New Theme! What do you think?

Study, speak, and hang out with fellow Elvish students!

Select Primitive Elvish Roots: BĀ-BOR

ᴹ√√BĀ/ABA “refuse, forbid, prohibit, say nay (in refusal or denial), [ᴹ√] deny; [rejected] ️away, go away, depart”

The invertible root √BA or √ABA was principally connected to refusal, and its best known derivative was Avari, the group of Elves that refused to travel to Valinor. When Tolkien first introduce the root ᴹ√AB in The Etymologies of the 1930s and other contemporaneous writings on Ancient Quenya, he gave this root the meaning “go away, depart” (Ety/AB; PE19/045); in this sense it may have been a replacement for the early root ᴱ√AVA “go away, depart, leave” (QL/33). Indeed, the first application of Avari was to the Elves that left for Valinor, “the Departing”, rather than those that stayed behind (LR/169-170). But the sense “away” was soon transferred to ᴹ√AWA (Ety/AWA) and √AB was revised in the The Etymologies to mean “refuse, deny, say no” (Ety/AB), a sense it retained thereafter.

Tolkien wrote about this root at great length in the 1959 when he decided that √BA was part of the Eldarin system of negation, distinguishing negation of volition (I will not) from negative of fact (it is not so). Tolkien seems to have introduced this notion at the same time he decided to abandon la-negation in the 1959, so the corresponding negation of fact was the root √Ū (PE17/143). Even when Tolkien considered restoring la-negation in the late 1960s, √BA still retained a role as the negation of volition (PE22/161).

One peculiar feature of √BA is that it represented refusal from the perspective of the speaker. Thus in 1st person, √BA meant “I will not” (refusal), but in 2nd person or 3rd person it meant “do not” (forbiddance). Tolkien discussed this topic at some length in the Quendi and Eldar essay from 1959-60 (WJ/370-2). In 1st person this was Q. ván(ye)/S. avon “I won’t” and Q. vamme/S. avam “we won’t” [using the circa-1960 pronominal suffix -mme; with later pronouns this would be valve and avof]. In 2nd person this used the interjection Q. /S. baw “don’t”, or the negative imperative particle Q. áva/S. avo, as in Q. áva care/S. avo garo “don’t do [it]”.

When Tolkien revisited his ideas for negation in 1969, he still kept this notion of 1st person refusal vs. 2nd/3rd person forbiddance (PE22/161-3), so that the system of √BA negation remained more or less the same (barring changes like new pronouns).

BAL “power; powerful, mighty; have power”

The root √BAL had to do with “power”, and in particular divine power. Its best known derivatives are Vala and Valië, the greatest of the Ainur and divine rulers of Arda. In Tolkien’s earliest writings, he describe the Vala as gods, but later he treated them more like “archangels” under the divine patronage of the one god Eru.

The earliest forms of this root were VALA in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s (QL/99) and GWAL in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon (GL/44), so very likely the true early form of this root was *ᴱ√WALA. The Quenya form of this root VALA was unglossed, but the Gnomish form GWAL had the glosses “fortune, happiness”. At this early stage the root had additional derivatives like ᴱQ. valin “happy” and G. gwaltha “fortunate, happy” (QL/99; GL/44).

By the time of The Etymologies of the 1930s, these “happy” derivatives had fallen away, and the new form of this root was ᴹ√BAL with new Noldorin forms like N. Balan “Power, God” (Ety/BAL). The root √BAL reappeared in the 1950s and 60s with various glosses like “powerful, mighty” or “have power” (PE17/48, 154). One relatively late development was the transfer of the word S. Balrog “mighty demon” to this root (PE17/48; S/31); in earlier conceptions this word was tied to “torture” roots like ᴹ√ÑGWAL “torment” or ᴱ√MBALA “hurt, pain” (Ety/ÑGWAL; QL/63).

