The following rationale was written as a document during the early days of filming the trilogy, and was a guide for us to adhere to as closely as possible. Since the release of the films, it will be apparent that some changes took place during production. For example, the names of Sméagol and Déagol are Old English and should have reflected that fact in pronunciation (/smexol/ and /dexol/ or SMEH-CHOL and DEH-CHOL using a Scottish "ch" as in "loch",) but it was felt that most of the fans were calling them /smi:gl/ and /di:gl/ or SMEE-GOL and DEE-GOL. To avoid confusion we used the popular pronunciation.
We had intended that the Orcs and Uruk-hai would sound evil, with a guttural vocal quality without any accent. However, the decision was made for the Orcs to be "Cockney," thus bringing a modern urban sound to what was otherwise a rural and altogether separate world of accents. The Uruk-hai retained our original intention.
- Andrew Jack, November 2004
The common speech of Middle-earth was translated into English by J R. R. Tolkien. The differences between the various people of Middle-earth can be distinguished by the variety of English spoken: true to Tolkien's ideas, we have based the accents of the people of The Lord of the Rings on varieties of UK English.
We began with the Hobbits; since their accents were to be based on English accents and we were aware that we were looking for something timeless and rustic, we chose the speech of Gloucestershire which gave us everything we were looking for without being too heavily West Country. This is a rhotic accent and is spoken by all the Shire Hobbits except the Baggins and the Tooks. Samwise Gamgee (Sam) can be considered a working-class Hobbit: he is the son of a gardener. Sam's accent is as strong as the other Shire Hobbits. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are educated Hobbits and considered slightly different owing to their love of learning and adventure. Their accent reflects the patterns of accents within the UK where the more educated the speaker, the less localisable and the closer to RP or “Received Pronunciation.” RP is the Standard English accent spoken by educated English speakers everywhere. Initially, we wanted Peregrin Took to have the same accent as the other Hobbits, In pre-production it soon became apparent to Peter Jackson and to us that it was impossible to maintain Billy Boyd's wonderful energy (perfect for Pippin) within a laid-back West Country accent and that somehow Billy's Scottishness informed the character. It was at this time that we discovered Tolkien intended Took to rhyme with Luke. This is the way a Scot might pronounce Took, but not the way a West Countryman would. All of our discoveries supported the choice of a light Scottish accent for Pippin... the Tooks are descended from the Fallohide branch of Hobbits... they "had more skill in language and song” (T3).... were often found as leaders or "Thains" ('Thane' is a Medieval Scottish term for a clan leader) . . . "even in Bilbo's time the strong Fallohidish strain could still be noted among" them **(T3) and Pippin was born and brought up in Tookland, not Hobbiton. Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry) is a cousin of both Frodo and Pippin and from a well-to-do family. As the character seems to want to be a “bit of a lad” we developed a Gloucestershire accent like Sam Gamgee's, but less broad and rarely dropping the 'h's.
The people of Gondor (Boromir, Faramir, Denethor) spoke a more "antique language... more formal and more terse" (T1107). We chose RP (Received Pronunciation) to represent this way of speech and “coloured” it with undertones of the speech of the counties of northern England (which are generally perceived as a little more terse). This style of speech conjures up a degree of formality as well as a warrior-like demeanour, which is especially good for Boromir.
The accent of the people of Rohan was based on Tolkien's description of their speech and from studying the map of Middle-earth. These people still spoke their ancestral tongue, which was "related both (more distantly) to the Common Speech and (very closely) to the former tongue of the northern Hobbits" (T1110). We started with the same accent as the Gondorians, (i.e. RP) but decided to make the accent rhotic and chose a light Irish R. This makes the speech of the Rohans sound more formal than the speech of the Hobbits and yet has a feature in common with them. "It is noted.... when Hobbits heard the speech of Rohan they recognised many words and felt the language to be akin to their own” (T1110). This can also be said of rhotic speakers of modern English.
On the map of Middle-earth, Rohan is situated between Gondor and the Shire with a range of mountains separating each area (Gondor and the Shire having two mountain ranges between them). This further supports the linguistic similarities and differences of the three peoples. The lords of Rohan "used the Common Speech freely, and spoke it nobly after the manner of their allies in Gondor" (T1103). Theoden was born and brought up in Gondor and when his father Thengel returned to Rohan with the family "the speech of Gondor was used in his house, and not all men thought that good" (T1044). Thus it follows that Theoden would speak with the same accent as the Gondorians. His nephew and niece, Eomer and Eowyn, were born and brought up in Rohan, as were their parents. Although they grew up in Theoden's house we decided they should speak with a Rohan rather than a Gondorian accent to reflect their proximity to the people of Rohan. Wormtongue, although a man of Rohan, is looked on as an outsider and the character does not seem to feel one with the people of Rohan. The character separates himself from these people in every way including his speech, refusing to use the R sound as his compatriots do.
The Elves speak all the languages of Middle-Earth and in common with other linguists they have awareness and accuracy of speech: "Quendi" means "the Speakers" (The Complete Guide to Middle-earth). When speaking English they use RP, foregoing any sounds that might be perceived as modern or slovenly.
Aragorn was raised secretly in Rivendell by Elves and therefore is familiar with all the languages of Middle-earth. He spent nearly 70 years among various peoples and in various guises; he has the ability to modify his speech according to where he is and who he's with (a requirement of being incognito); he does not belong to any particular place or people. We decided to create a way of speaking that illustrated these characteristics, choosing RP vowels, an Irish 'R' and an idiosyncratic rhythm.
Gandalf and Saruman both use RP to give themselves an air of authority and communication power without any identifiable place of origin. We also felt that this should be the reasoning behind the choice of accent and vocal quality for the Mouth of Sauron and the Witch King.
For the Orcs and the Uruk-hai it is the vocal quality rather than relying on a particular accent that reflects their evil characteristics, brutality and physical ugliness.
GolIum/Sméagol uses R.P. with vocal qualities to indicate the two personalities. Sméagol and Déagol (Stoor Hobbits) have a light Gloucestershire accent similar to the Shire Hobbits. Given Gollum's circumstances over the course of 500 years, we believe vocal quality would take precedence over accent. Similarly, the Ents are distinguished by vocal quality rather than accent.
This rationale is the result of work in progress from 1st September 1999 through the shooting of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.