1. An Essay
The oldest example of pen appears in Lord of the Rings as ben-adar 'fatherless' (pen is lenited to ben as part of a prepositional phrase that functions as an adjective):
Iarwain Ben-adar, we called him, oldest and fatherless. (1)However, Tolkien reinvented the word (probably forgetting that he had previously used it to mean 'without') in a later composition. In 'Quendi and Eldar' (dated 1959-1960), pen resurfaces as a derivative of KWEN, and has the meaning 'one'. This is no doubt the source of the phrase pen-neth 'young one' that is often found in fan fiction. However, Tolkien's examples show this incarnation of pen as a suffix, not a prefix.
It was no whim that placed pen as a prefix in the first case and a suffix in the second. 'Without' is a preposition and Sindarin does not leave prepositions dangling at the end of a phrase or sentence. In fact, the Sindarin preposition is more likely to become part of the word that follows it:
Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen! (ammen 'for us' is composed of an 'for', which becomes am before men 'we', according to rules of Sindarin phonology) (2)The syntax of 'one' is more complex. In Sindarin, nouns usually follow the adjective, and this is undoubtedly the root of the confusion - one would expect pen neth, literally translated as 'one young'. However, pen is an exception, as Tolkien explains:
le nallon sí di-nguruthos (di-nguruthos 'under the shadow of death') (3)
Derivatives of *KWEN were limited to the sense: pronominal 'one, somebody, anybody' and to a few old compounds that survived... .In the first paragraph, it would seem that pen as an affix is limited to compounds, and a separate pronoun, 'one' remains that would presumably precede the adjective (as would other pronouns). In the second paragraph, Tolkien clarifies that indeed, both the pronoun and compounded affix exist. However, the pronoun is enclitic, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as follows:
As a pronoun, usually enclitic, the form pen, mutated ben, survived. A few compounds survived, such as rochben 'rider' (m. or f.), orodben 'a mountaineer' or 'one living in the mountains', arphen 'a noble'. (4)
Designating a word so unemphatic as to be pronounced as if part of the preceding word, and sometimes attached to it (5)Thus, in practice, though the pronoun remains a word in itself, it has become more suffix than stand-alone pronoun. As an enclitic, pen would most likely yield words similar to the compounds given by Tolkien in the above excerpt: nethben; tithemben (from tithen 'little' - np becomes mb in compound); gaerphen 'dreadful one'; gorben (from gorn 'impetuous' - rnp becomes rb in compound).
In conclusion, it is fair to assume that pen-neth and its variants are unlikely, being a combination of the syntax of the first instance of pen and the meaning of the second. Nothing published by Tolkien during his lifetime proves that pen can mean 'one', but a posthumously edited and published essay not only attests to this connotation but also describes its usage. That work implies that pen should in this case be attached as a suffix. As for the employment of pen as a hyphenated prefix, Lord of the Rings gives both example and definition. If pen-adar means 'fatherless', then the meaning of pen-neth must follow in kind. A host of fictional Elves would be most grateful if we ceased to call them 'youthless'. (6)
(1) LOTR, Book II Chap 2 p 258, pub Houghton Mifflin
(2) Ibid, Book II Chap 4 p 299
(3) Ibid, Book IV Chap 10 p 712
(4) The War of the Jewels, 'Quendi and Eldar' p 376 pub Houghton Mifflin
(5) The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 5th Ed, Oxford University Press 2002
(6) Additional sources consulted: David Salo, A Gateway to Sindarin, University of Utah Press 2004; Helge Fauskanger, Ardalambion, 'Sindarin: The Noble Tongue'.
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