Re: [Lambengolmor] _A Gateway to Sindarin_ by David Salo: a review
- One statement of fact, and one or two of principle will have to suffice as answer on this longish contribution.
1) Regarding my comparison of a 19th C editor of Tatian giving a normalised text, deviating from the manuscript, with David Salo's treatment of Tolkien's Sindarin texts in his _Gateway to Sindarin_, Carl Hostetter writes:
> There are a number of crucial reasons why the two cases (i.e., Old Germanic languagesTo which I responded:
> and Sindarin) are not at all analogous in this regard. For one, unlike Sindarin texts, ancient
> and medieval texts almost always come down to us in the form of later (often _much_ later),
> non-authorial copies.
> Not true of many documents, which have been similarly normalised in editing. Where theAnd Carl replied:
> original document is preserved, we have authorial manuscripts.
> I don't know what texts you have in mind, but to my knowledge it is certainly _not_ the caseIn the case of ancient texts, indeed we have no authorial manuscripts of either literary texts or documents. In the case of mediæval literary texts, we usually have too many copies to identify an authorial manuscript. Usually that is, but not exclusively: certain very occasional literature, which yet cannot be classed as legal documents may exist only in one authorial manuscript. But in the case of legal documents, it is even usual that they exist in only two manuscripts, both of which were written by secretary or notary, and both authorised with a signature by both parties or by the granting party. In those cases there cannot be any "errors of transmission". When the spelling varies in those, it is because of the intention of the original writer: whether it be the author or just his secretary. I appreciate your disclaimer on loyalty to the Junggrammatiker and their arrogance (though I do not quote it) but I cannot feel that a fault committed by a whole set of scholars that were our masters in linguistic scholarship can be a valid reason for harsh denunciations. We need only avoid them, not make them also a cause of opprobrium.
> that we have "many" authorial manuscripts of ancient and medieval texts. Either you haven't
> understood what I mean by "authorial manuscript" (that is, a manuscript written _by the
> author in his own hand_), or you will have to establish your claim. CFH]
[This is getting far afield now, but I would point out that from the fact that we have many different manuscripts of any given text it does not follow that one of them is the authorial text and we just can't discern which is which: it is also entirely possible that _none_ of them is the authorial manuscript. Again, the situation is quite different from the case of Tolkien, where _every_ text we have is an authorial manuscript. CFH]
2) I also wrote:
> And it brings those languages so much closer to "actually existing" ones. They too, throughTo which Carl replied:
> history, have been constructed by more than one speaker and writer. How many constructors
> must a language have, by the way, to be "actually existing"?
> I said nothing about the existence of a normative language depending on some minimalYou said that Salo had been describing a language that never existed: I took you to mean a non-natural art-lang as such. I am sorry for the misinterpretation. You did not mean Sindarin as such being a piece of art rather than an existing language - have I got it right this time? - you meant Salo describing a Sindarin that never existed in Tolkien's actual manuscripts.
> number of constructors. What I said was that for German, for example, such a thing does
> exist; but it does _not_ exist for Sindarin. If David wants to create his own language, based
> on Tolkien's Sindarin, that's fine: _so long as he does not pretend or state that he is doing
> otherwise_, as he very clearly does in his book. CFH]
[That's correct. And demonstrable from David's own presentation, in that much of what he presents as "Sindarin" is nowhere to be found in Tolkien's own writings. CFH]
Now, this I cannot see as a valid argument against Salo's Sindarin or Fauskanger's Quenya existing, at least virtually, in Tolkien's intentions. The fact seems to be, Tolkien never finally realized himself his intentions, because Noldorin and Qenya of the _Etymologies_ were superceded by other forms of Sindarin and Quenya, and because those were not elaborated with all that vocabulary.
[Here we part company completely. You imagine, as apparently do Salo and Fauskanger, that Tolkien's intention was to achieve a single, final, ideal form of his languages, which form he was working towards all his life. Whereas Tolkien makes it quite clear that not only is this not true, but it is in fact _contrary_ his _actual_ intention in creating and re-creating his art-languages: "It must be emphasized that this process of invention was/is a private enterprise undertaken to give pleasure to myself by giving expression to my personal linguistic 'aesthetic' or taste _and its fluctuations_" (L:380, written in 1967, I note; emphasis added). CFH]
I take it as a valid interpretation of his intentions, that any word in _Etymologies_: Noldorin and Qenya not changed by him would remain a valid word, with due phonetic and grammatic changes in Sindarin and Quenya. That interpretation is not exclusively scholarly, in the sense of not going beyond incontrovertible evidence, it is rather artistic: but it makes sense.
[Indeed, that is a perfectly valid theoretical approach to take, _when in fact there is no evidence to the contrary_. But what is not valid is to, on the one hand, claim that one has marked all cases where forms have been normalized or constructed in accordance with personal theory (setting aside the issue of "theory" here) -- David writes that "in the appendices ... all of these new words, constructions, and correction have been indicated by various signs", which is not even approximately true* -- but then, on the other hand, immediately proceed to present altered and fabricated forms _without the promised indication_, solely in order to "support" one's "theory", even to the point of misrepresenting Tolkien's _actual_ intentions by altering what he actually wrote and by attributing mistakes to Tolkien and/or his editors that are in fact nothing of the sort. Which is the issue at hand.
