Past/perfect in Eldarin
- It seems to me that there is considerable confusion in the discussion
of past/perfect tenses of Eldarin verbs. That's often caused by lack
of appropriate terminology, in my humble opinion. The tense systems of
languages are different; some languages don't even have tenses at all.
Usage of perfect tense is different even between American and British
English, so one should be VERY careful with interpretations of
Tolkien's glosses. When he translates an Elvish sentence with a
perfect, it doesn't mean Elves would use a perfect in their language,
and the same goes for past tense or present. We have trouble calling
things by their names even in English. Here's an example from the
Ardalambion website (the article about Sindarin):
'If someone sees you, you are seen; "seen" is therefore the passive
participle of the verb "to see". "Seen" is actually irregular; in most
cases, English forms its passive participles by means of the ending
-ed (e.g. killed from kill).'
This is absolutely misleading. What's passive in "I have seen the
light"? So "past participle" would be better here, but it's not
entirely correct, too: "You are seen" is present tense. What "seen"
actually means, is the RESULT of the action described by the verb
"see". So let's call it a RESULTATIVE participle.
Of course, there is some tense information implied: in order to give a
result already, the action must have begun in the past. Could it be
that the most primitive past tense in Quenya (or even PQ) is actually
a resultative? Let's consider examples from "The Lost Road" [V: 51]
(sorry, I have to use a circumflex instead of the original macron):
_sauron tûle_ (translation: "? came"), _ohtakâre valannar_ ("war-made
Now we find quite a few NOUNS in Etymologies built in the same way: a
naked root meaning an action, with lengthened vowel and the suffix _-e_:
ORO- "up, rise, high" and _óre_ "rising", [V:422]
NUT- "tie, bind" and _núte_ "bond, knot" [V:422]
NOT- "count, reckon" and _nóte_ "number" [V:422]
SIR- "flow" and _síre_ "river" [V:430]
All of those nouns mean the (persistent) result of the corresponding
action, and I could give more examples easily.
So the old form of the past could be just a verbal noun meaning a
result, originally. And these forms were never really abandoned by
JRRT! If _?*tûlê_ is the PQ original, it would be _tûl_ in Sindarin.
Maybe _tûl acharn_ instead of _tôl acharn_ (I'm told it's in WJ:254,
301) is just the resultative "vengeance has come" instead of
"vengeance comes"? When I finally receive the book from Amazon, I'll
check whether this interpretation is possible. Right now, I have to
quote it from more or less reliable secondary sources, where I don't
have a context, and I don't like that at all.
We know for certain that _*akâra_ > S. _agor_ ( "did, made", WJ:415),
and it's clear that the good old _?*ânê_ > Q. _áne_ (said to be in the
Qenya Lexicon 1915) was always around in LotR in Sindarin (the _onen_
"I gave" from Gilraen's _linnod_, LotR:1036).
I certainly don't have to mention the _unduláve_ from _Namárie_ (LotR,
368). I still think it derives from DAB-, not from LAB-, sorry! :-)
Thus, the past/perfect of Eldarin verbs seems to be one of the most
stable parts of the grammar.
This is only one form of the past. Let's return to the "irregular"
(sorry, it's a quote!!!) participle "seen". It's rather regular for a
linguist, taking into account participles like "been, done, gone,
spoken, hewn, fallen" and many more. All are formed in the same
"irregular" way, with a suffix "-(e)n(e)". And that's exactly the way
how another past tense of Eldarin verbs is built. Knowing to some
extent how JRRT worked, I doubt it's just a coincidence.
But that past tense is another story, which will be told in another
- Hans's post raises some interesting questions. I'd like to note
that ultimately Tolkien's own terminology for Eldarin parts of
speech must be given primacy of place over anything devised
by those of us who study his languages. Regarding Hans's reference
to "resultative" participles, for example, it is worth noting that
Tolkien often explicity labels some forms as "past participles",
e.g., _rákina_ "past participle of _rák-_ 'break'" (MC:223) or
the "past participle form _vanwa_" (XI:366). Similarly, Tolkien
also seems quite comfortable with the terms "past" and "perfect"
with regard to the Quenya tense system, e.g., in the discussion
of _auta-_ in _Quendi and Eldar_ (ibid.) This is not meant as a
specific rebuttal or rejoinder to the points raised in Hans's post --
but it is worth reiterating at the commencement of this thread
that _Tolkien's_ own grammatical terminology as applied to
Elvish is the only terminology that truly matters. Studying his use of
terms such as "past participle", "past tense", "perfect tense"
etc. undoubtedly has much to teach us.
