Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Most Rare Thing : I Found Tolkien Wrong on Sth!

I was reading his valedictory adress. I fully share his love of sounds and sound changes, and did so since, well before knowing him, I studied the diverse forms of Johannes, including both Hans and John and wondering why Ivan has an I but not an O (and now I think that Jivan is simply the Kyiv and Lviv version of Jovan). But in his Valedictory Adress, I found him giving a justification. Note, he gave a much better one, in which he was entirely right : those who are misological in any way (including hatred of the sounds so dear to philology) ought not to take their limitations or lack of interest as the norm, or to present their limitation as a mark of a superior mind. But he also gave a short and snappy defence, which happened to be wrong.

"You must learn your letters before you can read."

Not true.

The sentence "Myggen flyger" contains only ...

M 1
Y 2
G 3
E 4
N 5
F 6
L 7
R 8

... only eight distinct letters among the Swedish total of 28/29 (v and w count as same*, "whisky" coming before "viking" in dictionaries, plus three extra beyond the English, Å, Ä, Ö), and thus I learned my first eight letters by reading my first sentence, not the other way round!

I will give a few remarks on Swedish pronunciation before going on with the story.

In German and French, you have a high, fronted and rounded vowel. Tongue like EE, lips like OO. You spell it U in French (which is the background for English U getting ee-OO as substitute for ee/oo/neither), and you spell it Ü in German (as a contraction of the Ui in for instance Duisburg = "Düsburg"). In Swedish, the short version of this sound is spelled Y. There are two long versions. What a German with a welltrained ear would consider as ÜJ and a Frenchman UY rather than as ÜH or Û, is in Swedish the long pronunciation of Y. What a German would consider as ÜU (an Austrian I knew considered it as Ü!) and a Frenchman as UOU is long "U" (as per Swedish spelling). Short Swedish U is pronounced in my dialect as short Ö before an R. "Tull" (customs or tolbooth) has the same vowel in my mouth as "mörk" (dark). Namely the vowel quality of schwa, or short version of vowel in "girl", or a vowel somewhat more open than Polish "Y". And short Ö before any other consonant, like any long Ö is like French eu/oeu or like German - Ö. In Malmö, "mördare" has same vowel as German "Mörderer", and in Stockholm and my mother's native Södertelge "mördare" (with lengthening before silent R, phonematically represented by turning the S into SH**) has more the vowel of English "murderer". And the main difference of quantity between MYGGEN and FLYGER is not a longer G, but a shorter Y in the former.

"Myggen flyger" means "the mosquitos are flying", or, using a cognate which Tolkien readers will know, "the midge are flying".

This sentence was written under the picture that was an advertisement for mosquito repellent or midge repellent. It was the first sentence that I was reading. I asked my grandfather "what does it say?" and he used the occasion to teach me a few basics of reading. Before our conversation had ended, over and over again, I had read "myggen flyger" with more relish for acquiring the skill than distaste for the infestation of a place called Midgewater - or of quite many places in Sweden too, during summer.

Actually, the other day I had found Silmarillion wrong on a point of reconstruction too. As some may know, Tolkien, though a Catholic, was an Old-Earth believer and a Heliocentric. He gave in Silmarillion a scenario which is to the mind of at least this Young Earth Creationist much more intelligent than the usual Old Earth Scenario : it has forgotten human empires and kingdoms rather than for instance humanity scrambling up from an original status of very ignorant cavemen, for one, and in ages before man arrived, the elves and the ainur even had "male and female", thus accomodating the words of Our Lord in Mark 10:6 much better than the usual Old Age scenarios. But in a sense it is of course wrong in a very humdrum way, by giving too much time to prehistory in man (since Beleriand, Númenor and Eriador are after all prehistoric, in his conception, just as are Stygia, Valusia and Cimmeria in those of another fantasy writer), but on one precise point of detail, I just found out he was morally wrong. He attributed the ice age to the evil intent of Morgoth - the name or one name in his mythos for Satan (and I am not sure that name contains no subconscious slur on Goths***!)

When going through the carbon 14 levels in atmosphere needed to accomodate a Young Earth scenario to carbon 14 levels in old organic things, like certain coal deposits or diamonds, which presumably would be from 2957 BC (year of the Flood), I noted that the rise was very steep just after the Flood. And I was given attention to fact that the kind of rise in cosmic rays that could cause that had probably been instrumental in the "Little Ice Age" (Charles X Gustav marching over a frozen Belt when invading Denmark, with cavalry, could no longer be done now). So, presumably such a very steep rise in the carbon 14 levels corresponded to a very much higher intensity of the cosmic radiation than now, or than the mean for last 2500 years (during which C14 levels are checkably fairly stable) and probably to the Ice Age too. In that case, the Ice Age must have been an act of God. Like the Flood. Now, certainly man's evils, both before Flood and just after, when a Tower was built at Babel, were such as to warrant divine punishment. But if Mahabharata is correct history (not saying it were in any way totally correct as theology, any more than conference on Olympus is, but correct history like killings outside Troy and return of Ulysses) it would seem that the Kauravas and Pandavas were heirs to the sons of Lamech and fought wars using nuclear explosions and contamination. Flood then washed down very much of it into deep sea basins, and ice age covered much of what was left. Plus hid Canadian Uranium mines from curiosity of Nimrod and other Tower builders.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St Hubert

But believe me, when I find John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was wrong about anything, I think it is sensational news, usually he is quite right. Especially if making allowances for his acceptance of Evolution and Heliocentrism. Finding him wrong BOTH on what spirit caused ice age and on a minor phrase like "learning one's letters before reading", in two days on a row, that is very much on finding him wrong. It is sensational. I don't expect it to happen any time again soon.

* Back when Swedish printing varied between black letters and antiqva, those using black letters would spell the v sound W, HW initially, F finally and FW medially, while those using antiqva would spell it V, HV, F, FV.

** My lack of sleep. In "mördare" you have a D, not an S, changing pronunciation. And in "börs" where the R is replaced by pronouncing S like SH, as I wrote, the vowel is not lengthened. But the D goes from a real dental, like French or Italian D, to a retroflex like D in British English or in India with heavy Hindi accent. I was also guilty of making Ü a "contraction" rather than ligature of UI. Mea culpa.

*** The first part "Mor-" for dark is less controversial, in a Cratylus sense it is supported by MOR having senses like Deep Sea in Slavonic, fool or folly in Greek, great, big, huge (but not necessarily good) in Gaelic, delay in Latin, not to mention that Swedish MÖRK could be analysed as MOR + I-Umlaut + K-Suffix. I hope the point on the second part being a subconscious slur against Goths (perhaps those not sharing his enthusiasm for them getting under his skin at some level, perhaps an echo from the attitude of St Ambrose who thought that Gothic hairstyles was a mortal sin, a treason against both faith and prince) be not considered like Randelling.

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