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Salo on "experts" (was Re: Sindarin translation?)

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    In Elfling message 34850 ( ), Phillip Wayne advises an inquirer about David Salo s book, _A Gateway to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2008
      In Elfling message 34850 (<http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/34850>),
      Phillip Wayne advises an inquirer about David Salo's book, _A Gateway to Sindarin_,

      > You might also try googling his book to see differing opinions of its
      > quality and value before investing real cash.

      The opinions referred to are chiefly those of myself and other colleagues in
      Tolkien language scholarship, represented by various internet reviews of Salo's
      book. I link to them here (in chronological order) for ease of reference:

      Hostetter, Carl, "David Salo's _A Gateway to Sindarin_":
      Wynne, Patrick, "Inaccurate translations in David Salo's _A Gateway to Sindarin_":
      Bellett, Bertrand, "_A Gateway to Sindarin_ by David Salo: a review":
      Renk, Thorsten, "David Salo: A Gateway to Sindarin: a critical discussion":

      David Salo responded to this in message 34852
      (<http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/34852>), asking Phillip:

      > Do you happen to have an opinion of your own on the subject of the
      > "quality and value" of A Gateway to Sindarin, Philip? One that's not
      > based on 'googling' but on your own analysis and criticism? I'm just
      > curious.

      Phillip responds to this query in message 34866

      > Yes, I do have an opinion on it. However, I do not consider it my particular
      > place to play the peculiar, if you will. Your book is mentioned many times,
      > by many experts. What is a poor man to do but trust in the word of those
      > self-same experts (and I do include you in that lot, Mr. Salo). If we do no
      > trust you, and people like you, then where would suggest we turn?

      Phillip here highlights both the thrust of and flaw in Salo's question: sc., the
      implication that the opinions of others as regards the quality and value of Salo's
      work are unimportant, no matter how informed, factual, and documented those
      opinions might be; all that matters is that someone _might_ have a more positive
      opinion the quality and value of Salo's book, no matter how uninformed that opinion
      might be. In other words, so long as Salo's book _might_ be favorably reviewed by
      _some_ reader, no matter that reader's level of knowledge of the subject, then it
      matters not a whit what those most informed about Sindarin (through long years of
      study and writing) think of the quality and value of the book. In other words
      still: so long as Salo can fool at least one person into thinking his book really
      does describe Sindarin, then the criticism of those who know from long study that
      the book in fact does _not_ describe Sindarin, has no bearing on the quality or
      value of _Gateway to Sindarin_. Phillip, fortunately, sees what Salo is attempting
      to do here; hopefully others see this too.

      In Elfling message 34867 (<http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/34867>),
      Salo responds again to Phillip:

      > You're asking the wrong person in the wrong forum. I became involved in
      > Tolkien language studies in the mid-1990s because I was skeptical of the
      > opinions of the self-proclaimed "experts" of the time.

      Who, one is left to wonder, are these "self-proclaimed 'experts'"? And where
      exactly did they proclaim themselves experts? As usual, Salo isn't saying.

      Indeed, I'm not aware that anyone has ever touted their own expertise _except for
      Salo himself_. To whit, Salo's own _press release_, unassumingly titled "HE'S LORD
      OF THE 'RINGS' LANGUAGE", the _sole purpose_ of which is to proclaim his mastery of
      Tolkien's languages and solicit interviews on the basis of it
      (<http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/?id=RINGS.UWI>). Salo is also certainly
      content to have himself _described_ as an expert by those who interview him; even
      as "the world's leading expert"; e.g.: "Salo, 33, is a UW-Madison doctoral
      candidate in linguistics, but more importantly, at least to movie fans, he's
      probably the world's leading expert on Sindarin and [Quenya], the Elvish languages
      author J.R.R. Tolkien invented" (<http://www.madison.com/archives/read.php?

      Also note that Salo now claims that the reason he "became involved in Tolkien
      language studies" was precisely because he "was skeptical of the opinions of the
      self-proclaimed 'experts' of the time". It has always been clear, I think, that
      Salo's interest in participating in the shared study of Tolkien's languages was
      (and is still) fundamentally iconoclastic and adversarial, in that what motivated
      him, as he now admits, and what clearly motivates him still, is primarily a desire
      to direct attention _away_ from the scholarship of others (particularly that which
      is or was published in journals and forums and books other than his own); and so,
      necessarily, instead to direct the focus to _his_ writings, _his_ viewpoints, _his_
      forum, and _his_ book. He has done so consistently, from the very beginning of his
      public participation in Tolkienian linguistics, by averting (or pretending to) both
      his own gaze and others' from the whole history of Tolkienian linguistics, from
      other scholarly vehicles and forums, and from the scholarship developed in them.
      This is an effort that continues to this day, including in this his latest posting,
      in which he again treats the criticisms of his work, and the viewpoints of others,
      as of no importance, indeed essentially as though they were non-existent.

      > I don't place any trust in "expertise" in this field, not even my own;

      Indeed, Salo doesn't even place any trust in _Tolkien's_ expertise, as has been
      amply demonstrated in the reviews of his work listed above, which note Salo's easy
      willingness to 1) alter what Tolkien wrote to fit his own purposes and 2) dismiss
      or even simply ignore Tolkien's own statements about his languages that happen not
      to agree with Salo's own "theories". Salo even boasts about this in interviews:
      "He's made study trips to Marquette University in Milwaukee, which houses the
      Tolkien archives, and has become expert enough that he can point out where Tolkien
      made mistakes writing in his own invented languages. 'Just because you invented the
      language doesn't mean you're the best at writing it out,' he said"
      See the reviews linked above for assessments of Salo's success in "correcting"

      > I certainly make mistakes.

