How “Dwarvish” is Salo’s Dwarvish ?

I’ve often been asked how is it possible to create a language out of so little material ? Referring to the neo-khuzdul lessons provided on this site.

And yes, the question is indeed valid… how do we know what Tolkien had in mind for Khuzdul ? And let’s be honest, we don’t know all and we will never know all. Though we do know the basics of the language and it’s form, which is key to expand it in a manner which perhaps comes close to Tolkien’s original vision.

Though for me, because we know little compared to other languages Tolkien had devised, that doesn’t mean we abandon the idea of expanding the language.

Firstly, because Khuzdul, is such an linguistic oddity in Middle-Earth, for me at least it is impossible to ignore.  And it seems, for various reasons I imagine, that many others have had that same thought and have tried to expand on the Khuzdul in one way or another.

Turbine has made an attempt in LotRO, which -though often brakes some of the basic rules of Semitic-languages (which Khuzdul has been constructed as) – it has done a pretty ok job at it.   Like others it has some Hebrew, Arabic and even Akkadian (an extinct language of the same language family) weaved in to it.  Others, like myself, have also delved deeper into Adûnaic, which should contain quite a bit of words derived from Khuzdul.

The main source for Khuzdul fanatics and those that wish to “reconstruct” the language has been linguist David Salo (apart from Tolkien himself off course). For those of you that might have never heard of the man, he is an American linguist who has done tremendous work on the languages for the LotR movies, expanding the Elvish languages (particularly Sindarin).   He was also the man that made a new form of Khuzdul (or neo-khuzdul).  Firstly, it must be said, without David Salo I would never have been able to reconstruct the language to this extent.  And let’s not forget that up until recently there were (and are still some unfortunately) a dozen different versions of neo-khuzdul out there, devised by enthusiasts… now with Salo’s expansion of the language a more uniform – and more correct – language is gradually being accepted.

As mentioned the thought to reconstructing a language such as this should always be

“Never break any of the rules devised by the author”.  Which I have never seen Salo do as I believe he has always remained true to the writings of Tolkien.

That is, until I recently was browsing the featured website of Merin Essi ar Quenteli – another grand example in my view of how Middle-Earth Network connects folks with an interest in fantasy, in a way none have done before.

I must say though, that I have had little interest in learning any Sindarin, for the simple reason that most dwarves did not speak it, nor is Khuzdul related to it in any way.  –  Mahal (Aulë) devised the language and tought the dwarves before they were laid to sleep, so before elves existed… meaning it has nothing do with any elvish whatsoever.

So, browsing the site of Dreamingfifi (which is awesome by the way) and going through some of the Sindarin lessons there, something struck me…. the Neo-khuzdul of David Salo contains many words which are surprisingly similar to Sindarin… too similar in my view even.    In a way, it isn’t all that surprising since Salo literally wrote the book on neo-Sindarin, so it is bound to happen that some influencing would occur.  The problem with this off course is that our “”Never break any of the rules devised by the author” goes out the window, as Tolkien stated the language was not related to elvish at all and changed extremely little over time.

I think I’ll be brushing up on my Sindarin in the near future and keeping a close eye on the neo-khuzdul revealed for The Hobbit, fingers crossed it will be Khuzdul with no Sindarin flavor to it 😉







About The Dwarrow Scholar

The Dwarrow Scholar first experienced the brilliance of Tolkien when he received a copy of The Hobbit from his uncle as a kid, reading it feverishly again and again. Some years on, when he got his very own walk-man (aye forget about tiny iPods, this thing was a brick and played cassette tapes) he made his own little audiotape of The Hobbit, so he could listen to it on his bike on his way to school. Between reenacting the Battle of Five armies with 4 of his school friends (still feel sorry for the kid that had to be the Orc) and before the days of internet, you would find Roy frequently in libraries trying to find all he could about Tolkien and his beloved dwarves. When Roy isn’t delving into Neo-Khuzdul or searching for lost dwarven treasures on the net he’s enjoying time with his wife and son, re-reading his tormented Tolkien paperbacks, watching a good movie, learning new languages or playing a game of LoTRO on Laurelin as Kandral Strongbeard.
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12 Responses to How “Dwarvish” is Salo’s Dwarvish ?