*To pick just one example at random, I turned to the first page of David's glossary of "Sindarin Names" (p. 339), and instantly find an entry for "Aecthelion", which David claims is found on "WJ:318". Note that there is no indication that this form is altered or "corrected" in any way, and that in fact David creates the appearance that the form is actually attested in Tolkien's writings. But turning to the cited page, we find that what Tolkien actually wrote, _twice_, is _Aegthelion_. Nor is this merely a typo on David's part, since he repeats the form in his "Historical Phonology of Sindarin" (p. 55). And I could provide many, many, many other examples of this sort of misleading treatment of the _actual_ evidence for Sindarin, and thus of Sindarin as it _actually_ is, and as Tolkien _actually_ intended it. CFH]
The opposite interpretation - that Noldorin and Sindarin are two different languages the similarities of which are totally incidental, and the same for Qenya and Quenya, I take as excluded not so much by the state of manuscript evidence as by common sense.
[I'm not aware that anyone has claimed that the similarities between Noldorin and Sindarin, or between Qenya and Quenya, are "totally incidental" (or indeed merely "incidental" to _any_ degree); so this is a straw-man argument. But it is indisputable that Noldorin and Sindarin, and Qenya and Quenya, _are_ different. Again, it is the _silent_ removal of these differences, esp. when the reader has been assured that such changes are _noted_, that is the issue at hand as regards flaws in David's presentation. CFH]
And if someone extrapolates vocabulary material from Noldorin or Qenya and intrapolates it into Sindarin and Quenya, as long as the identification is not explicitly contradicted by Tolkien himself, I cannot see that such a procedure is artistically or linguistically objectionable. In that sense I cannot regard Salo and Fauskanger as vandals scribbling a moustache on Mona Lisa, but rather as pupils completing another man's work, as the Summa Theologiæ was completed by pupils of St Thomas Aquinas, the parts known as the Supplementum III Partis, or as Jean de Meun completed a book left incomplete by Guillaume de Lorris, (which Tolkien disliked both parts of, but not due to the completion being left to another one than the original author, as Leaf by Niggle would show his feelings on that part of the story) an allegory called Romance of the Rose. Or as for that matter I believe Chapman similarly completed a work by another epic writer.
[Again, your portrait of the actual situation ignores a very basic fact: Salo and Fauskanger are not "completing" Tolkien's work, which being as he states an expression of his personal aesthetic was only his own to do, and which was in fact completed with the demise of his aesthetic upon his death. Further, in ignoring or dismissing as "errors" various features that Tolkien himself put into his languages as expressions of his aesthetic (for example, the different forms of the past-tense in Noldorin, or the precise conditions of lenition following prepositions), Salo and Fauskanger are not "completing" Tolkien's art, but remaking it in their own image, forcing it to conform to their own aesthetic, and their own limited willingness to admit to Tolkien's languages all the richness of real languages, the semblance of which it was also Tolkien's intention to create by secondary art. CFH]
3) I wrote:
> David Salo was not acting as scholarly editor, but as a grammarian taking examples fromTo which Carl replied:
> I beg to differ. When one presents a series of texts in a foreign language, in "normalized"Do you regard Sweet as a linguist and a scholar? I do, but his _Anglo Saxon Reader_ - used by Tolkien as instruction book in tha language - does give us texts in a normalised form without stating the manuscript varieties: for the reason that the Reader is not a scholarly text edition, but a scholarly learning aid. I am referring in particular to the text found in either Cotton manuscript or the other main one in this form:
> form, and provides a word-by-word semantic, etymological, and grammatical analysis of
> each form, that _is_ acting as a scholarly editor. And when one produces hundreds of
> pages of a book adhering to the traditional structure of historical descriptive grammars,
> employing page after page of Jakobsonian distinctive-feature notation, Sanskrit-
> grammarian compound classifications, and syntactic classifications, and extensive criticism
> of the errors of _previous_ efforts;* and then publishes the results with a university press,
> one is at least pretending at scholarship. David does not present his work as "Sindarin For
> Dummies", or the "Berlitz Sindarin Guide", or "The Elvish Language Rainy-Day Fun Book":
> it is presented as a descriptive historical grammar (as Bertrand has also pointed out),
> from a university press. The book by its very form and presentation _invites_ us to
> regard it as a work of linguistic scholarship;...]
"Eornostlice ælc þæra þe ðas mine word gehyrð & þa wyrcþ byþ gelic þam wisan were se hys hus ofer stan getimbrode. Þa com þær ren & mycele flod & þær bleowun windas & ahruron on þæt hus & hit na ne feoll; soðlice hit wæs ofer stan getimbrod. & ælc þæra the gehyrþ ðas mine word & þa ne wyrcþ se byþ gelic þam dysigan men the timbrode hus ofer sandceosel. Þa rinde hit & þær cómon flod & bleowon windas & ahruron on þæt hus. & Þæt hus feoll & hys hryre wæs mycel;"
Sweet deviates both from this and from the other manuscript form when quoting this passage (Matth 7: 24-27), and he does not tell us so right there. And the title about the book being a "gateway" to Sindarin suggests it is at least as likely in Salo's intention to be an instructive learning aid as to be a purely descriptive grammar.
