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Minas Tirith Forums » The Hobbit » How did Bilbo understand the Elves conversation? (Page 1)
Author Topic: How did Bilbo understand the Elves conversation?
hasquaati
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I am not sure if anyone has asked this, I did try and search for the answer in the forum, but something has been baffling me a little.

How did Bilbo understand the Elves speaking to each other while he was hiding and planning the Dwarves escape?

Did Biblo understand Elvish?

If he did where did he learn it from if he did not have dealings with Elves during his life.

Did the Elves use common speech?

Just wondering []

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Galin
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Even the Elves of Mirkwood could speak Westron (or some of them anyway), and The Lord of the Rings had at least noted that perhaps the One gave understanding of tongues (when Sam put it on).

I don't know if that covers all instances, but that's two things to note anyway.

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hasquaati
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quote:
Even the Elves of Mirkwood could speak Westron (or some of them anyway), and The Lord of the Rings had at least noted that perhaps the One gave understanding of tongues (when Sam put it on).
That's actually a very interesting point. That would make absolute sense!

Thanks!

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Numenorean Sword Trainer
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Bilbo is also able to understand the Goblin-guards when escaping from Goblin-town, as well as the Spiders (which can also understand him).
I think it's fair to assume the Elves speak the common language, or else the Ring allows both understanding as well as speaking of foreign languages.

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Snöwdog
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quote:
I think it's fair to assume the Elves speak the common language
Would we then also assume that the spiders speak the common tongue as well?
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faithfull
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I'm inclined to believe that the one ring (intended "to rule them all") gave special understanding of languages. Sam surprised himself by bursting into Elvish while he held the phial (if I recall correctly - I'm overdue for a refresher). [] []
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Aiwrendel
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I’m not fond of explanations for Tolkien’s works that have no concrete, textual evidence and end in, it must be magic. But in this case I might have to agree with the conclusion that the Ring allowed Bilbo to understand the spiders. Evidence in this thread points to that conclusion but I really hate the magic Ring allowing the spiders to understand Bilbo. Sauron decided to build a universal translator into the ring? []
quote:
[The spiders’] voices were a sort of thin creaking and hissing, but [Bilbo] could make out many of the words that they said.
That describes a different language than the Common Speech even if poorly enunciated.
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Hamfast Gamgee
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I'd say by magic!
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The Flammifer
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Need for a One Ring translator? Magic?

We know that Bilbo was quite educated, above and beyond the average Hobbit. We also know that he was always most interested in all things Elvish. It’s logical to assume that the Mirkwood Elves spoke Sindarin and it is not beyond the pale that Bilbo knew at least a smattering of Sindarin when he was roaming Thranduil’s hallways; at least enough to ‘catch the drift’.
quote:
Ents. The most ancient people surviving in the Third Age . . . the Ents ascribed not their own language but the desire for speech.
-Appendix F

Being “the most ancient people” they would certainly have picked up the Common Speech.
quote:
Orcs. Orkish speech was of little use to them in intercourse between different tribes. (ibid)
During the capture of Merry and Pippin it is mentioned in the text that the Orcs of Mordor and Isengard had to switch from their different forms of Black Speech to Westron to understand each other.

The Dwarves of course always used Westron when in the company of non-Dwarves, as they kept their Khuzdul quite secret.
quote:
Trolls. . . . and in the Westlands the Stone-trolls spoke a debased form of the Common Speech. (ibid)
The Olog-hai were the only “speaking people” that I’m aware of the spoke just a single language – Black Speech.

As for the other speaking peoples and creatures of Third Age Middle-earth the Common Speech seems to be a universal tongue.
quote:
But the Westron was used as a second language of intercourse by all those who still retained a speech of their own, even by the Elves, . . . Even among the Wild Men and the Dunlendings . . . (ibid)
Could not the dull-witted Spiders use a creaking and hissing form of Common Speech which Bilbo was able to understand?

Do we really need magic to answer hasquaati’s question?

