Did Melkor Teach Men Speech?

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Gerontian 24/Apr/2006 at 01:43 PM
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As I read this interesting quotation taken from on of Tolkien’s unpublished letters and presented to us by Halfir in a thread entitled Eldest - Treebeard’s ’courtesy’ title, I began to wonder about the origins of human language in Tolkien’s cosmology. Here is the quotation:


Eldest was the courtesy title of Treebeard as the oldest surviving Ent. The Ents claimed to be the oldest ’speaking people’ after the Elves {illegible} until taught the art of speech by the Elves...They were therefore placed after the dwarves in the Old List...since Dwarves had the power of speech from their awaking’

(The Lord of the Rings A Reader’s Companion Hammond & Scull Harper Collins 2005 ISBN 0 00 720308 X  p.382 Treebeard: Entry 464 (11:67) The EntThe actual source is from an unpublished draft letter of 1968 in a private collection.)


I had never fully considered or appreciated the notion that the Elves and the Dwarves possessed the power of speech since the moment of their awakening. The gift of life to the first Elves and the first Dwarves was accompanied by a fully developed system of language. I began to wonder about Men. Did Men possess the power of speech at their awakening, too?  I recalled reading references to the origins of human languages in The Silmarillion, and opened it to Chapter 17, Of the Coming of Men Into the West. What I read whetted my appetite and curiosity even more, especially about original languages.


From the text, it seems clear to me that men learned a great deal of their speech from the elves:


Now the Eldar were beyond all other peoples skilled in tongues; and Felagund discovered also that he could read in the minds of Men such thoughts as they wished to reveal in speech, so that their words were easily interpreted. It is said also that these Men had long had dealings with the Dark Elves east of the mountains, and from them had learned much of their speech; and since all the languages of the Quendi were of one origin, the language of Bëor and his folk resembled the Elven-tongue in many words and devices. It was not long therefore before Felagund could hold converse with Bëor; and while he dwelt with him they spoke much together.


However, this passage does not state that Men learned all of their language from the Dark Elves, but implies that their was some paucity of human language or deficiency in their speech that invited or compelled them to learn the Elvish language to supplement or replace their own speech.  However, the text, at this point, suddenly takes a darker turn.


But when he questioned him concerning the arising of Men and their journeys, Bëor would say little; and indeed he knew little, for the fathers of his people had told few tales of their past and a silence had fallen upon their memory. ’A darkness lies behind us,’ Bëor said; ’and we have turned our backs upon it, and we do not desire to return thither even in thought. Westwards our hearts have been turned, and we believe that there we shall find Light.


Men, apparently, did not remember, or did not care to remember their awakening, and presumably, whether or not they spoke a particular language.  Why? The text responds with the following explanation.



But it was said afterwards among the Eldar that when Men awoke in Hildórien at the rising of the Sun the spies of Morgoth were watchful, and tidings were soon brought to him; and this seemed to him so great a matter that secretly under shadow he himself departed from Angband, and went forth into Middle-earth, leaving to Sauron the command of the War. Of his dealings with Men the Eldar indeed knew nothing, at that time, and learnt but little afterwards; but that a darkness lay upon the hearts of Men (as the shadow of the Kinslaying and the Doom of Mandos lay upon the Noldor) they perceived clearly even in the people of the Elf-friends whom they first knew. To corrupt or destroy whatsoever arose new and fair was ever the chief desire of Morgoth; and doubtless he had this purpose also in his errand: by fear and lies to make Men the foes of the Eldar, and bring them up out of the east against Beleriand. But this design was slow to ripen, and was never wholly achieved; for Men (it is said) were at first very few in number, whereas Morgoth grew afraid of the growing power and union of the Eldar and came back to Angband, leaving behind at that time but few servants, and those of less might and cunning.


I wonder, after reading these passages, and especially after reading Halfir’s quotation, I wonder if Men possessed the power of language when they were awakened?  If not, how unlikely is it that Morgoth first taught Men how to speak?  Did the essence of the darkness that lay in Men’s hearts have to do with their original language? 


