The New Spanish.

For years one of the items sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read was The Lord of the Last Days: Visions of the Year 1000, a novel [set in northern Spain] by the Mexican poet Homero Aridjis, and since I’d been reading about the period in Wickham I thought I might as well give it a go. After a couple of chapters, I’m about ready to give up on it; it may be a fine novel, but it doesn’t suit my mood at the moment — too, well, poetic or something. But the business about Spanish doesn’t help.

Chapter 2 — excuse me, Vision II — opens thus:

“Eye, hand, foot, house, horse.” A man was teaching his son words in the new Spanish, as both sat beside the beggar’s gate on the ground outside the monastery. “Knife, dove, chest.”

“The new Spanish?” I thought. “That’s odd. But I guess Spanish could be considered a relatively new language around 1000, and the author is remarking on that. Fair enough!” And I continued on. Then, a page or so later, I hit this:

“Could he but talk, he’d be a jester and singer of songs in the new tongue that is aborning; he’d go from castle to castle, to markets and public squares, rejoicing the plain people,” said she who was called Oro María.

I didn’t like the Historical Novelese (“Could he but talk”; “that is aborning”; “she who was called”), but what really bothered me was this business about “the new tongue.” Could the author possibly think that people in Spain in the year 1000, or at any time in any place, see themselves as speaking a new language when that language is just a further evolution in a linguistic history going back millennia? Just because we moderns have decided that after a certain point we’ll call it “Spanish” rather than “Latin” doesn’t mean that people at the time woke up saying “Hey, we’re speaking Spanish now!” That’s blithering idiocy. I gritted my teeth and moved on, but on the very next page I hit “Why were you teaching an infant who cannot speak words in the new vernacular?” And I cursed in my own vernacular, and after finishing the chapter — excuse me, Vision — I set the book aside, never, perhaps, to pick it up again except to put it on the To Sell pile. (If any reader knows any reason why I should give it another try when I’ve recovered, say so; I’m a fair man and try not to be ruled by the aggravations of the passing moment.)

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the odd-looking (for a Mexican poet) name Homero Aridjis, his father was Greek, so it’s a Hispanized version of Ὅμηρος Ἀριτζής. I wondered how the surname would be pronounced in Spanish, and it turns out (according to this video) that it’s just as you’d expect a Spanish speaker to say it, /aˈriðχis/.

Comments

  1. Is the novel set in Spain? Since the author is Mexican, I first read “new language” as meaning new to indigenous people..

  2. Oh, yes, sorry, it’s set in northern Spain. I should add that to the post to make it clear.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    Are you reading an English translation? Perhaps the book is more palatable in Spanish?

    If the words – everyday words too – being taught are “new”, what are they supposed to replace?

  4. Are you reading an English translation?

    Yes, it would take me too long to read it in Spanish even if I could find a copy. I’m willing to make the effort for Cervantes or Cortázar, but not for this.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    LH, I am not faulting you! I just wonder how the old-to-new language is handled in the original.

  6. Well hey, it’s surrealism. If you set out to read a surrealist story and are told that the hero has been changed into a monstrous vermin, with no explanations given then or ever, do you throw the story against the wall?

  7. — Si pudiera hablar, sería bufón y cantor de coplas en la lengua naciente, iría de castillo en castillo, por mercados y plazas, provocando alegría en el pueblo menudo — fantaseo la llamada Oro María.

  8. — Ojo, mano, pie, casa, caballo — enseñaba un hombre a su hijo palabras del romance nuevo, sentados ambos en la tierra, afuera del monasterio, junto a la puerta de la mendicidad —. Cuchillo, paloma, pecho.

  9. Trust MMcM to come up with the original. And I don’t like “the new Spanish” for “el romance nuevo” — why not “the new Romance language,” or (in the translator’s favored style) “the Romance speech a-borning”?

  10. I take it they’re not switching from Basque to Indo-European (Latin, Spanish, something in between) or vice versa? Depending on precisely where in ‘northern Spain’ the story is set, that could also be in the mix.

  11. In Spanish, romance means ‘the Spanish language’ according to Wiktionary, in addition to the meanings ‘love, romance’ and ‘novel’; it is a synonym for castellano and español. So it looks like Romance language/speech would be an incorrect translation.

    Here’s a bit ofTolkien’s preface to the 1940 edition of the Clarke Hall translation of Beowulf (published separately as “On Translating Beowulf”, reparagraphed by me). Note that he does not claim that all translation should be like this, still less all original composition.

    […] Personally you may not like an archaic vocabulary, and word-order, artificially maintained as an elevated and literary language. You may prefer the brand new, the lively and the snappy. But whatever may be the case with other poets of past ages (with Homer, for instance) the author of Beowulf did not share this preference. If you wish to translate, not re-write, Beowulf, your language must be literary and traditional: not because it is now a long while since the poem was made, or because it speaks of things that have since become ancient; but because the diction of Beowulf was poetical, archaic, artificial (if you will), in the day that the poem was made.

    Many words used by the ancient English poets had, even in the eighth century, already passed out of colloquial use for anything from a lifetime to hundreds of years[2]. They were familiar to those who were taught to use and hear the language of verse, as familiar as thou or thy are to-day; but they were literary, elevated, recognized as old (and esteemed on that account). Some words had never, in the senses given to them by the poets, been used in ordinary language at all.

    This does not apply solely to poetic devices such as swan-rad; it is true also of some simple and much used words, such as beorn 211, etc., and freca 1563. Both meant ‘warrior’, or in heroic poetry ‘man’. Or rather both were used for ‘warrior’ by poets, while beorn was still a form of the word ‘bear'[3], and freca a name of the wolf[4], and they were still used in verse when the original senses were forgotten. To use beorn and freca became a sign that your language was ‘poetical”, and these words survived, when much else of the ancient diction had perished, as the special property of the writers of alliterative verse in the Middle Ages. As bern and freik they survived indeed in Northern English (especially in Scotland) down to modern times; and yet never in their long history of use in this sense, over a thousand years, were they ever part of the colloquial speech.

    This sort of thing — the building up of a poetic language out of words and forms archaic and dialectal or used in special senses — may be regretted or disliked. There is nonetheless a case for it: the development of a form of language familiar in meaning and yet freed from trivial associations, and filled with the memory of good and evil, is an achievement, and its possessors are richer than those who have no such tradition. It is an achievement possible to people of relatively small material wealth and power (such as the ancient English as compared with their descendants); but it is not necessarily to be despised on that account. But, whether you regret it or not, you will misrepresent the first and most salient characteristic of the style and flavour of the author, if in translating Beowulf, you deliberately eschew the traditional literary and poetic diction which we now possess in favour of the current and trivial. In any case a self-conscious, and often silly, laughter comes too easily to us to be tempted in this way. The things we are here dealing with are serious, moving, and full of ‘high sentence’ -if we have the patience and solidity to endure them for a while.

    We are being at once wisely aware of our own frivolity and just to the solemn temper of the original, if we avoid hitting and whacking and prefer ‘striking’ and ‘smiting’; talk and chat and prefer ‘speech’ and ‘discourse’; exquisite and artistic and prefer the ‘cunning craft’ and ‘skill’ of ancient smiths; visitors (suggesting umbrellas, afternoon tea, and all too familiar faces) and prefer ‘guests’ with a truer note of real hospitality, long and arduous travel, and strange voices bearing unfamiliar news; well-bred, brilliant, or polite noblemen (visions of snobbery columns in the press, and fat men on the Riviera) and prefer the ‘worthy brave and courteous men’ of long ago.

