Kalevala & Qenya
- Occasional discussion here of the nature of the influence of Finnish
on Qenya eventually led me to my university library to reconsult
their copy of the first edition of W. F. Kirby's translation of the
Kalevala (_K., The Land of Heroes_, 1907). Kirby's own introduction
to his translation (unfortunately replaced in 1951 with a much more
cursory introduction by J. B. C. Grundy) contains information that
must surely have been of great interest to Tolkien, especially an
excerpt given there from the original Finnish version of Runo VIII
I think it is worth quoting the beginning of this excerpt here, since
it may well be the first Finnish text that Tolkien ever encountered.
I give Kirby's rendering interlinearly, since it is from this that
Tolkien would have had to infer most of what he could (at that time)
about the language in the poem.
Tuo oli kaunis Pohjan neiti,
Lovely was the maid of Pohja,
Maan kuulu, ve'en valio,
Famed on land, on water peerless,
Istui ilman wempelellä,
On the arch of air high-seated,
Taivon kaarella kajotti
Brightly shining on the rainbow,
Clad in robes of dazzling lustre,
Clad in raiment white and shining.
There she wove a golden fabric,
Interwoven all with silver,
And her shuttle was all golden,
And her comb was all of silver.
Some previously suggested sources for Q. words (and grammatical
devices) are prominent here, such as _ilma_ 'air', proposed as the
inspiration for such names as Q _Ilmen_ 'region of the stars' and
_Ilmarin_ (see e.g.
http://www.sci.fi/%7ealboin/finn_que.htm#names ). If we trace the
first component of these names back to its conceptual origins we find
two associated roots in QL: ILI 'shine oily', with derivatives such
as _ilin_ 'milk', _ilma_ 'oil' and _ilqa_ 'oily, smooth, glossy'; and
ILU 'ether, the slender airs among the stars', with derivatives
including _Iluuvatar_ (uu = u-macron) 'Heavenly Father', _ilwe_ 'sky,
heavens, the blue air that is about the stars' and two words
for 'rainbow', _iluqinga_ and _ilweranta_.
The last item seems to corroborate that Tolkien had this Finnish
passage in mind when devising these words, since its second component
is _ranta_ 'arch, bridge', and the Finnish phrase _ilman
wempelellä_ "on the arch of air" is a metaphoric equivalent of "on
the rainbow" in the next line. The conception of the rainbow as a
bridge in the sky capable of supporting the weight at least of
mythical beings is of course not unique to this mythology. But
describing the rainbow as an "arch of air" is vividly suggestive of
the idea that air is a colored or shining substance. And this seems
to be expressed in the Qenya notion of _ilwe_, especially in its
connection with _ilin_ 'milk' and _ilma_ 'oil' as smooth, glossy
Another prominent image in this Kalevala excerpt is that describing
how the maid _kultakangasta kutovi_ "wove a golden fabric". It has
been suggested that Finnish _kulta_ may have inspired the Q. words in
_kul-_ for 'gold', 'orange', etc. (see e.g.
http://www.sci.fi/%7ealboin/finn_que.htm#etymologies ). QL has an
assortment of related words including the basic _kulu_ 'gold', and
the adjective _kuluva_ 'of gold' with a variant form _kululta_, which
is certainly evocative of the Finnish form.
If we allow that the Germanic cognates of English _gold_, especially
Gothic _gulth_, were also part of the original inspiration for the Q.
root KULU, then I think the proposed Finnish influence likely to be
valid. And the occurrence of the Finnish _kulta_ in the Kalevala
excerpt in a compound with _kangas_ 'fabric' seems to corroborate
this, since the latter is surely the inspiration for QL root KANGA-
'weave', with such derivatives as _kangin_ 'I weave, spin' and
_kangale_ 'a web'.
Among the grammatical devices exemplified in the Kalevala excerpt,
the genitive ending _-n_ occurs several times: _Pohjan_ "of Pohja";
_maan_ "on land"; _ve'en_ "on sea"; _ilman_ "of air". A grammatical
ending similar to this is implied by an etymological comparison made
in the Gnomish Grammar between the Gnomish genitive-ablative case
ending _-n_ and a Qenya ending _-n_ (Parma Eldalamberon 11, p. 10).