      As do we all. But the problem is not that Salo made mistakes; rather, the problems
      are that:

      1) Salo has yet to _acknowledge_ any of the (many) mistakes in _Gateway to Sindarin_,
      many specific instances of which are noted in the reviews linked to above. Instead,
      he is content to a) let the mistakes stand uncorrected and b) divert attention from
      those critics who have enough knowledge of Tolkien's languages to recognize and point
      out those mistakes.

      2) Salo didn't just "make mistakes", he made _up_ "data", and presented it as though it
      were attested; again, as detailed in the reviews linked to above.

      3) Salo could have _avoided_ these "mistakes" if only he'd chosen not to limit his peer
      review to a) people who know virtually nothing about Tolkien's languages and b) people
      who have long deferred to his methods and opinions about Tolkien's languages.

      > _A Gateway to Sindarin_ was never intended to be the last word
      > in Sindarin studies, but a stop-gap to fill a hole that had long existed.

      What "hole" was this? Indeed, some of the reviewers linked above wonder aloud just what
      the purpose of this book is, and what benefit can be derived from it, without finding
      any clear answers. Is the "hole" a lack of a pseudo-Sindarin constructed mostly from
      Noldorin, with all the facts that inconveniently failed to fit into the construct
      reshaped to fit, dismissed as an error by Tolkien, or simply ignored? In fact, that had
      already been largely constructed by Salo and Fauskanger on _Ardalambion_. Or is the
      "hole" a dearth of actual scholarship on actual Sindarin? In fact, that had been being
      conducted for many, many years before Salo's "skepticism" about the "experts" prompted
      him to start writing (though of course to read his book you'd hardly know that any
      scholarship other than Salo's exists). Indeed, it appears that the only "hole" that
      _Gateway to Sindarin_ actually "fills" is that of a version of Salo's monograph on his
      pseudo-Sindarin construct that he could sell....

      > Its purpose was twofold: one, to gather in one place all the primary
      > material (texts, vocabulary, nomenclature) on Sindarin that then existed;
      > two, to present an analysis of as much of that material as seemed analysable.

      These purposes, of course, do not require a commercial book. So there was in fact at
      least one additional purpose....

      > The chief complaint against the books seems to be that it presented *my*
      > analysis, and not somebody else's. I am afraid that fault was hardly avoidable.

      Here we come to the portion of Salo's defense of his work that is known in rhetoric as
      "a straw-man argument", and an "appeal to sympathy"; or, more colloquially, as "a bald-
      faced lie". I've read (I think) _all_ of the reviews of Salo's work that have been
      published in any form, and _not one of them_ has criticized Salo's work for "presenting
      his own analysis". In _fact_, the most common criticism of the work, particularly among
      informed reviewers (i.e., reviewers who have themselves actually published scholarship
      on Tolkien's languages), is that in it Salo "presents" so much "evidence" that is, in
      fact, _entirely of Salo's devising_ (and further, that Salo presents this "evidence" in
      his work as though it _were_ attested). Salo _still_ will not even acknowledge this
      criticism, and he is even now _still_ trying to dismiss it out of hand and divert
      attention from it.

      (I'll also note again that at various points Salo _does_ in fact present "somebody
      else's analysis"; it just happens that he presents such prior analyses by others _as
      though they originated with him_.)

      > Its chief remedy would be for the book's critics to write books and articles
      > of their own presenting their theories in full.

      Not that Salo would acknowledge that work in any way, just as he did not acknowledge in
      _Gateway_ any of the vast amounts of published work that preceded his.

      > What I would suggest is not "turning to experts", but learning enough about
      > the source materials to make up your own mind, and discussing your theories
      > with others.

      I agree entirely!* Which is yet another reason to avoid Salo's book, since what you'll
      learn there often has little or no connection to "the source materials", but instead
      derives solely from Salo's pen. As Thorsten Renk notes (see link above), "[_Gateway_]
      cannot be used as a reference for scholarly studies - Salo's many alterations of
      Tolkien's material, the lack of distinction between Tolkien-made and Salo-made historic
      forms and the inaccuracy in providing Tolkien's own translations make this impossible".

      * Of course, whenever anyone _else_ suggests that it's best to learn from "the source
      materials", i.e., from Tolkien's own writings about his own languages, Salo and his
      cohorts mock and caricature them as purists and Tolkien worshippers.

      And I'm not at all convinced that Salo himself actually agrees with his suggestion; if
      Salo thinks that one should study "the source materials" and "make up your own mind",
      rather than "turning to experts"f, why then is he _selling a book on the subject_ (and
      one that is full of "evidence" found _nowhere_ in the sources, but is solely the
      product of Salo's pen)? Clearly he _does_ in fact consider _his own_ "mind" on the
      subject to be something that others ought to turn to -- and even to pay for! Can Salo
      really have it both ways, as he evidently wishes? "Pay no attention to what those
      'experts' say about Tolkien's languages; but do please buy my book and study what _I_
      have to say!"

      > That's why Elfling exists; not to be a mountaintop from which
      > the law can be laid down by a few enlightened "experts", but to be an equal
      > forum where everybody gets to be an expert,

      Unless, of course, you dare to criticize Salo's work. Which you should buy.

      > and no theory is above criticism.

      Just pay no attention to the criticisms of those "experts".

      > If you have opinions about Elvish languages, this is precisely the place to
      > state them.

      Unless, of course, you dare to criticize Salo's work.

      David Salo: liberating "Tolkien's" languages from the "experts" and their "facts", by
      making stuff up, selling books, issuing press releases, and silencing critics.

      Carl F. Hostetter
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