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Select Primitive Elvish Roots: LI-LIW

LI “many”

This root was connected to words for “many” throughout Tolkien’s life. In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s it appeared as ᴱ√, with variant ᴱ√ILI² “many” and extended form ᴱ√LIYA (LI + ya) “unite many as one” with derivatives like ᴱQ. lia- “entwine” and ᴱQ. liante “tendril” (QL/42, 53). In later writings there is no sign of the inversion √IL “many” (later √IL meant “all”), whereas ᴱ√LIYA seems to have shifted to unrelated ᴹ√(S)LIG with derivatives like ᴹQ. lia “fine thread, spider filament” and ᴹQ. liante “spider” (Ety/SLIG).

The base root ᴹ√LI “many” did reappear in The Etymologies of the 1930s, however (Ety/LI), and √LI “many” appeared again in etymological notes from the late 1960s (VT48/25). The long-standing connection between this root and the Quenya (partitive) plural suffixes indicates its stability in Tolkien’s mind.

ᴹ√LIB “drip”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “drip” with derivative ᴹQ. limba “drop” (Ety/LIB¹). Earlier hints to this root can be seen in the Early Noldorin words ᴱN. lim “water” (< *limb-?) and ᴱN. limig “drop of water” from the 1920s (PE13/123, 124). This 1930s root may also have inherited some of the senses of 1910s ᴱ√LIPI which had derivatives like ᴱQ. lipte- “to drip” and ᴱQ. litl “a tiny drop”, though ᴹ√LIP itself did reappear in The Etymologies of the 1930s and retained its 1910s derivative ᴹQ. limpe “wine”; see √LIP for further discussion.

ᴹ√LILT “dance”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “dance” with derivative ᴹQ. lilta- of the same meaning (Ety/LILT). It is a later iteration of ᴱ√LḶTḶ “dance” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, with both Qenya and Gnomish derivatives like ᴱQ. lilt and G. lalt “dance” (QL/55; GL/52).

LIM “link, join”

A root glossed “link, join” appearing in notes on hands and fingers from the late 1960s where it was the basis for words meaning “wrist (hand-link)”, such as Q. málimë and S. molif (VT47/6). It is likely a later iteration of unglossed ᴱ√LIMI (probably = “*bind”) from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, with both Qenya and Gnomish derivatives like ᴱQ. lim- “bind” and G. laim “thong, rope” (QL/54; GL/52, 54); this connection was suggested by Patrick Wynne (VT47/18 note #7).

ᴹ√LIÑ “*twang (descriptive of plucked strings)”

A root appearing in the Quenya Verbal System of the 1940s beside ᴹ√TAÑ of similar meaning, serving as the basis for the verb ᴹQ. linga- whose past form †linge is glossed “ring, twang — descriptive of plucked strings” (PE22/103). It probably refers back to ᴱQ. linga- “to hum like the string of a harp” from around 1930s (PE16/100), a verb used in the Earendel poem (MC/216).

LIN¹ “pool, mere, lake”

A root for “pool, mere, lake” appearing in etymological notes from 1957 (PE17/145, 160), and also appearing as ᴹ√LIN¹ “pool” in The Etymologies of the 1930s (Ety/LIN¹). In both instances it was the second element in Q. ailin “(large) lake”, and so connected to S. ael “lake” (N. oel) as suggested by Christopher Tolkien (SA/lin¹). In the 1957 notes Tolkien said the root √LIN had a “Sindarin differentiation > glin-”, but I can find no indication of this in any attested words.

In The Etymologies of the 1930s it was connected to ᴹ√LINKWI with derivatives ᴹQ. linqe/N. lhimp “wet” and N. lhimmid “moisten” (Ety/LINKWI; EtyAC/LINKWI). This is turn was probably a later iteration of the early root ᴱ√LIQI “flow, water; clear, transparent” with derivatives like ᴱQ. linqe “water”, ᴱQ. liqin(a) “wet” and ᴱQ. liqis(tea) “transparence (transparent)” (QL/54). For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I think it is best to assume the “wetness” senses were transferred to ᴹ√LINKWI, but I think it is worth positing a Neo-Eldarin root *ᴺ√LIKWIS “clear, transparent” to preserve words associated with tranparency.

This root may be associated with √LIN² “make a musical sound”; see that entry for details.

LIN² “sing, make a musical sound, [ᴱ√] gentle”

This root was conceptually intermingled with √LIR “sing”, both of which had to do with music. The earliest iteration of this root was ᴱ√LINI “gentle” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. linda “gentle, kind; soft” and ᴱQ. linta- “soothe” (QL/54). According to Tolkien this early root was confused with ᴱ√LIŘI “sing” (PME/54), which itself was the earliest precursor to √LIR; this early root √LIŘI [LIÐI] had derivatives like ᴱQ. liri- “to sing” and ᴱQ. lindele “song, music” (QL/54). The picture in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon is more muddled, with words like G. lin- “sound” (as well as lintha- “ring bell, play an instrument”) and G. lir- “sing” hinting at two distinct musical roots *ᴱ√LINI and *ᴱ√LIRI.

