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464Some notes on Noldorin and Sindarin past-tense verbs

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    Jul 11, 2003

      I. Eldarin past-tense formation classes:

      Since at least the publication of _The Lost Road_ in 1987, it has been
      widely recognized that the Eldarin tongues, at least as exhibited from
      the latter half of the 1930s through the publication of _The Lord of
      the Rings_, had two primary classes of past-tense verb formation, which
      we can call (using Tolkien's own terminology in "Quendi and Eldar",
      itself borrowed from Indo-European linguistics): _strong_ (indicating
      internal modification) and _weak_ (indicating modification by affixes).
      The strong past tense, which class includes chiefly basic verbs (that
      is, verbs arising directly from simple bases with verbal meaning, such
      as KAT- 'shape', BAT- 'tread', SUK- 'drink', etc.), is characterized by
      lengthening or otherwise strengthening the root syllable and suffixion
      of original final *_-ê_ (I employ the circumflex to indicate a macron).
      Within the strong past tense there are, again, two chief means of root
      strengthening: a) lengthening or fortification of the root vowel, and
      b) nasal infixion. The weak past tense, which class includes chiefly
      derived verbs (e.g., verbs formed from a root by suffixion of some
      derivational element, such as *_-tâ_, *_-yâ_, *_-â_, etc.), is
      characterized by the lack of root syllable strengthening and the
      suffixion of some past-tense marker, very often *_-nê_ These two main
      classes are neatly exemplified by the two Qenya past-tense verbs
      arising from the base ONO- 'beget' in _Etymologies_, _óne_ (strong) and
      _ontane_ (weak), the former arising directly from the base and the
      latter from the derived verb _onta-_. For Quenya of _The Lord of the
      Rings_, the same mechanisms are exemplified by the past-tense verbs
      found in Galadriel's Lament, which includes, on the one hand,
      _unduláve_ 'down-licked', where _-láve_ '-licked' is a strong
      past-tense verb formed on LAB- 'lick'; and, on the other hand, _ortane_
      'uplifted', a weak past-tense verb (in _-ne_) based on the derived verb
      _orta-_ 'raise' (cf. ORO-).

      (It is interesting to note that, like the strong past tense, the
      Eldarin present tense is characterized by strengthening of the root
      syllable, but further with suffixion of *_-â_ rather than *_-ê_; thus
      Q. _sîla_ 'shines, is shining'; while the aorist is characterized by
      the absence of strengthening and the suffixion of *_-i_; thus Q _sile_

      II. Loss of original final long *_-ê_ in Noldorin and Sindarin:

      In considering the reflexes of these past-tense formation mechanisms in
      Noldorin and Sindarin, it turns out that we can disregard the suffixion
      of original final long *_-ê_ that is found in the strong formation (all
      types) and as the last phoneme of the weak formation ending *_-nê_,
      since in the development of Noldorin and Sindarin this final vowel was
      uniformly lost without a trace. Indeed, we can only presume that it was
      part of the history of Noldorin and Sindarin past-tense verbs because
      of the evidence for them in the other Eldarin languages (chiefly
      Q(u)enya); from strictly the viewpoint of Noldorin and Sindarin, this
      original long vowel can be regarded as superfluous, and in what follows
      I have not bothered to indicate it, though for completeness it can be

      III. Metathesis of *_-tn-_ to _-nt_ in Noldorin and Sindarin:

      As in Q(u)enya, it appears that the original contact *_tn_ (such as
      that formed by the suffixion of derivative elements beginning in _n_ to
      bases ending in _t_) in Noldorin and Sindarin underwent metathesis to
      _nt_ (and then often later simply to _nn_, especially medially); as,
      for example, N _pann_ 'wide' < *_patnâ_ < PAT- (q.v.). The upshot of
      this is that it is not always able to be said with certainty whether a
      Noldorin or Sindarin past-tense formation in _-nt_ (or other nasal +
      stop cons. contact) is due to nasal infixion or to suffixion of *_-nê_
      with subsequent methathesis (the same is true of Q(u)enya as well,
      actually). Nonetheless, noting the past-tense formations in the other
      Eldarin languages (particularly Q(u)enya), it appears that basic verbs
      with past-tense in final _-nt_ or other nasal + stop combinations most
      likely arose by nasal infixion (and thus are strong), not by suffixion
      of *_-nê_, and we so assume here. But the blurring by normal
      phonological development of the actual historical development of
      past-tense forms in _-nt_ has significant consequences for Noldorin and
      Sindarin, and will be remarked upon again below.

