Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Literature and language

So today I think we had a very interesting conversation about Tolkien's ideas on language and literature. I think the most interesting part was when we discussed how Tolkien believed languages needed to have literature in order for people to learn them. Isn't that why he created the Silmarillion, to justify and to have a basis for his language? I don't think anyone said that. Anyway, let's discuss further: why is literature necessary to language? Why is Middle-earth necessary to Tolkien's language? Or is it not necessary? I enjoy Tolkien's world and I appreciate how he incorporates his language into it, but I don't know if it's necessary.

5 comments:

Lorin said...

This whole issue is really interesting!

I think somewhere Tolkien (or another related author - C.S. Lewis?) talked about how he would name a character/place first, then discover that particular character/place's story from the meaning of his/her/its name. So, in a way, (for Tolkien at least) language is really inseparable from the story or the world behind it, if that makes sense. Without a world/a story behind a language/name to explain why or how certain words mean certain things, that language really has no deeper meaning to anyone. In the same way, the world of Middle-earth without language behind it leaves it sort of perhaps the same way - without deeper meaning, a flatter world, too similar to our own, I guess.

Anna Adams said...

I think you make a good point Lorin. Without Tolkien's language, Middle-earth would be too similar to our own. I guess it would not have the same life that it has now with his language. Also, I did not know about his method for creating his characters. Naming them first seems different than how most other authors would do it.

S. M. said...

I think that having a language without any literature/stories would be like having a system of musical notation without any songs written down in it. In theory, a language could exist without any stories, but I don’t think that it would last very long because it wouldn’t be memorable.

Austin M. said...

I love reading fantasy. And while there are a great number of excellent series and authors, for some reason those worlds never quite seem as real as Middle-earth. I believe language is the difference between the two. As Dr. Donovan said today, most contemporary fantasy authors begin with a story and then create the world around it. Tolkien did the exact opposite, which, for me, produces a world that feels as though it is simply being discovered and poured forth after millennia of extinction.

Julie Lautenschleger said...

Most languages have their origins in history and were forged by time and trials. I think Tolkien may have even been using the Silmarillion to prove that his language was very "real." He was creating a history and an explanation for the evolution of his language, which most other languages have. This is an excellent point though, I never really though of the Silmarillion as a basis for his language! Interesting... *strokes beard thoughtfully*