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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
A Middle English Vocabulary Challenge -- Nowel Edition
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Jan 1 2013, 10:36pm

Post #26 of 31 (527 views)
Often said of Tolkien in the Reading Room - [In reply to] Can't Post

Another morsel of brain food:

It is said here often of Tolkien, that he is deliberately ambiguous (by Curious, FarFromHome and others). Isn't it interesting that the same is said of Sir Gawain: "... ambiguity [is] a hallmark of this elusive romance."

(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jan 1 2013, 10:37pm)


Jan 1 2013, 11:09pm

Post #27 of 31 (508 views)
Speaking of "y" [In reply to] Can't Post

While looking up words alphabetically in Tolkien's glossaries, I've only just noticed that y appears in the same range as i. That is, it is placed between h and k (there is no j, nod to Acheron) rather than x and z... that is unless the word begins with y.

A bit confusing, that. Crazy

So for example the word chylde "child" would appear alphabetically before the word chose "to choose, select."

Ethel Duath

Jan 2 2013, 12:12am

Post #28 of 31 (529 views)
Well, if "i" and "y" were interchangeable at some point [In reply to] Can't Post

like Acheron's examples of i/j and u/v that does make sense--except for how it works when it begins a word. Possibly "y" as a consonant was already in use, making it necessary to differentiate it somehow?

I've enjoyed Bill Bryson's "Mother Tongue" book which, as I remember, addresses to some extent how words (not so much letters) have changed in English over the centuries, (although I don't know if his opinions are controversial at all?), and I'm guessing letters changed in much the same way--especially since spelling wasn't all that standardized, I gather, before Samuel Johnson's dictionary?

Tol Eressea

Jan 2 2013, 6:19am

Post #29 of 31 (521 views)
i, y, j, u and v in Dutch and English [In reply to] Can't Post

This follows 2 threads on the threaded mode with acheron, Ethel Duath and Sir Dennis, so I hope it works here in flat mode for everybody.

This conversation reminded me of Dutch, which I don't know much about except that the use of these letters has changed over time as well. I found this website http://rabbel.nl/crashcourse.html, and the section "Orthographic Anarchy" talks about it. It says that until 1100 Latin had dominated written language in the Netherlands, but then a vernacular Dutch used by educated people gradually replaced it through 1350.

The characters of the Latin alphabet served as phonetic examples. The medieval Latin alphabet, however, knew but 23 characters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Y and Z. It has to be said, however, that the K, Y and Z weren't used much in Latin. For this reason we donít see the K, Y and Z characters in early Middle Dutch writing. The same goes for the J and W characters which couldn't be found in the original Latin alphabet. So, the characters J, K, W, Y and Z in early Middle Dutch writing had to be represented by other characters. Differentiation of the U and V Ėwhich couldn'tít be found in the Latin alphabet- also took place in a later period of Middle Dutch spelling. All this resulted in a large freedom of spelling. The same word could be written in several spellings.

As the Latin and French of the English church and aristocracy was also replaced by a vernacular form of English while retaining those influences about that same time (if I recall Bryson's book correctly, it's been a while), this would have been a similar process, right?


Jan 2 2013, 5:36pm

Post #30 of 31 (545 views)
I think it's a spelling difference [In reply to] Can't Post

Indeed spelling was unstandardized at the time, so words could be written many ways.

Here's a quick note I found.

For most of the Middle English period (c. 1100-1500) there was no national standard written language of the kind we have now, with a single set of grammatical forms and a fixed spelling.


Be prepared for spelling-variation even within the same text.


y and i represent the same vowel-sounds (not different ones, as in Old English). Y is often used where we would use i: so lyue 'live'.

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams


Jan 2 2013, 6:42pm

Post #31 of 31 (704 views)
Spelling anarchy could be fun [In reply to] Can't Post

I lyke tu rede books bi Tolckyenne bekawz hie iz a grait awthir. But aye also liik too reed boeks bye uhther grayte awthers.

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