A Glossary of Elvish Terms in Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation

by Carl F. Hostetter


The following is a glossary of Elvish terms encountered in a collection of late notes by J.R.R. Tolkien (spanning the late 1950s to 1972) concerning Elvish reincarnation and related metaphysical matters, and recently published by editor Michaël Devaux as Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation in the volume J.R.R. Tolkien, l’éffigie des Elfes (La Feuille de la Compagnie, Cahier d’études tolkiniennes, No 3; Paris, Bragelonne, 2014; pp. 94-161). Dr. Devaux invited me to prepare this glossary, and incorporated its contents, in French translation and with expansions, into his commentary on Tolkien's texts (see pp. 41-47). I provide here my original English text, for those who (like myself) do not read French with facility.

It should be noted that I made this glossary some years ago, before the publication of certain other texts by Tolkien that cite or bear on some of these same forms; particularly:

  • mene proceed and *mēnie determination (in the phrase á mene ammēnie proceed with more determination, PE17:94), and the base √MEN‑ have as object, (in)tend, proceed, make for, go towards (PE17:93); suggesting that ermenië (q.v.) may convey a sense of intentionality that its English gloss “one beginning” otherwise does not.
  • nasse a person, an individual (VT49:30); and nassentar their true-being (PE17:174), which can be analyzed as nasse true-being + 3rd pl. poss. -nta their + pl. -r).


All forms are Quenya, unless otherwise noted.

  • erma primary substance appears to be a noun derived from the Eldarin base ER one, single, alone (VT42:10, 24). Tolkien draws a sharp distinction between the bases ER and MIN one, first of a series, stating specifically that ER cannot be used for ‘first’ and was not used in counting in series (ibid.). This distinction seems to have been made throughout Tolkien’s long development of his languages, even from the earliest Qenya Lexicon, which gives the root ERE(1) remain alone with derivatives er only, but, still and eresse singly, only, alone, etc. (PE12:36). The Etymologies gives a similar base, ERE‑ be alone, deprived, whence er one, alone, erya single, sole, etc. (V:356). The ending ‑ma is found most frequently in concrete nouns derived from verbal bases, such as calma a light, lamp < KAL‑ shine (V:362), harma treasure, a treasured thing < 3AR‑ have, hold, parma book < PAR‑ compose, put together (V:380), tyulma mast < TYUL‑ stand up (straight) (V:395), etc.; but ‑ma is also used to derive nouns from nominal and (as here) adjectival bases, such as hwarma crossbar < SKWAR‑ crooked (V:386), kulum an orange < KUL‑ golden-red (V:365), and talma base, foundation, root < TAL‑ foot (V:390); and it is probably cognate with the neuter pronoun ma something, a thing (VT42:34 n.3). Therefore, erma is perhaps best understood as literally the one or single thing, or less literally as the homogeneous, undifferentiated substance of the initial state of Creation. Cf. erma (basic) matter, X:338; also cf. VT34:13, 29.
  • ermenië is referred to as the one beginning from which all life proceeds. The initial element er‑ one, single is identical with that in erma (q.v.); while menie is most likely the gerundial form of a verb *men‑ derived from the base √men move, proceed (VT41:6); cf. en-yalië re-calling < yal‑ summon (UT:317 n.43). Therefore, ermenië is perhaps literally the one or single moving. As such, it bears a striking resemblance to the Primum Mobile Prime Mover or First Cause of Aristotelian metaphysics. (It should be noted that there is an identical, and probably related, ending ‑ie seen in abstract nouns derived from basic verbs — such as látie openness, VT39:33, and cf. LAT‑ lie open, V:368; nāmie a single judgement or desire, VT41:13, and cf. the aorist verb namin I judge, ibid. and p. 18; and sangie necessity < thag‑ oppress, crush, press, VT44:8, 23 — but as these examples show, the lack of a long root vowel in menie, which would be expected in an abstract noun in ‑ie derived from √men, sc. *ménie, favors the interpretation of menie as a gerund).
  • estel trust, faith; see X:320, 332, 338.
  • fëa (pl. fëar) soul, indwelling spirit, of an incarnate being; see X:349, 470.
  • Imbar “The Habitation”, the Earth < MBAR‑ dwell, inhabit (V:372); see X:337.
  • nassë material (pl. nassi) appears to be a noun derived from the Eldarin base 2 be, whence also the noun nat thing (V:374). The derivative ending ‑sse is found in both concrete and abstract nouns, such as aikasse mountain peak < AYAK‑ sharp, pointed (whence also Q aika sharp; V:349); eresse solitude < ERE‑ be alone, deprived (V:356); erkasse holly < ERÉK‑ thorn (V:356); handasse intelligence < KHAN‑ understand, comprehend (V:363); etc.
  • únehtar (pl. noun) are said to be the smallest quantities possible in which the interior pattern that distinguishes [a nassë] from other nassi is exhibited. The initial element ú‑ of this noun appears to be the prefix ú‑, denoting impossibility; cf. the noun únat a thing impossible to be or to be done (VT39:26), and the adjectives úquétima unspeakable, impossible to say, put into words, or unpronounceable (WJ:370 s.v. *ABA) and únótima not possible to count, countless (VT39:14 s.v. ú). The element nehta‑ appears to be a verb-stem (in ‑ta, here used substantively, and pluralized as a noun, with ‑r), and indeed among unpublished documents of c. 1969 is found a verbal base NEK divide, part, separate, which would yield a verb *nehta‑ divide, part, separate by regular phonological and morphological development. If this is the right derivation, then an únehta would be literally a thing impossible to divide, or a thing that cannot be divided, and thus have the same literal meaning as the English word “atom” (< Greek ατομ-ος, a substantive use of adj. ατομ-ος indivisible < α privative + -τομ-ος cut).

Copyright ©2015 Carl F. Hostetter

Quotations from the works of J.R.R. or Christopher Tolkien are the copyright of their publishers and/or the Tolkien Estate, and are used here with their kind permission. The word TOLKIEN is a registered trademark of The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited. The characters and scripts of Tolkien’s invented languages and works in those languages are the copyright of the Tolkien Estate.

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First published on January 10th, 2015

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