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Fragments of a grammar of "Nala Lambe"

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    On Dec. 12, 2012, Madeline J. Keyser posted on the TolkienLibrary.com site a report on Sixteen Philological Books and Notes from the Library of J.R.R.
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 7, 2013
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      On Dec. 12, 2012, Madeline J. Keyser posted on the "TolkienLibrary.com" site a report on "Sixteen Philological Books and Notes from the Library of J.R.R. Tolkien", held in the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M University. Among the images of notes in Tolkien's hand published in the course of this report, two are of particular interest to students of Tolkien's invented languages. Both of these are fragmentary, each occupying a single side of a torn half-sheet of paper. The date (or dates) of this fragments are uncertain, but from the style of Tolkien's handwriting and from the paper-type they appear to date from the early- to mid-1930s. They read:

      Fragment 1:

      .... They may not be used as nouns without change.
      The comparative suffixes are -{_�a_ >>} _nya_, compar[ative]; -_nta_ superl[ative].
      In a few cases � probably where what now appears as the adjectival stem
      really contains an old suffix as _bara_ 'good' = _ba_ + _ra_ � this is irregular.
      Thus _mora_ 'dark' _moranya_ darker _moranta_ darkest.
      _bara_ 'good' {_baranya_ better {baranta best.
      {_banya_ {banta
      -_nta_ is not merely augmentative. For augmentative suffixes see below.
      It is strictly comparative and requires no article.

      Fragment 2:

      ... significances being set aside, given a considerably higher ...
      syllables following or preceding.
      The main-stress normally occurs on the _vowel_ of the penultimate syllable.
      Certain formations (more rarely dissyllabic stems) are, however, 'dactylic'
      accenting the antepenult. In this case the position of the accent is always
      marked with the stress-mark �. The same sign is also used where
      final _o_, _e_ have been omitted, as occurs colloquially and in some cases
      regularly, after single r, s, n, l, t. [Thus _f�r_ (= f�r' for _faro_ 'bread') :
      in this case � shows omission of _o_/_e_ and also length of vowel, for the
      length of _fa:�ro_ is retained.]

      Although the author of the report posits that these note fragments refer to Germanic languages, in fact they are fragments of a grammar of an invented Elvish, or Elvish-influenced, language, apparently dating to sometime in the 1930s (judging by the style of handwriting and the type of paper). The surviving fragments of this grammar appear on a small number of torn half-sheets that are now found among Tolkien's manuscripts at the Bodleian Library (Tolkien used the backs of the scraps to write unrelated material), on one of which the (apparent) name of the language is given as "Nala Lambe" (where _nala_ is untranslated and of uncertain meaning � though perhaps cf. *ngal�mbe 'barbarous speech' < �GAL-/�GALAM- 'talk loud or incoherently', V:377; or NALA- 'ring, play', PE12:64 � but _lambe_ plainly relates to Q. _lambe_ 'tongue, language' < LAB-; cf. Q _parmalambe_ 'book-language', V:380 s.v. PAR-). It is uncertain whether all the material on the half-sheets at the Bodleian pertains to Nala Lambe, though several of them indisputably do � for example, four of the half sheets join up to form the first two pages of a grammar. And it is clear that at least Fragment 2 above describes Nala Lambe, as the discussion of the forms _f�r_, _f�r'_, and _faro_ in the Cushing fragment is repeated (with similar wording) on the second page of the reassembled Bodleian grammar of Nala Lambe. The internal evidence connecting Cushing's Fragment 1 with this material is less definitive, but the external evidence (paper, ink, handwriting, etc.) suggests that it very probably belongs with it. The speakers of Nala Lambe are unidentified in any fragment, and its precise nature is unclear, beyond the fact that it bears many similarities to Elvish.

      The language as evidenced here might appear at first to be of the Q(u)enya type, given the adjectival suffixes -_nya_ and -_nta_, which fit well phonologically with Q(u)enya but would be impermissible in any of the Goldogrin/Noldorin/Sindarin complex of languages; but on the other hand, initial _b_ is likewise impermissible in Q(u)enya. Noting that the adjective _bara_ 'good' bears a striking resemblance to Q(u). _m�ra_ 'good' (cf. Etym. MAG- "use, handle, in *_magra:�_ useful, fit, good (of things): Q _m�ra_, N _maer_", V:371), it might appear that this language underwent a change of initial *_m-_ > _b-_. However, the form _mora_ 'dark', which is transparently related to the base MOR- (whence Q. _more_ 'black', _m�re_ 'blackness, dark, night', V:373) shows that the normal development of initial *_m-_ would be _m-_, not _b-_. It might be that _bara_ is intended as a derivative of a variant (though unattested) form *MBAG- of MAG- (bases with such M-/MB- variants do occur, cf. Etym. MASAG-, MBAS- 'knead'); and if so, the change of initial *_mb-_ > _b-_ would parallel that which Tolkien indicated for the Danian, East Danian, and Taliska in the "Comparative Tables" of sound-changes associated with the _Tengwesta Qenderinwa_ of c. 1937 (PE19:20), all of which Tolkien notes are of "a Germanic type". This in turn suggests that the language described in this fragment may be intended to be another such Germanic-type language, or perhaps is a conceptual precursor to one of these Germanic-type languages.

      The form _faro_ 'bread' of Nala Lambe may similarly � but more problematically � be intended to be related to Etym. MBAS- 'knead', whence Q. _masta_, N _bast_, S _-bas_ 'bread', with initial *_mb-_ > _f-_; or perhaps to related MASAG- 'knead, make soft by rubbing, kneading', with initial *_m-_ > _f-_; with in either case rhotacization of medial _-s-_ > _-r-_. Both derivations are problematic, however, since the form _mora_ 'dark' would seem to rule out a development of initial *_m-_ > _f-_, while a development of initial *_mb-_ > _f-_ would be in unconditioned variance with the development *_mb-_ > _b-_ proposed for _bara_ 'good'. So if _faro_ 'bread' is indeed to be related to MBAS-, it may require that the proximate source was (possibly Noldorin) *_bas-_, with the subsequent development of initial *_b-_ > _f-_. (It may be significant in this regard that Danian, East Danian, and Taliska are all indicated by Tolkien as having a "notable, aberrant development" of initial *_p-_ > _f-_ � i.e., the same development described by Grimm's Law for the Germanic languages � in the "Comparative Tables", p. 18; though of course the devoicing would also have to be accounted for.)

      -- Carl F. Hostetter
      Patrick H. Wynne

      We thank the Tolkien Estate for permission to publish the transcript of these fragments and to refer to the other fragments in the Bodleian.
    • Carl
      I just noticed that the link to the original post containing the fragments was edited out by the Yahoo text engine. Hopefully this will work:
      Message 2 of 2 , Jan 7, 2013
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        I just noticed that the link to the original post containing the fragments was edited out by the Yahoo text engine. Hopefully this will work:


        -- Carl F. Hostetter
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