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Re: [Lambengolmor] A review of ' A Gateway to Sindarin'

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  • David Kiltz
    Thorsten Renk sent his most welcome and knowledgeable discussion of A Gateway to Sindarin by David Salo. Regarding your review, I ve got two questions: 1)
    Message 1 of 9 , Mar 31, 2005
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      Thorsten Renk sent his most welcome and knowledgeable discussion of
      'A Gateway to Sindarin' by David Salo. Regarding your review, I've got two
      questions:

      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
      what respect?

      2) Under section V. you state

      > "it is difficult to see the complete picture due to the wealth of
      > details."

      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? 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'.

      David Kiltz
    • Thorsten Renk
      ... Please let me first say that I do not object to the use of technical language as such -- as long as it is done for precision and with proper consideration
      Message 2 of 9 , Apr 11 6:23 PM
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        With regard to the questions raised by David Kiltz:

        > 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
        > what respect?

        Please let me first say that I do not object to the use of technical
        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
        overused.

        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
        valid).

        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 state
        >
        >> "it is difficult to see the complete picture due to the wealth of
        >> details."
        >
        > 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?

        There is a German saying 'Den Wald vor lauter Baeumen nicht sehen' (to be
        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
        presentation.


        > 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'.

        I am not quite sure about Salo's aim (we might ask him, I suppose). I am,
        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.

        * Thorsten
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