The comments on this question led to an interesting conversation about the Dwarvish language (apparently known as Khuzdul among the Dwarves themselves). The conversation centered on Gimli's battle cries at Helm's Deep, as described in the book The Two Towers.

His first battlecry is the longest:

Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! ["Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!"]

The second is the shortest:

Khazâd! Khazâd! ["Dwarves! Dwarves!"]

And the third repeats part of the first:

Khazâd ai-mênu! ["The Dwarves are upon you!"]

I asked a Stack Exchange member - who is clearly very knowledgeable about the languages of Middle-earth - whether Gimli was technically misspeaking, since "Khazad" is plural, not singular (i.e., it means "[the] Dwarves", not "[a] Dwarf"), and Gimli is the only Dwarf present (so he technically should have said "Axe of the/a Dwarf! A Dwarf is upon you!"). This isn't really a problem, because Gimli was presumably using the standard Dwarf battlecry, not trying to accurately describe the number of Dwarves in the area.

However, this Stack Exchange member who knows a great deal about the languages of Middle-earth said two things that intrigued me:

  1. These battle cries may be the only examples of Dwarvish (Khuzdul) that we have from Tolkien's own pen.
  2. Tolkien "may not have intended for there to be a singular/plural distinction in Dwarvish at all, though of course David Salo certainly made one for neo-Khuzdul."

The first suggestion I find very interesting, and I wonder if it is true; the second I find shocking - Tolkien was, after all, a philologist (i.e., a linguist), and I would have thought (especially considering Tolkien's attention to detail, particularly in regards to languages) that he would address plural/singular distinctions as a matter of course.

Tolkien Gateway's entry on Khazâd/Khuzd addresses the plural/singular issue in relation to the Dwarvish (Khuzdul) words for Dwarf (Khuzd) and Dwarves (Khazâd), but I don't know if it is based on Tolkien's own writing. Here is what it has to say:

Khuzd pl. Khazâd was the Khuzdul word for the "Dwarves".

The word comes from the Root Kh-Z-D; it is also visible in the words Khuzdul and perhaps Nulukkhizdîn.

The plural form Khazâd is the basis of Quenya casar and Sindarin hadhod. The Adûnaic word hazad, meaning "seven", is presumably also related.

In earlier versions, the plural was Khuzûd

Another entry (on "Racism in Tolkien's Works") includes the following quote from Tolkien himself:

The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.

As far as I know (from studying textual criticism of the bible, which has exposed me to a little Aramaic and Hebrew, both of which are Semitic languages), there are indeed plural and singular word forms in Semitic languages. Granted, Tolkien said that "Their words are... constructed to be Semitic", not that the language mirrors all aspects of Semitic languages, but I have a hard time believing that a philologist would adopt Semitic words but dispose of the languages' pre-existing singular/plural distinctions.

So I have two questions:

1. Are the phrases I mentioned above the only examples of Dwarvish (Khuzdul) speech/writing that appear in Tolkien's work? If not, what are the other examples?
2. Do we have any evidence that Tolkien himself intended for Dwarvish (Khuzdul) to include singular/plural distinctions?

Note 1: At first I was tempted to say that the doors of Moria are engraved with Dwarvish words, but after further reflection, I think it was actually Elvish writing. If I am wrong, and it was actually Dwarvish, please correct me in your answer - consider this a sub-question.

Note 2: To give credit where credit is due, the very knowledgeable SE member who I mentioned above, and who inspired this question, was Janus Bahs Jacquet.

Note 3: A resource mentioned and linked in the first answer submitted for this question seems to support the claim that, aside from a few names, Gimli's battle cries are indeed the only Dwarvish phrases we have from Tolkien himself:

As has already been mentioned, our Khuzdul corpus is very small. There are a few names, like Khazad-dûm and Zirak-zigil, the inscription on Balin's tomb, and a battle cry: Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! "Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!"