    Tolkien’s footnotes:

    [2] Those who have access to texts and editions will easily find many examples. Nouns, such as guma ‘man’, are the largest class, but other words of other kind are also frequent, such as ongeador 1595 ‘together’; gamol 58, etc. ‘old’; sin 1336, etc. ‘his’. In these four cases the ancestors of the normal modern words mann, togædere, ald, his were already the current words in the poet’s day.

    [3] O.E. bera; O.N. biōrn ‘bear’.

    [4] Literally ‘greedy one’; O.N. freki, wolf.

  12. That’s hilarious! So he conceives of the Spanish vernacular as a deliberate simplification of Latin, undertaken by forward-thinking reformers?

    (I love Tolkien’s defense of elevated language in translation, by the way! But I suspect that in this case the truer the translation the quicker to the Sell pile.)

  13. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Thank you for the Tolkien quotation, which makes sense. But Tolkien is giving actual examples of synonymous words in two different registers, from which the reader can appreciate the difference. From the Spanish (translated or not) quotations it is not at all clear what is “new” and recommended, or rather what was “old” in the older, now despised words, since the latter are left unmentioned. For Late Latin there are a few lists of recommended classical words (by then almost forgotten) versus despised “vulgar” words (preserved in Spanish, French and other modern languages). Perhaps the author imagines something similar in 1000 AD Spain? of course the book is a novel,not a treatise on the history of the Spanish language, but a sample of even half a dozen examples of “old” and “new” (which the author might have learned from reading works of the period) would have given a flavour of authenticity.

    Some years ago I learned a lot of Spanish from reading Don Quixote in the original, but on occasion the vocabulary was sometimes unsuitable for modern use. I remember a conversation with a Latin American friend in which I needed the word for “knees” and used los hinojos, which seemed to puzzle her, before I remembered las rodillas.

  14. Reminds me of certain historical” novels where the Spartans refer to themselves as “ancient Greeks” and say things like “it happened two years ago, back in 482 BC”

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Ha ha!

  16. The only way I can make sense out of it is that protagonists were Latin speakers who time-traveled to 1000AD.

    A nice example of a literary attempt to describe the birth of language is the beginning of Baudolino.

  17. m-l: The Tolkien quotation had nothing to do with the “new Spanish” issue, but my final edit lost that fact. It was actually in reference to Hat’s complaint about Historical Novelese style. Not that I expect to convince him otherwise; he’s entitled to his dislikes.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    JC, sorry for the misunderstanding.

  19. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Those terrible kids of the 80s, it took them one decade to ruin the perfectly good ol’ Vulgar Latin.

  20. Maybe it was a misprint for “el nuevo proto-romance.”

  21. – My son, since we are medieval Spaniards, we should drop this Latin nonsense and embrace the new tongue which is called Old Spanish or “Español medieval”!

  22. In Spanish, romance means ‘the Spanish language’ according to Wiktionary

    Well, according to my Oxford Spanish Dictionary, it means “(Ling) Romance” (in addition to the other senses), and I’m afraid I’m going to take the word of an actual printed dictionary with professional lexicographers and editors over that of Wiktionary, useful as the latter is.

    And yes, you’re never going to change my mind about Historical Novelese.

  23. Oh, God, time is indeed relative. “The ancient English poets”? “Ancient”??? They’re not “ancient” in my mental timeline, sorry. This is the great Tolkien we’re talking about, so I shouldn’t laugh, but I couldn’t help myself. It’s happened before. During a trip to the UK, we were told we would visit an ancient site the next day. It turned out to be a medieval church. At first we were left wondering where were the antiquities we had expected to see, then burst into laughter.

  24. ‘Search this site’ tells me I haven’t quoted this here, so I think I’d better. It’s a sample of the prose-style of Oliver, a a historical novelist who is a character in Robert Graves’ delightful novel Antigua, Penny, Puce:

    “‘Nay,’ cried the good bailiff of Hochschloss, ‘all folk who journey through this bailiwick must first drink the health of my Lord the Duke: in mead, be they poor; in good Rhine wine, be they of the better sort'”

    I’ve known that line by heart for thirty years. Graves reports that the novel, A Session of the Diet, “sold forty-five copies in England and seven in Canada. It is always a mystery in such cases who the forty-five buyers are.” Seriously: read the novel. Don’t worry: I believe that’s the only sample of Oliver’s prose we’re given.

  25. col. squiffy von bladet (ret.) says:

    “I’ve had a word with Brother Julio and we’re agreed that the ablative has no place in the modern go-getting world of Medieval Espain and so it is abolished with immediate effect”, Brother Xavier enunced.

    The crowd promptly and unisonly full-throated their enraptured felicity.

  26. Graves reports that the novel, A Session of the Diet, “sold forty-five copies in England and seven in Canada. It is always a mystery in such cases who the forty-five buyers are.”

    I’m sure Goodman Cowan would have been one of them.

  27. Hat: Michael hath in truth quoted it heretofore; I then replied, “I see nothing inherently risible in this paragraph: embedded in a well-crafted and well-written historical novel, it wouldn’t bother me in the least.”

    In short, antique diction is fine with me, and I hold it ignorance to judge a work bad merely because of its diction and syntax, always providing that the writer truly controls them and isn’t just faking it, as in Squiffy’s ensample.

    (“Search this site” doesn’t search comments, but googling [site:languagehat.com Hochschloss] works perfectly.)

    Ariadne: Well, yes, if you’ve been around since the -13C or so, then the 8C isn’t going to seem so ancient. But the most ancient English we have is only from the 7C:

    nu scylun hergan / hefaenricaes uard
    metudæs maecti / end his modgidanc
    uerc uuldurfadur / swe he uundra gihwaes
    eci dryctin / or astelidæ
    he aerist scop / aelda barnum
    heben til hrofe / haleg scepen.

    “Ancient” is a relative term, and it doesn’t mean the same thing for some languages as for others, still less for buildings.

  28. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the odd-looking (for a Mexican poet) name Homero Aridjis, his father was Greek, so it’s a Hispanized version of Ὅμηρος Ἀριτζής. I wondered how the surname would be pronounced in Spanish, and it turns out (according to this video) that it’s just as you’d expect a Spanish speaker to say it, /aˈriðχis/.

    I know someone in Chile whose name is Mpodozis. People don’t have any idea what to do with the M, so they ignore it; likewise the s at the and of word, but that ‘s because they don’t often pronounce a final s. More by accident than anything else they get the d right. He ends up as [pəʊ̯’ðəʊ̯sɪ]

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Mpodozis … ends up as [pəʊ̯’ðəʊ̯sɪ]

    Where? Those diphthongs sound British, not Chilean.

  30. I’m afraid I’m going to take the word of an actual printed dictionary with professional lexicographers and editors over that of Wiktionary, useful as the latter is.

    What a pity that those are the only two Spanish dictionaries in existence! No, wait…

    Collins Spanish-English Dictionary

    Romance
    masculine noun
    (linguistics) Romance language
    (= castellano) Spanish, Spanish language
    ⇒ hablar en romance(= con claridad) to speak plainly

    Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española

    romance
    […]
    2. m. Lengua derivada del latín, como el español, el catalán, el gallego, el italiano, el francés, etc.
    3. m. La lengua española, en oposición al latín o a otras lenguas no romances.

