Monday, November 28, 2011

Tolkien’s translation conceit — new evidence?

As you probably know by now (and if not, read this), HarperCollins is publishing several new books, both this year and next, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit — “a literary party of special magnificence”, as it were. One of these, “the flagship book of the anniversary year” according to David Brawn, is The Art of The Hobbit, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. I have had my copy for a few days now, dipping in here and there, and it is simply gorgeous!

It’s a beautifully produced coffee-table book, an oversized hardcover, slip-cased like the original Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien (1979). The new book attempts to collect together in one place every known sketch, drawing, and painting Tolkien made with any connection to The Hobbit — more than 100 of them! Many have never been published before, and of those that have been, some are reproduced in color for the first time. Many are larger than the reproductions in earlier books.

The editors have written a short but valuable introduction, as well as running commentary on the works, which they present in the order of the events from the novel that they represent. This commentary is kept to a minimum, allowing the artworks to speak for themselves. Four gatefolds show the evolution of particular scenes — Hobbiton, Rivendell, The Elven-king’s Gates, and the Forest River. Another page brings together every known illustration of Bilbo for easy comparison. In a nutshell: it’s a must-have!

In perusing the artworks, I’ve noticed a few interesting things already. For instance, on the reverse of Death of Smaug, Tolkien wrote some calligraphic lines pertaining to the story, in one of which he refers to “Elrond the half-elfin” — quite a late date for the spelling Tolkien rejected (consistently preferring “elven” from this point on).

Another interesting thing is some Old English and Old Norse associated with Thror’s Map. Actually, there is some Elvish as well — a bit of ammunition for those who argue (as John D. Rateliff does) that The Hobbit was far more connected to Tolkien’s legendarium than many people believe — but I will leave that to the Elvish scholars!

As you will recall, Thror’s Map contains some ordinary runes, which say in English, “five feet high the door and the three may walk abreast”. In a pen-and-ink drawing of “Thror’s Map, Copied by B. Baggins”, Tolkien has added a mostly legible passage in Old English translating the same passage: “fif fóta heah is se duru and þrie mæg samod [?] þurhgangend” [1]. The question mark is a tiny scrawl which seems to have been meant for insertion, but I can’t even pretend to read it. Another word, above duru, has been erased. Leaving these out, the Old English literally means, “five feet high is the door and three may together going-through.” If this look ungrammatical, it’s because it is. The word þurhgangend (which actually ought to be þurhgangende) is a participle; I think Tolkien should have used the infinitive, þurhgangan.

More interesting, but more difficult, is an Old Norse translation of the Moon-letters. To refresh your memory, the moon-letters on Thror’s Map run, again in English: “stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.”

The Old Norse is very hard to read, in places totally illegible — to me, at least. Have a look at the text (above) and see if you can add anything to my transcription. The best I can do is something like this:
Staltri[?] hjal{la}[?] steininum þeima[?] hvenar[?] grá[—?]
Þar sein[?] þrostr[—?] þa nein[?] sól
Søkkvandi[?] með nogh[?] lys[?] Durnis dags
L[?]j[?] [?] lykill[?] [?] [2]
As you can see, I’ve numbered the words in the image at the top of the post, leaving out a couple which are (partly) repeated in the main passage. Let’s see what we can make of it! Update: Make sure you read the comments below, where bits and pieces are teased apart and worked out. I’m not going to revise the numbered list below (at least, not for now), so that you can follow my first thoughts.

1) This should be a verb meaning “stand”, but I’m puzzled right from the outset. The Old Norse verb I would expect to see is standa “to stand”, but I’m not sure what we’ve got here. I can’t find anything in my sources to explain it. I could certainly be transcribing it incorrectly, but there’s no way it’s a form of standa.

2) This appears to read hja, but notice the extra squiggle below? It looks like this might be hjalla, a form of hjalli “a shelf or ledge in a mountain’s side”. This would be the ideal word-choice for the sheltered bay where the Secret Door is located, but if I’m reading this correctly, then the Norse word, an addition by Tolkien, doesn’t correspond to anything in the English moon-letters.

3) Surely steininum — and finally a word I am pretty sure I am reading correctly. This is the definite dative plural of steinn “stone”, but it’s often translated in the singular. Here, following the English closely, it means “near, by the stone”.