Indeed, in The Etymologies of the 1930s Tolkien reorganized the two roots into ᴹ√LIN² “sing” and ᴹ√LIR¹ “sing, trill”, the former taking on music words beginning with lind- and the latter musical words beginning with lir- (Ety/LIN², LIR¹). Both these had strengthened forms ᴹ√GLIN and ᴹ√GLIR used in Noldorin words like N. glinn “song, poem, lay” and N. glaer “long lay, narrative poem”, but entry for the root ᴹ√GLIN was struck through and its Noldorin words adapted to unstrengthened ᴹ√LIN, as in N. lhinn “air, tune” (Ety/GLIN, GLIR). The Etymologies also had another strengthed root ᴹ√LINDĀ “fair (especially of voice)”, with a line indicating it was derived from ᴹ√LIN (Ety/LIND; EtyAC/LIND); this strengthened root in turn was blended with ᴹ√SLIN, unglossed but apparently meaning something like “*fine, delicate” (Ety/SLIN).

Both root √LIN “sing” (PE17/27, UT/253) and √LIR “sing, warble” (PE17/27, 67) continued to appear in Tolkien’s later writings, along with derivatives like Q. lindalë “music” and Q. lírë “song”. Tolkien discussed the root √LIN at length in the Quendi and Eldar essay from 1959-60, where he said:

The name *Lindā is therefore clearly a derivative of the primitive stem *LIN (showing reinforcement of the medial N and adjectival ). This stem was possibly one of the contributions of the Nelyar [Teleri] to Primitive Quendian, for it reflects their predilections and associations, and produces more derivatives in Lindarin [Telerin] tongues than in others. Its primary reference was to melodious or pleasing sound, but it also refers (especially in Lindarin) to water, the motions of which were always by the Lindar associated with vocal (Elvish) sound. The reinforcements, either medial lind- or initial glin-, glind-, were however almost solely used of musical, especially vocal, sounds produced with intent to please (WJ/382).

Tolkien statement that it “also refers (especially in Lindarin) to water” is probably an allusion to √LIN¹ “pool, mere, lake” (Ety/LIN¹; PE17/160). In a footnote in Quendi and Eldar essay Tolkien added: “Though this clan-name [S. Glinnel] has *glind- in Sindarin, the g- does not appear in Amanya Telerin, nor in Nandorin, so that in this case it may be an addition in Sindarin, which favoured and much increased initial groups of this kind” (WJ/411 note #13). Despite this statement, Sindarin had several derivatives from the base root √LIN(D)-, such as S. linna- “sing, chant” (LotR/238; RGEO/64; PE17/27). The sense “gentle” from the 1910s root ᴱ√LINI also seems to have survived in Tolkien’s later writings, since the adjective Q. linda “soft, gentle, light” appears in notes associated with the 1955 version of the poem Nieninque (PE16/96).

For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I think it best to assume √LIN referred to melodious sounds, as well as pools of water (√LIN¹) by way of the pleasant sounds that water makes, and gentleness (Q. linda) by way of the affect such sounds have on one’s mood. However, I think √LIR more directly referred to vocal music (song) and other rhythmic vocal sounds (chanting) such as poetry, as in Q. [ᴹQ] laire/S. glaer “poem”.

LIP “oil”

This root has a long history in Tolkien’s development of the Elvish languages, but its exact meaning is hard to determine because Tolkien rarely translated the root itself. The earliest appearance of the root was as unglossed ᴱ√LIPI from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s where Tolkien indicated it might be a dialectical variant of ᴱ√LIQI “flow, water; clear, transparent”; it had derivatives like ᴱQ. lipte- “to drip”, ᴱQ. litl “a tiny drop”, and ᴱQ. limpe “elfwine” (QL/54). It also had derivatives in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon such as G. lib “drop, gout”, G. lib- “to drip”, G. limp(elis) “the drink of the fairies” (GL/54). I think the most likely meaning of this early root was “*drip, drop”.