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Galin
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quote:
We know that Bilbo was quite educated, above and beyond the average Hobbit. We also know that he was always most interested in all things Elvish. It’s logical to assume that the Mirkwood Elves spoke Sindarin and it is not beyond the pale that Bilbo knew at least a smattering of Sindarin when he was roaming Thranduil’s hallways; at least enough to ‘catch the drift’.
We know that Frodo was "misled" (Appendix F, footnote) by the Silvan accent of the Sindarin speakers in Lorien. Bilbo is not Frodo of course, but the other question is, what Elvish speech did the Tawarwaith of Mirkwood speak (in addition to at least some speaking the Common Speech, in my opinion)?

The matter of the speech of Mirkwood seems a bit knotty, but we might keep in mind (in any case) that readers have access to various passages JRRT himself had not published.

In a 'late' text published in Unfinished Tales it was said Oropher (father of Thranduil father of Legolas) and some Sindar merged with the Silvan Elves 'adopting their language'

In another late text (same book) it was said that by the end of the Third Age the Silvan tongues had probably ceased to be spoken in Lórien and the Realm of Thranduil.

According to another passage (again described as 'late') Sindarin was said to be used in Thranduil's house -- thus used by his son Legolas one would expect -- 'though not by all his folk.'

And in a letter dated Dec. 1972 (another late example!) Tolkien explained that: 'The Silvan Elves of Thranduil's realm did not speak S. but a related language or dialect.'

This last mention is pretty late, but the dating of much of this seems fairly vague in general.

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The Flammifer
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Good points Galin []

The Tawarwaith (Wood Elves) spoke Sindarin, albeit most possibly with an accent. (Raises the question: accent to whom?). In fact ALL Elves spoke a form of Sindarin in the Third Age. Quenya was only used for special occasions and an occasional supplication or poem, e.g. Namarie.
But as we were talking of Bilbo in Mirkwood and not Frodo in Lorien, can we not rest assured that Bilbo understood much of what the Elves were saying, accent or not? Surely he only partly understood what was said; but enough to get by.
If we say that Frodo was misled by the Silvan accent that doesn’t mean he didn’t ‘catch’ the main drift of the Sindarin they were speaking, even with his “limited acquaintance with Sindarin”.

Yes, agreed, some (most IMO) spoke Westron when in mixed company. Even Orcs from different tribes had to use the Common Speech to understand each other. Most of the speaking peoples of the T.A. had the Common Speech as a second language.

To also quote from Appendix F:
quote:
The Exiles, dwelling among the more numerous Grey-elves, had adopted the Sindarin for daily use; and hence it was the tongue of all those Elves and Elf-lords that appear in this history. (My bold)
May I hope we have no disagreement, as I choose, whenever possible, to stay with the author published works?
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Galin
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quote:
The Flammifer wrote: May I hope we have no disagreement, as I choose, whenever possible, to stay with the author published works?
I like this approach myself, but before we reach the citation you noted, Appendix F also relates that the languages of the East-elves, of which kind were most of the folk of Mirkwood and Lorien, do not appear in this history, as all the Elvish names and words are of Eldarin form. Tolkien also footnotes some names as being of Silvan origin, adapted to Sindarin.

A bit later we get to this passage...

quote:
"The Exiles, dwelling among the more numerous Grey-elves, had adopted the Sindarin for daily use; and hence it was the tongue of all those Elves and Elf-lords that appear in this history. For these were all of Eldarin race, even where the folk that they ruled were of the lesser kindreds. Noblest of all..."
Thus we can say Thranduil, being Sindarin and an Eldarin Elf-lord, spoke Sindarin, but I think the focus of "all" here is really on the Eldar, and according to Appendix F the East-elves that Thranduil ruled over (and the East-elves of Lorien) where not Eldar, nor their languages Eldarin -- again which languages do not appear in this history.
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The Flammifer
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Ok Galin

You appear to be more well-versed in the Elvish languages than I, and I will revert to my logic, such as it is.

