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The Dwarven Patronymic Suffix -ul

Registered User

Apr 23 2018, 1:05pm

Post #1 of 9 (1840 views)
The Dwarven Patronymic Suffix -ul Can't Post

I'm looking for a Khuzdul expert to shed some light on a problem I've recently been pondering about. Surely, experts of this sort are in abundance around here.

Simply put, I want to know what kind of word "ul" is (see the picture below) and how does it work? (I use the word "word" loosely here.)

Here are my thoughts. Disclaimer: I am basing this on nothing more than speculation.

Balin and Fundin are obviously proper names. "Uzbad" is a noun in nominative and means lord. "Kazaddumu" (spelt as either one or two words) is a noun in genitive, which is denoted by the "-u" ending. With this out of the way, the only item that remains is "ul".

"Ul" could be one of the following:
  1. A suffix for forming patronyms (literally meaning son). If Balin were born somewhere in our world, he might have been Fundinson, O'Fundin, de Fundin or even Fundinovich.
  2. A variation of the inflectional morpheme for genitive. There is some similarity to the ending "-u" in the last line. Perhaps there is an exception when it comes to sentence-final genitive endings, which results in the <l> being dropped, or perhaps the <l> is added as a feature of connected speech if the next word begins in a vowel (or even just <u>).
  3. The word for son, possibly inflected, where the word order "Balin Fundin son" somehow makes sense in Khuzdul.
  4. Something else entirely, like "Fundinul" being the construct state of Fundin (Note: I got this idea after I had nearly finished the post. Google seems to like it better than the rest. Oh well, not gonna change the whole post now. :P)
I subscribe to the first theory. If Balin is Fundinul, that makes Thorin Thrainul, Thrain Throrul, Gloin Groinul etc. However, this raises more questions.

What does that make Gimli's sons? And Fili's and Kili's? And every dwarf's whose name ends in a vowel? Gimliul, Filiul and Kiliul? The two vowels together (<iu>) don't sound right to me. It's possible that I got the whole "-ul" thing wrong and it's not really "-ul", but "-nul", and if the name it's attached to happens to end in "n", one of the letters is simply eaten up (at least in spelling, pronunciation might indicate lengthening).

And what does that make Dis? (Aka what's the word for daughter.) She wouldn't simple be called "Thrainson", would she?

These are just some ramblings. Probably horribly wrong. Feel free to share your opinion even if you're not a Dwarf. :)

Grey Havens

Apr 23 2018, 1:41pm

Post #2 of 9 (1815 views)
I'm not sure ... [In reply to] Can't Post

even the experts (I'm not one) are sure about this, but regarding some of your examples (and even Tolkien's here!): remember that these Dwarf-names are really Old Norse translations, not Khuzdul, although probably you did remember, and are asking generally...

... what about any Dwarf name that might end in a vowel?


... how would Tolkien treat the same "mix" (translation plus actual element from another language) with respect to other Norse names?

[cough] I don't know Smile

But my total guess (!) regarding females, is that maybe Tolkien would employ some version of dóttir [matronymic forms aside for the moment]... although there's a description noting that we mortals can't tell male dwarves from female dwarves -- except that the women don't go to war, and seldom issue from their bowers and halls...

But then again, we mortals don't know Dwarvish in general, and maybe among Dwarves themselves ...

Anyway, was this post helpful? Tick the appropriate box:

[] no

[] wow, not in the least!

[] why did you (meaning me) post at all


Apr 23 2018, 6:56pm

Post #3 of 9 (1800 views)
It's perhaps possible to overwork this kind of thing [In reply to] Can't Post

As Elthir already pointed out, Balin's and Fundin's names are not their "real" Dwarven names, but their Westron cognomens for doing business with other folk - and of course they were adopted by the author from old Norse poetry.

Since the inscription is translated "Son of Fundin" the -ul suffix is clearly meant to convey a patronymic, as you say. But is this suffix part of Khuzdul, Tolkien's nominally-existing Dwarven language, of which almost no examples exist? Would the Dwarves apply a Khuzdul suffix to an "outer" name, on a royal tomb in a royal capital?

Well, let that go; it's in the book. But I suspect, for lack of better information, that Tolkien thought of -ul as a kind of genitive of class, best translated as -ish or -kind or -of in English. I got this thought by looking at the name he gave to the language: Khuzdul. Since Khazad is the Dwarves' name for themselves in their own language, Khuzdul seems to be a contraction of Khazadul, i.e. "Dwarf-ish" or "language of the Dwarves". Thus "Balin son of Fundin" is a loose translation of "Balin Fundinish" or "Balin of Fundin-kind". One advantage of this is it avoids the son/daughter question completely (which is in keeping with the generally unisex nature of Dwarvish society).

As to the construction of -ul on the Norse-origin names of the other Dwarves in the story, it's probably just as well that it never came up, since -ul, if it is a Khuzdul suffix, seems not to be meant to go on words that end with vowels! But in most languages, I believe, either the vowel would be elided, so Kili's son is Kilul, or a proper consonant is inserted, based on who knows what, given how little we know of the language: Kilikul? Kilizul? Kilinul?

If I knew anything whatever of Semitic languges, I suspect I'd have better ideas here; according to Tolkien, when he thought of Khuzdul at all (and that was as little as possible, it seems - unknown vistas and all that, eh?), he thought of it as being modeled on Semitic grammar and for all I know, vocabulary as well. The Norse thing was an idle choice of an idle moment, and he had to live with it but I think he didn't like it.

