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Physician, heal thyself: on David Salo's "scholarship"

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    The following is in response to two of David Salo s recent (and rare) postings on his Elfling mailing list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/19951
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 1, 2002
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      The following is in response to two of David Salo's recent (and rare)
      postings on his Elfling mailing list:

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/19951 (dated Fri.
      Nov. 29, 2002)
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/19980 (dated Sat.
      Nov. 30, 2002)

      (David's more embarr..., er, passionate posts sometimes disappear from
      the archives, so I suggest that everyone interested in the subject
      follow these links and get copies of these posts while you still can.)

      These are part of a discussion that began with comments in his wife,
      Dorothea Salo's, weblog:


      (Assuming this doesn't disappear, scroll down to the section titled
      "The Khuzdul Incident")

      and their attendant transcription of a portion of the designer's
      commentary track from the "Extended" DVD edition of Peter Jackson's
      movie, _The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring_:


      For Bill Welden's first-hand, eye-witness account of the matter in
      question, see his Elfling post at:


      For an example (and thus proof of the existence) of just the sort of
      in-joke inscription that Bill was informed of by a member of the WETA
      crew, see Ryszard Derdzinksi's report (with picture) at:


      (Scroll down to the section he has titled "Inane comments written on
      the walls of Moria: true of false?")

      With recourse to all of the above, let us examine David Salo's claims,
      comments, and representations:


      In http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/19951, David writes:

      > assuming that this story about the carpenter's joke is substantially
      true, why would this "Tolkien language
      > scholar" have accepted the account without - for instance - just
      going up to the walls and *reading* what
      > was on them?

      Neither the designers nor the Salos dispute that Bill reported what he
      had been told, and I see no reason that Bill should not have done so,
      whether verified or not; indeed, the fact that the WETA staff found the
      report so disturbing that they (allegedly) spent a great deal of time
      looking for the offending (to the WETA staff) inscriptions, shows that
      the sort of behavior Bill had been informed of and reported was
      unacceptable to WETA, thereby demonstrating that they would want to be
      informed of any such behavior. The "theory", advanced by the designers
      in their commentary, that no such inscriptions exist (despite their
      alleged search), and that Bill's informant was just playing a trick on
      him, is _at best_ nothing more than speculation by a third, non-witness
      party, long after the fact; and yet David accepts it at face value
      (doubtlessly because it suits his political purposes to do so). But as
      Ryszard's report demonstrates, Bill was _in fact_ told the truth, and
      at least one such offending (to the WETA staff) inscription _does
      exist_, as anyone who cares to can see for themselves.

      So we have the (self-promoted) spectacle of David and Dorothea
      denouncing Bill for passing along (as was arguably his obligation) a
      disturbing and factual report to those to whom he is responsible, and
      who profess publicly an overarching concern for "authenticity"; while
      at the same time Dorothea and David persist in repeating and
      "verifying" (though of course neither is in a position to do any such
      thing) a set of false speculations, assertions, and mockery by
      third-party non-witnesses.

      > And why did he make a fuss and bother - clearly causing a good deal
      of trouble to a lot of people - based on
      > a second-hand story, insisting on the existence of something that was
      never there?

      First, the _only_ persons responsible for any "wasted" time spent
      hunting for the type of inscription in question (which Ryszard found
      readily enough, in the very material presented on the DVD containing
      the commentary) are _those who made the inscriptions_ that _the WETA
      staff_ deemed disturbing enough to search for. (And even if, contrary
      to fact, there _were_ no such inscriptions, and Bill _had_ been duped,
      it would be _the jokester_, and _still_ not Bill, who would be solely
      responsible. But blaming the victim is a popular pastime in Salo-land.)
      I note too that in the same breath that he presumes to lecture Bill
      against basing assertions on second-hand stories, David asserts as fact
      ("something that was never there") a speculation ("Bill was duped")
      that he learned at fourth-hand (at best), the truth of which he did not
      verify and could not possibly know; and, moreover, that is in fact
      demonstrably false.

