J.R.R. Tolkien was famous for his constructed languages. We know that some languages, e.g. the Elven language Quenya, were based on Finnish and Welsh. For the speech of Men, he was inspired by Old English, Old Norse and Gothic.

Gollum seems to speak a dialect of Common; his speech is famous for its duplicated plurals (orcses) and wrongly using the third person singular ending of a verb (we hates it). Is there anything known about what inspired Tolkien for the development of this mode of speech?

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    We upvotes my precioussss questionses.... Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 13:51
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    Anecdotally, I know a native Cantonese speaker who does something similar in English, but I'm not sure if it is just the way he happens to have learned or whether it is endemic among Cantonese speakers. He knows that he's not quite using standard English grammar, it's more that he learned English so long ago that his current ways of speaking are what is comfortable for him and since people understand him, there's no reason for him to learn the correct forms anytime soon. It's also socially unacceptable to criticize an immigrant's English here in the USA, so nobody even reminds him anymore. Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 13:54
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    Relevant: reduplicated plurals and Sussex dialect Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 18:53
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    @RobertColumbia - Also the translation from Chinese back into English of "troopseses" in The Backstroke of the West.
    – Gaultheria
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 20:33
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    Quenya was inspired by Finnish. Sindarin was inspired by Welsh. Those are two quite different languages. Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 14:01

3 Answers 3


I can only find one reference to Gollum's mode of speech in the Letters.

I believe there is only one error remaining in the text from which the Puffin was printed: like for likes (6th imp. p. 85 line 1; Puffin p. 76, line 23). This crept in in the 6th imp. I think. Not that Gollum would miss the chance of a sibilant!

The Letters of JRR Tolkien Letter 236 (to Raynor Unwin)

This doesn't tell us anything about what inspired that mode of speech. I think it is clear that this mode of speech is unique to Gollum and is not a "language" like Quenya or Finnish, or even a dialect like Northern English. I find tenuous support for this in the draft of a letter that discusses the customs of Hobbits.

There is no reason to suppose that the Stoors of Wilderland had developed a strictly 'matriarchal' system, properly so called. No trace of any such thing was to be found among the Stoor-element in the Eastfarthing and Buckland, though they maintained various differences of custom and law.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien Letter 214 (draft of letter to A. C. Nunn)

Tolkien points to the Stoors of the Shire as preserving the customs of their ancient relations in Wilderland. It seems likely that if Sméagol's people spoke like Gollum, that would be reflected in the speech of the inhabitants of the Eastfarthing and Buckland.

Sméagol/Gollum has two modes of speech. The corrupt Gollum character uses the distinctive mode with double pluruls and third person references to himself. On the few occasions when the more benign Sméagol character comes through, his speech is normal.

It seems clear to me that the Sméagol mode of speech is that of the people he grew up with and the Gollum voice developed over the years of Gollum's isolation and corruption.

So where did Gollum's mode of speech come from? As I said, Tolkien doesn't appear to have addressed this. However, I think a parallel can be drawn between Gollum's mode of speech and that of very young children. Very young speakers have not yet acquired the instictive understanding of grammar that older children and adults have; they make grammatical mistakes such as the double plurals referred to in the question. So my conclusion is that simply meant to convey the impression that Gollum is not sophisticated.

Of course we know that the character and speech of Gollum was originally developed before the Sméagol backstory. I have tried to give an in-universe explanation.

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    This makes very good sense. I always imagined Gollum's speech patterns came from him talking (muttering) to himself in the dark for centuries. I suspect that nearly anyone would develop some quirks under those circumstances, even without the Ring! Note that even before the Ring came into the picture, Gollum was a solitary dweller in a very deep cave. Even a few decades alone might unhinge one's sselfs. My precious...
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 17:39
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    The "chance of a sibilant" phrase seems quite telling, assuming that it's not just a typo! It would seem to suggest that Gollum's speech quirk is not primarily grammatical, but phonological: he's emphasizing and even inserting "s" anywhere that it's even halfway possible for it to occur. Presumably he's aware that "we hates hobbitses" isn't correct by normal spelling and grammar rules, but it's still understandable and it ssoundss nicer, doessn't it? (In-universe, I suppose that would be a creative "translation" of some similar phonetic quirk in Westron, where it might even be more natural.) Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 18:58
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    Incidentally, since I was curious -- the altered speech was already present in the original version of "Riddles in the Dark". The character of Gollum was definitely altered, though -- the original version of Gollum wanted to give the Ring to Bilbo as a prize for winning the riddle contest, and helpfully led him out of the cave… ringgame.net/riddles.html
    – user41830
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 19:04
  • @duskwuff Yes. If Gollum had appeared in The Lord of the Rings, the answer to the question would be different. That's why I noted that this is intended to be an-universe explanation.
    – Blackwood
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 19:09
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    @Blackwood The in-universe explanation I've heard is that the original edition is what Bilbo wrote down in his memoir, but the post-LOTR version is what actually happened.
    – user41830
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 19:49

Honestly I think the only inspiration is that he is using 'incorrect grammar' like 'we hates it' to show that his mind has collapsed to the point where he no longer constructs sentences properly in his native language, indicating that he has lost his mind or that his mind has fragmented into different selves. He probably just had the idea listening to people who were learning a particular language, not necessarily English (as someone who studied and learned other languages) and thought 'Imagine if this guy was so far gone, he started to sound like that even though it was his native tongue one time long ago', as if he were forgetting the power of coherent speech. This could be the origin of the eccentric-sounding duplications and grammatical mistakes: just because he has basically forgotten how to form sentences in his own language and sounds like someone who is learning it for the first time.

  • Couples and twins will develop their own cryptolects even if they have social contact with people who speak more standard dialects; small wonder that an isolated individual would do the same. Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 21:10
  • I am an identical twin and don't remember really developing a 'cryptolect', but I'll take your word for it.
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 21:16
  • Heh, I bow to your experience in the matter. I've heard stories of twins doing so to varying degrees but shouldn't have inferred it was universal. Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 21:27

Gollum's way of speaking is very distinctive. He calls himself and the ring "Precious". His last word is "precious". He also calls himself "Smeagol", speaking in the third person. He uses "nice", "nasty", and other evaluative words a lot. He often speaks in a self-pitying or ingratiating way. He is always emotional.

This way of speaking was developed in The Hobbit, so it can't be traced to history as related in The Lord of the Rings.

I don't think it is a dialect, but it seems likely that Tolkien is copying the way of speaking of an actual person. The use of "precious" and similar terms sounds camp to me, but perhaps I am wrong.

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    This answer would be improved by some evidence to back up your guess.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 1, 2020 at 9:27

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