Modern Turns of Phrase and Archaic Language

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
A comment on thee/thou/thy vs you/ye

I do think that is an easy way to make text appear archaic to a modern audience, while at the same time adding a layer of depth to the dialogue by differentiating between formal and informal speech. It is likely no mistake at all that the Valar are consistently familiar in their address of others (unless addressing an entire group of elves or something). And likewise it relays some of the tension in the story to have the Melian/Galadriel and Angrod/Finrod/Thingol conversations use 'you' - they may be relatives, but no one is losing sight of the fact that these Noldor are 'foreign guests' in this kingdom, and Melian and Thingol are Queen and King. There is a distance/coldness/formality to these interactions that show they are at odds with one another.

Of course, it's unfortunate that the "thee/thou" dialogue will sound more formal, while the "you" dialogue will sound more familiar to the audience.

It is my understanding that in French, one reaches a point in a relationship with another person where you actually discuss whether you may now call the person by "tous" (informal) rather than "vous" (formal). Ie, that there is a verb for 'calling someone by informal tous' that is used when transitioning from acquaintances to friends or what have you. We may have to have a conversation like that on screen at some point - for instance, the first time Celeborn/Galadriel use "thee/thou" with one another or something may be the time to highlight that this is the intimate/friendly version of you, not the King James Bible (or whatever other associations the audience may have) version.

And obviously we can have Fëanor refuse to ever use thee/thou with Indis (except perhaps for when they nearly reconcile at his wedding to Nerdanel).

Certainly, we can have people address their subordinates as thee/thou, while the subordinates always carefully respond with the more formal "you."

But I do think that this distinction between you/your and thee/thou/thy is one that will carry through all seasons of the project and most of the cultures we present. Except for hobbits, of course.

Another option is to flip the meaning - to have 'you' be informal/familiar and 'thee/thou' be formal/distant. Obviously that's not how it was used historically, nor does that mirror what Tolkien did throughout his stories....but it may be a way to 'cheat' and get the audience to have the reaction we want them to have when they hear the distinction between the voices. Because the reality is that the archaic version that has fallen out of use is going to sound remote/distant no matter how we prime the audience to understand the distinction. It's more-or-less what Tolkien did with Pippin and Denethor. I think we should consider that option, at least.
I don't like the idea of flipping the meanings of "you" and "thee." I think it is possible to convey in the show the accurate meanings of the pronouns. In many cases, the context should help the viewers determine the difference between them, as it will be clear whether a scene depicts a formal or informal conversation.

I like the idea of a conversation explicitly mentioning the pronouns people are using with each other. Perhaps we could aim to have one of those in the first few episodes of each season. Another thing we could do is, in Season 1, have young Estel giggle at the archaic language Elrond is using when telling him stories and have Elrond give him (and the viewers) a brief grammar lesson.

Also, I think that understanding the difference between "you" and "thee" is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the show. A casual viewer may just hear those words and think they sound kind of cool and old-timey, while a more engaged viewer would pick up on the difference between them and the extra layer of meaning they add to conversations.

"Ye" is the second-person plural and, in modern English, has been replaced with phrases like "you guys" or "y'all." I think this is something that will also be quite clear in context, as characters will use it when referring to multiple people.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Yeah, it may mostly just sound old-fashioned or archaic, but I can't help but think that people will find it 'formal' sounding as well. Which is maybe the opposite of what we are going for, but probably not the end of the world if that impression is given. I do agree that flipping the meaning is likely needlessly complicated.

But if we do indeed cut back the use of "thee/thou" over time so that it is heard only rarely in the Frame or late 3rd Age stories, then I think it will accomplish its goal of making the First Age stories sound older and more remote.
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
Yeah, it may mostly just sound old-fashioned or archaic, but I can't help but think that people will find it 'formal' sounding as well. Which is maybe the opposite of what we are going for, but probably not the end of the world if that impression is given. I do agree that flipping the meaning is likely needlessly complicated.

But if we do indeed cut back the use of "thee/thou" over time so that it is heard only rarely in the Frame or late 3rd Age stories, then I think it will accomplish its goal of making the First Age stories sound older and more remote.
That is exactly what I want to do.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Another thing we could do is, in Season 1, have young Estel giggle at the archaic language Elrond is using when telling him stories and have Elrond give him (and the viewers) a brief grammar lesson.
I'm not crazy about this. By the time the frame arrives in Rivendell, Estel has already been growing up around Elrond for eight years. Any such issue would likely already have been resolved.
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
I'm not crazy about this. By the time the frame arrives in Rivendell, Estel has already been growing up around Elrond for eight years. Any such issue would likely already have been resolved.
Another possibility would be for Estel to misuse a word and Elrond to correct him.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
There will be a sharp contrast between the everyday language of Elrond and the language of the Valar in the main story of Season 1. We may highlight that in the frame at some point. Granted, Elrond will still sound 'not modern' to the audience, but he's not going to be talking the same way the Valar do, and that will be intentional! I do want to be careful to limit our on-screen grammar lessons to details it's essential the audience know. So, I am fine with Elrond explaining something pertinent to Estel (the never-to-be-used name Melkor, the meaning of 'Estel'), but maybe not to go so far as to teach Estel how the Valar talk funny cause they're ancient beings.


