Hey! In this guide, we explore the smashing world of Khuzdûl, the language of Tolkien’s dwarves. Yep: the creatures of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and now The Rings Of Power, aka Jeff Bezos’ pharaonic project available on Amazon Prime Video.
These are spectacular works of fiction, in book form and on-screen: in them, the language of the dwarves is more hinted at than described, unlike languages such as Sindarin, Orcish or the Black Speech of Mordor. 👺
However, Khuzdûl is a fundamental part of the Dwarvish identity: I’m SURE that most of the details have paraded under your nose without you even noticing them. 😉
So, in this post, we are going to see how Khuzdûl is brought to life (in Tolkien’s head and Middle-earth), how it evolves and sounds, if it has loanwords, at what point in the films, series and novels it appears. In a nutshell, what we know about it. 🤓
Let’s get the ball rolling.
To say that dwarves speak khuzdûl is inaccurate: rather, they keep quiet about it. 😶
We hear little Khuzdûl in the films, and it is conspicuous by its absence in the novels as well. And about the 1 billion USD Amazon’s show, we are just about to discover it. Nevertheless, enough is known to weave a juicy post here.
⚠️ Warning: when I mention films, I essentially mean the two trilogies, both directed by Peter Jackson, and in both cases their extended versions:
Dwarves are a race, other inhabitants of Middle-earth would say, rather peculiar. Longevity, steadfastness and loyalty are some of their traits, though non-Dwarves would add: indifference to the world they live in, greed, secrecy. 🤨
Tolkien explains, a posteriori, that part of the inspiration for Khuzdûl comes from Hebrew, and perhaps the influence of the Jewish people is not limited to that. In his letters, he describes how he finds several features in common between the real people and the one that came from his pen: 🕎
(…) I conceive of the Dwarves as Jews: at once native and alien in their birthplace, in possession of the language of the country, but with an accent which is a consequence of their own private language…
And having seen how Khuzdûl is gestated outside Arda, let’s now look at it from the inside.
Khuzdûl: the origins
In the fiction, the Dwarves are created by Aulë, one of (let’s say) the gods of the pantheon presided over by Eru Ilúvatar.
The first seven dwarves, who later become the legendary Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, receive their language from Aulë himself, who shapes it for them.
From there, things get messy.
Since only Eru can beget life, by creating them Aulë has gone rogue, and when Eru works it out and finds it unamusing, Aulë apologises for it and prepares mentally for the worse, fearing Eru would destroy them. 🔨
In the end, Eru agrees to let them live, but warns Aulë that their alienation from the original design will have consequences: the dwarves will have friction with the elves and will awake (i.e. be born) only after the latter race. 🌱
Khuzdûl means nothing more than “tongue”, khuzd being “dwarf” and khuzûd “dwarves” or “dwarven race” (later modified into khazâd).
A few samples of Khuzdûl
At first glance, it might be difficult to distinguish what is Khuzdûl from what is not, so here are some toponyms and names.
Note: this is the romanised version, i.e. in Latin characters. I will speak at length in another entry about the Khuzdûl’s graphic system: the Cirth alphabet.
- Kheled-zâram: Crystal Lake, in the English version, Mirrormere.
- Azanulbizar: Dimrill Valley. We don’t have anything more specific.
- Tharkûn: Gandalf, literally “man with the staff” or “grey man”. 🧙♂️
- Gundabad: the eponymous kingdom, whose name in all languages would seem to be of Khuzdûl origin.
- Zirakzigil: Silver Spike.
- Zigil-nâd: the ancient name of the river Silverlode. 🏞️
- Kibil-nâla: the new name of the Silverlode itself.
- Gabilgathol: Belegost, in the Common Tongue.
- Azaghâl: the epic king of the dwarves of Belegost. It perhaps means “warrior”. 👑
- Tumunzahar: Nogrod, in the Common Tongue.