  31. Well, yes, Spanish romance does have a technical meaning in linguistics. But this book, very obviously, it is not a technical work of linguistics! So ‘Spanish’ is very clearly the relevant sense in context.

    (Why are the hispanophone Hattics so silent?)

  32. David Marjanović says:

    So poetic Old English simply borrowed beorn and freca from poetic Old Norse. 🙂

    m-l: The Tolkien quotation had nothing to do with the “new Spanish” issue, but my final edit lost that fact. It was actually in reference to Hat’s complaint about Historical Novelese style. Not that I expect to convince him otherwise; he’s entitled to his dislikes.

    Historical Novelese tends to be a very bad attempt at what Tolkien called for, often in situations that Tolkien didn’t have in mind.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    The Book of Mormon is an example, especially in the uncorrected first edition…

  34. It is not otherwise than the truth, O David.

  35. nu scylun hergan / …

    This gives a really weird sensation that if I could just squint and look at it as old English with one eye and as Old Norse with the other — and I knew a bit more about either — it would all make sense.

  36. Well, I was agreeing with you, John. My point was that these dictionaries do include the sense (= castellano).

  37. Using the Spanish word “romance” to mean “Spanish”, as opposed to “romance language”, is very much what the Fowlers would have called an elegant variation. One sentence from this novel isn’t enough to indicate to me whether this novelist is such a fusty stylist that he would do that. I would guess, though, that he uses “romance” because he’s trying to indicate that this way of talking doesn’t even have a proper name yet — and besides, no one thought of themselves as Spaniards anyway — in which case using the English word “romance” might be a better translation. — But I agree that the whole thing doesn’t ring true. Maybe five hundred years earlier, a despairing school master might have tried to have his students speak proper Latin, but by AD 1000 the fact that people simply did not speak the way people wrote in formal communications was universally recognized.

  38. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Mpodozis … ends up as [pəʊ̯’ðəʊ̯sɪ]

    Where? Those diphthongs sound British, not Chilean.

    Yes. I realized at the time but hoped it would go, if not unnoticed then at least uncommented. The problem is that I don’t know how to do the first half of [əʊ̯] as a pure sound (it’s certainly not [ə]), as it’s not in my very limited table. Just being lazy, of course, as I could easily find out. Maybe it’s just [o], and I was a bit surprised to find [əʊ̯] listed for the diphthong.

  39. My point was that these dictionaries do include the sense (= castellano).

    Yes, and I never denied that that sense existed; I was responding to JC’s comment:

    In Spanish, romance means ‘the Spanish language’ according to Wiktionary, in addition to the meanings ‘love, romance’ and ‘novel’; it is a synonym for castellano and español. So it looks like Romance language/speech would be an incorrect translation.

    Which clearly implies that Spanish romance means ‘the Spanish language’ and not ‘Romance.’ Which is Wrong.

  40. According to the telephone directory, there are several people with the family name Μποντόζης (Mpodozis or Bodozis, or even Bodozes, if that transliteration would make things clearer). But there are no diphthongs here, just a plain “o” in the first two syllables.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    there are no diphthongs here, just a plain “o” in the first two syllables.

    That’s what I would expect in a Greek name. The diphthong seems to belong to a British pronunciation. Perhaps the person who *discussed* the pronunciation was British, not Chilean or Greek.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    I was a bit surprised to find [əʊ̯] listed for the diphthong

    This pronunciation is certainly not common even in Britain. The version [ɵʊ̯] exists and seems to be considered RP nowadays; further fronting not infrequently goes all the way to [œy̑]. On the other side, more conservative versions like [ɔʊ̯] are by no means extinct; and [ɔ] is what I’d expect in Chilean Spanish based on the three speakers I’ve heard.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    David, I am not trying for an exact possible transcription of the diphthong, just surprised that any speaker of Chilean Spanish would use a diphthong instead of a plain vowel. AC-B, are you transcribing your own pronunciation of the name, with different vowels from those used by the bearer of the name?

  44. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    AC-B, are you transcribing your own pronunciation of the name, with different vowels from those used by the bearer of the name?

    I thought I’d clarified that, but I’ll try again. No, I am not representing my own pronunciation of the name, which begins with [b]. Yes, it’s not a diphthong, and I was wrong to put [əʊ̯], as I realized at the time but was too lazy to find the right symbol. The pure sound at the beginning of [əʊ̯] doesn’t exist in my English, or in the IPA table that I was using (which is, I think, based on the sounds of Standard Southern [British] English). The sound is clearly not [ə], and I’m surprised that the table gave that as the first half of the symbol [əʊ̯].

    According to the telephone directory, there are several people with the family name Μποντόζης (Mpodozis or Bodozis, or even Bodozes, if that transliteration would make things clearer). But there are no diphthongs here, just a plain  o in the first two syllables.

    Yes, but you’re talking about how a Greek speaker would transcribe it, but I’m talking about how people with no idea how to interpret Mp at the beginning of a name would pronounce it, and the most obvious way is to ignore the M to get [p]. Incidentally, I confirmed with the person concerned (a) that my understanding of how a Greek would say it was correct, and (b) that most people around him pronounce it as I thought. I don’t think he is a Greek speaker, but I think his parents are (or if not his grandparents were), and he knows the correct pronunciation of his name.

    This leaves the question of how to represent the Spanish vowel o in IPA. Today I found the table at
    http://www.internationalphoneticalphabet.org/ipa-sounds/ipa-chart-with-sounds/ which seems to suggest that [o] is the right one, but the sounds given are drawn out far too much for my taste. Yesterday I found a site at http://cmed.faculty.ku.edu/ipafolder/vowels.html that said that [o] corresponded to the “ow” at the end of “pillow”, but that must surely be wrong: does anyone say “pillow” with a pure sound at the end? It certainly has a diphthong when I say it.

  45. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    One other thing. I hadn’t previously seen the name written in Greek (as Ariadne gave it) and I didn’t realize it had ντ in the middle; I assumed it was δ, but either way it would end up close to [ð] in Spanish, or maybe [nð], though I’ve never detected an [n] there.

  46. @David: I’m not sure about [œy]; my impression is that general southern English speech tends more toward [ɜ] or [ɐ] in the onset and or [ᵿ] or [ᵻ] in the offglide. Sometimes I’ve heard young English people say a word like go, and thought that it doesn’t sound tremendously different from my guy.

    I assumed it was δ, but either way it would end up close to [ð] in Spanish, or maybe [nð], though I’ve never detected an [n] there.

    [nð] doesn’t occur in Spanish; the voiced stop phonemes harden after nasals, yielding [mb], [nd] and [ŋg]. One could even imagine Spanish following the Greek example and reducing those to [b], [d] and [g].

  47. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    [nð] doesn’t occur in Spanish; the voiced stop phonemes harden after nasals, yielding [mb], [nd] and [ŋg].

    Yes, you’re right: I should have thought of Los Andes, which certainly has [nd].