It is interesting to note the effect that Felagund’s singing and speech had upon the first men who encountered him.


Now men awoke and listened to Felagund as he harped and sang, and each thought that he was in some fair dream, until he saw that his fellows were awake also beside him; but they did not speak or stir while Felagund still played, because of the beauty of the music and the wonder of the song. Wisdom was in the words of the Elven-king, and the hearts grew wiser that hearkened to him; for the things of which he sang, of the making of Arda, and the bliss of Aman beyond the shadows of the Sea, came as clear visions before their eyes, and his Elvish speech was interpreted in each mind according to its measure.


Felagund’s effect on them is almost like a healing balm.  Is this effect due to Elvish language replacing or ameliorating the darkness implanted by Melkor’s language?    


I also think it is interesting that the Ents listed themselves after the Dwarves in the lists based on the Dwarves genesis as full-blown speakers. If Men had been gifted similarly, would they not have been listed higher, too, or else why would Tolkien have made this distinction in the first place? 


Any ideas, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Kirinki54 24/Apr/2006 at 02:08 PM
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Gerontian wrote: Felagund’s effect on them is almost like a healing balm.  Is this effect due to Elvish language replacing or ameliorating the darkness implanted by Melkor’s language?

Not necessarily the latter, I think. If the influences to human languages as you quote had come partly from association with Dark Elves, the difference to Finrod´s singing must have been vast. Both from what they learned in the song, and how he conveyed it. Finrod was one of the most brilliant Elves ever, and he had come from Valinor "with the light of Aman in his eyes" (or something); I am sure he made a tremenously powrful impression. The ’balming’ effect was likely enhanced as it clashed with the hitherto dark experciences of Men: he brought light to them.

That said, I think the influence of Morgoth must also have been great and likely he could have mastered their tongue in a fashion to suit his purposes. He was after all said to have mastered Quenya to the point of at least equal to the most skilled speakers of Aman.

Gerontian 24/Apr/2006 at 03:20 PM
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Kirinki54, Thank you for your thoughtful response.  Still, I wonder.  I remembered a short time ago this passage about the Men of Numenor:

In those days the Shadow grew deeper upon Númenor; and the lives of the Kings of the House of Elros waned because of their rebellion, but they hardened their hearts the more against the Valar. And the nineteenth king took the sceptre of his fathers, and he ascended the throne in the name of Adunakhôr, Lord of the West, forsaking the Elven-tongues and forbidding their use in his hearing.

It is interesting, in terms of my question, that as the Shadow grew upon the Men of Numenor, they returned to their Adunaic language, the language they spoke before they learned the language of the Elves.

laif 24/Apr/2006 at 08:45 PM
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Gerontian Wrote: It is interesting, in terms of my question, that as the Shadow grew upon the Men of Numenor, they returned to their Adunaic language, the language they spoke before they learned the language of the Elves.

-But they could have just rejected the use of the Elvish tongue as a further rejection of the Elves themselves. I’m not sure if it could be linked to the possiblility of Morgoth teaching Men language.
Duiel 25/Apr/2006 at 09:25 AM
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It’s an interesting persective, and an even more interesting question, but I don’t quite agree with your interpetation. Now I don’t have any facts to back this up, but I think that the "darkness" mentioned by the Men was something they were running from. Morgoth probably sent his cruel servants after them, or something, not sat around and taught them how to talk. Being the Children of Illuvatar, they might have awoken knowing how to speak, or otherwise developed a kind of primative language (even birds and beasts are mentioned several times to have tongues of their own) and then had that later become more structured by the Elves (although I’m not saying that that is the correct answer; anything could be true). As for Morgoth, he was an ex-Vala, and if Finrod could read their hearts and interpret their speech, he probably could too.
Gerontian 25/Apr/2006 at 10:00 AM
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Duiel and laif, I appreciate your healthy skepticism. What led me to speculate (for this is truly only speculation) about human language is the quotation mentioned by Halfir.  The power of words and language, I am learning in these threads, is a reoccuring theme in Tolkien, croping up in the most unexpected places. If words can be a vehicle for power, then it seems logical to assume that they can be a vehicle for darkness and shadow, too. Perhaps I am seeing things too metaphorically. Still, I wanted to share my musings with eveyone to see if anyone else had ever considered these same ideas. Thanks!
Kirinki54 25/Apr/2006 at 01:58 PM
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Gerontian wrote:

