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The Languages and Dialects of Middle-earth

J.R.R. Tolkien, who was fascinated by words, created the rich and varying languages that are spoken by the different civilizations of Middle-earth. For THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, language expert David Salo developed and broadened the languages woven throughout the text, as he did for the THE LORD OF THE RINGS films.

One of the more fleshed out was the language of the Elves. "Although Tolkien sketched out the structure of his Elvish language in some detail, he didn't write very much in it," Salo notes. "But working on dialogue in Elvish was a fairly straightforward task of translation, with only the occasional gap to be filled."

The filmmakers decided early on that the Dwarves would speak English in conversation, but use various United Kingdom accents -- encompassing Midlands, Northern, Scottish, Northern Irish and London dialects-to establish their family groupings. But English is not the true language of the Dwarves.

Salo developed the Dwarvish language using what information he could find about it. "There are enough Dwarvish words recorded for us to know most of the sounds, and Tolkien describes the connection between spelling and pronunciation in the appendices to THE LORD OF THE RINGS," he relates. "I followed his precedent carefully, but, even so, a lot of new structures had to be invented."

Creating a spoken version of the Dwarves' obscure secret language, Khuzdul, was one of Salo's greatest challenges. "Everything Tolkien wrote about Khuzdul can be put on a single page," he explains. "However, he made clear the type of language it was and the sound it should have. Khuzdul was inspired by the Semitic languages, so I drew on my knowledge of those for inspiration. There's not a single complete sentence in the language, so to translate dialogue into Khuzdul required a lot of innovation, creating a large vocabulary and grammar from scratch."

The amount of vocabulary related to the Orcs is almost non-existent. Salo found that he had to rely again on a process of invention and discovery, while being true to what Tolkien provided, particularly with regard to the aesthetic effect of their sounds. He notes, "You don't need to know the language in detail, but you do need to know how it feels, in the mind and on the tongue, and to make anything you invent consistent with that feeling."

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