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Old Sindarin - between Primitive Elvish and Grey-elven

From: Helge K. Fauskanger

Also called: Old Noldorin (the only term Tolkien uses!)

Internal history

Old Sindarin is the last stop before Sindarin in the evolution from Primitive Quendian to mature Grey-elven (between PQ and OS we have Common Eldarin and Common Lindarin). It was developed and spoken in Beleriand, but it appears to have evolved into mature Sindarin by the time the Noldor returned. Old Sindarin preserves the general sound of archaic Elvish much better than Sindarin does. There are quite a few cases of the Old Sindarin words being identical to Quenya words: Examples include ku, kua "dove", malina "yellow", míre "jewel", parma "book", randa "cycle, age", rauta "metal", rimba "frequent, numerous", rimbe "crowd, host", ringe "cold", runda "rough piece of wood", síre "river", yaiwe "mocking, scorn". Other words are identical to Telerin, the most closely related Amanya language, such as branda "lofty, noble, fine", Bana "Vána" (a Valië) and belda "strong".

External history

Old Sindarin explicitly identified as such is only known from the Etymologies, though a few early Sindarin forms mentioned in Tolkien's essay Quendi and Eldar have been included in the wordlist below. There are no OS texts. Tolkien would mention an OS word as the intermediate stage between Primitive Quendian and Sindarin simply to clarify the derivation of the Sindarin word. In the Etymologies the language is of course called Old Noldorin (abbreviation ON), since Tolkien still had not made the revision that turned the Welsh-sounding language in his mythos into the tongue of the Sindar. In his former conception, "Old Noldorin" was evidently the language that the Noldor spoke in Valinor, the language that turned into classical Noldorin in Middle-earth. Note that in the Etymologies, "Noldorin" (> Sindarin) is sometimes called "EN" = Exilic Noldorin, as if implying that ON is "non-exilic Noldorin". Unlike other archaic forms, the "ON" words are not asterisked, as if they were attested in writing. (The sole exception is *woia "envelope" under WAY; this may be an error.) This agrees with LR:173, where it is stated that the Noldor started to write their tongue in the days of Fëanor's pride. Tolkien later revised all of this. The Noldor came to be speaking Quenya, Noldorin became Sindarin, and we must assume that "Old Noldorin" likewise became Old Sindarin, though Tolkien never uses this term. Would Old Sindarin be attested in writing, or should we asterisk the entire corpus? Perhaps Old Sindarin would be written with Daeron's Runes? However, in WJ:370 Tolkien expresses uncertainty about whether a certain inflection had formerly occurred in Sindarin, as if the older stages of this language were not directly attested.

The structure of Old SindarinN


We will not attempt to give a full listing of the phonological changes that affected Old Sindarin, but the main points may be mentioned. As stated above, Old Sindarin preserves the general sound of primitive Elvish much better than Sindarin does. In particular, the final vowels that were later lost are still in place; the long final vowels so characteristic of Primitive Elvish had merely become short. For instance, *alkwâ "swan" yields OS alpha, *bélekâ "mighty" becomes beleka. (In one case, though, a long final vowel seems to persist in Old Sindarin, primitive *magnâ "skilled" yielding the unchanged form magnâ ; this is probably an error, by Tolkien or the transcriber, for *magna.)
Following s, original *t, *p, *k became th, ph, kh in Old Sindarin, primitive *stankâ "cleft", *sphanga "beard" and *skalnâ "veiled" yielding OS sthanka, sphanga, skhalla. (This change may not have occurred at the earliest Old Sindarin stage, since stabne "room" is listed as OS as well as the later form sthamne.) Before ph, s disappeared during the Old Sindarin stage, as indicated by the spellings (s )pharasse "hunting" and (s )pharóbe "hunt" (stem SPAR).
In Old Sindarin we seem the first hints of the lenitions so prominent in later Grey-elven. There is still no trace of the voicing of all post-vocalic unvoiced stops (OS beleka yielding Sindarin beleg) or the post-vocalic voiced plosives becoming spirants (OS ngolodo "Noldo" yielding Sindarin golodh), but the lenition of s to h following a vowel occurred during the Old Sindarin stage of the linguistic evolution. There are several examples in the Etymologies : barasa "hot, burning" later became baraha, khelesa "glass" became kheleha, pelesi the pl. of pele "fenced field" became pelehi, and thelesi the pl. of thele "sister" became thelehi. (For kheleha and pelehi, given under KHYEL(ES) and PEL(ES), the misreadings "khelelia" and "peleki" occur in The Lost Road.)

