PDA

View Full Version : Philology- Tolkien and words



Nateskate
01-11-2007, 08:49 PM
Tolkien paid great attention to language. Diehard ringnuts often speak the various dialects he created.

Authors of Sci Fi and Fantasy will sometimes make up their own languages or build on those languages created by others. How sophisticated is the language in your own world, or the worlds of your favorite authors?

Do you just create jargon or use more sophisticated building blocks as tools?

Tolkien used European languages as the building blocks for his books. He would define a word for star or horse, and then incorporate it in a variety of ways. For instance, "horse= eo" Eowyn, Eomir, ThEOdin." Each name was a definition built around the more familiar root.

Likewise the root of many Elvish names was built around Tolkien's word for star, because as a race they loved the stars.

Does anyone here have "root words" with which they build more complex languages...etc?

ColoradoGuy
01-11-2007, 09:41 PM
Tolkien, of course, was a linguistic scholar by profession, studying an era when saga was the standard way of telling stories. I think he dabbled in LOR pseudo-languages for years as a hobby. When he decided to write, he wrote what he knew, which was middle English and Beowulfish saga. It is perfectly understandable to me that I guy such as that would write a book like LOR.

I think the reason LOR spin-off writers and assorted Tolkien groupies do less well with Tolkien's method is that they are not writing what they know, so it does not read so naturally.

Tiger
01-11-2007, 09:51 PM
Tolkien, of course, was a linguistic scholar by profession, studying an era when saga was the standard way of telling stories. I think he dabbled in LOR pseudo-languages for years as a hobby. When he decided to write, he wrote what he knew, which was middle English and Beowulfish saga. It is perfectly understandable to me that I guy such as that would write a book like LOR.

I think the reason LOR spin-off writers and assorted Tolkien groupies do less well with Tolkien's method is that they are not writing what they know, so it does not read so naturally.

You're right. Imitators have no substance. You tell right away when someone's placed a story on top of history, instead of the other way around.

"A Clockwork Orange," was also written by a linguist with a great imagination.

sunandshadow
01-11-2007, 10:58 PM
I set out to build an alien language one time, but realized that 1) I did not know enough about how pronunciation works and would have to do massive research and 2) I didn't really want to write a story where a character struggles to learn a language because I always hated that lost-in-quicksand feeling of trying to learn a foreign language.

Medievalist
01-12-2007, 06:43 AM
Tolkien began creating languages as a twelve year old school boy; by the time he was studying Classics at university, he was deeply immersed in his language creation; the myths were largely there as an exercise in language and poetry.

It's a bit unfair to look at the language of the Rohirrim as typical of Tolkien's methods; that is in fact a specific dialect of Anglo-Saxon, the dialect that was used in Tolkien's own beloved midlands. He did reconstruct some words, based on the morphology for the words in related dialects, but it is a genuine language.

The Elvish langauges and scripts were completely invented, though he was inspired by Welsh phonology and Finnish morphology.

ColoradoGuy
01-12-2007, 07:12 AM
Kingsley Amis wrote a great chapter in his memoirs about what it was like to sit in Tolkien's class. Apparently the guy mumbled terribly and was impossible to understand even when he didn't. He was not a brilliant teacher, that's for sure.

Medievalist
01-12-2007, 07:25 AM
He did mumble and he was shy, but having seen some of his written comments he was also dedicated to his students' learning.

And honestly, he is an unsurpassed scholar in those places he took an interest.

ColoradoGuy
01-12-2007, 07:53 AM
Funny how fame works. All I know of his non-LOR stuff is his edition of Gawain and the Green Knight. Didn't he die before LOR took off as a cult, then a phenomenon?

Medievalist
01-12-2007, 08:16 AM
By the time, LOTR was huge, much to his occasional dismay. He was one of the editors of the OED, among other things, and his edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in the second edition, is still the standard. I'm using it for my dissertation, and even now, I find Tolkien was way ahead of the rest.

pdr
01-12-2007, 01:36 PM
I seem to remember being told that students flocked to his lectures when he was reading sagas or poetry.

Nateskate
01-12-2007, 05:40 PM
Tolkien, of course, was a linguistic scholar by profession, studying an era when saga was the standard way of telling stories. I think he dabbled in LOR pseudo-languages for years as a hobby. When he decided to write, he wrote what he knew, which was middle English and Beowulfish saga. It is perfectly understandable to me that I guy such as that would write a book like LOR.

I think the reason LOR spin-off writers and assorted Tolkien groupies do less well with Tolkien's method is that they are not writing what they know, so it does not read so naturally.

