Writing a paper, seeking advice

Discussion in 'Main Forum' started by duerksjv, Feb 13, 2017.

  1. duerksjv

    duerksjv New Member

    Hello, Mythgard community! I've been a long-time listener of prof. Olsen's podcasts, and they've helped me find new cherished depths in Tolkien's works. So much so that I will now take any excuse I can to earn a grade writing about Tolkien. Currently I'm enrolled in a linguistics class where a paper has been assigned which may be on any subject so long as it may in some way be analyzed through a linguistic lens. It is allowed to be a simple research paper if no thesis or assertion comes to the surface.

    So of course I'm writing about Tolkien, though I'm uncertain yet of where exactly I want to take the paper. Analyzing Quenya or Sindarin through a mechanical lens, their syntax, morphology, semantics and pragmatics, strikes me as rather daunting, but I'd still be eager to explore it if I only knew where to begin. Aside from that this paper could go anywhere. Other subjects that occur to me are; the way in which the English/(Westron) text of Tolkien's works evokes its mythic character with classical or medievalist word choices and sentence structure; Tolkien's primary-world linguistics and translation work, though I'd like to base the paper on his fiction if I can; Tolkien's poetry, especially if there are enough made-up words therein to present a little lexicon for the paper's substance, though the only example that occurs to me now is "flammifer" from the Song of Earendil.

    I know the primary works of fiction well enough, but I feel a bit out of my depth when it comes to Tolkien's letters and academic work. Be assured, I am eagerly doing the footwork and devouring all I can but I still can't be sure that I'm not missing an ideal source buried somewhere. To the point, I have a great deal of respect for the cumulative intellect, curiosity and warm-spiritedness of this community, so I come in the hope that I can provided some guidance. I hope to find primary sources such as letters to correspondents or scholarly work by Tolkien himself that addresses the linguistics of Middle-earth, or perhaps illuminates his views on the relation between language and myth in a broader sense. Do you know of any good pieces that you could point me to? Heck, if you know any secondary sources or Tolkien scholars that address what I'm after I'd love to know about them. Through listening to prof. Olsen's podcasts over the years I have heard him give the names of many Tolkien scholars, some who I have the impression may even also be involved in Signum U, but the darn thing is that for the life of me I can't recall their names (no disrespect meant), and can't afford the time to listen back through the hundreds of podcasts to try to hear them mentioned again. I'll certainly be checking out prof. Olsen's works. Unfortunately jstor doesn't seem to have much Tolkien-related work on it, and beyond jstor my fledgling scholarship begins to flounder.

    The way I write papers, the subject and thrust of the paper won't reveal itself to me until I've immersed myself in the sources a bit more, so I'd also be looking to roll the idea ball around. Where do you suppose I could take this linguistics paper?

    Much gratitude to anybody who takes interest, and best wishes to all.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
  2. Marielle

    Marielle Well-Known Member

    I'd have to do some quick research myself to see how tenable a topic this would be, but one thought I immediately had is "Tolkien as translator". Throughout the Lord of the Rings (especially in the prologue and appendices, where this is stated outright) Tolkien treats his work as a translation from Westron into English -- I'm thinking particularly of his notes on hobbit language in ... Appendix B? where he discusses why he chose the word "hobbit", from the Anglo-Saxon hobyttla (don't quote that spelling, am at work without text in front of me), for the term actually "present" in the Westron text.

    Considering Tolkien as both the original author and the "translator" sets up an interesting case study of the role/agency of the translator, and what Tolkien is implicitly saying about it. His letters, too, could be fruitful here, as I know he comments sometimes on the translations into other modern languages. *Trying to remember which one changed all the names and really upset him....*
    duerksjv likes this.
  3. MithLuin

    MithLuin Well-Known Member

    As far as sources go, I would consider Tom Shippey's Road to Middle Earth or Author of the Century to be good secondary resources for someone interested in linguistics, especially from the point of view of a professor of Old English. Also, Tolkien wrote a 'Guide to Translation' explaining how to translate many of the names in his works into other languages (such as German). This can be found in A Tolkien Compass or other places. My go-to web resource for information on Tolkien's languages is Ardalambion.

    There's some primary linguistic material in the History of the Middle Earth series edited by Christopher Tolkien. Volume V: The Lost Road, contains the Etymologies, which lays out the linguistic framework for the elvish languages at the time just before The Lord of the Rings was written. Volume XI: The War of the Jewels contains the essay 'Quendi and Eldar' which explains the different elvish groups and has some language-relevant content. Volume XII: The Peoples of Middle Earth has the essay 'The Shibboleth of FĂ«anor' which has some fascinating story-telling-through-naming-conventions. Apparently, you could discern the political views of the Noldor by paying attention to whether or not they adopted the shift of s --> th!

