Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

The experience of languages

Seemed worth pointing out this quote from J.R.R. Tolkien that shows he was no imperialist about language. He disliked the idea of English as a "universal" language, and while he certainly loved English, he loved other languages as well:
[This is] the most idiotic and suicidal ["ambition"] that a language could entertain... Literature shrivels in a universal language, and an uprooted language rots before it dies. And it should be possible to lift the eyes above the cant of "the language of Shakespeare"...sufficiently to realize the magnitude of the loss to humanity that the world-dominance of any one language now spoken would entail: no language has ever possessed but a small fraction of the varied excellences of human speech, and each language represents a different vision of life...
I encountered this in Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth by John Garth, exploring Tolkien's World War I experience and his early attempts at poetry and narrative. He was already a language scholar at the time, inventing the fairy, dwarf and elven languages that would later inform The Hobbit and, still later, The Lord of the Rings. I'll simply add: word. Which likely would make Tolkien cringe, but I hope I could explain to him how "word" is something good to say.
Tags: language

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