[David Salo does not present his work as "A Sindarin Reader". Instead, in the very first sentence of his book he claims that it is "a description of Sindarin, one of the many invented languages of author and linguist J.R.R. Tolkien"; he further presents it as utilizing "the tools and techniques of historical linguistics" to present an "analysis" of Tolkien's Sindarin. And though he claims otherwise (a claim that can only further mislead his reader), he does not distinguish, except incidentally, _his_ version of "Sindarin" from Tolkien's own versions. Therein lie the essential differences. CFH]
4) As for Tolkien's G's, a lot depends on whether he wrote G's with a tail (like a minuscule g but open) or only G's with a dash (like this typed G). In the latter case forgetting the dash by a slight is possible, though not very probable; in the former forgetting the tail is not just not very probable, but it is very improbable. As I have not seen his handwriting lately and do not remember a capital G, I am not in any position to judge the matter.
[Neither is David Salo, but that does not prevent him from presenting himself as an expert on Tolkien's handwriting and making a completely false, self-serving claim, completely without any supporting evidence and contrary to the the actual evidence of the facsimile, as though it were an established fact. CFH]
-- Hans Georg Lundahl
> [Neither is David Salo, but that does not prevent him fromSalo's statement as quoted by Carl, "Tolkien's handwritten capital _C_
> presenting himself as an expert on Tolkien's handwriting and making a
> completely false, self-serving claim, completely without any
> supporting evidence and contrary to the the actual evidence of the
> facsimile, as though it were an established fact. CFH]
and capital _G_ are very similar", must indeed be understood as a fact
established by somebody who knows Tolkien's handwriting. In reality,
one doesn't even have to be an expert, or to have access to original
manuscripts, to see that it's completely false. The shortest look at
the facsimile (VT44:23) shows that the C is written connected with the
following letter (e) in a way impossible for a G. That alone would be
sufficient to dismiss Salo's claim as lacking evidence.
But it's not difficult for most persons seriously interested in
Tolkien's work to have a look at lots of capital G in Tolkien's
handwriting. All one has to do is to have a look into _The War of the
Ring_, containing many facsimiles of original manuscript pages, those
in turn containing many words like "Gollum", "Gandalf", "Gondor" or
"Gate" for obvious reasons.
Hans Georg Lundahl wrote:
>As for Tolkien's G's, a lot depends on whether he wrote G's with aJust open the book and look at the first frontispiece. The seventh
>tail (like a minuscule g but open) or only G's with a dash (like this
line contains a nice "Gollum" clearly showing the tail, so it's the
former case (a G like printed may be found in rare case, like on the
extremely fair copy of a map, VIII:434, but one would find it hard to
confuse that with a C).
In this case (and actually often) the G is not connected with the
following letter, and the tail ends at its lowest point. Then, the
tail may be even not connected to the rest of the letter G, as one can
see in the last paragraph of VIII:204 ("Gollum" and "Gondor").
When the capital G is connected with following letters (as it seems,
that happened in more hasty writing), the tail turns upwards again in
a characteristic loop, as one can see in the last line of VIII:90 (the
last two words are "Good luck", cf. the bottom of VII:91). That loop
is often formed more clearly than the rest of the letter, so it's not
just improbable, but downright impossible to confuse with a capital C.
- David Salo: _A Gateway to Sindarin_
a discussion by Thorsten Renk
I. General remarks
Now David Salo, probably most famous for the creation of the Elvish
dialogues in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, has published his ideas on the
grammar of Sindarin. The book has very much the flavour of a review
published as a summary of long research. It aims to cover all aspects of
Sindarin, from the internal history of the language in Tolkien's
legendarium to the phonological development from the primitive Common
Eldarin forms to the Sindarin of the 3rd age, from the grammatical and
syntactical rules of the language to the way names and other compound
words are formed. In addition, it contains several appendices providing
Sindarin-English and English-Sindarin wordlists, a list of primitive
roots, an analysis of all known texts in Sindarin, and an annotated
The book is written in a highly technical language (at times unnecessarily
so), and although there is a glossary of linguistic terms, in order to
actually read and understand the text the reader needs more than an
elementary knowledge of grammar.
This, in combination with the scheme employed by Salo for distinguishing
between attested and reconstructed forms, leads to the greatest flaw of
the book -- its false pretense of rigor. While the technical language and
the presence of the signs ! "reconstructed form in external history",
* "reconstructed form in internal history", and # "form with regularized
spelling" suggest that the book is a serious scholarly attempt to deduce
the grammar of Tolkien's invented language by starting from Tolkien's own
writings, a closer look reveals that this is actually not quite true. The
book represents rather a grammar of Sindarin as Salo thinks it should be,
sometimes regardless of what Tolkien wrote.
Therefore, although the book is written in the style of a comprehensive
review, it lacks an important element which would be present in a
scholarly work, i.e., citations to the underlying reasoning for the grammar
given here. All we get to see is the end product, but we seldom get a
glimpse at the logical deductions leading to the forms which are
presented. This makes it very difficult to actually judge the value of a
given idea. Richard Feynman characterized scientific method with the
words: "Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be
given if you know them. [...] If you make a theory [...] and advertise it,
or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree
with it. [...] In summary, the idea is to try to give all the information
to help others to judge the value of your contribution, not just the
information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or
another" (from _"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of
a Curious Character_). Clearly, that is not the approach David Salo
In the following, I will try to give an overview of what I can see of
Salo's methology in dealing with Tolkien's original texts, followed by
comments on selected chapters of the book.
