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The original language of the Hobbits is lost to history, as their specific origins. The earliest known historical location of the Hobbits is in the upper vales of Anduin and while there, they must have had some contact with the Éothéod, who lived in the same area. Thus the earliest known Hobbit-language must have been a northern Mannish tongue learned from the Éothéod. Eventually, due to the increasing danger from Greenwood, the Éothéod migrated south to Calenardhon and the Hobbits migrated West starting their "Wandering Days".
A small number of Stoors would move briefly to the Angle where they had some contact with the Dunlendings, picking up a few Dunlending words. When the Stoors later moved to the Shire with the rest of their kin, they quickly adopted the language as spoken in the Shire at the time, but no doubt their Dunlending background resulted to several regional peculiarities in regions that Stoors mostly settled in (eg. Buckland and the Marish).
In any case, by the time of the War of the Ring, the Rohirric language and Hobbitish possessed many linguistic similarities which were obvious even to a non-linguist like Meriadoc Brandybuck. Simply hearing parts of the language of the Rohirrim, Merry noticed several words which clearly sounded like old words used in the Shire.
Merry would in his later years author a book of linguistic study on the relationship, "Old Place Names in the Shire".
Hobbitish was a regional dialect spoken in a rustic agricultural region. As such, it was not as "refined" as the true form of the language as spoken eg. in Gondor or Rivendell. It contained many simplifications and archaisms.
Hobbit society was made up almost entirely of farmers and with barely and "government" to speak of, much less a noble class. As a result, Hobbitish possess only the "familiar" pronoun of Westron but not the deferential pronoun; except in scattered parts of the Westfarthing where is was used more as a light-hearted term of endearment.
This prominent peculiarity in actual grammatical structure is what Gondorians are referring to when they repeatedly remark that Hobbit-speech sounds strange.
It was most obvious when Peregrin Took was speaking to Denethor II, Steward and ruler of Gondor, while he was at court in Minas Tirith; unintentionally, Pippin was addressing Denethor using the very informal and personalized familiar language, as with a close friend or social equal. Denethor seemed to react with some bemusement but astonished his servants, and probably gave strength to the rumor that Pippin was of very high social rank within his own country, and one particularly wild rumor that the "Ernil i Pheriannath" had promised 5,000 Hobbits to the defense of the city.
The major difference between Hobbitish and more proper forms of Westron are many archaic words that Hobbits retained in their vocabulary from whatever languages they spoke in ancient times. Examples would include:
- Smial - "large excavated hole used as a home" (i.e. Bag End, Brandy Hall, or Great Smials of the Tooks).
- Mathom - "old thing which you no longer have a use for but don't want to throw away; a knick-nack; an antique" (i.e. the Mathom-house is a museum)
- Goblin - the evil race properly termed "Orcs" in Common Speech were referred to as "Goblins" by the Hobbits. This is apparently some local colloquialism of uncertain origin. However, while this originated as a Hobbit "slang term" for Orcs, due to the presence of the Shire on the major trade route of the Great East Road, over the centuries this term was actually picked up by members of other races (much as how smoking Pipe-weed was). The term actually gained a high degree of popularity throughout Middle-earth. The term "Goblin" came to more often be used when referring to smaller Orcs, of the type Hobbits were more likely to see (rare roving bands like that led by Golfimbul). Larger soldier-Orcs bred for war were less likely to be referred to as "Goblins", because they never really encountered them, thus larger breeds of Orcs would often simply be called "Orcs".
- Note: Tolkien's conception of what "Orcs" and "Goblins" were exactly fluctuated over time, and in The Hobbit was written when these ideas had not solidified in his mind, and as such in that book he uses the two terms rather interchangeably. Later on, he more fully set down that "Orcs" was the proper term for the entire race, with "Goblins" being a colloquial Hobbit-invented term for Orcs
The highest concentration of unique "Hobbitish" words are of course in the surnames of old families, place names, and calender words such as names for months, days, seasons, et cetera.
Αll of this ties into the fact that "Westron" as it appears in the books written by J.R.R. Tolkien functions under the conceit that "Common Speech" is really a separate foreign language which Tolkien "translated" into English. For example, the name "Meriadoc Brandybuck" is "translated" into English from the "genuine Westron" name Kalimac Brandigamba (which would make it, actually "genuine Hobbitish")
In order to mirror the peculiar and rustic dialect of Hobbits, Tolkien invented new words by "modernizing" obsolete archaic Old English ones that had not survived in modern language; such examples are Thain from þegn, mathom from māþum and smial from smygel.
The most obvious linguistic parallel between the "Hobbitish" dialect and language of the Rohirrim is in the name "Hobbit" itself: according to Théoden of Rohan, there are a few legends among the Rohirrim about Hobbit-like creatures they they call the Holbytlan in Rohirric. Rohirric is actually "translated" into Old English in the books just as Westron is into English, because it is an archaic form of Westron. "Holbytlan" in Old English means "Hole-builders", an apt name for the Hobbits. However, in "genuine Westron", the word translated into English as "Hobbit", is actually "Kuduk". The corresponding "genuine Rohirric" word from which it evolved is "Kûd-dûkan".
As Tolkien did with the Mannish languages which he rendered with Germanic names, various regional Hobbitish names are usually rendered with variant forms.
- Westron = Modern English
- "Middle Westron" (of the Yellowskin Book) = Middle English
- "Old Marish-hobbitish" = (Old) Welsh
- Fallohide names = Frankish (a variety of Old High German)
- "Bree-landish" = Eastern Brythonic (the variety of the British Celtic language spoken in Logria, before it became "England")
Portrayal in adaptations
- Adapter Terence Tiller briefly corresponded with Tolkien about what accents should be used. It is unknown if he followed Tolkien's advice.
- There seems to be little contrast in style, other than the rural portrayal of Samwise Gamgee.
- Any dialectical difference is completely removed. Sam talks the same English as the other Hobbits.
- In the two episodes of "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil", Jonathan Adams' portrayal of Sam Gamgee is close to over-the-top rustic. He speaks in a grumbling, low voice.
- Considerable attention was paid to the dialects characters speak with and cast members trained extensively with dialogue coaches. Hobbits in the films speak with basically an English Midlands accent, because Tolkien said that the Shire was based largely on his boyhood home in the Midlands. Of the main Hobbit characters:
- Sam Gamgee speaks with the working-class rustic Midlands accent which was used as the standard for all the other minor Hobbit characters.
- Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, because they are both book-educated, speak with a slightly more refined and less pronounced accent.
- The actor who played Pippin, Billy Boyd, is Scottish, and originally he was supposed to speak like the others, but eventually it was decided that it was adversely affecting his comic timing. The production team then invented the justification that the Took region of the Shire is described as very hilly, so much so that when Saruman's ruffians take over the rest of the Shire they are successfully repulsed from Took-land due to its rough terrain, and thus is it loosely analogous to Scotland. Thus, it was decided that Tooks should speak with a Scottish accent as well, and Boyd was allowed to use his normal Scottish accent when portraying Pippin for the entire trilogy of films.
- Meriadoc Brandybuck is described as being the linguistic "oddball" of the group: he was not from any of the four farthings of the Shire, but a Brandybuck from Buckland, and thus is from a region apart. To reflect this, his accent is noticeably distinct from the other Hobbits seen on-screen, something of an invention between actor Dominic Monaghan and the dialect coaches, to reflect his unique origin.