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Prefixed month-names in the "New Era" calendar

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  • Patrick H. Wynne
    In the New Era calendar of c. 1949-50 (XII:133-136), the 12 months of the year are divided into five seasons -- Spring, Autumn, and Stirring have two months
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 22, 2005
      In the "New Era" calendar of c. 1949-50 (XII:133-136), the 12
      months of the year are divided into five seasons -- Spring,
      Autumn, and Stirring have two months each, and Summer and Winter
      have three months each. As Christopher Tolkien notes on p. 135,
      the Quenya names of the months on this early calendar are almost
      identical to those familiar from Appendix D to _The Lord of the
      Rings_: _Víressë_ 'April', _Lótessë_ 'May', _Nárië_ 'June', etc.

      On the back of the table giving the second version of the "New
      Era" calendar is a list of alternative Quenya names for the
      months (XII:135). These alternative names are regularly formed
      by sequential addition of the prefixes _er-_, _nó-_, and _mete-_
      to the name of the season in which a month falls; for example,
      the two months in _Tuilë_ 'Spring', _Víressë_ 'April' and
      _Lótessë_ 'May', have the alternative names _Ertuilë_ and
      _Nótuilë_, respectively. Similarly, the three months of _Lairë_
      'Summer' have the alternative names _Ellairë_ (June), _Nólairë_
      (July), and _Metelairë_ (August); and so on through the months
      comprising _Quellë_ 'Autumn', _Hrívë_ 'Winter', and _Coirë_
      'Stirring'. These alternative names do not appear in any form in
      Appendix D, since the arrangement of the months into alternating
      groups of two and three was a feature that did not survive in
      the published text of Appendix D.


      The alternative name of the first month of each season in the
      "New Era" calendar begins with the prefix _er-_, which must mean
      'first': _Ertuilë_ *'First-spring', _Ellairë_ *'First-summer'
      (with assimilation of RL > LL), _Errívë_ *'First-winter', etc.
      This use of _er-_ is unusual, for in Tolkien's later writings
      the stem meaning 'one, first in a series' is MIN, whereas ER
      means 'single' (non-serial) -- cf. the 1969 essay "The Rivers
      and Beacon-hills of Gondor" (VT42:24). Moreover, this
      distinction between these two stems dates back to the Early
      Qenya Grammar of 1923, which cites _min_ 'one (in a series)' and
      _minya_ 'first', vs. _er_ 'one (only, alone)' and _erya_ 'only,
      single' (PE14:82); so also in the _Etymologies_, which has Q.
      _er_ 'one, alone' and _erya_ 'single, sole' < ERE- 'be alone,
      deprived', vs. Q. _mine_ 'one' and _minya_ 'first' < MINI-
      'stand alone, stick out'.

      Another example of this atypical use of ER instead of MIN in the
      sense 'first' occurs in a preliminary list of the names of the
      rivers of Gondor (VII:312), which includes N. _Ereg_
      'First' (for ordinal _-eg_, cp. _Lhefneg_ 'Fifth' on the same
      list). S. _Erui_, which replaced _Ereg_ in LotR (LR:857), was
      thus perhaps intended to mean 'First' when it was originally
      coined, but Tolkien later stated flatly in "The Rivers and
      Beacon-hills" that _Erui_ cannot mean 'first', for "in Eldarin
      _er_ was not used in counting in series: it meant 'one, single,
      alone'" (VT42:10), a sense appropriate for the Erui because of
      the rivers of Gondor it "was the only one without a
      tributary" (ibid.).

      The second month of each season has an alternative name
      beginning in _nó-_, apparently meaning *'after' or *'next' --
      cp. the preposition _nó, no_ 'after (only of time)' and the
      adverb _no_ 'then, next (of time)' given in QL as derivatives of
      the root NÔ- 'ahead, in front; after, of time; tomorrow'. Thus
      _Nótuilë_ *'After-spring' (or *'Next-spring'), _Nólairë_
      *'After-summer', etc.

      The alternative name of the third months of summer and winter
      begin with the prefix _mete-_ *'end' or *'last' < MET- 'end',
      whence Q. _metta_ 'ending' and _métima_ 'ultimate, final'
      (V:373, LR:946, MC:222) -- thus _Metelairë_ *'Last-summer' and
      _Meterrívë_ *'Last-winter' (these were later emended to
      _Mettelairë, Metterrívë_).


      The page of alternative names also includes a list of the usual
      names of the seasons and months in Noldorin (almost identical to
      the Sindarin forms given in Appendix D), along with a few
      alternative names.