The Elves of Mirkwood be they Eldar or East Elves were apparently quite populous. To quote from The Hobbit:
quote:
The Elves were the first to charge. . . . Behind the arrows a thousand of their spearmen leapt down and charged.
-The Clouds Burst

This would mean that probably about 2,000 Elves participated in The Battle of Five Armies – adding in the bowmen, swordsmen, etc. (Sure, just a guess.)
Then we need to add in those that were not involved in the Battle, or remained in Mirkwood (women, children, some men). Could we say that in the neighborhood of 2,500 Elves lived in Mirkwood. (A little high? – a little low? - comme ci, comme ca.)

Roundabout to the point: As you state – “Appendix F also relates that the languages of the East-elves, of which kind were most of the folk of Mirkwood and Lorien, do not appear in this history”
And: “the East-elves that Thranduil ruled over (and the East-elves of Lorien) were not Eldar, nor their languages Eldarin -- again which languages do not appear in this history.”

So, agreed, the Silvan or East-elves had a language of their own which are not in “this history”.
Therein lies a conundrum? The East-elves, although having their own language must, after thousands of years, learned either Sindarin or Westron to converse with Thranduil and the Eldar people. (Surely not Westron as I’m sure many Elves spoke little or no Westron, e.g. Rumil & Orophin of Lorien.)

And so, it seems IMO that ALL Elves must have spoken some form of Sindarin (whether or not in a dialect or accent that puzzled Frodo).

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Galin
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Well, people can certainly form opinions (based on their own reasoning or logic) about what they think must have happened here. In any case my first 2015 post in this thread gives the passages or scenarios that Tolkien himself wrote or considered...

... which are not all the passages concerened actually, just some "later" ones. Skipping over the notions found in the drafts for Apoendix F, in Words, Phrases And Passages (WPP) for example, there are a number of entries written after the publication of Appendix F where Tolkien tries to figure out what language or languages were spoken in Lorien and Mirkwood by the Silvan Elves.

The words daro, yrch come into play, along with Frodo understanding little of what was said "for the speech that the Silvan Folk east of the Mountains used among themselves was unlike that of the West. Legolas looked up and answered in the same language" Here Tolkien even wondered why the name Rumil appears for one Lorien elf, and tried to explain it.

Without reading the full WPP entries again I can't recall if Tolkien had also remembered about the "Company" not understanding the songs about Mithrandir (Legolas would not interpret), or that "they" had little speech with any of the Elven-folk of Lorien "for few of these spoke any but their own silvan tongue."

And it turns out that this silvan tongue was really Sindarin with an "accent"? Not that it's impossible or incredible of course, and in any case one can't argue with the later (second edition) footnote representing Tolkien's decision here, so... well... anyway.

Thus after the musings in WPP, in the 1960s JRRT added his footnote about the language of Lorien to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, but still did not (himself) publish a description with respect to the language of the Mirkwoodians, outside of what might be arguably gleaned from Appendix F anyway.

And at least one description falls within the last year of his life, as the notion that the Silvan Elves of Thranduil's realm did not speak Sindarin but a related language or dialect is from a letter dated 17 December 1972, Tolkien passing less than a year later.

[ 09-11-2015, 09:18 AM: Message edited by: Galin ]

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The Flammifer
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Quotes by Galin
quote:
Well, people can certainly form opinions (based on their own reasoning or logic) about what they think must have happened here. In any case my first 2015 post in this thread gives the passages or scenarios that Tolkien himself wrote or considered...
We all do appreciate that we are able to give our opinions, and thank you.
I have taken the position that 99.9% of the Mirkwood (& Lorien) Elves spoke a form of Sindarin. Galin has taken the position . . . well gee, shucks, I can’t say for sure, with all your wanderings and quoting for a fact what your position is?
Yet we both seem to be in illustrious company as you mention Tolkien himself had quandaries in the area in question.