So I think the goal for 'most archaic/most remote' is Ilúvatar, with the close runner-up of the Valar (allowing for some differentiation, so that Manwë and Mandos may sound more archaic than say Ulmo or Yavanna). So, we get to pull out all the stops there, and get not only thee/thou/thy, but also "wilt" and "hast" and "cometh" and "namest" and "shalt" and "dost" etc.

Similarly, I'm willing to give the Noldor 'courtly speech' that imitates this diction of the Valar when they are doing something very formal and official. So, for instance, Fingolfin approaching Finwë in his court in Tirion and starting the fight with Fëanor in Season 2 can use that language, and Fëanor addressing Mandos after the Doom (or the messenger in Tirion) in early Season 3, and perhaps Maedhros acknowledging Fingolfin as High King of the Noldor or Fingolfin crowning Turgon in Season 4. Like, there's a time and a place for that, and these are characters who have hung out with the Valar and could have picked up on some of this archaic turn of phrase. But that is still limited to 'Noldor-who-grew-up-in-Valinor-only' and wouldn't be all Noldor all the time.

There are clear differences between the examples of elven speech quoted in the text of the published Silmarillion for the part corresponding to Season 4....and the speech of Manwë telling Melkor he can't be king of Arda. I want to make sure we don't try to make everyone uniformly remote, but allow our First Age elves to be one step down from the Valar in their archaicism, as the text does.
 
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MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Another good archaicism that is employed in the Season 4 scripts is the use of Yea/Nay for Yes/No. There may be times when we want someone to say "verily", but it won't be very often. But Yea/Nay can appear all the time. The audience will understand this, and yet it will help to make the characters feel a step removed.

Another advantage is that this appears in the corpus of the dialogue in the published Silmarillion during this time period. Caranthir says 'yea more!' when he's rebuking Angrod.

https://forums.signumuniversity.org/index.php?threads/modern-turns-of-phrase-and-archaic-language.3549/#post-30802
 
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MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Concerning the archaic -eth or -est endings...

There is an example of this in Ilúvatar's speech. And also from several of the Valar, when speaking to one another and when speaking to the elves. So, there is definitely a place for this in this project, if we're trying to follow the published Silmarillion.

But when looking at Chapters 13-15 of the published Silmarillion (the chapters the Season 4 content is focused on), there is only one example of a character who speaks this way. And it's Ulmo:

"Remember that the true hope of the Noldor lieth in the West and cometh from the Sea."​
"But if this peril draweth nigh indeed..."​

Ulmo is the only one. We have plenty of examples of elves talking to one another, both to close family and to strangers, and some of the dialogue is from a public, courtly context (not 'private' conversations) - Thingol issuing his official greeting to the Noldor in the north whom he has not yet met, Maedhros acknowledging Fingolfin as High King, etc. And we don't see this there.

I can understand why Ulmo talks in an outdated mode - he's a Vala. He doesn't bother keeping up with the elves' changes in their language, and he can surely make himself understood even if he's a bit old-fashioned. The Valar....are ancient by elven standards. Ulmo is talking as he always has; it's the elves who have changed.

I think we need to have reasons for any other characters on screen to talk this way. I'm not saying there can't be a reason - but I do think that this should not be the default mode of day-to-day speech among any of the elves in Season 4. Finwë's court in Tirion in Season 2 no doubt has some of this going on - the Noldor wanting to imitate the Valar to sound important. But that would be in a public, courtly, official context, not in a 'please passeth the salt' context. Here in Beleriand...the elves are far removed from Tirion, and distant from the Valar. The Noldor had a rather public falling-out with the Valar in Season 3....

The one exception I came up with to 'elves don't talk this way' was to allow the Fëanoreans to keep the -eth as a nod to the Shibboleth. I know this will make them sound silly and pompous. But I'm not certain it's a terrible look for them. I don't want them to be a joke...and they're obviously my favorites in this whole mess. But, if people thought it important to show Fëanoreans clinging to outdated modes of speech...I could at least buy the reason for it. It might be less jarring to have them say 'hath' a lot for similar reasons.

Are there other reasons? Why would Season 4 elves use the archaic -eth ending on verbs?
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
Concerning the archaic -eth or -est endings...

There is an example of this in Ilúvatar's speech. And also from several of the Valar, when speaking to one another and when speaking to the elves. So, there is definitely a place for this in this project, if we're trying to follow the published Silmarillion.

But when looking at Chapters 13-15 of the published Silmarillion (the chapters the Season 4 content is focused on), there is only one example of a character who speaks this way. And it's Ulmo:

"Remember that the true hope of the Noldor lieth in the West and cometh from the Sea."​
"But if this peril draweth nigh indeed..."​

Ulmo is the only one. We have plenty of examples of elves talking to one another, both to close family and to strangers, and some of the dialogue is from a public, courtly context (not 'private' conversations) - Thingol issuing his official greeting to the Noldor in the north whom he has not yet met, Maedhros acknowledging Fingolfin as High King, etc. And we don't see this there.

