The Sindarin case system


Abbreviations used:

Q: Quenya
S: Sindarin
N: Noldorin
PQ: Primitive Quendian
CE: Common Eldarin

WJ: The War of the Jewels
SD: Sauron Defeated
LR: The Lost Road
TI: The Treason of Isengart
LOTR: The Lord of the Rings
SIL: The Silmarillion
UT: Unfinished Tales

VT: Vinyar Tengwar
PE: Parma Eldalamberon

1. Introduction

3rd age Sindarin shows, quite unlike Quenya, no noun endings to mark the different cases. And yet, at some earlier stage, Sindarin probably had these endings. Tolkien writes in WJ:370 "Since all final vowels disappeared in Sindarin, it cannot be determined whether or not this language had in the primitive period developed inflexional . Its presence in Telerin of Amen makes its former presence in Sindarin probable. The placing of the genitive noun second in normal Sindarin is probably also derived from inflexional forms..."

A different clue is provided by the form ennas (SD:128). It is very plausible that this form is related to the Quenya enta (LR:356) inflected for locative, hence Q: entassë. If so, the locative case ending -sse must have had some relevance in early Sindarin as well.

However, only traces of this remain in 3rd age Sindarin - case endings are virtually absent, instead sentence structure is marked by the presence or absence or grammatical mutations and/or case marker particles. Nevertheless, there are some interesting quirks and peculiarities in the Sindarin case system which invite a closer look.

2. Nominative

There is not much interesting to say about the nominative - it is the uninflected form of nouns in which they are found in the dictionaries. Sindarin nouns in nominative are the subject of the sentence and as such remain unlenited (if they are not mutated by a definite article).

3. Genitive

There are two ways of expressing the Sindarin genitive, both exemplified in a single phrase Narn e-Dant Gondolin ar Orthad en-Êl *"Tale of the Fall of Gondolin and the Rising of the Star" (MR:373). Apparently, one way is to simply place the unlenited word in genitive next to the noun it refers to (dant Gondolin 'Fall of Gondolin'), the other way is to express the genitive marker en (Narn e-Dant 'Tale of the Fall'.

Common folklore has it that the indefinite genitive (using 'of') is expressed by the first version whereas the definite genitive (using 'of the') requires en. As often, a closer look at the actual evidence tells a different story.

We have numerous examples of genitives in names. Quite a few of them do not obey the simple rule about definitiveness outlined above, e.g. Dôr Iâth 'Land of the Fence' (WJ:370) , Narn...ar Orthad 'Tale... of the Rising' (MR:373), Ered en Echoriath '[the] mountains of Echoriath' (UT:40), Cabed en Aras 'Deer's Leap' (SIL), Haudh-en-Ndengin 'Hill of Slain' (SIL).

There is little doubt that genitive relationships can be expressed by placing the genitive noun second, Tolkien says so quite clearly in WJ:370: "The placing of the genitive noun second in normal Sindarin is probably also derived from inflexional forms... But genitival sequences with the possessor or qualifier second in the later period also became fixed compounds: as Dóriath for Dôr Iâth 'Land of the Fence' ".

Presumably, the confusion about the identification of the 'simple' genitive (by placing the genitive noun unlenited second) with the indefinite genitive arises from a misidentification of cause and effect: The vast majority of simple genitives involves names as their second element (cf. ennyn Durin 'doors of Durin' (LOTR), aran Moria 'king of Moria' (LOTR), aran Gondor 'king of Gondor' (SD:128) ), but in English, such phrases involving names cannot get a definite article. But if one considers the four examples where no names are involved in second position, in three of them there is the definite article in the English translation: fennas nogothrim 'doorway of the Dwarf-folk' (LOTR), Dôr Iâth 'Land of the Fence' (WJ:370) and Narn...ar Orthad 'Tale... of the Rising' (MR:373). In the last example, peth lammen 'the word of my tongue' (LOTR) English grammar again does not permit the article.

So, the simple genitive seems to be used mostly in combination with names, or as in the case of Gandalf's attempt to open the door of Moria to allow for the correct meter in a poem or rhyme, and as an effect of this custom in use, it appears as if it would imply no definiteness. But as Tolkiens remarks about genitives becoming fixed compounds in WJ:370 may indicate, apart from these functions the simple genitive is probably not too relevant for 3rd age Sindarin any more.

This does not mean that the 'new' genitive (involving the particle en) could not be used for names: Ered en Echoriath shows that it is entirely legitimate to do so - the number of examples just suggests that it is not very common and that for names as second element, the simple genitive is actually favoured.