BA(N) “meet, come up against; go, [ᴹ√] proceed”

A root meaning “go, proceed” appearing as one of the many etymologies of Q. vanwa “gone, departed”. It may have been a partial restoration of the (rejected) meaning of the root ᴹ√AB “go away, depart” from The Etymologies of the 1930s, a root that later was altered in that document to mean “refuse, deny, say no” (Ety/AB). It may also have been intended as a replacement for ᴹ√WAN “depart, go away, disappear, vanish”, also from The Etymologies and the basis for ᴹQ. vanwa in the 1930s.

In the published corpus, the first clear mention of this root is in a discussion of the Quenya future suffix -(u)va from the late 1940s where it was give as √BĀ, BANA “go, proceed” with Q. vanwa “gone, over” as one of its derivatives (PE22/97). It appeared again in a discussion of the Sindarin greeting mae govannen “well met” from the late 1950s, where Tolkien hypothesized that the verb “meet” might be go- “together” + ban- “go” or “meet”, which he again connected to Q. vanwa “gone” (PE17/16). Phonetic complications prompted Tolkien to coin a new verb covad- “assemble, gather together” from a root √KOB, but was he unwilling to commit at this time to the new verb because of the obvious similarity of govannen to √BAN “go” (PE17/16-17).

However, in 1959 when he was overhauling the Eldarin system of negation, it seems Tolkien finally rejected √BA(N) “go” because of the conflict with √BĀ/ABA “refuse”, and he transferred the sense “go” to the root √MEN (PE17/143). In etymological notes contemporaneous with the Quendi and Eldar essay of 1959-60, Tolkien restored √KOB “gather” (PE17/150) though he seems to have eventually settled on the form √KOM for this root along with a restored verb S. covad- “bring together, make meet” (PE17/157-158). Q. vanwa “gone” was also transferred to √WĀ/AWA by the time of the Quendi and Eldar essay (WJ/366). Meanwhile, the Quenya future had been transferred from √BA to the root √UB in the early 1950s (PE22/132).

This left no remaining functions for √BA(N) “go”, and there is no further sign of it starting in the 1960s.

BAN “beauty (due to lack of fault or blemish); fair, beautiful”

The root √BAN (or some variant) was connected to beauty for most of Tolkien’s life. Its most notable derivative was the name of the Valie Vána. In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s Tolkien gave this root as ᴱ√VANA (unglossed) with derivatives like ᴱQ. vane “fair, lovely” and ᴱQ. vanesse “beauty”, but also ᴱQ. Vanar as another name for the Valar (QL/99). The Gnomish words had distinct forms like G. Ban “Vala” (GL/18) vs. G. gwant “beautiful” (GL/44). Thus it seems that ᴱ√VANA in the 1910s is actually a blending of two roots, *ᴱ√ɃANA “divine” vs. *ᴱ√WANA “beautiful”. This second variant reappeared much later in the 1959 root √(G)WAN “fair, pale” (PE17/154; WJ/383); see below.

In The Etymologies of the 1930s Tolkien gave this root as ᴹ√BAN and it seems at this stage it was associated exclusively with beauty, given derivatives like ᴹQ. vanya and N. bein “beautiful, fair” (Ety/BAN). These words survived into later iterations of the languages as Q. vanya and S. bain (PE17/150). The root √BAN reappeared with these derivatives in several etymological notes written around 1959 (PE17/149-150, 165).

In these 1959 notes, Tolkien first connected √BAN to “fair” as it was in the 1930s (PE17/149), but reversed himself, noting “VAN cannot only = fair (blonde), since vanima is applied in LR to Arwen who was like Lúthien dark” (PE17/165). This prompted Tolkien to reintroduce the root √(G)WAN “fair”, as noted above, limiting √BAN to “beauty” only. He then refined its meaning, saying “√BAN … appears originally to have referred simply to ‘beauty’, but with implication that it was due to lack of fault or blemish” (PE17/150). The root applied to Vána because she was perfect and unmarred in her beauty.

BAR “[ᴹ√] raise; uplift, save, rescue(?)”