      Second, if the search for offending inscriptions was truly "a waste of
      time", it was so only because the WETA staff failed to find what in
      fact exists. Clearly, if they _had_ found the offending inscription(s),
      they would not have considered it "a waste of time", or else they would
      not have bothered to search in the first place. Therefore, the
      _possibility_ of the existence of such inscriptions was sufficient, in
      WETA's eyes, to justify undertaking the search. Bill did not create
      this possibility, he merely reported it. It is in no way Bill's fault
      that the WETA staff failed to find what in fact exists.

      Perhaps David could be bothered to follow his own advice, and check
      facts independently, before asserting mere speculation? (Though I'm not
      sanguine about this possibility, as David has a long history of not
      heeding his own advice in this regard. He for instance published a
      purported analysis of the unpublished drafts of Galadriel's Lament from
      the Marquette archives, based solely on notes that he did not take, in
      multi-generation photocopy, without consulting the manuscripts himself,
      or even verifying his reading of the notes with their original taker;
      and as a consequence he presented a number of easily avoidable errors
      as fact.)

      > This kind of thing makes us who study Tolkien's languages come off as
      idiots or buffoons.

      If by "this kind of thing" David meant "the false, mocking speculations
      of third-party non-witness non-linguists", I would agree
      wholeheartedly; or if he meant "the knee-jerk, politically motivated
      highlighting and assertion of false, mocking speculations of
      third-party non-witness non-linguists in weblogs", I would also agree;
      or if he meant "blatant hypocrisy and arrogance in lecturing others
      about checking facts while in the same breath asserting demonstrably
      false, third-hand speculation to be true", I would again also agree.
      But as he means "taking the representation of Tolkien's languages in
      the movies seriously and reporting inappropriate behavior, when
      informed of it, to those who want to know about such things because
      they too take it seriously", then of course I must dissent.

      (What _truly_ reflects poorly on the _study of Tolkien's languages_ is
      the pseudo-scholarly, indeed, anti-scholarly, practice of
      misrepresenting and discouraging the study of _Tolkien's_ languages and
      writings, in all their complexities, including the shifting conceptions
      of their creator, in favor of an artificial, non-Tolkienian system
      cobbled together from more or less disparate sources spanning decades,
      based on (self-)limited understanding and personal biases; and,
      further, claiming that making up extended passages of dialogue that
      Tolkien never wrote, in accordance with an artificial, subjective
      system, using forms and grammatical devices that Tolkien never did,
      somehow shows commitment to "authenticity", and somehow constitutes
      either "study" or "scholarship". If David were to do with, say,
      Etruscan, or any other poorly attested, dead language, what he has done
      with Khuzdul, and attempted to present it to Etruscan scholars as
      anything more than an amusing game, he would no doubt be -- quite
      unreasonably -- shocked at how irrelevant to anything resembling
      scholarship his efforts would be regarded.)

      > For the record, there is nothing in Mazarbul that reads "Joe was
      here" or anything like it.

      For the record, David is wrong.


      Following David's first post, Ryszard Derdzinski demonstrated that
      there was in fact at least one example of the type of inscription in
      question, visible on the very DVD that David and Dorothea listened to.
      Next, Bill Welden posted his own, first-person account of the matter.
      Despite this, David's next reply shows that he considers Bill's account
      to be false, while clinging to his assertion of the truthfulness of the
      designer's third-hand, non-witness account":


      > I have no reason not to take the word of the design team,

      Apparently, in David's world, proof of the existence of just the sort
      of inscription in question does not constitute reason to doubt the
      design team's assertion that no such inscriptions exist. Apparently, in
      David's world, a first-person, eyewitness account is of no account next
      to a third-hand, non-witness account. What a shining exemplar of
      scholarly detachment.

      > I want you to understand that millions of people around the world are
      listening to this DVD.

      What we all understand, David, is that there are certainly _not_
      "millions of people" listening to the design-teams commentary track;
      and we also all understand that no more than a very few,
      politically-motivated people like yourself are going to (mis-)interpret
      and spin this third-hand, internally inconsistent (why search if
      linguistic details are unimportant?) account into an indictment of
      "Tolkien language scholars" as you and Dorothea are attempting to do.

