It is well-documented and often-cited that Tolkien began creating his major artificial languages, Quenya and Sindarin, in order to emulate his aurally favorite languages, Finnish and Welsh. Q and S were certainly a labor of love as he worked on them all his life, for about 60 years. He worked a lot refining them and also inventing the "historical" etymology of words and names, a derivational system with rules, roots and elements and their cognates among the Elf languages, showing a fictional interrelation between them.

An obscure language that was, I guess, also a labor of love, was Taliska, one of the languages of the Edain, which reportedly was based on Gothic or some Germanic languages; as in his early legendarium the Edain were he fictional ancestors of modern humans, perhaps in his mind Taliska was the fictional origin of the germanic languages.

Although I am not aware if Tolkien ws fond of the semitic languages at all, he did experiment with them, giving Adunaic and Dwarvish a "semitic flavor" and structure. Adunaic belongs to a different stage of development (1940s) and obviously he had abandoned the idea of Taliska by then. I am not sure why he wanted to have the Numenoreans speaking a quasi-semitic languages but he did note that the Dwarves have something in common with the Jews.

While writing LOTR, again in a later stage of his life and his subcreation (1950s), he got the idea of the Common Speech of the Westlands, which is a direct descendant of the Adunaic language, similar to how classical Latin evolved to the vulgar Latin as a common european speech. He did maintain his concepts of Adunaic while writing LOTR as some Adunaic names are seen there.

As for Orkish, he deliberately made it ugly.

During his writing, he entertained with the idea that the text and the names are a direct "translation" from Westron to English. As the Westlands had other languages related to Westron, he "translated" them into other germanic languages (Old English, Gothic, Norse); he also used Celtic elements and names to show more distant to Westron languages. All this creates an elaborate "translation" system. He showed this with the examples of the names Smaug (Norse), Smeagol (Old English) and the hobbitish word "smial" (invented, but derived from Old English), all connected to a germanic word for "burrowing".

A sample of genuine "untranslated" Westron words can be seen here: https://folk.uib.no/hnohf/westron.htm

And now my question: Do you think that Tolkien had anythng in mind while creating the Westron words? Westron derives from Adunaic which has a quasi-semitic structure but this is not apparent in the Westron corpus. Also, what do you think is the "character" of Westron? Considering that Tolkien paid so much attention in beauty of sounds, and the images that can be evoked by the shape of a name, he didn't seem to strive for beauty with words like "Suzat" (Westron name for the Shire), "kuduk" (hobbit), "Phurunargian" (Moria) or "Karningul" (Rivendell). It seems that he experimented with Taliska for a fictional ancestor of the germanic languages, so, considering Westron's cultural significance and ubiquiteness in Middle-earth during the Third Age, could it be considered a fictional ancestor of modern human languages, Indo-European for example? And since he liked so much playing with Elvish etymologies and connecting Elvish names to "Proto-Elvish" roots, did he ever played with the etymology of Westron words from Adunaic?

Personally, the only "character" I see in Westron is some "playful" mood in hobbitish names like "Bilba Labingi" (the genuine names of Bilbo Baggins), Tomba, Matta, Zaragamba etc. But other than that, it seems that his Westron creations were arbitrary, not based on any Adunaic derivation, real-life inspiration or even esthetic principle, which is curious for Tolkien, and such a significant language like Westron.

  • ACtually I made a small mistake. Tolkien did discuss sometimes the etymology of Westron words, but interestingly, this was mostly about Elvish loanwords, not derivation from its ancestor, Adunaic. For example the word "tarkil" contains the elvish root "tar"
    – Voprosnik
    Feb 27, 2019 at 20:43
  • 1
    Maybe you can get an answer to this question on Constructed Languages
    – user99738
    May 21, 2019 at 9:48

1 Answer 1


I think you answered your own question. But I'll add my 2 cents here.

As you probably know, Westron is based on Adûnaic, that is, the language of Númenor. Helge Kåre Fauskanger quotes David Salo, who he said suggests that Westron has a phonology very similar to late Adûnaic.

And Adûnaic was intended to have a "faintly Semitic flavour" or style, as mentioned in Sauron Defeated.

In my personal opinion, Tolkien probably just improvised. He probably made a small skeleton of a language to represent Adûnaic, and, inspired by a language he viewed as semitic, added words to it, then added Sindarin and Quenya elements here and there to form Westron. Which semitic language is it? Aramaic? Ugaritic? Phoenician? Hebrew? I don't know, but it looks like (well, it sounds like) Hebrew and Arabic. But the keyword from that SD quote, I think, is "faintly". Westron and Adûnaic borrow some phonemes, nothing else. I think he just came up with words and added to the corpus of Adûnaic without giving much thought to it. And I think he was very aware of how he didn't put a lot of love into it, thus didn't use it as much as the other languages.

Compare that to Quenya and Finnish. Quenya is very Finnish. Many words are the same, with different meanings. I remember I recognised words in Helsinki when I lived there, off the top of my head "kirja" means book in Finnish and "cirya" means boat in Quenya. I've read a Finn in a forum somewhere explaining that a piece of Namarië sounds like Tolkien was talking some jibberish about tractors and a farm pen and how some words sound like names of people. That certainly won't happen with Westron. =D

Oh well, I digress. Anyway, if the Professor was thinking of a language when working on Westron, I think it's safe to say that no one knows which was it. It's not documented anywhere, afaik, and the only person who would be able to give us a hint, Christopher Tolkien, passed away.

Finally, you asked about the character of the language. I have the impression Tolkien tried to make Westron sound completely alien in comparison to the elvish languages. Which makes sense. Alien, but not ugly, nor harsh. Simply foreign. I'd say it reminds me a bit of romance languages. It has a lot of fully formed syllables, with vowels and clear consonants. Perhaps lacking a bit of fluff, like all the Sindarin mutations and stuff. In a way that humans take less time to develop it, whereas elves keep polishing their own languages, making it more.. I want to say challenging, but that's not quite the right word. It's like these languages grow more complex, but it's not intentional, it's just how it is with elves. Westron makes me think men don't have that kind of concern.


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