4) This could be þeima “to this, to them”, but it’s hard to be sure.

5) Not much more than a squiggle. Tolkien himself seemed to realize he was jotting too hastily and went back over the beginning of the word to clarify it. Based on where we are in the moon-letters, it looks like it might be hvenar “when”.

6) All we can read we any confidence is grá—, but since grár is “grey”, it must be something along those lines.

7) Legible again! Þar is “there, at that place”.

8) This probably should be the verb “knocks”, but it is pretty much impossible to read. This word looks like it might be sein, senn, seim, or something like that. To translate “knock”, Tolkien probably ought to have opted or of knía “to knock, strike (poet.)”, but he could have used drepa, banga, klappa, or another word of the same sort. If the word is something like senn, it would mean “chatter”, which I suppose could work as a substitute for the knocking of the thrush. But I doubt this is the right answer, because it would be hard to explain such a departure from the English. I’m at a loss.

9) Although the word fades away into a mere scribble, this is without a doubt a form of þröstr “thrush”.

10) The word appears legible, which is a problem, because it appears to read þa, and I know of no such Old Norse word. I am going to make a daring suggestion: that Tolkien inadvertently code-switched into Old English, where þá is a conjunction meaning “when, then”. This fits the moon-letters very well at this point in the passage, so I think it’s plausible. On the other hand …

11) This squiggle could be hvenar, if we allow Tolkien a totally misshapen h. This would do the job of the conjunction “when, then”, discussed in the previous point. But I really can’t read this word. It looks more like it begins with an n, not an h. Anyone have any idea?

12) Another clear word: sól “sun”.

13) In Old Norse, the “setting of the sun” is usually rendered sól at setri komin. But søkkrendi means “sinking”, which is perfectly a propos here as well.

14) Although difficult to make out, this is certainly með “with”.

15) Anyone? Anyone? I can’t make this out.

16) This looks like is must be a form of lýsa “gleam, shimmering light” or lýsi “lighting, brightness”, though the appropriate grammatical ending is lost or omitted.

17) This is clearly Durnis, the genitive of the proper name, Durin, meaning “Durin’s”, and …

18) This is clearly dags, genitive of dagr, meaning “of day”; hence, “of Durin’s Day”.

19) This is hard to make out. It seems to begin with an l, and to contain a j, but I’m not sure what the loopy ascender is. In any case, we are looking for something like ljóma “to shine”, which seems to be quite close to what Tolkien scribbled.

20) This word is scratched out, so I think we should conclude Tolkien rejected it and move on.

21) This word is scrawled well enough to make out lykill “key”.

22) I can’t read the last word at all: nothing but a descender, a scribble, and an ascender. It could be almost anything. But “hole” should be hola, or perhaps auga “eye”. Neither seems to fit this blob, but it must be the second element of the compound “key-hole”.

So, allowing for Tolkien’s untidy scrawl and a few mystery words, this is plainly pretty close to the original English passage represented by the moon-runes on Thror’s Map. Why would Tolkien bother to translate these Dwarvish instructions into Old Norse? Why is this significant? Was it merely a personal amusement, or was it perhaps more?

As we all know, the names of the Dwarves are Norse names, drawn from the Völuspá, but until now, there haven’t been any other significant signs of the elaborate “translation conceit” in The Hobbit. One could just as easily hypothesize (and I suspect it usually has been hypothesized) that the translation conceit Tolkien describes in the Appendix F to The Lord of the Rings emerged later, as a way to explain away the choice of Old Norse names from the earlier book, long ago committed to and unavoidable now in the sequel. But this jotting suggests the conceit might have begun to take shape earlier than previously thought.

I have had reason to suspect this before, actually. The real formalization of the conceit certainly must have emerged later, in fact, in February, 1942 [3]. But this translation into Old Norse suggests that Tolkien was playing with the idea of representing much more than just the names of the Dwarves in The Hobbit as Old Norse. As early as December, 1937, Tolkien admitted that “[Old] Icelandic was in a foolish moment substituted for the proper language of my tales” [4]. Not just the names, but also the language, it seems Tolkien is saying. And here, in The Art of The Hobbit, is a bit of hard evidence to back this up! The map, in fact, predates the letter to Selby by at least a few years, implying that a nascent translation conceit may have been swimming around in Tolkien’s mind for a good deal longer than previously thought. Amazing, isn’t it, the things you notice when you hold a map up to the light!

[1] Art of The Hobbit, bottom of fig. 25, p. 51.

[2] Art of The Hobbit, middle of fig. 30, p. 56.

[3] See The Peoples of Middle-earth, p. 70, where Tolkien first jots down the rubric of Old English for Rohan, Old Norse for Dale (and the Dwarves of the region), etc.

[4] Tolkien makes this rather significant admission in a letter to G.E. Selby, dated December 14, 1937. Christopher Tolkien quotes a selection from this letter in his foreword to The Return of the Shadow (p. 7) — but not the passage I have quoted. The complete letter to Selby was printed in the exhibition guide, J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit: Drawings, Watercolors, and Manuscripts, Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, June 11–September 30, 1987, p. [4].


  1. Great post, Jason, thanks!

    I am afraid that I cannot help with the Old Norse (had Tolkien been writing in modern 'Norse' I might have stood a chance). Sometimes it feels a little odd that I discuss Tolkien with people almost on the other side of the world, who know more than I about the ancient forms of my own language ;-)

    With regards to the framing conceit of the story, I think you are spot-on. It makes, in my view, sense that Tolkien would work this way, which we see also in his Silmarillion work, in Farmer Giles and which was of course his professional role with e.g. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

    It also, in my mind, connects nicely with Rateliff's idea that The Hobbit was more connected with the mythology, where he had been writing long passages in Anglo-Saxon and where Old Norse might also fit in quite nicely.

    As for this idea, I think that the connection between The Hobbit and the evolving Silmarillion mythology is akin to a SW developer branching off a copy of his repository to serve as a library for some other project with no intention of ever merging the two branches. In other words, Tolkien, as I understand it, took his mythology to serve as a setting, a back-cloth, for his children's story, but he didn't consider the story a part of his mythology and so elements introduced in The Hobbit were never meant to be merged into the Silmarillion mythology, which left him free to introduce elements that would be inconsistent with the mythology.

  2. Troels, I think you’re absolutely right about how and to what extent Tolkien situated The Hobbit alongside his burgeoning mythology — “andward” to it, I am tempted to say. :)

    The one thing I would add is that Tolkien wouldn’t brook inconsistencies in his published writings. So long as his “Silmarillion” lay unpublished, he could modify it or introduce inconsistencies as much as he liked. But his goal was to publish it, and we can see him working to resolve these inconsistencies to that end. Whatever appeared in print first became canon, and the rest of the legendarium was adjusted to fit. Any inconsistencies which could not easily be adjusted were explained away through some kind of conceit, putative scribal error, incomplete transmission, or some other mechanism. Pretty brilliant, actually.

    I like your software metaphor for two reasons. First, because I am a software developer myself, and I’m very familiar with this kind of branching development. Second, because I know how often it is that branches never intended to be merged must end up being merged anyway, whatever the difficulties. And that’s the position in which Tolkien found himself on several occasions. And his solutions — e.g., the translation conceit — were immensely clever ones.

  3. #1 could be 'stattu' - isn't that the imperative sg. of 'to stand'?
    #2 if you read this as 'hjá' (a tiny Tolkien error?) it makes more sense.
    #5 looks as though it might have been crossed out.

    Which would make line 1 : stattu hjá steininum þeim grá = stand by the stone, that grey (one). Not an uncommon construction in Old Norse.

    #8 reads 'sem' and goes together with #7, 'þar sem' - meaning 'as' > as the thrush...

    Have to go now, but I'll give it some more thoughts later on

    Renée Vink

  4. Hi, Renée, and well done! I think you’ve solved several of the remaining issues.

    I see that stattu is a slightly irregular form, yes? I wasn’t aware of that until now. I think I expected *standu. But yes, I think you’re right that this is what Tolkien wrote.

    I think you’re right about hjá as the preposition “beside” as well. Tolkien marked some long vowels, but not others, and this makes reasonable sense. It leaves unexplained the extra scribble, but I can live with that.

    I don’t think #5 looks crossed out to me. Not when you consider how definitely #6 and #20 are struck through. So this word is still at issue.

    As for #8, you might be right that it is the comparative/relative particle sem, but where do you think we’ve lost the verb for “knocks”? I have thought we were looking for “where/there + knocks + the thrush”, a standard Germanic syntactic construction. If you’re correct, and we have þar sem, then where is the verb? It could possibly be in #10 or #11, I suppose — that part is difficult to read — but I don’t see it. Or perhaps Tolkien accidentally omitted it. Any other thoughts?

  5. I don't know any Old Norse, but I think 15 is clearly the superlative síðastr "last" (comp. síðari "later"). Tolkien's ð's are quite distinguishable.

    As regards 5, what about the three (unnumbered) words above? They look to me very much like "[5] [6] = steinn" - an explanation related to Renée's comment above about this kind of apposition in Old Norse.

  6. I fully agree with Renée's points, including about -5- being crossed out and reading þar sem (fits too perfectly for the expected sense and the actual writing). The missing word for 'knocks' may just be the blank space between þrost... and þa: Tolkien leaving himself a gap to fill in once he'd made up his mind about exactly which word to use.

    15) This is a really hard word to read, but my overactive imagination wants to see sið(a)st... for síðasti lýsu or similar. I'm taking what looks like a single initial character and reading it as a narrow s written together with the following i.

    19) For 'shines', I would prefer to read lysir (lýsir), with the curl being part of a fancy s. This might work a bit better with what's written, and certainly works better grammatically, as what we want is a transitive verb 'illuminates'.

    22) I think this is gat, 'opening, hole'.

    So with a few holes left, we might now have (characters with restored accents in bold, supplied--that is, without even a tentative basis in the script--characters in parentheses):

    Stattu hjá steininum þeim grá
    þar sem þrǫstrinn ______ . Þa ????? sól
    søkkvandi með síð(a)sti lýs(u) Durins dags
    lýsir lykils gat.

    Word 11 is still completely enigmatic to me, and I don't really like 10 (though I admit interference from OE would explain it neatly). And I'll be interested to see if I still find my readings convincing tomorrow!

  7. Add to my previous comment: 5 could be a form of the definite article hinn, which can be placed between the demonstrative and the adjective (according to Cleasby-Vigfusson s.v. A.II).

  8. Hlaford, it's reassuring that you also read (15) as síðast- (though I took it as a strong feminine dative adjective rather than an adverb). It's hard to tell when a word emerges from the squiggles whether you're actually seeing what's there, or just going a tiny bit mad!

    And I like your suggestion about the words above. I might take them as hinum graa steini. Tolkien's writing of graa may represent grá-a, that is the stem (which already has a long vowel) plus the dative ending -a before contraction. Or maybe it's just a funny way of writing a long vowel, or maybe it's hesitation about what to write next (is that another a that's crossed out just after?).

  9. Hello Jason, here I am again!

    Yes, stattu is irregular, as far as I know.

    As for #5, you´re right, it doesn´t really look crossed out. But assuming the translation is literal, you wouldn´t expect an additional word here. In any case, it doesn´t look like ´hvenar´ to me, as there is nothing resembling an a in the word. Also, I´m quite positive about #8 being 'sem': the last letter is identical with the last letter of 'steininum'. Which would mean 'þar sem' is the conjunction, making 'hvenar' superfluous.

    Plodding on, I'd say that #10 is simply Ole Norse 'þá' - Tolkien being a bit sloppy again, as with 'hjá. For #11 I'd suggest 'mun' and for #15 'siðasti'. #16 looks like 'lys' [or lýs], but that means lice, so I suppose it was meant to be 'ljós'

    Which would make the second half of the sentence something like: 'þá mun sól søkkrendi með siðasti ljós Durnis dags lýsa [or ljóma] lykil [acc., with one l] ...': then will the sinking sun with the last light of Durin's Day illuminate the key ...'

    And then what? A word meaning hole, but all I see is 'jul', which is the Scandinavian word for Christmas...

