Thanks, all, for their helpful comments about my last post.
I had another question about David Bratman's discussion in Mythprint about
the passage about Bilbo's inexpressible staggerment. David writes:
"it expresses, in Tolkien's terms a philosophical point about the nature
of language that Tolkien learned from Lewis' friend, the linguistic
philosopher Owen Barfield: that words we've barked down to dull literal
meanings once rang with what we'd now call figurative connotations".
However, Douglas Anderson in the Annotated Hobbit, commenting on the same
passage, citing Verlyn Flieger, refers to "... Barfield's thesis that
language in its original state was premetaphoric: that there was once an
ancient semantic unity of word and thing, and words therefore refered to
realities. Language is now, however, no longer concrete and literal."
The Wikipedia article says "He shows how the imagination of the poet
creates new meaning, and how this same process has been active, throughout
human experience, to create and continuously expand language," which
sounds like language is improving.
So I'm not sure whether, in Barfield, language is getting better or worse,
and, if worse, whether that is because it is becoming more or less
Of course, I suppose I should go read "Poetic Diction" for myself. But in
the meantime, if anyone can clear this up quickly, I would be obliged.