    More obscure strictly linguistic information is published by the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship in Parma Eldalamberon.

    Hope that helps for a start! I'm not sure whether you're more interested in the Old English side or the invented languages side, so I didn't really know exactly where to point you. There is *some* linguistic information in Tolkien's published Letters (by Humphrey Carpenter), but it's fairly sparse.
    duerksjv and Marielle like this.
  4. duerksjv

    duerksjv New Member

    Thank you for your input, Marielle and MithLuin! Your suggestions have been helpful, as will be the sources you pointed out!

    I'm actually surprised and delighted by how much Tolkien scholarship can be found in my university's library system. No Tom Shippey, unfortunately, and they only have prof. Olsen's analysis of the Hobbit, but I now have a wealth of books written, and collections of essays edited, by Verlyn Flieger. And some other scholars besides (Arne Zettersten, Jared Lobdell, Carl Hostetter). I also managed to find a copy of Tolkien's collected letters and even a book of elvish grammar! Toss in the appendices from RotK, maybe I can still find the right volumes of the History, and I believe I'm all set!

    The direction I am considering is analyzing Tolkien's languages through the lens of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and noting the influence that fellow Inkling Owen Barfield had upon Tolkien's use of language. Essentially, how do the languages within LotR frame and influence the world views of the characters that speak them? A primary example being the contrast between Ent and Hobbit by way of Treebeard's agglutinative perception of what Merry and Pippin are content to simply call a "hill" or "step."

    And in turn, how does the world and the objects therein shape the languages that inhabit it? A relevant point could be how the linguistic paring-down of the name "Laurelindorenan lindelorendor malinorelion ornemalin" to simply "Lorien" reflects the reality of that realm's fading. This reduction of language over time would stand in contrast to the ever-growing nature of Entish.

    Do you suppose that this angle could incorporate Rohirric naming conventions? Such as Tolkien's notion that Theoden's name preceded and shaped the Anglo-Saxon word for "king of the people."

    What of Bilbo's name-game with Smaug? "Barrel-Rider" and his other self-appointed titles reflecting in language the character's evolution. If I really wanted to take my professor for a ride, in contrast to Bilbo's grandiosity I could pick apart the meaning of the seemingly simple "He is" in reference to Tom Bombadil. But these points may be straying into vague territory...

    I feel like there is definitely something to be said here, but bringing it all together concisely may be a challenge.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
  5. duerksjv

    duerksjv New Member

    I should freely admit that all the above topics are lifted from the "Mind, Tongue and Tale" chapter of Flieger's Green Suns and Faerie. I do not intend to plaigarize but I'd say that I'm certainly inspired enough by the points made there for them to be my starting point. Of course as the paper becomes more refined I'll begin to find my own way.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2017
    Marielle likes this.
  6. Marielle

    Marielle Well-Known Member

    (Choosing to flesh out a topic raised by someone else isn't plagiarism, so long as you fully and openly give credit where it's due. When trying to come up with a Tolkien topic, you can't do better than Flieger.)

    How long is this paper supposed to be? Most of the topics you raised sound more than feasible, but might not suit a 15-page paper well, for example. For your own sanity's sake, I'd suggest avoiding "crossing the streams" as it were; don't try to talk about Quenya, the imaginary translations, and the meaning of the word "is" all in one paper.

    For my money -- and I am not a linguist, nor someone who knows much about Tolkien's invented languages -- the most malleable (from the varying lengths of assigned papers) of your topics is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis/Owen Barfield ideas. Depending on how many examples you choose, from the Hobbit, LotR, Silmarillion, and even the Unfinished Tales (which has some stories close enough to completion, in my opinion, to have a "tone") you could easily do a five, fifteen, or twenty-five page paper, especially if you vary how much theory you discuss/how much you examine each example.

    I'm going to stop now, before I go full Librarian on everyone, but please let us know what you end up doing, and let me know if I can be of any help!
    NotACat likes this.
  7. duerksjv

    duerksjv New Member

    Well, the paper's finished, and I'm very proud of it. I'd like to share it with folks who may appreciate it and be able to give feedback, but I have no clue how to post or link the document here. Google drive, maybe? I'm not too savvy with this sort of thing.
    Marielle likes this.
  8. MithLuin

    MithLuin Well-Known Member

    You may use the 'Upload a File' option to post a pdf document directly on the site, or you can post a link to a google drive document.
  9. duerksjv

    duerksjv New Member

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