      IV. Eldarin personless verb forms:

      From the various examples of sentences in the Eldarin tongues that
      Tolkien has supplied, it is evident that the Eldarin verb conjugations,
      at least as exhibited during the composition of _The Lord of the Rings_
      and beyond, could inflect for the person of the subject by suffixion of
      suitable pronominal endings (e.g., _hiruva-lye_ 'thou shalt find' in
      Galadriel's Lament, and _linnatho-n_ 'I will sing' in the Hymn to
      Elbereth); but it is equally clear that such personal inflection was
      not _required_, at least when an explicit subject noun or separate
      pronoun preceded the verb: thus we see _Nai elye hiruva_ 'Be it that
      even thou shalt find [it]' in Galadriel's Lament, where the emphatic
      form of the subject pronoun, _elye_ 'thou', precedes the verb; but _nai
      tiruva-nte-s i hárar_ *'be it that they will guard it, [those] who sit'
      in Cirion's Oath, with 3rd pl. subject inflexion _-nte_ preceding the
      plural subject _i hárar_. Nonetheless, personless verbs still inflect
      to agree with the number of their subjects: in Quenya, this takes the
      form of an endingless singular (_elye hiruva_ 'thou shalt find', or
      _elen síla_ 'a star shines' in Frodo's greeting to Gildor) and a plural
      in _-r_ (as, for example, in _lassi lantar_ 'leaves fall' or _yéni
      avánier_ 'years have passed away', both found in the version of
      Galadriel's Lament put into more normal word order, R:66-67).

      Because these personless forms of verbs are so frequently found in the
      corpus in conjunction with 3rd person subjects (sg. or pl.), it is
      (unfortunately) very common to find them described as: _-0_ (zero /
      endingless) 3rd pers. sg., and _-r_ 3rd pers. pl. However, strictly
      speaking, these are _not_ personal forms; they _only_ indicate
      _number_. This is demonstrated by the use of the personless forms with
      other than 3rd pers. subjects: for example, _elye hiruva_ 'thou shalt
      find" (where the subject is 2nd sg.), or _emme avatyarir_ 'we forgive'
      (where the subject is 1st. pl.; VT43:20). We can therefore refer to
      these as impersonal forms, or to avoid confusion with the term
      "impersonal" as applied to subjectless (often stative) verbs ("it is
      raining", "it is snowing", etc.), as simply personless.

      Noldorin past-tense verbs from _The Etymologies_:

      With these preliminaries in mind, let's take a look at the exemplars of
      the strong past-tense formations in Noldorin of _The Etymologies_. A
      survey turns up the following:

      Strong past I: Root vowel lengthening or A-infixion:

      †_daul_ *'concealed' (s.v. DUL- 'hide, conceal'). This is listed as a
      poetic past tense, against two derived verbs: _doelio_ / _delio_
      (*_-yâ_-verb, _doelio_ < *_dulyâ-_) and _doltha_ (*_-tâ_-verb, _-ltha-
      < *_-ltâ_). The past-tense form itself, however, shows derivation
      directly from the base, presumably by A-infixion; thus < *_daul_ by
      A-infixion < DUL-.

      _trenor_ (also _trener_) *'told' (< NAR2- 'tell, relate'). The prefix
      _tre-_ 'through' (< TER-, q.v.) is unrelated to the past-tense
      formation, which concerns only the root _-nor_. In unstressed
      word-final syllables, N _o_ can result, _inter alia_, from original
      long *_â_, which given the base form is most likely the case here; the
      lengthening of the root vowel can here be due either to A-infixion or
      to simply lengthening, as they would both produce the same result; thus
      < *_nâr_ by root vowel strengthening < NAR2-.

      Note that we find only basic verbs in this category.

      Strong past II: Nasal infixion:

      _trevant_ *'traversed' (BAT- 'tread'). Again, the prefix _tre-_
      'through' (< TER-, q.v.) is unrelated to the past-tense formation,
      leaving us with the root _-vant_. The development appears to be by
      lenition from *_bant_ < *_ba-n-t_ by nasal infixion < BAT-.

