Compound Adjectives in Quenya

Compound Adjectives in Quenya


I would like to have a look how compound adjectives are formed in Quenya. (By "compound" here I mean a compound word consisting of an adjective and a noun, or a noun and a verb).


The majority of examples I have seen are of a structure where the second part can be considered as the principal part of the compound, preceded by a qualifier part (and thus following the logic of their English counterparts). Some examples (without an attempt of completeness):

There are however, a couple of examples where the structure is apparently reversed. The two I have been able to find (if there are more I'd love to see them) are

What can be the reason for this apparent irregularity? One reason can be simply euphony: Tolkien may have found the sound of leptafinya preferable to **finyalepta etc. In the case of hendumaika he may have wanted to avoid forming an adjective from an u-dual (*maikahendua?).

It is also possible that these forms are not "irregular" but are in-line with the qualifier-main word structure seen in the first group. If we imagine that Quenya has a family of adjectives ending in -maika e.g. "sharp-eyed" "sharp-eared" "sharp-nosed" (hendumaika, *hlarumaika, *nengwemaika) then the first part does become the qualifier and the adjective fits the pattern. Similarly for leptafinya, one can imagine "sister adjectives" like leptafinya, *talufinya, *lambifinya "smart-fingered, smart-footed, smart-tongued" etc. and again the resulting compounds fit the qualifier - main part pattern.

Submitted by Paul Strack Wed, 12/05/2018 - 14:01

I think that it’s clear from Tolkien’s writings that the normal Q. pattern was qualifier-qualified. I don’t have a good explanation for the “reversed” forms but perhaps it was a matter of emphasis. So:

leptafinya = finger-clever

hendumaika = eye-sharp

In other words, emphasizing the kind of cleverness and the kind of sharpness.

That’s just a guess, though. 

Submitted by Lokyt Thu, 12/06/2018 - 00:54

Alright. First of all, sinkahonda, qingatelko, rakkalepta and saurikumba are formations from the entish ethnolect of Quenya - with grammar either quite different from the one of "true" Quenya, or with no stable grammar at all. So these are better not to be taken into consideration.

But besides that, I basically agree with Atwe as well :) I would treat the topic as follows.


The examples vary strongly in their inner structure and fall into five differing groups:

1. menelluin

Luin (or luine) is an adjective on its own right, etymologically an adjectival root (lui) plus an adjectival (or adjectivizing) suffix (-n(e)). The noun menel then specifies the adjective via taking a role of an adverbial (or more precisely: modal) specifier: "menelluin" =  "luin ve menel", "blue (in the same way) as sky (is)".

The word's inner structure can thus be parsed as [menel-[lui-n]], i.e. [noun stem - [adjectival stem -  adjectivizing suffix]] or in short [N-[A-A]], where the adjective A-A is specified by the modal formation N.

2. órikuvoite, melumatya and probably also fantarcenya

In the same manner as shown above, these can be parsed as [N-[V-A]], where an adjective derived from an active verb (i.e. more or less an active participle) is specified by a noun stem that refers to the direct object of the action refered to by the verb:

If someone is "matya melu" (eating honey), then he is "[melu-[mat-ya]]"; if he is "kuvoite i óre" ("concealing the heart"), then he is "[óri-[kuvo-ite]]". And the same can be said about "cenya *fantar" > "[fantar-[cen-ya]]", if we accept the existence of an otherwise unattested noun *fanta and the fact that cen- would mean "see through" rather than just "see" in this case.

3. lungumaite and morimaite

These are [[A-N]-A]: a noun phrase (composed of the head noun and a specifying adjective) is turned itself altogether into a new adjective. E.g. "lungo má" ("a heavy hand") > "equipped with lungo má", which is "[[lungu-ma]-ite]".

Though an independent adjective maite "skillful, (lit.) equipped with hands" does exist, lungumaite cannot be [A-[N-A]], because its meaning isn't "heavily equpped with hands" (the heaviness isn't a property of the equiped-ness; it's a property of the hands).

4. leptafinya

This is [N-[A-A]], i.e. a structure we've seen already in the 1st group. However, "leptafinya" surely doesn't mean "finya ve leptar" ("clever in the way fingers are"). Instead, it offers two possible interpretations:

(a) It may be understood in a way similar to the one in the 3rd group: "equipped with finya lepta". If this is  correct, then we are dealing rather with an epithet (a noun phrase lepta finya used in an adjectival syntactic role) than with a true adjective, as (besides other reasons) no adjectivizer common to the whole phrase is present.

Consequently, two alternative and synonymous structures might be allowed in this case: lungumaite = *malungo and *finyaleptaite/*finileptaite = leptafinya. Or maybe not, and each of these two structures would be reserved only to certain classes of nouns and/or adjectives (e.g. the 3rd group only to adjectives with no adjectival suffix and the 4th group only to suffixed adjectives).

(b) "Leptafinya" may as well be interpreted as "finya leptainen" ("clever with one's fingers", "clever when using one's fingers"), i.e. the noun stem may have an instrumental meaning, refering to the means by which the property (expressed by the adjective) manifests itself.

One way or another, the semantically different relations between the components of menelluin on one hand and leptafinya on the other causes the English counterparts of these compounds to be of an opposite construction: "sky-blue" (N-A) vs. "clever-fingered" (A-N). Quenya, however, doesn't care and constructs both kinds of composition in the same way, leaving the semantics alone to bring the difference between (a) a modally specified adjective and an epithet, or, (b) a modally specified adjective and an instrumentally specified one.

5. hendumaica and aldarembina

These are again [N-[V-A]], i.e. what we've seen in the 2nd group. But "hendumaica" isn't "maica hendu" ("pearcing some eyes)", it's "maica hendúnen" ("pearcing with one's eyes"); and "aldarembina" is similarly "rembina aldainen", "meshed with trees". The noun stems have again instrumental meaning in this case, despite the formal structure (and on the other hand, note the similarity to the structure in the 4th group).

Now, like in the 4th group, English shows more limited syncretism than Quenya. English is OK with active participles specified by a direct object ("heart-concealing", "honey-eating" = N-VA) and with passive participles with an instrumental specifier ("tree-meshed" = N-VA), but when it comes to an active participle with an instrumental specifier, it turns the order around again ("piercing-eyed" = VA-N). Quenya does not.

(6.) Besides the aforementioned, other similar structures are attested as well. For example, arimaite "highly skilled" is [A-[N-A]], a denominal adjective (maite) modally specified by another adjective (arya). Or karamaite "skilled in doing" is [V-[N-A]]. Etc.

Submitted by Atwe Thu, 12/06/2018 - 09:03

I shall have to find a Drupal module and add the possibility to 'like' or 'plus 1' posts and comments, and then give you 100 plus ones. Thanks for your analysis!