In 'The Fellowship of the Ring', LR book II, chapter 2 'The Council of
Elrond' we learn the Sindarin name of Tom Bombadil from Elrond's mouth: "Iarwain
Ben-adar we called him, oldest and fatherless".
"Ben-adar" is evidently "without-father", and the first element must be
related to the PQ stem *PEN "lack, be without" that Tolkien refers to in X:375.
Hence we have a prefix or a preposition _pen_ "without", and the whole phrase
_pen-adar_ is taken as an epithet adjective "fatherless", with usual lenition.
But _Iarwain_ is trickier.
Helge K. Fauskanger propounds in his article "Sindarin - the Noble Tongue" on
that it is a
superlative as Elrond's comment - which is plainly a gloss - suggests. I shall quote
a brief extract.
....... It so happens that we may also have the superlative form of _iaur_
"old"; during the Council of Elrond, the Sindarin name of Tom Bombadil was given
as _Iarwain_, meaning "Eldest". The ending _-wain_ would seem to be the
superlative suffix. Why not _*Iorwain_, with the normal monophthongization au > o?
(David Salo answers, "Because you are looking at the direct descendant of a
form like _*Yarwanya_ (perhaps, I am not sure of the exact form of the final
element) in which the vowel was in a closed syllable." I don't feel much wiser,
but then I am not so deep into Eldarin phonology as David is.) .......
Indeed, both Quenya and Old Noldorin show no long vowels before consonant
clusters, and this restriction may well go back to the earliest stages;
reconstructions of primitive words by Tolkien obey this rule, it is certainly active in
Q and must have been at an early stage of S: compare _nár_ "fire, flame"
(S:435, V:374) and _Nárie_ "June = sunny, fiery" with _Narquelie_ "October =
fire-fading" (LR App. D) and _Narsil_, the name of Elendil's sword (LR passim,
S/435, Letters:426 n° 347), and in S _naur_ "fire, flame" (LR book II ch. 4,
S:435, V:374) and _Nórui_ "June = sunny, fiery" (LR App. D) with _Narbeleth_
"October = fire-fading" (LR App. D), where the alternation au / ó vs. a reflects an
earlier â vs. a.
In S however, a name like _Círdan_ shows this rule is no longer active, so
_Iarwain_ must be an old word, indeed almost a linguistic fossil. It is also
suggested by the alternation which displays a shift in quality as well as in
quantity, mirroring the change of â > open ô characteristic of the S branch and
that must have occurred early. In the conceptually earlier Noldorin, it was
generally completed already at the Old Noldorin stage as seen in the Etymologies.
For one thing, it implies that deriving a *living* superlative suffix _-wain_
from Iarwain is venturesome; we have no proof that it would be still
productive. But as a matter of fact I wonder if _Iarwain_ is a superlative at all...
Actually there is an exactly parallel situation in Narwain "new-fire = January"
vs. naur "flame", which suggest that _-wain_ is more a form of "new" than a
superlative suffix. We have what seems to be a perfect cognate of the S month
name in the Q _Narvinye_.
(Side-note: For historical reasons this cannot be a true common inheritance
from CE: there were neither Sun nor Moon yet in Middle-Earth during the Great
March, so the Eldar cannot have reckoned time in days and months as they were
to do later. More probably the name was coined in parallel in the two languages
by the Noldor: they may have imagined a Q name, then reconstructed what its
CE ancestor would have been, and finally deduced the S form, a bit like what
they did for personal names. Thus, even if historically there was no CE ancestor
of the Q and S names of January, linguistically it is as if there had been
Hence, in my opinion, _Iarwain_ would rather come from an old copulative
compound _*jarwinjâ_ made of the primitive words _*jârâ_ "old" (Q _yára_, S
_iaur_; S:433, UT:384, V:358, 399) and _*winjâ_ "new" (Q _vinya_, S _#gwain_; LR
App. D, UT:176, X:67, see also V:399 for similar words with a different meaning
in earlier conceptions of Tolkien), with the vowel shortening I alluded to
above. What would be its meaning? Well, "old-new" could be a way to say "ageless",
which is exactly what Bombadil is, and not too far from "oldest", a
side-sense that could have developed in Sindarin - unless Elrond's gloss was only an
(Side note: I used the treble # to mark that the S word is deduced, it does
not actually occur isolated)
Language has both strengthened imagination and been freed by it. Who shall
say whether the free adjective has created images bizarre and beautiful, or the
adjective been freed by strange and beautiful pictures in the mind ? - J.R.R.
Tolkien, A Secret Vice
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