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Select Elvish Words 1.11-1.12: World, Universe

1.11 World

Q. Ambar, n. “The World, Earth, (lit.) Habitation, Settlement”
The word Ambar is probably the most common Quenya word for the “World”. Its more literal meaning is “Habitation” (MR/337; NM/226) or “Settlement” (PE17/163) in the sense that it is the realm in which the children of Eru (Elves and Men) live. A clear description of this notion can be found in notes from late 1960s:

Ambar was thus “the great settlement”. This may be translated “world” — meaning this Earth as the place (by destiny) inhabited by Elves and Men, the Children of Eru. It thus resembles ἡ οἰκουμένη [Greek = “the inhabited world”], but was not limited either to the parts of Earth actually inhabited, or to those inhabited by any special peoples such as the Elves, or among Men the Numenóreans. The decision, the fixing of the dwelling place, was thought of as proceeding from Eru and was so part of his Umbar [Destiny]. Umbar, so used, might be said to be “the history of Ambar”, so far as already accomplished, and its future so far as already arranged and defined (PE17/163).

This specific note was rejected, but similar descriptions appear elsewhere (NM/226-227). As noted by Tolkien here and elsewhere, the term Ambar was also intertwined with the notion of Destiny (Umbar) as willed by Eru.

Another common term for “world” was Q. Arda, more literally “Realm”, but strictly speaking this referred to the regions under the dominion of Manwë, and so included areas outside of the world such as Aman (after its removal from the world) and the remainder of the Solar System (PE17/105; MR/337; NM/227). Tolkien also sometimes used Q. cemen “earth” for “the Earth” (VT44/34; MR/387), particularly in Q. Kementári “Queen of the Earth” as a name for Yavanna (S/28). But that seems to refer more to livable surface of the world rather than the entire world itself.

Etymology: This word was derived from the root √MBAR “settle, dwell”, with a vocalic augment: ✶a-mbar (PE17/105, 124). It is not the result of a syllabic nasal ✶ṃbar, as that would produce Q. umbar, the Elvish word for fate or destiny (PE17/104).

Conceptual Development: The word ᴹQ. Ambar first appeared in a document labeled ᴹQ. Ambarkanta “The Shape of the World” from the early 1930s (SM/235-240). It appeared as ᴹQ. Ambar “Earth” in The Etymologies of the 1930s, already with the same basic meaning and derivation as given above. A possible precursor is the word ᴱQ. irmin “the inhabited world” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, which was similar in form and meaning but derived from a different root ᴱ√IŘI [IÐI] “dwell” (QL/43). There was a variant Imbar of Ambar in Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth from around 1959 (MR/337) which might be a callback to this earlier word.

S., N. amar, n. “world, the Earth, (lit.) settlement, the great habitation”
The usual Sindarin world for “world”, cognate of Q. Ambar, more literally meaning “settlement” or “the great habitation” (PE17/105; NM/226). It was derived from an augmented form of the root √MBAR “settle, dwell”: ✶a-mbar > ammar > amar (PE17/104, 124), with the usual shortening of long mm in Sindarin. For a discussion of its connection to Destiny, see the entry on Q. Ambar.

Conceptual Development: N. amar “Earth” first appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s, already as a derivative of ᴹ√MBAR “dwell, inhabit”. In the Early Noldorin Grammar and Early Noldorin Wordlists of the 1920s, however, Tolkien used ᴱN. barth for “world, earth” (PE13/120, 138), and in the Gnomish Lexicon the word G. mar meant “Earth” along with “ground, soil” (GL/56).

1.12 Universe

Q. , n. “Creation, the (Material) Universe, Cosmos, †World; it is, let it be, [ᴹQ.] all that is”
A term for all Creation, it is simply the present tense or imperative of the verb Q. ëa- “to exist”, literally meaning “it is” or “let it be” (Let/286; MR/39; NM/231). In various notes from the late 1960s Tolkien clarified its meaning:

  • ëa … properly cannot be used of God since ëa refers only to things created by Eru directly or mediately (PE22/147).
  • ëa, which is all “nature”, but was not held to include [souls?] and spirits (VT39/20 note #20).
  • “it is” = the total of Ambar: the given material and its processes of change. Outside is the world/sphere of aware purpose and will (NM/231 note #5).

Thus it seems is limited in scope to the material universe, as opposed to other terms like ilu and ilúvë which also include the spiritual realm. Tolkien occasionally translated as “World”, but probably only in a poetic sense. The term Ambar is more proper when referring only to the world itself rather than the entire Cosmos.

Conceptual Development: The term ᴹQ. Ea “all that is, the World” was first introduced in the Quenya Verbal System of the 1940s along with the verb ᴹQ. ea-, but in that document the verb ea- was the general verb for “to be” rather than being limited in sense only to existential statements (PE22/122).

Q. ilu, n. “everything, all, the whole; [ᴹQ.] universe, ⚠️world; [ᴱQ.] ether”
A term for everything that is, thus referring to the entire universe and everything in existence, which Tolkien clarified as being:

… more than ëa, which is all “nature”, but was not held to [souls?] and spirits. ilu includes God, all souls and spirits as well as ëa (VT39/20 note #20).

It is derived from the root √IL “all”.

Conceptual Development: The first mention of the term ᴱQ. ilu was in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s where it was glossed “ether, the slender airs among the stars”, and serving as an element in the ᴱQ. Ilúvatar (QL/42), in this document translated as “Heavenly Father” rather than “All-father” as it was later. Thus the early conception of ᴱQ. ilu seems closer to “sky” or “heaven” than “universe”. In the The Etymologies of the 1930s, ᴹQ. ilu was glossed “universe” beside variant ᴹQ. ilúve and given as a derivative of ᴹ√IL “all” (Ety/IL). The word ilu was glossed “world” in various iterations of the ᴹQ. Lament of Atalante in the 1930s and 40s (LR/047; LR/56), though in the 1940s versions it was replaced by {eru >>} ᴹQ. Arda (SD/310). In a 1968 addendum to the Quendi and Eldar its meaning was restricted to “everything, all, the whole” referring to the entirety of existence including God and the divine realm, as indicated by the quote above (VT39/20 note #20).

Q. ilúvë, n. “the whole, the all, allness; ⚠️[ᴹQ.] universe, world; Heaven”
A term for everything in existence, an elaboration on (or variant of) Q. ilu. It was the initial element of Q. Ilúvatar “All-father” (MR/39). In the Quendi and Eldar essay of 1959-60, Tolkien said ilúvë “allness, the all” was an equivalent of Q. “All Creation” (WJ/402). In the The Etymologies of the 1930s, it seems to be the equivalent of ᴹQ. ilu “universe” (Ety/IL).

Conceptual Development: In note from the 1940s Tolkien used Ilúve for “heaven” (MR/355), and in the earliest draft of Elendil’s Oath he used Iluve for “world” (SD/56), the latter eventually revised to Q. Ambar (LotR/967). These both seem to have been transient ideas.

Neo-Eldarin: Compared to Q. ilu, I feel that ilúvë is the totality of everything in the universe as originating from Eru, as opposed to ilu which is the entire universe itself. I think that, technically speaking, ilúvë does not include Eru, whereas ilu does. In the sense that it includes all things created by Eru, ilúvë resembles Q. , but it also includes the Ainur and other spirits not within the material realm, and so in that respect is distinct from Ëa. These fine-grained interpretations are mostly speculation on my part.

ᴺS. ilu, n. “universe, the whole, cosmos”
A neologism coined by Paul Strack in 2021 specifically for Eldamo, the Sindarin equivalent of Q. ilu and Q. ilúvë as terms for the entire universe.

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