The root ᴹ√BAR appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s, where its original sense was probably “raise” but the basic root gained the added sense of “uplift, save, rescue” (Ety/BAR). The basic root included derivatives like ᴹQ. varna “safe” and ᴹQ. varya-/N. beria- “to protect”. But it seems it also had several extensions as in ᴹ√BARAD or ᴹ√BARATH with the meaning “lofty, sublime” and ᴹ√BARAT which was the basis for the word N. barad “tower” (Ety/BARAD, BARAT, BARATH).

Tolkien mentioned this set of extended roots in later writings (date unclear, but probably the late 1950s or early 1960s) along with a fourth extension √BARAS, all having to do with “great height combined with strength, size, majesty” (PE17/22-23). √BARAT was still the basis for S. barad “tower”. The roots √BARAD and √BARATH were respectively the basis for Q. Varda and S. Elbereth (< Elen-barathī) as they had been in the 1930s. The new root √BARAS had derivatives tied to cliffs, as opposed to the 1930s where ᴹ√BARAS was an (unrelated) root having to do with heat (Ety/BARAS).

There was no mention of the base root √BAR in later writings, so it is unclear whether it retained the meaning “save”. In addition, there were certain phonological problems in the derivation of Elbereth from √BARATH in Sindarin that were not present in Noldorin (where frequently ei > e in polysyllables), and this word may have been transferred to the root √BER “marry”; see the entry on Elbereth for further details.

S. Elbereth “Star-queen”

[An aside to provide context to the above]

The Sindarin name of Varda, a compound of êl “star” and bereth “queen”, that is: “Star-queen” (LotR/378, RGEO/66). The Quenya equivalent of this name is Elentári. This name was of ancient derivation, from ✶elen-barathī > elmbereth > Elbereth, as shown by the fact that the initial [b] in the second element did not lenite to [v] (MR/387, PE17/22).

Possible Etymology: In the 1930s, N. Elbereth was likewise derived ✶el(en)-barathī (Ety/EL, BARATH). This 1930s derivation worked through a combination of i-affection and i-intrusion, with the resulting ei > e as often happened in unstressed final syllables in Noldorin of the 1930s:

  • *elen-barathī > elem-berethi > el(e)mbereith > N. elbereth.

This derivation no longer works in Sindarin of the 1950s and 60s, however, since later [ei] became [ai] in final syllables in Sindarin and did not reduce to e. Thus we should have ✶barathī > **beraith. One possibility is that Tolkien transferred this derivation to the root √BER “marry”: in The Road Goes Ever On published in 1967, Tolkien said “bereth actually meant ‘spouse’, and is used of one who is ‘queen’ as spouse of a king” (RGEO/66). This theory was first proposed to me by Elaran in a private Discord chat in November 2018, and I find it very compelling; it neatly resolves the phonological problem if bereth is derived from *berettē or something similar.

ᴹ√BARAS “*heat”

A Noldorin-only root in The Etymologies of the 1930s with derivatives having to do with heat such as N. brass “white heat” and N. bara “fiery, eager” (Ety/BARAS). The second of these was an element in the name N. Barahir, a name which continued to appear (albiet untranslated) in later versions of the Legendarium (S/148).

Tolkien introduced a new root √BARAS in the late 1950s associated with “height” and other roots like √BARAD and √BARAT; the derivatives of this new root had to do with cliffs. It is possible the new √BARAS invalided the old one, but none of its derived words appeared in the narratives, so it could also have been a transient idea. It’s hard to say for certain since S. Barahir was not translated in later writings.

BEL “[ᴹ√] strong”

The root √BEL “strong” has a long history in Tolkien’s writing. Its most notable derivative is S. beleg “great, mighty”. This word dates back all the way to the Gnomish Lexicon of the 1910s, where G. beleg already had this meaning (GL/22). In this document, its Qenya equivalent was ᴱQ. velike, meaning the early root must have been *ᴱ√ɃELE: in Early Quenya, ancient initial ƀ- > v- but initial b- > p-.

