Some Questions on Sindarin Lenition

Two Rings
Alfred W. Tüting
needs some updating
Theoretical ArticleTheoretical Articles: A comprehensive knowledge of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien is needed to fully understand articles in this category, the subjects treated being studied in minute detail by their authors.

Overview

According to Helge K. Fauskanger (H.F.) – and other Sindarin experts – it is commonly attested that “Soft Mutation” (Lenition) is triggered by the definite singular article i, whereas definite plural article in triggers “Nasal Mutation”. Prepositions like e.g. an “for, to”, en “of”, e/ed “out of”, o “from” and or “above” go together with mixed forms H.F. would call “Nasal II”, “Mixed Mutation”, “Stop Mutation” and “Liquid Mutation”, including some additional special “historical” cases.

Moreover, in his Sindarin, the Noble Tongue, H.F. states that – also without any particle of that kind mentioned – Lenition is required to indicate “direct” (accusative) objects in a sentence. And, in connection with this issue, that the conjunction a “and” doesn't trigger soft mutation as stated earlier. Read his statement on this:

“It was formerly thought that the conjunction a ‘and’ caused soft mutation (a view that was also reflected in some of the earliest versions of this article). This was because of the phrase Daur a Berhael ‘Frodo and Samwise’ in LR:VI/4: One correctly observed that Berhael ‘Samwise’ is a lenited form of Perhael and rashly concluded that it was the preceding conjunction a that caused the mutation…
“… for all burying the theory that a ‘and’ triggers the soft mutation. Why, then, is Perhael lenited? The context must be taken into consideration. The whole sentence goes: Daur a Berhael, Conin en Annûn, eglerio! According to Letters:308, this means ‘Frodo and Sam, princes of the west, glorify (them)!’ There is not actually any final pronoun ‘them’ in the Sindarin sentence, as indicated by the parentheses. The object of the verb eglerio ‘glorify’ is of course ‘Frodo and Sam’, and being objects, these names are lenited. The sentence is simply a rearranged form of #eglerioDaur a Berhael, Conin en Annûn ‘glorify Frodo and Sam, Heroes of the West’. Hence, it is not only the name Perhael that is lenited (to Berhael); we must assume that Daur is also a lenited form, the unmutated version being Taur. (According to LRW:389 s.v. TÆ, TA3, “Noldorin”/Sindarin had an old adjective taur ‘lofty, noble’, used in ‘ancient titles’; this would be a fitting honorary epithet for Frodo.)”

At first glance, this thesis seems to be quite convincing, all the more since we'd like this idea to give the complicated Welsh-like gadget of consonant mutations some sense as a real intelligent grammatical feature. So, let us have a closer look at the issue trying to analyze it in comparison with the Tolkien texts available.

Frodo and Sam at Orodruin (© John Howe)

“Cuio i Pheriain anann! Aglar'ni Pheriannath! ... Daur a Berhael, Conin en Annûn, eglerio! ... Eglerio!”

The praise received by the Ringbearers on the Fields of Cormallen (LR:VI/4), translated in Letters:308 as “May the Halflings live long, glory to the Halflings… Frodo and Sam, princes of the west, glorify [them]! … Glorify [them]!”

  • Without any doubt, Daur and Berhael are accusative objects with regard to the (“imperative”) verb eglerio.
  • Berhael is representing the lenited form of the name Perhael (Samwise/Sam).
  • Supposing a “and” does trigger the following word's first consonant to have a lenited form, this doesn't disprove H.F.'s thesis of direct objects having soft mutation for, like soft mutation after article i, an a-lenition would have priority over the concurring rule in any case. Yet, for the same reason, vice-versa there would not be a disproval either!
  • So, as H.F. has pointed out, the verification of his thesis depends on whether Daur is a lenited form (of Taur) or not!

That's what H.F. states in this regard:

“… we must assume that Daur is also a lenited form, the unmutated version being Taur. (According to LRW:389 s.v. TÂ, TA3, “Noldorin”/Sindarin had an old adjective taur ‘lofty, noble’, used in ‘ancient titles’; this would be a fitting honorary epithet for Frodo.)”

This sounds pretty plausible, but so far – speculation! So we have to state for the moment that there is no real proof in any direction.

Porte de la Moria (© John Howe)

“Ennyn Durin Aran Moria: pedo mellon a minno. Im Narvi hain echant: Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant thiw hin.”