I can understand why Ulmo talks in an outdated mode - he's a Vala. He doesn't bother keeping up with the elves' changes in their language, and he can surely make himself understood even if he's a bit old-fashioned. The Valar....are ancient by elven standards. Ulmo is talking as he always has; it's the elves who have changed.

I think we need to have reasons for any other characters on screen to talk this way. I'm not saying there can't be a reason - but I do think that this should not be the default mode of day-to-day speech among any of the elves in Season 4. Finwë's court in Tirion in Season 2 no doubt has some of this going on - the Noldor wanting to imitate the Valar to sound important. But that would be in a public, courtly, official context, not in a 'please passeth the salt' context. Here in Beleriand...the elves are far removed from Tirion, and distant from the Valar. The Noldor had a rather public falling-out with the Valar in Season 3....

The one exception I came up with to 'elves don't talk this way' was to allow the Fëanoreans to keep the -eth as a nod to the Shibboleth. I know this will make them sound silly and pompous. But I'm not certain it's a terrible look for them. I don't want them to be a joke...and they're obviously my favorites in this whole mess. But, if people thought it important to show Fëanoreans clinging to outdated modes of speech...I could at least buy the reason for it. It might be less jarring to have them say 'hath' a lot for similar reasons.

Are there other reasons? Why would Season 4 elves use the archaic -eth ending on verbs?
I disagree about the verb endings. They aren't indicating archaism or formality; they're necessary to be grammatically correct.

-eth is an old way of expressing the third person singular and was used about the same time as thee/thou. Usually, it is used the same as the -s in modern English. Fore example, "he runs swiftly" would be "he runneth swiftly." "Please passeth the salt" would be incorrect because the verb is in second person. As far as I can tell, there was no difference in the use of -eth between formal and informal settings. There are certainly sentences in the scripts where my use of it sounds awkward, and I think the way to fix those is to change the word order or use "hath/doth [verb]" instead.

-est, -st, or -t is the informal second person singular verb form, so when I use thou, I need to use those forms as well. Only using them in formal situations would, I think, confuse the issue of "thou" being the informal pronoun.

I think there will come a time when some characters are still using the archaic verb forms and others have dropped them, but I don't think that should be a distinction between Valar and the Elves. I think it should be used to show the language changing over time.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Yes, I was joking about 'passeth.' ;) I know you don't use that with the imperative or subjunctive cases. But I do think it's important to understand that Tolkien was pretty comfortable with the history of the English language, and he made some deliberate choices in the published Silmarillion. (CJRT, too, is not unfamiliar with the history of English grammar.) Granted, there's a very small corpus of examples to work from here, so I'm not suggesting that we're 100% limited to what we can see in the text in chapters 13-15. But I think that when we do have an example, we should certainly think carefully and come up with a reason before changing it.

does (+ eth) = doth
has (+ eth) = hath

Adding the auxillary verbs may make the sentence structure more palatable, it's true, but it's essentially the same thing.

Also, it's not quite the case that if you use thee/thou you must also use the -eth ending. Both gradually disappeared from use throughout the early modern era, and there are certainly examples of keeping one without the other. So, yes, the -est/-st/-t ending goes with thou. And then it goes away. Gradually. In a non-standardized way. For instance, 'hath' and 'doth' lasted longer than main verbs such as 'passeth.' And as you noted above, prayers and hymns addressing God with thee/thou continued long after it fell out of common everyday use.

Here are example quotations from the Season 4 content that would make use of the -eth ending...but don't:

"Thingol doth but grant us lands where his power doth not run. ... Therefore in Doriath let him reign, and be glad that he hath the sons of Finwë for his neighbors, not the Orcs of Morgoth that we found. Elsewhere it shall go as seemeth good to us."​
"Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken, while my power endureth."​
"For by no vision or thought can I perceive anything that passed or passeth in the West: a shadow lieth over all the land of Aman, and reacheth far out over the sea."​
"The shadow of the wrath of the Valar lieth upon them; and they have done evil, I perceive, both in Aman and to their own kin. A grief but lulled to sleep lieth between the princes of the Noldor."​
"Yet the shadow of Mandos lieth on you also."​

These quotes come from Maedhros, Thingol, and Melian. So, that's both the Sindar and the Noldor, and even a Maia (who lives among the Sindar and does not speak as the Valar do).

That...looks like a fairly deliberate choice not to have these people talk in that manner. Obviously, Tolkien wasn't opposed to writing like this - earlier in the Silmarillion, particularly among the Valar, we see this form of speech, and even in these chapters, we see Ulmo use it again (three times - clearly intentionally done). But he had equal opportunity to employ that in Melian's speech...and did not choose to do so.

You say that it's grammatical, not simply an archaicism. While it is grammatical, it's archaic grammar. So, use of this grammar indicates archaic speech. At this point, it seems as though the decision is simply where to cut off the appropriate use of this grammar in the timeline. I am content with saying...when the elves leave Valinor. The text seems to support that. Use of archaic forms are acceptable in a courtly setting, because often the forms were set in an earlier time. Lawyers certainly do not rely on modern English phrasing to conduct their business!

