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Elvish Roots – Parent, Child, Sibling

Here is another exploration of Eldarin words, this time “father/mother, son/daughter, sister/brother”

“Father” is dead easy. The words Q. atar, S. adar from the root √ATAR were established early on and Tolkien used them pretty consistently. “Mother” is trickier. Tolkien established √AM as the root for “mother” very early on the Quenya side, but its use on the Sindarin/Noldorin/Gnomish side is inconsistent. Probably the best attested Quenya word for “mother” is amil(le), appearing in the Etymologies from the 1930s, in Tolkien’s translations of Catholic prayers from the 1950s and in isolated words like amilesse “mother name”. However, it’s only clear cognate is N. emil from the Etymologies, and that word is marked as archaic.

The whole question of “mother” is further complicated by Tolkien’s writing on “Eldarin Hands and Fingers” from the late 1960s (VT47-48) where he revisited a lot of family words as the basis for finger names. In those texts he listed both √AM and √EM as roots for “mother”, and seems to have preferred √EM over √AM. The best illustration of this change was his revision of amya “mommy” (original meaning “my mother”) to emya as a reduction of emil-inya. He also introduced S. emel “mother”, which unlike its Noldorin predecessor, cannot be the result of i-affection and thus must be from √EM.

The problem is that Tolkien mostly listed pet names in these texts (“mummy, mommy”) and did not make clear what he wanted the new Quenya word for “mother” to be. There is Q. emme “mother”, but this is also used as a pet-name, glossed “mummy”. There is Q. emil in the derivation emya, but that would produce ᴺS. imil. My best guess would be Q. *emelle as the new form of “mother”, but I think I prefer to stick with better attested amil(le).

On the Sindarin side, if we use Q. amil(le) we cannot use S. emel. We might revert to N. emil, but that word is marked archaic. I think it would be better to use N. naneth “mother” from the Etymologies, derived from the Noldorin-only root NAN, and treat N. emil as a poetic-only form.

For pet names we have Q. atto, atya, tata for “daddy”, and amya and perhaps *amma (instead of emme) for “mummy, mommy”. On the Sindarin side, I’d go with N. ada for “daddy” and N. nana for “mommy”.

For “son”, again the question is easy. Q. yondo, S. ion are well attested, along with patronymic suffixes Q./S. -ion “son of”. On the other hand, “daughter” is a mess. There a lots of options on the Quenya side (yende, yelde, selde, anel). On the Sindarin side, however, we have N. †sell > iell from the Etymologies of the 1930s, and also S. sell from the King’s Letter from the early 1950s. If we go with S. sell, that points to Q. selde.

Q. selde and S. sell are associated with the patronymic Q. -rel “daughter of”, but this is used in only one name, Tindómerel “Daughter of Twilight” (Quenya equivalent of Tinúviel). The most common feminine patronymic is -iel in both Quenya and Sindarin. I’d use that, perhaps produced by analogy with -ion. Still, -iel is more consistent with the Q./S. yelde/iell for “daughter”, and that might be a viable alternative for “daughter” over Q./S. selde/sell.

For brother and sister, we have a couple choices. In the aforementioned “Eldarin Hands and Fingers” from the late 1960s, we have “brother” = Q. háno and S. hanar (archaic hawn) from the root √KHAN, as well as “sister” = Q. nésa (archaic néþa) and S. nethel (archaic nîth) from the root √NETH. This seems to be a complete paradigm in both languages, and I see no reason not to use it.

In the Etymologies, the root √NETH was used for “youth”, but most of those words seem to have moved to the root √WIN in Tolkien’s later writing. In place of ᴹQ. nesse and N. nîth “youth”, we can instead use Q. víne and S. gwîn. In place of ᴹQ. nessa and N. neth “young” we can use Q. vinya and S. gwain “young, new”. It seems that in Tolkien’s later writing, √NETH could also mean “young girl” (as in Q. nette, S. neth) but I don’t think that conflicts with the sense “sister”. In fact, this S. neth “young girl” could still be an element in N. dineth “bride”, variant form of dîs.

From the Etymologies we have middle-period roots ᴹ√TORON and ᴹ√THEL(ES) for “brother” and “sister”. For this basic sense, I’d would use later root √KHAN and √NETH, but I might retain ᴹ√TORON and ᴹ√THELES in the more abstract sense of “brotherhood” and “sisterhood”. In this way, I would replace ᴹQ. toron/seler and N. tôr/thêl with later Q. háno/nésa and S. hanar/nethel, but I would retain other derivatives of TORON/THEL(ES) such as ᴹQ. otornasse “brotherhood” and N. gwathel “(sworn) sister, (female) associate”.

The net result is:

  • “father/mother”: Q. atar/amil(le), S. adar/naneth (or archaic †emil)
  • “daddy”: Q. atya, atto, tata, S. ada
  • “mommy”: Q. amya, *amma, S. nana
  • “son/daughter”: Q. yondo/selde, S. ion/sell
  • “son of/daughter of”: -ion and -iel in both languages
  • “brother/sister”: Q. háno/nésa, S. hanar/nethel (archaic hawn/nîth)

For the Eldarin roots for “father/mother” I’d use √AT(AR) and √AM, but in Sindarin “mother” was replaced by ᴹ√NAN.

I’d use roots √YON(DO) and √SEL(DE) for “son/daughter”, but assume the feminine patronymic -iel developed (probably early) by analogy with -ion.

The roots for “brother/sister” are √KHAN and √NETH, although √NETH can also mean “young girl”. There are also the roots ᴹ√TORON and ᴹ√THEL(ES) for “brotherhood/sisterhood”, used especially with those not related by blood.

Also note that I’d consider as viable alternatives using the root √EM for “mother” (S. emel and Q. emme or *emelle) and/or the root √YEL(DE) for “daughter” (Q. yelde, S. iell). I think you should stick with a consistent scenario however, and I intend to use √AM, √NAN and √SEL(DE) myself.

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