Results 1 to 13 of 13
  1. Moriel's Avatar
    Warlord of Mordor
    Points
    11,042
    Posts
    10,805
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    #1

    Welsh and Tolkien's languages

    Hello language types!

    I remember reading at various points in the past (though I couldn't tell you where, so correct me if I have any of this wrong) that Tolkien enjoyed the Welsh language, and was influenced by it in his creation of Sindarin and Quenya. Can anyone point me in the direction of good quotes/articles/threads if this has been asked before, to expound upon this? Thanks in advance!

    I also remember reading that he did not enjoy Irish and found it unlovely- oh Professor!

  2. Almarėa Mordollwen's Avatar
    Spy of Mordor
    Points
    6,860
    Posts
    4,131
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    #2
    The two references readily at hand to where Tolkien notes the influence of Welsh on his elven languages are both from his letters:

    The living language of the Western Elves (Sindarin or Grey-elven) is the one usually met, especially in names. This is derived from an origin common to it and Quenya; but the changes have been deliberately devised to give it a linguistic character very like (though not identical with) British-Welsh: because the character is one that I find, in some linguistic moods, very attractive; and because it seems to fit the rather 'Celtic' type of legends and stories told of its speakers. [Letter #144, to Naomi Mitchison]


    ... it is, I believe, as much due to descent as to opportunity that Anglo-Saxon and Western Middle English and alliterative verse have been both a childhood attraction and my main professional sphere. (I also find the Welsh language specially attractive.*)

    * The 'Sindarin', a Grey-elven language, is in fact constructed deliberately to resemble Welsh phonologically and to have a relation to High-elven similar to that existing between British (properly so-called, sc. the Celtic languages spoken in this island at the time of the Roman Invasion) and Latin. All the names in the book, and the languages, are of course constructed, and not at random. [Letter #165, to the Houghton Mifflin Co.]


    Also, in the opening of "English and Welsh", (O'Donnell Memorial Lecture, 1955), Tolkien tells us quite a bit about his attraction to the Welsh language.

    LOTR
    started to explore this topic here a year or so ago: http://www.lotrplaza.com/showthread....rin-amp-Quenya

  3. There's Carl Phelpstead's excellent Tolkien and Wales where he dedicates three chapters to language, including a reasonably long section for the connection between Welsh and Sindarin (in its various incarnations). And of course from there you may check the literature list (which includes, I can see, Jim Allen's Introduction to Elvish as well as essays / papers in various collections). Mark Hooker's Tolkien and Welsh is also rumoured to address the phonological connections between Sindarin and Welsh (as well as quite a lot of other stuff). And of course there is Tolkien's essay ‘A Secret Vice’ in which he discusses his own language-making hobby.
    Troels Forchhammer, physicist, Denmark
    The love of Faery is the love of love: a relationship toward all things, animate and inanimate, which includes love and respect ...

  4. geordie's Avatar
    Hugo Bracegirdle
    Points
    20,469
    Posts
    13,997
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    #4
    Dr Dimitra Fimi's talks are a favourite at Oxonmoot. Look here for a video of Dimitra giving an open-air talk on Tolkien and Wales, during a literary tour. Very interesting.

    http://www.literaturewales.org/tolkiens-wales/
    It's all in the books...

  5. As a counter, one David Doughan has an article in Mallorn #30 called Elvish and Welsh, which surveys a lot of the similarities between Sindarin and Welsh - and the differences. Tolkien seems to have very much taken some things from Welsh in making Sindarin: the initial consonant mutations, certain other grammatical features (e.g. the way of expressing the genitive), and some aspects of sound structure.

    Though really, it's probably most accurate to say that Tolkien borrowed certain historical linguistic changes from Welsh, relative to Proto-Celtic on the one hand and Common Eldarin on the other. Thus neither Welsh nor Sindarin have words beginning with w- (except as the product of mutation), but this is not actually a direct point of comparison. Rather, both languages underwent a sound change whereby original *w- at the start of words was 'hardened' into *gw-, which of course had the effect that neither language had initial *w- any more. The final results were a good bit different, partly because Tolkien didn't literally borrow all Welsh sound changes wholesale, and partly because the starting point, Common Eldarin, was rather different from Proto-Celtic.

