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February 20, 2013 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Explaining the languages of Middle-Earth. Ever wonder how Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings writers developed lines of dialogue for the elves or dwarves when they weren't quoting directly from Tolkien? They asked David Salo, a linguist who specializes in Sindarin and the other languages of Middle Earth.

Tolkien said of his own works: "The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse." And the list of languages he invented is extensive.

Salo's new blog gives a behind the scenes look at the process of building a language, why those with a keen eye might see two different runic alphabets in The Hobbit, and what the connection is between Dwalin's axes and Emily Bronte's dogs.
posted by MsMolly (37 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The languages constructed by J. R. R. Tolkien are a set of constructed languages"
Thanks, Wikipedia!
posted by Flunkie at 9:56 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I didn't realize that Dwarvish had a non-concatenative morphology. Neat!
posted by clockzero at 10:12 AM on February 20, 2013


I saw the movie three times in the first week -- twice in the first day, because of my wife wanting to see the midnight showing and then the office having an official outing to go see it -- and a fourth time in week two.

...and I couldn't have told you Dwalin's axes even had runes on them at all.

No matter how geeky you are, there is always a forum full of geekier geeks.
posted by Foosnark at 10:17 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


No matter how geeky you are, there is always a forum full of geekier geeks.

Somewhere, there exists the final authority, the One Geek To Bore Them All.
posted by Malor at 10:39 AM on February 20, 2013 [21 favorites]


So can anyone explain why it's:
"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul."
and not
"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatulûk,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatulûk."
Is he not bringing and binding them all?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:40 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aesthetic reasons? Sauron was just a frustrated poet.
posted by Foosnark at 11:04 AM on February 20, 2013


So can anyone explain why it's:

"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul."

and not

"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatulûk,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatulûk."

Is he not bringing and binding them all?


Not an expert, but just as a literal translation,
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
only has the "all"s on the first clause in each line, not on the second clause?
posted by eviemath at 11:18 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like Peter Jackson cares about being faithful to the book or even the structure of the story. Where the Hobbit movie cuts off is like Star Wars ending after the Cantina scene.

Yes I know Star Wars was written for the screen and not based on a book. I'm just crap at metaphors.
posted by w0mbat at 11:24 AM on February 20, 2013


Are people going to see The Hobbit? I decided not to. I'm tired of being forced to wait overly long between instalments.
posted by Goofyy at 11:50 AM on February 20, 2013


Today I learned that Dwalin's axes were named after Emily Brontë's dogs.

I love days like this.
posted by Spatch at 12:19 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Goofyy, the Hobbit is actually splendid. Don't believe the haters.

It's got a few minutes of unnecessary cruft at the beginning, but once you see young Bilbo it's all on.

Like Peter Jackson cares about being faithful to the book or even the structure of the story. Where the Hobbit movie cuts off is like Star Wars ending after the Cantina scene.

Where should it have cut?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:34 PM on February 20, 2013


It should have cut in Bag End right after Gandalf says, "You are a very fine person, Mr Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!" and Bilbo responds "Thank goodness!" and hands him the tobacco jar.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:48 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


EXT, The Shire, Mid-afternoon: Bilbo, smoking.

WIDE SHOT of GANDALF walking past.

CU GANDALF, looking at Bilbo, frowning.

CU BILBO who takes a puff on his pipe, smiles amiably.

GANDALF: Hrrmph.

WIDE SHOT of GANDALF walking away.

CREDITS
posted by Sebmojo at 12:59 PM on February 20, 2013


> Somewhere, there exists the final authority, the One Geek To Bore Them All.

I'll ace any trivia quiz you bring on.
I'm fluent in javascript, and Klingon.

posted by jfuller at 1:37 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


w0mbat, you do realize that this is part 1 of 3, yes...? There's more coming.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:39 PM on February 20, 2013


I'm fluent in javascript, and Klingon.

as well as Klingon.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:51 PM on February 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


One geek to bore them all
One geek to tire them
One geek to blather on
And at the party, stupefy them

posted by Malor at 2:10 PM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


One geek to bore them all
One geek to tire them
One geek to blather on
And at the party, stupefy them


I'm having visions of a geek mechanic talking at length in jargon about his day at an after work party.
posted by Atreides at 2:28 PM on February 20, 2013


The geek in me can certainly see the appeal of learning Elvish or Sindarin or whatever.
But for practial reasons, I'd still go for a language that you might actually get a chance to use with real people, such as Turkish, Korean or Klingon.
posted by sour cream at 2:47 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is he not bringing and binding them all?

Sauron failed Rhetoric at Almaren University and never properly understood epistrophe. The best thing to do is smile and walk past quietly.
posted by dhartung at 3:11 PM on February 20, 2013


He is the very model of a modern nerd pentathalon.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:29 PM on February 20, 2013


In another stroke of Metafilter-serendipity, I'm currently re-enjoying the appendices of the LOTR DVD's, in which David Salo appears, listed as a "Tolkien linguist," which immediately struck me as an amusing title. He's definitely serious about it, and really knows his stuff.

Also looks exactly like the nerds I used to play D&D with in junior high.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:55 PM on February 20, 2013


the Hobbit is actually splendid

It's overly long, far too "epic" for what should be a child's adventure tale, has way too much extra material added, and works way too hard to do fan service for the LOTR movies by creating false echoes and resonances. The fight scene in the Goblin Kingdom goes on far too long and is mostly an excuse for Jackson to do elaborate storyboards for WETA Workshop to realize. The only scene in the movie that actually works is Riddles In The Dark.

