Westron, through its ancestor Adûnaic, was distantly related to other native languages of the Middle Men of the Westlands, like Northern Mannish of Rhovanion, and Rohanese; all descended from the ancient languages of the Edain.
The Westron speech is derived from the Adûnaic tongue of Númenor. The Númenoreans brought it to the western coastlands of the continent of Middle-earth when they established trade outposts and forts in the third millennium of the Second Age. Westron originated as a creole language spoken between the Númenoreans and the native Middle Men, and from those Númenorean colonies it spread to most of the westlands.
After the Downfall of Númenor, the Faithful Númenoreans neglected their 'unfaithful' language in favour of Elvish, allowing Adûnaic as spoken in Middle-earth to change and evolve chaotically among the Middle Men. But later it was enriched and softened under Elvish influence.
In the course of the Third Age Westron was adopted by nearly all Men and Hobbits that lived within the borders of the old kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor all along the coasts from Umbar northward to the Bay of Forochel, and inland to the Misty Mountains and the Ephel Dúath and north up the river Anduin to the Gladden Fields between the Misty Mountains and the Anduin. At the time of the War of the Ring Westron was still the native tongue in this area. Hobbitish itself was a rustic dialect of Westron.
For this, Westron was also known as the Common Speech. Dwarves used Westron as a public language, as Khuzdul was private. Some Elves also spoke Westron, although some, like Haldir's brothers, didn't leave their lands much and had not learned the Common Speech. Even Orcs spoke Westron, which was the base of Orkish tongues.
The Northmen also spoke Westron, such as Beorn and the Lake-men. The Woses, the Dunlendings and the Rohirrim were examples of Men whose language was not Westron, but they spoke it in interlingual circumstances.
Under King Thengel of Rohan (who had lived in Gondor for many years before taking the throne), the Common Speech began to be used as the language of the court instead of their native Rohanese (thus Théoden, Éomer, and Éowyn were all functionally bilingual in Rohirric and Common Speech) "though not all thought this a good thing..."[source?]
Westron had both "deferential" pronouns, and "familiar" pronouns, but Hobbitish no longer possessed a deferential pronoun. Westron had deferential pronouns for the second person (and sometimes the third person) but this had fallen out of use in Hobbitish. Interestingly, this is the opposite of what happened in English, where the familiar "thee/thou" fell out of favour and the deferential "you" became universal.
Etymology and names
Westron is a translation of the original name Adûni (cf. Adûnaic Adûn ("west")), and "Common Speech" translates the Westron term Sôval Phârë, of identical meaning. In Sindarin the language was called Annúnaid (Westron), or Falathren (Shore-language).
According to Tolkien's fiction, Westron was the language spoken and understood by the protagonists of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Many names of characters and places, in the book's "reality", were in Westron.
However, Tolkien mentions that Westron was presented as having been completely replaced by English in the text. This had certain important implications: first of all, proper names with derivations understandable or evident to speakers of Westron had been translated, to preserve the effect to the English reader. Thus, names like Baggins, Bagshot Row, Peregrin, Rivendell et cetera, are not the actual names as spoken by the characters but are presented as translations.
Of course, outside the fictional context of the story, it is clear that there was no such "translation": the English names came first and the "original" forms in Westron or other languages were devised by Tolkien later.
Rivendell ("cloven valley") was actually called Karningul, and Bag End was actually called Labin-nec, after Labingi, the real form of Baggins. In some cases the explanations became quite involved, such as the river Brandywine (Sindarin Baranduin, "golden-brown river") being actually called Branda-nîn, a punning Westron name meaning "border-water", which was later punned again as Bralda-hîm meaning "heady ale".
This logic went one step further by also presenting all Mannish languages akin to Westron in languages related to English, so that their "understandability" by the protagonists would be simulated to the English reader.
This utter replacement of Westron by English was taken so far that some sources that should give actual Westron have been turned to English too. For instance, in Moria, an illustration of the runic text on Balin's gravestone is given. The text is said to be written in both Khuzdul and Westron. But while the first part of the inscription seems to really be a bit of Khuzdul, the second part is actually plain English, just written in cirth.
The corpus of Westron is small; several of the Westron forms given above were not published in Tolkien's lifetime. Tolkien never worked out Westron to the same extent as Quenya and Sindarin or even Adûnaic.
- Analysis of Westron at Ardalambion
- Westron wordlist - contains all the attested Westron words plus extrapolations and reconstructions
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan", Note 4
- J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144, (dated 25 April 1954)
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "X. Of Dwarves and Men", "Notes", #59
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Concerning Hobbits"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Ride of the Rohirrim"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "Helm's Deep"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "On Translation"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "Of Dwarves and Men", p. 316
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "II. The Appendix on Languages", note 6, p. 55
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "II. The Appendix on Languages", The Languages at the End of the Third Age, p. 32