      The most easily analyzable of the alternative Noldorin forms are
      those for the second and third months of _Rhíw_ 'Winter': N.
      _Ephriw_ (December) and _Cathriw_ (January). When we diagram the
      three months of winter with their Q. and N. alternative names --

      November -- Q. Errívë
      December -- Q. Norrívë -- N. Ephriw
      January -- Q. Meterrívë -- N. Cathriw

      -- it is readily apparent that the N. prefix _eph-_ corresponds
      to Q. _nó-_ *'after, next', and N. _cath-_ to Q. _mete-_ *'last,

      N. _eph-_ seems clearly cognate with Q. _ep-_ 'after' in
      _epessë_ 'after-name' (UT:266), with the P spirantizing to PH in
      contact with the voiceless RH of _Rhíw_ 'Winter'. The same stem
      occurs in Q. _epe_ 'before', a word used to introduce the second
      element of a comparison (VT44:38). The apparent contradiction of
      the same stem meaning both 'before' and 'after' is probably
      illusory -- we have already noted that according to QL, the root
      NÔ- means 'after' when referring to _time_, but also 'ahead, in
      front', probably in a _spatial_ sense. Thus an _epessë_ was a
      nickname given to a person later in life _after_ they had
      already received their father-name and mother-name, and _Ephriw_
      December, lit. *'After-winter', was the month that came _after_
      November, the first month of Winter. On the other hand, in a
      comparison such as "A is brighter than B", 'than' was rendered
      by _epe_ 'before', since A was apparently viewed metaphorically
      as standing _before_ B in an imagined scale of brightness.

      N. _cath-_ is apparently derived from _cata_ (also _ca, cana_)
      'behind, at back of place' (from a list of prepositions dating
      to the mid-1950s; VT43:30), with the T spirantized to TH in
      contact with the RH in _Rhíw_. The sense intended is probably
      'last' in the sense 'hindmost, at the end' (of the three-month
      sequence) -- apparently the stem _cata_ did not have the sense
      variation between 'before' and 'after' dependent on spatial
      versus temporal reference seen in _ep-, epe_ and NÔ-.

      Thus far the Noldorin alternative names seem relatively
      straightforward. However, the etymologies offered above run into
      a major problem when we take into account the alternative names
      for the _summer_ months:

      June -- Q. Ellairë -- N. Ebloer
      July -- Q. Nólairë -- N. Cadloer
      August -- Q. Metelairë

      There can be little doubt that phonologically N. _eb-_ and
      _cad-_ in _Ebloer_ and _Cadloer_ are simply non-spirantized
      variants of N. _eph-_ and _cath-_ in _Ephriw_ and _Cathriw_;
      _eb-_ < *_ep-_ and _cad-_ < *_cat-_. However, assuming that the
      translations of _eph-_ and _cath-_ proposed above are accurate,
      we are faced with a semantic conundrum -- for _Ebloer_,
      apparently *'After-summer', is the name of June, the _first_
      month of summer; and _Cadloer_, apparently *'Last-summer', is
      the name of July, the second rather than last month of summer.

      "Homer nodded" argumentation is too often resorted to in order
      to explain apparent inconsistencies in Tolkien's languages, but
      it seems to me that in this instance it is highly likely that
      Tolkien did in fact make a mistake, and that his actual
      intention was that _Ebloer_ and _Cadloer_ were the alternative
      names of July and August respectively, rather than of June and

      The text itself seems to provide a mechanism that could explain
      how this mistake occurred. The list of Quenya alternative names
      on the page is followed by the list of the usual Noldorin names
      for the months (arranged into groups of two and three labeled by
      season), and below this appears the list of alternative Noldorin
      names. As noted above, N. _eph-_ corresponds to Q. _nó-_
      *'after, next' (so that N. _Ephriw_ = Q. _Norrívë_), and the
      same would of course be true of the variant _eb-_. It seems
      possible that as Tolkien set out to write the alternative N.
      month-names, he glanced up to the Quenya list to see which
      summer month began with the corresponding prefix _nó-_, but his
      eye was caught instead by N. _Nórui_ 'June', which also begins
      with the letters _nó-_ (though the first element in _Nórui_ is
      actually unrelated, *_nór-_ < *_nâr-_ 'sun'). This led Tolkien
      to mistakenly assign _Ebloer_ to June, and _Cadloer_ as July
      naturally followed on the heels of this.

      Tolkien returned to this list ("much later", according to
      Christopher Tolkien) and emended _Ebloer_ and _Cadloer_ to
      _Eblaer_ and _Cadlaer_, though their assignation to June and
      July were allowed to stand. This might argue against assuming a
      mistake on Tolkien's part, but when making later changes to the
      list Tolkien was perhaps focusing entirely on the Elvish forms
      themselves and not paying attention to the meanings assigned to
      them. If _Ebloer_ and _Cadloer_ as June and July are _not_
      mistakes, then I am at a loss to explain how their prefixes
      relate semantically to _Ephriw_ and _Cathriw_.

      -- Patrick H. Wynne
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