For ease of comprehension (I hate the ‘going up-and-down’ to keep up with who said what to whom and when) I quote your original (2015) posting, out of order:
quote:
In another late text (same book) [U.T.] it was said that by the end of the Third Age the Silvan [East Elven] tongues had probably ceased to be spoken in Lórien and the Realm of Thranduil.
Thus, bringing in this quote, you seem to be agreeing with me that the East-elves of Mirkwood spoke Sindarin. (If their ‘unknown/unrecorded’ tongue ceased to be spoken, Sindarin is what we are left with.)
quote:
In a 'late' text published in Unfinished Tales it was said Oropher (father of Thranduil father of Legolas) and some Sindar [Grey Elves] merged with the Silvan Elves 'adopting their language'
A confusing quote to be sure. CJRT agrees: “Nowhere, (I believe) is it made clear how the adoption of the Silvan speech by the Sindarin rulers of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood, as described here, is to be related to the statement cited on p. 257 that by the end of the Third Age Silvan Elvish had ceased to be spoken in Thranduil’s realm.”


And now, Tolkien (and Galin?) contradicts himself from the above quotes. (If the good professor isbeing contradictory he may be forgiven as he passed less than a year later.)
quote:
And in a letter dated Dec. 1972 (another late example!) Tolkien explained that: 'The Silvan Elves of Thranduil's realm did not speak S. but a related language or dialect.' [A footnote]

According to another passage (again described as 'late') Sindarin was said to be used in Thranduil's house -- thus used by his son Legolas one would expect -- 'though not by all his folk.'

Thus, according (to at least the Dec. 1972 quote) the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood did not speak Sindarin! (Or did they?)

Ok, we can niggle around the various texts and find a quote here to back up our thoughts, or a quote there to back up our thoughts. It’s like reading the Bible: You find a verse and I’ll find its opposite. So we are left with but a reasonable supposition.
If you don’t care for my reasoning or logic- that’s ok; but it is what it is, and I’ll attempt to summarize my opinion:

We need remember that the Elves were immortal. Did they spend their time making chocolate cram-cakes century after century, or did they spend their time in more productive endeavors, such as language?

To assume that a thousand or so of the East Elves of Thranduil’s House spoke only an unknown unrecorded language is to assume that those East Elves were unable to converse with the thousand or so Mirkwood Sindar on a person-to-person basis. My logic tells me that this is untenable, and that the East Elves would surely and quickly (on their time-scale) learn the Elvish ‘common language’ - Sindarin.

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Galin
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quote:
The Flammifer wrote: I have taken the position that 99.9% of the Mirkwood (& Lorien) Elves spoke a form of Sindarin. Galin has taken the position . . . well gee, shucks, I can’t say for sure, with all your wanderings and quoting for a fact what your position is?
After describing or citing a number of Tolkien's late passages on the matter -- where I purposely didn't address the matter of any arguable contradictions, I simply presented them for consideration within the sphere of wondering what language the Mirkwood Elves spoke -- I took the position that the quote you then posted from Appendix F did not prove that Sindarin was the certain, author-published answer here.

quote:
Thus, bringing in this quote, you seem to be agreeing with me that the East-elves of Mirkwood spoke Sindarin.
There was no agreeing or disagreeing with you involved there.

quote:
And now, Tolkien (and Galin?) contradicts himself from the above quotes.
I see no reason to ask or wonder if I was contradicting myself. Again I merely provided some of Tolkien's posthumously published descriptions, for anyone reading this thread to consider.

:shrug:

[ 09-11-2015, 06:12 PM: Message edited by: Galin ]

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The Flammifer
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As it is seemly to scrutinize each book (author published or not), chapter and verse; each page, each paragraph, each sentence, and quite often many solitary words, and as we delve into the esoteric origins of words, of persons, places, or things; as we dissect first, second, and third drafts; as we endeavor to comprehend the thoughts and reasonings of our Middle-earth characters; as we calculate distances, languages, timelines and family trees; as we as we attempt to analyze difficult to decipher marginalia scrawls; and as we rip into the many post-JRR Tolkien publications, should we on occasion cease our intellectual excursions and suppositions and simply recall the joy, the fear, and the tears of our first readings of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit lest we forget our beginnings into this wondrous epical creation – ”In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

Not to beleaguer (but I’m sure it seems so!). A final thought:

The two author-published works allow us but three languages that were spoken by the late Third Age Elves of Mirkwood – Quenya (rarely used); Westron (used by some (many?)); Sindarin (used by ALL IMO). (No I haven’t forgotten the East Elvish Silvan language which does not come into these tales.)