The Noun

The Old Sindarin plural ending was -i, directly descended from Primitive Quendian *-î and cognate with Quenya -i : boron "faithful vassal" pl. boroni, toron "brother" pl. toroni.
In several cases, nouns in -o have plurals in -ui : malo "pollen", pl. malui ; orko "goblin, Orc", pl. orkui ; pano "plank", pl. panui ; ranko "arm" pl. rankui. This phenomenon occurs when the original, primitive form did not end in *o, but in *u. Malo, orko, ranko derive, according to the Etymologies, from primitive *smalu, *órku, *ranku, and while Primitive Quendian final short *-u became *-o already at the Common Eldarin stage, Old Sindarin preserves the original quality of the vowel before the plural ending (something Common Eldarin also must have done). However, pano "plank" is said to come from primitive *panô, and yet its Old Sindarin plural is panui. This is because Old Sindarin shifted primitive *oi to ui ; compare OS muina with Quenya moina (primitive *moinâ, my reconstruction; stem MOY). The primitive pl. of panô must have been *panôi, later *panoi, becoming panui in OS. (But why does poto "animal's foot" have the plural form poti, when the primitive form is given as POTÔ in the Etymologies ? Why not *potui ? Hm...)
In some cases the plural forms of nouns preserve original final consonants lost in the singular: nele "tooth", pl. neleki (stem NÉL-EK), oro pl. oroti "mountain" (stem ÓROT), skhapa "shore" pl. skhapati (primitive *skhyapat -), pele "fenced field", pl. pelesi (later pelehi ) (stem PEL(ES)), thele "sister", pl. thelesi (later thelehi ) (stem THELES), "lion" pl. rówi (primitive *râu, stem RAW). Some of the lost final sounds were restored in Sindarin, evidently by analogy with the plurals. For instance, oro pl. oroti corresponds to Sindarin orod pl. ered (post-vocalic T being lenited to D in Sindarin).
In one case the vowel of the sg. and pl. form of a noun differs: "hand", pl. mai. This is because Old Sindarin sometimes shifted original long *â to ó (like *ndâkô "warrior" > ndóko ), while the diphthong ai was unchanged (like gaia "dread", primitive stem *gais -). So while primitive *mâ3 "hand" became , the primitive pl. *ma3i, later *mai, remained mai.
Except the plural inflection there is little evidence of inflections in Old Sindarin. There is the word thoronen, said to be the "" of the word for "eagle"; the nominative is not given, but it may have been *thoron (just as in Sindarin). This genitive ending -en also occurs in the Quenya (or "Qenya") of the Etymologies, but Tolkien later changed it to -o, descended from primitive *-ho (WJ:368, cf. 3O in the Etymologies). This probably throws some doubt upon the ending -en in mature Old Sindarin (if I may use such a term). In WJ:370, Tolkien argues that Sindarin had probably developed inflexional *-ô in "the primitive period" (later presumably *-o, after the shortening of the final vowels). He notes that "the placing of the genitive noun second in normal Sindarin [like Ennyn Durin, "Doors of Durin"] is also probably derived from inflectional forms". So Ennyn Durin would probably correspond to something like *andondi Durino in Old Sindarin, and according to Tolkien's mature conception of the language, we should probably read *thorono for thoronen.

The Verb

The infinitive: The infinitival ending -ie, known from Quenya (UT:317), also appears in Old Sindarin: bronie "last, endure, survive", etledie "go abroad, go into exile", ndakie "to slay", orie and ortie "[to] rise", tre-batie "traverse", trenarie *"to recount, tell to end", warie "betray, cheat". (Trenarie is explicitly called an "inf." form under NAR2.) Another group of verbs shows the infinitival ending -be : buióbe "to serve, follow", matthô-be "to handle", naróbe *"to tell a story", ortóbe "raise", phalsóbe "to foam", pharóbe (older spharóbe ) "[to] hunt", phuióbe "feel disgust at, abhor", puióbe "[to] spit", rostóbe "to hollow out, excavate", wattóbe "to soil, stain". (Naróbe is actually glossed "he tells a story", but it can hardly be a 3. person present tense form.) In light of these examples, we must conclude that parthóbi "arrange, compose" is probably a misreading for *parthóbe.

