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Select Primitive Elvish Roots: NĪ-NITH

NĪ/INI “[ᴹ√] female”

A root associated with feminity, most often used in its extended variant √NIS. The root first appeared as invertible ᴹ√NĪ¹/INI “female, woman” in The Etymologies of the 1930s with derivatives like ᴹQ. inya/N. inw “female” and ᴹQ. inimeite “*feminine” (Ety/INI, NĪ¹). Invertible √INI “female” was also mentioned in the contemporaneous Primitive Quendian Structure: Final Consonants (PE21/55), and √INI was mentioned again in Common Eldarin: Noun Structure from the early 1950s (PE21/71).

NID “will; force, press(ure), thrust; [ᴹ√] lean against”

This root first appeared as ᴹ√NID “lean against” in The Etymologies of the 1930s with derivatives like ᴹQ. nirwa/N. nedhw “bolster, cushion” (Ety/NID). This sense may have replaced the deleted entry ᴹ√NID² “hurt, injure” with various words of similar form but different meaning (Ety/NID²). In Late Notes on Verbs (LVS) from the late 1960s, Tolkien gave a new meaning to this root as follows:

The basic stem NID- … meant press, thrust, force (in a given direction) and though applicable to the pressure of a person on others, by mind and “will” as well as by physical strength, could also be used of physical pressures exerted by inanimates … In T. and S. NID became used exclusively of “rational” purpose and will (PE22/165).

In this sense its derivatives included Q. indo “mind in its purposing faculty, the will”, whose Sindarin equivalent S. inn meant “some particular purpose or intention of an individual”. In Quenya the verb form Q. nir- retained the general meaning of “urge, press, force” for both physical and mental pressure, but in Sindarin the verb forms nídha- and nidh- both had to do with intent, the former very strong in meaning (“I am determined to do it”) but the latter somewhat weaker (“I will do it”).

A different precursor to √NID “press, thrust, force” appeared in a list of roots composed in 1959-60: √NIR “will, intention, conscious resolve to move or do” with derivatives Q. níra “will” and Q. nirmë “act of will”. The first of these words could also be a derivative of √NID, since intervocalic [d] usually became [r] in Quenya. Thus it seems Tolkien decided that Q. nir- was associated with “will” at least a decade before he wrote the note on √NID “press, thrust, force”.

Neo-Eldarin: For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I would stick with the meaning of the root described in LVS from the 1960s, but the words for “cushion” might be salvaged in the sense of a thing that resists pressure. The derivatives of √NIR may likewise be based on √NID.

NIK “small”

One of various roots for “small” Tolkien used in his later writings. The root √NIK “small” first appeared in notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from the late 1960s (VT47/26; VT48/18), but was connected to the dimunitive suffix ✶-i(n)kĭ which had a much longer conceptual history. One of the earliest known dimunitive suffix was ᴱQ. -íne(a) in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s from the root ᴱ√INI “small” (QL/42), which might be a precursor to √NIK; these suffixes reappeared in the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s (PE14/49, 81). In the Gnomish Grammar of the 1910s, the word G. inc “small” was used as the basis for the “dimunitive superlative” -inci (PE11/16).

In the Qenya Lexicon, Tolkien connected ᴱ√INI “small” to the root ᴱ√MINI of similar meaning (QL/42, 61). There are no signs of ᴱ√MINI “small” in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon, but the word G. migin “little” (GL/57) hints at a (hypothetical) variant root *ᴱ√MIKI. Further support for *ᴱ√MIKI can be found in other dimunitive forms in the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s such as prefixal dimunitive ᴱQ. mike- along adverbial ᴱQ. mike “little” (QL/48, 81), the latter appearing with the gloss “a bit” in the English-Qenya Dictionary from this period (PE15/70) along with other similar words in both the dictionary and the grammar. This *ᴱ√MIKI might be another precursor to √NIK.

In Noldorin and Sindarin, the primary dimunitive suffix became -eg¹, which was connected to the Common Eldarin suffix -iki elsewhere in notes on hands and fingers (VT47/14 note #21). In the notes where √NIK “small” appeared, Tolkien gave the primitive dimunitive as -inkĭ along with variants ikki, -iksi, -si, -ensi, -ki.

One of the main competing roots for “small” was ᴹ√PIK (Ety/PIK), itself with a lengthy conceptual history. The shift of pitya >> nitya in the father name of Amrod from the late 1960s may represent a replacement of this root by √NIK (PM/365), but I think it is likelier the two roots coexisted with slightly different meanings, as was the case for their earlier precursors. In the notes from the late 1960s, √NIK was also contrasted with √NIP “small (usually with connotation of weakness)” (VT48/18), from which the word S. niben “petty” was derived, as in S. Nogoth Niben (WJ/388).

