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84Dictionaries (Re: Notes on Óre...)

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  • Helios De Rosario Martinez
    Jun 26, 2002
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      Foreword: My name is Helios De Rosario Martínez, I am from Spain and
      therefore my citations are from the Spanish editions of Tolkien's
      works. Please excuse me for the inconvenience it would cause.

      Edition of MC cited: JRR Tolkien - transl. Eduardo Segura:
      _Los Monstruos y los Críticos y otros ensayos_. Ed. Minotauro,
      Barcelona, 1998.

      Carl F. Hostetter wrote:
      > This dictionary approach is not only not good linguistics,
      > it is not even good translation.

      True it is, and so wordlists result to be a less useful tool than new
      scholars tend to believe, as it occurs with any language, artificial
      or historical. However that does not necessarily mean that it is no
      good in compling dictionaries, but that dictionary authors would do
      better if they have another aim in mind rather than only providing
      easy word translations.

      I'm thinking now in some comparison between Quenya and Old English, as
      nowadays-non-spoken languages they both are, and so entirely dependent
      on their context for an accurate use. (Although that context is quite
      different from one to another: one is an historical, widely attested
      tongue, the other an artificial one, only briefly attested in some
      nouns and sentences in Tolkien's fiction books.) Tolkien remarks how a
      superficial translation form OE into modern English, based only on
      apparent meanings and comparisons between old and actual English
      words, is usually wrong or inaccurate:

      (What follows is my translation back into English from Spanish text,
      not original words by Tolkien. Now you can compare and make me know
      whether I converted "willing spirit" into "vodka strong"):

      "Translating each single word means, or should mean, more than the
      simple indication of its general sense: for instance, to be contented
      with the word 'shield' for translating Old English words _bord_,
      _lind_, _rand_ and _scyld_. The variation, the _sound_ of different
      words, is a feature of style that should be represented in some
      extent, even if differences of the original meaning are omitted by the
      poet or are no longer remembered, which in primitive Anglosaxon poetry
      probably happened less frequently than supposed. But in cases where
      Old English has elaborated a long list of synonyms, or partial
      cognates, in order to express things to which heroic Northern verse
      had a special relation -- such as the sea, ships, swords and specially
      men (warriors and sailors) --, sometimes it shall be impossible to
      comprise its richness of variation even with the most indiscriminate
      collection of words" - MC:75-76 (Spanish)

      That might be compared with what Mr. Hostetter says about rough
      translations by "quenya speakers", is it not?

      Following this thread: there are many books on Old English, from
      guides to beginners until great treatises; there are also brief
      wordlists (many of them as an appendix to those "guides to OE"), and
      on the opposite there are huge works like the Anglosaxon dictionary by
      Bosworth & Toller. Each one has its own purpose: Beginners would feel
      scared if they should read nearly one whole column of the Bosworth
      dictionary "only" to know that _burh_ means "castle" or "stronghold".
      But of course that is only fragmentary information, and does not take
      account of the context of that word, its relation and difference with
      other words as modern _burg_, _burgh_ or _borough_; an advanced
      scholar of Old English would never be satisfied with the sort-and-easy
      translation.

      And turning again to Quenya. We may have a great amount of
      Quenya-to-English / English-to-Quenya lexicons in internet and printed
      books (as _Introduction to Elvish_, _Basic Quenya_, _Languages of
      Middle Earth_... to say some well-known examples; in Spanish we also
      have _La Lengua de los Elfos_, by Luis González Baixauli, Ed.
      Minotauro, Barcelona 1999). Those lexicons are a good basis to get
      introduced into the matter, buy they should not be taken as the
      ultimate tool to "learn Quenya". Just as happens with any other
      language. But there goes my question: would it be good for advanced
      scholars to have a more complex dictionary of Quenya or Sindarin, with
      citations and thorough analyses, as Bosworth-Toller dictionary of
      Anglosaxon has?

      It would require an important amount of work for the relatively small
      corpus of those tongues that we have, so I don't know whether it would
      be judged worth the trouble. But sometimes I fantasized with such a
      thing: A dictionary that provided a full record of meanings,
      compounds, occurrences and etymologies attested in Tolkien's texts for
      each word. It would not have to be restricted to some hypotetical
      stage of Quenya or Qenya (nor Gnomish/Noldorin/Sindarin, if it would
      be the case), because citations would provide the date and full
      context of the word in question.

      Some lexicons made by other scholars attempt to do something like
      that, but (as far as the lexicons I know) they only give details of
      precise etymology of the most "modern" (in Tolkien-lifetime) forms;
      they also mention older forms and meanings, but just as comments.
      About their meanings, the matter is the same: detailed explanations
      are sometimes given in those lexicons, and even references to
      Tolkien's books (they do not copy the quotes, only provide the title
      and page number); but those explanations and most references are
      usually only the most modern ones. Of course, this is due that the
      main goal of those lexicons is to help "Quenya speakers" as Mr.
      Hostetter defined them, and not study Quenya as an artistic creation.
      A more complete dictionary like I described I do not know of, and as I
      told before, I don't know whether ever would be made.

      Helios.