I think it's more like a Beatles/Stones thing. People didn't do that well in mimicking either one. But those who did the best, were people who were inspired by the same musicians that inspired the Beatles and Stones.

C.S Lewis and Tolkien both drew inspiration from lore and writings from antiquity. I think those who wrote spin-offs that failed, were trying to much to build on a formulae, which is like starting your building on the roof and not the foundations- The richness comes from the moral of the story ancient writings.

Nateskate
01-12-2007, 05:41 PM
I set out to build an alien language one time, but realized that 1) I did not know enough about how pronunciation works and would have to do massive research and 2) I didn't really want to write a story where a character struggles to learn a language because I always hated that lost-in-quicksand feeling of trying to learn a foreign language.

This is where I think it's difficult to strike the balance. It has to be foriegn enough to sound "Not here/not now", but not so foriegn that the reader can't understand it. So, the art is blending just the right mix of new with comtemporary. It's like Goldilocks- too much or too little ruins the taste.

Nateskate
01-12-2007, 05:57 PM
Tolkien began creating languages as a twelve year old school boy; by the time he was studying Classics at university, he was deeply immersed in his language creation; the myths were largely there as an exercise in language and poetry.

It's a bit unfair to look at the language of the Rohirrim as typical of Tolkien's methods; that is in fact a specific dialect of Anglo-Saxon, the dialect that was used in Tolkien's own beloved midlands. He did reconstruct some words, based on the morphology for the words in related dialects, but it is a genuine language.

The Elvish langauges and scripts were completely invented, though he was inspired by Welsh phonology and Finnish morphology.

I'm glad you joined the conversation. You can add a dimension that takes it too a new level.

Tolkien explains some of this development of the languages in one of the the LOTR appendices, that he essentially "morphed" and modernized the various dialects. "Reconstruct" is the right word.

I'm not very good with grammar or philology, but I am fascinated by the creation of language. I think I look at this whole thing from a philosophical perspective rather than a scholarly one because I am not smart enough to approach it from that direction.

Being only vaguely familiar with the building blocks, like how Latin or Aramaic are languages that build upon roots (Many I can't pronounce...) It seemed to me that in building a fantasy language, it would be "like that".

In other words, taking various smaller pieces of words and keeping their contextual meaning throughout the story, so that the reader (if it were a game) a very astute reader, could say, "Ah, that name means "Warm Light!"

In my non-intellectual way, I see Jargon as rather random, and I think many Fantasy writers approach language that way.

When I looked up definitions of words in Greek or Aramaic- to try to better understand their meaning, a word like "Jerusalem" would have more meaning. It was not only a name, but a definition. Jeru-Salem. Salem comes from the same place Shalom comes from...etc.

It's used as "Hello" but it really means "peace" and used as a greeting means, "Peace be upon you". But each of these words can be broken down to a variety of roots. One might say, "Jerusalem" can mean, "Peace flowing like a river..."

I think I use both approaches, because unlike Tolkien, I don't have the mental energy to construct entire languages. However, in some cases, when a sound appears, it will be consistent throughout the story.

Elektra
01-12-2007, 06:28 PM
Have you ever read the History of Middle Earth books (Tolkien's notes annotated by his son)?

Medievalist
01-12-2007, 07:19 PM
Being only vaguely familiar with the building blocks, like how Latin or Aramaic are languages that build upon roots (Many I can't pronounce...) It seemed to me that in building a fantasy language, it would be "like that".

English is like that too, if you go back far enough, and this is something Tolkien knew. English, like most of the European languages, is a member of the Indo-European language group (http://www.bartleby.com/61/indoeuro.html). The idea is that all of these languages have a common ancestor, one that no longer exists as a separate spoken language, but which we can reconstruct by looking at the way words are shaped in related languages.

For instance; take a look at the etymology for the word gleam (http://www.bartleby.com/61/65/G0146500.html). At the bottom we are told:


Middle English glem, from Old English glm. See ghel-2 (http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE158.html) in Appendix I.

That ghel-2 is the proto Indo-European root; and if you click on the link you'll see a little essay about a complex of words in English and other languages, all of which we're pretty sure are descended from that root -- and there are hundreds more related words in other Indo-European languages.

sunandshadow
01-12-2007, 08:03 PM
This is where I think it's difficult to strike the balance. It has to be foriegn enough to sound "Not here/not now", but not so foriegn that the reader can't understand it. So, the art is blending just the right mix of new with comtemporary. It's like Goldilocks- too much or too little ruins the taste.