I am trying to work with you here. I am willing to suggest that the uses of 'you' are deliberately cold/unfamiliar/formal rather than an indication that thee/thou has gone out of use. I am willing to suggest that the elves make use of a more 'old fashioned' mode of speech when conducting formal, official business (addressing a king in court). And I even suggested the Fëanoreans could keep using this style of grammar even though the text indicates that they do not, because the shibboleth of Fëanor was a technical language distinction between the Fëanoreans and the other Noldor, so it would be an adaptation based on something from Tolkien's work.

All I am hearing in response is that in the arbitrary year you have chosen from history to set the Season 4 scripts, English worked in this way. My argument is not that Elizabethan grammar doesn't exist nor am I suggesting that there's anything wrong with it. I'm questioning why the elves of Beleriand are speaking Elizabethan English when Tolkien didn't write them as doing so? They don't sound like they're written by Chaucer; nor do they sound as though they're written by Shakespeare. Is there anything magical about the year 1610 that necessitates our scripts in First Age Beleriand be set prior to it? And if so, shall I hunt down pre-1610 texts that use '-s' rather than '-eth' to make some sort of point?

I want to be deliberately archaic in a way that is consistent with the text of the published Silmarillion. I don't want to attempt to be more archaic to create a false sense of distance. I think that we will be doing our characters no favors if we force them into these modes of speech.
 
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Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Yes, I was joking about 'passeth.' ;) I know you don't use that with the imperative or subjunctive cases. But I do think it's important to understand that Tolkien was pretty comfortable with the history of the English language, and he made some deliberate choices in the published Silmarillion. (CJRT, too, is not unfamiliar with the history of English grammar.) Granted, there's a very small corpus of examples to work from here, so I'm not suggesting that we're 100% limited to what we can see in the text in chapters 13-15. But I think that when we do have an example, we should certainly think carefully and come up with a reason before changing it.

does (+ eth) = doth
has (+ eth) = hath

Adding the auxillary verbs may make the sentence structure more palatable, it's true, but it's essentially the same thing.

Also, it's not quite the case that if you use thee/thou you must also use the -eth ending. Both gradually disappeared from use throughout the early modern era, and there are certainly examples of keeping one without the other. So, yes, the -est/-st/-t ending goes with thou. And then it goes away. Gradually. In a non-standardized way. For instance, 'hath' and 'doth' lasted longer than main verbs such as 'passeth.' And as you noted above, prayers and hymns addressing God with thee/thou continued long after it fell out of common everyday use.

Here are example quotations from the Season 4 content that would make use of the -eth ending...but don't:

"Thingol doth but grant us lands where his power doth not run. ... Therefore in Doriath let him reign, and be glad that he hath the sons of Finwë for his neighbors, not the Orcs of Morgoth that we found. Elsewhere it shall go as seemeth good to us."​
"Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken, while my power endureth."​
"For by no vision or thought can I perceive anything that passed or passeth in the West: a shadow lieth over all the land of Aman, and reacheth far out over the sea."​
"The shadow of the wrath of the Valar lieth upon them; and they have done evil, I perceive, both in Aman and to their own kin. A grief but lulled to sleep lieth between the princes of the Noldor."​
"Yet the shadow of Mandos lieth on you also."​

These quotes come from Maedhros, Thingol, and Melian. So, that's both the Sindar and the Noldor, and even a Maia (who lives among the Sindar and does not speak as the Valar do).

That...looks like a fairly deliberate choice not to have these people talk in that manner. Obviously, Tolkien wasn't opposed to writing like this - earlier in the Silmarillion, particularly among the Valar, we see this form of speech, and even in these chapters, we see Ulmo use it again (three times - clearly intentionally done). But he had equal opportunity to employ that in Melian's speech...and did not choose to do so.

You say that it's grammatical, not simply an archaicism. While it is grammatical, it's archaic grammar. So, use of this grammar indicates archaic speech. At this point, it seems as though the decision is simply where to cut off the appropriate use of this grammar in the timeline. I am content with saying...when the elves leave Valinor. The text seems to support that. Use of archaic forms are acceptable in a courtly setting, because often the forms were set in an earlier time. Lawyers certainly do not rely on modern English phrasing to conduct their business!

I am trying to work with you here. I am willing to suggest that the uses of 'you' are deliberately cold/unfamiliar/formal rather than an indication that thee/thou has gone out of use. I am willing to suggest that the elves make use of a more 'old fashioned' mode of speech when conducting formal, official business (addressing a king in court). And I even suggested the Fëanoreans could keep using this style of grammar even though the text indicates that they do not, because the shibboleth of Fëanor was a technical language distinction between the Fëanoreans and the other Noldor, so it would be an adaptation based on something from Tolkien's work.

