Friday, May 20, 2016

It seems John Ronald was bewildered by Mörkmården for Mirkwood.

I am not sure why Old Swedish has a word marþer meaning wood, while other Germanic languages have a similar word (and Modern Swedish presumably has it from Low German) meaning marten.

I can guess that a hunter saying he was going "after martens" was usually also thereafter walking into woods - whence a misunderstanding of his words as meaning "into the woods".

But I cannot quite confirm my guess.

It could be other way round. It could be words are unrelated. It could be all Germanic languages used the word as Swedish, but German shifted due to influence of Latin and Swedish avoided the shift long enough to get this name of a wood, oldest recorded forms ... see my quote from wiki a little lower.

Anyway, to any Swede, Mörkmården is a very suggestive parallel to Kolmården, a precisely wood with a name with an etymology presumably from Old Swedish marþer in the meaning of wood.

Under tidig medeltid var skogen svårpasserad för resande och istället använde man sjövägen längs Östersjökusten. Namnet Kolmården kommer från fornsvenskans Colmarþ och Kulmarþ, antagligen av ett substantiv marþer, skog; således "kolskogen".

Oh, "in early Middle ages the wood was difficult to pass through and one preferred the sea road along the Baltic coast"?

Well, that makes Kolmården somewhat parallel to Mirkwood in the story, doesn't it?

So, Mirkwood > Mörkmården, a stroke of genius.

As you can guess, if you are a real Tolkien Geek, I had been reading Tolkien's instruction for translators, as included in A Tolkien Compass.

In same source I am very proud to find that when he looks up badger, he does so in a dictionary which gives him "gräfling, gräfsvin". That latter is obsolete, and the -f after vowel pronounced as -v after vowel has officially been spelled "v" since 1906. It is very fitting for a Tolkien fan (more that than Tolkien geek, actually) to have a preference against those unnecessary spelling reforms:

  • Fake nationalism making "boîte" and "famille" into "boett" and "familj" (real Swedish would have been "urlåda" and "lill-ätt", but aren't used), early 19th C.;
  • Long vowels distinguish an open E sound spelled Ä from a closed one spelled E, the default for short open E (there is no short closed E in Swedish) being also E, same as after J - exceptions being etymological, but exception became rule after Danish-German war, in order to make a point against a more German looking orthography;
  • 1906, as mentioned, a bad year for Swedish letters, as Carducci was given the Nobel prize too, V sound was simplified, though the regular shift between v- initially, -f after and -fv- between vowels (L and R before but not after counting quasi as vowels) was only slightly irregular by a shift between initial v- and hv-, while J sound (like English Y, actually one spelling variety in Swedish for "yacht" as it is a loan from English) has more varieties, is more irregular and was NOT simplified.
  • Abolishing (successfully except for me) the plural forms of verbs from written language and (not successfully even outside myself) the subjunctives that were formed of same stem as past plurals - in strong verbs changing -o to -e, in weak ones changing nothing, since laready in -de. 1950, Social Democrat government.

But John Ronald only knew "Grävlingar" with a V from translation of Burroughs, and might have thought the noun was still spelled with F, as "gräfling". I feel at home with him.

I do not feel at home with Carducci, or with Fridtjuv Bergh, the man behind the reform of 1906. Even less of course with other aspects of modernity.*

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre University Library
Friday of Pentecost Octave, Ember Days

* Exception : trains, cars, planes, alas also Coke. I just learned what E150d is. It is not quite a traditional caramel colouring.

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