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phonaesthetics & JRRT (was: Fave Conlangs + The beautifulest phonology)

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Tuesday, March 26, 2002, 19:43
At 12:10 am +0100 26/3/02, Christian Thalmann wrote:
>--- In conlang@y..., Andreas Johansson <and_yo@H...> wrote:
>> >> Actually, /Z/ seems to be unattested in Tolkien's created languages - it >> doesn't even pop up in Black Speech or Valarin*, despite that the few words >> we know are quite rich in /s z S/. It seems that Tolkien' really despised >> /Z/. > >Quite a rash and unfounded deduction IMHO. Do you happen to be a >theologist, or a politician? ;-) > >/Z/ apparently doesn't occur (at least not natively) in the languages >Tolkien mainly used for inspiration (Latin, Finnish, Old English, >Welsh (?), German).
There's no /Z/ in Welsh, nor /z/ for that matter. But the languages listed were 'used for inspiration' for the Elven languages only. The small amount of Dwarvish JRRT gives us surely shows at least some Semitic influence; and the Black Speech and some of the other fragmentary tongues are certainly not confined to the list above.
>His omission of /Z/ is probably not any more >significant than the absence of retroflexes, voiceless nasals, >or clicks.
I think that's a rather difficult thesis to maintain. These sounds are not exactly common in European languages from which JRRT drew most his inspiration, nor even in Hebrew-Arabic which may have given him certain ideas for Dwarvish! I understand retroflex do occur in the Scandinavian langs, but they not exactly well known outside that area. And where, pray, do clicks and voiceless nasals figure in these languages? Don't quote Welsh {nh}, {mh} anf {ngh}, please, since these are biphonemic (which is why they are not reckoned by the Welsh as separate letters in their alphabet as, e.g. {ch}, {dd}, {ll}, {rh}, {ng} etc are), i.e. /n/ + /h/, /m/ + /h/, /N/ + /h/. But /Z/ on the other hand is not only well known from French (which JRRT most certainly knew - as well as learning it when young, he served in the trenches in WWI) but is not exactly uncommon in English itself (tho not as an initial sound). There is no way one can IMO reasonably maintain the thesis (even with the probably): "His omission of /Z/ is probably not any more significant than the absence of retroflexes, voiceless nasals, or clicks." Whether one can say he actually despised the sound or not, I think is difficult to maintain simply by its omission without other corroborating evidence. But it does strongly suggest he was not over-fond of the sound.
>> Neither does he seem to've liked /G/, which swiftly disappears >> everytime it turns up in the Elvish languages, but persists in Black >> Speech. > >This, on the other hand, is a clear case.
The disappearance of /G/ happened also in Old Welsh (and other langs); but JRRT (more than once, I believe) voiced his dislike of Gaelic - which I find inexplicable. It is, perhaps, noteworthy in this connexion that Gaelic retains /G/. It's interesting, however, both the Tengwar and the Cirth had ways of representing /Z/ and /G/ which must surely mean that /Z/ did occur. It's just that in the fragments JRRT gives us it ain't there.
>Also, I do think he disliked /2/, since it would have occurred in >Sindarin's umlauting system, but got merged into /y/ and /e/.
But similar things happened both in Old English and in Old Welsh - precedent enough, I would've thought, for Sindarin. --------------------------------------------------------------- At 12:00 am +0100 26/3/02, Christian Thalmann wrote:
>--- In conlang@y..., Andreas Johansson <and_yo@H...> wrote: > >> It may be because I'ven't seen sufficiently many war movies featuring evil >> nazis, but I can't get into my head that [x] should be a harsh sound. I >> mean, it's soft, nice, cosy! > >Yeah. Many B-movie educated Americans don't seem able to distinguish >[x] and [C] from [X]. While [X] sounds undeniably rough, the former >two are actually quite smooth.
Gaelic, which JRRT didn't like, certainly has [C] ('slender' {ch}) and where, I believe, the 'broad' {ch} is [x]. Whereas Welsh, which JRRT liked, has only [X]. All of which is further proof, it seems to me, of the subjectivity of aesthetic preferences. Ray. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================