All I am hearing in response is that in the arbitrary year you have chosen from history to set the Season 4 scripts, English worked in this way. My argument is not that Elizabethan grammar doesn't exist nor am I suggesting that there's anything wrong with it. I'm questioning why the elves of Beleriand are speaking Elizabethan English when Tolkien didn't write them as doing so? They don't sound like they're written by Chaucer; nor do they sound as though they're written by Shakespeare. Is there anything magical about the year 1610 that necessitates our scripts in First Age Beleriand be set prior to it? And if so, shall I hunt down pre-1610 texts that use '-s' rather than '-eth' to make some sort of point?

I want to be deliberately archaic in a way that is consistent with the text of the published Silmarillion. I don't want to attempt to be more archaic to create a false sense of distance. I think that we will be doing our characters no favors if we force them into these modes of speech.

This is more or less what I've been saying for some time now. I grew up reading the King James Version of the Bible, so I'm relatively inured to this kind of language. But I'm also aware of the kind of mockery leveled at the 17th century translation, specifically for this reason, and the claims that it is nearly unreadable. Obviously, spoken language softens that, so the occasional "thee", "thou", "doth", or "willst" works. The first two Thor films are evidence of this, thou even they were not immune to mockery on this point. It's when you get into action verbs that we start having trouble. Audiences are trained to accept that sort of grammar from comedic or campy sources, and my hope is for our make- believe audience to take our make- believe show as anything but.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
There are cases where an older style is in use and expected/understood. "Fare thee well" may not be a phrase in common usage, but I would say that most people would readily understand it if they heard it. It might sound old-fashioned, but it isn't obscure.

When Samuel Morse was demonstrating the use of the telegraph in 1844, he sent a Morse code message saying "What hath God wrought!" (Numbers 23:23 in the King James Version of the Bible) Certainly that wasn't how people spoke at the time, but it was expected to quote the Bible that way.

"How Great Thou Art" was originally a Swedish hymn written in 1885 ("O Store Gud"), translated into German, then Russian, and eventually into English in 1949 (an earlier English translation under the title 'O Mighty God' exists). I think it is very safe to say that the choice to write it this way came out of a church culture that was used to older language in hymns, and not a reflection of how people actually wrote or spoke in 1949!

We aren't going to have a strictly analogous situation, but we can likely come up with scenarios under which an 'older' version of the language is preserved in specific instances.


I have been careful not to introduce the History of Middle-earth into this thread, because there are many passages therein which are not, strictly speaking, compatible with the published Silmarillion, and I don't want to muddy the waters. We are certainly not intending to use Book of Lost Tales diction in the Silmarillion Film Project, full stop. And certainly, anything written pre-publication of Lord of the Rings would have a lot of question marks on it, regarding style. But I can offer two passages for consideration (both from HoME X: Morgoth's Ring, and thus contemporary with the later Quenta Silmarillion.)

The Statute of Finwë and Míriel (late 1950s) is part of the "Laws and Customs among the Eldar," and contains a debate among the Valar over whether Finwë should be permitted to remarry, seeing as how Míriel seemed disinterested in returning to life. It (along with the rest of Laws and Customs) is meant to have been recorded by Aelfwine. In this debate, the Valar certainly use the '-eth' suffix frequently in their speech, as they do in the published Silmarillion. Examples: "For it seemeth to me that it arose from the bearing of Feanáro." (Aulë) "For Eru is Lord of All, and moveth all the devices of his creatures, even the malice of the Marrer, in his final purposes, but he doth not of his prime motion impose grief upon them." (Ulmo) "In the use of Justice there must be Pity, which is the consideration of the singleness of each that cometh under Justice." (Nienna) Etc. In the Silmarillion Film Project, this debate would occur in mid-Season 2, though of course we don't intend to show it on screen.

The other passage is, of course, the Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth (1959), a debate between Finrod and Andreth in FA 409 over the nature of mortality. Tolkien did intend this to be published with the Silmarillion, though of course he never did get the Silmarillion ready for publication in his lifetime. Still, his intention to include it suggests that it is maybe more 'compatible' than some of the other essays he was writing later in life. As far as the Silmarillion Film Project goes, this content would be set in Season 5 (FA 310-456), after the introduction of Men to the story. I would like to nail down how the elves are talking before we get into First Age Edain, but it is very interesting to look at some of the topics we've been discussing in this lengthy dialogue.

First it should be noted that 'ye' for you (plural) is used throughout. When Finrod is speaking of Men as a whole, or Andreth is speaking of Elves in general, they both say 'ye.'​
'yea' and 'nay' appear for yes and no in this conversation.​
At no point is anyone using verbs with the archaic -eth ending.​
But the really interesting thing (which I believe Corey Olsen brought up during the first script review session) is that there is a code-switch at a key point in the debate. In the early part, they are addressing one another as 'you'. They are speaking very generically about the fates of Men and Elves and discussing philosophy - evil, hope, what happens to everyone in the end, etc. Then, the conversation gets personal. It is revealed to the reader that Andreth was in love with Finrod's brother Aegnor, who spurned her (to her mind). At that point, they switch to thee/thou language, and the one who initiates the switch is Finrod. Andreth immediately calls him out for that, saying, "But say not thou to me, for so he once did!" And Finrod continues to use thou/thy/thee/thine from that point while discussing this deeply personal history (and occasionally still you for the philosophical fate stuff they are still discussing); Andreth mostly sticks to 'you.' So, we have examples of both you/thee usage in this text.​
Naturally, the -st endings appear with the introduction of 'thou' to the dialogue. Canst, wert, dost, wouldst, etc.​
So, while we may be limited to snippets of dialogue in the published Silmarillion, the Athrabeth provides 18 pages of Finrod and Andreth talking to one another, and thus lots of examples of what diction would be appropriate to these characters. I know this is Season 5 material, but I think this text is appropriate for demonstrating how archaic speech should look in Season 4.
 