  48. Athel: Some kinds of AmE, including mine, are fairly close to simple [o] in pillow, but there is a full range from reduced [ə] to full [oʊ]. I have [ə] in fellow (i.e. fella) except when it means someone who holds a fellowship, in which case it is [o], as also in yellow, mellow, widow, arrow, sorrow, shadow, tomorrow, mallow, marrow. But elbow, window tend to full diphthongs, I suppose because the first syllable is heavier; compounds of stressed monosyllables in -ow, like crossbow, undertow, overflow always have them.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    @David: I’m not sure about [œy]; my impression is that general southern English speech tends more toward [ɜ] or [ɐ] in the onset and or [ᵿ] or [ᵻ] in the offglide. Sometimes I’ve heard young English people say a word like go, and thought that it doesn’t sound tremendously different from my guy.

    That’s all true; [œy] is the extreme of that range and not very common – yet.

  50. In heraldry, ancient can mean before about 1403.

  51. In Australia, term ‘ancient Australia’ means before 1788…

  52. I once saw a description of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon saying it was set in “ancient China” – it was set during the Qing dynasty in the late 18th century.

  53. Well, everything before 1911 is in a sense “ancient China”.

  54. @Anton Sherwood: The heraldic use is a direct calque from French though.

  55. Alon Lischinsky says:

    don’t like “the new Spanish” for “el romance nuevo”

    Well, a alternate translation would have been “the new vernacular”, but romance in such contexts is clearly intended to mean ‘Spanish’. In fact, it’s the common term in Old and early Modern Spanish for the vernacular tongue, e.g.:

    por que sepas mejor cómo as de orar, trasladé de latín en romance para te enbiar la oración dominica del pater noster (del Pulgar, Hernando. 2003 [1470–1485] Letras. Madrid: UCM)

    As such, it does fit the antique diction of the novel.

    I find the choice of “new” words peculiar, though. Ojo or pecho illustrate some specifically Spanish phonological developments, but mano or pie would have been hard to distinguish from their counterparts in the rustica lingua romanica all over the continent.

  56. In fact, it’s the common term in Old and early Modern Spanish for the vernacular tongue […] As such, it does fit the antique diction of the novel.

    OK, I withdraw my objection.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    Alon: I find the choice of “new” words peculiar, though.

    Yes, that was my reaction too. The novelist does not seem to have read much Old Spanish literature, let alone histories of the Spanish language.

  58. One example of Tolkien’s use of old diction is his calling Smaug a “worm” in The Hobbit. This is an “ancient” usage, as described in the Wikipedia article on European Dragon:

    The word for dragon in Germanic mythology and its descendants is worm (Old English: wyrm, Old High German: wurm, Old Norse: ormr), meaning snake or serpent. In Old English, wyrm means “serpent”, and draca means “dragon”.

    Despite the unfamiliarity of “worm” to modern readers in this sense, Tolkien’s use of archaic terminology is certainly a factor in creating the ancient, ponderous, and lofty feeling that tinges the entire style of his work. And in Tolkien it works, not least because Tolkien was an expert in Old English and not some modern scribbler.

  59. More on English orms and worms at this not-so-old LH thread.

  60. Could the author possibly think …
    That and the later mention of Tolkien remind me that according to him the changes in Elvish languages were intentional. Feanor resisted the shift þ > s (adopted by all other Quenya-speakers, it seems) because it changed his mother’s name (Þerinde).

  61. Tolkien, being a linguist, had his invented languages change over time, but I was never sure how much sense this made for the elvish languages. The elves were, after all, immortal; Elu Thingol could remember that his name was originally Elwë. I asked a question about this on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange site not so long ago, and nobody turned up any evidence that Tolkien had ever really thought about the issue.

  62. Huh, that’s a really basic point that had never occurred to me!

  63. I don’t even know where my Tolkien books are any more, but I think I remember the same as @Anton: The elves would have been able to keep Quenderin unchanged, but they chose to let it evolve and branch. Might have been in Letters.

    [The Noldor] were changeful in speech, for they had great love of words, and sought ever to find names more fit for all things they knew or imagined.

  64. they chose to let it evolve

    But how would that work? Language doesn’t just “evolve,” different groups of speakers come up with new forms that spread. The same speakers aren’t going to magically change their language out of some existential pressure.

  65. My HME is someplace else, but Tolkien did say pretty much that: The Elves liked to sit around and modify their language for aesthetic reasons and/or the hell of it, “out of some existential pressure” in fact. This idea came fairly late in his life, when no doubt inquirers had forced him to think about the matter.

  66. Well, I guess that’s about as good an ex post facto rationalization as he could have come up with, but it’s pretty silly. Language just doesn’t work like that.

  67. You’re overgeneralizing from the human case, and Elves aren’t human. But it’s not like there is a fixed complement of Elves from the Awakening to the End. There may well be a fixed number of Elvish souls, but most of them are not incarnate at any one time. So there are Elvish children born, and their language is not built into them any more than our languages are: they don’t speak Elvish the way that dogs speak Barkish. (Tolkien is unclear whether most Elves are eventuallyl reborn after the loss of their bodies, which is a result of either violence or grief, or only a few.) Consequently, they learn the local Elvish language imperfectly as we do, and although older speakers don’t die out, they need to adapt their speech to the ways of the younger speakers to be understood. (I didn’t grow up saying my bad, far from it, but hardly a day passes that I don’t say it now.)

  68. It’s harder to say about elves, but what about humans? How much does the speech of 2016 languagehat differ from the speech of 20-year-old languagehat? Multiply that by a hundred to get to match the age of a elf.

    Elves have children and presumably can be split into isolated populations, which might later meet. I don’t know if elves are prone to follow trends, or to adopt different forms of speech to establish group identity, but it’s not precluded by their immortality.

    The elves were, after all, immortal; Elu Thingol could remember that his name was originally Elwë.

    It’s been discussed at languagehat how, in history times, people’s names didn’t always have a One True Form. Perhaps a boy called Giovanni joins a monastery and his new friends call him Johannes now.

  69. But it does. You don’t talk exactly the same way now as you did when you were fourteen. True, you don’t talk like the fourteen-year-olds of now either, but everybody moves with a changing language to some extent.

    (Cue the anecdotes about emigrés who visit the old country and talk like an old movie, not like other people of their own age).

    And if the Dauphin (if it was him) starts using a velar approximant instead of a trilled r, it only takes 3-400 years before most of Northern Europe has followed suit.

    (I’m reminded of a study by Labov, I think, where people moving to some island in New England would adapt local
    dialect features if they were ‘invested’ in the local community, and not if they were there for other reasons).

    So if people like playing with their language, you could very well get small groups adopting in-group ‘habits of speech’ — and over millennia some of these would spread over a whole speech community, because random or prestige.

    However — and this is a big one — if there is no generational transmission, or rather if the old generations don’t disappear, how can we assume that the changes in Elvish would be of the same nature as the developments seen in human languages?

  70. (That was a reply to LH)

  71. marie-lucie says:

    Lars: if the Dauphin (if it was him) starts using a velar approximant instead of a trilled r

    This is a legend, based on a misunderstanding.

    As a child, Louis XIII (later father of Louis XIV) could not do a trilled r, but like many other children (and many adults trying to pronounce it nowadays, while learning Spanish, Russian and other languages) he pronounced l instead. This is attested by the journal of his tutor, who kept daily notes on his pupil, including cute things that the child said.

    Uvular r was for a long time a stigmatized lower-class Parisian pronunciation (le “r grasseyé”) and there is no way that Louis XIV at any age would have used this pronunciation.