      > They get their idea of what a "Tolkien language scholar" is from
      listening to anecdotes like this.

      This is an absurd claim, but even if it were true, the blame for any
      misconceptions arising from this incident should be placed where it
      belongs: with the jokesters who put their names in the Dwarvish
      inscriptions, and with the design-team commentators who falsely
      speculated that Bill had been lied to, and used this falsehood as a
      springboard for mocking Tolkien language scholars in general.

      > Your escapade, unfortunately, reflects badly on all of us.

      None of this reflects badly on anyone but _you_, David, and Dorothea,
      who are desperately attempting to spin this situation politically, and
      on the giggling commentators who misrepresented the actual situation.

      > You owe all those people who are involved in studying Tolkien's
      languages an apology for creating this
      > image;

      If anyone is "creating" an image, David, it is _you_, together with the
      jokester who started this, and the misinformed design-team commentators
      whose false account you are spreading and using for your own purposes.

      > you especially owe the WETA workshop an apology for putting them
      through what was clearly a very unpleasant > experience, completely

      Bill reported to them the truth; what they chose to do in response,
      their failure to find the inscription(s) in question, and their
      publicly relating a false account of the matter on the DVD commentary
      track, are not Bill's responsibility. Nor is Bill responsible for
      propagating this falsehood for political purposes, as you and Dorothea
      have done and continue to do, despite proof to the contrary.

      > you apparently managed to distract people who had other things
      > to do for an extended period of time, making them scurry around
      looking for
      > fictitious runes on the walls.

      David continues by this to insist that Bill had been lied to; this is
      not true. (The real irony in this statement, though, is that of course
      _all_ of the runes on the Moria set are "fictitious"; they are none of
      them authentic Khuzdul, being all fabricated by David Salo -- "out of
      whole cloth", as Dorothea puts it -- using words and grammatical
      devices that Tolkien never did.)

      > Did it never occur to you that you would need to *verify* and
      *substantiate* your claims?

      Look who is talking! David and Dorothea did not bother to "*verify* and
      *substantiate*" their (false) claims...

      > Did it ever occur to you that you were passing on second-hand stories
      without authenticating them,

      And has it even _yet_ occurred to _you_, David, that you are passing
      on, as publicly as you know how, *third-hand*, uninformed speculation,
      asserting it as fact, despite being in fact false? At least Bill's
      report was of fact, and in private.

      > As for the model-makers and their names: I should point out that
      there's a
      > very long tradition of artisans putting names on their works, either
      their own
      > or that of the person who commissioned them;

      This is utterly irrelevant to the questions at hand. If the design-team
      considered it to be acceptable for the model-makers to put their names
      in the Dwarvish inscriptions, as in fact they did, then why did they
      even bother to search for them in response to Bill's report to them
      that the model-makers had done so? Clearly, they did _not_ consider
      this acceptable, so David's opinion on the matter is both utterly
      beside the point and in the minority.

      > This is neither "inane", nor worth kicking up a huge fuss over,
      especially as these are
      > apparently not visible in the film.

      The WETA staff clearly disagree with you, David, or they would not have
      bothered to search for the inscriptions in the first place. We might
      well ask, then, why _you_ and Dorothea saw fit to make such a "huge
      fuss" over a matter that, unlike Bill, you had no first-hand knowledge
      of, and, unlike Bill, in public, and, unlike Bill, asserting the truth
      of what is demonstrably false?

      > I suggest that you take away the following lessons, instead: verify
      and authenticate your claims before
      > making them;

      Physician, heal thyself.

      > make sure you have all the information necessary about a situation;

      Physician, heal thyself.

      > don't make accusations based on hearsay;

      Physician, heal thyself.

      > have a sense of proportion and know what is important and what's not.

      Physician, heal thyself.

      To which, I would add that you and Dorothea both need to learn not to
      let your rage and political greed overthrow your reason, especially in
      a public forum.

      > And most importantly, have a sense of humor!