You apparently prefer to remain neutral on the subject, quoting pertinent passages from various sources, and taking the stance of “wondering what language the Mirkwood Elves spoke”. That’s ok and your prerogative. We all may interpret and wonder as we wish.

But I do NOT feel the need to wonder as I have a problem envisioning Thranduil (or Celeborn) administering their realms if half their people are unable to speak a common language and Sindarin needs be that common language.

Hmm, me wonders: If we ask 1,000 people what tongue the Third Age Mirkwood Elves used 995 would reply – “Sindarin, of course! What else?”

:de-shrug?:

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faithfull
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quote:
simply recall the joy, the fear, and the tears of our first readings of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit lest we forget our beginnings into this wondrous epical creation – ”In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”
Hear him! Hear him! [] []
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The Flammifer
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And I thank'ee kind faithfull ! [] []

[ 09-13-2015, 07:40 AM: Message edited by: The Flammifer ]

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Galin
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quote:
The Flammifer wrote: To assume that a thousand or so of the East Elves of Thranduil's House spoke only an unknown unrecorded language is to assume that those East Elves were unable to converse with the thousand or so Mirkwood Sindar on a person-to-person basis. My logic tells me that this is untenable, and that the East Elves would surely and quickly (on their time-scale) learn the Elvish "common language" - Sindarin.
Well, generally speaking, to assume that the Silvan Elves spoke only a tongue other than Sindarin does not necessarily mean they were unable to converse with the Sindar -- unless you have an explanation as to why the Sindar of Mirkwood could not have learned the Silvan tongues for converse.

You might have an explanation, but so far your answer to that seems to be that you think "surely" the East-elves would learn Sindarin because it's a common Elvish tongue -- although here we are talking common mainly with respect to the West Elves in any case: the remaining Noldor and Sindar of Middle-earth.

What about the East of Middle-earth? In Quendi And Eldar Tolkien notes that the Avarin dialects were "numerous" for example, but in any case all we really need here is an "in world" motive: Tolkien has Oropher and his handful of Sindar adopt the Silvan languange and take names of Silvan form and style: "This they did deliberately..." and Tolkien explains why.

That's just an example, but Tolkien could also easily explain why the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood retained the tongue that they had been speaking for centuries before the Sindar migrated eastward.

[ 09-13-2015, 11:42 AM: Message edited by: Galin ]

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Galin
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quote:
Hmm, me wonders: If we ask 1,000 people what tongue the Third Age Mirkwood Elves used 995 would reply – “Sindarin, of course! What else?”
And to answer the question "what else", we can now point these 995 to this thread for instance, as well as to WPP or UT, for any who want to read and consider descriptions that JRRT himself published or penned at various times.
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faithfull
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Hamfast Gamgee
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I really must say that the idea of The Elves in Lothlorien speaking Sindarian whilst those in Mirkwood do not sounds a bit of an author cope out to me! I can't think of a logical reason as to why this should be the case. If anything wouldn't those of Thranduil's kingdom speak Sindarian as it sounds a bit more cut off than that of Lorien. But there you go!
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The Flammifer
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Right Hamfast

Both Thranduil and Celeborn were Sindar.
Their language - Sindarin, as Quenya was mostly a ceremonial tongue:
quote:
Of the Eldarin tongues two are found in this book [end of Third Age]: the High-elven or Quenya], and the Grey-elven or Sindarin.
- Appendix F (My bold)



[ 09-14-2015, 08:24 PM: Message edited by: The Flammifer ]

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Galin
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quote:
Hamfast Gamgee wrote: I really must say that the idea of The Elves in Lothlorien speaking Sindarian whilst those in Mirkwood do not sounds a bit of an author cope out to me! I can't think of a logical reason as to why this should be the case.
Well again, Tolkien himself didn't publish the answer, and technically we don't even know if the 1972 letter is necessarily his "latest" word on the matter, although if I had to bet money...