    Anyway, if this reading is corect, #5 could be a verb form meaning 'knocks', but in a peculiar position in the sentence. Or Tolkien forgot to translate knocks and #5 remains an enigma.

    This is fun, but Tolkien's handwriting was really terrible!


  10. corect = correct, of course

  11. Oh yes, hinum! That's it!

    Renée again.

  12. Another cross-comment with you, Hláford!

    To me steininum þeim hinum grá does actually read better as idiomatic Norse (not that my judgements are that good!!!). And taking another look, what I had taken to be a crossing out line might actually be better taken as Tolkien writing over the word to make the initial h clearer. So I think you've got another good reading there.

    Taking into account Renée's newest comments, maybe we have:

    Stattu hjá steininum þeim grá
    þar sem þrǫstrinn ______ . Þa mun sól
    søkkvandi með síðasti lýsu Durins dags
    lýsa lykils gat.

    This improves the reading for (19) I think. But I'm not sure we gain much with ljós, since it still needs to be dative with a final -i: ljósi. So lýsu seems closer to the text, given that we have to supply something either way. (Though maybe an -i would be easier to get lost in the scribbles than a -u?)

  13. Make Stattu hjá steininum þeim grá into Stattu hjá steininum þeim hinum grá. What I get for copy-pasting too quickly.

  14. Hlaford, good call with síðastr, though it’s only barely legible. One of those things where, once you see it, it suddenly becomes clear. Or, well, clearer.

    Nelson: For #22, you might be right, though now that I’m looking at it more closely, maybe gröf is a possibility as well.

    I had a feeling that crowd-sourcing would help bang this into shape. Tolkien’s handwriting is notoriously difficult, and this passage is more illegible than usual. No doubt Christopher Tolkien could read it easily, but for us, some of these words are not easy chestnuts. :)

  15. OK, one more go at a proper transcription, with supplied marks in bold, supplied letters in parentheses, dash marks for crossed out words, and underscores at the possibly significant space.

    hinum graa - steini
    Stattu hjá steininum þeim hinum grá ---
    þar sem þrǫstrinn ____ Þá mun sól
    søkkvandi með síðasti lýs(u) Durins dags
    lýsa ------ lykils gat.

    Jason, does grǫf ever have that sort of sense? I thought it usually referred to a dug hole or a pit - I'd be interested to learn if it could have this sort of sense as well.

  16. It’s funny that when I began typing my last comment, there were only a couple of yours, but by the time it appeared, you had all added several more! I’m taking this as a sign of great interest! :)

  17. Grǫf is from grafa, to dig, and means pit or grave. I don't think it means hole in the sense of opening, passage, as Icelandic (and, incidentally, also Dutch) gat.


  18. Nelson, you’re probably right about gat. I didn’t feel sure at first, since the modern reflex (and a contemporary gloss) of gat is “gate”. But since I see skrár-gat “key-hole” in Cleasby-Vigfusson, I am inclined to think you’re right. But why didn’t Tolkien use this ready-made compound? :)

    It’s probably not gröf, though I felt there was a little more “turbulence” after the initial consonant. It looked a bit more like an r than an a (yet the final consonant does look more like a t than an f). You’re right that is usually means “pit” (the modern reflex is “grave”), but I have seen it used in senses other than a dug hole (e.g., hnakka-gröf “the hollow in the nape of the neck”).

  19. Garn, too slow again! I’m going to let you guys have at it for a while so that we aren’t all cross-commenting. ;)

  20. Last comment (bedtime where I am): the difference is probably that grǫf is open on one side and gat on both sides. A keyhole belongs to the latter category. At least an old-fashioned one.


  21. My last comments too:

    [5] The h actually appears to have been added later (and that's what makes it look like a deletion). Remove it and you'll read inum, which as far as I can see is the more common spelling (see C.-V. s.v. hinn, first paragraph.) I'd say Tolkien wrote inum first, and then for whatever reason changed it to hinum.

    [21] As to why Tolkien chose lykils gat instead of skrár-gat, maybe he wanted to include the word for "key" in order to make the relationship with Thrórs key clearer, since skrár is properly "lock".* But he did hesitate. I think he wrote lukil first [20], deleted it, then lukil(s) again [21] and then changed it to lykils. Lukils-gat may also have been suggested by lúku-gat "trap-door".

