Quenya Grammar P86a: Negation (Conceptual Development)

Quenya Grammar P86a: Negation (Conceptual Development)

I’m posting the first half of this entry for purposes of discussion, because I’m very much on the on fence about how to address Neo-Quenya.

Negation is a complex topic in Quenya, and a controversial one in Neo-Quenya. This is, in part, because Tolkien kept changing his mind on how negation worked. Bill Welden examined the conceptual evolution of Quenya in his article on “Negation in Quenya” (VT42/32-34), with a brief followup in a later letters column (VT44/4, 38). Before examining possible systems for Neo-Quenya, I will first discuss the conceptual development of negation, mostly following the outline of Bill Welden.

Conceptual Development (1910s and 1920s): In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, Tolkien gave the basic negative root as ᴱ√Ū² (QL/96) with extensions ᴱ√UMU and ᴱ√UVU (QL/98). These extensions were the basis for a negative verb ᴱQ. um- “to not be” and a negative prefix ú- or uv-, the latter used before vowels. Tolkien also gave another primitive negative in the form of syllabic ᴱ✶ḷ- (QL/41) which developed into al-, il-, ul- based on its phonetic environment (PE12/11; QL/29, 41, 97). ul- seems to have taken on an additional “malevolant” connotation, and became the basis of words like ᴱQ. ulka “evil” and ᴱQ. ulban “monster” (QL/97).

The negative verb ᴱQ. um- reappeared in the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s as (masc. pl.) tūmil “they ... not”, (neut. pl.) taumil and (fem. pl.) tyūmil (PE14/86). The word ᴱQ. munta “nothing” was probably related (PE14/48, 81). A plural negative ur appears in the sentence ᴱQ. néri ur natsi nostalen máre which might mean “*men are not beings good by nature” (PE15/32) and ui in ᴱQ. sinda nekka ui sara ro sinda hyalin me sinda móro “*this pen is not writing on this paper with this ink” (PE16/146), these sentences being from the 1910s and 1920s, repspectively.

Negative syllabic reappeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s, which produced the negative prefix ᴹQ. il- (Ety/LA), but here it seems to be based on a new negative root ᴹ√LA, which produced another negative prefix ᴹQ. al(a)- and a negative particle ᴹQ. “not” (Ety/LA). The negative verb ᴹQ. um- also reappeared as a derivative of the roots ᴹ√UGU or ᴹ√UMU, along with a negative prefix ᴹQ. ú-, but Tolkien now said this prefix was “usually with a bad sense” (Ety/UGU) and had an “evil connotation” (Ety/GŪ). The word ᴹQ. úmea “evil” was derived from this root.

By the Quenya Verbal System of the late 1940s, ᴹQ. lá- had replaced um- as the Quenya negative verb (PE22/125-126). In the Quenya Prayers of the 1950s, was the main form of negation: álame [á-la-me] tulya úsahtienna “lead us not into temptation” (VT43/12) and alalye [á-la-lye] nattira arcandemmar “despise not our petitions” (VT44/5). But in the earliest versions of these prayers Tolkien used úa and úalye (VT43/8-9) representing some uncertainty on Tolkien’s part between u-negation and la-negation.

Between the 1st and 2nd edition of the The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien decided to abandon la-negation completely (“Definitive Linguistic Notes”, DLN, 1959, PE17/143):

Delete √AL|LA “not”. Quite unsuitable. AL, LA have already too much to do.

Substitute: Negation. Primitive Eldarin. Negation divided into 1) refusal and negative command (future); and 2) denial of fact (past and established present).

1) √ABA, BĀ- distinct from AWA, WA “away”
2) √Ū, ?UGU - originally expressing privation.

Tolkien’s rejection of la-negation was motivated by the other uses of similar forms, notably “beyond” (from √LAƷ) and the prefix al(a)-² “well, happily” (from √AL(A)); at one point Tolkien even said meant “yes” rather than “no” (PE17/158).

In DLN, Tolkien introduced a negation of volition ABA/BĀ, versus the negation of fact Ū. The root √AB for refusal dates back to The Etymologies in the 1930s (Ety/AB), but its use as a negative particle “don’t” and ván “I won’t” was new. Tolkien continued to mention this negation of volition in later documents such as the Quendi and Eldar essay (circa 1960, WJ/371) and Late Notes on Verbs (LVS, 1969, PE22/161-162).

As for Ū, Tolkien defined its new negative particle as ua- in DLN (PE17/144); the first appearance of this verb was in Quenya prayers from the 1950s as noted above, though there it might instead have been a negated imperative u-á (VT43/8-9). It was not a true verb, because ua- could be inflected for person but did not normally inflect for tense; this was done in the negated verb instead:

The verb ua- was only inflected for tense archaically or when it was used alone: past, perfect, future úne, uie, úva (PE17/144). The stem form of this negative seems to have shifted to ui by 1967 (uin care, PE17/68) and 1968 (VT49/29); conceivably ui could be an aorist versus present tense ua, but I think it is likelier that ua > ui. Like “to be”, the negative verb seems not to distinguish between present and aorist, and Tolkien was probably vacillating on whether the ancient aorist or present came to be its normal form in modern Quenya.