And some words:
- Aglâb: language
- baraz: red
- baruk: axe 🪓
- bund: head
- felek: sculpted rock
- gathol: fortress 🏰
- kheled: crystal (which would come from Sindarin, in which it is said heledh)
- kibil: silver (borrowed from Sindarin, celeb)
- mazarb: record
- narâg: black ⚫
- sharh: bald
- zahar: empty
- zirak: tine, spike
Is there all? There’s a helluva lot more, but first, there is a point to be made: I call everything Khuzdûl but, in reality, there are two languages here:
- Tolkien’s Khuzdûl, as he delivers it to us in his writings;
- David Salo’s Khuzdûl, crafted to make Peter Jackson’s films, also called Neo-Khuzdûl. 🎥
Let’s plunge into that.
Khuzdûl and Neo-Khuzdûl
Tolkien describes Khuzdûl in several of his pages: from there, scriptwriters realise that to move the two masterpieces to the big screen, they need more of it. 📚
So what do they do? They commissioned a first-rate linguist to expand Khuzdûl: David Salo, a great conlanger and Tolkien scholar comes into play.
Following in the footsteps of the fantasy author, he develops Khuzdûl in all directions: syntax, grammar, lexicon, phonetics. 📚
If you’re some normal human being, unlike me, you needn’t bother about making a distinction between Khuzdûl and Neo-Khuzdûl; so, we’re done.
When you develop a language for a movie, you usually do a monumental amount of work but only a fraction of it ends up in the finished film: however, the little Neo-Khuzdûl that makes it to the audience is useful to get to know the (neo)language.
Let’s see where we have Khuzdûl in the films, and then, a few touches of theory. And from now on I will call both Khuzdûl, for the sake of simplicity.
Khuzdûl in The Lord of the Rings (film)
In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is less Khuzdûl than in The Hobbit: unsurprisingly, since in the first trilogy the only dwarf who appears is Gimli.
We see and hear Khuzdûl only in The Fellowship of the Ring (feel free to correct me in the comment section if I’m wrong). In that film, in Moria:
- written in Cirth on Balin’s epitaph,
- in the Book of Mazarbul, 📓
- in Gimli’s lament, as he was a cousin of the late king of Khazad-dûm and friend to its dwellers.
In the guide to the Cirth alphabet, I will discuss the first two samples. Now, let’s spend a second on the third one, the cry of our bearded friend. 🧔
Gimli’s lament in Mazarbul
The dwarf Gimli is the first to realise that the chamber of Mazarbul is where his kinsmen had put up their stalwart defence against the enemy. 🛡️
There, the inscription on the stone slab confirms to him his cousin Balin’s death.
As the company enters the chamber and Gandalf takes the Book of Mazarbul in his hands, Gimli prays:
Kilmin malur ni zaram kalil ra narag, Kheled-zâram… Balin tazlifi. 😭
aaaand contrary to what half the world believes, we know its meaning. It is a modified fragment of a song that Philippa Boyens, producer, asked Salo:
Kilmîn thatur ni zâram kalil ra narag, Kheled-zâram. Durin tazlifi.
The differences are: malur instead of thatur, and Balin instead of Durin. The meaning of the original sentence is:
A crown of stars in the cold, black waters of the Kheled-zâram. Durin sleeps.
It’s been extracted from the lyrics composed for the Moria Theme: 🎵
Durin ku bin-amrad / Ugmal sullu addad. / Ku bakana / Ana aznân / Undu abad / Ku ganaga / Tur ganâd abanul
Durin who is Immortal / The greatest of all the Fathers / Who awoke / To the darkness / Under the mountain / Who walked alone / Through halls of stone
Durin ku bin-amrad / Uzbad Khazaddûmu / Ku baraka / Aznân / ra karaka / atkât / ala lukhudizu! / ala galabizu! / ala ukratizu! / Khazad-dûm!
Durin who is Immortal / Lord of Khazad-dum / Who cleft / The Darkness / And broke / The silence / This is your light! / This is your word! / This is your glory! / The Dwarf Mine of Khazad-dum!
Kilmîn thatur ni zâram kalil ra narag, Kheled-zâram. Durin tazlifi.
A crown of stars in the cold, black waters of the Kheled-zâram. Durin sleeps.
Ubzar ni kâmin / Aznân taburrudi / Iklal tanzifi bashukimâ / Ubzar ni kâmin.
Deeper into the earth / The darkness becomes heavy / The cold breaks our bones / Deeper into the earth.
