[LMB] Reading in different languages

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Tue Oct 12 12:34:32 BST 2021


Marina: Old Icelandic underlays much of the Elven language.

John: Um, not so. Old English and Old Norse (= Old Icelandic) underlie
Rohirric strongly, and various other details, like 'wargs' and lots of
names (Frodo, Samwise, Deagol and Smeagol) ; but Quenya was based on
Finnish and Sindarin on Welsh (both for largely aesthetic reasons and after
a grammatical as much as morphological and rather than lexical fashion),
and when JRRT says (in the foreword to the 2/e of LR) that the story was
needed to explain the language history he wasn't kidding because he had a
Celtic language evolving from a Finno-Ugric language, which is like having
an aardvark evolve into a flying hexapuma. Only massive disruption --
displacement, migration, splintering, isolation, radically new terrain and
lifestyles -- can hope to explain it plausibly to a philologist : hence the
Madness at Alqualonde, the Revolt and Exile of the Noldor, the
humongous timescale, and then the destruction of Beleriand with all that
follows.  And why would any Noldorin Elf do such a thing? Well, there were
these Silmarils, you see ... all so that Sindarin might half-plausibly
arise from Quenya, however it kinda acquired its own life and
momentum along the way.

Seriously. This is the man who came across a single poetic reference in Old
Norse to tribes of thyrses (whatever they may have been) living in
rainwashed mountains, remembered that there was a single occurrence in an
obscure OE poem of the untranslatable compound noun "orc-thyrs", and voila,
the Misty Mountains full or orcs ; just as he came across the phrase
"orthanc enta geweork" in OE, 'the cunning work of giants', probably
meaning old Roman architecture which wowed folks who'd temporarily lost the
arch, and from it took both Orthanc and its silvian nemesis.* Words were
his life, professional and as a hobby.

See also his notes to translators of LR, now most readily available in the
Hammond & Scull *Reader's Companion to LR*.

* Plus, he was slapping at Shakespeare, having found the pseudo-movement of
Birnam Wood to Dunsinane a rotten swiz. If you're gonna have moving woods,
do it properly!
-- 
John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)

Associate Member, Hughes Hall, Cambridge
Independent Scholar
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