The power of words and language, I am learning in these threads, is a reoccuring theme in Tolkien, croping up in the most unexpected places. If words can be a vehicle for power, then it seems logical to assume that they can be a vehicle for darkness and shadow, too.

It is indeed a recurring theme. And I agree (as seen in my prior post) that Morgoth would have the ability to ’twist’ his words in order to pursue his own purposes of the submission of Men.

The reverting to Adûnaic in Númenor might also to some degree mirror their turning into erroneous ways of Elder days, but I agree with laif that it was mostly a symbol of rejecting the Elves.

BTW Adûnaic is also said to be quite influenced by Khuzdul, but I am not certain it matters in relation to this discussion.

Gerontian 25/Apr/2006 at 06:00 PM
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I am sure that I am making too much of my speculation, Kirini54, and I appreciate your following along and staying with me on this. Honestly, reading your posts, I wondered why I have a strong feeling about the possibility of language carrying or even infecting Men’s hearts with darkness and shadow. Suddenly, I remembered the Council of Elrond, when Gandalf dared to utter the Black Speech of Mordor.

Upon this very ring which you have here seen held aloft, round and unadorned, the letters that Isildur reported may still be read, if one has the strength of will to set the golden thing in the fire a while. That I have done, and this I have read:

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.’

The change in the wizard’s voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the Elves stopped their ears.

`Never before has any voice dared to utter the words of that tongue in Imladris, Gandalf the Grey,’ said Elrond, as the shadow passed and the company breathed once more.



I doubt I am correct in my speculation about Melkor teaching men language, but at least, I understand better how the seeds of my speculations came to be. The mere utterance of the Black Speech held power, even in Imladris, unless we assume that the effects in the text were all a theatrical ruse performed by Gandalf.  This passage might have been in the back of my mind. I do not think it necessarily proves anything other than that Sauron’s words held a maleficent kind of influence.  However, I can see how I might come to wonder about the effect of Melkor’s words on the fathers of Men.  Thanks, too, for the tip on Khuzdul, your knowledge in these things far exceeds my own.   

Geirve 26/Apr/2006 at 01:46 AM
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Gerontian, Tolkien once touched on this subject, in ’Tale of Adanel’ (Note 11 to Athrabeth Finrod ad Andreth). It seems pretty clear (allowing for some uncertainty resulting from the fact that it is not supposed to be a ’historical’ source) that Men developed a primitive form of language prior to meeting of Melkor (or any other beings):

"We understood the Voice [Eru] in our hearts, though we had no words yet. Then the desire for words awoke in us, and we began to make them. But we were few, and the world was wide and strange. Though we greatly desired to understand, learning was difficult, and the making of words was slow." (my insertion, ’Athrabeth Finrod ad Andreth’, HoME-10)

It is possible that Melkor had some influence on the developement of the language of Men afterwards, although my impression is that he used (at first at least) communication of thought in dealings with them. And it is said that although he taught Men:

"And we believed all that he taught. For we were eager to know about the world and its being: about the beasts and birds, and the plants that grew in the Earth; about our own making; and about the lights of heaven, and the countless stars, and the Dark in which they are set." (ibid)

he mainly gave them material gifts:

"He was less swift than we had hoped to teach us how to find, or to make for ourselves, the things that we desired, though he had awakened many desires in our hearts. But if any doubted or were impatient, he would bring and set before us all that we wished for." (ibid)

So, considering everything, I don’t think there is any indication Melkor had a crutial role in developement of the language of Men. (And was he that inventive linguistically? Sauron was not, Dark Speech seems all plagiarism from Valarin and Quenya.)