In 1969, Tolkien became dissatisfied with u-negatives due to their similarity to negation in certain real-world languages:

û will not do. It is not necessary to avoid at all costs similarities with known European languages — Eldarin is deliberately devised to resemble them in style — but here the resemblance either to Greek ou (phon. û) or to the unrelated Norse ú as a prefix, is too close (LVS, PE22/160).

As a replacement, Tolkien reintroduced as the negation of fact vs. as negation of volition:

The negative simply denies that the positive statement is true in fact. Q. possesses another negative derived from the base ABA “refuse (an order, request, petition); prohibit, discountenance another's proposed or likely action”. In Q. the derived negative takes the form , often reiterated as vá vá, váva (PE22/161).

ú was not completely abandoned, but was modified in sense. This seems to be a partial restoration of the paradigm from The Etymologies of the 1930s, where la-negatives coexisted with u-negatives, but the latter had a “strong” or “unpleasant” connotation:

ú should remain, but with the sense “bad, uneasy, hard” — similar to lE *dus, Greek dus-, Gmc. tuz- (tor-). This will leave unótima in GL [Galadriel’s Lament] correct, with meaning “difficult/impossible to count” ... ú should be from a √UG “dislike” with varying degrees of intensity, with other derivatives, such as Q uhta “dislike, feel disgust with, avoid as painful or nasty” (PE22/160).

As for , in this specific note Tolkien said it was (like earlier ua-) inflected for person but not normally for tense: “the does not express difference of tenses, normally unnecessary: the tense of plus pronominal affix is always that of the previous verb, now negatived” (PE22/160). Early in same bundle of documents, however, Tolkien indicate that might carry the verb tense and the modified verb would be in the aorist: “it is intended that Eldarin should express negation by a negative verb (as Finnish) or rather that the personal and tense affixes should be attached to the negative and the verb be expressed by an indeclinable stem-form” (PE22/153), along with past, prefect and future forms: lāne, alaie, lauva.

Around this time Tolkien composed the “Ambidexter Sentence”, and the earliest versions of this sentence used la-negation (VT49/6):

  • potai hyarmen láne “sinister” símaryasse: “left had no ‘sinister’ connexions”.
  • etta hyarmen láne ulca hya úmara símaryassen.

Later versions of this sentences shifted to u-negation:

In a letter to the editors of Vinyar Tengwar, Bill Welden reported that Tolkien wrote one more essay on negation towards the end of his life, where he once again abandoned la-negation:

Back to ú
can be beyond ...
ū should be negative particle (VT44/4).

The full essay where this last note appears remains unpublished.

To summarize:

  • In the 1910s and 20s, u-negation was the norm with negative verb: ᴱQ. um-, though a set of negative prefixes (al-, il-, ul-) from syllabic ḷ- also existed.
  • In the 1930s, Tolkien introduced the negative root √LA; it coexisted with u-negation which took an additional “evil” or “bad sense” connotation.
  • In the 1940s and 50s, la-negation became the norm, though ú- survived as a negative prefix.
  • In 1959, Tolkien decided to abandon la-negation, since LA had been overburdened with too many meanings. He restored u-negation with an negative ua- or (later) ui-.
  • In 1969, Tolkien became dissatisfied with u-negation due to its similarity to some European languages, restoring la-negation again. However, it seems soon after he remember all the other meanings that la carried, and abandoned it again as a negation.


Submitted by Paul Strack Sat, 05/02/2020 - 18:30

I'm posting the first half of this article because I'm on the fence about how to handle negation in Neo-Quenya. Previously I've advocated a compromise position of letting u-negation and la-negation coexist, but it seems that for the bulk of the 1960s Tolkien preferred u-negation, and the restoration of la-negation in 69 was short, possibly only the summer of 69.

I'm very strongly tempted to come down on the side of u-negation because it solves a bunch of problems in Neo-Eldarin, and I'd be interested in hearing folks opinions.

Submitted by Paul Strack Sun, 05/03/2020 - 18:00

Based on a conversation I had on Discord yesterday, I've decided to retain my "compromise" position with both and ū for negatives. I do now favor ui for "no", however.

I think ui is the opposite of : "no it is not" vs. "yes it is" (describing facts). I think þá is the opposite of : "yes I agree, I will" vs. "don’t do it, I refuse" (describing volition). The compromise position necessarily assembles ideas from various periods of Tolkien's life, so I think I will probably keep þá ().