Gilim Sanzigil / shakar ra udlag / Ubzar ni kâmin / tada aklat gagin / Ugrûd tashurrukimâ.
There, the flash of Mithril / Sharp and far / Deeper in the earth / That sound again / Dread surrounds us.
Maku kataklutimâ? / Askad gabil / Tashfati ni aznân / Kâmin takalladi / Tabriki! Takarraki!
Can’t anyone hear us? A great shadow / Moves in the darkness / The earth trembles! / Cracks! It breaks!
Maku zatansasimâ? / Urus! / Urus ni buzra! / Arrâs talbabi fillumâ!
Will no one save us? / Fire! / Fire in the depths! / Flames lick our skin!
Ugrûd tashniki kurdumâ! / Lu! Lu! Lu! / Urkhas tanakhi!
Fear tears our heart! / No! No! No! No! / The devil is coming!
They were right to be terrified of what was about to befall them. 🙀
But well, we can conclude that Gimli’s lament at the sight of his cousin’s grave lacks of consistency: they have put a phrase there out of context just to make it sound like Khuzdûl.
Gimli in Lórien
Then, we have another fragment in Lothlórien, when Gimli quarrels with the elves and slaps them with:
Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul. 😡
Which would mean something like, ehm, “I spit on your grave”.
It seems to be an insult in vogue among the dwarves, for seventy years earlier Thorin shouts something similar to Thranduil in the Black Forest, when the latter locks him up in the prisons. 😆
And to the events of seventy years earlier we now turn.
Khuzdûl in The Hobbit (film)
There’s a lot of Khuzdûl in The Hobbit trilogy, which isn’t surprising, considering that there are more dwarves there than sheep in New Zealand. 🐑
To understand what they were saying, sometimes it has been enough for me to listen and search the sources; at others, it has been an exhausting quest, emails back and forth to Tolkien scholars and a lot of listening and guessing.
Several things have made it more complex:
- Salo himself admits ignoring what ended up in the trilogy, because shooting a film is a nightmare, hard to comprehend if you haven’t been involved in a shoot, and the final result diverges from the initial plan;
- the dialogue coaches don’t clarify and the actors don’t remember; 😒
- each actor has their accent, which may not be, let’s say, standard;
- if in a scene everything was right except the pronunciation of three words in Khuzdûl, Peter Jackson was not in the mood to repeat it.
Now, let’s go step by step, in chronological order, through The Hobbit trilogy.
Beginning of An Unexpected Journey: in Bilbo Baggins’ dining hall, the company of dwarves begins to fight until Thorin is forced to silence them all, shouting:
Atkât comes from the root TKT: Salo said to have been inspired by the Latin taceo, “shut up”. It is a calque of aglâb, “speech”.
Thorin’s battle cry
The cry du-bekârrrrr is one of the most famous in Khuzdûl: it is repeated several times. That it is their unofficial motto is significant, as it enhances the warrior essence of the Dwarves. Had they been Italians, it would have been “spaghettiiiii”. 🍝
To arms! (bekâr being plural of bekar, arm).
We hear it in the dwelling of Lord Baggins, in the flashback of the battle of Azanulbizar, in the grudge of the Iron Hills against the Blackwood folks, and the final charge of them all against the armies of Azog.
By the way: Azog, the orc leader of Gundabad, is bilingual in Orcish and Black Speech of Mordor.
Thorin’s cry at Azanulbizar
The traumatic battle to recapture Moria, only briefly mentioned in the trilogy, also offers bits of Khuzdûl. After pruning Azog’s arm at the elbow, Thorin leads the dwarves’ counter-attack, rallying them with the cry:
M’imnu Thror, du-bekâr!
In the name of Thror, to arms! ⚔️
It comes from:
- mi: “by, with”, which is elided in m’ before another word beginning with i-
- imn: “name”,
- Thror: Thorin’s grandpa, who had just been beheaded by Azog. As a respectable grandson, he wanted to take revenge on him as soon as possible.
Salo creates the sentence with Durin instead of Thror, but then again, the screenwriters don’t screw it either, in my view
Frictions in Rivendell
While roaming the Great East Road, our heroes encounter three trolls.