      _echant_ *'fashioned' < *_et-kat-_ (KAT- 'shape'). Tolkien's own
      etymological note shows that formation contains an original prefix
      *_et-_ (< ET- 'out, forth', q.v.), leaving us with the root *_kant_ <
      *_ka-n-t_ by nasal infixion < KAT-.

      _hant_ *'hurled' (KHAT- 'hurl') < *_ha-n-t_ by nasal infixion < KHAT-.

      _nestanc_ *'inserted' (STAK- 'split, insert'). The prefix _ne-_ *'in'
      is perhaps related to the base NÉD 'middle, centre', and/or to the
      (admittedly later) N/S word _ned_ 'in' found in "The King's Letter";
      but the root form _-stanc_ can be isolated, and explained as <
      *_sta-n-k_ by nasal infixion < *_STAK-_.

      _sunc_ *'drank' (SUK- 'drink') < *_su-n-k_ by nasal infixion < SUK-.

      _gwend_ (also_gwenn_) *'bound' (WED- 'bind') < *_we-n-d_ by nasal
      infixion < WED-.

      Note that half of this (admittedly small, but in terms of _Etymologies_
      relatively populous) class of strong, basic past-tense verbs ends in
      the combination _-nt_.

      There is in addition a smaller class of strong nasal-infixion verbs,
      which however are formed from _derived_ verbs, including:

      _lhimmint_ *'moistened' (pa.t. of _lhimmid_ 'moisten') (LINKWI- *'wet')
      < *_linkwi-n-tâ_ < *_linkwi-tâ_ < LINKWI-.

      _nimmint_ *'whitened' (pa.t. of _nimmid_ 'to whiten') (NIK-W-) <
      *_ninkwi-n-tâ_ < *_ninkwi-tâ_ < NIK-W-.

      The prevalence (within this admittedly small sample space) of strong
      pa.t. verbs (both basic and derived) formed by nasal infixion and, as a
      result of Noldorin phonological development, coming to end in _-nt_, is
      significant in light of a class of pa.t. verbs ending in _-nt_ that
      cannot be similarly explained as due to regular development; namely:

      Weak past I: Suffixion of _-nt_:

      _orthant_ *'raised' (pa.t. of _ortho_ 'raise') (ORO- 'up; rise; high')
      _asogant_ (also _sunc_) *'drank' (pa.t. of _sogo_ *'drink') (SUK-
      _tiriant_ *'watched, guarded' (pa.t. of _tiri_ or _tirio_) (TIR-
      'watch, guard')
      _gwedhant_ *'bound' (pa.t. of _gwedi_) (WED- 'bind')

      (* The apparent prefix _a-_ of _asogant_ is problematic, but for our
      purposes irrelevant, since we are concerned only with the root *_suk-_
      and its extension.)

      These past-tense verbs _appear_ to have been derived by nasal-infixion
      from earlier forms in *_-tâ_, _themselves_ formed on _already_
      derivative stems (sc., *_ortâ-n-tâ_, *_sukâ-n-tâ_, *_tiryâ-n-tâ_,
      *_wedâ-n-tâ_), and thus to be _doubly_ derivative; but there is aside
      from these forms no evidence whatsoever for such double-derivative verb
      forms in any of the Eldarin tongues. How to account for this?

      The answer appears to be that the _-nt_ ending of the past-tense of
      these verbs is _not_ historical, but instead was extended to this class
      of verbs by analogy with the (relatively) frequent strong KAT-type
      verbs and derived verbs in _-itâ_ exhibiting _-nt_ by regular
      phonological development.* A significant motivation for this analogical
      extension might have had to do with the results of the means of
      past-tense formation that, based on the parallel development in
      Q(u)enya, would be expected to have been applied to weak verbs, namely
      suffixion of *_-nê_; e.g., *_ortâ-nê_ > N *_orthon_, *_tiryâ-nê_ > N
      *_tirion_, etc., which look like 1st pers. sg. present-tense verbs (cf.
      N/S _linnon_ 'I sing', III:354). (It should be noted that _asogant_ and
      _gwedhant_ are not necessarily derivative verbs (i.e., historically
      formed from stems *_suk-â_, _wed-â_), but instead may be formed
      directly from basic stems, *_suk-_ and *_wed-_, with the past-tense
      ending _-ant_ arising, like simple _-nt_, by analogy with the _-ant_
      found in the past-tense of basic, KAT-type verbs.)

      (* Historically, strong past-tense verbs were probably even more
      frequent in the Eldarin tongues than they came to be by the period
      present to _The Etymologies_, just as strong verbs in English, such as
      "stride / strode", "think / thought", "buy / bought", etc., are
      remnants of a once much more populous class of past-tense verb
      formation, and shrinking remnants at that (again, just as in English),
      as indicated by the poetic status of _daul_, and the several coexistent
      (and most likely later) strong and weak past-tense forms of verbs, such
      as weak _gwedhant_ (which Tolkien notes was a later form) against
      (original) strong _gwend_ / _gwenn_ (cf. English present tense "shine"
      vs. coexistent pa.t. "shone" and "shined", where "shone" is the older
      and historically correct form, but is now considered quaint-sounding).

      So much for Noldorin of _The Etymologies_, save for a small number of
      other past-tense verbs that possibly or apparently employ other
      mechanisms, differing in detail if not in spirit: namely _drammen_
      (also †_dramp_), pa.t. of _dravo_ 'to hew' < DARÁM- 'beat, hew';
      _hennin_, pa.t. of _hedi_ < KHAT- 'hurl'; _dammint_, pa.t. of _damna-_
      'to hammer' < NDAM- 'hammer, beat'; and _mudas_, pa.t. of _mudo_
      *'labour, toil' < MÔ-. (It should be noted that if _drammen_ is in fact
      a 1st pers. sg. form, _dramme-n_ 'I hewed', as has been suggested by,
      e.g., Helge Fauskanger, the apparent stem *_dramme-_ would in fact be a
      typical strong, nasal-infix formation, i.e., < *_dra-m-m-ê-_.)

      But it is interesting to note that even the small corpus of Sindarin
      verbs found in _The Lord of the Rings_ exhibits of all three of the
      chief mechanisms of past-tense formation that we have identified for
      Noldorin; thus:

      Strong past I: Root vowel lengthening or A-infixion:

      _óne-n_ 'I gave' < *_ân-ê_ (LR:1036, probably derived from ANA1-
      *'give'; note that the long initial _ó_ of the verb is in accordance
      with the earliest editions and printings of _The Lord of the Rings; in
      later printings, the accent was dropped -- according to Douglas
      Anderson, most likely inadvertently).

      Strong past II: Nasal infixion:

      _echant_ 'made' (in the phrase "_Im, Narvi, echant_", 'I, Narvi, made',
      LR:298), presumably like the Noldorin verb < *_et-kant_ < *_et-ka-n-t_
      by nasal infixion < KAT-.

      Weak past I: Suffixion of _-nt_:

      _teithant_ 'drew' (in the phrase "_Celebrimbor ... teithant_"
      'Celebrimbor ... drew', LR:298), as though < *_tek-tâ-n-tâ_, but
      actually an analogical past-tense in _-nt_.

      I conclude this survey with a few resultant observations on the
      treatment and analysis of Noldorin and Sindarin past-tense verbs by
      Helge Fauskanger, in his articles "Sindarin - the Noble Tongue"
      <http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/sindarin.htm> and "Reconstructing the
      Sindarin Verb Conjugation"
      <http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/sverb-rec.htm> on his "Ardalambion" web

      A. The use and status of evidence:

      It is to be remarked that Fauskanger's treatment of the Sindarin verb
      (by which he evidently means, Sindarin as exemplified in and after _The
      Lord of the Rings_, and those parts of the evidence for Noldorin verbs
      that he judges to be consistent with his notions of Sindarin) makes _no
      mention_ of fully one fourth of the actual Noldorin past-tense forms
      given in _The Etymologies_; and moreover provides two lists of
      "Sindarin" past-tense verb forms -- one of basic verbs that he calls
      "3rd person singular" (without support, see below); and another which
      he calls "mixed conjugation", extrapolated on the basis of a _single_
      past-tense form *_dram_, which _itself_ is an unattested hypothetical
      form -- in which there is only _one_ actual, authentic, attested
      past-tense verb-form listed, the rest being entirely hypothetical forms
      constructed by Fauskanger himself.

      B. So-called "3rd pers. sg." past-tense verbs:

      Throughout these two articles, Fauskanger repeatedly refers to
      past-tense verbs in _-nt_ as "3rd pers. sg." (in some cases
      "transparently" so). In light of this, it is noteworthy that _none_ of
      the Noldorin verbs of this form found in _Etymologies" is translated
      with specifically 3rd-person sg. glosses; short of an explicit
      statement by Tolkien that all Noldorin past-tense verbs in _-nt_ are
      specifically 3rd pers. sg., there is in fact no way to prove what
      Fauskanger silently asserts. In fact, given what we know about
      personless verb forms in the Eldarin tongues (see the Preliminaries
      above), and based on the evidence we actually have, it is far more
      likely that these forms are singular personless forms, and therefore
      would be used in any case where an explicit, singular subject precedes
      the verb. Indeed, the same holds true of the Sindarin past-tense verbs
      in _-nt_, for although _teithant_ is indeed used by Tolkien with a 3rd
      pers. sg. subject (_Celebrimbor ... teithant_ 'Celebrimbor ... drew'),
      this does not _in itself_ necessarily preclude its possible usage as a
      personless verb with 1st and 2nd person subjects, any more than the use
      of endingless present-tense verbs in Quenya with 3rd pers. sg. subjects
      precludes their use with other singular persons, such as in _elye
      hiruva_ 'thou shalt find" (where the subject is 2nd sg.). Indeed,
      another such verb, _echant_, is used by Tolkien with a 1st pers. sg.
      subject, and translated as such: _Im, Narvi, ... echant_ 'I, Narvi, ...
      made'. (This assumes, of course, that _im_ is in fact a 1st pers. sg.
      pronoun, and not, say, a reflexive form ('myself') that acts
      grammatically as 3rd pers. sg. -- and its use in "Lúthien's Song" with
      an explicitly 1st pers. sg. present tense verb: _le linnon im Tinúviel_
      *'to thee I sing, I, the Nightingale' (III:354) may argue against its
      being 3rd pers. But again, even if it is regarded as 3rd pers., the
      mere fact that the two examples we have of Sindarin past-tense verbs in
      _-nt_ happen to occur with 3rd pers. sg. subjects does _not_
      necessarily preclude its usage with other singular persons.)

      C. Coexistence vs. "replacement":

      In his article "Sindarin - the Noble Tongue", Fauskanger asserts that
      the strong past-tense form _gwend_ / _gwenn_ "was later replaced by
      _gwedhant_", and that _gwend_ / _gwenn_ "had come to be regarded as
      archaic or poetic". There is nothing in Tolkien's statement about these
      verb forms to suggest any such "replacement" or "archaism". It is not
      uncommon for strong and weak forms of past-tense verbs to coexist (see
      the Eldarin and English examples above), and the unsupported assertion
      that one form "replaced" the other seems an unjustifiable attempt to
      remove a feature shared by "real" languages from Tolkien's

      D. A so-called "totally abnormal", "unjustifiable" past-tense verb:

      In his article titled "Reconstructing the Sindarin Verb Conjugation",
      Fauskanger calls the Noldorin past-tense verb _mudas_ *'laboured,
      toiled' (pa.t. of _mudo_, < MÔ-) "totally abnormal" and asserts that
      "Nowhere in the entire published Tolkien-linguistic corpus is there any
      past tense formation even resembling this, nor any hint of how such a
      past tense form could possibly be historically justified." I would
      direct Fauskanger's attention to the information on the Noldorin verb
      found in the "Early Noldorin Grammar" published in _Parma Eldalamberon_
      13 (in particular, pp. 126-32), wherein we find numerous examples of
      past-tense verbs in _-th-_; this is not so very far removed from the
      _-s_ of _mudas_. In any event, simply because most derived verbs found
      in the Noldorin of _The Etymologies_ came by phonology or analogy to
      form their past tense in _-nt_ in no way precludes the use and survival
      of other past-tense formants, such as _-s_, besides (analogical) _-nt_
      or (historical) suffixion of *_-nê_. Again, Fauskanger's
      characterization of other, less prevalent means of derivation as
      aberrations that should be ignored is an assertion of his own notions
      of the shape, mechanisms, "regularity", and history of Tolkien's
      languages over the actual evidence of the corpus, and thus of Tolkien's
      own notions.

      =========================================================================================Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org

      ho bios brachys, he de techne makre.
      Ars longa, vita brevis.
      The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
      "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take such
      a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."
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