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Sanskrit traits in Adûnaic

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  • BertrandBellet75@aol.com
    It is universally recognised, by Tolkien himself to begin with (through Lowdham s pen), that the triconsonantal structure of Adûnaic bases was inspired by
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 2005
      It is universally recognised, by Tolkien himself to begin with (through
      Lowdham's pen), that the triconsonantal structure of Ad�naic bases was
      inspired by Semitic languages. The vowel system and its use in
      morphology is however said to be different: "The vocalic arrangements
      within the base, however, do not much resemble Semitic; neither does
      Adunaic show anything strictly comparable to the 'gradation' of languages
      familiar to us, such as the _e/o_ variation in the Indo-European group.
      In an Adunaic Base there is a Characteristic Vowel (CV) which shares with
      the consonants in characterizing or identifying the Base. (...) The CV may,
      however, be modified in certain recognized ways (described below under
      the Vowels) which can produce effects not unlike those of gradation"

      Browsing through a book about ancient languages, I recently came
      across a brief sketch of Sanskrit structure, and was struck by
      similarities with Ad�naic in the matter of vowel gradation (== apophony,
      ablaut). I do not remember that Sanskrit had been mentioned yet as
      a possible inspiration for Ad�naic in a developed way.

      The usual Sanskrit transcription makes use of diacritics not supported
      by ASCII, which may be problematic in emails, so I will use instead the
      Harvard-Kyoto Convention; a description is available on Wikipedia
      <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard-Kyoto>. I am not a Sanskritist
      at all; if there are errors, I will be happy to be corrected.

      Ad�naic as described in Lowdham's report makes a threefold vowel
      length distinction: short, long and overlong. In the source, macrons
      are used for long vowels and circumflexes for overlong ones, while
      short vowels are unmarked. Since macrons too may cause problems
      in emails, I will simply double the vowel when long and reserve the
      circumflex for overlong vowels.


      The Ad�naic vowel gradations are of two kinds: the CV can be
      lengthened, or modified by a-infixion or "fortification". (Nasal
      infixion is also possible). The apophonic series are presented so
      in XI:425:

      Basic A: a - aa - �
      Basic I: i - ii - �; ee - �i
      Basic U: u - uu - �; oo - �u

      Sanskrit morphology makes much use of vowel gradation, which
      it inherited and modified from Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Three
      grades are recognised; Western terminology calls them reduced,
      full and long. Traditional Sanskrit grammar sees the reduced grade
      as basic and describes the other grades as successive addition of
      _a_: a first addition gives the guNa grade, a second addition gives
      the vRddhi grade. This gives the following alternations
      (reduced - full - long):

      Basic nil: nil - a - A
      Basic i: i - e - ai (before a consonant); y - ay - Ay (before a vowel)
      Basic u: u - o - au (before a consonant); v - av - Av (before a vowel)
      Basic R: R - ar - Ar (before a consonant); r - ar - Ar (before a vowel)

      Here follow a few examples (the root with its apophonic vowel is
      surrounded by asterisks):

      Reduced grade:
      pa*pt*uH "they flew"
      *vid*maH "we know"
      *rud*ita- "wept" (past participle)
      va*vRt*uH "they turned"

      Full grade:
      *pat*ati "he, she, it flies"
      *ved*mi "I know"
      *rod*itum "to weep"
      *vart*ate "he, she, it turns"

      Long grade:
      *pAt*a- "flight"
      *vaid*ya- "learned"
      a*raud*iSIt "he, she, it wept"
      *vArt*tA- "profession"

      The successive additions of _a_ described by traditional Sanskrit
      grammar are very like the fortification of Ad�naic. In both languages,
      _e_ and _o_, which exist in long varieties only, pattern as the
      diphthongs they earlier were -- this is very apparent in the contrast
      between preconsonantal and prevocalic treatment in Sanskrit
      (Sanskrit _e, o, ai, au_ < Indo-Iranian _ai, au, �i, �u_).

