THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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2 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

31 January 2018

Tolkien’s ‘Secret Vice’

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J.R.R. Tolkien had a ‘secret vice’, which ceased to be secret from the moment he let the cat out of the bag in an essay of the same title, which has been reprinted many times.

Tolkien’s vice was inventing languages. He was introduced to this pleasure at an early age by his cousins Mary and Marjorie Incledon, who taught him the language Animalic which they had created themselves. He quotes a fragment of it in his 1936 essay ‘The Monsters and the Critics’: “Dog nightingale woodpecker forty = You are an ass”.

When the elder of the two girls lost interest, Tolkien, who was already learning Latin and French at school, collaborated with her younger sister to create a second and more sophisticated language called Nevbosh or ‘New Nonsense’. “I was a member of the Nevbosh-speaking world,” Tolkien proudly recalls. He even quotes part of a poem in the language, which begins with the lines: Dar fys ma vel gom co palt ‘hoc / Pys go iskili far maino woc? (There was an old man who said ‘how / can I possibly carry my cow?’)

During this time Tolkien also learnt Esperanto. Esperanto was still a new language, only five years older than Tolkien himself. (The first book of Esperanto  was published in 1887, while Tolkien was born in 1892.) When he was 17 years old he used Esperanto in a manuscript with the title The Book of the Foxrook, consisting of 16 pages in a a secret code using rune-like phonetic symbols and ideograms. The name of the code was Privata Kodo Skaŭta – ‘Private Scout Code’ (The correct word for ‘scout’ in modern Esperanto is skolta.)

A teenager with a passion for learning and creating languages could hardly fail to discover Esperanto, although the criteria which Tolkien followed for his own constructed languages were quite different from those which inspired Esperanto’s creator Zamenhof. The grammar of Esperanto aims to be as simple as possible, in contrast to the complex grammars of Tolkien’s languages. Tolkien was aiming to create word forms which would be aesthetically pleasing, and harmonize with their meanings. In accordance with these principles he invented at least 15 languages in the course of his lifetime. He also gave them different dialects and background histories showing how they had evolved over time,  and imagined the peoples who spoke them His grammars were very elaborate, making use of his linguistic knowledge of Finnish, Welsh, Ancient Greek and other languages. It might be difficult to learn to speak his languages fluently – but ease of learning was never his primary object in creating them.

Tolkien montage
A selection of books about Tolkien’s invented languages from the British Library’s collections

In the first period up to 1930 he worked on Primitive Quendian, from which the entire family of Elvish languages evolved. He followed this up with Common Eldarin, Quenya and Goldorin, which later became Noldorin. To these languages he later added Telerin, Ilkorin, Doriathrin and Avarin.

In the final stage, Noldorin evolved into Sindarin, which along with Quenya is one of his best known languages. Sindarin makes use of the same phonological system as Welsh, which was one of Tolkien’s favourite languages. The grammar is also inspired by Welsh, and the result is notably complex. For example some nouns form the plural with an ending (usually -in), e.g. Drû, pl. Drúin, ‘wild men’. Others do so through vowel change, e.g. golodh and gelydh, ‘lore master, sage.. Still others use some combination of the two, and a few do not change in the plural: Belair, ‘Beleriandic-Elf/Elves’ is singular and plural.

Tolkien Quenya
An example of Tolkien’s Quenya script and language (Image by TigerTjäder from Wikimedia Commons)

Compare this with Esperanto, which has only one plural ending for nouns, with no exceptions. Of course, the aim of Esperanto is that it should be easy to learn for speakers of all languages.

In spite of this, Tolkien recognized the poetic qualities of Esperanto, stating in ‘A Secret Vice’: “Also I particularly like Esperanto, not least because it is the creation ultimately of one man, not a philologist, and is therefore something like a ‘human language bereft of the inconveniences due to too many successive cooks[...];” .

At the phonological level, too, Tolkien’s languages stand in complete contrast to the simplicity of Esperanto. Sindarin is based on Welsh, but with elements of Old English and Old Icelandic, resulting in a rich abundance of vowels and consonants. Esperanto’s phonological system on the other hand is closer to that of Modern Hebrew, which consists of a simplified version of the phonology of European languages.

Tolkien’s connection with the British Esperanto movement continued in later years. In 1930 the World Esperanto Congress was held in Oxford, and the following year Tolkien was appointed to the Board of Honorary Advisers of the British Esperanto Association’s Education Committee.

TolkienBritishEsperantist1932

Letter from Tolkien to the Secretary of the Committee of the British Esperanto Association, printed in The British Esperantist,  2 May 1932.  PP.4939.ka.

In his letter of acceptance, Tolkien wrote that Esperanto was “in the position of an orthodox church facing not only unbelievers but schismatics and heretics.” The letter concludes with the well-known sentence: “My advice to all who have the time or inclination to concern themselves with the international language movement would be: ‘Back Esperanto loyally.’”

In 1933 he was one of the patrons of the British Esperanto Congress in Oxford, and signed a declaration about the educational value of Esperanto in schools.

TolkienLaMastroJ.R.R.Tolkien, La mastro de l'Ringoj (Kaliningrado, 2007). YF.2008.a.11686 

Two of Tolkien’s most popular works have been translated into Esperanto. The Lord of the Rings was translated by the major Esperanto writer and poet William Auld (1924-2006) as La mastro de l’ ringoj (first published 1995-1997). The Hobbit was first published in Esperanto in 2000 as La hobito: aŭ tien kaj reen, translated by Christopher Gledhill and William Auld.