The encounter isn’t that pleasant, but in the end, there’s a fortunate outcome, in the form of a treasure found in the cave of the huge critters: Thorin gets the sword Orcrist (with runes of Gondolin), Gandalf the other excellent sword Glamdring, and Bilbo a smaller one that he will name Sting. 🗡️
Gondolin was a bright, ancient city, with a history shrouded in sadness. Its blades were of spectacular workmanship, the likes of which would never be forged again in Middle-earth. Like Gordon Ramsay’s cooking knives, in other words.
But with swords or without, orcs abound and, as it happens in life, Thorin’s company ends up in Rivendell, where it had to go, one way or another.
The dwarves have to go to Elrond, to get him to read the map of Thror that has come to Thorin: the elven lord is the only one to notice that there is a message in ancient Khuzdûl, written in moon runes. 🌙
Nevertheless, relationships between the two races are tense. Newly arrived the dwarves in the Elvish realm, as Elrond rides back at full speed, a voice pierces the air:
Which comes from:
- igribî: plural imperative from the root GRB, “to take, seize, grasp”
- ib-bekâr: “the weapons”, already seen, elided in ‘b-bekar after the long vowel i. Ib is an accusative, as is id, only in this case assimilated to the following consonant (Semitic languages: wink wink 😉)
Thorin and Thranduil
The company leaves Rivendell, goes through the bush, etc etc, until the first Woodland Elves save them from the giant spiders and then cage them in the prisons of Mirkwood.
Here, there is another linguistically juicy moment: when Thrain’s heir rubs in Thranduil’s face his indifference after Smaug’s attack on Erebor. 🐉
After accusing him in the Common Tongue of being dishonoured, Thorin shouts some swear words at Thranduil in Khuzdûl, to which Thranduil reacts by scolding him with “You’re going to talk to me about dragon-fire?”, with his sylvan-elf king-arrogant manners. 😒
Why on earth would Legolas’ father send him such a message? Because Thorin, at the end of his accusation (in the Common Tongue), throws him a resounding:
Imrid amrâd ursul!
(Lit.) Die a death of flames!
- imrid: singular imperative from the root MRD, “to die”
- amrad: noun coming from the same root MRD
- ursul: adjective composed of urus (fire) + ul (of). Urus is another cornerstone word in the dwarfish lexicon 🔥
Then, returned to his cell, Thorin shouts from afar to Thranduil:
Ish-kakhfê ai’d dur-rugnul!
This is a more intense variant of Gimli’s insult to Lórien’s dudes. It’s a long story, I’ll sum it up for you here.
Between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (films), a long time goes by, in which Salo’s creative work progresses, to the point that the second sentence ends up having a very distant meaning. Which is: “May my faeces be spilt on those with hairless jaws”. 🤐
In brief, quarrels between elves and dwarves go back a long way.
Thorin and Smaug
Much later, at last, a part of the company manages to enter Erebor and… comes to exchange frivolities in Khuzdûl. Including Thorin and Smaug.
Before pouring over the dragon a mountain of boiling gold, Thorin shouts to his companions: 🗣️
Indeed, the dwarves loosen their grip on the colossal decal, in one of the trilogy’s most breathtaking scenes. The meaning:
Release the fire!
It comes from:
ikhriyi: to release, to let go
id-ursu: fire, with the accusative we saw before.
Fire and fire and more fire, you see. But Khuzdûl also lends itself to the fire of passion. ❤️
Esgaroth collapses. The she-elf Tauriel, who seems to be the only sensible one in her race, saves Kili’s life twice over. Kili can’t hide it any more and he eventually verbalises his love for her, in Khuzdûl:
(Lit). Love of me
It comes from:
- amrâl: it is a calque of some words that Tolkien himself creates in Khuzdûl, such as aglâb. Some venture to find a resemblance with Quenya melmë (love), mírima (affectionate) or also with Sindarin meleth (love).
- im: genitive marking.
- ê: “mine”, “me”.
Here, Peter Jackson takes a good deal of an artistic license: Kili is depicted very differently in the books and Tauriel is 100%. 🤔
All in all, her addition gives us the chance to hear a lot of Sindarin, to listen to some Khuzdûl from Kili, and to see that even between adversaries, sentiment can spring up. 💕
Battle cries of the Dwarves of the Iron Hills
The dwarves have barricaded themselves in Erebor. The men of Lake-town, together with the Elvish armies, stand before its gates to bargain with Thorin, attempting to avoid bloodshed.