The inscription on the Moria Gate (LR:II/4), translated in RS:463 as: “The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter. I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin [Eregion] drew these signs.” This sample text is not too easy to judge:

  • It is not attested whether or not hain “they” – actually in acc. object position – is a lenited form, i.e. if a basic form sain exists at all. We're inclined to believe this, yet there doesn't seem to be a hard and waterproof evidence for it.
  • Mellon “friend” (as has been proved, in acc. object position) is not a lenited form (this actually had to be vellon or – in ancient spelling – mhellon!)
  • The word minno “enter!” directly following a “and” isn't soft mutation either! Yet, can this have validity, considering that also minno might be erroneous? So, that far, a situation like above with no proof in any direction.

Yet, the situation seems a bit different here, since – although not too obvious – the unlenited direct object mellon might intentionally be designed as a “wrong” form by Tolkien! H.F. has touched upon this already, considering:

“One wonders if the lack of lenition was the reason why Gandalf misunderstood the inscription on the Gate of Moria: Pedo mellon a minno, ‘say friend and enter’. Gandalf, as we recall, at first thought it meant ‘speak, friend, and enter’. Normally, mellon should presumably have been lenited as the object of pedo ‘speak’ (#pedo vellon), but the ones who made the inscription had evidently ignored the normal lenition rules and given the word mellon in exactly the form it had to be spoken for the doors to open. … Perhaps it was because of this Gandalf did not at first understand that mellon was the object of pedo ‘say, speak’ and took it to be a vocative instead: ‘Speak, o friend!’”

Though otherwise being sceptical enough, in this case we seem much closer to being convinced than H.F. J and going to tell you why: JRRT, doing his work with enormous subtlety and a fascinating – and sometimes even strange! – sense for details, obviously had used this “little mistake” to convey his special story and give it a deeper (“technical” and, not at least, “moral”) dimension. We do not assume that Celebrimbor (or whoever had formed the inscription's very text) was not able to speak/write Sindarin correctly! It rather was for the reason pointed out by H.F. that – with regard to mellon – correct lenition had been neglected (this being the “technical” aspect):

“Of course, we don't know exactly how the ‘magic’ or para-technological mechanism behind the doors worked, but it must have been some kind of artificial intelligence responding to the sound-sequence M-E-L-L-O-N only.”

Tolkien's “moral” intention – in our personal opinion – is expressed in the story as such: After Gandalf's so many futile trials to cause the Moria Gate to open, he sat down pondering “either in despair or in anxious thought”. Suddenly getting up and uttering the word mellon he finally succeeded and the Gate would open. “I was wrong after all”1) Gandalf said. “and Gimli too. Merry, of all people, was on the right track. … Too simple for a learned loremaster in these suspicious days. Those were happier times…”

So, what did Merry really do? (And we have to confess that we didn't even realize this at first sight!) He simply had asked what was the meaning of those words, to which Gimli – with certain arrogance – had replied that this of course was quite obvious. And now, of all people – davke ! – simple Merry had posed the right question… Without the special (or even wrong) spelling of the word mellon, Tolkien's message would not have worked like that! It's for this special reason that we're very inclined to assume there isn’t a second mistake within this short sentence, meaning that a minno is grammatical correct! So – at this stage of research – our conclusion is going together with H.F.'s opinion stated above. The more as, according to H.F. “… actually there is a variant of the Moria Gate inscription where the tengwar seem to read pedo mhellon instead of pedo mellon. (See J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, p.158.)…” whereas a minno had been left unchanged.

Gandalf (© John Howe)

“Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen! Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!”

Gandalf's invocation before the Moria Gate (LR:II/4), translated in RS:463 as: “Elvish gate open now for us; doorway of the Dwarf-folk listen to the word of my tongue!”

  • … lasto beth (lit.: “Hear [the] word… !”) is obviously lenited, indicating that peth is actually standing in a direct-object position. Well, pretty convincing indeed, yet…
  • What's up with edro hi!??? Since we've got an authentic translation for hi as “now”, and it is attested that “now/here” in Sindarin is si/sí, our deduction is obvious that hi is the lenited form of si. (See also: Sam's “inspired” cry in Cirith Ungol: … le nallon sí di-nguruthos! A tiro nin, Fanuilos!) Further, since there is no evidence for the use of this Sindarin word in the sense of “this here” or “this now” (e.g. comparable to Lojban {ti} meaning “this here”, i.e. close to the speaker), it does not take up a direct-object position here! So what? What else could be the reason for soft mutation? Is there anything else left to think of than the preceding edro triggering lenition? So might there be no help but stating a rule that Sindarin “imperative” causes lenition of the following word? If this was to be true, also lasto beth is subject to it, consequently… devaluating the above deduction (although still not disproving the hypothesis).
  • Yet, there seems to be help in our confusion! If there were different reasons for the two phrases triggering soft mutation. And here we're getting some further hints…

Glorfindel (© John Howe)

“Noro lim, noro lim, Asfaloth!”