In The Etymologies of the 1930s, the root for “drip” was ᴹ√LIB¹, and while ᴹ√LIP appeared it was unglossed and its only derivative was ᴹQ. limpe “wine” (Ety/LIB¹, LIP). Thus it seems Tolkien split up the root from the 1910s, though exactly how isn’t clear. The last known mention of this root is as √LIP “oil” (without any derivatives) in a currently unpublished set of notes from 1968 (VT44/15). Wynne, Smith, and Hostetter suggested this might be connect to a (rejected) name for Christ: Q. Elpino, perhaps meaning “*anointer” (VT44/15). It is unclear whether this √LIP “oil” was connect to its earlier iterations from which limpe “wine” was derived, or if it is was a reemergence of a different root such as ᴱ√ILI¹ “shine oily” as suggested by Wynne, Smith, and Hostetter (VT44/20 note #7).

LIR “sing, warble, [ᴹ√] trill”

A root connected to singing for all of Tolkien’s life (Ety/GLIR, LIR¹; PE17/27, 67), though its earliest precursor was ᴱ√LIŘI [LIÐI] and thus did not contain the consonant R (QL/54). For further discussion, see √LIN “sing, make a musical sound”.

LIS “[ᴹ√] honey, [ᴱ√] sweetness”

This root was connected to sweet things throughout Tolkien’s life. It appeared as ᴱ√LISI “sweetness” in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with some derivatives of similar meaning as well as others having to do with grace and blessing, such as ᴱQ. lis (list-) “grace, blessing”; Tolkien made it clear that “sweetness” was the root meaning (QL/54-55). In the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon the “sweetness” words all began with gl- and “grace” words with l-: G. glais “sweetness”, G. glist “sugar” (GL/39) vs. G. list “grace, favour, kindness”, G. lista- “bless” (GL/54). This connection between √LIS and “grace” survived in Tolkien’s later writing, since he used Q. lissë for “grace” in Quenya prayers of the 1950s (VT43/29; VT44/12).

This root appeared as ᴹ√LIS “honey” in The Etymologies of the 1930s, with Noldorin derivatives still beginning with gl-: ᴹQ. lis vs. N. glî “honey” (Ety/LIS). It appeared as √(G)LIS in “Definitive Linguistic Notes” (DLN) from 1959, still serving as the basis for words for honey and sweetness (PE17/154), though some of the Sindarin “sweet” words now began with l-: S. laich “sweet” (PE17/148).


An unglossed root appearing in both the first and second versions of Tengwesta Qenderinwa from the 1930s and around 1950 (TQ1: PE18/43, 66; TQ2: PE18/93), perhaps the basis for S. lisg “reed” (UT/34). However, in the Outline of Phonetic Development (OP1) from the 1930s, Tolkien said that ᴹQ. liske “reed” was derived from ᴹ✶lisge (PE19/51).

ᴹ√LIT “*(fine) grit”

An unglossed root in The Etymologies of the 1930s with derivatives ᴹQ. litse/N. lith “sand” (Ety/LIT). Elsewhere N. lith was translated “ash” (TI/208), so perhaps the meaning of the root was something like “*(fine) grit”. Tolkien’s continued use of S. lith “ash” indicates its ongoing validity (RC/765; SA/lith).

ᴱ√LIÞI “*flow of time”

A root for various words in the Gnomish Lexicon of the 1910s having to do with the flow of time, such as G. lith- “go, depart, be over, finish, end, die”, G. lithin “bygone, ended”, and G. lint “quick, agile, nimble, light” (GL/54), as well as G. laith “time, the course of time; lapse”, and G. laith(r)a- “let slip, lose, mislay, forget; (intr.) to be lost” (GL/52). The last of these was “a confusion of two distinct roots — see lech and lith-”, referring to ᴱ√lech “smooth, slippery” whose derivatives included laitha- “slip (intr.), slide by” (GL/53).

This last verb laitha- is of interest because it is the only attested verb in the published corpus having to do with unintentional loss, as opposed to the deliberate release of something for which we have a number of roots like √SEN “let loose, free, let go” or √LEK “loose, unbind, let, permit”. I personally think that it is worth positing a Neo-Eldarin root ᴺ√LAYATH “lose, loss” to salvage this verb as ᴺQ. laisa-/ᴺS. laetha- “lose, mislay”. This is, however, a rather controversial opinion, and most Neo-Eldarin writers prefer derivatives from some later root, such as the aforementioned √SEN and √LEK, or √PEN “lack, be without, have not; the lacking, the poor”.

ᴹ√LIW “*fish”

An unglossed root in The Etymologies of the 1930s whose derivatives had to do with fish, such as ᴹQ. lingwe and N. lhim “fish” (Ety/LIW). It is probably a later iteration of ᴱ√IWI from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s that likewise was the basis for fish-words from this period, such as ᴱQ. ingwe and G. ing (QL/43; GL/51). The root ᴹ√IW also appeared in The Etymologies (EtyAC/IW), but was unglossed and had no derivatives, so it isn’t clear what Tolkien intended this root to mean in the 1930s, and it may well have been abandoned.

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