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Inaccurate translations in David Salo's _A Gateway to Sindarin_

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  • Patrick H. Wynne
    Earlier this week I received my copy of David Salo s long- awaited tome A Gateway to Sindarin: A Grammar of an Elvish Language from J.R.R. Tolkien s _Lord of
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2004
      Earlier this week I received my copy of David Salo's long-
      awaited tome "A Gateway to Sindarin: A Grammar of an
      Elvish Language from J.R.R. Tolkien's _Lord of the Rings_".
      Now that I've had a few days to peruse its contents, I'd like
      to comment on a specific issue that I find particularly
      troubling: in the various word-lists in his book, Salo
      frequently omits Tolkien's own attested translation of a
      form and silently replaces it with a paraphrased
      translation of his own devising.

      To cite a few examples:

      -- Salo glosses _ithildin_ as '(metal) like the moon and the
      stars' (p. 177) and 'moon-star' (p. 266); he does not indicate
      that these glosses are hypothetical, nor does he mention
      that Tolkien himself translates this instead as 'starmoon'
      (LR:309, 1134).

      -- Salo glosses _elanor_ as '(flower) like the stars and the
      sun' (p. 177) and 'star-sun' (p. 251); he does not indicate
      that these glosses are hypothetical, nor does he mention that
      Tolkien himself translates this instead as 'the sun-star'

      In both instances, Tolkien's glosses suggest that these are
      noun-noun compounds in which the second noun (_tin_,
      _anor_) acts as a genitival modifier of the first (_ithil_, _el_);
      other examples of this type of compound include _Sirannon_
      'Gate-stream' (LR:293, 1132; paraphrased by Salo as 'stream
      at the gate', p. 391) and _Adanedhel_ 'Elf-man' (S:210;
      paraphrased by Salo as 'man like an Elf', p. 339). Salo chooses
      to interpret _ithildin_ and _elanor_ instead as "unusual" double
      comparatives (see p. 177). Devising such interpretive theories
      is his prerogative as a scholar, of course -- though bolstering
      his interpretation by failing to mention Tolkien's attested glosses,
      which argue towards a different interpretation than Salo's, is not
      acceptable methodology in what purports to be a scholarly work.

      -- Salo glosses _Elladan_ as 'like both Elves and men', and
      _Elrohir_ as 'knight who is an Elf' (p. 348). In both entries
      _Letters_:282 is cited — though readers who look up this
      passage in _Letters_ will discover instead that Tolkien there
      glosses _Elladan_ as 'Elf-Númenórean' and _Elrohir_ as 'Elf-
      knight', neither authentic gloss meriting a mention by Salo.
      Salo's paraphrastic glosses reflect his personal classification
      of Sindarin compounds (hence their clumsy, overly literal style);
      _Elladan_ is labeled "dc" (= "double comparative") and _Elrohir_
      is labeled "kd" (= "karmadharaya compound"; see p. 174).
      Again, it is Salo's prerogative to explicate what he perceives
      to be the nuances of these names as reflecting different types
      of Sindarin compound, but to do so without first providing
      Tolkien's own translations and without indicating that his
      paraphrased glosses are hypothetical is sloppy scholarship
      at best, and deliberately deceptive at worst. Surely it would
      not have overtaxed Salo's abilities to format his entries something
      like this: "_Elladan_, dc.: 'Elf-Númenórean' (_Letters_:282),
      sc. *'like both Elves and men'."

      Like the Road in Bilbo's song, the list of entries in which Salo
      silently replaces Tolkien's attested translation with his own
      paraphrase goes ever on and on: _Aragorn_(Salo: 'having
      royal valor', p. 341; Tolkien: 'Kingly Valour', XII:xii), _Mindolluin_
      (Salo: 'blue towering hill', p. 384; Tolkien: 'Towering blue-head',
      S:341), _Labadal_ (Salo: 'one having a foot that hops', p. 354;
      Tolkien: 'Hopafoot', S:60), _Nen Hithoel_ (Salo: 'water cool with
      mist', p. 387; Tolkien: 'Mist-cool Water', UT:434 s.v. _Emyn
      Muil_), _Taur nu-Fuin_ [sic; Tolkien has _Taur-nu-Fuin_] (Salo:
      'wood under night-darkness', pg. 392; Tolkien:'the Forest under
      Nightshade', XI:56), and so on for many, many dozens of

      To this appalling omission of Tolkien's authentic translations in
      Salo's book, we can add another serious flaw in scholarship:
      Salo often provides entirely hypothetical translations for words
      and names that have no explicit translation in Tolkien's
      published works, _without indicating that these translations are
      hypothetical_. Thus _linnod_ is repeatedly glossed as 'verse'
      (pp.98, 165) or 'verse couplet' (pp. 269, 335) without any
      indication that this word is, in fact, NOWHERE translated in
      Tolkien's works; and so on for many, many dozens of examples
      throughout the book.

      It is difficult to come up with any explanation for this cavalier
      approach to translation that reflects well on Salo's scholarly
      methods. Assuming that he is not simply being careless or
      sloppy, one ultimately cannot avoid the conclusion that David
      Salo apparently believes that his own translations are _better_
      than those of J.R.R. Tolkien, whom he deems not worth
      even citing. Furthermore, Salo's failure to mark his hypothetical
      or paraphrased glosses as such (easily accomplished with an
      asterisk, as _linnod_ *'verse', a practice of long standing in
      _Parma Eldalamberon_ and _Vinyar Tengwar_) means that he
      runs the risk of appearing to be not merely careless but
      deliberately deceptive.

      Even if this matter of translation were the only flaw in Salo's book,
      it is a fatal one; for a work on Elvish in which _virtually every
      gloss must be held suspect_ is of severely limited usefulness.
      Anyone consulting Salo's book for scholarly purposes will
      be required to verify every translation he provides by comparing
      it to the original sources -- a process Salo does not make easy
      with his only-sporadic use of page references to Tolkien's works.

      Unfortunately, as Carl F. Hostetter discusses in his preliminary
      review of Salo's book in Lambengolmor post #760, this matter
      of dubious translation is FAR from the only flaw in Salo's
      methodology. Add to this the silent updating of Noldorin forms
      to pose as Sindarin (rampant throughout the book), the silent
      invention of data to support theory (e.g., plural gerunds that
      do not in fact exist), the falsification of data to support theory
      (e.g., declaring that _bo Ceven_ in the Sindarin Lord's Prayer
      actually reads _bo Geven_, despite incontrovertible evidence to
      the contrary), -- and in short order, Salo's work of "scholarship"
      quickly collapses under the weight of its own unreliability and

      In the concluding paragraph of his preface to "A Gateway to
      Sindarin", David Salo writes:

      "This volume is not and cannot be the last or most accurate word on
      Sindarin. Although it is as consistent as possible with the published
      material, it has not been possible to take the large amount of
      unpublished material into account. This book must therefore
      contain errors large and small". (p. xv)

      As demonstrated above, Salo's book is most assuredly NOT "as
      consistent as possible with the published material", despite
      the fact that it would have been eminently easy for Salo to
      make it so. Instead, Salo chooses to attribute the blame for any
      shortcomings his book might prove to have to the fact that he
      has not been able to take the "large amount of unpublished
      material into account". In other words, "Don't blame me,
      blame the Tolkien Estate and the Editorial Team." This is,
      in a word, NONSENSE. Given the serious flaws evident in
      Salo's methodology, the publication of new material on
      Sindarin will do little to improve the accuracy of future
      editions of his book. David Salo's worst enemy as a scholar
      is his own unscholarly methods, not the lack of access to
      unpublished material.

      -- Patrick H. Wynne
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