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Select Primitive Elvish Roots: LED-LER

LED “go, proceed, [ᴹ√] fare, travel”

This root appeared in The Etymologies (Ety/LED) and in some later writings (PE17/51, 139) with the basic sense “go”. In the Quendi and Eldar essay from 1959-60, Tolkien decided that √LED was a Quenya-only variant of the original root √DEL (WJ/360, 363). Elsewhere, Tolkien said that √LED was “not much used in Sindarin except in compounds with ✶et ‘out’ as edlen(n)” (PE17/51). Its Sindarin derivative S. lembas “way bread” was reassigned to √LEN (PE17/60). See √DEL¹ and √LEN for further discussion.

LEK “loose, unbind, let, permit, [ᴹ√] let loose, release”

This root was the basis for the word S. leithia- “release” as in the Lay of Leithian “Release from Bondage” (S/162). This word dates back to Tolkien’s first version of this poem from the 1920s, where the primitive base seems to be ᴱ√LETH “set free” as suggested by Christopher Tolkien (LB/154), though the note where this etymology appears is undated and might be a contemporary of The Etymologies of the 1930s instead (Ety/LEK). In The Etymologies itself this root became ᴹ√LEK “loose, let loose, release” with derivatives like ᴹQ. lehta- “loose, slacken”, N. lheithia- “to release” and Ilk. legol “nimble, active, running free” (Ety/LEK). The root √LEK “loose, unbind, let, permit” reappeared in a list of roots from 1959-60 (VT41/6), and Tolkien’s continued use of Q. lehta and S. leithian indicates its ongoing validity (VT39/17; S/162).

ᴹ√LEM “stay, stick, adhere, remain, tarry”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “stay, stick, adhere, remain, tarry”, with variants ᴹ√LEB and ᴹ√LEM (Ety/LEM), but some of its derivatives can only plausibly be derived from ᴹ√LEM: ᴹQ. lemya- “to remain, tarry” (EtyAC/LEB). Its most notable derivative was Q. Lembi “Lingerers”, but Tolkien’s seems to have abandoned this word and the root may have been abandoned with it. It nevertheless remains useful for the purposes of Neo-Eldarin.

LEN “[ᴹ√] way, (?road)”

A variant of √LED in notes from the late 1950s or early 1960s that Tolkien considered to explain the derivation of S. lembas “waybread” (PE17/60). The root ᴹ√LEN “(?road), way” also appeared earlier in The Etymologies of the 1930s as the basis for N. lembas (EtyAC/LEN). Tolkien may have settled on this root when he revised the earlier root ᴹ√LED (Ety/LED) “go, fare, travel” >> √DEL¹ “walk, go, proceed, travel” in the 1959-60 Quendi and Eldar essay (WJ/360), deciding that its inversion √LED was used mainly in Quenya (WJ/363).

See √LED and √DEL¹ for further discussion.

LEÑ “*way, method, manner”

A root appearing in notes from the late 1950s to early 1960s (PE17/74) where Tolkien was attempting to explain the origin of the adverbial suffix Q. -lë. He said:

But adverbial forms were available especially for when far separated from verb or subject. The chief was -le. This is probably from √LEŊ, cf. fortified form in Q lenge, gesture, characteristic look, gesture or trait etc., weak verb lenga, behave.

as noun also is used in sense of “way”, sc. method, manner, as in “that is not A’s way”. Thus oia, everlasting, oiale, everlastingly. Cf. talle, like that, sille, like this, so, yalle, as (in the same way as).

Tolkien then crossed through the first of these paragraphs, saying: “This won’t do, since le is a pronominal element. It should be ve, oiave”. However, he eventually let the word Q. oialë “forever” stand in the Namarië poem, so perhaps he changed his mind again. Despite their rejection, √LEÑ and its derivatives are extremely useful, and I would treat them as valid for purposes of Neo-Eldarin.

LEP “pick up/out (with the fingers); finger”

This root was connected to Elvish words for “finger” for most of Tolkien’s life. It first appeared as an unglossed root ᴱ√LEPE in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. let (lept-) “finger” and ᴱQ. lempe “crook, hook” (QL/53). There were also derivatives in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon such as G. leptha “finger” and G. lempa- “beckon, crook the finger” (GL/53). The root ᴹ√LEP appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s with extensions ᴹ√LEPET “finger” and ᴹ√LEPEN “five” and various derivatives of similar meanings (Ety/LEP).

In Tolkien’s later writings, √LEPEN “five” continued to appear regularly, along with the base root √LEP that was glossed either “finger” (VT42/24) or “pick up (with fingers)” (VT47/10, 24, 27). Despite the stability of the root, the Elvish words for “finger” themselves when through many revisions; see Q. leper and S. leber for discussion.

LEPEN “five”

LEPEN was the most common root for “five” in Tolkien’s writings, but he explored a variety of other options. Its earliest iteration appeared in the Qenya and Gnomish lexicons as ᴱ√LEH (QL/52) or ᴱ√LEF “half” (GL/53), so I think the actual early form was *ᴱ√LEǶE [lexʷe]. At this early stage it had derivatives with the meanings “five”, “ten”, and “half”, but in later writings “ten” became ᴹ√KAYAN >> √KWAY(AM) and “half” became √PER.

In The Etymologies of the 1930s the root appeared as ᴹ√LEPEN “five” with variant ᴹ√LEPEK, but ᴹ√LEPEK had no derivatives (Ety/LEP). √LEPEN appeared again in a list of numbers from the late 1950s or early 1960s beside a variant √LENEP; again the variant had no clear derivatives (PE17/95). √LEPEN reappeared in numeric discussions from the late 1960s (VT42/24; VT47/10). In these late discussions Tolkien said that “five” most likely originated from *lepem as an ancient plural of √LEP, but it seems this became √LEPEN already in Common Eldarin (CE), given that the Sindarin word for “five” remained S. leben; Tolkien gave varying explanations for this CE sound change, either as dissimilation from p (VT47/26 note 2) or with final -m > -n being the regular phonetic development (VT47/24).

LER “free”

A root appearing twice in a list of roots from 1959-60, the first time described as “free (of moveable things or moving things), able to move as willed, unimpeded, unhampered, loose, not fixed fast or static” and the second time as “am free to do, sc., am under no restraint (physical or other)” (VT41/5-6). In the second instance it was compared to √POL which had the sense of being physically able to do something. It seems that √LER = “able to do something because there is nothing preventing it” vs. √POL = “able to something because of physical ability”. It might also be contrasted with √LEK which has the sense of freeing something that was once bound, whereas with √LER the thing that is free may have never been bound in the first place.

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