But Dáin arrives with his soldiers: they also provide us with some samples of Khuzdûl. Approaching the battlefield, a cry is heard:
Sons of Durin!
We’ve already seen -ul, which is “son of”, like “ibn” in Arabic or “son/dóttir” in Icelandic. Yanâd, “sons”, is the plural of yand, “son”, coming from the root YND, “son, birth”.
So, if your name is Peter and your father is Bob, in Khuzdûl you’d be: Peter Bobnul. 🪓
Another battle cry is, I believe:
Get ready, children!
The novelty here is ifridî: the plural imperative of “get ready”, from the root FRD.
The dwarves of the Iron Hills come to a scuffle with the elves. When responding to the arrows of the Black Forest with their turbo-weapons, Dáin II Ironfoot shouts the well-known:
Axes of the Dwarves!
Which is the call to war of the Dwarves. At this point an epic phase of fighting begins:
I’ll break down the meaning of the sentence in a minute. What we hear after that battle cry is:
Which is the shortened version, I suppose for filming purposes, of the longer one Salo composed:
Ansaru kitnul, ifridî bekâr!
Compay centre, prepare arms!
That is followed by:
In line, arms!
Rakân means, most likely, “ranks” or “lines”. More data would be needed to confirm this. One of the greatest Khuzdûl experts draws an interesting parallel with the Proto-Germanic *rai(h)waz, meaning “raw”.
The dwarvish chorus replies:
On top of the scum!
Which was quite difficult to decipher, but which should come from:
- ai: “above”, derived from Tolkien’s aya
- rusê: “of the scum”, which is monophthonged rusay, from the root RSY, “faeces” or “filth”.
And Dáin, as he goes about paying homage to the orcs with his hammer blows, cries out:
(Lit.) Welcome to the hall!
Which could be translated as “Welcome to the feast!” or “Welcome to my house!”. More in detail:
- idmi: it’s the singular imperative of “to welcome”.
- di: “to” or “at”.
- dum: hall, mansion. It is the same word, in the singular, that appears in the dwarfish name of Moria, Khazad-dûm.
But Dáin, who is not only bad-tempered but also a noisy warrior, is still howling:
The dwarves are upon you!
It is original Khuzdûl, written by Tolkien: as a matter of fact, it’s the third or fourth best-known phrase in the language.
There is more to Khuzdûl than this, but our linguist friends have wood to chop already with this. 😎
According to what we know about the Amazon’s The Rings Of Power series, beside the recognizable Scottish-northern English twang, the dwarves will have a huge deal of written and spoken Khuzdûl all over the seasons already shot.
So far, we have just heard sigin-tarâg: literally “long-beards”. It’s the gauntlet thrown by Elrond to prince Durin, consisting in breaking as many rocks as possible.
A quantum of sociolinguistics now.
Who speaks Khuzdûl
Or rather: Do other races learn Khuzdûl? Next to nought.
I’m not aware of hobbits, orcs, Ents (who, by the way, speak Entish) or any other wild creature.
Some of the Edain (men) do acquire a grasp of Khuzdûl, in distant times, because of their proximity to the Dwarves for a while.
With the Elves, it goes a little further. These are but anecdotes, but significant:
- Aulë teaches Khuzdûl to Fëanor, 🖊️
- his son Curufin delights in the presence of the dwarves and in learning their language (and then teaching it to other elven lords, as a private tutor of KFL, that is, Khuzdûl as a Foreign Language),
- Pengolodh also learns Khuzdûl… but generally speaking, few elves achieve a B2 in Khuzdûl. Merely some among the Eldar and the Noldor. 🎓
- Elrond, who gives proof of knowing the ancient Khuzdûl, might be proficient in the modern language, but it is hard to say for sure. In our world, many know Latin but not any Romance language.
