Getting started

Hi! This is the first post on the Midgardsmal blog. I’m starting this blog because I know there are a lot of questions about my linguistic work on Tolkien’s languages, particularly in connection with the movies made by Peter Jackson. Instead of trying to write the same answers to a lot of different people, I thought it would be better to put some of these answers out where they can be publicly viewed.

Creating languages to supplement the work of one of the best known language creators in the world is a daunting task. It might have been too daunting if I’d ever thought about it in those terms when I started out. Actually, I kind of got sucked into it gradually.

When I worked on Quenya and Sindarin translations for The Lord of the Rings, over a decade ago, I had a fair-sized vocabulary to start with, and a general grammatical scheme. I tried to stick as closely as possible to what was known, and though I had to improvise at some points, it was less a question of invention than of extending or elaborating along known lines. To use an artistic metaphor, it was like retouching a mural from which some flakes of paint have fallen — from the existing lines and colors, it’s usually not too hard to guess what went in the gaps, though of course you can never be 100% sure.

When I was asked to come up with some Dwarvish-language lines and lyrics for The Lord of the Rings, I initially balked. It wasn’t my first experience with constructing Khuzdul — I had invented some names for the Middle-earth Role Playing Game several years earlier — but that had been with the understanding that I was, in a sense, contributing to a new world, related to Tolkien’s but not quite the same. This felt a bit different. I pointed out that the amount of written Khuzdul could fit on a couple of pages (this is still basically true) and that almost nothing was known about its structure. I said that whatever I wrote in it would be largely a new invention, and that I wasn’t going to pass it off as Tolkien’s own work. I got the go-ahead anyway, and plunged in.

TBC

19 Responses to “Getting started”

  1. Jack Machiela

    David,
    Can I be (one of the) first to comment on your new blog and say I think you’ve done a great job with the languages of Tolkien. I say that as a non-expert, however since most of the people watching PJ’s movies would be non-experts as well, I think you’ve given the movies a new level of “real-ness”.

    As a LOTR tourguide I also know that your work on the movies has introduced a huge number of people to Tolkien’s languages, and has made them more accessible.

    As an aside, I mention you quite a lot on my tours of Wellington’s LOTR filming locations. :)

    I look forward to following your blog!

    – Jack Machiela
    Founding member of NZ’s Tolkien group Welly-Moot

    Reply
  2. H.K. Fauskanger

    I believe you once mentioned that you had started to work out verb paradigms for Movie Khuzdul? One has to imagine a Hebrew- or Arabic-like system, with varous “conjugations” (a “qal” of simple verb, a corresponding causative, the passive equivalents of both, and possibly even intensive conjugations).

    Reply
  3. Tiago Castro

    David, I am thrilled for having received your email about this blog. I am almost flattered.

    I wonder if I’ll see anything here about Entish, for I am very interested in learning more about the particular characteristics of the repetitive language.

    Already following on twitter!

    Tiago
    -mere Tolkien languages lover.

    Reply
  4. Jay Lawson

    Creating a language is no small endeavor, and I’m sure adding in a deadline for film production makes it even more “interesting”. ;-) It took me some 10 years just to get my thoughts about Khuzdul organized & written down. You get major kudos from me for being able to come up with something that has enough coherent structure & vocabulary to be usable, and still remain true to the spirit of what little Khuzdul does exist. Having seen the few lines you made for the LotR movies, I’m sure it does. Definitely looking forward to seeing what you came up with, David!

    Reply
    • David Salo

      The reference is to conjectured Khuzdul forms sulûn or salôn (from a root SLN with the meanings “fall” or “descend swiftly”) used as an explanation for the Sindarin name Lhûn < *slūn- or *slōn-. Of course this does show that Tolkien imagined a possible Khuzdul sound ô; but as this was not published until 2005 (in Vinyar Tengwar #48, p. 24), I would not have known about this evidence in 1999. As I mentioned, there is now at least one example of ô in neo-Khuzdul.

