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1142Re: [Lambengolmor] Similarities between Elvish and real-world languages

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  • David Kiltz
    Dec 3, 2013
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      In two earlier posts ("Similarities between Elvish and real-world languages"<http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/lambengolmor/conversations/messages/388>  and "Some remarks on _loikolíkuma_"<http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/lambengolmor/conversations/messages/772>),
      I talked about Elvish words having a striking resemblance to "real-world" languages. There may be various reasons for this. However, in some cases, notably (although not exclusively) where often archaic or otherwise marked Germanic words are concerned, one may think of deliberate etymological punning or, at least, allusions on the part of J.R.R. Tolkien.

      One such instance, I would suggest, is the root PHIR- (cf. Etym.) and its derivatives. We find, amongst others, Q _fir-_ 'to expire, die' with nominal derivatives _fire_ (Etym.) 'mortal man', *PHIRI (XI:387), _F/firya_ 'mortal, human (ibid.), _fírima_ 'apt to die, mortal_ (ibid.). This is used as an Elvish expression for humans as 'mortals', i.e. those that die just by 'expiring'.

      These words bear a remarkable resemblance to ONo. _fírar_, OE _fíras_ (both only in the plural) 'humans, men'. For the OE cf. e.g. _f^yra (= fîra) gehwylcne lêoda mînra_ 'all members ('men') of my tribe' (accusative). OHG _firiha_ with the same meaning 'people, humans, men' is related. The word is most probably to be connected with Goth. _fairhvus_ 'world' (translating Greek _kósmos_), ONo. _fjor_, OE _feorh_, OHG _ferah_, the latter three all meaning 'life, being alive' and hence also 'inner life, soul, life-force'. Intriguingly, these words are apparently connected with IE _*perqu-_ (_*perkᵂu-_) 'oak' or other big tree. This is not the place to go into the specifics of the Germanic derivation. It may be of interest, however, to find an Elvish word closely resembling both in form and meaning words in Germanic languages, which clearly belong to an archaic, poetic register. Interestingly, whereas the Germanic semantics seem to be 'having life, life-force', the Elvish word is explained as 'exhale, expire, breathe out', only later applied to human death, cf. XI:387 with note 20.

      What exactly Tolkien thought of the connection remains unclear; it is, however, part of the intellectual richness of his work.

      -David Kiltz

      [Patrick Wynne and I also noted the similarity of PHIR- to OE _firas_ and various I.E. cognates (and potential cognates) in an installment of "Words and Devices" in _Vinyar Tengwar_ 20 (pp. 15ff., q.v.) — CFH]
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