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

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  • 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 1 of 9 , Apr 11, 2005
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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

      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 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

      > 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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