Fun fact: in Westron, the Common Tongue of Middle-earth, a good chunk of names are of dwarvish origins. Settlements and geographical features, for example. ⛰️
Tolkien scholars often claim that Khuzdûl is a secret language because the Dwarves keep it to themselves, going so far as to argue that there is a racial reason why others ignore the language: if you are not a Dwarf, Khuzdûl is not your thing. 🤨
From my point of view, it’s inaccurate: according to Tolkien’s writings, Dwarves lack the interest to teach Khuzdûl to others, and on the other hand, non-Dwarves don’t usually show much desire to learn it.
It seems more like a mutual indifference. 😑
The Eldar, who are historically among the closest to the Dwarvish language, find it “heavy and unpleasant”. Men, as soon as they start to study it, abandon the task because… they find Khuzdûl a tough nut to crack. 😓
What the Dwarves truly keep under the strictest secrecy are their own names: Oin, Gloin, Gimli and all these are the those they use to identify themselves to the gentiles, while their real names no one knows.
They refuse even to put them on their graves: such is the secrecy of first names. 😮
Place-names, on the other hand, they have no interest in hiding: you have already seen above, that Dwarves indicate towns and places in Khuzdûl, even to non-Dwarves.
Structure of Khuzdûl
People consider the language abrasive to the ear. I disagree. 🤨 Khuzdûl has the same phonetics as a romance language, roughly speaking, with a few exceptions:
- long vowels, which in Tolkien’s transcription in the Latin alphabet, are rendered with the circumflex accent: â, ê, etc. Hence the û in Khuzdûl is pronounced /uu/, which is longer;
- j and w as semi-vowels;
- glottal stops, which must always be placed at the beginning of a word when it begins with a vowel;
- th and kh, which are aspirated stops.
It’s an inflected language, based on consonantal triliteral roots, somewhat like the Semitic languages: Phoenician, Akkadian, Amharic, Aramaic, being Hebrew and Arabic the most distinguished members of the family in our times. 🏆
And also from this linguistic group it takes irregular plurals: if in Arabic “tree” is shajara and “trees” ‘ashjaar, in Khuzdûl “orc” is rukhs but “orcs” rakhâs. In other words, the root R-Kh-S remains. There is a bit of speculation, for this of orc/orcs is the only specimen of singular/plural that Tolkien gives us concerning Khuzdûl. 🙄
Without bothering you further with this, I’ll give you one last grammatical notion.
Observe the phrase Baruk Khazâd!, which is one of the war cries of the Dwarves. Translated literally: Axe dwarves!, which means: Axe of the dwarves! Another Semitic language calque.
Indeed, in Hebrew, to say “breakfast”, one says ארוחת בוקר, /aruchat boker/: for, aruchat is “food”, boker is “morning”, hence: “morning meal”.
Tolkien deploys Khuzdûl quite little: he rather establishes a few rules so that the language could be derived and evolve from there. In the development of Neo-Khuzdûl for the films, David Salo confessed to having been inspired by Arabic. 👳
There are several studies on (what we know of) the grammar of Khuzdûl: an enjoyable deep-dive is the YouTube channel of The Dwarrow Scholar, a seasoned linguophile who has created entertaining content about Khuzdûl. Check his work and if you like it hit the join button on his Patreon. May your beard grow forever, buddy. 🧔
Now, a good Tolkienian geek question may be:
If dwarves were scattered from time immemorial throughout Middle-earth, would one expect a plethora of vernaculars to have developed?
I would say yes, but Tolkien rejects the idea, claiming that Khuzdûl remains very uniform in space and time. He has it explained directly by Pengolodh, the famous ancient chronicler:
(…) Aulë devised for them their language at the beginning so that its changes are few.
Tolkien himself then reinforces the notion, when he writes that, in comparison with his other languages,
(…) the change of the Khuzdûl… was like the wearing away of hard stone compared with the melting of snow. ❄️
Well, such are the privileges granted to you when you are the world crafter.
☝️ Should you want to expand your knowledge of Khuzdûl, and the other languages of Middle-earth, your next read ought to be HL Fourie‘s The Writing of Middle Earth: it has Cirth, Tengwar and even the lesser-known info, rigorously according to the sources.
We’re still missing something fun-da-men-tal: the Dwarvish sign language. 😮
A dwarvish sign language?