The new genitive is probably indeed closely related to the definite article: First of all, as condir i Drann 'mayor of the shire' (SD:128) shows, the definite article itself can take the function of en. Second, in plural in is used to express genitive relationship, which happens to be the plural of the definite article as well, cf. Annon-in-Gelydh 'Gate of the Noldor' (UT:18), Aerlinn in Edhil *'Hymn (of) the Elves' (RGEO:70), but there are also examples where en is used in plural, cf. Bar-en-Nibin-Noeg 'Home of the Petty-dwarves' (UT:100).

There is a different particle which at least in Noldorin was used as genitive marker. This is na (LR:374) with plural nia as apparent from sarch nia hîn Húrin 'grave of the children of Húrin' (UT) (where, incidentally, a simple genitive involving a name is present as well). Presumably, this concept was abandoned in later Sindarin as na seems to have taken a different role then.

There does not seem to be a conceptual difference between the two ways of expressing the genitive (apart from the habit of using the simple genitive for names) - we see the idea 'tale of...' expressed both using the simple genitive Narn Beren ion Barahir 'Tale of Beren son of Barahir' and using the new genitive Narn en-Êl 'Tale of the Star' (MR:373). Similarly, origin is both expressed using simple genitive aran Gondor 'king of Gondor' (SD:128) and new genitive Conin en Annûn 'princes of the West'.

With no apparent conceptual difference, both Sindarin genitives seem capable of expressing the range of meanings seen in the Quenya genitive and possessive cases. The Sindarin genitive denotes possession or qualification (see Tolkien's comments in WJ:370), a role which is in Quenya taken by the possessive (WJ:368, 369). It denotes the topic of a tale, cf. S: Narn en-Êl, a function that is in Quenya performed by the genitive, cf. Q: quenta Silmarillion. Likewise, it denotes origin, cf. S: rach Morgoth 'curse of Morgoth' (MR:373) which is in Quenya expressed by the genitive, cf. Varda Oiolossëo 'Varda from Mount Everwhite' (Namárië, LOTR) and, with a little stretch, the Sindarin genitive can even be argued to denote a part of a whole, cf. Methed-en-Glad 'End of the Wood' (UT:153).

In summary, there are no apparent grammatical differences between the two Sindarin genitives. It is certainly not true that one is used to express definite genitive relationships and the other indefinite ones - both are seen in either function. There seems to be a difference in habit, though, the number of examples indicating that if the genitive word is a name, the simple genitive without en is to be preferred.

4. Dative

There are three distinct possibilities how the dative is expressed in Sindarin:

a) using the pronoun le 'to thee, for thee':

Fanuilos le linnathon 'to thee, Everwhite, I will sing' (LOTR, translated RGEO:72)
le nallon sí di-nguruthos 'to thee I cry now in the shadow of death' (LOTR, translated RGEO:72)
le linnon im Tinúviel untranslated, probably 'to thee I sing, I [am?] Tinúviel' (Lays of Beleriand 354)

b) using the dative marker an, either separate or in forming a compound:

Naur an edraith ammen! 'fire be for saving of us' (LOTR, translated TI:175)
Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen! 'Elvish gate open now for us' (LOTR, translated RS:463)
A Pherhael ar am Meril suilad uin aran 'To Samwise and Rose the King's greeting' (SD:128)
Anno ammen sír... 'Give us today...' (VT44:21)
Guren bêd enni... 'my heart tells me' (VT41:11)
ar díheno ammen i úgerth vin... 'and forgive us our sins...' (VT44:21)
sui mín i gohenam di ai gerir úgerth ammen 'like we forgive those who sin against us' (VT44:21)
ú-chebin estel anim 'I do not keep hope for myself' (LOTR)
Gurth an Glamhoth! 'Death to the din-horde' (UT:39)

Aglar'ni Pheriannath! 'Glory to the halflings' (LOTR, translated in Letters:308)

Presumably the last form represents an original compound *anin or *enin which has been reduced to 'nin and is seen in the example causing nasal mutation.

c) as object like in accusative:

Ónen i-Estel Edain 'I gave hope to the edain' (LOTR) Ar e aníra ennas suilannad mhellyn în phain 'And he desires to greet (lit. give greeting to) there all his friends' (SD:128)

In Common Eldarin views on the Sindarin pronomial system some arguments are given why le could well be a special case. Therefore, we will not consider it here as a regular way of forming the dative and note that it is probably exceptional.

There remain two possibilities of forming the dative, a 'simple' one without a marker and a 'marked' one using an or compounds and derived forms. Just counting the number of examples, the marked dative seems to be the normal option. Since both simple and marked dative are seen in the 'King's Letter' and 'Gilraen's Linnod', the two alternatives do not represent different phases of Tolkien's work.