    Some of the differences really do make the languages sound quite distinct. The stress patterns of the two languages aren't especially similar (Sindarin's stress patterns are actually basically those of Latin), so the rhythm of speech isn't really the same. Also, one of the very common sounds in Welsh is the schwa, spelled with y (this letter can also represent other sounds) - a sound which Sindarin lacks entirely. When making Sindarin, Tolkien simply didn't apply the specific sound changes that produced the Welsh schwa, creating another very striking difference between the sounds of the two languages.
    It is hard indeed to believe that one of so great wisdom, and of power—for many wonderful things he did among us—could perish, and so much lore be taken from the world.

  6. Wulfręd's Avatar
    New Soul
    Points
    6
    Posts
    4
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    #6
    The pronunciation of the letter y varies considerably in Welsh depending on its placement within the word and the area of Wales the speaker is from. In Gwynedd and Anglesey the schwa is generally only used if the y is at the end of the word, but only if there are other y's preceding it. Otherwise the sound becomes a lot more guttural and unfamiliar to non Welsh speakers. For example in the Welsh for hospital ysbyty, only the y at the end has the schwa sound, the others having the guttural sound. In the Welsh word for tomorrow fory, the y at the end has a guttural sound despite it being at the end of the world. The Welsh word for lake llyn also has this sound but the Welsh for food bwyd does not. Ultimately, pronunciation of Welsh, as with any language, depends on the upbringing and surroundings of the speaker.

  7. Wulfręd, firstly, welcome to the Plaza!

    I'm a little curious about how you've described the Welsh schwa, since it's nearly the opposite of what I'm familiar with. The way I've understood it, Welsh <y> represents a schwa [ə] in all non-final syllables, but in final syllables it represents a different sound that varies a good deal by region (the northern pronunciation generally being a high central unrounded vowel, in technical terms, transcribed linguistically as a barred i [ɨ]). So the usual transcription of ysbyty would be something like [ə'spətɨ], with the first two <y>'s representing schwa's and the last this other vowel. Llyn would just have this ɨ vowel. The definite article is usually, as I've heard and seen it described, also usually articulated as a schwa.
    Last edited by Lord of the Rings; 29/Dec/2012 at 10:22 PM.
    It is hard indeed to believe that one of so great wisdom, and of power—for many wonderful things he did among us—could perish, and so much lore be taken from the world.

  8. Wulfręd's Avatar
    New Soul
    Points
    6
    Posts
    4
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    #8
    Thanks Mandos! Essentially, the guttural sound as im trying to describe is the same as the sound represented by the letter u (as in the Welsh for family teulu), or a coupling of vowels (as in the pronunciation of Blaenau in the local Gwynedd accent) An example of how this differs to the schwa could be in the pronunciation of the Welsh word for island ynys. The first letter y is pronounced gutturally and the second y is a schwa sound. This is how I and others in my local area pronounce things but I cannot speak for all of Wales. As far as I know, Anglesey, Gwynedd and the older generations within Conwy and Wrexham are the only people who speak in this way; the younger generations being taught South Walian Welsh in Wrexham schools. I have first language Welsh friends from West Wales who pronounce their y's and u's identically with no variance (both as ee as in the English word bee). Languages are fascinating, especially one as complex as Cymraeg! Im not sure if you have spent much time in Wales or are a Welsh speaker yourself but I do recommend exploring the different places within the country, I know from experience that things are never as you expect them to be. At any rate, you will have a wonderful time!
    Last edited by Wulfręd; 29/Dec/2012 at 11:12 PM.

  9. Wulfręd, I'm very curious now. Focusing just on northern Welsh (which I've read a fair bit about linguistically, but personally only heard on a couple of brief visits), I would understand the pronunciation of ynys to have the first sound as a schwa and the second the same as the Welsh u. Are you saying that people you know do the opposite, and pronounce the first syllable with the u sound? Or have I misunderstood?

