Shameless Insult or Kind Gesture ? (Iglishmêk)

If ever – on your travels in the eriador – you would run into a group of dwarves that seem to be shamelessly insulting each other with awfully rude hand gestures… think again… you might be looking at a dwarven sign language called Iglishmêk.

For those not familiar with Iglishmêk (pronounced: [iɡliʃme:k]), it is a gesture language – or sign language. In fact Khuzdul is actually composed of two parts: the aglab, or spoken language, and the iglishmêk, or gesture language.

Iglishmêk is by far the most advanced of the gesture languages of Middle-earth, being the most elaborate and organized system. Dwarves begin learning iglishmêk almost as soon as they begin learning to speak, and use it concurrent with their spoken language. It should also be said that they possess a number of such gesture-codes; for unlike their spoken language, which remain astonishingly uniform and unchanged both in time and in locality, their gesture-codes vary greatly from community to community. And they are differently employed. Not for communication at a distance, for the Dwarves are short-sighted, but for secrecy and the exclusion of strangers.

The component sign-elements of any such code are often so slight and so swift that they can hardly be detected, still less interpreted by uninitiated onlookers. As the Eldar eventually discovered in their dealings with the Naugrim, they can speak with their voices but at the same time by ‘gesture’ convey to their own folk modifications of what is being said. Or they can stand silent considering some proposition, and yet confer among themselves meanwhile.

This ‘gesture-language’, the Dwarves are no more eager to teach than their own tongue. But they understand and respect the disinterested desire for knowledge, and some of the Noldorin loremasters have been allowed to learn enough of both their spoken tongue (Khuzdul) and their iglishmêk to understand their systems.

*War of the Jewels: Quendi and Eldar, p.395

The only known referrence to the actual signs is this:

“I am listening” = slight raising of right-hand forefinger, followed by a similar raising of the left-hand forefinger.
“Listen!” = slight raising of both forefingers simultaneously.*

*J.R.R. Tolkien, “From Quendi and Eldar, Appendix D” (edited by Carl F. Hostetter), in Vinyar Tengwar, Number 39, July 1998, pp. 5, 10

About The Dwarrow Scholar

The Dwarrow Scholar first experienced the brilliance of Tolkien when he received a copy of The Hobbit from his uncle as a kid, reading it feverishly again and again. Some years on, when he got his very own walk-man (aye forget about tiny phones, this thing was a brick and played cassette tapes) he made his own little audiotape of The Hobbit, so he could listen to it on his bike on his way to school. Between reenacting the Battle of Five armies with 4 of his school friends (still feel sorry for the kid that had to be the Orc) and before the days of the internet, you would find Roy frequently in libraries trying to find all he could about Tolkien and his beloved dwarves. When Roy isn’t delving into Neo-Khuzdul or searching for lost dwarvish treasures on the net he’s enjoying time with his wife and son, re-reading his tormented Tolkien paperbacks, watching a good movie, learning new languages or playing a game of LoTRO or other dwarf related games.
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2 Responses to Shameless Insult or Kind Gesture ? (Iglishmêk)

  1. Kili Kibilcirth says:

    This was intriguing and very helpful to a student of iglishmêk such as myself. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!


    • alina hubbard says:

      omg, do you know any? I’ve been searching all over and only know listen, and I’m listening as stated here lol. I’m kinda feigning for dwarves education for my cosplays haha. -Phêtra blackhammer


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