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At the Buckland Ferry - The Three Gammers by Kay Woollard

Hobbitish was a sub-dialect of the Common Speech that was spoken by the Hobbits of the Shire.

History[edit | edit source]

The original language of the Hobbits is lost to history, as are their specific origins though it is said that they originally used the languages of Men they lived near.[1] The earliest known historical location of the Hobbits is in the upper vales of Anduin and while there,[2] they must have had some contact with the Éothéod, who lived in the same area and spoke a language similar to that of the Rohirrim.[1] The name Kuduk (Hobbit) itself for example is believed to be derived from the Northern kûd-dûkan (Holbytlan; hole builders).[3]

Eventually, due to the increasing danger from Greenwood, the Éothéod migrated south to Calenardhon and the Hobbits migrated West starting their "Wandering Days". In Eriador they met Elves and the dwindling Dúnedain of Arnor and they adopted Westron and writing. But they kept a few peculiar words and names from old.[4]

A small number of Stoors moved briefly to the Angle of Eriador,[5] where they had some contact with the Dunlendings, picking up a few Dunlendish 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 some influences remained, primarily with personal and place names and their words for months and season.[1]

Although they had adopted and adapted the King's Reckoning (see: Shire Calendar) they kept their own names of months and weekdays.[4] The Yellowskin book contained entries dating back to around T.A. 2000, and was the oldest record of Hobbitish. There, the day names such as Sterrendei and Sunnendei (later Sterday and Sunday) and so on, were recorded.[6]

In any case, by the time of the War of the Ring, the Rohanese language and Hobbitish possessed many linguistic similarities which were obvious even to a non-linguist like Meriadoc Brandybuck; because of their Northern Mannish background from the Vales of Anduin, Hobbitish retained some archaic elements that didn't exist in Westron. Simply hearing parts of the language of the Rohirrim, Merry noticed several words which clearly sounded like old words used in the Shire.[7]

Merry would in his later years author a book of linguistic study on the relationship, "Old Words and Names in the Shire".[7]

Grammatical differences[edit | edit source]

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.[3] More learned Hobbits tended to speak more formal speech.[3]

Familiar pronoun[edit | edit source]

Hobbit society was made up almost entirely of farmers and with barely any "government" to speak of, much less a noble class.[8] As a result, Hobbitish possesses only the "familiar" pronoun of Westron but not the deferential pronoun; except in scattered parts of the Westfarthing where it was used more as a light-hearted term of endearment.[3]

This prominent peculiarity in actual grammatical structure and accent is what Gondorians and Rohirrim are referring to when they repeatedly remark that Hobbit-speech sounds strange.[9][10]

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 this astonished his servants, and probably gave strength to the rumor that Pippin was of very high social rank within his own country, the "Ernil i Pheriannath".[3]

Other names[edit | edit source]

Personal names of Hobbit individuals are varied. Some of them are Hobbitish but many are archaic with forgotten meaning.[1]

Peasants and tradesmen like the Gamgees or the Hornblowers used short archaic names, akin to that of the Éothéod (cf. Fastred, Erling).[source?]

Members of old aristocratic families such as the Tooks and the Bolgers, had names taken mostly from legends of the past.[3] They often had names which referred to weapons, battles and bravery (cf. Isengar, Hildifons).

Bucklanders such as the Brandybucks wore peculiar names apparently derived from the former southern Stoorish.[3]

Hobbit women also wore names of flowers and jewels. Notably, noble Took and Brandybuck women had names of exotic and mythical plants (cf. Amaranth, Belladonna), compared to ordinary names of the Bagginses or Gamgees (Marigold, Poppy). Jewel names were peculiar to higher class, such as the Tooks, or women marrying into the Took family, and then Boffins, Bolgers and Gardners (Adamanta, Berylla, Ruby).[3]

The most common names were worn by the middle class, such as the Bagginses of the late Third Age; they were short and meaningless, perhaps derived from the above legendary names. Male names ended in -o while females ended in -a or -e.[3]

Vocabulary peculiarities[edit | edit source]

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:

  • Hobbit (kuduk) - the word Hobbits called themselves. It is thought to derive from the name the Northmen gave to them in the Vales of Anduin, the Rohirric "Holbytla" (pl. "Holbytlan"), which translates into Westron as "hole-builder", due to their habit of living in holes dug into hillsides.[3]
  • Smial (trân) - "large excavated hole used as a home" (i.e. Bag End, Brandy Hall, or Great Smials of the Tooks).[7]
  • Mathom (kast) - "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)[3]
  • Thain - the title of the ruler of the Shire after the loss of Arvedui[source?]
  • Withywindle - river name, peculiar to the language of the Shire.[11]
  • Swertings - a word referring to the Swarthy Men.[source?]
  • Oliphaunts - archaic name of the gigantic beasts, also known as Mûmakil.[source?]
  • 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 East Road, over the centuries this term was actually picked up by members of other races (much as how smoking Pipe-weed was).[source?] The term actually gained a high degree of popularity throughout Middle-earth.