    For ease of reference, linguists usually use roughly the following symbols to distinguish more clearly between the different sounds the letters can represent:

    ə = schwa = Welsh y in some positions
    ɨ = barred i = Northern Welsh u, Northern Welsh y in some positions (namely final syllables and monosyllables)
    i = plain i = Southern Welsh u, Southern Welsh y in some positions (namely non-final syllables), General Welsh i
    Last edited by Lord of the Rings; 29/Dec/2012 at 11:27 PM.
    It is hard indeed to believe that one of so great wisdom, and of power—for many wonderful things he did among us—could perish, and so much lore be taken from the world.

  10. Wulfręd's Avatar
    New Soul
    Points
    6
    Posts
    4
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    #10
    Yes, I and many people I know pronounce ynys as ɨnəs. That is if we are talking about the same sound, ɨ being the guttural sound that sounds across between oo and ee, the same sound as the u's in teulu and un (number one), and the y's in llyn and fory. This sound is almost exclusive to North West Wales, in and around Snowdonia.
    Last edited by Wulfręd; 29/Dec/2012 at 11:45 PM.

  11. Moriel's Avatar
    Warlord of Mordor
    Points
    11,042
    Posts
    10,805
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    #11
    Thanks for the references everyone- hopefully I'll be back with more to say on the subject after doing more research!

    Wulfraed and LotR, I don't have much to add to the discussion on y, being only a beginner in modern Welsh, but I'm reading along with keen interest! The modern Welsh I'm learning is of the south and taught by a native speaker- so my accent will probably end up being like hers. Although my pronunciation is evidently very good, I do tend to get mixed up on when to pronounce a y as a ɨ after having the schwa drilled into my head with Middle Welsh

  12. Yes, that's what ɨ means, the sound of (northern) u. That's very interesting, since what you're describing is a precisely inversion of the usual (and historical) two pronunciations of y. Already in the early Middle Ages y had come to be pronounced as a schwa in non-final syllables, but because of a special raised pitch on the final syllable in Early British, y's there were pronounced first like the German umlauted ü, and later (but still already in the medieval period) as ɨ. Only in modern times did the southern Welsh start pronouncing this ɨ as [i]. For ɨ and ə to have switched places would be a highly unusual linguistic change, which is why I'm so surprised that I've not heard it mentioned before.

    Just to check that we really are on the same page and referring to the same sounds, can you tell me whether Edith May Hughes of Anglesey's pronunciation agrees with the local one you're familiar with: http://www.amgueddfacymru.ac.uk/cy/r...nnerch-y-medd/ ? Her pronunciation is the traditional one I would expect, with ɨ occurring only in final syllables. So she distinctly and repeatedly pronounces wedyn (mi) fydda as [wedɨn (mi) vəša] (š is a phonetic way of writing the dd sound), and would presumably pronounce ynys as [ənɨs], not [ɨnəs]. This is different from how I've understood what you've been describing, where wedyn fydda would be [wedən vɨša]. Basically, when Mrs. Hughes' says things like wedyn fydda, is that what you're describing, or is she different from what you're used to?
    Last edited by Lord of the Rings; 30/Dec/2012 at 01:05 PM.
    It is hard indeed to believe that one of so great wisdom, and of power—for many wonderful things he did among us—could perish, and so much lore be taken from the world.

  13. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
    Old Took
    Points
    7,602
    Posts
    7,410
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    #13
    As a non-native Welsh speaker (and out of practice at that), I dug out my recordings of Cynan. His pronunciation when reading his own verse (Pan fwyf yn hen a pharchus, Hwiangerddi, etc.) seems to agree pretty well with what LotR indicates. Since he was not only a native of Eifionydd who spent a lot of time in Anglesey, but also indeed an Archdruid, who presided over the investiture of Prince Charles, I think we can probably take this as kosher.

    (I wonder how much Welsh our Prince of Wales remembers ...
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •