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Initial consonant mutation in Sindarin prepositional phrases

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    Sindarin examples of the non-mutation of the mutable initial consonant of objects of prepositions include: _o menel_ from heaven (LR:231, 712) _o
    Message 1 of 3 , Nov 26, 2004
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      Sindarin examples of the non-mutation of the mutable initial consonant
      of objects of prepositions include:

      _o menel_ 'from heaven' (LR:231, 712)
      _o galadhremmin ennorath_ 'from tree-woven middle-lands' (ibid.)
      _an Glamhoth_ 'to the Glamhoth' (UT:39)*
      _vi Menel_ 'in Heaven' (VT44:22)
      _bo Ceven_ 'on Earth' (ibid.)
      _sui mín_ 'as us' (ibid.)

      * Note that it is however possible to analyze this as an orthographic
      representation of underlying *_a nGlamhoth_, with nasal mutation of the
      object.

      Examples of initial consonant mutation of objects of prepositions
      include:

      _na vedui_ 'at last' (LR:204)
      _a Pherhael_ 'to Samwise' (ibid.)
      _am Meril_ 'to Rose' (ibid.).

      There are in addition two cases of conjoined prepositional phrases
      that, depending on how one chooses to view the significance of their
      conjoined representation, either exhibit initial consonant mutation, or
      simply medial retention of original consonant(s):

      _na-chaered_ 'to remote distance' (LR:231, 712)
      _di'nguruthos_ 'under death-horror' (LR:712)*

      * Note that David Salo silently alters this to "_di' nguruthos_", i.e.
      to a non-unitary phrase (_Gateway to Sindarin_, p. 223), despite the
      fact that Tolkien deliberately writes the phrase as a conjoined phrase
      both in _The Lord of the Rings_ and in _The Road Goes Ever On_:
      _di-nguruthos_, R:72.

      (Four prepositional phrases not listed above that might at first glance
      be considered to exhibit initial consonant mutation conditioned by a
      preposition are 1) _ben genediad_ 'in the reckoning' (IX:131), 2)
      _Aglar'ni Pheriannath_ 'Glory to the Halflings' (LR:932), _erin
      dolothen Ethuil_ 'on the eighth day of Spring' (IX:131), and _erin
      Gwirith edwen_ '[on] the second day of April' (ibid.). In each of these
      cases, the observed mutation after the (putative) prepositional forms
      can be explained as due not to the preposition proper, but rather to a
      form of the definite article that been appended to the prepositional
      form in each case. This is most persuasively the case in _ben genediad_
      < *_be-n genediad_ and _'ni Pheriannath_ < *_an in Periannath_. The
      form _erin_ is less certain -- I long ago proposed that it might be
      analyzed as an allative noun < *_arinna_ 'upon (the) day, in which case
      the lenition of the adjective *_tolothen_ might be explained as due to
      its position following the noun it modified, sc. _erin_. In _A Gateway
      to Sindarin_ David Salo asserts that _erin_ is to be analyzed as
      representing a preposition _or_ *'on' with incorporated article _i(n)_
      'the' (pp. 226, 253), and for purposes of this article we will adopt
      his view: thus _erin dolothen_ < *_or-in dolothen_ -- though one is
      left to wonder why we don't see instead *_eri dolothen_ or *_eri(n)
      tholothen_; cf. _i Varanduinant_ 'the Brandywine Bridge' in the same
      source (IX:131) and _i thiw_ 'the signs' (LR:298).)

      This is the evidence for the presence or absence of initial consonant
      mutation in the objects of prepositions in Sindarin (proper). It is
      noteworthy that even if we decide that every potential or dubious case
      is in fact to be counted as showing mutation (i.e., counting all of _an
      Glamhoth_, _erin dolothen_, _na-chaered_, and _di'nguruthos_ as
      examples of initial consonant mutation conditioned by a preposition),
      nearly half of the (admittedly small) corpus of prepositional phrases
      that could possibly show mutation of the object do not:

      Soft mutation
      -------------

      _na_ + _m-_ > _na v-_: _na vedui_ 'at last' (LR:204)
      [_na_ + _h-_ > _na ch-_: _na-chaered_ 'to remote distance' (LR:231,
      712)]
      [_erin_ + _t-_ > _erin d-_: _erin dolothen_ 'on the eighth' (IX:131)]

      Nasal mutation
      --------------

      _an_ + _p-_ > _a ph-_: _a Pherhael_ 'to Samwise' (IX:131)
      _an_ + _m-_ > _am m-_ [for _a mm-_]: _am Meril_ 'to Rose' (ibid.).
      [_an_ + _gl-_ > _an gl-_ [for _a ngl-_]: _an Glamhoth_ 'to the
      Glamhoth' (UT:39)]
      [_di'_ + _g-_ > _di' ng-_: _di'nguruthos_ 'under death-horror' (LR:712)]

      No mutation
      -----------

      _o menel_ 'from heaven' (LR:231, 712)
      _o galadhremmin ennorath_ 'from tree-woven middle-lands' (ibid.)
      _bo Ceven_ 'on Earth' (VT44:22)
      _vi Menel_ 'in Heaven' (ibid.)
      _sui mín_ 'as us' (ibid.)

      In two of these unambiguous cases of non-mutation, sc. _o menel_ and _o
      galadhremmin ennorath_, both involving _o_ 'from', we have good
      evidence that the lack of mutation can be explained as due to an
      earlier phonological environment that would (at least tend) to block
      mutation. In the late essay "Quendi and Eldar", Tolkien says of "the
      preposition _o_, the usual word for 'from, of'" that "the mutations
      following [_o_] show [that] it must prehistorically have ended in _-t_
      or _-d_", and further that "_o_ ... is normally _o_ in all positions,
      thought _od_ appears occasionally before vowel, especially before _o-_"
      (XI:366-67). The implication here seems to be that although _o_ could
      be expected to behave with regard to initial consonant mutation of its
      object as though it "ended" with a vowel, it in fact behaves
      differently, and this difference is to be accounted for by the fact
      that it arose from earlier *_ot_/_od_ (and is still in certain
      restricted cases realized as _od_ in Sindarin). Hence, it could be
      argued, we see _o menel_ and _o galadhremmin ennorath_ instead of, say,
      **_o venel_ or **_o 'aladhremmin ennorath_ (cf. _na vedui_) because the
      underlying development is from *_od menel_ and _od galadhremmin
      ennorath_, with the (now lost) final consonant "blocking" soft mutation
      in both cases.

      We have, however, no such indication (phonological or grammatical) from
      Tolkien as to why we do not see lenition in the remaining examples:

      _bo Ceven_ 'on Earth' (VT44:22)
      _vi Menel_ 'in Heaven' (ibid.)
      _sui mín_ 'as us' (ibid.)

      David Salo, in _A Gateway to Sindarin_, analyzes each of these three
      cases in starkly different (and logically inconsistent) ways.

      1) _vi Menel_ 'in Heaven' (VT44:22): David asserts that this is a
      realization of an underlying phrase *_min Menel_, referring _vi_ to
      *_min_ 'in', an _ad hoc_ and otherwise unattested form he constructs on
      the same basis as the attested preposition _mi_ 'in':

      "_vi Menel_: 'in heaven'; _vi_ is the lenited form of _min_ 'in'; it
      takes the nasal mutation *_min menel_ > *_mimmenel_ > _mi menel_".

      David reiterated this view recently in Elfling message 30700
      (<http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/30700>), where he
      writes:

      "In any case, there's nothing about the word "menel" that ought to
      except it from the general rule of lenition. That we have "vi Menel"
      tells us nothing about "menel" -- but it can, and should, tell us
      something about "vi". If the mutation rules hold in this example as
      elsewhere (and we do see multiple instances of soft mutation in this
      text, as expected), then "vi Menel" implies that we *cannot* have /mi/
      underlying [vi], but must have /miC/ -- probably /min/, using the same
      element as in minna- "enter"."

      David relies here on three unsupported premises, which we can list as:

      a. Lenition is to be expected in objects immediately following any
      preposition ending in a vowel (otherwise, there would be no reason to
      find the absence of lenition in _vi Menel_ in need of explanation, or
      to search for an underlying form of _vi_ that ends in a consonant).
      b. The grammatical (semantic) nature of the object itself cannot
      possibly have any bearing on the absence of this expected lenition
      (otherwise, David could not honestly believe that "there's nothing
      about the word 'menel' that ought to except it from the general rule of
      lenition" and that "'vi Menel' tells us nothing about 'menel'").

      Taken together, these two premises themselves imply a third:

      c. The presence or absence of initial consonant mutation in susceptible
      objects immediately following prepositions is solely conditioned by the
      original phonological environment (i.e., not by syntactic/semantic
      patterning or levelling).

      We will return to these premises shortly.

      2) _bo Ceven_ 'on Earth' (VT44:22): David here asserts that _Ceven_
      must be a misreading or mistake for expected _Geven_, because *_po_
      (the preposition apparently underlying _bo_) ends in a vowel and so
      must take lenition (p. 232):

      "_bo Geven_: 'on earth'. This phrase actually seems to be written _bo
      Ceven_ in the text, but since the preposition seems to have originally
      ended in a vowel (from OS *_po_ [with macron over and open hook under
      the _o_]) a soft mutation _c_ > _g_ is to be expected here. Tolkien's
      handwritten capital _C_ and capital _G_ are very similar."

      Again we see that David relies on three unsupported premises:

      a. Lenition is to be expected in objects immediately following any
      preposition ending in a vowel (otherwise, there would be no reason to
      find the absence of lenition in _bo Ceven_ in need of explanation, or
      to assert that _Ceven_ is a mistake for *_Geven_).
      b. The grammatical (semantic) nature of the object itself cannot
      possibly have any bearing on the absence of this expected lenition
      (otherwise, there could be something about the grammatical nature of
      _Ceven_ that would make it resist lenition after _bo_).
      c. The presence or absence of initial consonant mutation in susceptible
      objects immediately following prepositions is solely conditioned by the
      original phonological environment (i.e., not by syntactic/semantic
      patterning or levelling).

      (The fourth premise, that Tolkien's "C" and "G" are "very similar" I
      can refute based on a long experience with reading Tolkien's
      manuscripts; and the idea that the two are confusable in the specific
      case of the "_Adar Nín_" anyone case refute for themselves by looking
      at the reproduction of Tolkien's holograph manuscript at VT44:23.)

      3) _sui mín_ 'as us' (VT44:22): So far as I can see (the lack of an
      index to David's book hinders this sort of research) David neither
      comments upon nor offers any explanation for the lack of lenition in
      this case. He writes only (p. 233; see also p. 146):

      "_sui_: 'like, as', here functioning as a preposition instead of a
      conjunction.
      _mín_: 'us', an object (accusative) form of _men_ 'we'. The object form
      is selected by the preceding preposition _sui_. _sui mín_ 'like us'."

      This is odd, to say the least, given David's claim/implication in the
      previous two examples that lenition is to be expected in objects
      immediately following any preposition ending in a vowel. In one case,
      David uses this premise to assert the existence of a preposition *_min_
      'in', as the only possible explanation for the lack of lenition in _vi
      Menel_. In the second case, David uses this premise to declare that _bo
      Ceven_ must be a mistake for *_bo Geven_, and "corrects" Tolkien's own
      form accordingly. But in this third case, David apparently regards the
      lack of lenition in _sui mín_ as unremarkable. (It is further and
      similarly odd that David does not include _sui mín_ anywhere in his
      classification of the syntactic types of prepositional phrase in §17,
      pp. 201-2; or so far as I can see anywhere at all in his chapter on syntax.)

      Be this as it may, I would like now to examine David's premises, to see
      whether he (or anyone else) is justified in asserting or assuming them.
      (It should be noted that the falsifiability of even one of these
      premises is logically sufficient to remove the basis for David's
      assertions regarding _vi Menel_ and *_bo Geven_.)

      Premise 1 -- Lenition is to be expected in objects immediately
      following any preposition ending in a vowel. This can be treated
      together with:

      Premise 2 -- The presence or absence of initial consonant mutation in
      susceptible objects immediately following prepositions is solely
      conditioned by the original phonological environment (i.e., not by
      syntactic/semantic patterning or levelling).

      Even David himself seems not really to believe these two premises, as
      he does not seem to "expect" lenition in _sui mín_, nor does he make
      any attempt to argue, as he does for _vi_ in _vi Menel_, that _sui_
      must likewise arise from some earlier form ending in a consonant.
      Indeed, he instead gives this etymology for _sui_ (p. 286): "OS *siui
      < CE sibe [with macron over the i] i _like this which_ [root-mark]SI
      [root-mark]BE [root-mark]I" -- notably ending in a vowel throughout its
      history.

      One is left to wonder why, if the initial _m-_ of _mín_ 'us' can
      withstand lenition following _sui_ arising from *_siui_, David feels
      justified in asserting that it could not possibly withstand it in
      _Menel_ following _vi_ if arising from *_mi_.

      Premise 3 -- The semantic nature of the object cannot possibly have any
      bearing on the absence of an expected lenition.

      David offers no reasons whatsoever to believe this is true, either in
      general or of _Menel_ and _Ceven_ specifically. On the other hand, this
      premise is certainly _not_ true of Welsh, which provided the most
      important phonological and grammatical inspiration for Sindarin, in
      which, for example, proper names (historically; the modern tendency is
      towards levelling) form a separate syntactic class from nouns in
      general, including with respect to consonant mutation; and where the
      definiteness or indefiniteness of nouns plays a role in determining the
      presence or absence of mutation. I see no reason to think that there
      could not similarly be semantically-conditioned rules governing the
      presence or absence of lenition in prepositional phrases, even in the
      particular cases _vi Menel_ and _bo Ceven_ (both of which, after all,
      contain capitalized names, probably representing in Sindarin as in
      English an increased definiteness of these names).

      There is thus no reason to accept any of these premises as necessarily
      true, and even reason to doubt that they are. There is thus no basis
      whatsoever for "correcting" Tolkien's _bo Ceven_, as David does; and no
      reason to think that _vi Menel_ must reflect an underlying and
      otherwise unattested preposition *_min_ 'in'. Indeed, one is not only
      justified in looking for other explanations than David's of these
      phrases, but it is clear that some other explanation than David's is
      required.

      (I should note that I do not intend hereby to propose that the
      non-lenition of the object in _vi Menel_ and _bo Ceven_ is
      _necessarily_ due to the presence in both instances of a definite name
      -- though it would, unlike David's own, be a _sufficient_ explanation
      _for the Sindarin _of the "_Adar Nín_"_, which of course is not
      _necessarily_ the same with respect to the grammar of prepositional
      phrases as the Sindarin of the "King's Letter" (where we find proper
      names in both _a Pherhael_ and _am Meril_), or with any other stage of
      Tolkien's conceptual creation of Sindarin. That is, there is no reason
      whatsoever to think that all of the examples above must be consistent
      with each other or have any necessary bearing on each other.)

      --
      =========================================================================================Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org

      ho bios brachys, he de techne makre.
      Ars longa, vita brevis.
      The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
      "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take such
      a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."
    • David Kiltz
      ... If we look at lenition (or initial consonant mutation) as a historical process (which, of course, it is), the following can, very briefly, be said: 1) It s
      Message 2 of 3 , Nov 27, 2004
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        On 27.11.2004, at 03:22, Carl F. Hostetter wrote:

        > [...] David [Salo!] relies on three unsupported premises:
        >
        > a. Lenition is to be expected in objects immediately following any
        > preposition ending in a vowel [...].
        > b. The grammatical (semantic) nature of the object itself cannot
        > possibly have any bearing on the absence of this expected lenition [...].
        > c. The presence or absence of initial consonant mutation in
        > susceptible objects immediately following prepositions is solely
        > conditioned by the original phonological environment (i.e., not by
        > syntactic/semantic patterning or levelling)

        If we look at lenition (or initial consonant mutation) as a historical
        process (which, of course, it is), the following can, very briefly, be
        said:

        1) It's a phonologically triggered process. (That is, it's part of the
        regular 'tear and wear' of a language. Partly in reply to a discussion
        on Lambengolmor with Bertrand Bellet, I might add that after looking
        through extensive material and literature I could not find any
        indication that word internal changes differed in their basic phonetic
        processes from sentence sandhi as seen in Celtic languages. Cf.
        <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lambengolmor/message/715> with
        further references to posts by Pavel Losad).