The highest concentration of unique "Hobbitish" words are of course in the surnames of old families, place names, and calendar words such as names for months, days, seasons, et cetera.[1]

Real-world background[edit | edit source]

"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 Brandagamba (which would make it, actually "genuine Hobbitish")[3]

In order to mirror the peculiar and rustic dialect of Hobbits, Tolkien invented new likely words by "modernizing" obsolete archaic Old English ones;[12] such examples are Thain from þegn, mathom from māþum and smial from smygel.[3]

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 that they call the Holbytlan in Rohanese.[10] Rohanese is actually "translated" into Old English in the books just as Westron is into English, because it is an archaic form of Westron.[13] "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".[3]

Parallels[edit | edit source]

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.[14]
  • "Middle Westron" (of the Yellowskin Book) = Middle English
  • "Old Marish-hobbitish" = (Old) Welsh.
  • Fallohide names = Frankish and Celtic.[3]
  • "Bree-landish" = Eastern Brythonic (the variety of the British Celtic language spoken in Logria, before it became "England").
  • "Bucklandish" = Celtic influence, due to the high concentration of Stoor-Hobbit blood. The Stoors used to live near the Dunlendings and had some linguistic influence from them.[3]

A few hobbit names of Elvish origin are translated as Latin or Frenchified Latin names, such as Gerontius Took, Paladin Took, and Peregrin Took.[15]

Portrayal in adaptations[edit | edit source]

1955: BBC Radio's The Lord of the Rings:

Adapter Terence Tiller briefly corresponded with Tolkien about what accents should be used.[16] It is unknown if he followed Tolkien's advice.

1978: The Lord of the Rings (1978 film):

There seems to be little contrast in style, other than the rural portrayal of Samwise Gamgee.

1981: The Lord of the Rings (1981 radio series):

Any dialectical difference is completely removed. Sam speaks the same English as the other Hobbits.

1992: BBC Radio's Tales from the Perilous Realm:

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.

2001: The Lord of the Rings (film series):

Considerable attention was paid to the dialects characters speak with and cast members trained extensively with dialogue coaches. Of the main Hobbit characters:
  • Sam Gamgee speaks with the working-class rustic West Country 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.

See also[edit | edit source]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of Hobbits"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue"
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "On Translation"
  4. 4.0 4.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Concerning Hobbits"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age", entry for the year 1150
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix D, "The Calendars"
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Note on the Shire Records"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Of the Ordering of the Shire"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "Minas Tirith", p. 762
  10. 10.0 10.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Road to Isengard", p. 557
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings" in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, p. 779
  12. Robert Foster, The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, p. 198, entry "Hobbitish"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144, (dated 25 April 1954)
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix E, "Pronunciation of Words and Names"
  15. Jim Allan (ed.), An Introduction to Elvish, "Giving of Names"
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 193, (dated 2 November 1956)
Languages and scripts in Tolkien's works
Elvish Angerthas (Angerthas Daeron) · Avarin · Cirth (Certhas Daeron) · Common Eldarin · Mátengwië · Moon-letters · Nandorin · Primitive Quendian · Quenya (Exilic · Valinorean · Vanyarin) · Sarati · Silvan Elvish · Sindarin (Doriathrin · Falathrin · Númenórean · Mithrimin · Old) · Telerin (Common) · Tengwar
Mannish Adûnaic · Dalish · Drúadan · Dunlendish · Halethian · Northern Mannish · Pre-Númenórean · Rohanese · Taliska · Westron (Bucklandish · Hobbitish · Stoorish)
Dwarvish Angerthas (Erebor · Moria) · Aulëan · Iglishmêk · Khuzdul
Other Black Speech · Old Entish · Orkish · Valarin · Warg-language
Earlier legendarium Gnomish · Gnomic Letters · Gondolinic Runes · Ilkorin · Keladian · Noldorin (Kornoldorin) · Melkian · Oromëan · Qenya · Valmaric script
Outside the legendarium Animalic · Arktik · Gautisk · Goblin Alphabet · Mágol · Naffarin · New English Alphabet · Nevbosh · Privata Kodo Skauta
Real-world Celtic · English (Old · Middle · AB) · Finnish · Germanic · Gothic · Hebrew · Runic alphabet · Welsh
"A Secret Vice" (book) · "The Lhammas" · "The Tree of Tongues" · Sub-creation