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    You were right, the doors of Moria were written in Elvish. – Nerrolken May 13 '15 at 17:27
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    I must disappoint you, I’m afraid: I’m not particularly knowledgeable about Middle Earth languages at all. I just like etymologies and languages and have Tolkien’s Etymologies at hand. Compared to many others here, I’m certain I’m downright analphabetic. :-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 13 '15 at 17:41
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - You're being too modest. You know a hell of a lot more than me about such things. Tolkien fanatics abound, of course, but as a mere fan who is reading the books for the first time after putting them off for 24 years, I am constantly awed by the wealth of knowledge you and yours possess. From Rohirrim to Helmingas and from Khazad to Eorlingas, you are better informed than I could ever hope to be. – Wad Cheber May 13 '15 at 17:56
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    WRT the singular-plural distinction, note that Japanese doesn't really make that distinction in general speech, leaving it to be inferred from context. The -tachi suffix can be applied when it's necessary to be specific that you mean more than one of a thing. – jamesqf May 13 '15 at 18:29
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    @WadCheber Yes, basically. The same is true of Chinese (where there is no plural suffix, even optional, except for pronouns and a few nouns denoting humans). Mandarin 我在找我的朋友 (wǒ zài zhǎo wǒde péngyou) and Japanese 友達を探しています (tomodachi o sagashite imasu) can both mean either “I’m looking for my friend” or “I’m looking for my friends”; and 桌子上有书 (zhuōzi-shang yǒu shū) and テーブルの上に本があります (tēburu no ue-ni, hon ga arimasu) can both mean “On the table is a book”, “On the tables is a book”, “On the table are books”, and “On the tables are books”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 13 '15 at 19:24

The most comprehensive Tolkien linguistic resource I have ever found, by far, is...


It looks like a website from 1992, but it's got enough info and analysis to keep you entertained for years. It's got breakdowns from the "big ones," like Quenya, all the way down to the tiniest languages in Middle Earth, like the six-word corpus of Avarin, the language of the Avari. It also, wonderfully, distinguishes the in-universe history of the language from the out-of-universe history of its development by Tolkien. It's even got info on non-LOTR languages, like the ones Tolkien came up with as a kid.

Their article on Khuzdul, the language of the Dwarves, is quite fascinating. It includes a huge list of quotes and phrases from Khuzdul, along with a detailed linguistic breakdown (while still remaining approachable for non-linguists). Each and every word and grammatical element is also meticulously cited, so you know which words appeared in LOTR, which in The Silmarillion, etc.

And, at least according to this source, it becomes quite clear that there are singular/plural distinctions in that language. For example, this section:

Often the words are actually inflected by internal vowel-changes instead of adding affixes: Rukhs means "Orc", but plural "Orcs" is Rakhâs.

...or, even more specifically...

Of course, we cannot be certain that baruk is the normal plural "axes" and not a specialized form meaning "axes of". It may be significant that all the other attested plurals contain a long vowel: Khazâd "Dwarves", Rakhâs "Orcs", tarâg "beards", shathûr "clouds", ûl "streams", dûm "excavations, halls", bizâr "valleys". Could the normal plural "axes" be *barûk? Shathûr "clouds" may represent a plural pattern in -a-û-.

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    "I'm all about the stops, 'bout the stops, NO fricatives..." ;-P I have explicative abilities for some of these ideas; let me know :-) – Matt Gutting May 13 '15 at 17:54
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    Growing up speaking English puts one at a disadvantage when trying to understand languages of a non-Germanic origin. Sigh... Also, smoking pot throughout high school when you should be studying for Spanish class doesn't help. – Wad Cheber May 13 '15 at 18:03
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    As for the radicals: think of it like strong verbs in English. There are patterns behind why we say drink/drank/drunk and sing/sang/sung, and also why we say give/gave/given and bid/bade/bidden. The vowels change, but there’s a skeleton of consonants that belongs to the root itself, rather than any particular form of the root (here: D-R-N-K, S-NG, G-V, and B-D). It’s the same with Semitic languages (and Khuzdul). The radicals are the individual consonants that make up the root. You then add vowels and prefixes/suffixes according to specific systems in order to make the actual forms. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 13 '15 at 19:42
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    @WadCheber Well, those are from the Aran Islands. It’s prettier and softer up north, which is why my link was to a video of speakers from Gaoth Dobhair, an chanúint is binne i mbéal sa tír. :-) (Also, I have now played that video five times, and I still don’t understand a word of what they’re saying. Bloody Araners!) – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 13 '15 at 19:44
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    @Wad Cheber: More off-topic, but if you think Gaelic is harsh, pick up some recordings from say Altan or early Clannad. – jamesqf May 14 '15 at 6:33

Roughly 40 Khuzdul words, give or take, appear in all Tolkien's works

  • Phrases

    There are three known Dwarvish phrases (all of which appear in The Lord of the Rings)

    • Balin Fundinul Uzbad Khazaddûmu “Balin son of Fundin Lord of Moria”
    • baruk Khazâd “axes of the Dwarves”
    • Khazâd ai-mênu “the Dwarves are upon you!”
  • Translated Place Names

    There are eight glossed khuzdul place names that appear in The Lord of the Rings. (Note that the glosses often do not appear in LotR itself, but in later writings such as those published in Parma Eldalamberon issue 17.)