II. Standardizing Sindarin
David Salo tries to discuss the grammar of a fictive, "classical" Sindarin
that is supposed to be a unified description of everything Tolkien
wrote about the language.
However, the texts Salo refers to range from early sources like the
_Etymologies_ (c. 1937) to late sources like _The Shibboleth of Feanor_
(c. 1968), and for all we know Tolkien's ideas about the phonology and
the grammar of the language (and even its role in his legendarium --
initially it was "Noldorin", the language of the Exiles, before it became
"Sindarin", the language of the Grey-elves) changed considerably. Thus,
Tolkien's changing ideas clash frequently with Salo's attempt to find
Consequently, Salo employs a variety of strategies to deal with
"irregular" pieces in Tolkien's writing. In the following, an example for
each of them is provided:
1) Open dismissal:
On p. 390, Salo discusses the phrase _Sarch nia Hîn Húrin_ 'grave of the
children of Húrin' stating "The word _nia_ is almost certainly wrong,
though also seen in _Glaer nia Chîn Húrin_ WJ:160, 251. Perhaps for _nia_
should be read _ina_, as in the early form _Haudh-ina-Nengin_ WJ:79". No
reason is actually given why the form is "almost certainly wrong", though
it doesn't fit into the theory Salo developed earlier.
2) Silent dismissal:
On p. 108, Salo makes a distinction between _si_ 'now' and _sí_ 'here'. On
p. 212 in the discussion of Lúthien's song he stresses this distinction
again: "_si_: adverb, 'now' [...] not to be confused with the related _sí_
However, that doesn't go too well with Sam's cry _le nallon sí
di-nguruthos!_ and the translation given by Tolkien in L:278: 'to
thee I cry now in the shadow of (the fear of) death'. In Salo's discussion
of the text, the translation reads 'I cry to you under the horror of death',
and the form _sí_ is conveniently ignored in the word-by-word analysis.
3) Dismissal on a fictional basis:
On p. 118, Salo discusses the past tense formation _car-_ > _agor_. He
acknowledges that Tolkien states that the formation is "usual in Sindarin
'strong' or primary verbs" (XI:415) but continues with the claim "but in
fact examples are much rarer than those of the nasal past. One might
expect such formations as *_udul_ 'he/she/it came', *_idir_ 'he/she/it
watched', *_egin_ 'he/she/it saw', etc., but these are not in fact found."
He conveniently fails to mention that while these three forms are indeed
unattested, his own suggestions *_toll_, *_tirn_, and *_cenn_ are not found
4) Possible updates
Discussing the conjunction 'and', Salo dismisses the form _ar_ widely
found in Sindarin texts with: "Although this has not been emended in any
of the texts cited in this book, it is clear that Tolkien intended to
generally replace _ar_ with _a(h)_. The change appears to have taken place
in the early 1950s, prior to the publication of _The Lord of the Rings_."
For all I know, that could be true, although Salo doesn't really provide a
compelling reason. The latest text including _ar_ is the 'Ae Adar', which
dates to "sometime during the 1950s" (VT44:21), and in late notes (1968)
Tolkien gives a Common Eldarin form _as_ and Sindarin _ah_ (VT43:30); cf.
also _Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth_ (X:303). However, it seems rather
absurd to assume that Tolkien would have gone over his early texts some
time around 1960 and changed just _ar_ into _ah_ everywhere and nothing
III. "Proving" the theory
Especially in the discussion of the verbal system, Salo doesn't show a lot
of hesitation to throw out a Tolkien-made example or to emend it to a form
which goes along with his theory. Since most of the attested verbal forms
are actually Noldorin, this is not so much trying to standardize and unify
Sindarin and Noldorin, it is closer to fabricating evidence to "confirm" a
pre-existing theory. The strategies are pretty similar, though:
1) Silent "correction"
Verbs that do not conform to the expected pattern are simply emended
where needed -- this is the fate of the infinitive _garo_ (V:360, VT45:14),
which becomes ?_geri_ in the paradigm shown on p. 126; of the verb
_aphad-_ (XI:387), which is changed into **_aphada-_ (p. 128); of the past
tense _degant_ (VT45:37), which is quoted as **_dagant_ (p. 119) to
"confirm" a pattern; of the verb _dant-_ (V:354), which leads to the
invention of the verb **_danna-_ (p. 135); and a lot of other forms which
don't fit into a neat theory.
2) Silent dismissal
Sometimes forms which do not agree with the theory are left out of the
discussion. On p. 119, Salo states: "There was also a past tense suffix
that added _-s, -ss-_ to the stem. This suffix is found attached to the
_-ta_ verbs. It is also found in the composite form _-a-s, -a-ss-_ with CVC
root verbs that originally ended in the alveolar stops _t_ and _d_ [...] However,
this past tense may have been preserved only in the Noldorin dialect of
Sindarin, as we have _teithant_ from the _-ta_ verb _teitha-_ but not
Of course that seems plausible -- unless you include the past tense form
_erias_ from _eria-_ (VT46:7), which spoils not only the statement that it
is a suffix for _-ta_ verbs but also the relevance of _teithant_ (the fact
that VT46 appeared during the final preparation of the book is hardly
relevant -- _erias_ was known from  published on _Tengwestië_ shortly
after VT 45 appeared).