  1. dreamingfifi says:

    Yeah, Dwarvish is pretty much a fan creation. Tolkien did so little developing of it that the door is open to make it pretty much to whatever you can make up.

    Some conlangers base it more heavily on Hebrew, others on Primitive Elvish. It depends on the linguist, I suppose. I could see Dwarvish having a lot of borrowed Adûna, Sindarin, and Quenya terms into it. The Dwarves generally learn to speak outsiders’ languages instead of teaching others their language, which means a lot of borrowing is likely to happen. So, Salo’s version is plausible. It might be worth it to conform to it just to make some consistency in the conlang.



    • Firstly, thanks the comments and for your site, it has been very interesting to go through it. I’ve enjoyed it greatly.

      Concerning your comments. You mention that it would be best to conform to Salo’s version as it is plausible that Sindarin, Quenya and other languages were mixed up with original khuzdul overtime. I can’t agree with that and will try to explain why through Tolkiens own words. I believe it might be the other way around in fact. Adûnaic and perhaps other ones have borrowed from Khuzdul. From HoMEXII: Structurally and grammatically it differed widely from all other languages of the West at that time; though it had some features in common with Adûnaic, the ancient ‘native’ language of Númenor. This gave rise to the theory (a probable one) that in the unrecorded past some of the languages of Men – including the language of the dominant element in the Atani from which Adûnaic was derived – had been influenced by Khuzdul.
      I also can’t agree with the statement that “a lot of borrowing was likely to happen”. As Khuzdul changed extremely little compared to any form of Elvish.
      From HoMEXII:After their awakening this language (as all languages and all other things in Arda) changed in time, and divergently in the mansions that were far-sundered. But the change was so slow and the divergence so small that even in the Third Age converse between all Dwarves in their own tongue was easy. As they said, the change in Khuzdul as compared with the tongue of the Elves, and still more with those of Men, was ‘like the weathering of hard rock compared with the melting of snow.’
      Meaning that the languages spoken in the outside world and Khuzdul were kept very strictly divided indeed. So borrowing words from other languages would not have been accepted even, as Khuzdul was considered a treasure from their creator, to be kept as is.

      You do have a point that in comparison to Sindarin for instance you have more freedom to “reconstruct” the language, and indeed you will find many versions of “Khuzdul” out there that are all made up on the spot. But if you want to really “reconstruct” the language decently then that doesn’t mean that you can simply make up things as you go along. It is clear that Salo didn’t just make up things as he went along, as for most of the words he invented for Khuzdul he used Hebrew and Arabic, which is evident from its structure. Again, this is how it should be as Tolkien clearly made the language as a Semitic language. So again can’t agree that “the door is open to make it pretty much to whatever you can make up”, as you clearly need to follow the rules of the somewhat complex Semitic languages (radicals, plural patterns, declinations, affixes, etc… ). As for people using early-elvish, that would be completely incorrect and not in line with Tolkiens view on the language. If you look at the paper worth of original Tolkien material it is clear that this is what J.R.R. Tolkien himself also followed when constructing Khuzdul.

      So, to conclude -this already too long comment 🙂 – Though I love the language of Sindarin, I believe it has no place at all in neo-khuzdul, hence I will be keeping a keen eye on Salo’s new work for The Hobbit.



      • dreamingfifi says:

        Interesting! I myself am definitely not an expert on Khuzdul (only recently have I started branching out into Quenya), so thank-you for setting me straight.

        How far do you think the borrowing from Semetic language/grammar should go? The vocabulary that Tolkien provided was incredibly limited… where do you look for roots to fill the gaps? I could see that David Salo was looking to fill the gaps with something else Tolkien made (a lot of people do the same with Adûna) so he probably thought he could continue it with Khuzdul.

        I myself am keenly interested in how he’d going to handle the problem of the Woodelven dialect of Sindarin. He forgot to address it with Legolas in LotR – the AE diphthong should have been reduced to an E when Legolas was speaking: that was all we knew about the dialect at the time.


  2. Aye, a good question indeed…
    “How far do you think the borrowing from Semetic language/grammar should go?”
    I believe Salo had a good point in following the structure of semitic languages very closely, as it is evident that Tolkien did the same. So, my first choice would be to follow that structure very closely indeed. Though Hebrew has many simularities with Khuzdul, I find that khuzdul has a specific sound that Hebrew doesn’t have, and in forming new words I often look to find that sound again, while browsing in roots of Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic or even Akkadian.