BTW, as Kirinki already said, Mannish languages (languages of the Easterlings, Adunaic and Common Speech through Adunaic) were also heavily influenced by Khuzdul (the very structure of Adunaic is very like Khuzdul). So, with Dark Elvish and Khuzdul influences, and the primitive pre-Melkor speech, there is not much space left for Melkor.
Duiel 09/May/2006 at 09:09 AM
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I’ve just stumbled upon something which might contribute to this topic, although it is by now very old. In Book V of the History of Middle-earth in the chapter the Lhammas there is some history given to all the various languages in Middle-earth. It pretty much states that the languages of men had various sources, including the Dark Elves, and sometimes the Dwarves or even the Orcs. But I don’t believe that it was Melkor who originally taught them to speak, or else we could probably hear it in their later tongues.
Gerontian 09/May/2006 at 09:24 AM
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I appreciate the research everyone has done on my question. Because of your answers, I have started reading HoME, seeing that there is so much information in it that I was completely unaware of. I never read much beyond Unfinished Tales, years ago, and see how sadly my knowledge is lacking in these kinds of areas. I find the whole issue of  how men acquired language very interesting.  Thanks, Geir and Duiel for pointing me in the right direction.
Bearamir 17/May/2006 at 12:29 PM
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Ladies & Gentlemen:  This thread has some great potential.  Given that this thread has such potential, and certainly deserves further development) with your kind permission I am going to move it to Ad Lore.  

For everyone else who may wish to contribute:  a small reminder is in order:  once this thread moves to Ad Lore, there will be some expectations as to the quality of the posts.  So, moving forward, please remember that Ad Lore is for the in depth discussion of topics pertaining to the Lord of the Rings, and try to avoid extraneous chat.   From this point on, I *will* be deleting posts that do no serve to advance the topic, or add materially to the discussion.


Kirinki54 17/May/2006 at 01:56 PM
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In the Ósanwe-kenta, Tolkien explored the mode of communication through thought; an ability natural not only to the Ainur, but also to Elves and even to Men. (Though Men had it in much lesser degree owing to the smaller power of will over their hröa.)


The Ósanwe-kenta is a very interesting essay not only because it explores in great detail communication directly through thought, but also because it goes into some of the motives and methods employed by Melkor and his minions.The essaye was allegedly composed by Pengolodh.


I will not go into all these rather technical details here, but a salient prerequisite for the ósanwe (or sanwe-latya = “thought-opening”) to work was the willingness of both participants. One individual could not be probed by another by coercion; not even Melkor could achieve that – it is simply impossible. Threats and fear was no avail, it merely shut the ‘door’ tighter. Though if he could ‘charm’ the subject and overcome an initial suspicion, Melkor might fool some into opening their minds (this was one key to assembling his Maiar following).


In Incarnates, normally language (tengwesta) gradually replaces and becomes an impediment for the ósanwe to function well. And language became the secret entrance for Melkor into the hearts and minds of those he wanted to spy on among Elves and Men.


Melkor was a master linguist. Even the Elven loremasters of Valinor could not improve his use of Quenya, scarcely even equal it. Language became Melkor´s secret weapon to subjugate the Incarnates. Language was a natural talent of the Eruhíni, but it was not ‘locked’ to coercion in the same way as the ósanwe, and therefore it could be used for discovering of secrets. Melkor used lies, deceit, evasions, hidden meanings, etc (and, of course, violence and the threat of it).


Where I was heading with this: I then conclude that Men had indeed invented their own language(s) before even Melkor came among them, but it is very likely that they and that language were influenced by his twisted use of it. (Especially if he also had managed to ‘charm’ some of the unsuspecting into openness for ósanwe, which would give him knowledge for the best ways to work his mischief through the means of language.)


We also know that Men were open to integrating elements of other languages, like the Elvish and khuzdul. Whether this applied also to Melkor introducing elements of the language he had specifically invented for his followers, I am not sure; I have seen no such examples. But I think definitely influenced the use of the proto-Adûnaic in many subtle way. In a (perverted) way I guess this could called “teaching them language”.