The root ᴹ√BEL appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s with the gloss “strong” and a number of Noldorin, Telerin and Ilkorin derivatives starting with bel- and having to do with strength (Ety/BEL). In the 1930s this root had no Quenya derivatives. The root √BEL reappeared in etymological notes from the late 1950s or early 1960s, where it had the variant √MBEL and was also used in its extended form √MBELEK as the basis for the Quenya name Q. Melkor. This extended form was also given as the basis for S. beleg in these notes, which was given the glosses “large, great” implying the root has as much to so with size as strength.

This note indicates that S. beleg began with an ancient nasalized stop, but various mutations elsewhere in the corpus imply this was not the case, such as the soft mutation in S. Cûl Veleg “Bigload” (RC/536) and the nasal mutation in S. Taur-i-Melegyrn “Forest of the Great Trees” (WJ/185). I suspect the ancient strengthening of initial b- to mb- must have been limited to the Quenya branch of the language; see the √MBELEK for further discussion.

ᴹ√BER “valiant”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “valiant”, it’s most notable derivative is the name S. Beren “Bold”. It had a variety of derivatives having to do with daring, such as ᴹQ. verya-/N. bertha- “to dare” and ᴹQ. verya/N. beren “bold”. The continued appearance of the name Beren in the later versions of The Silmarillion implies the root remained valid, but this name was only translated in The Etymologies of the 1930s, so it could have shifted in meaning.

BER “to mate, be mated, joined in marriage”

The root √BER appeared in later writing as the basis for marriage words, and Quenya marriage words began with ver- for much of Tolkien’s life, dating all the way back in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s. However, there are many ways to produce a medial r in Quenya, and Tolkien experimented with more or less all of them in the formation of this root, as seen by the shifting forms in other branches in the Elvish languages.

The earliest form of this root appeared as √VEŘE in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s (QL/101), where the Ř indicated the actual primitive form was VEÐE (or ɃEÐE), as confirmed by its Gnomish equivalent Bedh- (QL/101; GL/22). This early root was unglossed, but its derivatives all had to do with marriage, including ᴱQ. veru/G. †benn/G. bedhron “husband”, ᴱQ. †veri/ᴱQ. vesse/G. bess “wife” and ᴱQ. vesta-/G. benna- “to wed”.

There are indications this root may have initially been ᴹ√BED in The Etymologies of the 1930s, based on primitive forms like ᴹ✶bedū “spouses” (Ety/LEP). But the main “marriage” entry in The Etymologies was ᴹ√BES “wed”, with derivatives like ᴹQ. vesta- “to wed”, ᴹQ. venno/N. benn “husband” and ᴹQ. vesse/N. bess “wife”. One interesting feature about this conceptual stage is that the Noldorin words for “husband” and “wife” drifted in meaning to become simply “man” and “woman”, and new words N. herven and herves were coined for “husband” and “wife”.

In various etymological notes from the late 1960s, Tolkien introduced a new root √BER for marriage. His longest description of it was in a 1969 note:

√BER “to mate, be mated, joined in marriage”: Q. verya (intr.) “to marry (of husband and wife), be joined to” (veryanen senna); verta (tr.) “to give in marriage (a) to (b), or to take as husband or wife (to oneself)”; verū > veru “husband”; verī > veri “wife” (VT49/45).

The forms Q. veru/veri “husband/wife” were restorations of the Early Qenya forms from the 1910s.

It is not entirely clear when Tolkien made this change to the root, but in The Road Goes Ever On published in 1967, he said that “[S.] bereth actually meant ‘spouse’, and is used of one who is ‘queen’ as spouse of a king” (RGEO/66), strongly hinting that this word was derived from √BER “wed” at that conceptual stage. Earlier on, N./S. bereth “queen” was derived from primitive ✶barathī, an etymology Tolkien was still using in notes from the late 1950s or early 1960s (PE17/22-23). As discussed in the entry on Elbereth, this etymology presented some phonological difficulties in Sindarin, which may have motivated Tolkien to introduce a new etymology for S. bereth, switching to the root √BER for marriage in the process. My best guess is that this switch happened sometime in the mid-1960s, but it could have been earlier.