The past tense: The corpus contains only three examples of the past tense: lende "fared" (from the stem LED, other forms not attested but cf. the infinitive etledie "go abroad, go into exile", that is essentially the same verb with the prefix et - "out"), narne *"told a story" (infinitive naróbe ), and ndanke, past tense of ndakie "to slay". The past tenses lende and ndanke are formed from their stems (LED, NDAK) by means of nasal infixion, a device also known from Quenya (indeed lende is also a Quenya word, with the same meaning). Narne shows the past tense ending -ne, also occurring in Quenya.

The present tense: The only clear example of the present tense seems to be the word persôs "it affects, concerns". The ending -s seems to be a pronominal suffix "it". Would *persô mean "affects, concerns"? It is similar in form to batthô', glossed by the infinitive "trample", but in many cases Tolkien may simply have used the simplest form of the verb (in both Old Sindarin and English) for lexical purposes.

The aorist (?): There are a few verbs showing the ending -e, or -i - when an ending follows; this would appear to be the same form that has been identified as the aorist in Quenya, with the same endings: yurine "I run" (where -ne = "I") and trenare "he recounts". "He runs" and "I recount" would presumably be *yure, *trenarine.


Only two pronominal endings are attested: -s "it" in persôs "it affects, concerns" (which ending is also known from Quenya), and -ne "I" in yurine "I run". The latter ending is undoubtedly a cognate of Quenya -nyë (since older *ny became n in Common Lindarin, the ancestor of both Telerin and Old Sindarin). The 3. person singular may evidently be expressed by means of the verbal stem alone, as in trenare "he recounts, tells to end", where no pronominal suffix seems to be present.

Old Sindarin Wordlist

Most of the words come from the Etymologies ; a few words from other sources (UT, WJ, PM) have been included. The latter group of words is not explicitly identified as Old Sindarin, but it seems best to place them in this list. Usually, they are also included in the Primitive Elvish wordlist, with a note that they may be Old Sindarin.
Note that the combinations ph, th, kh represent aspirated p, t, k (LR:322), not the spirant sounds heard in English philosophy and think and German ach. Both circumflexes (in the sources macrons) and accents are used. The circumflexes must mark long vowels, the accents seem in most cases to mark the stress, but sometimes also long vowels (as in "lion"; of course, there could be no doubt about which syllable is accented in a monosyllabic word). Tolkien's spelling is not wholly consistent.