    Indeed this is open to the view of the linguist, so it will never be exactly what Tolkien had in mind off course, as we’ll never know… the aim however is to make it as natural and close to it as possible.


  3. Matthew says:

    Question about Khuzdûl:

    Aulë created the dwarves, and thus probably also created their language. It has been several years since I last read HoMEXII, so I am fuzzy on this…

    But one thing that can be done is to look at inferences for which we have evidence, and apply real-world rules of Anthropology, Sociology, and Philology to the languages that developed in Middle-earth.

    Tolkien said no few times that Middle-earth was supposed to be this Earth, albeit in a distant and forgotten past.

    This means that he expected the same rules of science to apply to Middle-earth, with some slight modifications (which we needn’t go into here; they basically involve some assumptions about Magic – and I have written several posts on my own Blog on MyMiddleEarth dot com on the subject of how magic influences, or can influence the physical and social sciences in Middle-earth, and what those consequences would be given the world that we have access to).

    This means that the Dwarves, a created peoples, would have had to either been built (created) with an innate knowledge of a language that Aulë had created for them (and since his own language was Valarin, this would have influenced the creation of Khuzdûl), or they would have evolved their own language, which means that they would have gleaned words from others around them (this second possibility is very problematic, as it requires very deep time, going far beyond what is established as the age of Middle-earth, even if you accept Tolkien’s own redaction of the length of the First Age since the waking of men, as he elaborated upon in his essay on Orcs, and his essay Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth).

    So Khuzdûl is probably very related to Valarin, which itself was said to be a semitic language.

    The irony here, is that it is likely that Khuzdûl and Black Speech are also connected in some small way, as the similar relationship exists between Sauron and Orcs (Saruon didn’t create the Orcs, but he did create Black Speech – and since his native tongue was Valarin, it is likely that Black Speech would have been greatly influenced by this as well. Although Hurrian and Hittite are not exactly “Semitic” there are philological links between the two) existed as between Aulë and Dwarves.

    But this is all inferential based upon examination of real-world patterns, and upon the consequences of Tolkien’s statements & assumptions about languages as they would exist in a world with more-or-less the same rules as our own.


    • Very good point indeed! Aulë (Mahal) indeed created Khuzdul for the dwarves – it is mentioned as “the language he devised for them”.

      So the point that it would have some link with Valarin is a true one. Evidence can be see of that in the words for river or fire. Some say that Tolkien based Valarin on Babylonian (Akkadian), indeed an ancient semitic language. One of the reasons that I’ve tried to use Akkadian as much as Hebrew to find many missing roots. And looking at the structure and words of Valarin, this does seem to be the case indeed. The fact then that it is related to Black speech is also the case indeed, as itself was formed from Valarin as well.

      You’ll need to explain the link between Hurrian and Khuzdul though, as Hurrian was an ergative-agglutinative language, unrelated to neighbouring Semitic or Indo-European languages even. So don’t quite get that point there.

      My view has always been that, thousands of years after the events in the war of the ring, the last of the dwarves ended up Mountains near to Harad or Khand, and passed on their language to the men there (willing or not) lands that later became the Middle-East… hence the origins these Semitic languages would be Khuzdul..
      Just a theory off course 😉


  4. David Salo says:

    Although probably you could come up with some examples, I don’t think there are many words in my Neo-Khuzdul which are drawn from Sindarin — not consciously so, anyway. There are some Neo-Khuzdul roots which are intentionally similar to the roots of Primitive Quendian, which is to be expected since the Elves covered such a vast region of Middle-earth and were the “first speakers”; some of these borrowings appear even in Tolkien’s material: Kh. kibil “silver”, Quendian kyelepê > keleb. There are probably more which are similar to Adûnaic (again, as in Tolkien; if tharkûn means “staff-man”, the root Th-R-K resembles the T-R-K of Adûnaic târik “pillar/supporter (of)”; cf. elvish TAR “stand (tall)”. Several others draw on more or less distorted Indo-European and Proto-Germanic roots, as a nod to the “Völuspá” dwarves of The Hobbit (but consider B-R-K “axe”, which is probably a nod to Tolkien’s own Elvish PELEK “axe”, which itself is borrowed from Greek pélekus, a word of obscure origin, possibly an early borrowing into IE from some other language. Of course I exploited the existing small stock of Khuzdul words and names as best I could. And many other roots are simply made up, according to what I thought sounded good and was phonetically consistent with known Khuzdul.