I enjoyed it well enough, but it never once moved me the way any of the LOTR movies did (especially FOTR, which despite leaving out Tom Bombadil, was nearly spot-on perfect and made me weep several times because WHAT I SAW IN MY MIND AS I READ THE BOOK WAS EXACTLY WHAT WAS ON THE SCREEN). I never once had that sensation while watching The Hobbit.

All that said, seeing a "younger" Gandalf in full-on battle mode with Glamdring and staff in hand was completely badass.
posted by hippybear at 3:57 PM on February 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


So can anyone explain why it's:

"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul."
and not
"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatulûk,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatulûk."

Is he not bringing and binding them all?


From Wikipedia:

ulûk -- verbal ending expressing object 3rd person pl. "them" (ul) (sic) in completive or total form "them-all".

So the most literal translation would be something more like this: One Ring to bring-them-all, one ring to find-them [not find-them-all]. Your change would make it "One Ring to rule them all, one ring to find them all" etc.
posted by clockzero at 4:09 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sauron was just a frustrated poet.

That explains SO MUCH!
posted by Grandysaur at 6:39 PM on February 20, 2013


I've been arguing with a client about a particularly awful headline for more than half the afternoon, so I'm taking this one on as therapy. Excuse the mess.

So can anyone explain why it's:
"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul."
and not
"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatulûk,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatulûk."


In the first segment of each phrase, the object is being specifically defined ('them all'). Here, the non-specific plural pronoun ('them') is given contextual specificity by the determiner ('all').

In the second part of each phrase, the object is being inferred, rather than being explicitly (re)defined. 'Them', in this instance, is the plural pronoun appropriate to the already defined object of the phrase ('them all').

To give a less ambiguous example:
· I bought all the donuts, then I ate all the donuts. – Object defined twice.
· I bought all the donuts, then I ate them. – Object defined once, then inferred.
As with the original example, 'them all' isn't necessarily wrong here, just inelegant.

A differently ambiguous example:
· I bought all the donuts from the nice young couple, then I ate them.
I think we can all agree that 'them all' would, conversely, be of very real assistance in this instance.

Anyway, I'm not sure any of that was particularly clear, useful or even relevant, but I've scarcely slept in the past 48 hours and honestly I'm craving sweet pastries something wicked.
posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 9:45 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


From back when I studied this, I remember that David Salo was mainly known for his scholarship on Sindarin, which of the extant Elvish languages is the one most commonly spoken at the time of the Lord of the Rings (and thus used in the movies). However, the language we know the most about is one of the older Elven languages, Quenya. And for that, at least the last I knew, the master is actually Helge Fauskanger.

I invite you to get pleasantly lost in his website. I'm pleased that the background image is still horrible!
posted by gilrain at 6:56 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


> It's overly long, far too "epic" for what should be a child's adventure tale, has way too much extra material added,

hippybear, you do know that Gone with the Wind was a Little Golden Book. You knew that, right?
posted by jfuller at 12:57 PM on February 21, 2013


you do know that Gone with the Wind was a Little Golden Book. You knew that, right?

Seriously?! I demand proof, please.
posted by eviemath at 1:34 PM on February 21, 2013


An incredibly thorough analysis of how frequently words and characters appear in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books

Previously.
posted by homunculus at 3:12 PM on February 21, 2013


The Tolkien Family Refuses to Let An Unauthorized Biography Pass
posted by homunculus at 3:54 PM on February 21, 2013



w0mbat, you do realize that this is part 1 of 3, yes...? There's more coming.


Yes I know that. That's what I don't like. The Hobbit is a nice short novel with the right amount of plot for one normal length movie. Like a heroin dealer, Jackson is stretching the product out with whatever dodgy filler he can come up with. I'm talking about the white orc, inventing new scenes with Radagast and his fucking bunny sled, and the endless fight scenes. Combine that with the horrible lack of proper editing (my wife fell asleep twice before they left Bag End) and you've got an endless dragging series of movies, when what the book deserves is one tight and excellent film.
posted by w0mbat at 11:51 AM on February 25, 2013


what the book deserves is one tight and excellent film.

I was okay with the two-movie plan that Jackson started with, actually. It would have expanded the story slightly but not a lot, and would have given time for all the events in the book to be depicted. Putting it down into one film would have resulted in SOMETHING getting cut, because a 300 page book is about 150 pages too long for a movie script.
posted by hippybear at 6:11 PM on February 25, 2013


Yeah, I'd be okay with two SHORT films (like 90 minutes). The Hobbit is episodic with quite a few episodes.

A little White Council filler is okay, endless chase scenes, less so.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:16 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the Mountains of Fraggle Rock
posted by homunculus at 7:30 PM on February 25, 2013


what the book deserves is one tight and excellent film.

What the book deserves is a Riddles in the Dark that is full of menace and dread, not comedy.

Re-read that chapter, then re-watch that scene and tell me if you agree.
posted by grubi at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2013


Dear Peter Jackson: having (for all intents and purposes) created Middle Earth on Film, please don't listen to them. Fan-service the fuck out if me, at will. I will mark-out like a first-nighter at whatever you choose to present of this universe you've got going.

Indeed, if you decided to release a feature-length opus of Faramir Took's circumcision, I'd happily tune in.

Thanks.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:50 AM on March 1, 2013


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