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Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
And it's important to note that the "-eth" and "-est" forms started slipping from the English language significantly before "thee" and "thou". By the beginning of the 18th century, the word "speaketh" would have come off as extremely old-fashioned, while people were using "thee" and "thou" without it seeming so for another 100 years. People still use "the familiar" today! Even in legal documents from the late 17th centuries, one can often find words like "hath" while action verbs have already taken on the modern form. So to say that the Elizabethan forms have to be kept in order for proper grammatical use to be attained seems a very narrow view.

Ultimately, here's my problem: I've brought up the King James Bible a lot. It's whereby I have most of my experience with that sort of language. And I've spent a lot of time reading scriptures aloud in front of people, many of whom are well-acquainted with the passages from which I'm reading. And the reason I know that it would likely pull people out of the watching of our show is that even to those familiar with said passages, the King James read aloud is quite difficult.

This show isn't just meant for us. It should be accessible to most people willing to turn it on, and I think we owe it to those fictional people to meet them halfway on this.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I would think that most people are familiar with the -eth endings from either the King James Bible or from reading Shakespeare. The thing is, -eth --> -s isn't really a change in grammar. It's a change in phonetics. So, the spoken language and the written language didn't always match. There are even places in the same text where both appear together and inconsistently. But, yes, it did phase out, and it phased out before 'thee/thou.'

Please don't think that I want our scripts to sound 'more modern' - I do not! I think what I am asking for is a bit trickier than simply using the earliest forms of Modern English grammar, though. I'm asking that we imitate Tolkien's style and choices, mostly because everyone here loves reading what Tolkien wrote, and I think our work will be better if it feels as though it were compatible with his. But yes, this means we have to do a lot more work to tease out what 'archaic elvish speech' sounds like.


Word order in sentences is certainly part of what makes Tolkien's dialogue sound archaic, though it can be difficult to imitate. And if you don't do it well, it sounds very much like Yoda.

Here are a couple of examples from the first page of the Athrabeth: (with my 'more modern' updates showing the difference...)

"Sad to me, Andreth, is the swift passing of your people." --> The swift passing of your people is sad to me, Andreth.
"
Little while indeed it seems to me since I first saw Bëor in the east of this land, yet now he is gone, and his sons, and his son's son also." --> It seems just a short while since I saw Bëor for the first time out east; but he's gone now, and his sons and grandson are gone, too.
"What mean you by that?" --> What do you mean by that? --> Whaddaya mean? :p

Great. Now I feel like I'm creating one of those 'living word' translations of the Bible to hold up next to the King James and show how they have the same meaning, but few of the same words and completely different structure. :p

There are also some words that are more likely to show up in these dialogues than you might expect from a more modern character: indeed, err, yet, perforce, winnow, chaff, tainted, valour, untruth, perceive, carrion, utterly, foreseen, prevail, doom, contrary, vain, summons, beware, flatter, kinsman, akin, precious, lordly, whence, vigour, traveller, tyranny, grievous, bliss, throb, harps, everlasting, jest, bitterness, forebode, abominable, dread, folly, defied, sundering, foresight, barters, anguish, befall, hobbled, and hag

And some words are common enough, but used in a more old fashioned sense - otherwise, compass (as a verb), leeches (for doctors), talent (here meaning trait or knack),

And some are definitely old-fashioned and show up only in unique contexts now: whence, alas, anon, unto, sojourn, raiment, puissant, deem, lo, whither

Except for that last batch, most of those examples are all perfectly valid English words in modern usage. And many of them are coming up simply because of the content of that conversation - of course you're going to say 'everlasting' and 'doom' in a conversation about the differing fates of elves and men! But to use all of them together like this...makes the passage sound old.

...and then there is "ineluctable," which we should probably never use and very few people would consider a day-to-day word in modern English! (it just means 'inescapable, but Andreth is showing off a bit :p )
 
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amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
Sort of related, the other day I was reading the technical specifications for a piece of oil & gas plant equipment and it had the word "whilst" in it. Turns out the manufacturer is in England, who knew? You definitely won't see "whilst" in a Canadian or American technical document.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
I’m still unsure of the use of more archaic words in dialogue, since their usage in modern media is mostly as farce and parody, such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail (to make King Arthur look ridiculous), Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (as a means to deliver lines in a hammy tone), and Iron Man’s heckling of Thor in The Avengers: “Doth Mother know you weareth her drapes?”
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I understand your concern - if one uses Elizabethan English in a non-Elizabethan setting, it can appear incongruous to a listener, and...ultimately humorous. To be fair, though, it can be used badly/baldly instead of correctly, which does add to the farcical impression.

