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Select Primitive Elvish Roots: NŪ-ÑYEL

NŪ/UNU “down, under; go down, sink”

This root and ones like it were used for Elvish words for “under” and “(going) down” for much of Tolkien’s life. Probably the first appearance of this root was ᴱ√NUHU “bow, bend down, stoop, sink” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with variant ᴱ√ appearing in parenthesis, though marked by Tolkien with a “?” (QL/68). The most notable derivative of this root was ᴱQ. núme “west”, and Q. núme(n) remained the Quenya word for “west” for the remainder of Tolkien’s life. Elsewhere in the Qenya Lexicon Tolkien compared the root ᴱ√Ū¹ “under” to the short form of this root ᴱ√, but went on to note that “Ū- = not” (QL/96), perhaps the inspiration for him later transferring the sense “under” to √. As for the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon, the root ᴱ√NŪ/NUHU had derivatives like G. nûmin “the west” and G. nunthi “downward” (GL/61). Of ᴱ√Ū¹ “under” there is no sign, though there are plenty Gnomish derivatives of ᴱ√Ū² “not” (GL/73).

Indeed, by the Markiya poem of the late 1920s, Tolkien was using ᴱQ. nu for “under” (MC/214), though in the drafts he initially used no (PE16/62, 72). In The Etymologies of the 1930s he had the unglossed invertible root ᴹ√NU/UNU with derivatives like ᴹQ. nu/N. no “under” (Ety/NU). The only notable derivative of its inverted form was ᴹQ. undu “down, under, beneath” (Ety/UNU), which reemerged in the Q. Namárië poem in Q. undulav- “swallow, (lit.) down-licked” (LotR/377; PE17/72; RGEO/58).

In The Etymologies Tolkien also gave a new strengthened form of this root ᴹ√NDŪ “go down, sink, set (of Sun)”, now serving as the basis for words for “west” like ᴹQ. númen, N. dûn or N. annûn, though strictly speaking the latter was the cognate of ᴹQ. andúne “sunset” (Ety/NDŪ), a Quenya word that was also frequently used for “The West”. All these Quenya and Noldorin words reappeared in Tolkien’s later writings, with the caveat that in Sindarin Tolkien used S. nu for “under” as in S. Taur-nu-Fuin “Forest under Nightshade” (S/155). The root √NU, its inversion √UNU and its strengthened form √NDU appeared regularly in Tolkien’s later writing, consistently with senses like “under, (go) down, sink”.

NUK “dwarf, stunted”

Tolkien used words like Q. nauco and S. naug for “dwarf” throughout his life, but the underlying root evolved over time. No root for these words appeared in Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, but based on words like G. naud “bowed, bent”, G. naug “dwarf”, and G. naur “ill-tempered, sour, grumbling”, it was probably something like *ᴱ√NAWA (GL/59), Tolkien’s portrayal of Dwarves was not very positive in his earliest writings. In The Etymologies he gave the root as unglossed ᴹ√NAU̯K, likely a reduction of ᴹ√NÁWAK, the latter represented in the variant word N. Nawag for “Dwarf” (Ety/NAUK).

In later writings Tolkien generally gave the root as √NUK (PE17/45; VT39/7; WJ/392), which he glossed “dwarf, stunted” in the Quendi and Eldar essay of 1959-60, clarifying that this specifically was used for things “not reaching full growth or achievement, failing of some mark or standard” and (prior to their application to Dwarves) “S naug, Q nauka, especially applied to things that though in themselves full-grown were smaller or shorter than their kind, and were hard, twisted or ill-shapen” (WJ/413). So this use as the name for Dwarves remained fairly insulting.

*√NUR “*murmur, grumble”

An unglossed root appearing as ᴱ√NURU in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. nur(ru) “growl” and ᴱQ. núru- “to growl” (QL/68). It also had derivatives in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon such as G. nur- “growl, grumble” and G. nurn “plaint, lament, a complaint” (GL/61). Tolkien’s use of Q. nurru- “murmur, grumble” in the Markirya poem from the late 1960s indicates the root’s ongoing validity or restoration (MC/222-223), though perhaps with a different meaning. Somewhat interestingly, in the early version of the Markirya poem from around 1930, Tolkien used unrelated ᴱQ. ulmula for “mumbling” (MC/214).

Neo-Eldarin: For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I would assume this root means “growl, grumble, mumble” to allow the salvaging of early words derived from ᴱ√NURU.

ᴹ√NUR “deep”

A root mentioned in The Etymologies as an extension of ᴹ√NU with the gloss “deep” and derivatives ᴹQ. núra and N. nûr of the same meaning (Ety/NU). Possibly related is the later word Q. nurtalë “hiding” as in Q. Nurtalë Valinóreva “Hiding of Valinor” (S/102).