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Grey Havens

Apr 23 2018, 8:49pm

Post #4 of 9 (1785 views)
to make my useless post possibly clearer [In reply to] Can't Post

Kili and Fili, for example, are not Khuzdul, as I said, and are not names that existed "back then"... in other words we don't even know the Mannish forms they used among Men...

... though we can guess the Old Norse translations mean something similar to the meanings of the unknown Mannish names.

Tolkien recognized the absurdity of these translations seeming to appear on the tomb (and the Doors of Moria), but after all, these things are not photopgraphs of course, but pictures drawn by the "translator" (Tolkien) meant to give the modern reader the "feel" of things.

I think that's what Squire meant, but that's what I meant, in any case


Registered User

Apr 26 2018, 7:15pm

Post #5 of 9 (1706 views)
Overwork? Never. [In reply to] Can't Post


It never occurred to me that the names weren't Khuzdul. So, you're saying all the names of the Dwarves are actually nicknames? Fascinating.

Surely, it is beyond doubt that the language written on Balin's tomb is Khuzdul. Therefore, "-ul", whatsoever it is, is a thing in Khuzdul.

Your description of "a kind of genitive class" is precisely what I meant by "construct state". What I didn't know before I had posted (or didn't bother to check) is that Wikipedia's got a quite well fleshed out article on Khuzdul. According to it, the construct state is the state of nouns and adjectives that indicates a connection to a nearby noun in absolute state (a state without such relations). See Nouns and adjectives of Khuzdul. I love how this bypasses the problem of gender altogether.


What do you mean by "we don't even know the Mannish forms they used among Men"? These are the names they used in common speech (Khuzdul or not).

I think it's too nihilistic to treat these runes as anything else but Khuzdul proper. If we reduced them to a mere narratological device put in the book by the author (be it Tolkien as the translator or even Bilbo or Frodo as the virtual authors), this brings into question every fictional language presented by the books. What's to say they haven't made up all the languages? Although there might be something in the book to suggest you're right - I don't know - and I'd love if there is.

And your post was:

[x] None of the above. :)


Apr 26 2018, 7:38pm

Post #6 of 9 (1701 views)
"We don't even know the Mannish forms they used among Men" [In reply to] Can't Post

When Elthir said this about the Dwarves' names in The Hobbit, and subsequently in LotR, I am guessing he is referring to the bit in LotR Appendices where Tolkien says he translated the entire Red Book material from Westron into English.

Thus he judged Frodo to be a more English-appropriate form than the worthy hobbit's actual name in Westron, Froda, since masculine hobbit words tend to end in -a, and in English that connotes a feminine name. Likewise, Imladris is the Elvish name for Elrond's refuge, which translates in Westron to Karningul. Tolkien felt that to leave it so, as it appears in the hobbits' book, would make it sound too antique and remote, whereas its meaning, Rivendell, sounds as cheering and comforting in English as Karningdul and Imladris do to native speakers. He goes on and on like this (App. F: "On Translation"); you have to put up with it, or just move on.

Anyway, back to the Dwarves. Tolkien notes that the Dwarves' public names, by which they were known to other races, were given not in Westron but in the "still more northerly language of Dale", and so he translated them using not English forms to match Westron, but somewhat alien-sounding names from the Old Norse / Scandinavian epics of our own world!

I think that's what Elthir meant when he said we don't know what Fili or Kili or Gloin or Gimli, etc. were actually called by Men and Hobbits in Middle-earth.

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N.E. Brigand

Apr 27 2018, 5:52am

Post #7 of 9 (1688 views)
Right. We don't know Balin's "real" external name. [In reply to] Can't Post

As you observe, "Balin" is, in Tolkien's eventual conceit, a translation into an Old Norse form--although he hadn't thought that through when he wrote The Hobbit (and in a further twist, unlike most of the names used for Thorin and his companions, "Balin" is not an attested Old Norse name). In one of his letters or somewhere in The History of the Lord of the Rings volumes, Tolkien notes that he erred in using the translated names with the true Khuzdul on the tomb inscription.

For that matter, "Froda", a form not actually used by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings but indirectly alluded to, as you note, in Appendix F, was apparently also a translation. In the Westron dialect used in the Shire, Frodo Baggins would have been called "Maura Labingi". Again, Tolkien's coining of this name postdates "Frodo Baggins" by some years.

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Grey Havens

Apr 30 2018, 8:13pm

Post #8 of 9 (1520 views)
translations [In reply to] Can't Post


What do you mean by "we don't even know the Mannish forms they used among Men"? These are the names they used in common speech (Khuzdul or not).

Other folks have already helped out, but what I mean is that these names are Old Norse in form, and Tolkien knew Old Norse did not exist in the time of "Samwise" and "Frodo".

In Westron Sam was called Banazîr, or Ban for short. And (Appendix F "On Translation") ...

'Meriadoc was chosen to fit the fact that this character's shortened name, Kali, meant in the Westron 'jolly, gay', though it was actually an abbreviation of the now unmeaning Buckland name Kalimac.'

It would seem that "Frodo" is also considered a translation, as already noted in the thread, due to the name Maura (note the ending in -a) found in a posthumously published draft text for Appendix F.

Anyway, that's my addition here Smile


May 4 2018, 1:07pm

Post #9 of 9 (1445 views)
very interesting! [In reply to] Can't Post

Very cool post, MerlinEngine.

I also have no idea, but I would guess the same as you - "ul" has a meaning (or close to it) of "son".


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