In HBO's The Tudors, there are some nods made at archaic uses of language, but certainly the speeches delivered are not actually how people contemporary to Henry the VIII would have spoken. No doubt one of the reasons they chose to forego strict historical accuracy on this point was so as not to alienate a modern audience. They are more-or-less consistent in how they handle it, so the audience can accept it for what it is.

(And I was careful to pick two scenes with no nudity and no gore from this TV-MA show, though the first scene is an execution, so, be warned.)

A character uses 'thee' in this execution scene, but it is in a prayer:

The diction on the show is more similar to this scene:

I suppose one could describe that as a 'taste' of old-fashioned language? There are little flourishes of archaic words tacked on, and slightly older usages such as asking, 'Are you content?' when in a modern setting one would say, 'Are you satisfied?' or 'Are you happy now?'

One can be more archaic than that and still write dialogue that is palatable to a modern audience, I think, though.


I guess my question for you would be, what do you think of Tolkien's dialogue in the published Silmarillion and in the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth? How do you find the archaicism there? Is it too much or comedic?
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
I understand the concerns that have been raised about the use of verbs with the -eth suffix, but I would really prefer to keep it. I am fine with lessening its usage, particularly in informal settings, and with rewording dialogue to avoiding using it when the -eth verb sounds awkward or really stands out in the sentence, but I would not like to introduce -s as the third person singular suffix just yet. This is not just my personal preference, though, I believe it has advantages for our adaptation.

The two main arguments against the use of -eth verbs are that its regular usage does not reflect the dialogue of the published Silmarillion and that it will seem comedic or distant to the audience. I have a couple points to counter each of these.

First of all, thank you, @MithLuin, for your fantastic analysis of the dialogue from the published Silmarillion. You are absolutely right that the Ainur are pretty much the only ones who use the -eth ending (Turin does use it too) and that it is important to differentiate between the speech of the Ainur and the speech of the Eldar. However, I do not think that differentiation should be based on a single verb ending. When they are trying to do so, the Ainur should sound higher and more remote because of what they are doing: Ulmo proclaiming, Mandos delivering dooms, or Eonwe hailing "Earendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope!" Even if these Ainur used -s instead of -eth, the effect would be achieved; likewise, it would be achieved if everyone else also used -eth.

While there should certainly be some difference between the speech of the Ainur and the speech of the Elves in Season 4, this difference should be much, much subtler than the difference between the speech of the First Age and the speech of the Third Age. While the speech of non-Ainur characters in The Silmarillion does not make use of -eth, it is essentially the same register as the dialogue in "Aldarion and Erendis" and a lot of the higher dialogue in Lord of the Rings. Therefore, my goal is to make the general dialogue for SilmFilm a tad more archaic than it is written in The Silmarillion to allow for greater differentiation between time periods and more clearly show the language changing over time.

Another reason to keep -eth is that, while we do not want to have fully Book-of-Lost-Tales-style dialogue, we are keeping elements from Tolkien's earlier writings, and I think some of the older dialogue, which uses -eth, is certainly worth keeping. We are building our adaptation from a variety of sources, not just the published Silmarillion, so I do not think we necessarily need to limit ourselves to the style of dialogue in that one book.

Finally, The Silmarillion is presented as a collected translation from various sources, so the dialogue in it is not necessarily what the characters "really" said. Now, I do not want to nor am I saying that we should just freely alter the direct quotations Tolkien gives us, but I do think slight modifications to the grammar to make it more like grammar that has been used by other characters elsewhere in the text would be acceptable.

To address the second argument against the use of -eth, that it would distance viewers by being to archaic to understand or simply seen as comedic, I concede that there are certainly some places in the scripts where the dialogue as I have written it does this; however, I think that should be addressed by identifying and improving those sections rather than ditching -eth altogether.

There is a fine line between archaism that is understandable to a modern audience and archaism that is not. I considered this even before I began writing the first script, and I really do not think the use of -eth crosses this threshold. The verbs are still there and still sound the same; there is just a slightly different ending. On the whole, I do not think there are many places in the scripts where the use of -eth obscures the meaning of a word or sentence, and if anyone finds someplace this occurs, please point it out so I can correct it.

The issue of distancing the audience ties into the comprehensibility of the archaic language. The harder the audience has to work to understand something, the more distant it will feel. Again, there is a fine line between what is too distancing, but I do not think -eth crosses that line. We do want the audience to feel some distance; after all, the setting of The Silmarillion is the distant past, most characters are not human, and most of the main characters are royalty, but their speech is not incomprehensible.

