Language of the Council

TheWoodMan

New Member
Hello!

I just finished listening to episode 125 and am not sure if this question has been brought up yet but I was curious about the language in which we think the Council is being conducted in.

It obviously seems to be exclusively Westron (except for a nearly blasphemous recitation of a certain black speech inscription), but I'm not sure that's the whole story. Boromir and Frodo, for example, seem to be able to understand each other perfectly. As far as I know, Gondor and the Shire are fairly insular societies and we could expect their languages (i.e. their own dialect of Adunaic) to have changed aggressively over the centuries. Is there some unnamed and unmentioned translator lurking in the background, or is the difference in their dialects not aggressive enough to warrant translation?
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
I have several questions about language.

I find it unlikely that Frodo and Boromir understand each other perfectly, while Noldor and Sindar do not.

Generations of Men and Hobbits to pass along language, compared to Elves who may very well have once conversed directly with each other in their (then) shared language.

It just has never sat right with me, that Tolkien would have crafted this world to explain language drifts, and then people it with immortals (and then have mortals with unchanging languages).
 

JJ48

Active Member
Could it be something to do with trade? During the time the Elven languages were diverging, was there any commerce between the peoples?

Whereas, we know dwarves pass through the Shire and give news, and if these same dwarves are traveling to the Lonely Mountain or the Iron Hills, they would trade with the Lake-men, too. Lake-town seems to trade quite a bit, so perhaps they even have routes open to Gondor. Also, Bree probably figures in somehow, too.

Could such a network of trade and news keep the languages, if not unchanged, at least understandable to all parties involved?
 

Anthony Lawther

Active Member
It's also possible that those relating the story felt that details of language difficulties didn't meaningfully contribute to (or even would have detracted from) the story being told.

What if all parties, reading the room, chose to use more formal language to fit the gravity of the occasion and assist in common understanding. Then in the initial written account the language was relaxed and familiarised for the sake of the intended (Hobbit) audience. Thus we get the gist of what was discussed without getting a true verbatim account, but presented as quotation to make the audience feel as if they are actually there, at least for the parts relevant to Hobbits. This also helps explain why we get an apparent fade-in to the detail of the talk of the Council with Glóin's story, because now we getting to 'the important bits'; i.e. the bits relevant to Hobbits.

In modern period piece productions, the language sometimes seems to be chosen to draw the viewers into the story rather than sticking to the social or language conventions in place at the time; even Shakespeare did that sort of thing.

Edit: Additionally, showing language difficulties between Frodo and Boromir now, given that at the time of writing the author knows what will become of Boromir, might be considered insensitive and disrespectful of the dead. If nothing else Findegil, King's writer, might want to cast Boromir in a better light at this point to transfer as much blame for Boromir's later actions onto the Ring as possible.
 
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Arnthro

Active Member
**I am not being cheeky** maybe that is why the council takes so long (off the page/off screen). It is not because Elrond is just talking on and on about history and such, but rather translating, etc. ...making sure everyone literally understands one another's words.

As far as our version of the Red Book of Westmarch, or even the original Hobbits version, I guess any version of it is going to edit moments were interpreters are needed for pace. It seems to me, the way Bilbo talks about writing, that Bilbo's initial writings had the intention to entertain as well as inform.

As well, the amount of very close and dire moments ALL of the Fellowship spend together, it is believable to me that in a generally illiterate society (where the ears are more in tune so to speak), it is believable to me that the little nuance of languages are quickly understood among them.

With illiteracy being mentioned, we know that Bilbo taught Frodo and Sam their letters, Frodo and Sam have given us hints to their knowledge of history, so, it is possible that they have read writings from Gondor and elsewhere.

If a familiarity is in place for any culture's language, then it is easier for me to believe that the words of Boromir or anyone not speaking a Hobbit dialect are accurately represented by Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam before Findegil, King's writer even gets it.
 

JJ48

Active Member
I'd just point out that hobbits and others will later be able to converse quite a bit with Gondorians, Rohirrim, and Ents; and can also even understand Orcs when they use the Common Speech. I think it only reasonable to conclude that somehow, the changes in Westron have remained minor enough to allow at least some understanding between parties using it.
 

Arnthro

Active Member
True! I was focusing so much on Bilbo and Frodo and their writing, I forgot about Pippin and Merry with the orcs, even Treebeard. The Common Speech obviously goes a long way for universal communication.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
The Common Speech obviously goes a long way for universal communication.
I think, without actually thinking it through too carefully, that the ability of everyone in ME to converse together in the Common Speech is more a literary conceit than a linguistically-correct depiction of language drift. Kind of like Star Trek's universal translator, it makes the story easier to tell.

In our world, 500 years separation makes a formerly-common language difficult to understand. 1000 years and they are different languages and mutually incomprehensible. In ME, it has been over 3000 years since the battle of the Last Alliance. It doesn't seem that even extensive trade could overcome the language drift over such a time span.