    Both Louises lost their fathers at a very young age, so as children they were not “Dauphins” for long but kings already, only too young to be crowned and to assume kingly duties, so the country was ruled by Regent mothers until the sons reached the age of 21. The next man remembered as “le Dauphin” (son of Louis XIV) died before his father, and the next male who lived to inherit the throne became Louis XV at five years old.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    Lars: I’m reminded of a study by Labov, I think, where people moving to some island in New England would adapt local dialect features if they were ‘invested’ in the local community, and not if they were there for other reasons.

    This was a study about Martha’s Vineyard. Typically, young men would leave the island for study or work, and many stayed away, but the ones who returned hoping to spend their lives there made a point of sounding like locals, exaggerating some of the island’s speech features so that some islanders made fun of them. If they only came back for visits, they did not do so.

  73. Multiply that by a hundred to get to match the age of a elf.

    Indeed. What is more, the experience of time differs for Elves and humans:

    ‘Time does not tarry ever,’ [Legolas] said; ‘but change and growth is not in all things and places alike. For the Elves the world moves, and it moves both very swift and very slow. Swift, because they themselves change little, and all else fleets by: it is a grief to them. Slow, because they do not count the running years, not for themselves. The passing seasons are but ripples ever repeated in the long long stream. Yet beneath the Sun all things must wear to an end at last.’

    I don’t know if elves are prone […] to adopt different forms of speech to establish group identity

    Clearly yes. Here’s Elwe > Elu Thingol banning the use of Quenya, an ancestral version of which he spoke in his youth:

    […] But hear my words! Never again in my ears shall be heard the tongue of those who slew my kin in Alqualondë! Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken, while my power endures. All the Sindar shall hear my command that they shall neither speak with the tongue of the Noldor [i.e. Quenya] nor answer to it. And all such as use it shall be held slayers of kin and betrayers of kin unrepentant.’

    […] And it came to pass even as Thingol had spoken; for the Sindar [the Grey-Elves, Thingol’s people] heard his word, and thereafter throughout Beleriand [Thingol’s realm] they refused the tongue of the Noldor, and shunned those that spoke it aloud; but the Exiles [the Noldor] took the Sindarin tongue in all their daily uses, and the High Speech of the West [Quenya] was spoken only by the lords of the Noldor among themselves. Yet that speech lived ever as a language of lore, wherever any of that people dwelt.

    presumably can be split into isolated populations

    Indeed, we know this happened: the first and foremost divide takes place between the Eldar, who agreed to go west with the Valar to the Blessed Realm, and the Avari (‘refusers’) who didn’t. We have only six words of Avarin languages, the different versions of quendi ‘speakers, elves’ in various languages. And there were many population splits after that.

    how can we assume that the changes in Elvish would be of the same nature as the developments seen in human languages?

    Because Tolkien (who is not the Author of the Story, as he himself says) tells us so. In addition, Sindarin was adopted as their L1 by a minority of humans (mostly living in Gondor at the time of the War of the Ring), and there were at that time probably more humans who knew Quenya and spoke Sindarin than Elves who used either. Sindarin may have been Aragorn’s native language, or if not he certainly learned it early, growing up in the mostly Elvish community of Rivendell.

    We know that this Sindarin had undergone at least some sound-changes from classical Sindarin: for the most part /x/ had been weakened to /h/ or lost, and final /nd/, /ld/ simplified to /nn/ and then to /n/, as in the place name Rohan < older Sindarin Rochand, though the river name Morthond was preserved. Likewise, /mm/, /ss/, though still written geminate, were no longer pronounced so, though the essentially Latinate stress did not move as a result.

  74. Well, all right, I guess it’s plausible. It’s been a long time since I knew any elves, and I have forgotten much. (Grumble, grumble. The world fleets by: it is a grief to me.)

  75. I have forgotten much

    What are you now, Languagehat the White instead of the Grey?

    (““I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten.”)

  76. LH: Language doesn’t just “evolve,” different groups of speakers come up with new forms that spread.

    Sounds like evolution to me, if evolution is the emergence of replicable variants and change in their relative frequency over time. It’s certainly a fallacy to think of language change as something happening from one biological generation to the next. Individual competences are not fixed at critical age — they keep evolving. A language user “updates” her competence every time she’s exposed to an innovation (or comes up with one herself). Learn a new language, and your L1 may be affected in subtle or not so subtle ways. Start using a new medium of communication, meet new people — all that affects your language habits, and changes in your linguistic performance affect others in turn. A new word can infect a billion minds in a year or two these days. There have been studies of things like the Queen’s vowels in her yearly Christmas broadcasts, and she’s been shown to catch up with her subjects a little — like, say, one of the more conservative Elves.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    LH: Language doesn’t just “evolve

    I think that LH means that languages do not just evolve on their own, independently of their speakers. Although that is a convenient way, a shortcut, to describe the phenomenon.

  78. Yup, what m-l said. I was thinking the kinds of things that make human languages evolve wouldn’t affect elves. It seems I was wrong.

  79. David Marjanović says:

    and over millennia some of these would spread over a whole speech community, because random or prestige.

    I see what you did there.

  80. Here’s part of the explanation of Pengolod the Wise to Ælfwire, an Englishman who finds his way by accident to Tol Eressea, part of the Blessed Realm (a descendant of Elendil the Tall and ancestor of Dr. Elwyn Ransom):

    Now you question me, AElfwine, concerning the tongues of the Elves, saying that you wonder much to discover that they are many, akin indeed and yet unalike; for seeing that they die not and their memories reach back into ages long past, you understand not why all the race of the Quendi have not maintained the language that they had of old in common still one and the same in all their kindreds. But behold! AElfwine, within Ea [the created world] all things change, even the Valar […].

    […] Immortal, within Ea, are the Eldar, but since even as Men they dwell in forms that come of Ea, they are no more changeless than the great trees, neither in the forms that they inhabit, nor in the things that they desire or achieve by means of those forms. Wherefore should they not then change in speech, of which one part is made with tongues and received by ears?

    It hath been said by some among our loremasters that, as for Men, their elders teach to their children their speech and then soon depart, so that their voices are heard no more, and the children have no reminder of the tongue of their youth, save their own cloudy memories: wherefore in each brief generation of Men change may be swift and unrestrained. But this matter seemeth to me less simple. Weak indeed may be the memories of Men, but I say to you, AElfwine, that even were your memory of your own being as clear as that of the wisest of the Eldar, still within the short span of your life your speech would change, and were you to live on with the life of the Elves it would change more, until looking back you would perceive that in your youth you spake an alien tongue.

    For Men change both their old words for new, and their former manner of speaking for another manner, in their own lifetimes, and not only in the first learning of speech; and this change comes above all from the very changefulness of Ea; or if you will, from the nature of speech, which is fully living only when it is born, but when the union of the thought and the sound is fallen into old custom, and the two are no longer perceived apart, then already the word is dying and joyless, the sound awaiting some new thought, and the thought eager for some new-patterned raiment of sound.

    But to the changefulness of Ea, to weariness of the unchanged, to the renewing of the union: to these three, which are one, the Eldar also are subject in their degree. In this, however, they differ from Men, that they are ever more aware of the words that they speak. As a silversmith may remain more aware than others of the tools and vessels that he uses daily at his table, or a weaver of the texture of his garments. Yet this makes rather for change among the Eldar than for steadfastness; for the Eldar being skilled and eager in art will readily make things new, both for delight to look on, or to hear, or to feel, or for daily use: be it in vessels or raiment or in speech.