As for the potential of the audience interpreting the archaic dialogue as comedic, I think we must accept that it is inevitable that some people will find it funny that the characters speak so old-fashioned regardless of how archaic the dialogue is. I would like to point out, though, that, in the examples @Ange1e4e5 mentioned, the archaic grammar alone is not what makes the movies or scenes funny. It either comes in addition to comedic dialogue and acting or is humorous for the incongruity of its use in a setting where the viewer was expecting modern grammar. The setting for SilmFilm, however, is one in which the audience should expect the language to be different, so I do not think we will have this problem. Our best defense against people finding the archaic grammar comedic is to ourselves treat it seriously when writing and not try to be overly archaic for the sake of being archaic. Moreover, if this show were actually being produced, I would advise the actors to speak archaic words as if they were just normal words in the sentence, e.g., not punch the -ETH or -EST at the end of words and allow the stress in the word to fall where it naturally should fall. There really is an enormous difference between reading archaic language and hearing it spoken correctly aloud.

Just to sum up, my reasons for wanting to keep -eth verbs are my personal preference as a writer, my opinion that the -eth to -s shift should happen later in the show,* and my belief that the comedic or distancing effect is not a problem of the suffix but rather my incorrect or awkward use of it in the scripts. This is something I will be looking out for as I revise the scripts, and, please, if anyone finds dialogue where the archaism obscures the meaning, point it out to me.

*I am not sure when exactly, since SilmFilm has not been planned out much farther ahead, although I currently think the Second Age might be a good time to do this. There is not a lot of material that Tolkien wrote about the Second Age, and I expect we will be doing significant time jumps, which would be a good time to show linguistic shifts.
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
About the representation of "The Shibboleth of Feanor:"

I am all for using the language in the show to represent the þ > s shift and resistance it incurred. However, I do not think -eth vs. -s verb endings would be the best way to show this. I think it should be done with an accent, and, rather than having the Feanorians use th instead of s and sound like they all have funny lisps, I think we should have those who choose to make the shift speak with a light accent that uses s instead of th. The actors would need to take care to not be comical with this accent, although it could get a little comical when Feanor is complaining about it in Valinor. However, one of the main effects of the accent is that, conveniently, verbs ending in -eth would sound like they end in -s, just like modern English.

If we want to accurately represent the Shibboleth, it really should not be just Feanor and his sons and followers that keep þ; the Vanyar, the Teleri, the Sindar, and the house of Finarfin minus Galadriel would all use it, and almost everyone would be using it after the Ban on Quenya. Moreover, a difference in verb endings would not really explain the shift from þerinde to Serinde, which is at the heart of the Shibboleth. An accent, however, would affect the beginnings of words as well as their endings and, I think, more accurately represent what the þ > s shift was like in Quenya.

Another benefit of using an accent is that it would be present every time a character spoke, and thus more noticeable, while a verb ending in -eth would occur much less frequently, making it hard to immediately judge whether a character had made the shift. Additionally, an accent is something that would appear regardless of the language a character spoke, so the Noldor who use s in Quenya would also use it when speaking Sindarin. If we wanted, we could even show them losing this accent over time as they reacquire the þ sound in Sindarin.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
While there should certainly be some difference between the speech of the Ainur and the speech of the Elves in Season 4, this difference should be much, much subtler than the difference between the speech of the First Age and the speech of the Third Age. While the speech of non-Ainur characters in The Silmarillion does not make use of -eth, it is essentially the same register as the dialogue in "Aldarion and Erendis" and a lot of the higher dialogue in Lord of the Rings. Therefore, my goal is to make the general dialogue for SilmFilm a tad more archaic than it is written in The Silmarillion to allow for greater differentiation between time periods and more clearly show the language changing over time.
You see, my goal is to make the general dialogue of SilmFilm closer to the published source material, as well as more watchable to a modern general audience. The register of the Silmarillion dialogue should sound high to be sure, and should feel old. But we really should not be doing this at the expense of the audience. Not only that, the difference in style of language between the Ainur and the Quendi should absolutely be greater than that between the First Age and the Third Age.
As for the potential of the audience interpreting the archaic dialogue as comedic, I think we must accept that it is inevitable that some people will find it funny that the characters speak so old-fashioned regardless of how archaic the dialogue is. I would like to point out, though, that, in the examples @Ange1e4e5 mentioned, the archaic grammar alone is not what makes the movies or scenes funny. It either comes in addition to comedic dialogue and acting or is humorous for the incongruity of its use in a setting where the viewer was expecting modern grammar. The setting for SilmFilm, however, is one in which the audience should expect the language to be different, so I do not think we will have this problem. Our best defense against people finding the archaic grammar comedic is to ourselves treat it seriously when writing and not try to be overly archaic for the sake of being archaic. Moreover, if this show were actually being produced, I would advise the actors to speak archaic words as if they were just normal words in the sentence, e.g., not punch the -ETH or -EST at the end of words and allow the stress in the word to fall where it naturally should fall. There really is an enormous difference between reading archaic
Here's the thing. Other works, even works set in the Elizabethan period or even the Middle Ages, avoid using the mode of language you are describing. And they do so for the reasons we have been expressing to you here.

Ultimately, it would come across as self-indulgent to critics and jarring to the audience. Would people get used to it? Sure. But given the size and scope of this story, I see no reason to unnecessarily raise the barrier to entry, and I'm still completely against it.
 
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