Well, this is my take…


BTW I have been mulling since I was mowing the grass a couple of weeks ago (gardening is good for the brain); the Ad-lore move made me get down to business. Congrats to a nice thread, Gerontian!

Gerontian 17/May/2006 at 03:17 PM
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Thank you, Kirinki54  for your incredibly helpful guidance and insight on my question regarding Melkor and human language.  I was completely unaware of this work by Professor Tolkien.  Inspired to learn more about the Ósanwe-kentaI found a very interesting article online about it.  In it, the author shares many of the same views and perspectives as those you share in your post.  I am including url for the web site, for anyone who is interested.  I see that I need to do much more reading before I have much more to say or contribute on the topic, other than to say, THANK YOU!  http://www.herenistarion.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=48&Itemid=43

halfir 17/May/2006 at 08:17 PM
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Gerontian: as RL prevents me from being more than just a bystander at present on most threads- including my own- I have taken the liberty of forwarding you a copy of Osanwe Kenta as it is very difficult to come by. The copy you have is even more comprehensive than Carl Hostetter’s Vinyar Tengwar version which was limited  by reasons of publication space.

I hope you find it helpful.X(

Lady d`Ecthelion 17/May/2006 at 10:09 PM
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A wonderful thread, Gerontian! And a veri intriguing question!

I have enjoyed greatly all the posted opinions so far, and have decided to enter the discussion with a thought that the initial question and all the later comments have spurred.

I remembered about the ’gift of Eru to his Secondborn Children - Men:

"Therefore he willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else; and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest."

With this "restlessness" I have always understood Men in Tolkien’s worlds of fantasy, to be capable of achieveing a lot of aims. And speech, I think, must be one of these. Men, IMO, must’ve felt the same need to "name" things around them, in the world they awoke in, as much as it once happened with the Elves. Therefore, I believe that Men had developed their speech independently, and it came only later that "external" influences changed and developed their speech - events in Beleriand, Elves, Melkor etc.

Now, how much was Melkor’s influence in all that?
Geir was very right to bring forth the "Athrabeth" ! And so was Kirinki with bringing in the ’Ósanwe-kenta’!
For indeed quite a lot they explain about the shadow of Melkor cast upon all and everything that was Arda, the so called "Marring".
Speech of Men, IMO, could not be actually taught to them by Melkor, but that it was greatly influenced by him and by his "marring" of all things in their world, yes, I do believe it to be so. And through speech and thought it was that first Melkor, and then Sauron ruled over most Men, in their attempt to corrupt at any cost one of the best creations of Eru.
Gerontian 18/May/2006 at 08:43 AM
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Halfir, my sincere thanks for your generosity.  The Ósanwe-kenta is fascinating, engrossing and held me spellbound. I shall need to read it over several times, at least, but already I have gained hugely from my initial inhaling of this work. 

Aldorianna, thank you for entering the discussion, your thoughts are not only welcome, but very essential to the question at hand. In my initial reading of the Ósanwe-kenta, I discovered several passages that reflect your belief that Melkor did not necessarily teach men language, but that through speech, Melkor ruled over them.  Here are three sections from the Ósanwe-kenta that seem to be very suppportive of what you are saying.

Therefore he sought means to circumvent the únati and the unwill.  [I take this to mean that Melkor tried to do the impossible.] And this weapon he found in ‘language’. For we speak now of the Incarnate, the Eruhíni whom he most desired to subjugate in Eru’s despite. 

From the first he was greatly interested in "language", that talent that the Eruhíni would have by nature; but we did not at once perceive the malice in this interest, for many of us shared it, and Aulë above all. But in time we discovered that he made a language for those who serve him; and he has learned our tongue with ease. He has great skill in this matter. Beyond doubt he will master all tongues, even the fair speech of the Eldar. Therefore, if ever you speak with him beware!’


Alas,’ says Pengolodh, ‘in Valinor Melkor used the Quenya with such mastery that all the Eldar were amazed, for his use could not be bettered, scarce equalled even, by the poets and the loremasters.’