        (For a short survey of the phonetics plus some interesting examples of
        very vibrant mutations in Tuscan (Italian dialect) similar to those
        found in Celtic go here: <http://www.ualberta.ca/~kirchner/Kirchner_final.pdf>.
        For some general stuff on Celtic cf. McCone, Kim: _Towards a relative
        chronology of ancient and medieval Celtic sound change_, Maynooth 1996
        and Ball, Martin J. & Fife, James: _The Celtic Languages_, Routledge
        1993).

        2) Only after originally phonetically motivated sound change, (i.e. mostly
        after the original phonetic context doesn't exist anymore) can
        re-interpretation, levelling etc. take place.

        Just one example from a different language, to illustrate the point: In
        Syriac (a variety of Aramaic) the final -t, indicating 3. sg. f.
        perfect becomes regularly spirantized > th. When certain other suffixes
        are added, the spirantisation should phonetically disappear, but
        doesn't in order to avoid confusion with other forms. Thus by secondary
        analogy, a phonetic features is re-used morphologically.

        3) As the basis of mutations is of phonological nature, we must work
        off the primacy of phonology. Of course, once a system is established,
        'grammar' can be the determining factor for application of lenition.
        But all analogy etc. must be based on some original phonetic processes.
        E.g. consistent lenition of adjectives after feminine nouns as in Welsh
        was preceded by a _significant_ number of instances of lenition due to
        regular sound change (which can be shown to be the case in Welsh).

        Thus, it is certainly correct that, in principle, one should assume an
        initial Sindarin stop to lenite between vowels (if Sindarin works like
        real-world languages, which is reasonable to assume).

        Yet, it is also certainly wrong (as Carl rightly points out) to do so
        _unconditionally_.

        That is, secondary adjustments and other factors (namely what Carl
        lists under "semantics", for which see below) come into play.

        On the question of the impact of semantics on mutation Carl writes:

        > [...] this premise [the semantic nature of the object cannot possibly
        > have any bearing on the absence of an expected lenition] is certainly
        > _not_ true of Welsh, [...] in which, for example, proper names
        > (historically; the modern tendency is towards levelling) form a
        > separate syntactic class from nouns in general, including with respect
        > to consonant mutation; [...]

        Carl makes an important point here.

        The special syntax of proper names (PNs) is responsible for a special
        phonetic treatment. (To explain just very briefly: In oral speech names
        are most often used to address people (or Gods etc.). In Indo-European,
        such addresses were in the vocative case (Zeu!, Indra!). A vocative is
        special in that it forms its own sentence and has its own accent
        pattern (originally stress always on the first syllable).

        Here, again, it is important to note the primacy of phonology, and how
        different grammatical categories influence it, just to be, in turn
        influenced by it.

        While names can be used to refer to persons ("Peter isn't here")
        statistical surveys show that in spoken language the address function
        is prevalent. Once the "critical mass" of PNs that behave in a special
        way is reached, analogy may take place.

        But again, grammar isn't the primary cause for mutations. Grammar may
        only use such alternations as come to pass phonetically and expand or
        limit them.

        Hence it is, I think, 4) most desirable to explain "freak mutations"
        not only on the basis of grammar (which, of course, is correct in
        itself) but also in terms of the historical motivation and ensuing
        processes.

        -David Kiltz

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Carl F. Hostetter
        As a follow-up to the discussion of the motivation of Initial Consonant Mutation, both generally and in the specific cases of _vi Menel_ and _bo Ceven_, note
        Message 3 of 3 , Dec 2, 2004
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          As a follow-up to the discussion of the motivation of Initial Consonant
          Mutation, both generally and in the specific cases of _vi Menel_ and
          _bo Ceven_, note the following quite explicit statement by Tolkien
          (L:426):

          "though of _phonetic_ origin, [lenitions] are used _grammatically_, and
          so may occur or be absent in cases where this is not phonetically
          justified by descent"


          --
          =============================================
          Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org

          ho bios brachys, he de techne makre.
          Ars longa, vita brevis.
          The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
          "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take such
          a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."
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