J.R.R. Tolkien – Patron Saint of September, 2018

Mae govannen, dear followers, and happy September!
Yesterday, it was exactly 45 years since JRR Tolkien passed away. Thus, we found it appropriate to make him the linguistic patron saint of September!
(Also, the 22nd of September is the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo, so even more appropriate!)

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is probably one of the most well-known authors of modern times, but did you know that he also devoted his career to linguistics and literature? He was a specialist in English philology and ancient languages and was mostly active at Oxford University during his long career in academia, although he spent some time at the University of Leeds (1920-1925). He also contributed significantly to the Oxford English Dictionary, mainly on words beginning with ‘w’. In Leeds, he produced a vocabulary of Middle English, as well as an edition of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, which served as standard texts for decades.
After returning to Oxford in 1925, Tolkien held a lecture on the old Germanic poetic saga Beowulf, ‘Beowulf: The monsters and the critics’ (1936), which he had spent years translating. (He also adapted many of the themes and stories from Beowulf into his Middle-Earth books.) This lecture revolutionised the way this poem was interpreted for good, and remains influential for the field of Old English literature criticism even today. A favourite Tolkien-trivia fact of the HLC: when he gave series of lectures on Beowulf, he would begin the first one by entering the lecture hall loudly reciting Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon!
Tolkien was an expert on many other languages than English, in particular classic ones such as Latin, Old Norse and Icelandic, Gothic, Welsh, and some Finnish (particularly as read in the mythical work ‘Kalevala’). These influences are noticeable in his extensive conlanging (language construction). The Elvish languages in the Middle Earth stories, for example, are largely based on Finnic and Welsh language elements (the ‘well met’ phrase used in the beginning of this post is from one of Tolkien’s Elvish languages, Sindarin). Although he could read and write many modern languages fluently, such as Spanish and French, it always frustrated him that, when he was travelling the countries where these languages are spoken, he was not able to speak them.

We could write about Tolkien forever; the impact of his Middle-Earth series is undeniable and we’ve only scratched the very surface of his conlanging (which I know we could go into in great depth). It is said, however, that Tolkien never appreciated the fame he received from his non-academic work, but wished people would be more familiar with his role in academia.
So, today we thank JRR Tolkien for his great contributions to the field of historical linguistics, philology and literature criticism!
Hantanyel, namárië!

Patron Saint of August, 2018

Hey guys! Today, we here at the HLC want to introduce you to a new little series: Patron Saint of the month!

We will introduce you to some of the great movers and shakers in the linguistic world, starting off with the great Angus McIntosh! You might recognise the name? Yeah, that’s because we here at the HLC have mentioned the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics a couple of times.

Now, you might be wondering, what did this Angus McIntosh do to get a whole centre named after him. And we’ll tell you!

Angus McIntosh was born near Sunderland in 1914. Being interested in the English language, he is said to have been a catalyst to JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as Tolkien started sketching out ideas for the epic stories while convalescing from an ankle injury, which he incurred during a game of tennis with professor McIntosh.

In 1948, professor McIntosh became the first Forbes professor of English language and General linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, where he spent the rest of his academic career dedicated to the advancement of the field. Most famously, McIntosh, together with Michael Samuels and Michael Benskin, devised a method now known as the “Fit Technique”, a revolutionary method used in the study of historical dialects. The impressive result can be seen in A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (LALME), still considered an essential reference-work in the study of English historical linguistics.

McIntosh worked tirelessly on behalf of linguists everywhere, and, in 2013, the Institute of Historical Dialectology was renamed to Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics, a wonderful place for researchers and students of historical linguistics alike. Being associated with the University of Edinburgh, the alma mater of all of us here at the HLC, it is only appropriate that the man whose work helped create this marvellous place is our first Patron Saint of the Month!

If you want to know more, check out our source for this piece, where you can find loads more on the life and work of this Patron Saint, here.