abóro "Elves who never left Middle-earth or began the march" (AB/ABAR)
alpha "swan" (ÁLAK)
ammale, ammalinde "yellow bird, 'yellow hammer' " (SMAL)
andatektha "long-mark" (= Q andatehta) (TEK)
ango "grandchild, descendant" (ÑGYÔ/ÑGYON)
anu "a male (of Men or Elves), male animal" (3AN)
Araume < Oroume "Oromë" (ORÓM)
awarta "forsake, abandon" (WAR)
Bala "Power, God" (BAL)
Balandor "Valinor" (BAL)
Balane fem. form of Bala, "Valië" (BAL)
Balano masc. form of Bala, "(male) Vala" (BAL)
Balthil a name of the White Tree of Valinor (BAL)
Bana "Vána", name of a Valië (Q form spelt Vana in the Etymologies). Also Bana-wende. (BAN)
barada "lofty, sublime" (or "steep" if = Sindarin baradh, the word it yielded) (BARÁD)
baraha < barasa "hot, burning" (BARÁS)
barane "brown, swart, dark brown" (BARÁN)
barasa > baraha "hot, burning" (BARÁS)
Barathi, Barathil "Varda, Elbereth" (BARÁTH)
bata "beaten track, pathway" (BAT)
batthô' "trample" (BAT)
belda "strong" (BEL)
beleka "mighty, huge, great" (BEL)
belka "excessive" (attested as a Telerin word, but "possibly from ON", Old Noldorin. But of course, no Old Sindarin word could get across the ocean to enter the speech of the Teleri.) (BEL)
belle (OS, T?) "strength" (BEL)
berina "bold, brave" (BER)
bértha - "to be bold" (BER)
besse "wife" (or "woman"?) (BES)
bioro "follower, vassal" (BEW)
Boromíro (masc. name, "Boromir") (BOR ; Borommíro under MIR)
boron pl. boroni "steadfast, trusty man, faithful vassal" (BOR)
Boronmíro > Boromíro (masc. name) (BOR)
[Bradil ] (struck out) "Varda" (BARÁD)
branda (T, OS) "lofty, noble, fine" (BARÁD)
brasse "white heat" (BARÁS)
bronie "last, endure, survive" (BORÓN)
Bronwega (masc. name) (BORÓN, WEG)
brûna "that has long endured, old" (of things only; implies that they are old, but not changed or worn out) (BORÓN)
buióbe "to serve, follow" (BEW)
daer "bridegroom" (DER; misreading for *dair ? Cf. ndair from NDER.)
dalma "palm of hand" (DAL)
< "woman" (NI1 - the word was altered under the influence of dîr "man". Said to be rare and poetical: "bride, lady")
dîr "adult male, man" (elf, mortal, or of other speaking race) (DER, NI1)
Dirghel (between Old Sindarin and Sindarin?) a masc. name (DER)
dissa "young woman" (BES)
dogme > dougme > doume "Night [as phenomenon], night-time, shades of night" (DO3/DÔ)
Eide < Ezde "Rest", name of a Valië, the wife of Lórien (EZDÊ)
ekla-mbar "Eglamar" (WJ:365)
ekla-rista "Eglarest" (WJ:365)
elen-barathi a name of Varda, ancestral form of Sindarin Elbereth (intermediate form between OS and Sindarin: Elmbereth) (MR:387)
elle "sky" (3EL)
elwa "(pale) blue" (3EL)
elyadme "rainbow", lit. "sky-brigde" (3EL)
etledie "go abroad, go into exile" (LED)
etledro "exile" (LED)
etlenna "exiled" (LED)
Ezde > Eide "Rest", name of a Valië, the wife of Lórien (EZDÊ; the form Ezda given under SED may be a misreading)
Findekâno (between Old Sindarin and Sindarin?) (masc. name) (PHIN)
gaia "dread" (GÁYAS)
gása "empty, void" (GAS)
gêrrha < gæ^sra "dreadful" (GÁYAS)
Gondambar (OS?) "Stone of the World", a name of Gondolin (GOND)
gæ^sra > gêrrha "dreadful" (GÁYAS)
hwesta "puff, breath, breeze" (SWES)
hyúle "incitement" (or "cry of encouragement in battle", if = Sindarin hûl, the word it yielded) (SIW)
Ide "Rest", name of the wife of Lórien, a Valië (Quenya Estë) (EZDÊ)
ien-rinde (OS?) "year" (YEN)
impanta see yen-panta
in-fant see yen-panta
Indlour (OS? Archaic S?) (a masc. name) (ID)
