Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Extended Tolken's Languages Article.

As some of you know, I don't mind absurdly long comments, but this comment on the previous article needs a post to itself, I think.

One very interesting way in which Tolkien might make his world and his language “fit” goes like this:
The structure of a language (and I suppose, the very sounds of its words) shapes (and presumably, can be shaped) [by] the way its speakers think. In “The Philosophy of Tolkien” philosopher Peter Kreeft goes into the underlying (and sometimes explicitly stated) themes beneath the stories. Could the language itself, and the culture producing it and produced by it, have been shaped by Tolken to make:

1. These ideas easy to express in language
2. A culture where such a language would have been formed
3. A culture formed by such a language

By the way, if you are interested in exploring this further (I know I am!), here are the themes that Kreeft finds in Tolkien, expressed as answers, not, as Kreeft does it, as questions.

There are more real things than we can imagine.
There is a supernatural world.
The essences of things exist outside the things themselves.
There is a God.
He is interested in the world.
We have free will, even if things are in some sense foreknown or predetermined.
Relation to God through religion is possible.
Angels are real.
We have guardian angels.
Creatures of a nature between humans and angels are possible.
Nature is beautiful.
Things have personalities.
Some form of magic is real.
Death is not completely evil.
We lose our humanness by being evil.
Heaven is our deepest desire.
Knowledge is not always good.
Intuition is a form of knowledge.
Faith is wisdom.
Real fantasy is allied to, not opposed to, truth.
History is a story.
Tradition is useful, not hinder-ful.
History can be predicted, but only to an extent.
Evolution (primarily cultural evolution) can progress from better to worse.
Human life is neither completely dismal nor completely happy.
Some truly beautiful things involve inequality.
Beauty is always good, though it can cover evil.
Language is connected to reality; it conveys meaning and is more than merely arbitrary symbols.
Music is close to being a universal language.
Small is beautiful.
War can be noble.
Evil is a real nonentity.
Evil is powerful, but less so than goodness.
Evil can happen only by our cooperation.
Evil makes us forget that weakness and renunciation are strengths and goods.
Morality depends primarily on principles.
We must be heroes.
We need hope of some kind.
Authority and obedience are good.
Promises are meant to be kept.
Friendship and humility and generosity and mercy and charity are potent goods.

And here’s some possible ways in which a language might effect these ideas’ presence in a culture. I’m sure there are a lot more. You could invert them for ways the ideas effect the language.

1. By the presence/absence of words useful/necessary for expressing a concept.
2. By an abundance of synonyms pertaining to one of these concepts.
3. By a grammatical structure that makes the construction of proofs of the ideas or some of the ideas difficult/easy.
4. By making some words pertaining to the concepts pleasant/unpleasant to the ear.
think deserves a post to itself.

15 comments:

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

What do you mean by "things have
personalities"? Does a rock have
a personality? :-)

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

I don't remeber what Kreeft (not I) meant, but I know the answer is "yes." Read Kreeft's book.

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

I don't have it. I want to know
what kind of personalities rocks
have.

Carmen said...

That's very interesting! I've never read that book either, I'll have to check it out sometime.

Well, I don't think that rocks have personalities, but I think we "give" things personalities by how we perceive them with our five senses. Like black obsidian rock has a different "persona" to us than yellow sandstone. (If that make any sense...)

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

I like the picture!!! Although I
like the one with the lake better.

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

Sorry to be inaccurate, but circumstances of the post we are commenting upon forced me to reduce all the ideas listed from "The Philosophy of Tolkien" to yes or no answers Here's what is really meant by the phrase "Things have Personalities:"

The phrase means that there is a lot "more" (and some of this 'more' is akin to the spiritual) in the things of the material world than can be "explained;" for example, water is something besides a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, Cahadras is more than a pile of rocks, trees in The Old Forest are something like thinking (a.k.a. spiritual) plants. Now you really need to read the book because most of the questions have answers more like this one than a simple yes or no.

Let's debate this rather than the vague statement "Things have Personalities."

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

Now why doesn't it make it neat
when I type it in? It appears to
be fine when I copy and paste.

Carmen said...

Okay thanks for clarifying. So instead of "things have personalities" you mean "things have purpose".

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

What makes you think that? The question in Kreeft's book is "Do things have Personalities?" and the answer is a much longer version of what I said. Whether or not things have purpose is included under the questions about God, I think.

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

Wait a minute, are you saying that
things in LOTR have personalites?
or things in real life?

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

"Creatures of a nature between humans and angels are possible."
Expain please.

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

Sorry to be so slow in answering.

The Philosophy of Tolkien tries to show how the things having personalities in LOTR is something we can apply to the way we view our world.

"Creatures of a nature between humans and angels are possible." This would be an intelligent creature with a body that had a nature that was closer to the nature of God than human nature. Ways in which this could be would be having greater natural powers, existing in more ways, possessing more potential perfections, etc. (If it had no body, it would be an angel, unless it was irrational, in which case it would probably be below human)

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

Okay, I see the definition. What I
fail to grasp is the examples of
this in real life.

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

For that, you must read the book.

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

Rats! I don't have the book!!!!