Neo-Eldarin: For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I would assume √NIK meant “small” in a neutral sense, √PIK “tiny” and √NIP “small and weak”. I would use these as the major Eldarin roots for “small” words, along with a number of other more specialized roots.

NIK(W) “snow, ice; [ᴱ√] white”

This root was used for Elvish words for “white” and “snow” for much of Tolkien’s life. It first appeared as ᴱ√NIQI “white” in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. niqis “snow” and ᴱQ. ninqe “white” (QL/66), the latter surviving more or less unchanged for the rest of Tolkien’s life. In the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon it had derivatives like G. nictha- “to rain, hail, snow” and G. nimp “pallid” (GL/60), the latter the cognate of ᴱQ. ninqe and another word that survived in Tolkien’s later conceptions of the languages.

The root appeared as unglossed ᴹ√NIK-W in The Etymologies, again with ᴹQ. ninqe “white” and N. nimp “pale” and other similar words, including ᴹQ. niqe “snow” (Ety/NIK-W). The root was mentioned again in Tolkien’s later writing as √NIK-W (PE17/160) or √NIK (PE17/168) as a basis for “snow” words. In Sindarin Tolkien felt it was influenced by other roots, such as √(N)DIP/B “bending and drooping” (PE17/168) or √NIP “small with a connatation of weakness” (VT48/18) so that S. nimp also took on a connotation of weakness and frailty, and hence was used for “pale, pallid” rather than simply “white”.

ᴹ√NINDI “fragile, thin”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “fragile, thin” with derivatives like ᴹQ. ninde/N. ninn “slender” (Ety/NIN-DI), replacing deleted ᴹ√NIN-DA “blue” (EtyAC/NIN-DI) which was probably a later manifestation of ᴱ√NINI “*blue” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s (QL/66). ᴱ√NINI had derivatives in both Qenya and Gnomish in the 1910s, but there are no signs of nin- as “blue” in Tolkien’s later writing.

NIP “small (usually with connotation of weakness)”

A root mentioned in some notes from the late 1960s as a variant of √NIK “small”, but with an added connotation of “weakness” (VT48/18). It was the basis for S. niben “petty” as in S. Nogoth Niben “Petty Dwarf”, and it contributed to the sense of frailty in S. nimp, usually glossed “pale, pallid” but in this note “small and frail”. It might also appear in a reversed form *√PIN in the word S. pîn “little” in S. Cûl Bîn “little load” (RC/536). This word may also be a remnant of the early root ᴱ√PINI “*small” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, with variants ᴱ√ and ᴱ√PIKI (QL/73). This early root had various derivatives referring to small things in the 1910s in both Gnomish and Qenya, and one of these forms, ᴹ√PIK, reappeared as a root for small things in The Etymologies of the 1930s. Thus there seems to be quite a few possible precursors to this root, with many minor variations in form.

NIS “woman”

This root first appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s as ᴹ√NIS “woman”, an extension of ᴹ√NĪ¹ “female” (Ety/NIS). It also had a strengthened form ᴹ√NDIS, unglossed but apparently meaning “bride” based on its derivatives ᴹQ. indis/N. dîs of that meaning (Ety/NDIS). Unstrengthened ᴹ√NIS seems to have survived only in Quenya as the basis for ᴹQ. nis (niss-) “woman”, but this word was also blended with *ndis-sē to produce a longer form nisse of the same meaning.

In Tolkien’s later writings, both short Q. nís and longer nissë appeared as words for “woman” (MR/213; VT47/33) and Q. indis reappeared as well, though glossed “wife” (UT/8). As primitive forms, both unstrengthened √nis (VT47/33) and strengthened ✶ndī̆s “woman” also appeared in later writings, the latter given as the feminine equivalent of ✶n[d]ēr “man” (PE19/102).

*√NITH “smell sweet”

A hypothetical root serving as the basis for the element nis- in late Quenya words like Q. nísima “fragrant” in Nísimaldar “Fragrant Trees” (UT/167); the root must be *√NITH rather than **√NIS because otherwise the Quenya forms would have nir-. It may be a later iteration of ᴱ√NṚŘṚ [NṚÐṚ] “smell sweet” from the the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, given as nṛþ- in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon (GL/30). This early ð vs þ variation was reflected in words like ᴱQ. nar (nard-) vs. G. narth “odour” and ᴱQ. narda- “smell sweetly” vs. G. drith- “it smells, smacks of, savours of”.

Another possibly related form is ✶nes- “sweet smelling” < √NE “scent” serving as the basis for Q. alanessë and S. galanes > galenas “tobacco” = “*sweet smelling growth” in notes on the words and phrases in The Lord of the Rings from the late 1950s or early 1960s (PE17/100).

Neo-Eldarin: For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I’d recommend sticking *√NITH for sweet smelling, as this form has been known for longer and produces clearer results in derived words.

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