    [And to Renée's last comment: In this case the keyhole was definitely of the one-side type. "Slowly Thorin shook off his dreams and getting up he kicked away the stone that wedged the door. Then they thrust upon it, and it closed with a snap and a clang. No trace of a keyhole was there left on the inside." (end of ch. XII)]

    But don't rule out the possibility that he chose it for the alliteration with [19]. The alliterations in the English version are clearly intentional ("stand / stone", "setting sun", "last light", "Durin's Day") and the Old Norse version keeps most of them. Maybe the reason why he left the blank after [9] until a suitable candidate appeared (as Nelson suggested) was that he couldn't find a verb for "knock" which satisfied him (e.g., one that alliterated with þrǫstrinn).


    * And the dwarves in the story sorely need this kind of reminder, something like "...will shine upon the key-hole, see, the key-hole, and kindly notice that I'm not using the usual word for this but stressing the key element by means of an unattested compound, and what is it that I'm giving you together with the map? Yep, a key." Supporting evidence: when the last light of Durin's Day finally shines upon the key-hole, "the dwarves rushed to the rock and pushed - in vain", and they would still be there if Bilbo hadn't come up with "The key! The key that went with the map!" (XI:33-6) But this is just me trying to be funny.

  22. Drat! I definitely ought to reread the Hobbit!


  23. What a great discussion!

    I read Jason's original post and worked on it further, to find that you have come almost exactly the same result. The only difference concerns 'with the last light':

    As there is no appropriate form of lýsa, lýsi, we might consider ljós 'light', neuter, here in The o would have to be very hastily written, but I think I've seen examples of Tolkien writing a/o like this elsewhere (would have to check). It has the advantages of introducing a grammatical form and removing the repetitive character lýs- … lýsa (and incidentally echoes Ljós-álfar...).

    ON með and við overlap to some extent, more so than say in OE wið and mid. To judge from Cleasby-Vigfusson, in the temporal adverbial usage required here, með would use a dative, e.g. vera úti með sólsetrum 'to be out with (= at) sunset', while við would use an accusative, við solar-setr 'at sunset. As 16, whatever it is, is clearly ending-less, we likely have acc. við síðast(a) ljós, rather than dat. með síðasta ljósi or such.

    In phrases of this sort, corresponding to definites in English 'the last light', ON seems to often use the weak declension form of síðastr despite the absence of the definite article – hence við síðasta ljós; but the strong declension is also a possibility, við síðast ljós. The squiggle ending of síðast seems readable as either a vowel or the cross-bar of the t.

    lýsa for ljóma seems clearly right for the verb, as ljóma is impersonal. mun ... lysa also seems the right approach, although it very much looks like mumm or munn (the latter would be an error, but not so egregious).

    A couple of interesting points beyond the decipherment:

    Tolkien must have first written the ungrammatical hjá steini þeim (h)inum grám – and that he apparently emended it to gráa, matching the superposed text's graa, so the uncontracted form is clearly intentional despite regular practice in printing ON texts. The grammatical error is in contrast with the nicely idiomatic features of the translation as first written - lykils-gat rather than lykil-gat, and hjá steininum þeim (h)inum gráa (cf. (á) karfanum þeim inum steinda '(on) the painted ship', Egilssaga Skalagrímssonar). More reason to think Tolkien would have used and left without emendation ungrammatical/nonexistent lýs.

    Tolkien keeps to early ON by differentiating þrostr[?inn] with the u-umlaut of a from søkkvandi with the w-umlaut of e. This also removes the possibility of reading þrostur, a later development than the end-13C collapse of these sounds in ö.

    Milan Rezac

  24. Nice work guys! I started making some of the same changes, and then realized they had already been made. But are there any suggestions for why he might have been rewriting "steininum þeim hinum grá"? Because it looks like he meant to have it say "Stattu hja hinum graa steini", given the marker that he put after "hja".

  25. It seems to me that he first wrote _hjá steininum þeim (h)inum grám_, an error since _grá(a)_ is the weak declension form of the adjective required in definite noun phrases, and then (i) crossed out the _m_ and added _a_, (ii) inserted the text _hinum graa steini_ above the line and the insertion mark after hja.

