is...! At the time that Tolkien wrote the words currently known of Taliska, he conceived it as the language of the Folk of Bëor and the Folk of Haleth.

Originally there were only two Houses of the Edain: The Folk of Bëor and the Folk of Hador. The "House of Haleth" was just a sub-group of the Hadorians. I don't know what the linguistic situation was at this time, whether Taliska had been conceived in any form yet.

Later, The Third House became separate, under "Haleth the Hunter" and later, Lady Haleth. (...) The House of Hador spoke one language, which would eventually be conceived as Adunaic. The Bëorians and Halethians, meanwhile, both spoke the Taliska language. That was the situation when Tolkien made the Taliska words you have listed.

Also, in the War of the Jewels text, Tolkien decided that Haladin only referred to the House of Haleth (the chieftains descended from her brother) and not to the whole Folk.
But years later he changed the situation again (and the changed version was put in the "published" Silmarillion). In The Peoples of Middle-Earth is a text called "Of Dwarves and Men" (c. 1969) which includes linguistic information. According to that, the Bëorians and Halethians did not speak the same language at all, or even related languages! The Hadorians spoke ancient Adunaic, and the Bëorians had a closely related language, but had adopted various "words and devices" from foreign Mannish languages, so that their tongue sounded a bit strange to Hadorian ears.

The Halethians, meanwhile, spoke a completely unrelated language. This language was however related to Dunlending, in fact it was ancestral to that language. The Dunlendings were descended from the remnant of the Halethians who never crossed into Beleriand. "Pre-Numenorean" was also related in some way to the Halethian tongue. That's the language that was spoken in Gondor before the Numenoreans colonised it, and wiped out the old inhabitants.

In this later linguistic conception, Nóm and Nómin would be Bëorian words, but all the other words (bor and talbor and all the hal-based words) are words of the Woodmen of Brethil, so they would be Halethian. I don't know what would happen to the name "Taliska" itself under this later situation.

It does seem rather weird that two supposedly unrelated languages would have the same plural formation -in, but unless the Taliska grammar is from after 1968, I guess that's what we are stuck with! Or maybe you could think of it as one of the "devices" the Bëorians borrowed from foreign languages.

(Unquote Schousboe.) So even in the case of the "minor" languages in Tolkien's legendarium, Tolkien's shifting conceptions may complicate matters!

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