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659The two Sindarins - fiction & invention

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  • cgilson75
    Apr 16, 2004
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      The following (edited?) paragraph was included in a post from me

      >Given that Sindarin is a language that, in the mythology, human
      beings are capable of learning to speak (see Appendix F), it seems
      reasonable to hypothesize that similar cognitive strategies underlie
      the interplay of redundancy and ambiguity that seems evident in its
      syntax, though our insights must depend largely on a much better
      understanding of the inner workings of our own native languages.

      The paragraph I actually intended to be posted began as follows:

      > Given that Sindarin is a language human beings are capable of
      learning to speak (see Appendix F), it seems reasonable to hypothesize
      that [...]

      The difference is subtle, but I think important to the point I was
      trying to make. So I would like to offer some clarifation and
      further thoughts on the matter.

      Tolkien invented a language which he (eventually) called Sindarin.
      Certain things are (demonstrably) true about the language either from
      assertions made by Tolkien, or logical inferences from those
      assertions. There are also (of course) a virtually limitless number
      of things that are untrue about Sindarin and a (large?) grey area of
      those that might be true, some perhaps in mutually exclusive sets and
      some either more or less likely than each other.

      Tolkien used Sindarin as a part of the background detail in his
      fictional stories. In a sense these constitute a sort of extended
      "thought experiment" involving a premise: If the invented language
      were actually spoken by people, what would that be like? As a
      consequence of this the demonstrable facts about Sindarin fall into
      two categories. (1) Some are 'circumstantially' true about the
      language as used in the fictional world of the story, e.g. there is a
      person whose name is _Legolas_ which means 'green-leaves' in Sindarin.
      (2) Others are facts about Sindarin per se, e.g. that _laeg_ is a
      word for 'green', and _lass_ for 'leaf' (Letter #211).

      Of course these categories are intimately connected, since all of the
      non-circumstantial facts about Sindarin per se are by implication true
      of it as the fictional "language" spoken by people in Tolkien's
      stories. But this is only *by implication*, and certainly nothing
      prevented Tolkien from devising *circumstantial* facts about Sindarin
      as a langage that were not supposed to be realized in the fictional
      world. For instance the fact that the beginning of the Lord's Prayer
      has been translated into Sindarin as _Ae adar nín i vi Menel_ is
      not necessarily true within Tolkien's mythology. And Tolkien's own
      recorded pronunciations of Sindarin words and names are facts about
      the invented language but not facts inside the fiction.

      For these and other various reasons I prefer to discuss Sindarin
      primarily as an invented language, and only allude to its use as
      background in the stories where the circumstances of that usage are
      relevant to the argument. Consequently my original assertion (or
      rather really a hypothetical stipulation) "that Sindarin is a language
      human beings are capable of learning to speak" was intended to be
      about Sindarin per se.

      This did not seem *to me* to be in any way controversial -- Tolkien is
      a human being and he invented Sindarin, and he gave a great deal of
      care toward the verisimilitude of the language by closely modeling the
      components of the phonology, morpohology, syntax and much of the
      semantics on actual languages of human beings. In other words
      Sindarin contains an abundance of features in each of its linguistic
      components that human beings are capable of (and in many cases have
      already) learned.

      All of this has been long known and thoroughly discussed. The only
      possible way in which Sindarin could be beyond the mental or physical
      capabilities of human beings to learn would be if Tolkien imagined
      some difference between human beings and his imaginary elves that was
      essential to the ability to learn to speak the language. Appendix F
      shows that he imagined no such thing -- hence my reference to it.

      Possibly there was some confusion between the human *capability* to
      learn Sindarin and the existence of sufficient evidence about the
      details of Sindarin to provide an *opportunity* for present-day humans
      to learn to speak Sindarin. Two very different matters, about the
      latter of which I haven't seen any convincing linguistic argument one
      way or the other, and so offered no opinion.

      -- Christopher Gilson

      [Chris and I clearly have differing opinions about how such a claim as
      "Sindarin is a language that human beings are capable of learning to
      speak" is likely to be interpreted without further clarification. In a time
      and medium where the false notion that Quenya and Sindarin are
      languages that people can learn to speak, like French or Spanish, is
      rampant, I feel it is important to avoid anything that might be used by
      others to give credence to the notion. Moreover, if we can take a
      statement by Tolkien about the capability of (certain) humans in the
      mythology to speak Sindarin as implying that it was his intention that
      we non-mythological humans could do so as well (if, as you further
      note, given the opportunity) -- as indeed I think we can, although it
      is to be noted that Tolkien also tells us that there are characteristic
      mistakes that Men make, and that the Sindarin as spoken by Men did
      differ in some respects from that spoken by the Elves* -- without the
      need even to acknowledge the existence of the underlying assumption,
      then I don't see how conveying the fact that the reference to Appendix
      F is to specifically to Tolkien stating that Sindarin was known and spoken
      by (certain) Men within the mythology detracts in any way from an
      argument based on the cognitive and linguistic faculties and capacties of
      humans in general: even left unspecified, the underlying assumption that
      the Men of Middle-earth were in all respects pertaining to the cognitive
      and linguistic faculties and capacties equivalent to us remains. CFH]

      [*Nor are we necessarily to assume that Tolkien saw linguistic capacities
      as the same across a race, at least not within the mythology. In one text
      (XI:26) we are given a good indication to the contrary: "the Noldor learned
      the Sindarin tongue far more readily than the Sindar could learn the
      ancient speech".]
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