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.

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