Ainsi vous voulez apprendre l'Elfique?

(un peu de philosophie)

Ainsi, vous avez décidé d'apprendre l'Elfique? J'aime absolument les langages elfiques, ainsi je peux comprendre ceci parfaitement, et je vous souhaite beaucoup de plaisir!

Mais il y a une question à laquelle vous voudriez vous poser en premier - et peut-être plus tard aussi - que veut dire 'apprendre'?

Voulez-vous parler le langage, écrire de la poésie Elfique et lire des histoires en Elfique, l'utiliser pour les jeux de rôle et écrire des lettres Elfiques à vos amis? Parce que tout ceci est réellement possible - bon, en quelque sorte. et c'est pourquoi je pose la question. Parce que toutes ces choses requièrent une sorte de forme finalisée d'Elfique, on suppose que Tolkien à un certaint point finit le Sindarin ou le Quenya et que ce langage fini peut être utilisé.

Mais ce n'est pas comme cela que Tolkien a jamais pensé les langages- Ainsi, apprendre les pensées de Tolkien concernant les langages est une tâhe complètement différente que d'apprendre à 'parler' un des langages.

Tolkien n'a jamais considéré ses créations comme finies - il a toujours révisé et modifié les choses - même pour les choses publiées (qu'il ne pouvait pas réellement modifier) il ré-inventa les explications sous-jacentes - un bon exemple est Gil-Galad - dans Letters:279 il établit:

Cette variation g/k ne doit pas être confondue avec le changement grammatical ou k, c > g en Gris-Elfique, vu au début des mots en composition ou après des particules étroitement connectées (comme l'article). Ainsi Gil-galad 'lumière d'étoile'. .

Mais en fait. dans Letters:426 une explication complètement différente est avancée:

En Sindarin, cette absence de mutation est maintenue (a) dans des composés et (b) quand un nom est réellement virtuellement un adjectif, comme dans Gil-galad Etoile (de) brillance.

So, while he argues of galad being a lenited form and translates as 'star-light' in his first explanation, he insists that it is unlenited in the second one and means 'Star of brilliance'. My favourite example involves the Quenya word for 'yes/no'. Bill Welden quotes two sources in his essay 'Negation in Quenya' (VT42:32). In a 1960 essay, Tolkien had 'yes' - in a 1970 essay 'no'.

Vinyar Tengwar 43 features 6 different versions of the Lord's Prayer in Quenya which allow to trace how Tolkien, not satisfied with the previous versions, altered features of grammar and vocabulary to arrive at a version that would appeal more to him - till he decided to rewrite that one as well. Tolkien's own dictionaries usually contain several layers of entries - early pencilled ones, crossed out, replaced by ink entries, at times crossed out again and re-written, reflecting the constant alteration of the languages in vocabulary and derivation.

Why am I telling all this to you? Because, creating a speakable Sindarin or Quenya is not only about filling in the gaps with clever reconstructions - it involves at times heavy editorial decisions and throwing out Tolkien-made material on the basis of personal preferences.

You see, there's no way to have a language in which can be both 'yes' and 'no' - so if you want to speak Quenya, you have to decide for one of them. But there's no good guideline of doing so - should we go with Tolkien's latest decisions? Then means 'no' in Quenya, but then, a lot of the material in LOTR gets pretty awkward interpretations, as Tolkien's late ideas of the grammar are quite different from his ideas by the time he wrote Namárië. Or should we go with what's closest to LOTR? Then is 'yes' - but we know that Tolkien eventually dismissed that idea. So in the end, it boils down to an editor's choice which one to use.

I have written both a Sindarin and a Quenya course and hence made quite a few editorial decisions of that kind, just to offer an easier-to-learn version for beginners. That is, I feel, okay, because I clearly say so in the course and try to keep is as close as possible to Tolkien's ideas and only try to straighten out contradictions.

But you see, the problems start when you have leaned Sindarin from my or Helge Fauskanger's course and try to explain it to someone else. If you're not careful, that what Tolkien actually wrote gets lost in the process. Because there's something which may be called truth by repetition.

To give an example: Helge Fauskanger writes in Sindarin, the Noble Tongue:

In Sindarin, adjectives (including participles) following the noun they describe are usually lenited. (...) There are, however, quite a few attested cases where soft mutation fails to take place in such combination. (...) I would advise people writing in Sindarin to let adjectives lenit in this position, though, since this seems to be the main rule.

He actually phrases it carefully and mentiones exceptions. However, people quoting from him usually simplify the statement into Adjectives in Sindarin follow the noun and are lenited. (that's what I leaned when I started out). This has been repeated so frequently that you can frequently find people pointing out that leaving the adjective unlenited is wrong.

Now, if you turn to the actual evidence, I could find 8 examples without lenition, 9 examples with lenition, 1 example with nasal mutation and 10 examples where we can't tell (see Mutations in Sindarin ) So in fact, being the main rule is based on just a small 9:8 advantage.

