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Sindarin Grammar P27: Subject Suffixes

DISCLAIMER: This article is preliminary research on the part of its author (Paul Strack) and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the owner of this site. Since the source material is complex and its interpretation can be subjective, multiple conclusions are possible.

This post skips another minor bridge entry introducing pronouns.

Like Quenya, Sindarin makes some distinctions in its pronouns not seen in English, such as between singular and plural “you” (you vs. y’all), exclusive and inclusive “we” (we but not you vs. we including you) and familiar vs. polite you (old English thee vs. you, or French tu vs. vous). Sindarin also has some dual pronouns, though these may be archaic. Because of the inconsistencies in Sindarin’s pronominal paradigms, this entry first describes the conceptual development of nominative (subject) pronouns in Sindarin’s conceptual precursors before attempting to define a (Neo) Sindarin paradigm. Almost all of the complete paradigms in Sindarin and its precursors are based on subject suffixes or (in the earliest writings) prefixes.

Gnomish Subject Prefixes: The Gnomish Grammar of the 1910s stopped short of a discussion of verbal inflections. Fortunately, we have what appears to a complete paradigm in remnants of a page torn out of one of Tolkien’s early notebooks (PE13/97). The pronominal prefixes were:

Sg. Pl.
1st person ni· [I] me· [we]
2nd person fi· [you] gwe· [y’all]
3rd person [he/she/it] [they]

These are consistent with pronouns appearing in the Gnomish Lexicon:

  • nin “I” before a vowel; prevocalic n is common euphonic addition in Gnomish (GL/52).
  • fi- “you”; this was deleted but a dative form fin was retained (GL/35).
  • “it” in a·laithra nin “I forget it, *(lit.) it slips for me” (GL/52).
  • *me- attested in a dative form mir (GL/57).
  • gwe- “you, ye, plural only” (GL/44).
  • ath(a) “pl. 3rd person pronoun”, apparently an independent pronoun (GL/20).

Of these, deleted fi- seems to have been replaced by oth “ye” (GL/63), though this may be an emphatic form vs. subject form *thi-. Compare to possessive thas “thy” (GG/13), as well as emphatic on “he” (GL/62) and (emphatic?) um(in) “we” (GL/74).

Early Noldorin Subject Suffixes: The next pronominal paradigm appears in the Early Noldorin Grammar of the 1920s. This paradigm has a set of subject suffixes rather than prefixes, however, meaning the suffixes underwent various phonetic mutations. The suffixes are rough contemporaries of similar paradigms in the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) from this period, giving us a better insight into possible primitive forms. Tolkien produced two sketches of this Early Noldorin pronominal paradigm, the first of which he rejected (PE13/126-127) and the second he retained (PE13/129-130). In terms of pronouns, the two paradigms were very similar, differing only in the 2nd sg. -o/-u > -b. The suffixes were:

Sg. Pl.
1st person -n [I] -m [we]
1st inclusive -nc [we and you]
2nd person -b [you] -st [y’all]
3rd person — [he/she/it] -r [they]

In this paradigm, 3rd singular was uninflected while 3rd plural used the plural suffix -r, much as it was in later Noldorin and Sindarin paradigms. The 1st person singular and plural (exclusive) suffixes -n and -m were analogous to contemporaneous Early Qenya pronouns ᴱQ. ni and ᴱQ. me, since in Noldorin of the 1920s, non-initial m did not mutate to v. The Early Qenya 1st person inclusive was qe, however, which is not a good match for the Early Noldorin inclusive -nc, which might instead have been derived from n(i) + ke (I + singular you). There is likewise no correlation between the Early Noldorin 2nd singular and plural -b and -st with Early Qenya ke and le.

Noldorin Subject Prefixes: In the King’s Letter, there are a couple examples of the independent pronoun e “he” used as a subject (SD/129):

This document was composed in 1948 or 49, and is thus a contemporary of the Quenya Verbal System written in 1948 in which Tolkien reverted to subject prefixes for Quenya as well. This includes a Quenya 3rd person pronoun e (PE22/96), perhaps the direct cognate of the pronoun e used in the King’s Letter (hat tip to Lokyt for pointing this out to me). It seems very likely that in the late 1940s right before the change to Sindarin, Noldorin also used subject prefixes or perhaps independent pronouns as subjects, but other than e we have no examples. However, it seems that like Quenya this was short lived, since subjects suffixes were restored by 1949.