Let us focus on the simple dative first: English has a similar construction, the dative can be expressed using prepositions (I gave bread to the boy, I gave bread for the boy) or using an objective case which includes both dative and accusative (I gave the boy bread). If the objective case is used, the dative object precedes an accusative object in English and the word order implies this distinction. From Ónen i-Estel Edain we can infer the word order in the case that a Sindarin verb has both an accusative and a dative object: In Sindarin (unlike in English) the accusative object comes first.

Some writers have argued that an accusative object is lenited and a dative object remains unlenited to make a distinction. While this would be a neat idea, it is probably wrong. Consider the exmple Ar e aníra ennas suilannad mhellyn în phain: suilannad is obviously a compound of suil 'greeting' and anna- 'to give', hence the sentence literally translates 'wants to give greeting to his friends' and not 'wants to greet his friends', hence 'friends' actually is a dative object and not an accusative. And yet it is lenited. So, based on the evidence we have to conclude that only word order but not the presence of lenition makes a distincion between dative and accusative.

But in the majority of cases, this problem does not seem to arise. Most commonly, the dative is marked with an 'for, to'. an may not necessarily imply definiteness: There is Gurth an Glamhoth! 'death to the din-horde', but the very similar example Naur dan i ngaurhoth! '*fire against the werewolves' (LOTR) shows a definite article for the preposition dan, so maybe *an i ngaurhoth or the contracted *'ni ngaurhoth would be as permissible as *an ngaurhoth to translate 'for the werewolf-host'.

There is no apparent difference between the simple dative and the dative in an - both are seen as objects of the verb 'to give' in Ónen i-Estel Edain and Anno ammen sîr.... Where we have parallel texts, the Sindarin dative seems to have pretty much the meaning of the Quenya dative, cf. Q: ámen anta (VT43) and S: anno ammen 'give us', Q: ar ámen apsene and S: ar díheno ammen 'and forgive us' and Q: i úcarer emmen and S: ai gerir úgerth ammen 'who do sins against us' --- all three verbs take dative objects in both Sindarin and Quenya.

This gives rise to the educated guess that it may be permissible to use the Sindarin dative for another important function, i.e. to express purpose. In Quenya, a gerund in dative is used for this purpose, i.e. Q: enyalien 'in order to reacll' (UT:305). Presumably, a similar construction could be used in Sindarin, e.g. *al linnad 'in order to sing'.

5. Accusative

The case for the lenition of accusative objects has been presented in Mutations in Sindarin. Here, we will only repeat the essential findings.

Accusative objects are lenited, regardless if they are found before the verb or following the verb. Lenition of accusative objects is seen in the following examples:

Lasto beth lammen! 'Hear the word of my tongue!' (LOTR)
Im Narvi hain echant 'I Narvi made them.' (LOTR)
Daur a Berhael, Conin en Annûn, eglerio! 'Frodo and Sam, princes of the west, glorify (them)!' (LOTR)
caro den i innas lin 'make it thy will' (VT44)

For a longer phrase as object, only the first word is lenited. This shows clearly in edregol e aníra tírad i Cherdir Perhael where we see unlenited Perhael (SD:128 ). However, we see in Daur a Berhael, Conin en Annûn, eglerio! that the conjunction a (and) is apparently able to start a new object which is lenited again. We can assume that this is independent of a as such and that the same would also be true for ar (and) and egor (or), hence *Daur egor Berhael...eglerio! should also be acceptable.

And yet we see that if a longer phrase intrudes, no 'new' object is perceived and consequently no lenition is carried out after a conjunction, even when a new object stands behind it: edregol e aníra tírad i Cherdir Perhael ... ar Meril bess dîn ... ar Baravorn (In especial he desires to see Master Samwise ... and Rose, his wife...and Hamfast) (SD:128 ). Apparently, the lenition of direct objects has a rather short memory and 'forgets' that nouns are still objects of the verb if too many words intrude. In practice, lenition of an object after a conjunction is probably optional.

It stands to reason that lenited objects in dative obey the same rules.

6. Vocative

From Lacho calad! Drego morn! 'Flame Light! Flee Night!' (UT:65) we may deduce that Sindarin has an unlenited vocative. This, in fact, is nicely confirmed by the Moria riddle pedo mellon a minno! (LOTR). As the story indicates, the correct way to read this is in fact as a quote 'Speak "friend" and enter!'. However, in oder to be a riddle, it has to be confused with something, otherwise it would be obvious. Evindently it cannot be the (lenited) direct object like 'Name [the] friend and enter!', but it is the unlenited vocative 'Speak o friend and enter!' which makes the inscription a riddle.

A further example of the vocative includes

A Hîr Annûn gilthoniel '*O starkindling Lady of the West' (Lays of Beleriand 354)

7. Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Lothenon for his helpful comments on the draft version of this article.

Thorsten Renk
thorsten@sindarin.de

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