Thursday, May 24, 2007

What does lingwë mean anyway?

So, whether you've stumbled upon this blog by accident or were directed here by that subtle, yet so irresistable, urge to click a link somewhere — you're probably wondering about lingwë. I could say that this was about the hundredth name I tried for my blog and that I was beginning to become frustrated and desperate (which is true), but let's just set that aside for the moment. The word lingwë is Quenya. It means “fish”, as in Jason Fisher. And on top of that, it's roughly homophonic with lingua (“language” in Italian, from Latin), a nice bonus. It seemed a lucky coincidence to me, and quite à propos, since the vast majority of my posts are likely to revolve around two things: J.R.R. Tolkien and language/linguistics.

So. There you are: lingwë. At least it wasn't eorclanstanas, which I thought about using. Think how you'd feel having to type that!

Welcome. :)


  1. "Eorclanstanas" at least doesn't require the typing of a dieresis.

    Nice blog!

  2. At least you don't have to type the dieresis in my URL; and believe me, if I could have included it there, I would have. ;) Of course, Tolkien (maybe it was Christopher) wrote somewhere that the use of the dieresis over final —e in Quenya words was optional, meant only to clarify that the syllable was to be pronounced. I don't remember where I saw that, but it's in the corpus somewhere.

  3. Great blog, Jason, and one which I will surely bookmark for future browsing. In the meantime, I wanted to thank you for the thoughtful coverage in "Teaching Tolkien" (more comments there).

    Nice comments on lingwe ~ lingwë. For what it's worth, there are at least two places where JRRT gave license for leaving the diaeresis off of final vowels in Quenya:

    In LotR, App. E, "Vowels", he writes that "Final e is never mute or a mere sign of length as in English. To mark this final e it is often (but not consistently) written ë."

    In The Road Goes Ever On, in the first footnote to his analysis of Namárië, Tolkien clarifies that "[I]t is assumed that final e will be recognized always as a pronounced syllable; and ë has only been used to indicate that ië, ëa, ëo are disyllabic."

    I'm almost certain there's another reference in Letters, but a cursory hunts fails to disclose it. In any case, you clearly remembered correctly.

    All best, Marc

  4. Hi Marc. Yes, you’re right about App.E. I found that again much later but never came back to this first post and added the details. Like you, I can’t seem to find any mention of this is Letters, though I do seem to recall something else. Thanks especially for reminding me about the note in RGEO; that, I had not yet remembered. :)

    There are, however, also practical examples which serve as proof that the diaeresis is optional. Also in App.E, but in Part II, Tolkien gives several letter names for tengwar without final diaeresis (e.g., quesse, ungwe, thúle, et al.).

  5. Ah, I think I have it. In discussing the name Fëanor in the eponymous ‘Shibboleth,’ Tolkien observes that “ë is only a device of transcription, not needed in the original” (PM:343). Granted, this refers to an example of word-medial diaeresis, but the principle is the same. In any case, I'm pretty sure this is the source I was trying to recall the other day.

    Good point about the Tengwar letter names in App.E. Now that you point them out, though, isn't it interesting that these forms as such don't recur elsewhere in LotR? Granted, several of them turn up again in Tolkien's ‘Words, Phrases and Passages in various tongues in The Lord of the Rings’ (PE17:123-124), but they all have the same final -e. This makes me wonder whether, had “Ungwe Liante the great spider who enmeshes” (BLT1:152) been a more contemporary source, Hammond and Scull might not have been tempted to regularize ungwe to ungwë? For what it's worth, there's a parallel example in linte > lintë in Namárië (Reader's Companion, p.341), a change made with Tolkien's blessing.

  6. Oops, the form in The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, is actually “Ungwë Lianti“ (i.e., with -ë on the first word, and -i on the second). Sorry for any confusion.

  7. A good find. And the source I think I was struggling to recall, two years ago, when I wrote “maybe it was Christopher” might have been this passage from the foreword to The Peoples of Middle-earth: “In his late texts he seldom used the diaeresis (as in Finwë) [...]”

    In any event, it is very clear that the diaeresis was not really necessary. Still, for the sake of regularity, I always use it (except in cases, such as the tengwar letter names, where Tolkien’s habit was the reverse).