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"Welsh is of this soil, this island, the senior language of the men of Britain; and Welsh is beautiful."
J.R.R. Tolkien[1]:189

Welsh is the Celtic language spoken throughout Wales and some nearby parts of England. Mark T. Hooker observes that "Tolkien's definition of Welsh does not exactly coincide with the modern perceptions of the word. When Tolkien says Welsh, it is as a portmanteau that includes Cornish and Breton as well."[1]:1

Sindarin[edit | edit source]

"The names of persons and places in this story were mainly composed on patterns deliberately modelled on those of Welsh (closely similar but not identical). This element in the tale has given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it."
― J.R.R. Tolkien[2]

Tolkien admits to have been greatly inspired by Welsh when creating the Elvish language Sindarin.[3] Several similarities have been pointed out:

Grammatical number[edit | edit source]

Editor Carl F. Hostetter has noted that the singular form lotheg is formed by the addition of a diminuitive/singular ending -eg/-ig to the plural form loth, much like in Welsh where a singular noun can derive "from a plural form by the addition of a singular ending".[4]

The situation in Welsh is, however, more complex. Welsh has two number systems at play: singular-plural (like English) and collective-singulative (sometimes referred to as collective-unit).[5] Welsh uses two suffixes for deriving a singulative from a collective: -en for feminine nouns and -yn for masculine nouns.[5] Collective nouns are used of things that are often found in large numbers or frequently kept in groups, some examples are: trees, pigs, children, and ants. For example the Welsh moch ('pigs, swine') gives mochyn ('a pig, a head of swine'); plant ('children') gives plentyn (a child) (also note the change of the root vowel from 'a' to 'e' in plant > plentyn); coed ('wood, forest, trees') gives 'coeden' ('a tree') but also derw ('oak trees') gives derwen ('an oak tree'); some collective-singulative nouns are not as obvious, like mellt ('lightning') gives mellten ('a fork/flash of lightning.') The Welsh collective has a sense of a homogenous whole that the English plural cannot accurately convey, though the noun "foliage" in English is about as close as one can get.[5]

These singulative suffixes come from an older Celtic diminutive suffix which became repurposed as a singulative marker.

Initial consonant mutation[edit | edit source]

Welsh mutations[edit | edit source]

Treigladau or Initial consonant mutation is a feature of all extant Celtic languages. Tolkien also incorporated a system similar to that of Welsh into Sindarin. In Welsh these mutations are older phonological changes which have become grammaticalised. Usually (but not always) triggered by prepositions, articles, possessive adjectives, and qualifiers, the mutations of Welsh serve as an integral part of its grammar - especially the mutation known as the soft mutation (welsh: treiglad meddal).

The basic outline of the Welsh mutations is given here:

Radical Soft Nasal Aspirate
p /p/ b /b/ mh /m̥/ ph /f/
t /t/ d /d/ nh /n̥/ th /θ/
c /k/ g /ɡ/ ngh /ŋ̊/ ch /χ/
b /b/ f /v/ m /m/
d /d/ dd /ð/ n /n/
g /ɡ/ * ng /ŋ/
m /m/ f /v/
ll /ɬ/ l /l/
rh /r̥/ r /r/

Sindarin mutations[edit | edit source]

The mutations of Sindarin are not fully understood. Below are given the mutations proposed by David Salo in his book A Gateway to Sindarin:

Radical Soft Nasal Stop Liquid? Mixed
t /t/ d /d/ th /θ/ th /θ/ th /θ/ d /d/
p /p/ b /b/ ph /f/ ph /f/ ph /f/ b /b/
c /k/ g /g/ ch /χ/ ch /χ/ ch /χ/ g /g/
d /d/ dh /ð/ n /n/ dh /ð/
b /b/ v /v/ m /m/ v /v/
g /g/ (deleted) ng /ŋ/ (deleted)
m /m/ v /v/ v /v/
(n)d /d/ n /n/ nd /nd/ nd /nd/ d /d/ nd /nd/
(m)b /b/ m /m/ mb /mb/ mb /mb/ b /b/ mb /mb/
(n)g /g/ ng /ŋ/ ng /ŋg/ n-g /ŋg/ g /g/ ng /ŋg/
lh /ɬ/ l /l/ l /l/ l /l/ l /l/ l /l/
rh /r̥/ r /r/ r /r/ r /r/ r /r/ r /r/
s /s/ h /h/ h /h/
h /h/ ch /χ/ ch /χ/ ch /χ/ ch /χ/ ch /χ/
hw /ʍ/ chw /χw/ chw /χw/ chw /χw/ chw /χw/ chw /χw/

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mark T. Hooker, Tolkien and Welsh
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, "English and Welsh", p. 197
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), p. 40
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor" (edited by Carl F. Hostetter), in Vinyar Tengwar, Number 42, July 2001, p. 30 (note 42)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 King, G. (2016). Modern welsh: A comprehensive grammar (2nd ed.) Routledge.