The story gets even more strange if you consider adverbs directly trailing verbs. Helge never wrote about them being lenited - so most people assume they are unlenited or lenited after an imperative. But if you look at the actual evidence, we find two clear lenitions, two clear non-lenitions and three where we don't know. That is about the same ratio as for adjective lenition, and there's no reason to assume that the rules for adverbs would be any different - and yet, based on frequent repetition, the most widespread 'truth' is that trailing adjectives are lenited whereas trailing adverbs are not. But as you can verify yourself, there's little factual basis for both statements. At least, Tolkien did not follow these rules himself.

Or, to turn to a different direction. You may be tempted to explain to someone that the 2nd person verb ending in Sindarin is -ch. I certainly wrote so in my Sindarin course. You may even be aware of the evidence (if you've studied Ardalambion) where Helge quotes:

Arphent Rían Tuorna, Man agorech?, probably meaning *"And Rían said to Tuor, What did you do?"

Now, Helge phrases this very carefully again, and the following truth by repetition is only partially his fault. But truth is - the sentence is not translated anywhere. If you think it through - Tuor was a newborn while Rían was still alive - what could he possibly have done? Soiled his blankets? Hardly an incident Tolkien would write about. In fact, the 'canonical' interpretation makes little sense. David Salo (who originally brought it forward) argued to save it that Tolkien may have meant a different Rían and Tuor. Well - while names at times occur, it is unlikely here. Carl Hostetter (who has access to the original manuscript) told in a dicusssion on I Lam Arth:

David is presenting the facts selectively here, neglecting to mention that the sentence he saw occurs in a context -- sc., a "cover sheet" as it were for Tolkien's continued work on the Narn -- and that the bit of dialogue it is part of continues after it; and thus it is not simply a random, isolated jotting by Tolkien having no connection to the well-known characters of his legendarium , and the question having no discernible connection to the same.

So, the actual evidence from the sentence that -ch means 'you' in that sentence is close to none. We are left with three bits of actual evidence: 1) a table of Noldorin pronoun forms showing -g and -ch as 2nd person endings (unpublished, mentioned in various discussions) 2) a table of Noldorin pronouns showing -ch as 1st person plural ending (unpublished, mentioned in various discussions) and 3) the apparent similarity of the Sindarin and the Quenya pronomial system, that if it holds permits to argue for -ch as a 2nd person ending (see Common Eldarin Views on the Sindarin Pronomial System for such an attempt).

I hope you see now what's wrong with telling someone that -ch is the 2nd person ending in Sindarin. In fact, even telling someone that I think -ch is the 2nd person ending in Sindarin (and I did write so in my course) is not entirely correct - because what I really think is that at some point Tolkien had in mind -g as a 2nd person sg. familiar and -ch as 2nd person pl. familiar and -l as 2nd person formal ending - and that he revised all that repeatedly. So, the actual reason that I recommend -ch in my course is that the whole affair is a terrible mess, that it is plausible enough and that a lot of people recognize it - so no need to throw in my slightly more complicated views if I am not sure of them anyway.

And I hope you can understand that I feel really uncomfortable whenever I see someone telling that -ch is the 2nd person ending in Sindarin just because I say so (or because Helge says so for that matter) - because it completely obscures what Tolkien has to say in that matter.

You see, the next difficulty when one 'standardizes' Sindarin is the following - I have a different idea about what is most likely correct than Ryszard Derdzinski or Helge Fauskanger - and for me it's easy to read their texts, because I know what Tolkien has written and what other possible conclusions can be drawn of that (because I rejected those when I made my editorial decisions - but I never forgot them) - but if you know Sindarin only from one secondary source you may wonder a lot about some unfamiliar grammar. So - eventually it pays off to know different interpretations even if you only want to use the language. (But here's a caveat - even if there are often different possible interpretations that does not imply 'anything goes' - we may often not know what is right, but we can boil it down to two or three possibilities, and anything else is still wrong).

What's the point of all this? I would like to ask you to be extremely careful how you present it when you're explaining Elvish to someone if you only know secondary sources yourself. In making statements like that is such and such you're very often twisting the truth in terms of what Tolkien actually had in mind - even if you have the best intentions of helping someone - just keep that distinction by arguing that Helge thinks that... and you're in much better shape, or throw in an occasional I think.... Look into what Tolkien has to say - and you're fine. But ultimately, you're not in a position to explain how Elvish grammar is unless you've studied Tolkien himself.

Just using the languages for fanfic is fine as well, and you can have a lot of fun doing so (I certainly had...) - and you don't have to study all the messy details and clashing interpretations for doing that. But if you really want to understand what Tolkien's thoughts are and how he viewed the Elvish grammar - then I'm afraid a secondary source will never be enough, and that is a lot more work.

So - it's up to you what you mean by learning Elvish - some people are happy just using the languages, others are content just to study them on a formal level without ever writing a bit of text - I have done and enjoyed both. But whatever you do, have fun (it's a hobby after all) and recognize the limits (I guess none of us really wants to spread all these false things).

Thorsten Renk

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