Thus, by deceit, by lies, by torment of the body and the spirit, by the threat of torment to others well loved, or the sheer terror of his presence, Melkor ever sought to force the incarnate that fell into his power, or come within his reach, to speak and to tell him all that he would know. But his own Lie begot an endless progeny of lies.

By this means he has destroyed many, he has caused treacheries untold, and he has gained knowledge of secrets to his great advantage and the undoing of his enemies.


If Melkor could amaze the Eldar with his mastery of language, what chances had Men, newly awakened and innocent, against his Lies and deceptions?  Language became his greatest weapon, apparently, and did play a significant role in the darkness that lay in Men’s hears, a corruption, if you will, that remained with them unless recognized or ameliorated by contact with the Elves. 


Your thoughts about language acquisition are also very interesting. Men invented speech, driven by a kind of inborn "restlessness," as you put it.  Very interesting. I have much more to read before I can respond, but I am keeping this thought in mind as I do.  Thank you for sharing your perspectives, they help enourmously towards the resolution of my initial question.


Ardagon 07/Jul/2006 at 12:32 PM
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                I do not think so.what Melkor taught Men cannot be regarded as speech.The language which Men speak in the third age was the language which was taught to them by the elves.That is why some words in the human tongue resembled the sindarin script.I think i have read in the Lord of the Rings it is stted explicitly that the elves gave men and the ents the gift of speech.
Narthin Alarion 07/Jul/2006 at 01:35 PM
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im willing to bet that men had their own primative form of speach that pre dated thier meeting with the dark elves

beor himself said dark ness lays behind us

this hints that men were infact around before the making of the sun and moon as before them there was indeed only darkness in middle earth, so perhaps men were awakened beyond the region of khand and slowly made their way to beliarand and thus were around long enough to make their own language.

so when they met the dark elves they were obviously taught how to speak the basics of elvish and so the language of man was slowly forged from a combination of morquendi toungue and the primative speach that man used during their journe to middle earth

now i shall bow for my applause

yay me


Narthin Alarion 07/Jul/2006 at 01:38 PM
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they learnt their own speach as they traveled from middle earth to beliariand where they  met the dark elves and their language was given structure and merged with elvish to form a hybred toungue
Shiraz 07/Jul/2006 at 09:04 PM
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Possibe true. I believe that they as did stone age humans understood each other by pointing and grunting. Then Melkor came and taught them some of his foul tongue wich they merged with their own. However I dont think he got much further then a few words. They then moulded their language around Melkors. Then when they were coming near to the completion of their tongue the elves begun to have dealings with men. The darkness might refer to the days when they knew nothing of speech or elves or the Valar.
Eléowyn 07/Jul/2006 at 09:33 PM
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Gebes, you obviously knew what you posted was spam.  It has been deleted, as will your other spammy posts.  I’d like to welcome you to the Plaza, but please follow the rules.
Ulenwe Lithron 26/Jul/2006 at 11:42 PM
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I have never really thought about if Morgoth taught Men speech, its an interesting question.

DeluhatholSilverleaf 27/Jul/2006 at 01:37 AM
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There lies a definete possiblity that Morgoth thougt contacted the race of Men, perhaps seeking to turn them to his cause. I suspect he must arrived masqueradnig as some sort of gaurdian angel, probably showed off a bit to get their attention because aty the time they were primitive, thought them speech and maybe more.
Now, i’d like to raise another question, if we take Mens asscociation with Morgoth to have taken place, then why did he stop visiting them?
Forodluin 22/Sep/2006 at 12:49 PM
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I don’t have most of the books to hand at the moment, alas (moving house...grr) but most of the discussion above appears to assume that Men were a uniform mass.

While there may have been Avari throughout Middle-Earth, it’s possible that the Morgoth (and the Orcs) may have have an influence on the Men who never left Hildorien in the First Age (presumably the ancestors of the Easterlings) - while Eru would probably have given Men the capability of speech, it may well be Morgoth & Co. who influenced much of it...