Glorfindel's cry to his horse (LR:I/12): Untranslated; evidently meaning “#run fast, run fast, Asfaloth!”

  • Noro lim… Here we also have an “imperative” followed by a word, but this is obviously an adverb in trailing position modifying the verb noro.

“Ai na vedui Dúnadan! Mae govannen!”

Glorfindel's greeting to Aragorn (LR:I/12). The first words are not translated, but probably mean “#Ah, at last, Westman!” Mae govannen means “well met”.

  • Mae govannen… In this example, the adverb mae is in a leading position. Yet this, at least, doesn't disprove the fact that adverbs also can be in trailing position (see above). So again…

“Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen! Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!”

Gandalf's invocation before the Moria Gate (LR:II/4), translated in RS:463 as: “Elvish gate open now for us; doorway of the Dwarf-folk listen to the word of my tongue”.

  • Noro lim… could easily be changed to Edro lim! “Open fast!” instead of Edro hi! and, indeed, that seems to be the clue!
  • Here, si/hi is an adverb of time (now), or of locality (here), directly following (and modifying) edro, in the sense of the authentic translation given “…open now…”! Now, that's leading us here to our happy conclusion.

Adverbs directly following a verb they modify undergo lenition, hence allowing a somewhat reliable proof that lasto beth is obviously a different case, with its lenition triggered according the direct-object mutation rule! Happy conclusion? Well, there's still something else that needs to be considered…

Arachne (© John Howe)

“A Elbereth Gilthoniel! o menel palan-diriel, le nallon sí di-nguruthos! A tiro nín, Fanuilos!”

Sam's “inspired” cry in Cirith Ungol (LR:IV/10), translated in Letters:278 and RGEO:72 as “O Elbereth Star-kindler, from heaven gazing afar, to thee I cry now in [lit. beneath] the shadow of death. O look toward me, Everwhite!”

  • le nallon sí (!) di-nguruthos: This clause with the unmutated basically seems to be of the same structure as the above Edro hi…! (i.e. consisting of a verb with a trailing adverb of time). Is there any explanation for the two adverbs one time being lenited and the other time unmutated?

Well, one could think that the Moria Gate Spell had been uttered by Gandalf, the wise and knowledgeable man well-taught and familiar with Elven tongues (who, BTW, for this very reason initially had not really understood the Moria Gate inscription!), whereas the Hobbit Samwise, a plain gardener lad, would have been hardly familiar with Sindarin grammatical subtleties like these! (And JRRT, a quite sensitive linguist, pensive and all wrapped up in his Elvish world of fancy, for sure would have been capable to also consider this!). Yet… hadn't Sam had been “inspired” to this utterance! The book is stating that Sam's tongue would loosen up and his voice call in a language he didn't (even) know! So, can we really assume that this “inspired” cry wasn't grammatically correct Sindarin?! We don't think so. So again: Can it be due to a mistake? Maybe in translating it later to English?

  • Edro hi ammen! is a phrase extended only by the object personal pronoun “for us”, so far a construction simpler than le nallon sí di-nguruthos… extended by “beneath the shadow of death”, a more complex object expressing a locative relationship.
  • #Le nallon hi! could be correct Sindarin as well and comparably easier from its construction, translating as “To thee now/here I cry!” (=lenited adverb of time or locality), but…
  • … le nallon hi/sí di-nguruthos! actually is ambiguous if not specified by means of grammar, i.e. in Sindarin, through mutation:
    1. le nallon hí di-nguruthos! might translate as: “To thee now/here I cry, beneath the shadow of death!” (pay attention to the comma!);
    2. le nallon si di-nguruthos! instead, then should be translated as: “To thee I cry, here/now, beneath the shadow of death!”

We'd prefer to give as “here” (i.e. in a locative sense) since being part of the locative extension di-nguruthos. So, we're coming to the final (?) conclusion that neither of the two phrases quoted above has been composed mistakenly (hence, not devaluating each other respectively) but due to different grammatical styles and placements of emphasis.

Aragorn (© John Howe)

“Elessar Telcontar: Aragorn Arathornion Edhelharn, aran Gondor ar Hîr i Mbair Annui, anglennatha i Varanduiniant ... Ar e aníra ennas suilannad mhellyn în phain: edregol e aníra tirad i Cherdir Perhael ... Condir i Drann, ar Meril bess dîn; ar Meril, Glorfinniel, ar Eirien sellath dîn; ar Iorhael, Gelir, Cordof, ar Baravorn, ionnath dîn. A Pherhael ar am Meril suilad uin aran o Minas Tirith...”