    A man may indeed change his spoon or his cup at his will, and need ask none to advise him or to follow his choice. It is other indeed with words or the modes and devices of speech. Let him bethink him of a new word, be it to his heart howsoever fresh and fair, it will avail him little in converse, until other men are of like mind or will receive his invention. But among the Eldar there are many quick ears and subtle minds to hear and appraise such inventions, and though many be the patterns and devices so made that prove in the end only pleasing to a few, or to one alone, many others are welcomed and pass swiftly from mouth to mouth, with laughter or delight or with solemn thought – as maybe a new jest or new-found saying of wisdom will pass among men of brighter wit. For to the Eldar the making of speech is the oldest of the arts and the most beloved.

    […] Thus the Eldar would alter the sounds of their speech at whiles to other sounds that seemed to them more pleasant, or were at the least unstaled. But this they would not do at haphazard. For the Eldar know their tongue, not word by word only, but as a whole: they know even as they speak not only of what sounds is that word woven which they are uttering, but of what sounds and sound-patterns is their whole speech at one time composed. Therefore none among the Eldar would change the sounds of some one word alone, but would rather change some one sound throughout the structure of his speech; nor would he bring into one word only some sound or union of sounds that had not before been present, but would replacesome former sound by the new sound in all words that contained it – or if not in all, then in a number selected according to their shapes and other elements, as he is guided by some new pattern that he has in mind. […]

    And lo! Ælfwine, these changes differ little from like changes that come in the speeches of Men with the passing of time. Now as for the Eldar we know that such things were done of old by choice, full-wittingly, and the names of those who made new words or first moved great changes are yet often remembered.

    For which reason the Eldar do not believe that in truth the changes in the tongues of Men are wholly unwitting; for how so, say they, comes the order and harmony that oft is seen in such changes? or the skill both in the devices that are replaced and the new that follow them? And some answer that the minds of Men are half asleep: by which they mean not that the part whereof Men are unaware and can give no account slumbers, but the other part. Others perceiving that in nothing do Men, and namely those of the West, so nearly resemble the Eldar as in speech, answer that the teaching which Men had of the Elves in their youth works on still as a seed in the dark. But in all this maybe they err, AElfwine, for despite all their lore least of all things do they know the minds of Men or understand them.

    And to speak of memory, AElfwine: with regard to the Elves — for I know not how it is with Men — that which we call the coirea quenya, the living speech, is the language wherethrough we think and imagine; for it is to our thought as the body to our spirit, growing and changing together in all the days of our being. Into that language therefore we render at once whatsoever we recall out of the past that we heard or said ourselves. If a Man remembers some thing that he said in childhood, doth he recall the accents of childhood that he used in that moment long ago? I know not. But certainly we of the Quendi do not so. We may know indeed how children not yet accomplished in speech, and how the ‘fullspoken’, as we say, spake at times long ago, but that is a thing apart from the images of life-memory, and is a matter of lore. For we have much lore concerning the languages of old, whether stored in the mind or in writings; but we hear not ourselves speak again in the past save with the language that clothes our thought in the present.

    Verily, it may chance that in the past we spake with strangers in an alien tongue, and remember what was then said, but not the tongue that was used. Out of the past indeed we may recall the sounds of an alien speech as we may other sounds: the song of birds or the murmur of water; but that is but in some cry or brief phrase. For if the speech were long or the matter subtle then we clothe it in the living language of our present thought, and if we would now relate it as it was spoken, we must render it anew, as it were a book, into that other tongue — if it is preserved still in learned lore. And even so, it is the alien voices that we hear using words in our memory, seldom ourselves — or to speak of myself, never.

    It is true indeed that the Eldar readily learn to use other tongues skilfully, and are slow to forget any that they have learned, but these remain as they were learned, as were they written in the unchanging pages of a book; whereas the coirea quenya, the language of thought, grows and lives within, and each new stage overlies those that went before, as the acorn and the sapling are hidden in the tree.

    (I’ve deleted a bunch of Homeric similes. Naomi Novik’s dragons in the Napoleonic Wars are like this too: one of them repeats a speech that she remembers being given by a dragon-captain of Elizabeth’s time, and she gives it in good Early Modern English.)

  81. David L. Gold says:

    @ marie-lucie. The legend you report about Louis XIII is similar to the one about King Peter of Leon and Castile (1334 — 1369, reigned 1350 — 1369), who lisped (that is true), as a result of which Spanish gained the phoneme /θ/.

    The legend that Peter’s speech impediment triggered the emergence of /θ/ in Spanish has been exploded many times, recently here:
    “Phonological history of Spanish coronal fricatives” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_Spanish_coronal_fricatives#Castilian_%27lisp%27).

  82. But hear my words! Never again in my ears shall be heard the tongue of those who slew my kin in Alqualondë! Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken, while my power endures.

    A power-mad dictator; I would have joined a Liberation Front in a heartbeat.

  83. David Eddyshaw says:

    It would be the provisional wing of the Quenya Language Society. “Our legitimate grievances have not been heard: armed struggle is now our only recourse. ¡No pasarán!” (Or as Gandalf would have it: “You shall not pass!”)

  84. Lars Mathiesen says:

    ¡No pasarán! — What’s that in Quenya, or even the cradle-tongue of the Maiar which I presume Gandalf would speak to the Balrog, both being of that ilk?

    Also Alqualondë must be something else in Sindarin, which Elu Thingol was presumable speaking when he mentioned it?

  85. Alphlond.

  86. Where Alph the sacred river ran

  87. John Cowan says:

    A power-mad dictator

    Not really. Thingol’s rule was, shall we say, more Welsh than English: the Sindar obeyed him out of respect for his moral authority rather than in fear of his power. He had led the Teleri (the largest of the Elf-clans, the Sindar plus their kin in Valinor that the Noldor had attacked, who still kept the name of Teleri) since they had left Cuiviénen / Nen Echui ‘the waters of awakening’.

    What is more, it’s quite likely that the average Sinda despised the Noldor for their arrogance (“WE are Elves of the Light, who have seen Valinor, and YOU are merely Elves of the Twilight, who have not; therefore WE know better than you about everything”) and their inability to unite against the common enemy, and were not sad to see them discomfited. Indeed, Thingol himself was an Elf of the Light, for he alone among the Sindar had seen Valinor, though I suspect that the sons of Feanor dismissed that as a technicality. Of course, he eventually became what he beheld (Blake) and hated (Donaldson), morally deteriorating until he is assassinated by the Dwarves for trying to cheat them of their just payment for the Nauglamír, the necklace he had commissioned from them in which the Silmaril was set.

    ¡No pasarán!

    I’m pretty sure Tolkien was thinking of the Battle of Verdun and Ils ne passeront pas!. He would hardly be likely to quote a hard-line Stalinist; indeed, he was a moderate Franquista as a consequence of the murder of almost 7000 priests in the Republican zone.

  88. @John Cowan: There is no authoritative account of what actually passed between Thingol and the dwarves over the Nauglamir—i.e. who actually tried to cheat whom.