Noldorin and Sindarin Subject Suffixes: Two more subject suffix paradigms were published in the Vinyar Tengwar #50 from 1949 and the early 1950s (VT50/22). These paradigms had both inclusive (1a) and exclusive (1b) first person forms, as well familiar (2a) and polite (2b) second person forms. They also had dual forms. These paradigms were:

Date 1a 1b 2a 2b 3
1949 Singular -n -s -th
1949 Plural -m -ch -nt -th(ir) -r
1949 Dual -m -ch -th(ir) -st -d
Early 50s Singular -n -g -th
Early 50s Plural -m(ir) -ch(ir) -nt/nc -thir -r
Early 50s Dual -m -ch -th -st -d

In his presentation of these paradigms in VT50, Carl Hostetter reversed the 1949 2nd singular and plural forms from what is given above, but since they were unlabeled I think it is more likely they matches the early 50s paradigm (which was labeled). I also think that is it possible that the 1949 2nd sg. familiar (1a) form was a malformed -g. These are rough contemporaries of the pronominal paradigm from the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) of 1948, changed from EQG mainly in that 1st person inclusive qe >> ñwe and that ke/le switched from singular/plural to familiar/polite. This means that once again there were good matches only in 1st singular and 1st plural exclusive in the 1949 Noldorin paradigm, but in the early 50s Sindarin paradigm -g is a match to 2nd sg. familiar Quenya ke, with intervocalic k > g as usual.

The last completely published paradigm is from 1962 (PE17/132). In it, Tolkien gave complete pronominal paradigms for both Sindarin and Quenya together, the only time he did so in a single location:

Date 1a 1b 2a 2b 3
S. 1962 Singular -n -g
S. 1962 Plural -m -nc -gir -ðir -r
S. 1962 Dual -mmid -ngid -ch -st -st
Q. 1962 Singular -n(ye) -l(ye) -tar -s(se)
Q. 1962 Plural -mbe -lme -lle -ltar -nte
Q. 1962 Dual -mmo -lmo -llo -star -sto

That’s not the end of the story, however. The Quenya paradigm given above was largely discarded and replaced with another paradigm in 1968 (VT49/16, 51); we also have a list of pronominal elements from Common Eldarin (CE) from this period (VT49/50). Furthermore, in some Late Notes on Verb Structure (LVS) written in 1969, there are scattered examples of additional Sindarin pronominal suffixes (PE22/167). This gives us a skeleton of another Sindarin paradigm:

Date 1a 1b 2a 2b 3
CE. 1968 Singular ni ki le/de se/te
CE. 1968 Plural me we le/de te/se
Q. 1968 Singular -n(ye) -tye -l(ye) -s(e)
Q. 1968 Plural -lme -lve -lde -lte
S. 1969 Singular -n ? -l ?
S. 1969 Plural -f -b ? ? ?

Summary and Analysis: Arranging these paradigms for Sindarin and its precursors chronologically, we get:

Date 1 sg. 2a sg. 2b sg. 1a pl. 1b pl. 2a pl. 2b pl. 1a du. 1b du. 2a du. 2b du.
G. 1910s (PE13/97) ni· fi· me· gwe·
ᴱN. 1920s (PE13/129) -n -b -m -nc -st
N. 1949 (VT50/22) -n -s [-g?] -th -m -ch -nt -th(ir) -m -ch -th(ir) -st
S. Early 50s (VT50/22) -n -g -th -m(ir) -ch(ir) -nt/nc -thir -m -ch -th -st
S. 1962 (PE17/132) -n -g -m -nc -gir -ðir -mmid -ngid -ch -st
S. 1969 (PE22/167) -n ? -l -f -b ? ? ? ? ? ?

The 3rd person is omitted from this table because starting with Early Noldorin, there seems to be no personal inflection for verbs in 3rd person. The impersonal inflection is used instead: singular uninflected, plural with -r, dual with -d (in 1962 -st); see the entry on verb inflections for further discussion.