... but anyway, don't you think Tolkien's reason in Unfinished Tales is logical for example? Or don't you think that a group of people who spoke a given language for centuries might prefer to keep that tongue when a "handful" of Sindar wander westward, uninvited, into their midst?

That's not illogical at least, in my opinion.

Sindarin had migrated from Beleriand, going as eastward as the Exiles and the migrating Sindar might carry it, but they were going to run into folk that did not speak Sindarin and would have no great reason to speak it, unless Tolkien invents a reason...

... or he could just as easily invent a reason why they retained their languages.

As I read the waffling nature of the WPP entries, Tolkien's problem was rather more specifically linguistic in nature. In my opinion JRRT realized he had already published the impression, at least, that the Elves of Lorien spoke a language other than Sindarin: it wasn't only Frodo that was "misled", but I think the story suggests that only Legolas, thus not even Aragorn for instance, could understand the tongue of the Silvan Elves of Lorien.

Yet back when he wrote the Lothlorien chapters JRRT had also used some "Sindarin" words and names (which weren't really Sindarin at the time, but that's another story), like yrch and daro for example, the latter illustrating an imperative marker.

So years later Tolkien asks himself: if the Silvan Elves of Lorien really spoke a Silvan tongue that isn't Sindarin, wouldn't they have a different word, or maybe a different plural form, for orch? And why do they have the same marker (-o) for imperative statements as in Sindarin (for examples elsewhere in the tale, pedo, tiro, lasto)?

Tolkien notes that imperative -o could be Silvan Elvish, but he thinks it's problematic that this might be found in both tongues. By the way this only looks at part of Tolkien's concerns in WPP, but the entries there are somewhat longish, and even Tolkien admits at the start that the matter is somewhat confused.

In any event in the 1960s Tolkien basically decides that the language Frodo, and even Aragorn it appears, did not understand, was really Sindarin "with an accent."

:cough:

But what of Mirkwood? Well, there isn't much evidence one way or the other in The Hobbit. Some names.

quote:
If anything wouldn't those of Thranduil's kingdom speak Sindarian as it sounds a bit more cut off than that of Lorien. But there you go!
I think being cut off could be a good argument for not speaking Sindarin. Why change your daily tongue to a West-elven speech if you are not interacting in a notable way with the Elves of the West, some Elves on the other side of Anduin, or on the other side of the Misty Mountains even, some as far as Lindon?

Even if the Silvan Elves accepted certain Sindarin Elves as kings and leaders, that doesn't automatically mean they need to drop their languages. Take Nimrodel: she would speak only the Silvan tongue, as she "regretted the incoming of the Elves of the West, who (as she said) brought wars and the peace of old." (Unfinished Tales). Yet Amroth, a Sindarin lord, spoke with her, and whether she is right or wrong from the reader's perspective, this reason itself does not defy logic if she feels this is true.

Years before Tolkien added his footnote about this Sindarin accent in Lorien, he published that the Elven-folk of Lorien and Mirkwood were East Elves, and that their languages do not appear in the history because all the Elvish names and words are Eldarin (in Middle-earth, Quenya and Sindarin being Eldarin)...

... and that's languages (plural) do not appear, but if what you and Flammifer are saying is true, then the main language of all these East-elves in the Third Age does appear in this history, and it's unquestionably Eldarin!

Heh, again, not impossible; but in any case to my mind not as certain as some posts in this thread have been characterizing things.

[ 09-15-2015, 11:13 AM: Message edited by: Galin ]

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