      It can be noted that if the vowel gradations of Ad�naic resemble
      Sanskrit (or better, Indo-Iranian), they are quite different to the PIE
      patterns, explaining Lowdham's words that "neither does Adunaic
      show anything strictly comparable to the 'gradation' of languages
      familiar to us, such as the _e/o_ variation in the Indo-European group".
      Beside variations in vowel quantity (quantitative ablaut), PIE extensively
      used variation between the qualities _e_ and _o_ (qualitative ablaut)
      -- the typical alternations were between e - o - nil (_e_ and _o_ being
      short). Long grades in _�_ and _�_ existed but their use was quite
      restricted. In the Indo-Iranian branch branch of Indo-European, this
      system was profoundly altered because _e_ and _o_ (short or long)
      merged in _a_ (short or long); qualitative ablaut became prominent
      and was much expanded (notably by a change of _o_ > _�_ in certain

      It is also interesting that nasal infixion is reconstructed as a
      morphological feature of PIE; there is a class of verbs with nasal
      infixes / suffixes in Sanskrit.


      Another similarity between Ad�naic and Sanskrit is the use of the
      elliptical dual: in a conventionally paired opposition of terms, one
      in the dual can represent both elements. �douard Kloczko already
      pointed out this similarity (pg. 104 of his _Dictionnaire des langues
      des hobbits, des nains, des orques_. Argenteuil [France]: Arda, 2002.
      179 p. ISBN 2-911979-04-4). Lowdham provides us with the Ad�naic
      example _uuriyat_ "the two suns" == Sun and Moon (IX:428). Sanskrit
      examples include:

      dyAvA "the two heavens" == heaven and earth
      mAtarA "the two mothers" == mother and father
      varuNA "the two VaruNa's" == Mitra and VaruNa

      For such pairs, Vedic Sanskrit also used copulative compounds with
      both members in the dual and accented (a kind of compound known
      as dual dvandva); beside _varuNA_ it had _MitrA-varuNA_ for "Mitra
      and VaruNa". We know that Ad�naic for oppositive pairs used
      compounds too as well as elliptical dual (alone or completed with
      the second term in the singular): for "sun and moon" it had beside
      _uuriyat_ the forms _uuriniil(uw)at_ and _uuriyat niiloo_(IX:428).
      However, this is not fully like a dual dvandva, for we would then
      expect _*uuriyat-niil(uw)at_ .


      We do not know much about Ad�naic verbs, but know that it had
      four tenses; aorist, continuative present, continuative past, past.
      Sanskrit had a very complicated verbal system, with the following

      present, imperfect (built on a present stem),
      aorist (built on an aorist stem; it was past in meaning),
      perfect, and in Vedic a residual pluperfect (built on a perfect stem).

      The semantic distinctions between imperfect, aorist and perfect
      are said to have blurred with time, but this is a tense system is
      quite reminiscent of Ancient Greek, and in Neogrammarian times
      it was thought to reflect the PIE verbal system (as far as I know this
      idea is met with much reservation today).

      There is some parallel with Ad�naic:

      -- The two Ad�naic continuative tenses would correspond to the
      present and imperfect built on a present stem. In Ancient Greek the
      present stem had an imperfective meaning (for Sanskrit it is not clear
      from my limited reading -- hints?)

      -- The Ad�naic past is also used in association with other tenses as
      a "relative" tense shifting even further in past than the associated
      tense. Could it be considered as a kind of perfect?

      -- Finally, the existence of an aorist. An interesting terminology,
      even if the values are not quite the same, since the Ad�naic aorist is
      said to be present as well as past -- it is somewhat reminiscent of the
      rather present-oriented (or timeless) Quenya aorist.

      I do not know if Tolkien really studied Sanskrit at length, but he
      cannot have ignored it because of its great importance in the
      comparative grammar of Indo-European languages, even more so
      in the time of the Neogrammarians than now. Evidently it left some
      traces in Ad�naic. For nasal infixion and the tense system I think
      it is possible that Tolkien, more generally, was influenced by the
      reconstruction of PIE current at his time; but the vowel gradation
      patterns and the elliptic dual are likely to be more specifically
      Sanskrit inspired.

      Bertrand Bellet


      Haudry, Jean. _L'indo-europ�en_. 3rd revised ed. Paris: Presses
      Universitaires de France, 1994. 127 p. (Que sais-je ?; 1798). ISBN

      Varenne, Jean. _Grammaire du sanskrit_. 2nd revised ed. Paris: Presses
      Universitaires de France, 1979. 127 p. (Que sais-je ?; 1416). ISBN

      Woodard, Roger D. (ed). _The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's
      Ancient Languages_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
      1162 p. ISBN 0-521-56256-2.
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