The only theory I can come up with to "explain" this would be the influence of the Elves (to whom 3000 years is a shortish time). But they are so insular, I don't see how they could be continuously keeping Westron "pure" over such a large region of ME.

We do see Hobbits and Rohirrim comparing words and finding parallels between their speech. It seems that the Rohirrim retain their own language and that this is related to the former language of Hobbits, though the latter retain only some archaic words and names and have otherwise adopted Westron as their own.
Legolas in The Two Towers said:
That, I guess, is the language of the Rohirrim, for it is like to this land itself; rich and rolling in part, and else hard and stern as the mountains. But I cannot guess what it means, save that it is laden with the sadness of Mortal Men.
It is curious that Tolkien the philologist would employ such a literary conceit without comment.
 

Kate Neville

Active Member
And I think we are meant to infer that Hobbits speak with an “accent” — and isn’t it mentioned somewhere by Tolkien that hobbits had lost the concept of the familiar/formal second person, so that when Pippin talks to and of Lord Denethor, he only uses the familiar mode, which leads to Gondorians concluding that he must be a Prince of his people.
 

Anthony Lawther

Active Member
And I think we are meant to infer that Hobbits speak with an “accent” — and isn’t it mentioned somewhere by Tolkien that hobbits had lost the concept of the familiar/formal second person, so that when Pippin talks to and of Lord Denethor, he only uses the familiar mode, which leads to Gondorians concluding that he must be a Prince of his people.
Appendix F II On Translation
'This was one of the things referred to when people of Gondor spoke of the strangeness of Hobbit-speech. Peregrine Took, for instance, in his first few days in Minas Tirith used the familiar forms to people of all ranks, including the Lord Denethor himself. This may have amused the aged Steward, but it must have astonished his servants. No doubt this free use of the familiar forms helped to spread the popular rumour that Peregrine was a person of very high rank in his own country.' Pippin is in a manner, but not in the way the Gondorians would expect, as Shire Hobbits are far less interested in rank; this could easily explain the loss of the deferential forms in the Shire, except in the Westfarthing where they used as endearments.

This section goes on:
'It will be noticed that Hobbits such as Frodo, and other persons such as Gandalf and Aragorn, do not always use the same style. This is intentional. The more learned and able among the Hobbits had some knowledge of 'book-language', as it was termed in the Shire; and they were quick to note and adopt the style of those whom they met. It was in any case natural for much-travelled folk to speak more or less after the manner of those among whom they found themselves, especially in the case of men who, like Aragorn, were often at pains to conceal their origin and their business. Yet in those days all the enemies of the Enemy revered what was ancient, in language no loess than in other matters, and they took pleasure in it according to their knowledge. The Eldar, being above all skilled in words, had the command of many styles, though they spoke most naturally in a manner nearest to their own speech, one even more antique than that of Gondor. The Dwarves too, spoke with skill, readily adapting themselves to their company, though their utterance seemed to some rather harsh and guttural.'

This section seems to provide great guidance for what is happening at the Council: The Elves, Dwarves, Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and Aragorn are likely adapting to an average level somewhere near Gondorian speech. The narrator, however, I suspect renders the discussion in language more familiar to the ear of Shire Hobbits to allow the audience to focus on the story rather than the odd speech.

I think, without actually thinking it through too carefully, that the ability of everyone in ME to converse together in the Common Speech is more a literary conceit than a linguistically-correct depiction of language drift. Kind of like Star Trek's universal translator, it makes the story easier to tell.

In our world, 500 years separation makes a formerly-common language difficult to understand. 1000 years and they are different languages and mutually incomprehensible. In ME, it has been over 3000 years since the battle of the Last Alliance. It doesn't seem that even extensive trade could overcome the language drift over such a time span.

The only theory I can come up with to "explain" this would be the influence of the Elves (to whom 3000 years is a shortish time). But they are so insular, I don't see how they could be continuously keeping Westron "pure" over such a large region of ME.

We do see Hobbits and Rohirrim comparing words and finding parallels between their speech. It seems that the Rohirrim retain their own language and that this is related to the former language of Hobbits, though the latter retain only some archaic words and names and have otherwise adopted Westron as their own.

It is curious that Tolkien the philologist would employ such a literary conceit without comment.
I think the comment you were expecting is in Appendix F. A literary conceit perhaps, but with some in-world social behavioural support. If the enemies of the Enemy universally revered the ancient language this would go a long way to slowing the drift of languages away from each other. Language drift in our world is the only model we are familiar with, but it doesn't make it the only possible model.
 

Kate Neville

Active Member
Thanks for the reference -- I was writing from memory, which is unreliable, and couldn't remember whether it came from the Letters, the Appendices, or HoME.
 
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