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Tolkien, manuscripts, and dialect

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2 June 2021 | Journal of Tolkien Research, Volume 12, № 1, 4

Study of languages, names, and dialects may have been the greatest motivating factor in Tolkien’s scholarship and his fiction: he found in every name (and even in every word) a story to unearth. Clear connections appear between the scholarly vector that connects his investigations into the Gawain-poet (his location and language), the Ancrene Riwle, and locating the linguistic variants in The Reeve’s Tale, for instance, with the creation of the various speech patterns in The Lord of the Rings. Beyond the obvious examples of the Elvish languages Tolkien created, the Westron-Hobbiton dialect that Sam uses, variants among the orcs, and the heightened speech of humans for formal occasions represent ways of writing down how the characters’ speech echoes their origins, location, class, and intentions. The way they speak expresses their sense of identity and affiliation, situationally as well as in class or race. The creation of speech in fiction — for any writer, but perhaps especially for Tolkien — shows an enduring interest in how to move from heard to recorded language to the dramatization of interactions punctuated by variants in spoken, that is, idiolectic, language.

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date recorded 📅2021-07-15
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