      Tell us, David, what "humor" and "proportion" is exhibited by such
      public statements of Dorothea's as:

      "Suddenly we are listening, slack-jawed with stupefaction and horror,
      to this awful bit"

      "I am completely apoplectic that this pompous jerk had the unutterable
      gall to accuse David and the hard-working WETA people of dishonest and
      intentional traducing of Tolkien's work" (A comment both humorless and
      grossly misrepresenting the case).

      "Whoever it was owes David and WETA a humble and public apology."

      "[David's] almost as appalled at this as I am."

      "I’ll teach Mr. Tolkien-Language Scholar to read dwarf-runes any time
      he likes"

      Or in such public statements of your own as:

      "I am dismayed by what this seems to say about "Tolkien language

      "This kind of thing makes us who study Tolkien's languages come off as
      idiots or buffoons"

      Not to mention:

      "All that we Tolkien linguists have to do to keep the nightmare of
      authoritarian control over Tolkien language publication from becoming a
      reality is to publish our works, and ignore the irrelevant and impotent
      threats of the Hostetters, their absurd slogans and tattered dogmas.
      They are irrelevant. They are the past. We are the future."

      > This whole difficulty could have been avoided if you had "chilled"
      three years ago, rather than flying off
      > half-cocked at some imagined slight to the Dead Seriousness of
      Tolkien's Magnum Opus.

      This whole "difficulty" could have been avoided if the jokester(s) in
      question hadn't put their names in the pseudo-Khuzdul inscriptions. It
      could have been avoided if the design-team commentators had not chosen
      to go public with Bill's private comments, misrepresenting the
      situation in an effort to appear to be simultaneously deeply concerned
      with "authenticity" (when in fact the results are anything but) and too
      sophisticated to be concerned with nerdy pedantics. (A two-faced game
      that David himself is now also playing.) Bill is in no way responsible
      for any of the choices of these people. And the only ones "flying off
      half-cocked at some imagined slight to the Dead Seriousness of
      Tolkien's Magnum Opus" are you and Dorothea.

      > I am dismayed by what this seems to say about "Tolkien language
      scholars": that we care less about getting
      > our facts straight than in making a big splash,

      This is so amazingly hypocritical and dishonest that I can hardly
      believe it even of David Salo. First, Bill's concern, which the WETA
      team also profess to share, _was_ for "facts", for details that would
      create the careful "authenticity" that they were aiming for; if these
      were of no concern to Bill or to WETA, he would not have passed along
      what he was told in the first place, nor would there have been any time
      spent in the search for the offending runes. David, however, in
      continuing to assert the truth of the patently false account of the
      matter given by the commentators (not to mention such past escapades as
      his "analysis" of the drafts of Galadriel's Lament, based solely on his
      (mis)readings of third-hand notes) shows a contempt for facts, and for
      scholarly norms of fact-checking and assumption-checking, that takes
      the breath away. Second, all of Bill's actions were done in private;
      the only people in this sordid mess interested in "making a big splash"
      are the design-team commentators, who chose to cluck about the matter
      publicly (and falsely) to show their superiority, and David and
      Dorothea, who have seized upon this and spread it about their
      web-forums for their political purposes. Coming from David, who has
      made a career out of promoting his pseudo-scholarship in fabricating
      non-Tolkienian languages for the movies, to the point of issuing a
      press-release soliciting (and giving) interviews (and very little else;
      what, pray tell, has David actually published of his work that can be
      considered anything like scholarship, proper, of Tolkien's languages,
      proper?), the self-aggrandizing audacity and contempt for the facts and
      for the intelligence of those he seeks to dupe is unspeakably appalling.

      > that our discipline isn't one where people feel they have to provide
      evidence for their assertions,

      The very list that David created and "moderates" unfortunately shows
      that this is true, at least for the vast army of pseudo-scholars of
      David's and Helge's fabricated, non-Tolkienian systems that they pass
      off as "authentic" Tolkienian languages, who participate on Elfling.
      Happily, it is certainly _not_ true of actual scholars of Tolkien's
      actual work, who participate in actual scholarly forums and journals.

      > But you seem to have come in with an attitude that lent itself to
      misjudgments, and you made unwise
      > decisions that have had a bad effect overall.