It is true that when the dwarves went full cryptographic on others, not even Alan Turing would have worked out what they were saying to each other.
The secret weapon of Durin’s sons is called Iglishmêk: a kind of sign language that they learn from childhood, along with their mother tongue. 😮
Although… more than a language, Iglishmêk is a set of visual signs accompanying the spoken language. 🙌
An example could be the range of gestures that, in war films, soldiers use to communicate: stay here, I’ll go ahead and you follow me, stand still, etc.
Iglishmêk could vary enormously from one Dwarf tribe to another, something that did not happen with Khuzdûl.
The real plus for the Dwarves would be that Iglishmêk signals are so subtle that, according to Tolkien, it would be difficult for anyone else to recognize them as a communicative code. 🤯 The only two signs Tolkien talks about are:
- Listen to me: slightly raising both index fingers at the same time. 👆☝️
- I’m listening: raising first the left index finger and then the right one.
It must be said, however, that contradictions abound, in Iglishmêk as in other languages of Middle-earth.
Tolkien writes thousands and thousands of pages and, with such an overwhelming project, it is inevitable to err from time to time. In some fragments, the only beings who master Iglishmêk are the dwarves; in others, he hints at some Noldor elves learning it. 🤔
To digress briefly, also the Eldar must possess a sign code, quite abstract and articulate, but well below the level of sophistication achieved by that of the Dwarves. Perhaps it is the dwarves who inspired them.
Does Iglishmêk appear in films?
To tell you the truth, no matter how many times I’ve binge-watched The Hobbit trilogy, I haven’t seen it. Or maybe they’ve just done it well. 😀
FAQ about Khuzdûl
Q: Are ravens speaking Khuzdûl or dwarves speaking Ravenish?
A: Ehm… on screen, Thorin allegedly understand the cawing of the raven.
In The Hobbit (book), the matter is more complex: it seems that Roäc, the raven of Ravenhill, communicates with the dwarves. I would say not in Ravenish, if such language existed, so it could be in Westron or Khuzdûl. 🤔
On the other hand, this is Middle-earth: its inhabitants accept as extraordinary, but plausible, that men, elves, hobbits or dwarves understand the languages of animals or that animals can communicate in the languages of the former.
This is shown in chapter XV of The Hobbit, when Balin utters to Bilbo something like: “I don’t understand this thrush, he talks fast and hard, do you by any chance? 🐦
Q: Couldn’t the production company simply make up a bunch of sounds, instead of developing Tolkien’s languages?
A: They could, but why?
It’s not just to avoid the wrath of Tolkienists, who examine every syllable from the author’s pen, but also to bestow an appearance of reality, through language, to a very unreal universe.
The linguistic aspect, in a film, is especially noticeable when it is poorly made. 😒
In the case of The Hobbit, for example, if you watched it several times in the original version, you would end up noticing some very juicy details: the dwarves speak Westron differently from the other races, but also that depending on their family or geographical origin, they speak differently from one another. 🤯
Thus, Thorin has an accent that Fili and Kili, his nephews, share; Balin and Dwalin, brothers, talk in the same accent. The speech of Oin and Gloin, Gimli’s uncle and father, is reminiscent of that of the dwarf hero we met in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 💍
Why do I tell you this? Because if they hadn’t done this work on language and accents, you would notice that something doesn’t sound right, watching the films: same with Khuzdûl, however little it appears on the screen.
David J. Peterson, the conlanger who created High Valyrian and Dothraki for Game of Thrones, explains it too and way better than me.
Q: Thranduil and Tauriel also speak Khuzdûl, from what you say, don’t they? When one talks in it, they understand.
A: Hmm, good point, but they might not. They indeed seem to understand it, and being immortal would provide them with the opportunity to learn a myriad of languages. 📚
Nevertheless, they are both sylvan elves: among their kin, the most elusive and ill-minded, as Beorn rightly warns. 🤨
Thranduil would have little trouble picking up on ursu (fire), one of the most defining words of Khuzdûl, and seeing Thorin shouting it at him with a look of hatred… I think it’s easy for him to deduce what he’s trying to communicate. 🤬 Ask a Swede what impression they would have if a Finn would shout some random menacing sentence containing the word perkele.