  89. and similarly the supposed murders of clergy.

    when i was in barcelona in 2019 – i almost wrote “last year” – i visited the plaça de sant felip neri, which was the supposed site of one of the alleged massacres. the damage to the church facade and other buildings around the square – widely publicized as the marks of where priests had been machine-gunned – was in fact the legacy of a double italian air force bombing that killed children who had taken refuge in the church, and then those who came to aid them. which isn’t to say that anticlericalism didn’t take militant forms during the revolution in spain (despite stalinist opposition to one of the most popular aspects of the uprisings), just that seizing and destroying church property was its usual mode, rather than the summary executions that were the falangists’ regular practice.

    but no disagreement on tolkein, of course! (aside, perhaps, from his willingness to believe murderers over their targets) he’s one of the last people i’d expect to quote an anarchist slogan coopted by stalinists.

  90. So I’m complete awe of the degree of familiarity with the farthest reaches of Tolkien’s legendarium that seemingly eveyrone here ( but especially John) seems to possess – despite being a huge and even slightly obsessive fan of the Hobbit and LOTR from the moment i read them at age 11 or thereabouts, all of that enthusiasm was effortlessly dispersed by the long winded tedium of the Silmarillion and all the other stories set in the distant. past of Middle Earth.. Even as a kid I was bothered by how much of it actively works against the story and characters in the Ring saga – like when Sauron is revealed to be merely a henchman, and moreover one with whom the Elves ought to be very familiar but nevertheless manage to get conned by repeatedly. The Elves comes across less as a noble and wise race, but as terminally gullible dumbasses who e despite having eternal life are chronically unable to learn from past mistakes. But worst of all, the sheer breadth and level of detail in the legendarium is implicitly you, the reader, that all of this has been going on for uncountable centuries, that all of your favorites heroes are merely pale facsimiles of ones from long ago, and that the War of the Ring was not the culmination of an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, but simply the latest installment of a very long running soap opera.

    I really do not share the view that all of this excruciating amount detail was necessary to invent in order it to build a better and more complete world – I reaally don’t think Sindarin and Quenya, for instance, had to be worked out in detail in order to feel like they’re true to their fictional world. I really don’t believe that Tolkien could not have come up with ” A Elbereth Gilthoniel!” as something for Frodo to spontaneously shout out when confronting Shelob without figuring out who Elbereth was or what she was famous for. And Elrond would command far more respect for his wisdom if we never found out about the time Sauron fooled him by dressing up in nicer clothes. And I think the “Fallen world” theme would work a lot better if Tolkien had not left us enough detail to surmise that the old world was indescribably boring, much like the Elves themselves.

    Seriously though my deepest respect and admiration for the masterful command of detail.

  91. all of that enthusiasm was effortlessly dispersed by the long winded tedium of the Silmarillion and all the other stories set in the distant. past of Middle Earth

    Same here. Loved the original canon, was terminally bored by the prequels and auxiliary matter. All honor to those who immerse themselves and master it, I begrudge no one their enthusiasms, but I entirely agree with your comment.

  92. It’s mindboggling to me that Amazon is making a LOTR show set entirely in the Second Age that is not permitted to mention let alone show the characters that we know and love (the ones who would have been alive back then anyway, like Galadriel). It seems like a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of what it is exactly that people connect with in LOTR.

  93. And yet it will probably be popular.

  94. David Marjanović says:

    the degree of familiarity with the farthest reaches of Tolkien’s legendarium that seemingly eveyrone here […] seems to possess

    I don’t. That’s why I don’t talk about it. 🙂

    I hope to read the whole Bored of the Rings at some point, but not soon.

    I reaally don’t think Sindarin and Quenya, for instance, had to be worked out in detail in order to feel like they’re true to their fictional world.

    Of course not. They’re the point. The fictional world and the whole plot are just added background for the languages.

    And yet it will probably be popular.

    Stranger things have happened. Spielberg saved Jurassic Park from Crichton.

  95. I have only read the complete published Silmarillion like a novel (starting at the beginning and going to the end) once, although I have reread several parts of it. Similarly, I have only read bits and pieces of the other works published after Tolkien’s death, generally based on other readers’ recommendations of which are the most interesting essays, stories, and letters. In contrast, I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (especially the former, which I have read to each of my kids at least twice) many times each.

    The Silmarillion is a fundamentally different kind of work from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was influenced by Dunsany’s idea of literary myth-making, and The Silmarillion is part of the mythos Tolkien created. The relationship between The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (in terms of the kinds of works they are, not in terms of their narrative structures) is analogous to the relationship between The Gods of Pegana and The King of Elfland’s Daughter; in each case, one is a collection of foundational myths, while the other is a heroic high fantasy novel. The Silmarillion has some brilliant sections, such as the creation and later destruction of the Two Trees. For some of the more important stories, such as the story of Beren and Luthien, Tolkien also wrote several versions, in verse and prose—much as there could be multiple retellings of actual important myths. However, especially in the less important parts of the mythos, the book can be quite dry and not very interesting; it probably does not help that the work was never really set in a final publishable form by the author.

    Of course, it is not necessary to have a complete cosmogony and backstory to create a worthwhile fantasy novel. Tolkien naturally knew this, and he was perfectly willing, when writing The Lord of the Rings (which, unlike The Hobbit, was firmly placed in his mythos as he was writing it) to make things up, even if they required substantial changes to the backstory. Examples of things that Tolkien invented for The Lord of the Rings that he later incorporated (with varying degrees of success) into The Silmarillion include: a much larger role for Sauron (as a full-fledged dark lord unto himself), the ents, Galadriel as the among the most powerful elves, and the orcs as fully intelligent and apparently free-willed beings. He also incorporated his even earlier character of Tom Bombadil into the universe—and in that case, Tolkien intentionally left how the character fit into the overall scheme unexplained.

    For me, it is easy to write backstory without knowing where it comes from and without any intention of following up or reconciling new elements of the backstory with those already in existence. For instance, I have no idea who the Tass mentioned below is—or whether he is avian, or humanoid like one of the gull-winged djinni Kipling drew to illustrate “The Butterly Who Stamped” in the Just So Stories.

    Rank upon rank of sable trees stood like a vast army, poised to charge into the open waste, behind a general too frightened to give the order. They were come to the Caim Desert.

    Legend told that Caim was a dragon—a scaly, snakey sky-demon, who raped the land, devouring mighty warriors and chaste virgins. The beast nested among the clouds by day, then swooped down to earth at night, to despoil villages and to spray the land with its poison spittle. For centuries (or millennia, perhaps—the tales were unclear and contradictory) the evil serpent brought torment to many far-flung countries, as the wind carried its cloudy nest to and fro across the pale azure sky. Finally, the winged hero, Tass, lord of the gulls, slew the great dragon, in a sky battle that raged for one full year. Caim’s body plunged down out of the heavens, crashing to the ground in the land that became the Caim Desert. The dragon’s poisonous flesh corrupted the soil, leaving the countryside barren and almost totally dead. The rivers ran dry, and the soil turned to dust. Only the hardiest and the foulest life survived. No man dwelled in this desolate country, or had for three thousand years, if the tales were true.

    Of course, the reader will notice that I hedged several times in that passage about whether any of the myths were actually true. In any case, I had no plans to elaborate any further on the events described in that passage when I wrote it. However, having created Caim the sky dragon, I did decide to slip in one further enigma a few pages later:

    They watched carefully for the desert’s nocturnal fauna—the sidewinding cobras and scuttling scorpions—but they saw no sign of any venomous vermin. In fact, they saw no animals whatsoever, only a few dry, stunted thorn bushes, whose thick, succulent leaves looked pale and wrinkled. The perennially thirsty plants grew in the shaded lees of sand dunes or beneath overhanging boulders. A few of the healthiest bushes bore tiny, three-petaled flowers. The blossoms were yellow, but so weak a yellow as to be almost white. Their petals seemed to glow eerily in the ghostly moonlight, shining like teardrop pearls.

