A Critique of Nancy Martsch's
The following is a slightly edited version of a critique written by (Ivan Derzhanski). It is republished here with permission.
Nancy Martsch's Basic Quenya is better than Ruth Noel's The Languages of Tolkien's Middle Earth (at least NM can distinguish Quenya from Sindarin and doesn't claim that Finnish has a dual number), and I agree that it is quite good as an invitation to further independent study (as Carl says). It is also useful as a concordance to the linguistic material in the source books other than the History of Middle-earth series. But its worth, too, is slashed by a number of sins of commission. Here are some:
- NM misuses a number of linguistic terms. In some cases (e.g. in the passage on exclusive/inclusive 1st person pronouns) this is obviously due to her misunderstanding of the phenomena. In others (e.g. the phonetic difference between h and ch ) she's got her terminology wrong.
- Some of the constructions in the book aren't really derivable from the corpus, yet NM doesn't present them explicitly as her own guesses. An example is the negation of verbs by prefixing ú-, as in *útiruva `won't watch'; there is no evidence of such a construction in the Quenya corpus, and in fact in The Lost Road and The War of the Jewels there is evidence pointing towards *úva tire.
- There are some other things that are silently assumed to happen, again without any evidence to support them. For example, NM's text does not say anything about the formation of yes/no questions (of which there are none in the corpus), but some of the exercises show that she assumes that any statement can be used as a question without any overt marking. This is not the case in either Finnish or Latin (both of which have interrogative particles), nor in English (which uses inversion). It is not clear why it should be the case in Quenya.
- NM makes a point of ignoring forms that weren't published during Tolkien's lifetime, on the grounds that those represent different dialects of Quenya, if not different languages, and it won't do to "mix Middle and Modern English". Which is true enough; but when one's knowledge of a language is incomplete, extrapolation can sometimes lead to better results than intrapolation. If one doesn't know the paradigm of the Spanish verb partir , it is a better idea to conjugate it as its Portuguese counterpart, in which case one will get almost the entire paradigm right, than to conjugate it as the Spanish verb amar and get everything wrong save for the 1sg present indicative. The case with the Quenya verb is very similar; and NM's strategy has made her throw away attested forms (e.g. Etym lirin `I sing', tulin `I come'), although there never was any evidence that Tolkien ever rejected them (and the recently published War of the Jewels shows that he didn't), in favour of her own inventions (**liran(ye), **tulan(ye) ). Not the kind of thing that can be tolerated in a book which presumes to teach.
- Lastly, the book is marred by typos and unattractive handwritten tengwar .
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