    Azanulbizar "Rills of the Shadows", Barazinbar "Redhorn", Bundushathûr "Cloudy-head", Gabilgathol "Great Fortress", Khazad-dûm "Delving of the Dwarves", Kheled-zâram "glass-pool/lake", Kibil-nâla "Silverlode, Silver-course", and Zirakzigil "Silvertine, Silver-spike".

    There are seven glossed place names that only appear in other works, namely The Silmarillion; Unfinished Tales; The History of Middle-earth volumes 5,6,7,9, and 11; and Parma Eldalamberon issue 17.

    Buzundush "Blackroot", Gabilân "Great River", Narag-zâram "Black Lake", Sharbhund "Bald Hill", Tumunzahar "Hollow-delving", Udushinbar "Horn of Cloud", and Zirakinbar "Silverhorn.

  • Translated Personal Names

    Tharkûn "Staff-man" appears in The Lord of the Rings as a name for Gandalf. Felakgundu "Cave-hewer" appears in The Peoples of Middle-earth as a name for Felagund.

    (An additional twelve names of places and persons are used by Tolkien but never translated: Gundabad, Nargûn, Nar(u)kuthûn, Nulukkhizdîn, Uruktharbun, Zigil-nâd, Azaghâl, Gamil Zirak, Ibun, Khîm, Mahal, and Mîm)

  • Loose words

    Additionally we have the following seven words:

    • aglâb "language" (HoMe 11)
    • iglishmêk "gesture-language" (HoMe 11)
    • Khuzdul "Dwarvish" (LotR)
    • mazarb "records, documents" (LotR)
    • rukhs "Orc" (HoMe 11)
    • sulûn/salôn "to fall, descend swiftly" (Vinyar Tengwar 48)
    • Sigin-tarâg "Longbeards" (HoMe 12)

All together, by deconstructing the above phrases and glossed proper names, we arrive at a total of roughly forty known Dwarvish words across all of Tolkien's published material. The full list can be seen here.

Tolkien did intend for a distinction between singular and plural nouns

This is typically done by adding a vowel between the final two constants of the root. Tolkien refers to this as being in the "Arabic style".

The language of the Dwarves is only seen in some geographical names and in the battlecries at Helm's Deep. It is Semitic in cast, leaning phonetically to Hebrew (as suits the Dwarvish character), but it evidently has some 'broken' plurals, more in Arabic style: baruk being the plural of bark ' axe ' , and Khazad of Khuzd.
June 1964 Letter to Mr. W. R. Matthews, published in Parma Eldalamberon issue 17

The interpretation of the D[warf] names (owing to scanty knowledge of Khuzdul) is largely uncertain, except that, since this region was originally a Dwarf-home, and primarily named by them (cf. I 329), the Sindarin and Westron names are probably in origin of similar senses. The dwarf-name for themselves was KhZD with various vocalizations: apparently s[in]g[ular] Khuzd-, pl[ural] Khazad, form in composition khazad-.
"Words, Phrases, and Passages in The Lord of the Rings", published in Parma Eldalamberon issue 17

The analysis of the dwarf Azanulbizar is uncertain. Azan was probably a plural of uzn ‘dimness, shadow’ (cf. Khazad - Khuzd); -ul was a genitive ending of patronymics such as Balin Fundinul B[alin] (son of) F[undin]; bizār was probably a plural of a stem b-z-r a small stream (running down from a spring). ‘The rills of the shadows’.
Early of "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings", quoted in The Lord of the Rings A Reader's Companion

The Dwarves claimed to have met and fought the Orcs long before the Eldar in Beleriand were aware of them. It was indeed their obvious detestation of the Orcs, and their willingness to assist in any war against them, that convinced the Eldar that the Dwarves were no creatures of Morgoth. Nonetheless the Dwarvish name for Orcs, Rukhs, pl[ural] Rakhas, seems to show affinity to the Elvish names, and was possibly ultimately derived from Avarin.
"Quendi and Eldar", Appendix C, published The War of the Jewels

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