“King's Letter” (initially part of the Epilogue to LR and dropped by JRRT, published later in SD:128-9), translated in SD:128 as: “Elessar Telcontar: Aragorn Arathornson Elfstone, King of Gondor and Lord of the Westlands, will approach the Bridge of Baranduin … And he desires to greet there all his friends. In especial he desires to see Master Samwise … Mayor of the Shire, and Rose his wife; and Elanor, Rose, Goldilocks, and Daisy his daughters; and Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Hamfast, his sons. To Samwise and Rose the King's greeting from Minas Tirith…”

  • … e aníra … suilannad mhellyn in… “… he wants to greet his friends…” This example clearly demonstrates that direct objects have to be lenited (mhellyn=vellyn), since there is no other rule to think of (e.g. singular article i or maybe a “and”, or even “imperative”) causing soft mutation here. Hence, actually giving evidence that direct-object lenition does exist.
  • … ar Elanor, Meril, Glorfinniel… “… and Sunstar, Rose, Goldilocks…” Is this contradictory to the above result, since one has to realize that all those persons’ names obviously are in direct-object position because still being referred to by edregol e aníra tirad… “in especial he desires to see…” And it is obvious too that these names are not lenited (Meril theoretically can be unmutated, i.e. basic, or nasal mutation, whereas Glorfinniel certainly is not mutated at all! So, most probably, one is allowed to assume that all those names are basic forms. But why? Caused by what exception of the rule just recently deduced?

Could this basic form be triggered by ar “and”, a conjunction introducing the sentence, and respectively connecting it to the different clusters of named persons? The answer must be “No!”

  • Are a and ar (obviously both being conjunctives), though different in form, sharing the same meaning and grammatical function? Does a behave parallel to the article i, with r added when before a word beginning with the same vowel (e.g. ir ithil) or at least another vowel?

Obviously not, since the above example shows that it also precedes words with consonant initials (e.g. ar Hîr, ar Meril, ar Baravorn). So, it is allowed to conclude that we have two independent words, maybe with the same, or a similar meaning, or grammatical functions not totally congruent. Yet, do go deeper in this issue, we will have to first analyze the following piece of text!

Porte d'Angband (© John Howe)

“Arphent Rían Tuorna, Man agorech?”

A sentence from the so-called “Túrin Wrapper” (We are still waiting for the whole text “soon” to be published!) Officially untranslated, but most probably meaning: “#And Rían said to Tuor, What did you do?” Now, this is a pretty unusual and remarkably “archaic”-looking piece of text:

  • Arphent [Rían]… is easily recognizable as the two words Ar #pent… “And [Rían] spoke…”, from: ped- “to speak”, pêd “he/she/it speaks”, pent “he/she/it spoke”.
  • Tuorna is discernible as Tuor-na, a seemingly rather ungrammatical way to express Sindarin “to Tuor”, that commonly of course should be na Duor!

It is strikingly obvious that Tolkien had the intention of composing a pretty archaic-looking piece of text coming down to the people of the Third Age from ancient times. Tolkien's English in The Silmarillion sounds pretty old-fashioned as well (like the language of old Nordic sagas or the Bible), he's trying here to give an impression of a very old Sindarin, an ancient tongue still retaining some grammatical features of an agglutinative predecessor (Eldarin or Quenya)2).

At the same time, he is also conspicuously imitating Hebrew, the ancient language of the Old Testament: not only did he create ar (a conjunction “and”, additional to a) paralleling Hebrew ve with its very typical and characteristic introductory function to sentences; he also adopted a peculiarity quite unique to Hebrew, namely to write “and” together with the following in one single word (e.g. veha'ares hayethah thohuvavohu)3)! So, let us summarize:

  • The conjunction ar is special and has little to do with the other Sindarin conjunction a;
  • The phonological influences of the two conjunctions, whether they trigger or not mutations, are different and independent from each other;
  • The ar-conjunction very obviously triggers some kind of nasal mutation (maybe nasal II, stop or – most probably – liquid mutation, the latter being typical for or-triggered mutation – so why not likewise going together with ar?

Aragorn en rôdeur (© John Howe)

“Elessar Telcontar: Aragorn Arathornion Edhelharn, aran Gondor ar Hîr i Mbair Annui, anglennatha i Varanduiniant ... Ar e aníra ennas suilannad mhellyn în phain: edregol e aníra tirad i Cherdir Perhael ... Condir i Drann, ar Meril bess dîn; ar Meril, Glorfinniel, ar Eirien sellath dîn; ar Iorhael, Gelir, Cordof, ar Baravorn, ionnath dîn. A Pherhael ar am Meril suilad uin aran o Minas Tirith...”