    Mixed into the sand, the travellers noticed many ragged-edged flakes. Lyka bent down to pick up one of the larger ones—a fragment of some hard, parchment-thin material slightly bigger than her thumbnail. The flake had an even beige hue and was slightly curved. It reminded Lyka of a bit of shell from the body of a large crab. Damel had mentioned such objects in his stories. According to those tales, the shards were not fragments from the carapaces of crustaceans; rather, they were pieces of Caim’s scales, fractured and worn down by thousands of years of erosion.

  96. Yes, it is easy to dismiss 6832 killed by inserting “supposed” and pointing to misattributed building damage.

  97. And how do you know with such certainty that there were 6,832 killed? Because Wikipedia says so? Wikipedia references this guy; do you have any reason to think he’s trustworthy?

  98. And this guy references other guys. I know very little about the Spanish civil war and if you can point me to a guy that refutes this guy and the other guys, I can change my opinion.

  99. I too followed that dispute to Wiki, but seem to have found a different page, Martyrs of the Civil War, which referenced a fair number of instances by name of victims and details of their killing.

    Were these all faked?

    I don’t know that John’s number is correct and have little sympathy for Franco. I don’t doubt the stories of summary executions by Falangists. But to say that anti-clericalism in Spain was just an iconoclast campaign to destroy church property seems a hell of a whitewash.

  100. I know very little about the Spanish civil war and if you can point me to a guy that refutes this guy and the other guys, I can change my opinion.

    Fair enough. I’m certainly not saying the number is wrong, and of course there were murders, you just seemed awfully certain of the exact number.

  101. Wasn’t the Spanish Civil War one of the causes of the rift between Tolkien and C. S. Lewis? Exacerbated by the appearance in Oxford of Roy Campbell, to whom T and L had very different reactions.

  102. There is no authoritative account of what actually passed between Thingol and the dwarves over the Nauglamir—i.e. who actually tried to cheat whom.

    Indeed. I was portraying the Dwarvish point of view, which gets short shrift (literally) in the Elvish chronicles.

    the War of the Ring was not the culmination of an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil

    Not at all: that would be completely incompatible with Tolkien’s specifically Christian and Catholic worldview. What we have here is a very local, very temporary victory which has nothing to do with the true and final Apocalypse except its alignment. It’s true that this is the last time in which physical resistance to a supernatural power enters into history, at least until St. Paul writes “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 8:12) But Frodo never recovers, though the Shire does, and when he passes over Sea at the end of the book, it is in hope that he could find healing (if that were possible) before he died. No resurrection here; not even a belief in it is possible yet. (Elves are reincarnated but not resurrected.)

    scaly, snaky […] scuttling scorpions […] venomous vermin […] carapaces of crustaceans

    Ouch. “Apt alliteration’s artful aid.”

    I really don’t believe that Tolkien could not have come up with “A Elbereth Gilthoniel!” as something for Frodo to spontaneously shout out when confronting Shelob without figuring out who Elbereth was or what she was famous for.

    Many a fantasy writer could have, yes. But Tolkien the historical linguist simply could not have: if someone real or fictional speaks a word real or fictional, that word has, must have a history and a meaning. It matters very much to Tolkien (and to the Author of the Story, who is not Tolkien) that Frodo is invoking what will later be called an angel (< Gk angelos ‘messenger’) using two of her titles, ‘Star-queen’ and ‘Star-kindler’, even if no one else knows it (though there are a lot of clues just in the Appendices).

  103. >exacerbated by the appearance in Oxford of Roy Campbell

    That’s an interesting story. Ostracized by his family for attacking racism of his fellow white South Africans, but then witnessing the atrocities of Spanish Republicans and choosing Franco.

    The Flaming Terrapin is quite a poem.

    How often have I lost this fervent mood
    And gone down dingy thoroughfares to brood
    On evils like my own…

    Can anyone explain “stand visible”? The subject seems to be That sudden strength. But it can’t be direct address, because of the neuter pronoun a moment later, which also seems like it must refer back to sudden strength. What am I missing? Could wings of eagles be the subject? But that makes little sense, and it makes so much more sense to read that as parallel to fins, a second object for giving.

    Franco is a bridge too far for me, but I didn’t witness any atrocities. I can definitely read this poem and recognize someone who would reconcile those views in a no man’s land between the politics of almost everyone around him. A poet for Adam Kinzinger.

  104. but then witnessing the atrocities of Spanish Republicans and choosing Franco.

    So many attachments are formed this way: choosing the Whites over the Reds or vice versa because one becomes aware of atrocities committed by one side and thus choosing the other (and then rejecting accounts of atrocities committed by the side one has chosen because they’re the Good Guys and thus the accounts must be fraudulent). It astonishes me that people are so little inclined to understand that atrocities are committed by all sides in any conflict, and the only side worth taking is against armed conflict. I still remember my discomfiture on realizing that Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which I had loved when I first read it, was basically an eloquent account of blind passion for one side in a multisided conflict, glossing over their evils and emphasizing the evils committed by the other sides. And that book has gone on blinding later observers like Robert Kaplan. Why can’t we all just get along?

  105. Campbell was probably the best English-language poet qua poet in Spain, but I was put off him at an early point by reading the preface to Flowering Rifle with its attack on “Humanitarianism” for siding with “the dog against the man, the Black against the White and the Jew against the Christian.”

  106. Oy. Now I’m put off.

  107. David Marjanović says:

    It’s true that this is the last time in which physical resistance to a supernatural power enters into history, at least until

    Doom.

  108. “the dog against the man, the Black against the White and the Jew against Christian”

    There’s no defense of that line.

    It stands in strange apposition with the opinion he expressed here, decades later, according to Wiki:

    >In a 1956 letter to Harvey Brit, who had accused Campbell of being a Fascist, the latter wrote, “I am an exile…from my country because I stood up for fair play for the blacks – is that Fascism?”[100]

    So strange that I tried to find context. Was he quoting an opinion not his own? But it doesn’t seem like it. The paragraph actually continues in much the same vein.

    To try to understand those two quotes, all I can figure is that he was deeply affected by the Civil War, and it led him in directions he later regretted, or at least no longer chose to explore, but he never quite acknowledged and dealt with it. Which is not a great excuse. Yuck.

  109. The full quote is “Humanitarianism invariably sides where there is most room for sentimental self-indulgence in the filth or famine of others. It sides automatically with the Dog against the Man, the Jew against the Christian, the black against the white, the servant against the master, the criminal against the judge. It is a form of moral perversion due to overdomestication, protestantism gone bad.” I tried looking for it and landed at some evidently approving neonazi-ish sites. That rhetoric is today alive and well as ever, with slight updates (“knee-jerk liberals”, “political correctness”, et al.) Yuck indeed.

    (He also refused to join Mosley’s fascists and fought passionately against the nazis. Let the accountants of the hereafter sum it up and figure out where he lands.)

  110. Yeah, that sort of thing didn’t stand out at the time the way it does to us, any more than rhetoric about manly men resisting the weak moralism of women (which stains way too many otherwise excellent modernist writers), but it sure turns me off.

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