Concerning Tauriel, quite the same: understanding amrâlimê would be just as easy, in Middle-earth, as Ich liebe dich would be for a French, even one ignoring German entirely.
Q: I seem to detect a schwa, when listening to Khuzdûl, but Tolkien doesn’t mention it, does he?
A: He doesn’t. If the actors have put it in, it’s their initiative, which is not surprising either.
Q: What language does the dwarf with the piece of an axe on his head speak?
A: I lost sleep pondering it. Some say it is Khuzdûl, or a deranged form of it, but if so, why is it that of all people only Gandalf seems to understand him? The other dwarves should too.
Others claim it might be ancient Khuzdûl: for this reason, his fellow-quests would not understand him. But Bifur was a lowly dwarf of the Blue Mountains: how on earth did he learn ancient Khuzdûl? And if he did, being Thorin of high birth, would he not have understood? 🤔
As a note, the actor reciting Bifur, New Zealander William Kircher, said to have trained himself to bring out… whatever he was going to pronounce, with a Northern Irish twist. ☘️ The production company has not clarified whether it was modern or ancient Khuzdûl.
Q: Why should we have Khuzdûl all along the Amazon’s The Rings of Power series?
A: Why not? The Second Age is one of gold for the people of Aulë, the The Hobbit film was terrific so they will certainly give us more dwarfness and, last but not least, languages are now a must if you want to craft a billionaire blockbuster fantasy show.
Besides, we’re in the Second Age and Númenor, the powerful island of Men, becomes something of a maritime merchant monarchy, founding colonies and trading with Middle-earth: it’s only logical that all races should have a place.
Q: Why do dwarves in Peter Jackson’s movies speak with a thick Scottish accent?
A: Good question. There’s a long-established, unwritten rule that on the screen a proper dwarf speaks with an accent somehow placeable between Scotland and northern England.
I can’t tell you when it started, but it’s the same unofficial rule that mandates, in medieval-inspired film productions, the English spoken be British, neither Californian nor Australian: you could do it, but it would sound weird. I find beautiful, for example, the Jamaican accent, but on Tyrion Lannister it would be outlandish.
Not everybody though agrees on defining Scottish that accent. To some is more Semitic than anything, which means Hebrew or Arabic. IMHO, some dwarves do have a distinctive Scottish tone (Billy Connolly playing Dáin, for example), whereas others have some Hebrew brogue (Owain Arthur playing Durin IV). I can’t find much Arabic intonation around.
The dialect coach Leith McPherson, who participated in much of Peter Jackson’s forays as well as in Bezos’, said in 2022:
These [the dwarves] are people connected to the Earth, to stone in particular. It evokes their very solid present. It’s beautiful but there is a rougher quality, a feeling of weight”.
We also know that during the The Rings of Power series there will be chants and prayers in Khuzdûl, some of which are used to make the rock resonates, thus giving clues about where to dig. Hmmmm, let’s see what’s into that pot. 🫕
Q: I’m curious now. What’s written on Durin IV’s sledgehammer shoulder?
A: It seems to be a mere transliteration of a common English sentence. Seen from up close, rotated 180º:
Which appears to be, in the Angerthas Moria (i.e. the alphabet of Moria, one of the three available for Khuzdûl): iron·in·our·hand. Quite cool, huh?
Q: Do you like The Rings Of Power series?
A: Aulë’s beard! I would not have made some artistic choices, also in regards to the dwarves; overall though I must say I like it. Also, the dwarven society is depicted in greater detail than in previous screen work.
Conclusions on Khuzdûl
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the language of the dwarves over a bowl of popcorn since it’s as long as a summer without ice cream. 😆
What’s your take on it? Did I miss anything?
Reading about Khuzdûl allows us to penetrate Tolkien’s linguistic depth, to grasp a panoply of narrative details in his writings and in the reels they have inspired. 📺
From Germanic mythology to modern-day fiction, the dwarf has retained some traits and developed new ones, language being one of them. 🪓
If you liked this post about Khuzdûl, stay tuned, I’ll be posting more posts about Tolkien’s languages. See you here? 😉
Thanks for reading & shamukh. 💪
Your tolkienlinguophile advisor,