I think whether to aim for understandable or truly foreign is a design choice, either could be interesting in its own context. In my case, the idea was that these aliens are incapable of learning human language because their own language was a completely logical standardized one which was a result of their minds having much more rigid inbult rules for forming new words from roots, declension, and conjugation.

K1P1
01-13-2007, 12:43 AM
By the time, LOTR was huge, much to his occasional dismay. He was one of the editors of the OED, among other things, and his edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in the second edition, is still the standard. I'm using it for my dissertation, and even now, I find Tolkien was way ahead of the rest.

When I was working on my MA, I did a comparison of translations of SGGK into modern English, and Tolkiens' was by far the best, the truest to the original in both meaning and in poetics.

jodiodi
01-18-2007, 06:57 PM
Have you ever read the History of Middle Earth books (Tolkien's notes annotated by his son)?

I've read parts of them. They're fascinating, imho.

I currently write fantasy romance (sorry) and have created two races of people. The Taioi are just like us, regular mortal human beings. The other race, the Visii, never die naturally and if they are killed, they are reborn wiser and more powerful after a century away. If they give up their lives, their souls are reborn as new Visi children with no recollection of previous lives.

The Visii name was inspired by the French vie since their souls continue to live. The Taioi came from a Tagalog word, tao for human. Many of the words I've 'created', mainly names of things, are based on Tagalog (my husband is Filipino so I have a handy resource), Dutch, Portugese, French and German.

I'm certainly no linguist and not qualified to really add to this discussion, but I find it fascinating and just wanted to chime in since I've done a little bit of language building in my stories.

Thanks.

Nateskate
01-24-2007, 11:21 PM
It is pretty amazing, but you can hear language changing if you go between English speaking nations. If people talk in a rush in Scotland, someone from the US may think they were speaking another tongue. When they speak at a normal pace and distinctly there's no problem. But you see morphing taking place, depending what sub culture you visit.

Na-dameen- Know what I mean -
Know= Na,
what I- wha-da-
remove the "Wha" = Na da mean = Na dameen?


You have either a shortening of words in a rush or of combining words into one and then shortening them. Good day g-day. I guess the human tendency towards slang makes that happen.


English is like that too, if you go back far enough, and this is something Tolkien knew. English, like most of the European languages, is a member of the Indo-European language group (http://www.bartleby.com/61/indoeuro.html). The idea is that all of these languages have a common ancestor, one that no longer exists as a separate spoken language, but which we can reconstruct by looking at the way words are shaped in related languages.

For instance; take a look at the etymology for the word gleam (http://www.bartleby.com/61/65/G0146500.html). At the bottom we are told:



That ghel-2 is the proto Indo-European root; and if you click on the link you'll see a little essay about a complex of words in English and other languages, all of which we're pretty sure are descended from that root -- and there are hundreds more related words in other Indo-European languages.

Nateskate
01-24-2007, 11:23 PM
Have you ever read the History of Middle Earth books (Tolkien's notes annotated by his son)?

Sorry, didn't see the question. I learned a bit from The Tolkien Reader, but I don't recall reading History of Middle Earth.

alaskamatt17
01-31-2007, 01:51 AM
How sophisticated is the language in your own world, or the worlds of your favorite authors?

For my largest fantasy world I invented two languages, neither of which I wanted to be translatable directly into any European language. As far as sophistication goes, neither is very complex, which makes sense in the context. The languages themselves are still in primitive form, having been invented by nomadic herds/packs of sentient dinosaurs only six centuries prior to the story's beginning.

In the first language the rules are as follows:

Words fall into two categories: nouns and verbs. Descriptives are formed by modifying the closing syllable of either a noun or a verb (you use a different modifying syllable for a verb than you would for a noun). There is also an appendable syllable for plurals, which can be attached either to the beginning or end of any word; when used on nouns this syllable indicates simple plurality, when used on verbs it implies superlative form, when used in conjunction with the descriptive modifying syllable, the word can take on new meanings all together depending on context.

Plain verbs are conjugated according to the speaker's bearing in respect to the object of the verb (going from the assumption that these dinosaurs can sense the planet's magnetic field like birds do). Verbs always follow their objects. Other than that, sentences can be arranged pretty freely. Adjectives and adverbs can be compounded at will to any noun or verb they apply to, and at either end of that noun or verb.

I only have about 200 words invented for this language. Most prevalent sounds are: a, b, w, u, r, and l.

The second language is even rougher than the first, having been developed more recently, therefore having had less time to evolve.

