I learned many years ago from Professor Catriona Parsons that Gàidhlig waulking songs, the work songs which keep the rhythm for hand-fulling woolen cloth, are full of “vocables”.  In the first song in the linked video, the group’s words between the solo lines are vocables.

“These are not like fa-la-la,” she said. “They are very ancient sounds and they have meaning, but we have lost the meaning.”

She then taught us very carefully to pronounce these syllables, which usually alternate in the songs with phrases in current lexical use, just as she had heard them growing up on the Isle of Lewis.  I fancied that it did not matter if we knew the meaning, as long as those to whom we sang could understand.

Similarly, what’s up with tra-la-la-lally?  Corey Olsen, The Tolkien Professor, makes this point: ” tra-la-la-lally
here down in the valley!” [03.014] sounds very much like “tra-la-la-lally” is the name of the thing which is happening down in the valley.  These vocables are definitely sound play, only spoken by elves.  Do these sounds make those singers a bit alien?  Do they remind us that they speak other languages natively?  I believe they do.  In honor of the play of sound-on-sound in these vocables, I am giving them the ‘Onomatopoeia” tag.

  • 03.014 O! tra-la-la-lally
  • 03.015 O! tril-lil-lil-lolly
  • 19.002 Come! Tra-la-la-lally!
  • 19.003 O! Tra-la-la-lally
  • 19.004 Fa-la!
  • 19.004 Fa-la-la-lally
  • 19.004 With Tra-la-la-lally
  • 19.004 Tra-la-la-lally

I am separating out the Non-Lexical-Vocables after a bloody morning of trying to find a more suitable word. Haven’t found one yet, might have to ask my fellow scholar Jamie Stinnett.

  • 06.077 Ya hey!
  • 06.078 Ya hey!
  • 06.078 Ya harri-hey!
  • 06.078 Ya hoy!
  • 06.079 And with that Ya Hoy!


Heave ho! is the sort of thing one chants when hauling on the lines of a sailing ship in order to keep time with other sailors.  As a kind of work song, I’ve tagged it as low.  Beorn’s use of it in Chapter 7 is not the same, but we’ll keep it here as an interjection and non-lexical vocable.

  • 04.020 Ho, ho! my lad!
  • 04.020 Ho, ho! my lad!
  • 04.022 and to the ugly laughter of their ho, ho! my lad!
  • 04.022 and to the ugly laughter of their ho, ho! my lad!
  • 07.042 O ho,
  • 09.049 Heave ho! Splash plump!

No citation.  I grew up in a region where learning 18th century nautical history and jargon and drinking songs were just part of the local picture.