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"Mature" and "perfected" (was Re: Internal or external history?)

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    Like Hans, I too find the term mature when applied to Tolkien s languages inadequate and best avoided. Even if it in fact reflects the opposite of Tolkien s
    Message 1 of 6 , Sep 9, 2002
      Like Hans, I too find the term "mature" when applied to Tolkien's
      languages inadequate and best avoided. Even if it in fact reflects the
      opposite of Tolkien's later opinion about his earlier languages (and I
      do not grant that as given), and if in fact that judgment was about the
      internals of the languages (and not about their external presentation
      in the _Lost Tales_ notebooks and associated loose papers and jottings,
      organized on the one hand by internal roots (Qenya) and on the other by
      internal lexical items (Goldogrin), rather than grouped etymologically
      by primitive base), it is an _aesthetic_ judgment, one that Tolkien is
      certainly entitled to, as is everyone else; but as such it is _not_ a
      scientific judgment, and has no value as a term of linguistic

      The term "perfected" suffers from the same deficiency. There was
      nothing lacking in the Qenya and Goldogrin of the Lexicons _as
      languages_ (certainly, no more so than the later stages of the
      languages): they have a phonology, a grammar, and (if we are to
      consider Helge's pronouncement that Tolkien ultimately "rejected" them
      as accurate) in many ways a richer, fuller, and far more modern
      vocabulary than the later stages. I fail to see therefore how they
      count as any less "perfected" than the later stages. What changed over
      time was not some nebulous level of Platonic perfection, but rather
      Tolkien's own aesthetic (as reflected in the changing phonology,
      grammar, and lexicon), as well as the fictive situations of the
      languages (becoming more and more remote in time from the present), and
      Tolkien's mode and manner of describing the languages and their

      The problem that arises in linguistic discourse is finding terms that
      distinguish between the internal development of Tolkien's languages,
      and their external development by Tolkien, without being unwieldy. For
      the former, we have Tolkien's own terms: Primitive, Common, Old,
      Middle, Modern (usually unmarked), Exilic, "of the Third Age", etc.,
      all of which are linguistically precise. To be similarly precise when
      discussing the external development, we can (and on this list should)
      associate stages of the language with 1) the documents in which they're
      found or described (e.g., "the Qenya of the Lexicons", "the Noldorin of
      the 'Lays'," etc.) or 2) the time in which they're found or described
      (e.g., "the Quenya of the late '60s", "the Noldorin of the early '30s",

      I will note that my colleagues and I have been writing on Tolkien's
      languages, including editing his papers and describing their history
      and development, for many years now, without once having or wanting to
      use the terms "mature" and "perfected" to do so. And I daresay our work
      is hardly the poorer for it.

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