Sentences do not exist. The language is composed entirely of one-syllable combinations of the letters s, r, g, t, k, 'th', 'sh', 'zh', and n, with appropriate vowel sounds connecting them. Each syllable carries anywhere from one to ten associated meanings, not necessarily of any traditional word classification. Syllables combine to form words, which tend to be fairly short (if they were long it would be nearly impossible to deduce meaning from them). Syllables go into the word in any order the speaker cares to put them, with a connective vowel sometimes being inserted between two syllables when speaking them in succession would be impossible (sometimes adding the connective vowel can result in a sound that resembles one of the meaningful syllables, in this case it is up to the listener to either ask for clarification or decipher the speaker's intention from context). This language has its origins in pre-civilized hunting packs, where nothing very complex needed to be said. It's growth into a language in it's own right came after a political division that resulted in one of the saurian species forming a nation separate from--and in opposition to--the others.

There is a third language, spoken only by the warrior class within the larger empire. It consists of body movements and animal sounds, and only reaches true sophistication during combat, when the warrior's opponent becomes an integral part of communication with allies. There is little attempt to describe the various component movements in the books, as it would be nearly impossible to translate for anybody who was not born/hatched into the class that speaks it (and the viewpoint characters are foreigners altogether).

Nateskate
02-04-2007, 11:16 PM
For my largest fantasy world I invented two languages, neither of which I wanted to be translatable directly into any European language. As far as sophistication goes, neither is very complex, which makes sense in the context. The languages themselves are still in primitive form, having been invented by nomadic herds/packs of sentient dinosaurs only six centuries prior to the story's beginning.

In the first language the rules are as follows:

Words fall into two categories: nouns and verbs. Descriptives are formed by modifying the closing syllable of either a noun or a verb (you use a different modifying syllable for a verb than you would for a noun). There is also an appendable syllable for plurals, which can be attached either to the beginning or end of any word; when used on nouns this syllable indicates simple plurality, when used on verbs it implies superlative form, when used in conjunction with the descriptive modifying syllable, the word can take on new meanings all together depending on context.

Plain verbs are conjugated according to the speaker's bearing in respect to the object of the verb (going from the assumption that these dinosaurs can sense the planet's magnetic field like birds do). Verbs always follow their objects. Other than that, sentences can be arranged pretty freely. Adjectives and adverbs can be compounded at will to any noun or verb they apply to, and at either end of that noun or verb.

I only have about 200 words invented for this language. Most prevalent sounds are: a, b, w, u, r, and l.

The second language is even rougher than the first, having been developed more recently, therefore having had less time to evolve.

Sentences do not exist. The language is composed entirely of one-syllable combinations of the letters s, r, g, t, k, 'th', 'sh', 'zh', and n, with appropriate vowel sounds connecting them. Each syllable carries anywhere from one to ten associated meanings, not necessarily of any traditional word classification. Syllables combine to form words, which tend to be fairly short (if they were long it would be nearly impossible to deduce meaning from them). Syllables go into the word in any order the speaker cares to put them, with a connective vowel sometimes being inserted between two syllables when speaking them in succession would be impossible (sometimes adding the connective vowel can result in a sound that resembles one of the meaningful syllables, in this case it is up to the listener to either ask for clarification or decipher the speaker's intention from context). This language has its origins in pre-civilized hunting packs, where nothing very complex needed to be said. It's growth into a language in it's own right came after a political division that resulted in one of the saurian species forming a nation separate from--and in opposition to--the others.

There is a third language, spoken only by the warrior class within the larger empire. It consists of body movements and animal sounds, and only reaches true sophistication during combat, when the warrior's opponent becomes an integral part of communication with allies. There is little attempt to describe the various component movements in the books, as it would be nearly impossible to translate for anybody who was not born/hatched into the class that speaks it (and the viewpoint characters are foreigners altogether).

Wow, that's complex. Alot of thought went into this.

alaskamatt17
02-05-2007, 01:53 AM
I still haven't finished with it. I've stowed this work for a while until the world fleshes itself out more in my mind.

Shadow_Ferret
02-08-2007, 12:27 AM
I believe Edgar Rice Burroughs created an entire language for his "Great Apes" in his Tarzan stories.

Me, I'm not that ambitious. I don't even like to sprinkle made-up slang into my stories. I don't think its necessary.

alaskamatt17
02-08-2007, 05:48 AM
I believe Edgar Rice Burroughs created an entire language for his "Great Apes" in his Tarzan stories.

Me, I'm not that ambitious. I don't even like to sprinkle made-up slang into my stories. I don't think its necessary.

Most of the time it isn't.