    Both _hinum gráa steini_ and _hjá steininum þeim (h)inum grám_ are idiomatic ways to express 'by the grey stone', though the latter may seem a bit overloaded. Compare: _á karfanum þeim inum steinda_ '(on) the painted ship' (Saga of Egils Skalla-Grímssonar).

    (The insistence on uncontracted _gráa_ in both versions if have got the changes right, is curious, but perhaps it is used in ON mss? I don't know.)


  26. right, so why rewrite the whole phrase? and why are we reading the first phrase as the intended one ("steininum þeim hinum grá"), when he rewrote the phrase to "hinum gráa steini" later. Shouldn't that one be the preferred one? I agree that the first choice was better (I just like those double determiner phrases in Old Norse), but it doesn't seem Tolkien did.

  27. My intuitions about this are founded on far too skimpy a knowledge of ON texts. Steininum þeim hinum grá actually surprised me, because all the examples that came to mind readily lacked definiteness on the noun, e.g. hafa vil ek … steinn þann inn mæra … grǫf þá ina helgu ('Battle of Goths and Huns'), hendi inni hœgri (Vǫluspá). Yet hinum grá steini also sounds uncommon. So yes: why the emendation to this, rather than say steini þeim hinum grá – if reading it as an emendation is right.

    I had a quick look this morning through the grammars at hand. Traditional ones (Gordon, Noreen) are short on the syntax of the noun phrase, but there is a New Introduction to Old Icelandic by Michael Barnes. The orders are treated in section 3.3.5, which says that the type hinum grá steini is not particularly common in ON prose except when in contrastive use (as opposed to 'that blue stone', say), and that much more common is þeim hinum grá steini, and that in Norwegian sources particularly (as opposed to Icelandic ones) doubling occurs, steininum (þeim) hinum grá – (þeim) hinum grá steininum. (The doubling options is, I believe, lost in Modern Icelandic, although not in all other Scandinavian languages, albeit not with descendants of hinn).

    The functions of the different orders are not discussed there, although section 3.9.2 briefly mentions the different functions of pre and post-modification, but only to say that both steini grá and grá steini were legitimate, while with possessives postmodification was normal and premodification emphatic, and epithets and appositives followed, while comparatives and superlatives preceded.

    Terje Faarlund in The syntax of Old Norse, 4.3.1 likewise talks about the emphatic character of premodifying adjectives in general as opposed to the more neutral use of postmodifying ones, unless the adjective and noun constitute a conceptual unit of some kind, such as 'pure corn', 'English silver'. But he is talking there about adjectives in noun phrases without the definite article. In definite ones adjectives normally precede the noun while the article appears in its full form, hinum grá steini, and follow more rarely unless with proper names, steini hinum grá, and still more rarely with suffixed form of the definite article, steininum grá; none of these involve doubling of the sort hinum grá steininum which he says is rare in 4.1.2 (and does not mention steininum (þeim) hinum grá at all, as far as I can tell).

    So one gets the impression, perhaps, that steininum þeim hinum grá is unusual for Old Icelandic sources of Old Norse, and perhaps has an appositive flavour, the stone, the grey one; while þeim hinum grá steini or perhaps more markedly steini þeim hinum grá would be the normal way of expressing the intended purely descriptive meaning; but hinum grá steini is rare. All this only advances us moderately, if at all. But the description and documentation in these works is not (and is not intended to be) particularly full, and better ones might help.

    Finally, why not simply steini grám, as noun phrases without the definite article are regularly used in ON where NE uses definites (so þrǫstr or þrǫstrinn both make good grammar in the translation): what does the choice of these heavily definite phrases say how Tolkien intended the map-maker to refer to the 'the grey stone'.

    kenavo, Milan

  28. In the Germanic languages there is an irregular alternation between nasal and non-nasal forms for 'go' and 'stand/stay', so we have NHG gehen, ging, gegangen, for example, or ModE stand, stood, stood < stonden. In Scots, both gae and gang 'go, walk' are still in use in the present tense, though only gaed and gane in the preterite and participle. (Note that although stay is a Romance borrowing in English, it goes back to the same PIE *sta- as stand.)