3) "Exceptional" status
Forms that do not conform to the pattern but for some reason resist
emendation are explained as "exceptions", like on p. 118 where we learn
about what Salo terms "Ablaut" past tenses: "Pasts of this form are rare
and were probably replaced by analogical formations by the period of
The actual distribution of nasal infixion past tenses vs. ablaut past
tenses in Noldorin is 12:4, i.e. about 25% of the attested forms show this
variant (see ). That is not really negligible. As for the replacement
by analogical formation, 2 of the ablaut past tenses show alternative weak
past tenses using the ending _-ant_ and 6 of the 12 nasal infixed past
tenses show _-ant/-as_ -- the ratio is therefore pretty much the same,
analogical past tenses did not specifically level ablaut past tenses but
all "strong" past tenses in the same way, be it n-infixion or ablaut.
4) Unresolved discrepancies
Occasionally a form that doesn't agree with the theory is allowed to
stand in apparent contradiction to the grammar, though no explanation is
given. For example, we find in the discussion of the preposition _athar_
that it causes liquid mutation, followed by the example _athar harthad_
'beyond hope', where we might expect to see ?_athar charthad_ according to
Salo's liquid mutation table. No discussion of this phenomenon is provided.
IV. Marking (un)attested forms
In the preface, Salo introduces the following scheme to distinguish
attested and reconstructed forms: A ! is used to mark a reconstruction, a
* is used to mark an historic form in the fictional timeline of language
development, and a # is used to mark a form with regularized spelling.
This scheme has one disadvantage which is obvious a priori -- Salo doesn't
distinguish between a historic form found in Tolkien's writings and one
reconstructed by himself: they are both listed using *. In addition, Salo
occasionally lists forms he considers doubtful also marked with the *, cf.
*_udul_ or *_idir_ on p. 118.
Forms not found in Tolkien's writings are sometimes marked with a ! in the
main grammar sections of the book, sometimes not; there is no clear
scheme. In order to learn if a complete word is deduced somewhere one can
usually refer to the Sindarin-English wordlist in the appendix where the
scheme has been carried out more thoroughly, but which inflectional forms
of a given word are actually attested and which are not is impossible to
determine from the book.
To be fair, Salo discusses outright reconstructions in text passages (so
e.g. for the pronouns or the verb 'to be'), and the pattern of the four
consonant mutations is marked very thoroughly according to what is
attested and what is deduced. Nevertheless, this rigor is lacking in many
other discussions of the grammar. Regularized spelling likewise is only
indicated in the appendix, not in the main bulk of the text. This creates
the (false) impressions that a lot of forms would be comparatively well
The translations given for Sindarin expressions and names are often
different from those found in Tolkien's writings (and as such unattested).
For example, for _nad_ 'thing' (V:374) we find on p. 121 the additional
translation 'being'. However, this translation isn't actually given
anywhere by Tolkien; its purpose is evidently to provide support for
Salo's idea that the form is a gerund of the verb 'to be'.
V. Sindarin phonology development
A large portion of the first part of the book deals with the sequence of
sound changes from Common Eldarin to "classical" Sindarin across the
intermediate stages of Old Sindarin and Middle Sindarin. This is a highly
detailed analysis involving a staggering amount of work and is very
fascinating to read, although it is difficult to see the complete picture
due to the wealth of details.
The main problem here is that Salo did not introduce a scheme to make a
distinction between forms by Tolkien and by himself. Thus, while the
sequence of sound shifts may have been as Salo describes, it is very hard
to see to what degree one can rely on the tables without re-doing the
whole analysis. This is very sad, but as it is, I would hesitate to base a
serious conclusion on the tables.
VI. The grammar and syntax of Sindarin
In the discussion of Sindarin grammar and syntax, David Salo presents new
observations and interesting insights alongside forms pressed into a
framework he thinks should be correct.
I found the observation that the first noun in a genitive sequence or
adjective is often shortened (p. 93, 103) very interesting and new.
Similarly the A-affection on p. 82 (the change from e.g. near-final _i_ to
_e_ in the presence of an ending _a_ in Old Sindarin, cf. the adjective
ending _-ina_ > _-en_) is a very good explanation of a phenomenon of which
I had only noticed some particular instances. Likewise, the presentation of
the ablaut phenomenon (p. 90) is very clear and nicely done.
The presentation of the adjective employs a few unusual interpretations,
which nevertheless are possible. So is Salo's assumption that _menel-vîr
síla díriel_ should be read as 'watchful sky-jewel shines' rather than
'sky-jewel shines watchful' (p. 101), and the observation that if the
adjective precedes the noun, the noun may be lenited (p. 102) is very good
indeed. On the other hand, it is odd to see _fen hollen_ as an example for
the lack of lenition (p. 102) -- since that is the only place where the word
is attested, we don't know if it is lenited ?_sollen_ or unlenited ?_hollen_.