      Physician, heal thyself.

      > I have been fighting a very long battle -- mostly unseen -- to
      convince people that Tolkien scholars,
      > and especially Tolkien linguists, are intelligent, competent, *human*
      beings -- you have no idea how often I
      > meet with the stereotype that we're arrogant, hostile, ivory-tower
      wannabes, whose pretensions are a good
      > deal greater than our knowledge.

      In reviewing the legacy of your "scholarship", political machinations,
      and populist self-promotion, I have a very good idea indeed of from
      where such a stereotype pertaining to any "we" that includes _you_ will
      have arisen. I however have never encountered any such stereotype of
      _scholars_ of _Tolkien's_ languages among any of the very many I have
      personally met and corresponded with.

      > I continually have to *prove* that a Tolkien linguist is someone who
      is even *approachable* ... and who
      > isn't more interested in being admired than in communicating.

      Perhaps you wouldn't have to prove this continually if you actually
      _wrote_ and _published_ on the subject* -- say, in the very forum you
      created and "moderate" -- instead of penning press-releases and giving
      interviews promoting your pseudo-scholarly fabrications, while
      neglecting any sort of responsibility for the contents of the list you
      "moderate" and claim as a scholarly forum. You might also find more
      success if you didn't include such pronouncements as:

      "All that we Tolkien linguists have to do to keep the nightmare of
      authoritarian control over Tolkien language publication from becoming a
      reality is to publish our works, and ignore the irrelevant and impotent
      threats of the Hostetters, their absurd slogans and tattered dogmas.
      They are irrelevant. They are the past. We are the future."

      in your repertoire of exemplars of intelligent, humble

      * Speaking of which, why have you still not published the "366-page
      book on Sindarin" that you mentioned in your _Wired_ magazine review
      some years ago? You have insisted repeatedly that there are no
      copyright issues involved; so assuming that you actually have the
      strength of your convictions (which I must assume you do, since you
      urge those convictions on others, and would surely not be so
      hypocritical or twisted as to preach one thing to others but practice
      another yourself, esp. where possible legal ramifications might arise),
      surely you could long ago published your work on the Internet. But
      perhaps you are hoping to receive some remuneration for your work by
      publishing it in dead-tree form, remuneration that will no doubt be
      increased by the promotion of yourself as the "Tolkien-language expert"
      responsible for the films' "authentic" Sindarin? But this can hardly be
      true of _you_, David, who is so passionately opposed to being "more
      interested in being admired than in communicating".

      Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org

      ho bios brachys, he de techne makre.
      Ars longa, vita brevis.
      The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
      "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take such
      a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."
    • Carl F. Hostetter
      P.S. I have just noticed that Dorothea Salo, supernally averse to self-promotion, nonetheless alerted the hugely-popular movie-related web site,
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 1, 2002
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        P.S. I have just noticed that Dorothea Salo, supernally averse to
        self-promotion, nonetheless alerted the hugely-popular movie-related
        web site, TheOneRing.net, to her web-log account of what she has called
        "The Khuzdul Incident", thereby ensuring that untold thousands, who
        would otherwise have not seen or not heeded it, will become aware of
        the distorted, erroneous, and mocking portrait of Bill Welden and
        Tolkienian linguists that she and the WETA design-team commentators
        have been pedaling. She has today even proudly trumpeted the increased
        exposure to her web-log and to the portrait that has resulted. And in
        characteristic Saloian fashion, she has publicly posted Bill Welden's
        private communication to her, without his permission and in clear
        violation of Bill's copyright. (At least Bill's recitation of the facts
        and his exemplary and greatly contrastive tone therein will hardly
        serve the Salo's purposes.)

        I won't be holding my breath for any equally public and promoted
        retraction or apology (or any retraction or apology at all) from either
        Dorothea or David, despite their surely genuine concerns for truth,
        fact-checking, and public perceptions of Tolkienian linguists and

        Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org

        ho bios brachys, he de techne makre.
        Ars longa, vita brevis.
        The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
        "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take such
        a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."
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