    • Firstly, thanks so for visiting my blog… and taking the time for posting a reply off course, really appreciate it! We’ve since had a talk on Skype on the matter (cheers for that), which clarified a lot I believe. But for the sake of people following this blog and the comments.. a brief run down on the discussed topic:

      On the topic of Sindarin influence in neo-khuzudul I believe I should clarify that I was more talking about elvish in general (including Quenya) and not specifically Sindarin. The Silmarillion mentions that Aulë instructed the dwarves in the language he create for them, within the hour of the creation… which means the dwarves were the first to speak in fact. Though obviously they weren’t able to really use their language till after the elves arrives and they themselves were awoken. So this means that the dwarves had the bulk of their language ready to use if you will. Granted some words that dwarves were not familiar with, and perhaps more associated with elves, would have likely been loaned from Quenya into their own language. Things related to smithing, mining, mountains, beards, axes, etc… would have been in their own language and wouldn’t have been borrowed from Quenya or any other language. This is mainly what I was talking about in my post, words like “undu” (under) is the same in your neo-khuzdul as in quenya… or similar, like belkul (mighty). Off course I understand that seeing that you are a master of Quenya that you reach for that language first to construct the roots of neo-khuzdul, I’m just saying that it might be an idea to look for roots in Valarin, Hebrew or even Akkadian first perhaps. As those have a closer relationship to Khuzdul in my view.


      • Cillendor says:

        I know Aulë created their language, but as Valarin was the language of the Valar, it would make sense, I think, for at least some of the Khuzdal words to be influenced by Valarin. After all, the Valar are limited in their powers of creation to only that which is known to them and allowed for them. (That is why Melkor and Aulë couldn’t create life.) So if the Valar have a specific language at their disposal, perhaps they couldn’t so easily create another tongue that didn’t at least borrow from the old one.

        If you consider a human trying to create a language, if he only knows English then his conlang will probably mirror English very closely. The more languages he learns, the more diverse of a pool of sounds and grammar out of which he can borrow.


      • Cillendor says:

        *I know that’s not exactly why they couldn’t create life. Melkor couldn’t because he didn’t have the Flame Imperishable, but I was more referring to how Aulë created the Dwarves based on what he THOUGHT he knew of the Children of Ilúvatar, because he couldn’t just invent them without first seeing the vision of Ilúvatar.


  5. cirdan says:

    i think that the dwarves spoke in the begin valarin like the elves en after awaking making the own language. exampel Yrk (sindarin), urco (quenya), uruk (black speach), rukhas (khuzdul). like dutch it fals out of tone, sound like german, righting likes more to inglise and frisian. with old welch (waals) influence, to grammar it looke no language of naboure language exept belgium (only because it fast chancing language in 2 cencuries. most dutch cant read language out 1800.
    its logice that if dwarf develop there onw language like silimarion tels it develope must different from valarin than other language but stil look from the roots to elvish or ever other language, because the have in years before fall of doriath close relation with elf- language sindarin


    • The Silmarillion mentions clearly that Aulë taught the dwarves a language he devised from them, shortly after they were created. So I do not see why they would have spoken Valarin before that.
      They did not develop their own language, as mentioned Aulë (Mahal) made it for them. It hardly changed at all over time, as Tolkien wrote: “As they said, the change in Khuzdul as compared with the tongue of the Elves, and still more with those of Men, was ‘like the weathering of hard rock compared with the melting of snow’ ” (PM:323). I do agree that it is possible that for some words, those that were not native to dwarves and their culture, these would have taken their root from Quenya (as was spoken at the time) – words such as “rose” for instance. These would likely have been “borrowed” from Quenya and received their own Khuzdul variant. Other words that were native to what Aulë had taught them, like “axe”, “mountain”, etc… would have not been borrowed from Quenya at all as their creator gave them these words in the language he had already devised for them. An important note here, is that it was the dwarves that were the first speakers, not the Elves, as Khuzdul was spoken before Quenya was spoken (before the 7 fathers were put to sleep untill the waking of the Elves), as Aulë taught the dwarves the language he had made for them before the Elves were created.


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