Why linguistics is interesting

For me, the fascination of linguistics originates from the fact that I am interested in the inner workings of the mind, and there's an intimate relationship between the way we think and the way we talk - in particular, we frequently think in words of a language. This idea is known as linguistic relativity.

As such, studying how languages work (and how they don't work) might yield insights into how the mind works. To give a simple example - we conceptualize scenes in terms of objects which have properties - and we give more weight to properties which we can utilize. For instance, we see a 'red cup' rather than a 'cuppish red' because we recognize the cup is an object we can detatch from the surface it is standing on, the fact that we can utilize it to drink is more important than color, thus it gets to name the noun and not the adjective.

Doing linguistics on invented languages or inventing languages is particularly interesting as this allows to explore how other, alien minds would conceptualize the same scene differently. For instance, in a world in which evil spirits would kill everyone who does not touch a red object, people presumably would talk of 'cuppish reds'.

I'm equally interested in real languages (I'm a fluent German, English and Finnish speaker, know some Japanese, Latin and ancient Greek and have taught myself the basics of Biblical Hebrew, Welsh and ancient Egyptian) as in invented languages, but I have done most of my actual research work on Tolkien's Elvish where I became (somewhat to my surprise) one of the world's leading experts on the matter. I have no formal linguistic training or degree (however, this didn't seem to bother the linguists I've discussed with), but I am a member of the review panel of the scholarly journals Vinyar Tengwar and Tengwestie and have been frequently interviewed by Tolkien websites. In several instances, my Elvish courses have also been used in academic project work.

Sindarin, Quenya and Telerin: Tolkien's Elvish

The Elvish languages utilized in J.R.R. Tolkien's epic works 'The Lord of the Rings', 'The Hobbit' and 'The Silmarillion' are a creation of quite staggering complexity. They're actually derived according to invented laws of sound change from a common ancestor, the so-called Common Eldarin, they have a complex grammar structure and their own idiomatic expression - and they're simply aesthetically beautiful. While Elvish can not really be spoken in conversation (not even Tolkien could do this) there is enough material known to compose poems or even write short stories. On my Elvish site - Parma Tyelpelassiva, the book of silver leaves - you can find introductory courses, investigations of Elvish grammar particulars as well as some sample Elvish poems and texts. Read more...

Casta and Cahuenga: Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkovan Languages

In her 'Darkover' novels, Marion Zimmer Bradley has done quite an impressive job in world-building and creating an alternative society. Part of the allure of this world is her invention of Darkovan proverbs and short phrases and expressions in the local languages. While the depth of linguistic invention is not nearly close to Tolkien's accomplishments, I nevertheless found this small study of what can be established about casta and cahuenga an interesting and enjoyable exercise. Read more...

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