The discussion of the pronominal system is as expected -- since Tolkien
changed this particular aspect of his languages over and over, it is hard
to make certain statements, and this is a chapter in which Salo is very
careful and honest in the distinction between attested and reconstructed
A critical view on the presentation of the verbal system has already been
given in some detail above: The presentation suffers strongly from the
fact that Salo tries to force attested forms to conform to his ideas
rather than let the attested forms guide the development of his theory.
The discussion of the definite article includes the old idea that it may
become ?_ir_ before nouns beginning with _i-_ -- while there is a
possibility that this is so, there is _i innas lin_ 'thy will' from the Ae Adar
(VT44:21f) to show that this is not necessarily so, and Qenya _írë_ (V:72)
'when' to provide a plausible alternative translation of the (untranslated)
_Ir Ithil ammen Eruchîn _ (III:354). Salo doesn't mention this possibility.
VII. Sindarin word formation
To be frank, Salo's chapter on word formation from Common Eldarin roots
doesn't make much sense to me. On p. 158, he seems to assume that words
like _cam_ 'hand' or _gamp_ 'hook' are derived from a nasalized root (as
opposed to the derivation using a suffix described later), hence KAB >
?_kamb_ > _cam_ or GAP > ?_gamp_ > _gamp_. That idea completely neglects
the simple fact that a form in Common Eldarin is often not only relevant for
Sindarin only but also for Quenya. Therefore we should be looking for a
form which is able to yield both Sindarin _gamp_ and Quenya _ampa_ -- and
that rather suggests a derivational suffix like _-na_. It so happens that
Tolkien himself describes the derivation _gapna_ > _gampa_ > _gamp_ in
VT47:20, where we also find the Common Eldarin form of _cam_ -- it is
_kambâ_ (VT47:7), which is the result of _kab-mâ_ (VT47:12), i.e. it also
involves a derivational suffix.
The same is true for the nouns with doubled finals -- Salo derives _peth_
'word' via a doubling of the final root consonant, not via a suffix -- and
yet we find under KWET the Common Eldarin form _kwetta_ (V:366), which
evidently employs a derivational suffix _-ta_ (and leads to Quenya
_quetta_ attested in XI:391).
A similar lack of consistency with the formation of Quenya words flaws the
whole chapter -- Salo fails to recognize that Sindarin _aegas_ 'mountain
peak' is the cognate of Quenya _aikasse_ (V:349), and the latter form
gives a good clue as to the origin of _-as_ in this case: it probably
represents a fossilized locative _aikasse_ *'on pointed place' >
'mountain-peak' and probably is not the same suffix seen in e.g. _galas_
'growth' but rather in _ennas_ 'there' (the latter form is interpreted by
Salo as fossilized locative on p. 109).
Likewise, the gerund endings are not really ?_-ad_ (from ?_-ata_) and
?_-ed_ (from ?_-ita_) as Salo claims (p. 162f), they rather represent the
same ending _-ta_ which is seen in Quenya, for A-verbs directly attached
to the stem, cf. _*lindata_ > _linnad_, for stem verbs by means of a
connecting vowel _i_ just like any present tense ending, hence _*karita_ >
*_cared _ with A-affection.
I cannot find much useful information in the word formation part, too much
of what could be learned by comparing parallel evolution of Sindarin and
Quenya from the same Common Eldarin stem has simply been neglected.
The discussion of Sindarin compound words on the other hand is a different
matter. Salo goes nicely into the different ideas behind compounding words
and provides an impressive list of examples which show the rich variety of
consonant and vowel changes which may occur according to the phonological
environment. This piece of work goes far beyond the Ardalambion statement
in  that "when a word is used as the second element of a compound, it
often undergoes changes similar to the effects of the soft mutation."
VIII. Discussion of attested texts
The discussion of the attested Sindarin samples is seriously flawed by
Salo's unwillingness to accept what Tolkien wrote.
First of all, translations given by Salo seldom agree with Tolkien's own
words (but there is no statement that the translations have in fact been
altered). Compare, for example, the translation of Sam's inspired cry given
'O Queen of the Stars, Kindler of the Stars, far-watching from heaven, I
cry to you under the horror of death! O watch over me, Ever-white Veil!'
and by Tolkien (L:278):
'O Elbereth Starkindler, from heaven gazing-afar, to thee I cry now in the
shadow of (the fear of) death. O look towards me, Everwhite!'
I see no necessity not to provide Tolkien's own translations and not to
mark what is probably intended as a more literal translation as such. But
it doesn't stop here: Salo likewise shows no hesitation in altering the
actual texts he quotes. While the original of the Ae Adar (VT4:21f) has _i
innas lin_, Salo's version has a long _i innas lín_ (I agree that it
probably can be regularized, but I don't agree that it can be done without
a remark); and while the original has _bo Ceven_, Salo alters this into _bo
Geven_, stating that _bo Geven_ "is expected here" (p. 232).
It certainly doesn't make too much sense to me to discuss the attested
texts if they are altered in the process without notice to fit Salo's
theory. In an appendix designed to discuss Tolkien's attested texts, Salo
should be doing that rather than just pretending to.
IX. Annotated bibliography
If you are one of the people who wondered "Where the hell do we find all
the stuff these grammar texts refer to?", then the annotated bibliography
is for you. In fact, it is an excellent idea. David Salo describes nicely
where in Tolkien's writings what information can be found, so anyone
looking for the original references can plan his trip to the bookstore
accordingly. This is not unimportant, since there are books in which only
a few names can be found whereas from other sources a wealth of grammar
information can be extracted.
It seems a bit odd that Salo tries to provide corrigenda to the
_Etymologies_ -- while the published texts certainly contain misreadings,
VT 45 and VT 46, edited by Carl F. Hostetter and Patrick H. Wynne, provide
"Addenda and Corrigenda to the _Etymologies_" -- unlike Salo's work, their
work is based on a re-examination of the original manuscripts and not on
theoretical considerations, and therefore is bound to be much more
meaningful. While Salo contends that they still may contain mistakes,
_Vinyar Tengwar_ has a list of errata, so there is no need to make point
out of it.
The book concludes with a review of previous works about Sindarin --
Ruth S. Noel's _The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-Earth_ and Jim Allan's
_An Introduction to Elvish_. Since both books are very outdated, the result
is predictable -- Salo points out a lot of flaws in the identification of
forms that were (at that time) rather mysterious.
Without question, _A Gateway to Sindarin_ is currently the best English
book available on Sindarin. However, given the fact that the only
competitors are Ruth S. Noel's _The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-Earth_
and Jim Allan's _An Introduction to Elvish_, which are both outdated and
inaccurate simply due to a lack of published samples of Sindarin when they
were written, that in itself is not much of an achievement.
Who will profit from the book? It is not for someone seeking to learn
Sindarin and to use it for his own compositions -- it is no language
course, doesn't contain exercises, and (apart from what Tolkien has
written) no continuous texts in Sindarin that would show how the language
could be used. Teaching is not Salo's aim.
It is probably not even an easy resource for someone who is looking for an
introduction to Sindarin without the aim to learn it as a language, due to
the highly technical terms used by Salo -- one has to have more than just
a basic knowledge of linguistic terminology in order to understand some
It cannot be used as a reference for scholarly studies -- Salo's many
alterations of Tolkien's material, the lack of distinction between
Tolkien-made and Salo-made historic forms, and the inaccuracy in providing
Tolkien's own translations make this impossible -- which is a clear loss.
With a little more effort, a valuable resource could have been produced.
As it is, the only safe option (though time consuming) is to look up
things scattered in Tolkien's original writings -- lists of CE roots, names
and words are useless for scholarly purposes if they do not reproduce the
original sources faithfully.
Given all that, someone with an interest in technical studies of the
language, be it phonology or grammar, will find a lot of interesting ideas
in the book. Unfortunately, the reasoning behind these ideas is never
explained; therefore to get the most out of it one needs both a good
knowledge of the underlying sources and of other secondary literature
discussing Sindarin grammar with Tolkien's writings as starting point.
With a pricetag of $50, my counsel would be to think seriously if one
would like to have the book. For learning the grammar of Sindarin on a
technical level, it is not better than what Ardalambion or other sources
provide for free. For learning how to use the language it is not a
suitable resource (there are likewise various internet resources available
for free for that purpose), and for scholarly studies it cannot be used.
If you have read everything else about Sindarin already -- then get it, it
is interesting and brings some novel aspects.
 'The Past-Tense Verb in the Noldorin of the _Etymologies_' by Carl F.
Hostetter on http://www.elvish.org/Tengwestie
 'Sindarin -- the Noble Tongue' by Helge Fauskanger on
- Thorsten Renk sent his most welcome and knowledgeable discussion of
'A Gateway to Sindarin' by David Salo. Regarding your review, I've got two
1) You say David Salo's language is often over-technical. Could you
provide some examples, where you feel a term to be 'too technical' ?
Certainly, if Salo addresses a scholarly audience there is nothing
wrong with that. In my world, technical language is highly useful and
being employed because it is accurate. So, 'unnecessarily technical' in
2) Under section V. you state
> "it is difficult to see the complete picture due to the wealth ofwhich sounds rather astounding to me. In fact, it seems like an
oxymoron. At least in my world an accurate historical description of a
language can only come close to a complete picture by using all the
details one can get. Indeed, earlier in your review you (quite rightly,
I think) expose David Salo's omissions or dismissals of attested forms
as giving a wrong, or incomplete picture. Or do you refer to the manner
of presentation rather than the amount of details? Indeed, it seems
like David Salo actually aims at a 'complete picture' of Sindarin, but
according to what he views as 'standard Sindarin', not attested
Tolkienian Noldorin, Sindarin etc. That is why he follows a somewhat
reductionist and/ or reinterpreting approach, much to the detriment of
his work. A 'complete' picture needs to point out the many layers,
lacunae and often patchy evidence rather than create the image of
totally homogeneous Sindarin, that probably never existed. Which leads
to my third point:
3) To me it seems David Salo's book is meant to 'teach'. To teach a
fictional, 'regularized' Sindarin and to provide a tool to create forms
not actually attested, using a -more or less- Salonian pattern.
Surely, a less technical book could have been written for the less
linguistically savvy reader but that, we agree, wasn't Mr. Salo's aim.
Rather, he wanted to present 'Sindarin' as _per Salonem_ in a
comprehensive matter. To be used, perhaps, in productions and
fabrications à la 'The Lord of the Rings, the movie'.
- With regard to the questions raised by David Kiltz:
> 1) You say David Salo's language is often over-technical. Could youPlease let me first say that I do not object to the use of technical
> provide some examples, where you feel a term to be 'too technical' ?
> Certainly, if Salo addresses a scholarly audience there is nothing
> wrong with that. In my world, technical language is highly useful and
> being employed because it is accurate. So, 'unnecessarily technical' in
> what respect?
language as such -- as long as it is done for precision and with proper
consideration of the audience. I use a highly technical language in my own
scientific publications (which are intended to be read by heavy-ion
physics theorists). Likewise, Vinyar Tengwar employs a technical language
and I can't find anything wrong with it -- it is written as a scholarly
publication and fulfills the criteria for scholarly work, i.e. citation of
other works, references to sources where applicable and so on.
However, in my field (physics), I would make a difference in the use of
technical terms when addressing heavy-ion theorists, physicists or
scientists in general, acknowledging that there is a tradeoff between the
use of precise terms for precision and making other people understand what
I mean. This is a personal judgement, and my remark about Salo's use of
technical terms reflects precisely that -- my personal impression. I feel
that the intention of the book is being a 'summary' rather than an ongoing
research project, and as such I think that technical terms are at times
To give an example from my own field (I am sorry, that is easiest for me)
-- I could say something like "Applying the 'plus' operator to the '1'
element and the '2' element leads to an equivalence relation to the '3'
element of the group with respect to this operator." While using technical
terms, the sentence actually means only '1 plus 2 is 3', and unless I am
talking about other groups defined by other operators where the
meta-language of group structure actually would be necessary, I cannot
find that there is any loss of information in the simple version.
Coming back to Salo -- this is how I feel about Chapter 17 on syntax. I
count myself among the intended audience -- although I have no formal
knowledge of linguistics, I know the grammar of several languages apart
from my mothertongue. I would be unable to make much of the chapter if I
had not read a book on X-bar syntax theory once. As far as I know, syntax
theory is a kind of meta-language for the description of language -- neat
if you want to compare two languages with very different grammar, say
Japanese and Finnish, where the Finnish terms would be inadequate to
describe Japanese grammar and vice versa, but not adding to clarity if you
discuss only one language. I would assume that people who have not read
X-bar theory are confused when Salo calls _i_ a complementizer (p.202) (a
term non-linguists are in my experience not familiar at all) whereas
Tolkien calls the Qenya relative pronoun _ya_ a relative pronoun (PE14:54,
that's admittedly Early Qenya, but I think the point that Tolkien didn't
use X-bar theory anywhere to describe the grammar of his languages is
So, to give the example of a sentence which I find unnecessarily
techincal, p. 203: "A sentence can consist of a noun phrase and a
prepositional phrase (...), in which case the sentence has a jussive
sense. These are distinct from noun-phrase sentences, as the prepositional
phrase does not form part of the noun phrase but rather functions
adverbially to the unexpressed verb 'to be'." I confess I have no idea what
'a jussive sense' is (it isn't explained in the glossary) but from the
examples given below I gather (by backwards engineering) that the actual
meaning of the paragraph is rather simple: If a noun is given as subject
of the sentence and if there is an object with a preposition, often the
imperative 'be!' is implied but not written. I fail to see how Salo aims
for clarity here, as his translations (e.g. '(let there be) fire for the
saving for us') place 'fire' as object, which doesn't seem to be implied
by the Sindarin version since there is no lenition of _gurth_ in e.g.
_gurth an glamhoth_.
It is my impression that the technical language used here is a complicated
way of expressing simple grammatical constructions.
> 2) Under section V. you stateThere is a German saying 'Den Wald vor lauter Baeumen nicht sehen' (to be
>> "it is difficult to see the complete picture due to the wealth of
> which sounds rather astounding to me. In fact, it seems like an
> oxymoron. At least in my world an accurate historical description of a
> language can only come close to a complete picture by using all the
> details one can get. Indeed, earlier in your review you (quite rightly,
> I think) expose David Salo's omissions or dismissals of attested forms
> as giving a wrong, or incomplete picture. Or do you refer to the manner
> of presentation rather than the amount of details?
unable to see the forest because of all the trees) -- that is what I had in
mind there. I am lost in the many details -- which I for sure would not
want to be left out -- I would just be glad for a guideline indicating the
patterns, the differences in flavour in the changes at the different
conceptual stages. In a nutshell, I would like to read (in addition to
the text as it is) the answer to the question, "If you were to write a
paragraph summarizing the changes from Old Sindarin to Sindarin, what
would that be?" So -- this is only a reference to the manner of
> 3) To me it seems David Salo's book is meant to 'teach'. To teach aI am not quite sure about Salo's aim (we might ask him, I suppose). I am,
> fictional, 'regularized' Sindarin and to provide a tool to create forms
> not actually attested, using a -more or less- Salonian pattern.
> Surely, a less technical book could have been written for the less
> linguistically savvy reader but that, we agree, wasn't Mr. Salo's aim.
> Rather, he wanted to present 'Sindarin' as _per Salonem_ in a
> comprehensive matter. To be used, perhaps, in productions and
> fabrications à la 'The Lord of the Rings, the movie'.
however, asked by very different people "Would you recommend that I read
the book?" -- so I know that non-linguistic minded people are thinking
about ordering it.