“King's Letter” (initially part of the Epilogue to LR and dropped by JRRT, published later in SD:128-9), translated in SD:128 as: “Elessar Telcontar: Aragorn Arathornson Elfstone, King of Gondor and Lord of the Westlands, will approach the Bridge of Baranduin … And he desires to greet there all his friends. In especial he desires to see Master Samwise … Mayor of the Shire, and Rose his wife; and Elanor, Rose, Goldilocks, and Daisy his daughters; and Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Hamfast, his sons. To Samwise and Rose the King's greeting from Minas Tirith…” So let us continue, restarting from this point here:

  • … aníra… suilannad mhellyn în phain… “… wants to greet all his friends…” This is an example for the – as we see it – basic rule that “grammatically induced” mutation is taking second place to mutation triggered by phonological circumstances! (H.F.) In Sindarin, adjectives (including participles) following the noun they describe are usually lenited.

In the above example, “…all friends” should be …mhellyn bainpân “all” (sing.), pain “all” (plur.), bain (lenition). But why phain, which is actually Nasal Mutation? This is obviously due to the fact that pain/bain is preceded here by în “his own”, which apparently triggers Nasal Mutation and at the same time edges out the above stated “grammatical” rule.

  • So, one might expect that ar edges out direct-object lenition in favour of nasal mutation. Yet, there is no nasal mutation either! One still could argue that most of those person’s names do not follow the ar directly. Yes, that's almost correct – all, except for one…
  • … ar Baravorn, [Ionnath dîn]– seems to be the only part of the above sample text where ar is preceding a consonant initial directly. Yet, as it seems, the proper name Baravorn can be regarded as an unmutated form as well, but – at any rate – it is not one of the nasal mutations or the liquid mutation form it ought to be according the rule deduced just now. So what?

Since we cannot find any other reason left at the moment, so, plausibly, there seem to be only these – minimal – rules to think of as the culprits:

  • Proper names (maybe nouns in general!) are not subject to nasal mutation triggered by ar “and”.
  • A sentence or subordinate clause opened by ar “and” with no verb of its own, does not indicate its direct object through lenition (e.g. [aníra tirad…], ar Meril… ar Meril, Glorfinniel… ar Eirien… ar Iorhael…)

Summary

Summarizing the above and coming to a conclusion, we have to state things as follows:

  • Normally, a direct (accusative) object pointed to by a predicate is indicated by Lenition (Soft Mutation), except for sentences or subordinate clauses beginning with ar “and” as far as these do not have a predicate of their own.
  • The “normal” Sindarin conjunction a “and” – a form in it's own right and independent from ar – does not trigger (Soft) Mutation.

And in addition:

  • Ar “and” most probably is designed after the Hebrew model v- (vav); it triggers Nasal, i.e. – as it seems – Liquid Mutation, when directly standing in front of a verb (maybe also a noun, yet obviously not a proper name!).
  • Interrogatives, e.g. man “what”, although in direct-object position, obviously are not subject to direct-object lenition (e.g. Man agorech? “What did you do?”). It's questionable whether or not those forms with initial m- are already lenited through traditional use (though they do not necessarily have to appear as direct objects, hence “built-in” lenition might be misleading!).
  • Lenition of si to hi, as shown in the sample text above (edro hi ammen), initially seemed to be more than obscure! Sindarin so-called “imperative” actually doesn't trigger Soft Mutation, yet, there appeared an obviously “new” rule, up to now unmentioned by the experts: verb-trailing adverbs do undergo soft mutation! Yet…
  • One has to be aware of the fact that particles like si/sí “now/here” can also form adverbs in an (unmutated) leading position, or – in different grammatical functions – with effect on the mutation, being part of still other syntactical units.

See also

On Tolkiendil

On the net

1) Editor’s Note: The author quoted here the German translation of LR, which reads: Ich hatte also doch unrecht gehabt “In fact, I had read it incorrectly”. Of course, this provides a stronger support to the theory that mellon wasn’t grammatically correct in the sentence than what Tolkien actually wrote.
2) Editor’s Note: Such an ancestor would rather be Old Sindarin or Common Telerin.
3) Editor’s Note: Such a peculiarity exists also in Latin, e.g. in the famous phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus “[The] Senate and [the] Roman People”.
 
langues/english/i-lam_arth/questions_sindarin_lenition.txt · Dernière modification: 28/08/2013 18:17 par Elendil
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