An example is also given there of this Q. ending being used for the
genitive of "reference" in _nostalen maara_ (aa = a-macron) 'good by
nature'. QL _san_ 'then, at that time', derived from
the "demonstrative" root SA-, may contain this suffix. Its sense of
delimiting in time is rather close to that of the Finnish genitives
delimiting in space, in _ maan kuulu, ve'en valio_ "famed on land, on
A final curious feature to note in the Kalevala excerpt is the
occurrence of two words beginning with _w_ (wempelellä, walkeissa)
alongside three beginning with _v_ (ve'en, valio, vaattehissa). This
distinction is not usually made in Finnish texts of the Kalevala (see
http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/kvfin/08.htm ), and my understanding
is that both _w_ and _v_ represent the same sound here. But I don't
know if the difference in spelling was intended to reflect an
etymological distinction, or whether the difference occurs in the
edition of the Kalevala that Kirby used (which he does not
identify)? Of course the difference could have contributed to
Tolkien's conception of early Q. with words beginning in _w_ and in
_v_, whether or not it reflects a distinction in the actual history
Christopher Gilson wrote an fascinating essay on Kalevala influence in
Tolkien's early Qenya. Among other things, he noted the apparent
relationship between F. kulta_ and the Qenya words associated with
> If we allow that the Germanic cognates of English _gold_, especiallyI agree. A further twist is added by the fact that the Finnish word is
> Gothic _gulth_, were also part of the original inspiration for the Q.
> root KULU, then I think the proposed Finnish influence likely to be
one of the numerous loans into Finnish from very early Germanic, such as
_rengas_ < *_xrengaz_ 'ring' and _kuningas_ < *_kuningaz_ 'king', the
latter not infrequently also occurring in the Kalevala. Tolkien would
certainly have known this, and he might have encountered this particular
word even before the _Kalevala_, as I imagine these Finnish loans would
be mentioned in Germanic philology courses. By the way, we might hazard
a very, very, very cautious guess that _rengas_, which is also a
standard example of this Germanic-Finnic interaction, could be an
influence (I am wary of the word 'source') for some Qenya words, which
are to be found in PE12:80 s.v. RINI-. While _rin (nd-)_ 'year, circle',
has a rather distant relationship to _rengas_ in form, it certainly has
a similar meaning. The words _rinkalenda_ 'anniversary', _rinko (o)_
'disc, circle, orb'_, and the erased _rinku (û)_ 'Orb of the Moon', also
mentioned in PME in a different form, show a closer affinity. Still, the
inspiration is not as likely as in the case of _kulta_, and _rengas_ is
not met in the Kalevala. Still, while not very likely, the link is not
> Among the grammatical devices exemplified in the Kalevala excerpt,As the editors mention in PE12:xii, the word is also found in Qenya,
> the genitive ending _-n_ occurs several times: _Pohjan_ "of Pohja";
PE12:74 s.v.PO- listing _pôya_, untranslated but presumably 'northern'
or at least connected with North.
> But I don't know if the difference in spelling between _w_ andAs far as I know, it is a purely orthographic convention. I'd imagine
> _v_ was intended to reflect an
> etymological distinction
Early Modern Finnish would have a vacillation between 'w' and 'v' for
[v]. Contemporary Swedish did, as far as remember.
Thanks again, Christopher!
Pavel Iosad pavel_iosad@...
Nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth
- Pavel Iosad <edricson@...> wrote:
> As far as I know, it is a purely orthographic convention. I'd imagine EarlyActually, in books printed in Gothic (Blackletter) style, 'w' was the norm in Swedish,
> Modern Finnish would have a vacillation between 'w' and 'v' for [v]. Contemporary
> Swedish did, as far as remember."
like it still is in German and Polish. In books printed in Antiqua (Round letter) style,
as well as loan words from French, Latin, English, 'v' was the norm.
Now, back to Qenya, the sooner the better.
Hans Georg Lundahl
Höstrusk och grå moln - köp en resa till solen på Yahoo! Resor
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Pavel Iosad wrote:
"A further twist is added by the fact that the Finnish word
[_kulta_ 'gold'] is one of the numerous loans into Finnish from very
early Germanic, such as _rengas_ < *_xrengaz_ 'ring' and _kuningas_ <
*_kuningaz_ 'king', the latter not infrequently also occurring in the
Kalevala. Tolkien would certainly have known this, and he might have
encountered this particular word even before the _Kalevala_, as I
imagine these Finnish loans would be mentioned in Germanic philology
This does seem like something Tolkien would have learned about while
at Oxford; so the sequence of events is worth bearing in mind. His
original course of study was in the Classics, and what he was
learning as a pupil of Joseph Wright in 1912 were "the elements of
Greek philology" (Biography, chap. 5). After taking his Honour
Moderations exam in 1913, he was advised to switch his studies to the
English school, where he took up Old Norse as his special subject
(Bio. chap. 6). So the instruction Tolkien received in Germanic
philology would have been primarily between 1913 and 1915.
Tolkien had read Kirby's translation of the Kalevala probably during
his last year at King Edward's. He may still have been hoping to
find a Finnish edition of the poem when he discovered that the
library at Exeter College had a copy of C. N. E. Eliot's _Finnish
Grammar_, soon after arriving at Oxford in 1911 (see
http://www.elvish.org/resources.html#TolkienInfluence_anchor ). He
clearly studied this grammar in great detail, and presumably worked
through the longer excerpts from the Kalevala that are included at
the end of the book (Runo XXXVI, lines 319-346; XVI, 151-384; and XL,
Incidentally, the first of these excerpts is the account of
Kullervo's death, and includes the words _terävä_ 'sharp' and
_lapsi_ 'child', the proposed inspiration for Q _tereva_ 'piercing,
acute, shrill, sharp' (QL) and _lapse_ ' babe' (Etym.). The third
excerpt is about the invention of the harp, and includes
the word _kantelo_ (a variant of _kantele_ 'harp'), clearly
contributing to QL _kantl 'a large harp' (<< _kantil_ 'a small harp')
and _kantele_ 'harping, (repetition)'; though I think the partial
homophony with Latin _cantare_ 'to sing, chant' and its cognates may
have contributed to Tolkien's adaptation of this Finnish word.
[Pavel:] "By the way, we might hazard a very, very, very cautious
guess that _rengas_, which is also a standard example of this
Germanic-Finnic interaction, could be an influence (I am wary of the
word 'source') for some Qenya words, which are to be found in PE12:80
s.v. RINI-. While _rin (nd-)_ 'year, circle', has a rather distant
relationship to _rengas_ in form, it certainly has a similar meaning.
The words _rinkalenda_ 'anniversary', _rinko (o)_ 'disc, circle,
orb'_, and the erased _rinku (û)_ 'Orb of the Moon', also
mentioned in PME in a different form, show a closer affinity."
The other side of this Germanic-Finnish connection is also worth
considering. The Old English cognate is _hring_ 'ring, circle,
cycle, orb' and the Old Norse _hringr_ 'ring, circle', words Tolkien
would have encountered when first learning and reading in these
languages while still at King Edward's. A cognate is not attested in
Gothic, a lack that would have attracted Tolkien's attention, during
the period when he was filling in the gaps in the Gothic lexicon through
comparative extrapolation, using what he had learned from reading
Wright's _Primer of the Gothic Language_ around 1908 or 1909. From
the OE & ON cognates Primitive Germanic *_xringaz_ could be inferred,
and Gothic *_hriggs_.
But I also agree with Pavel that in this case we should be cautious.
If the ultimate motive behind an external influence on Qenya is the
appeal of a particular association of sound and sense embodied in the
form that inspires it, then we may not need to look further than
modern English _ring_ for Tolkien's source, since this is just as
close in sound to the Qenya forms _rin_, _rinko_, etc., as OE
_hring_, ON _hringr_ or Finnish _rengas_.
Of course this group does display other influences. Thus the second
component of _rinkalenda_ is _kalenda_ 'of the day; daily', which
occurs under the root KALA 'shine golden' alongside _kalende_ 'a
special day, festival'. The last seems clearly inspired by Latin
_kalendae_, the term for the first day of the month, though the KALA
words may also have been influenced by Latin _calere_ 'be warm or
hot, glow', and its relatives. The second element of _rinku_ is
_kuu_ (uu == u-macron) 'Crescent Moon', presumably inspired by Finnish
_kuu_ 'moon'. This is another word Tolkien could have learned from
Kirby's translation of the Kalevala, since _Kuutar_ 'the Daughter of
the Moon' is translated there in a list of proper names at the end of
This rather nicely illustrates just a few of the multiple layers of
inspiration that were integrated in Qenya already when it was
documented in QL. It is fascinating to peel back some of those
layers and possibly glimpse what affected Tolkien during the years
before this, when we know he was already continually inventing based
on the many languages he encountered.