kamba ?"(hollow) of hand" (MA3)
katwe "shaped, formed" (KAT)
kelepe "silver" (KYELEP/TELEP)
khalla "noble, exalted" (KHAL2)
*kheleha - see khelelia
khelelia (misreading for *kheleha ) "glass", from older khelesa (KHYEL(ES) )
khelesa (> *kheleha ) "glass" (KHYEL(ES) )
khéro "master" (KHER)
khíril "lady" (KHER)
ku, kua "dove" (KÛ)
kúma "empty, void" (KUM)
lende "fared" (LED)
líre "row, range" (LIR1)
litse (> litthe ) "sand" (LIT)
loga "fenland" (UT:263)
magnâ "skilled" (MAG [under MA3]; read probably *magna )
mai pl. of (MA3)
maiga (< mazga ) "pliant, soft" (MASAG)
maite "handy, skilled" (MA3)
malda "gold" (as metal) (SMAL)
malina "yellow" (SMAL)
malo pl. malui "pollen, yellow powder" (SMAL)
map - "seize, take away by force" (MAP)
matthô-be "to handle" (MA3)
mazga (> maiga ) "pliant, soft" (MASAG)
míre "jewel" (MIR)
pl. mai "hand" (MA3)
muina "familiar, dear" (MOY)
naróbe, pa.t. narne "he tells a story" (NAR2)
ndagno "slain [as noun], corpse" (NDAK)
ndair "bridegroom" (NDER)
ndakie, pa.t. ndanke "to slay" (NDAK)
ndakro "slaughter, battle" (NDAK)
ndangwetha "answer" (noun) (PM:395)
ndîs "bride" (NDIS-SÊ/SÂ)
ndissa "young woman" (NDIS-SÊ/SÂ)
ndóko "warrior, soldier" (NDAK)
ndolo "head" (NDOL)
nele pl. neleki "tooth" (NÉL-EK)
nestak - "insert, stick in" (STAK)
ngalámbe (OS?) "barbarous speech" (ÑGAL/ÑGALAM)
ngolfine (between Old Sindarin and Sindarin?) "magic skill" (PHIN)
ngolodo "one of the wise folk, Gnome" = Q Noldo (ÑGOLOD)
nguru, ngurtu "Death" (ÑGUR)
> "woman" (NI1 - see concerning the change)
nidwa "bolster, cushion" (NID)
nui "lament" (NAY)
[núma ] "snare" (and "noose", like Sindarin ?) (SNEW; changed to sniuma, snýma )
orie "rise" (ORO)
orkhalla "superior" (KHAL2)
orko pl. orkui "goblin" (Orc) (ÓROK)
oroto, also oro pl. oroti, "mountain" (ÓROT)
Oroume > Araume "Oromë" (ORÓM)
ortie "rise" (ORO)
ortóbe "raise" (ORO)
pano pl. panui "plank, fixed board, especially in a floor" (PAN)
panta "full" (KWAT)
parkha "dry" (PÁRAK)
parma "book" (PAR)
parthóbi [read *parthóbe ?] "arrange, compose" (PAR)
pathwa "level space, sward" (PATH)
pattha "smooth" (PATH)
pele pl. pelesi > *pelehi "fenced field" (Old English tún) (PEL(ES); pelehi was misread as *peleki by the transcriber of the Etymologies)
pelthaksa "pivot" (PEL)
persôs "it affects, concerns" (PERES)
phaire "radiance" (PHAY)
phalsóbe "to foam" (PHAL/PHÁLAS)
pharasse (also spharasse) "hunt, hunting" (SPAR)
pharóbe (also spharóbe) "hunt" (verb) (SPAR)
phasta "shaggy hair" (PHAS)
phauka "thirsty" (PHAU)
Phayanô'r "Fëanor" (PHAY)
phelga "cave" (PHÉLEG)
phenda "threshold" (PHEN)
pheren "beech" (PHER/PHÉREN, BERÉTH)
pherna "mast" (beechnuts) (PHER/PHÉREN)
Phind-ambar (OS?) (name) (PHIN)
phinde "skill" (PHIN)
-phini (OS?) (has something to do with "skill", not clearly glossed) (PHIN)
Phinwe (masc. name, "name of chief Gnome [= Noldo]"). Q Finwë. (PHIN)
phinya "skilled" (PHIN)
phuine "night" (PHUY)
phuióbe "feel disgust at, abhor" (PHEW)
pikina "tiny" (PIK)
póre "fist" (KWAR)
poto pl. poti "animal's foot" (POTO)
puióbe "spit" (verb) (PIW)
ragme "fathom" (RAK)
ragna "crooked" (RAG)
randa "cycle, age" (100 Valian Years) (RAD)
ranko pl. rankui "arm" (RAK)
rattha "course, river-bed" (RAT)
rauda "hollow, cavernous" (ROD)
rauta "metal" [< "copper"] (RAUTÂ)
ríge "crown" (RIG)
rimba "frequent, numerous" (RIM)
rimbe "crowd, host" (RIM)
ringe "cold" (RINGI)
rista - "rend, rip" (RIS)
pl. rówi "lion" (RAW)