Neo-Eldarin: For purposes of Neo-Eldarin writing, I think it is best to ignore the introduction of the root √BER “wed”, and keep using ᴹ√BES “wed” from The Etymologies. As a root for marriage, √BER presents a number of problems:

  1. It clashes with ᴹ√BER “valiant” from the 1930s, the basis for the name S. Beren.
  2. It invalidates a number of Noldorin words for husband and wife with no obvious replacements.
  3. In Sindarin it is difficult to keep derivatives of √BER “wed” from colliding with other words like beria- “to protect”, bertha- “to dare” and beren “bold”, though technically these are all Noldorin words.

The main disadvantage of ignoring √BER “wed” is that it leaves us with no good etymology for the name S. Elbereth. It is quite possible to solve the above problems with √BER by coining new words, but I prefer to keep using the older words as they are quite popular in Neo-Sindarin. It would be relatively easy to coin a new etymology for Elbereth instead, perhaps from *elen-baratthī with the longer cluster inhibiting i-intrusion.

ᴹ√BEREK “*sudden, fierce”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s with derivatives having to do with quickness, suddenness and fierceness (Ety/BERÉK), replacing rejected ᴹ√MEREK and ᴹ√BHERÉK (Ety/MERÉK; EtyAC/MERÉK). One notable derivative is the name N. Bregolas “Fierceness”, which continued to appear as S. Bregolas (albiet untranslated) in later versions of The Silmarillion (S/148). It seems likely this root was also an element in the name Bregalad “Quickbeam”, first introduced Lord of the Rings drafts from the 1940s (TI/419) and retaining this form and meaning thereafter (LotR/482).

One of the 1930s derivatives of this root was N. Dagor Vregedúr “Battle of Sudden Fire [bregedur]”, which in the published Silmarillion became S. Dagor Bragollach “Battle of Sudden Flame” (S/151). This hints at a possible revision of this root, perhaps to *√BARAK, though whether it was a transient or lasting change is unclear. For purposes of Neo-Eldarin writing, I think it’s best to stick with ᴹ√BEREK and the forms from The Etymologies.

ᴹ√BERETH “beech”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s serving principally as the basis for N. brethil “beech” (Ety/BERÉTH). In the notes from the late 1950s or early 1960s Tolkien instead connected brethil to the root √BARATH and S. bereth “queen”, where it had the true meaning of “princess” (PE17/23). But that could be a later association rather that a genuine etymology, and doesn’t necessarily invalidate ᴹ√BERETH (especially given the other phonological issues with S. bereth < √BARATH).

ᴹ√BEW “follow, serve”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s meaning “follow, serve” with various Telerin and Noldorin derivatives (Ety/BEW). Its most notable derivative is N. Beor, which meant “vassal” as this conceptual stage. The phonetic development of this name was rather dubious, however, even in the Noldorin of the 1930s, so in later notes Tolkien said it was actually a word from the Bëorian language (WJ/218). Despite this, the root ᴹ√BEW remains popular as a source for neologisms in both Neo-Quenya and Neo-Sindarin for words having to do with service, as there are not really any other good alternatives.

ᴹ√BOR(ON) “endure”

The root ᴹ√BOR “endure” along with its extended form ᴹ√BORON appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s along with various derivatives having to do with endurance, faithfulness and everlastingness (Ety/BOR, BORÓN). It was simply a later version of the root ᴱ√VORO from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, unglossed but clearly of a similar meaning based on its Qenya and Gnomish derivatives like ᴱQ. voronda “faithful”, ᴱQ. vorima “everlasting” and G. bron(n) “steadfast, firm” (QL/102; GL/23-24).

Similar forms like Q. voronda or vórima “faithful” continued to appear in Tolkien’s later writing (UT/317). The well established names Q. Voronwë or S. Bronwe(g) “Steadfast, Faithful” retained the same basic form and meaning throughout Tolkien’s life, testifying to the enduring nature of the Elvish root for “endurance”.

Speak, Friend!