      Reply
  5. The Ranger of Dol Amroth

    I am so excited that you are starting this blog, Mr. Salo! Your Gateway to Sindarin is one of my favorite books — I was reading it again just a few weeks ago. :)

    Reply
  6. Ron Lipke

    David, this is very exciting. My appreciation and understanding of Tolkien’s work has grown considerably since I was a child and his language/your work is a big part of that.
    Listening attentively!

    Reply
  7. Galadhorn

    David, thank you very much for this long expected blog. Now it will be probably the main source of knowledge for Gwaith-i-Phethain and its readers. I will read your comments with great interest!

    Reply
  8. Olivier van Renswoude

    This weblog is most welcome indeed! I shall be following your writings on these Middilgardspráka (to mirror the title in Old Saxon) with delight.

    Will you add the option to subscribe and be notified of new entries through email?

    Reply
    • Dorothea Salo

      Hi, Olivier,

      I installed a plugin the other day that should have made this functionality available. Is it not showing up for you?

      -Occasional WebHobbit

      Reply
      • Olivier van Renswoude

        Thank you for the reply.

        For individual entries I have the option to be “[notified] via Email Only if someone replies to My Comment”, if that’s what you mean. But what I meant was an option to be notified by email every time David writes a new weblog entry. It’s a trifle, really.

        Reply
        • Dorothea Salo

          Oh! That isn’t what David told me you wanted.

          Should be easy enough; I’ll get right on that.

          -Occasional WebHobbit

          Reply
        • Dorothea Salo

          There’s a new “Subscribe” link in the top menu. Enter your email address, and you should be notified once a day of new Midgardsmal posts. Thanks for your interest!

          -Occasional WebHobbit

          Reply
  9. Brian Tither

    Hi David,
    I studied much of the Old and Middle English and Old Icelandic programme at Victoria University Wellington before they cut the programme like they seem to be doing at a lot of universities these days. My lecturer was Dr Christine Franzen who was born in the USA and did her undergraduate programme there before doing her PhD at Oxford University. She taught then many years at Victoria University where her husband Dr Robert Easting taught the Chivalric Quest and Chaucer. What are your thoughts on the cutting of such programmes and how much did your doing of such programmes help with your work on the LOTR and Hobbit movies? I see that Old English is used to develop the languages of the Rohirrim in the LOTR movies. Am I right in supposing that Old English and Old Icelandic are being used in the Hobbit movies for the languages of the Beornings and Bardings?
    Brian.

    Reply
    • David Salo

      Naturally, I deplore any circumstances which lead to reduced opportunities for language study. However, I can’t speak much to these programs from personal experience, as all of my knowledge of Old Norse/Old Icelandic is self-taught, as is my Old English save for a single college course. These programs were not available where I did my undergraduate work (or I certainly would have enrolled in an Old Norse class!).

      To the best of my knowledge, no Beornings (other than Beorn himself) appear in The Hobbit, and if the filmmakers made any use of Old Norse for the language of Dale, they did it without consulting me about it.

      Reply
  10. Brian Tither

    Thank you, David,
    I haven’t seen this until now. Yes, getting rid of language studies is deplorable, especially here in NZ, the birthplace of Kenneth Sisam, Tolkien’s first tutor in philology, and especially since NZ is selling itself as Middle-earth through its tourism. It is a pity that the production hasn’t consulted you to develop languages for the Beornings and Bardings. It could have been done in a way to highlight the relationship between them and Rohirrim, while showing the differences. I would imagine Beornings having a language that is very Old English because the character Beorn suggests it is using the old definition of bear. Meanwhile, I would imagine Bardings having language as very recent Old Icelandic compared with the Dwarves. I also think it would have been interesting for the Dwarves to use their Old Icelandic when encountering both Beorn and Bard, though I am perhaps talking about stuff that would be only seen in extended cuts of the movies. Not everyone gets that Tolkien was a philologist and reflected that in his works.
    Brian.

    Reply

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