There is the greatest continuity in the 1st person. The 1st singular “I” was establish as -n very early, as it was in Quenya. The 1st plural (exclusive) was likewise connected to m early on. This even includes the 1969 inflection, where the -f [v] is likely the mutated form of more ancient isolated *-m(e). The forms from the 1949 to 1962 must have been derived from long -mm(e) or -mb(e) to avoid become -v; the contemporaneous 1st plural exclusive Quenya suffix was -mme (around 1965 this Quenya suffix changed to -lme).

Inclusive 1st personal plural (1b pl.) was more variable. The Gnomish form gwe· was probably derived from we, which coincidentally is consistent with the 1968 Common Eldarin pronoun. The 1920s and 1962 -nc is probably derived from n(i) (“me”) + ke (“you”). The late 1940s and early 1950s suffix -ch is probably derived from the 1940s primitive inclusive pronominal element khe (PE17/14). As for 1969 -b, it is mostly likely a mutated form of *-p(e), which in turn is probably derived from *-kwe. As evidence that this suffix was once a cluster, it appears after an a in athab “we (inclusive) will” vs. athof “we (exclusive) will” (PE22/167); see the entry on verb inflections for the variation between a and o in derived verbs and how they originate from clusters vs. non-clusters. This suffix might result from ancient 2nd person familiar k(i) + inclusive we, or it might be from a strengthened form of we.

The 2nd person forms are even more of a puzzle. As noted above, I think Carl Hostetter got the 2nd singular and plural forms reversed in the 1949 paradigm, and the 1949 2nd. singular familiar form (2a sg.) might be a malformed -g instead of -s, consistent with the early 50s and 1962 paradigms. If so, then the 2a sg. form in 1949 to 1962 would be consistent with the primitive form ke seen in 1968, with intervocalic k > g as usual. The 1962 form galog (PE17/132) strongly indicates 2a sg. was originally derived from a single Common Eldarin consonant; see o vs. a above as well as the longer discussion in the entry on verb inflections.

For the 2nd person polite forms, 1962 is likely derived from -d(e), and the late 40s/early 50s form -th might be derived from -dde > -tte > -tth(e) > -th. However, the 1969 -l is probably from the pronoun le that was borrowed from Quenya, and thus the 1962 might represent the inflections of the Doriathrin dialect; see PE17/26 and the entry on independent pronouns for a discussion of le vs. de. The 2nd person plural forms are mostly the singular forms + -ir, though the origin of the late 40s/early 50s plural familiar -nc (with variant -nt) is unclear.

Neo-Sindarin: For purposes of Neo-Sindarin, I would assume the dual forms are archaic, as is the case for dual forms throughout the language in general. I would otherwise adopt the 1962 paradigm, replacing forms as appropriate from the 1969 LVS notes. The result would be the following paradigm:

Sg. Pl.
1st person inclusive -n “I” -m “we (but not you)”
1st person exclusive -b “we (and you)”
2nd person familiar -g “you” -gir “y’all”
2nd person polite -l “you (polite)” [†-dh] -dhir “y’all (polite)”
3rd person — “he/she/it” -r “they”

For 2nd person polite, the suffix would be -l in those dialects that adopted the polite pronoun le from Quenya (including Third Age Sindarin), but -dh in those dialects like Doriathrin (and older Sindarin) that did not. This means plural polite 2nd person was probably originally -dhir, but it may have shorted to -dh by Third Age Sindarin once the more distinct singular suffix -l was introduced.

I must admit I’m not especially comfortable with the 1st person exclusive plural suffix -b, since unlike the other pronouns its derivation from known Common Eldarin forms is unclear. Furthermore, its divergence from the Common Eldarin paradigm must date back all the way Ancient Telerin, since that’s when the change of kw > p occurred. One solution would be to ignore this suffix completely. In notes written in the mid-1960s shortly before the publication of the 2nd edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien said:

Sindarin had lost the Common Eldarin (CE) distinction between “we” Pl. 1a. exclusive of the person(s) addressed, and 1b. inclusive (PE17/129).

Thus it might be easiest to assume that Sindarin no longer distinguished exclusive and inclusive “we”, and just use -f (pronounced [-v]) for both.

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