ᴹ√NUS “sense, wisdom; *sense of smell”

A root in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “sense, wisdom”, with the derivative ON. nuhina > N. noen “wise, sensible” (EtyAC/NUS). This is probably a later iteration of unglossed ᴱ√NUSU from the Qenya Lexicon with variant ᴱ√NUFU, both with derivatives having to do with “*the act of smelling” such as ᴱQ. nuste “sense of smell” and ᴱQ. nuvu- “smell, sniff at” (QL/68). Derivatives in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon also had to do with “smell”, but there were also words like G. nus- “take notice, perceive” and G. nusimos “sagacity” (GL/61). Hence the early root was also connected to the meanings “perceptive” and “wise”. The verb ᴹQ. nusta- “smell” from the Quenya Verbal System of the 1940s indicates Tolkien’s later conception of the root was also still connected to “(sense of) smell”.

ᴱ√ŊWAÐA “tarry, linger”

A root in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s glossed “tarry, linger” (QL/63), but it was blended and confused with ᴱ√MBARA “dwell, live” (QL/60), since initial [ŋʷ] became [m] in Early Qenya. This makes its precise derivatives tricky to determine. Tolkien also indicated ᴱ√ŊWAÐA was a variant of {ᴱ√W̯AŘA >>} ᴱ√ẆAÐA “dwell” (QL/102), where the probably indicates an ancient labialized velar spirant ʒw [ɣʷ].

Derivatives of ᴱ√ŊWAÐA are easier to find in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon, as they begin with gwa-: Tolkien indicated that G. gwast “dwelling”, G. gwadhra “habitable”, and G. gwadhron “inhabitant” were all derived from ŋwa- (GL/47), though on another page a deleted noted gave the primitive form as gu̯ađ (GL/46), probably the Gnomish result of ᴱ√ẆAÐA. Indeed, in the Qenya Lexicon Tolkien indicated that Gnomish gwadh- forms were also blended with waða (QL/63). In Tolkien’s later writing, he abandoned this confusing muddle with ᴱ√ŊWAÐA and ᴱ√ẆAÐA in favor of just using √MBAR.

ᴹ√NYAR “tell, relate”

Quenya words for “tell” and “tale” began with nyar- for much of Tolkien’s life, but their derivation shifted over time. The earliest root for such words was ᴱ√NYAŘA [NYAÐA] “relate, tell” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. nyara- “relate, tell” and ᴱQ. nyara “tale” (QL/68), but it had no obvious derivatives in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon. In The Etymologies of the 1930s Tolkien first gave this root as ᴹ√NYAR “tell, relate”, then changed it to ᴹ√NAR² with a Quenya-only variant nyar- (Ety/NAR²; EtyAC/NAR²). This change may have been in keeping with Tolkien notion from the 1930s that palatalized dentals might have been a Quenya-only innovation (PE18/44). The root ᴹ√NYAR/NAR had derivatives like ᴹQ. nyáre/N. narn “tale” and ᴹQ. nyar- “tell”.

However, in both the Outline of Phonetic Development (OP1) from the 1930s and Outline of Phonology (OP2) from the early 1950s Tolkien indicated the primitive form of the Quenya verb was ñgyar- (OP1: PE19/36, OP2: PE19/76). This may have been in keeping with Tolkien’s later decision that palatalized dentals were not a feature of Primitive Elvish at all; see the entry on how [j] was lost after initial dentals in the Welsh-like branch of the Elvish languages for discussion of this transition. Despite this decision, Tolkien continued to use S. narn “tale” regularly in his later writings, despite there being no way it could be derived from ñ(g)yar-.

Neo-Eldarin: For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I think it best to ignore Tolkien’s decision to remove palatalized dentals from Primitive Elvish, and I recommend retaining √NYAR as the root for “tell” and “tale” in Elvish, this being the only reasonable option for retaining both Q. nyar- and S. narn.

ÑYEL “ring(ing), [ᴹ√] sing, give out a sweet sound”

This root first appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s as ᴹ√NYEL “ring, sing, give out a sweet sound”, with derivatives like ᴹQ. nyelle/N. nell “bell”, ᴹQ. nyello “singer” and N. nella- “sound (of bells)” (Ety/NYEL, EtyAC/NYEL). Tolkien also mentioned this root in the first version of Tengwesta Qenderinwa from the 1930s (TQ1) as having a variant √NYOL, also meaning “ring” but representing a deeper sound (PE18/45).

In the second version of Tengwesta Qenderinwa from the early 1930s (TQ2), he gave the variants as √ŊYEL/√ŊYOL “ring”, in keeping with his decision to remove initial palatalized dentals from Primitive Elvish. A similar set of variants √(Ñ)GYEL/√(Ñ)GYOL “ringing” appeared in a list of sound roots from around 1959-60 (PE17/138).

Neo-Eldarin: For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I think it best to ignore Tolkien’s decision to remove palatalized dentals from Primitive Elvish, and I recommend retaining √NYEL as the root for “bell” words.

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