romba "horn, trumpet" (ROM)
róna "east" (RÔ)
rostóbe "to hollow out, excavate" (ROD)
rúma "loud sound, trumpet-sound" (ROM)
runda "club" (RUD)
ruska "brown" (RUSKÂ)
russe "polished metal" (RUS)
salape "herb, green foot plant" (SALÁK-(WÊ) )
salpha "liquid food, soup, broth" (SALÁK-(WÊ) )
síre "river" (SIR)
sirya - "flow" (SIR)
skhalia - "veil, conceal, screen from light" (SKAL1)
skhalla "veiled, hidden, shadowed, shady" (SKAL1)
skhapa pl. skhapati "shore" (SKYAP)
skhella "naked" (SKEL)
slaiwa > thlaiwa "sickly, sick, ill" (SLIW)
slíwe > thlíwe "sickness" (SLIW)
sniuma, snýma (OS - not S!) "snare" (SNEW; changed from núma.)
sóba "juice" (SAB)
sphanga "beard" (SPÁNAG)
spharasse (also pharasse ) "hunt, hunting" (SPAR)
spharóbe (also pharóbe ) "hunt" (vb) (SPAR)
sphinde "lock of hair" (SPIN)
sphíndele "(braided) hair" (SPIN)
stabne > sthamne "room, chamber" (STAB)
sthabro, sthabrondo "carpenter, wright, builder" (STAB)
sthalga "stalwart, steady, firm" (STÁLAG)
sthamne (< stabne ) "room, chamber" (STAB)
sthanka "cleft, split" (STAK)
stharna "sapless, stiff, rigid, withered" (STAR)
sthinta "short" (STINTÂ)
sulkha "root" (especially as edible) (SÚLUK)
taika "boundary, limit, boundary line" (WJ:309)
tára "lofty" (TÂ/TA3)
targa "tough, stiff" (TÁRAG)
tarsa "trouble" (TARAS)
thele pl. thelesi > thelehi "sister" (THEL/THELES)
thlaiwa < slaiwa "sickly, sick, ill" (SLIW)
thlíwe < slíwe "sickness" (SLIW)
thoronen ( "eagle" (THOR/THORON)
"thither" (TA)
toron pl. toroni "brother" (TOR)
tre (unstressed prefix) *"through" (TER/TERES), in tre-batie "traverse" (BAT), evidently also in trenare "he tells to end" (tre - denoting completeness)
trenare, inf. trenarie "he recounts, tells to end" (NAR2)
trenárna "account, tale" (NAR2)
trí "through" (TER/TERES)
túgo "muscle, sinew, vigour, physical strength" (TUG)
tuio - "swell, grow fat" (TIW)
túka "thick, fat" (TIW)
tulugme "support, prop" (noun) (TULUK)
Túna name of an Elf-city in Valinor (a word that for historical reasons could occur in "Old Noldorin", but hardly in Old Sindarin) (TUN)
uia "envelope", especially of the Outer Sea or Air enfolding the world within the Ilurambar or world-walls (WAY)
Uigolosse "Everlasting snow" = Taniquetil (Oiolossë) (OY)
Uinenda name of a Maia, the wife of Osse; Q Uinen. (UY)
wa - (prefix) "together" (TOR)
waide "bond, troth, compact, oath" (WED)
wanta - (OS?) "depart, dead" (WAN)
wanúre "kinswoman" (THEL/THELES)
wanúro "brother" (NÔ) or "kinsman" (TOR)
warie "betray, cheat" (WAR)
wasse "stain" (WA3)
watha "shade" (WATH)
wathel "sister, associate" (THEL/THELES)
wator "brother" ("especially used of those not brothers by blood, but sworn brothers or associates") (TOR)
watte "a stain" (WA3)
wattóbe "to soil, stain" (WA3)
weda "bond" (WED)
-wega (compound form) element in masculine names (WEG)
[wintha - "it fades, advesperascit" (Latin: 'evening approaches') (WIN/WIND, struck out) ]
*wôia "envelope", especially of the Outer Sea or Air enfolding the world within the Ilurambar or world-walls (asterisked as unattested) (WAY)
wóra "soiled, dirty" (WA3)
yaiwe "mocking, scorn" (YAY)
yen-panta (OS? yen-panta > impanta > in-fant > S ifant) "aged, long-lived" (lit. *"year-full") (YEN)
yura "course" (YUR)
yurine "I run" (YUR)

These articles have been reproduced, with permission from Helge K. Fauskanger, from his Ardalambion web page.
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