-- Patrick Wynne
- --- In lambengolmor@y..., "pa2rick" <pwynne@g...> wrote:
> This is not meant as a specific rebuttal or rejoinder to the pointsThat's true, and I didn't understand it as a rebuke, since my comments
> raised in Hans's post -- but it is worth reiterating at the commencement
> of this thread that _Tolkien's_ own grammatical terminology as applied
> to Elvish is the only terminology that truly matters.
were aimed at the terminology used for ENGLISH participles like "seen"
or "killed" on the Ardalambion website.
> Studying his use of terms such as "past participle", "past tense",I'm looking forward to read _Quendi and Eldar_, finally. I've ordered
> "perfect tense" etc. undoubtedly has much to teach us.
both WJ and SD through Amazon.
I plan to post a few more thoughts about Elvish participles only after
that: I don't trust the information I found at Ardalambion. Most forms
are just reconstructed (and the really attested forms are not marked,
let alone given references), so I have to check the original sources,
- gentlebeldin wrote:
> --- In lambengolmor@y..., "pa2rick" <pwynne@g...> wrote:Unlike Pat, I can very well imagine situations where it may be
> > [...] it is worth reiterating at the commencement of this
> > thread that _Tolkien's_ own grammatical terminology as
> > applied to Elvish is the only terminology that truly matters.
> [...] my comments were aimed at the terminology used for ENGLISH
> participles like "seen" or "killed" on the Ardalambion website.
advantageous to use categories, or names from them, different
from the ones JRRT used, even in a discussion of his languages.
That said, anyone doing so must keep in mind that JRRT's terms
and categories are the ones that the audience can reasonably be
expected to be familiar with, so any departure from them carries
the risk of misunderstanding. Great caution is therefore advised.
Yet if the commonly accepted way of thinking and speaking about
JRRT's languages is at all able to evolve beyond JRRT's own usage,
it is in places such as this one, where they are the subject of
By contrast, English is not our subject here, and while we may
think that the established grammatical/linguistic terminology
applied to English is suboptimal (as it often is), parting ways
with it on this forum is probably never advisable. Ardalambion
may be criticised for any number of things, but the fact that
it uses standard English terms for the categories of English
isn't one of them.
Re participles: I don't see why a participle can't be past
and/or passive just because it can be part of constructions
that are themselves not past and/or not passive.
<fa-al-_haylu wa-al-laylu wa-al-baydA'u ta`rifunI
wa-as-sayfu wa-ar-rum.hu wa-al-qir.tAsu wa-al-qalamu>
(Abu t-Tayyib Ahmad Ibn Hussayn al-Mutanabbi)
Ivan A Derzhanski <http://www.math.bas.bg/ml/iad/>
H: cplx Iztok bl 91, 1113 Sofia, Bulgaria <iad@...>
W: Dept for Math Lx, Inst for Maths & CompSci, Bulg Acad of Sciences
- --- In lambengolmor@y..., Ivan A Derzhanski <iad@m...> wrote:
> By contrast, English is not our subject here, and while we mayIndeed, we should avoid misunderstandings. But I thought I made clear
> think that the established grammatical/linguistic terminology
> applied to English is suboptimal (as it often is), parting ways
> with it on this forum is probably never advisable.
I was speaking of the group of participles of strong verbs like "been,
seen, done, gone, fallen, spoken", having the suffix "(e)n(e)", like
in one kind of Eldarin past tense (coincidence or not). If you tell me
"passive participle" (and "irregular") is the standard term for that,
so be it. As you said, English grammar isn't our main concern, here.
> Re participles: I don't see why a participle can't be pastMaybe. Quite a few of the participles mentioned above are formed from
> and/or passive just because it can be part of constructions
> that are themselves not past and/or not passive.
intransitive verbs, however, so they can't possibly be used in ANY
passive construction. "Suboptimal terminology" would be a mild way to
put it, then.
Concerning another point: If we want to compare Elvish languages and
their tense structure with other languages, we won't be able to avoid
the established terminology in this area entirely. And "resultative"
is one of the possible meanings of perfect tense, others are called
"experiential" or "extended now" (recent past/persistent situation).
Naturally, I didn't invent those notions myself.