Quenya aorist (was Re: VT 49: a review)
- Over on Elfling, in message 34172
(<http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/34172>), David Salo writes:
> The aorist/present distinction, however, is not between events that are statesDavid doesn't state on what he bases this definition of the aorist, but if he
> (real or expected), and those that are sporadic or occasional events; it's
> between events which have (or are perceived or represented to have) no
> duration, that is to take place at imagined instants of time, and those which
> have (or are perceived or represented to have) some duration over time.
means it to describe how Tolkien used the aorist tense in Quenya, it seems
to fall short of the mark. The aorist in Quenya is certainly not limited to
instantaneous action, as numerous examples show: e.g., _i karir quettar
ómatainen_ 'those who form (aorist) words with voices' (XI:391), _lá karita
i hamil mára alasaila (ná)_ 'not to do (aorist infinitive) what you judge
(aorist) good (would be) unwise' (VT42:33), etc.
It seems evident to me, from looking at all of the now numerous examples
of Tolkien's use of aorist verbs, that by "aorist" Tolkien simply means what
that word literally means: Greek _aoristos_ `indefinite' < _a-_ 'not' +
_horizein_ 'define, limit'. That is, the aorist as Tolkien uses it is simply
indefinite as to time; it is, in a sense, tenseless, unspecified and unlimited
as to past, present, or future time. Hence the general, habitual, and gnomic
nature of the attested exemplars, including those just given.
It is true that the aorist in Ancient Greek particularly (and in many Indo-
European languages) is most often used as a simple past; but it is not
_exclusively_ used as a simple past. The primary denotation of the aorist is
simply "indefinite", and that seems to be precisely how Tolkien uses it.
- I too find the similarity in form and meaning between
_sanya_ 'regular, law-abiding, normal' (V:388) and
_senya_ 'usual' intriguing (see VT49:22), but I wonder
if it is not just a chance resemblance from a
story-internal point of view. Still there might be an
external connection. The editor argues that _senya_
might be related to _sen-_ 'let loose, free, let go':
'If _senwa_, _senya_ originally meant 'freed,
unconstrained', this could naturally give rise to the
sense 'normal, usual', referring to the "default"
behavior or attitude of a person or thing'. But a
similar argument could be made for Q _senda_ 'resting,
at peace' < SED (V:385). It could conceivably have
referred to the natural state of a thing when left
undisturbed: the state to which a thing returns when
left at peace. So a sense 'natural, normal' might have
developed. Internally, would a blend of derivatives of
STAN and SED be possible? Externally, is it possible
that Tolkien mixed them up?
[A member of the VT review panel also suggested that I
include Q. _senda_ as a possible cognate of _senya_; but
the fact that the former derives from SED- seemed to me
to argue against this -- _senda_ is presumably from *_sed-_
+ adj. _-na_, whereas _sed-_ + adj. _-ya_ would evidently
yield *_serya_. Perhaps we could suppose that _senya_ is
from *_sed-nya_ > *_sendya_ > _senya_, or that adj. _-ya_
was added to a variant *_send-_, with nasal infix. In any
event, I agree that SED- is certainly a possibility as an
etymon of _senya_, and I ought to have mentioned it
I don't know if such a 'blend' would help explain
_sennui_ in the King's Letter (IX:129), although a
meaning such as 'truly' would fit the context nicely.
However I doubt that _sennui_ is connected to _sen-_
'let loose, free, let go' as suggested in VT49:35
n.26. To me, it seems no more likely that Tolkien
would have referred to _Panthael_ as a 'looser' or
'freer' rendition of _Perhael_ than that he would have
accepted _full moon_ as a 'loose' or 'free' rendition
of _half-moon_. Speaking of _sennui_ though, there is
_sennas_ in Sennas Iaur 'Old Guesthouse' (RC:523)
which might be < SED (*sendasse?) and refer to a
resting-place. Is there a connection? I doubt it, but
still it might be worth mentioning.
[You are right that attempting to explain _sennui_ as
referring to a "loose" rendition of a name is rather weak.
I had completely overlooked _Sennas Iaur_ in the RC;
thanks for pointing it out -- your interpretation of _sennas_
as *'resting-place' seems quite probable to me. -- PHW]
On another note, the use of _epe_ to mean either
'before' (spatially) or 'after' (temporally) (VT49:12)
must have been quite confusing to the poor Elves! --
not to mention _apa_ being glossed as both 'before, of
time' and 'after (later than)' (VT44:36). In XI:387,
there is Q. _apanónar_ 'after-born' next to S.
_aphad-_ 'follow' < _ap-pata_ 'walk behind, on a track
or path'. At this time _ap(a)_ thus meant 'after (of
time)' and 'behind'. At some other stage _ap-pata_
would probably have meant *'walk ahead of' instead!
(Provided that apa/epe were indeed variants of the
same stem, and that the semantics were the same in
[The whole 'before' and 'after' thing only seems confusing
to US, of course, because a) Tolkien was constantly changing
the meaning of the various stems, and b) even had the stems
been utterly stable, we are non-native students of fragmentarily
attested dead languages -- much that seems confusing to us
would not have given a native speaker a moment's pause.
Interesting point about _aphad-_ 'follow'. The sense of _ap-_
in this form _might_ nonetheless be temporal rather than spatial
-- yes, to 'follow' or 'walk behind' somebody you must be
physically located _behind_ them, but you must also be going
_after_ them in time -- you cannot follow somebody's path
unless they have already proceeded along that path at an
earlier time. -- PHW]
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