TolkienLaHobito La Hobito: aŭ tien kaj reen (Ekaterinburg,2000). YF.2008.a.10159

Tolkien’s writings show that for him one of the most important qualities of invented languages was beauty of form. Sindarin achieves that ideal, possessing both educational and aesthetic value. Remembering his support for Esperanto, Esperanto speakers owe it to him to declare, “Ĝuu Sindarin plene” - Enjoy Sindarin to the full.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, and former President of the World Esperanto Association.

References/Further reading

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins (London, 2016) YC.2017.a.9899.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics, and other essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien (London, 1983) X.950/22397.

01 December 2016

Ukrainians Mark 70 Years of AUGB

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To mark the 70th anniversary of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB), an academic conference was held earlier this month at the Association’s Central Office in London. Academics from both the UK and Ukraine considered various historical aspects ranging from prominent personalities to émigré publications to highlighting a rich array of data and source archival documents.

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Speakers at the conference (Photo by Ihor Polataiko, reproduced by kind permission of the AUGB)

The origins of the AUGB go back to 1945 when Ukrainians serving in the Polish Armed Forces under British command came up with the idea of creating an official body to cater for their ethnic and spiritual needs. With the help of the Ukrainian Canadian Servicemen’s Association, based in London’s Sussex Gardens, they coordinated activities from late August 1945 up to the AUGB’s inaugural General Meeting in Edinburgh in January 1946. A Central Office was purchased in March 1947 which provided a base from which to help incoming Ukrainians settle in Britain.

In early 1949 an Invalids Fund was also established after the British Government decided (December 1948) to transport some 300 sick and injured Ukrainian former prisoners of war to Germany (and from there back to the USSR to face almost certain death). The decision was ultimately reversed in the face of Ukrainians threatening all-out strike action in protest, though the London Times of 30 December 1948 suggested that it was the hunger strike of the individuals concerned, coupled with the ‘repugnant’ nature of the government’s decision, that ‘naturally’ aroused objections among ‘ordinary Englishmen’. During that year alone, AUGB members donated a shilling a week to raise over £17,000 - the equivalent of well over £1.3 million today. This enabled the purchase of a property in Chiddingfold, Surrey, to provide care for those who were unable/unfit to work, or who simply required respite care. The property also accommodated summer youth camps until the 1960s and subsequently became a residential care home until its closure in 2012.

Over 300 Branches of the Association were created in the late 1940s but this number became substantially reduced by the mid-1950s as Ukrainians settled in closer proximity to each other in major towns and cities. Within these clusters they formed amateur cultural groups – choirs, dance ensembles, orchestras, theatre groups  - and also collected funds to purchase community centres.

UkrainianSongsBlogKurliak

 From the collection of 40 postcards Ukrains’ka Pisnia (Ukrainian Song; London, 1969)

As AUGB activities expanded, the AUGB Library (1947), the Association of Ukrainian Women (1948) and the Association of Ukrainian Teachers and Educators (1955) were established. The last coordinated community nurseries and language schools for a growing second generation. To facilitate consistency the AUGB published practical guidelines (in 1955) on methods of education, notably in four volumes of Materiialy Vykhovannia i Navchannia (Educational and Teaching Materials) dedicated to different aspects of Sunday school teaching.

I am often asked what drove that first generation of Ukrainians to be so generous with their time and the little money that they earned. The answer lies among the many resolutions adopted during the Association’s Annual General Meetings, illustrated by this example from 1948: “The AUGB, as a non-party generally-national organisation, calls on all Ukrainians to work together, irrespective of faith and political persuasion, to attain our ultimate goal – a Free, Independent and Sovereign State of the Ukrainian Nation”.

This love of Ukraine made the preservation of language, culture, and devotion to the homeland an important goal. Amongst other things it inspired regular publications of: a newspaper from November 1945 to the present, initially Nash Klych (‘Our call’) and then from spring 1947 Ukrains'ka Dumka (‘The Ukrainian Thought’; LOU.1165 [1994]); an annual calendar booklet, Kalendarets' ukraintsia u Velykii Brytanii (1947-2004; P.P.2458.lo.); a satirical magazine, Osa (‘Wasp’) (1947-1948); an English-language quarterly The Ukrainian Review (1954-2000; P.P.4842.dns.) and a school children’s magazine, Iuni Druzi (‘Young Friends’; 1955-1984; P.P.5992.gan.).

OSABLOGKURLIAKBi-weekly Osa (Wasp),  issue 1/46 1947

The latter was supplemented by the publication of children’s books, such as the alphabet and early reading text-book Bukvar (1958), or popular national tales, such as ‘Grandad’s Turnip’ (1954-55), or indeed the delightful narrative poems of the exceptional Leonid Poltava – Zhuchok-Shcherbachok (‘The little beetle Shcherbachok’; W.P.9391/3.), Slon po Afrytsi khodyv (‘The elephant walked through Africa’; 1955; W.P.9391/2) and others.

PoltavaBooksBlogBooks by Leonid Poltava from the British Library’s Collections

The books were published predominantly in Ukrainian but there were exceptions. Perhaps of particular note was the publication of Song out of Darkness, a collection of poems by the national poet, Taras Shevchenko translated by Vera Rich  to mark the centenary of the poet’s death, which we are now working on to update and republish.

SongOutOfDArknessTitlepage Frontispiece and title-page of Song out of Darkness (London, 1961)11303.bb.3.

The AUGB’s Library and Archive was also named after the Ukrainian bard. Today it works closely with the British Library and its collection of over 35,000 books is open to all students, academics and casual visitors interested in studying Ukrainian diaspora publications.

HOLODOMORCOVERBLOGCover of the catalogue Holodomor 1932-33 movoiu dokumentiv (London, 2003; YF.2012.a.16782) published for the exhibition commemorating 70 years of the Great Famine in Ukraine

As Ukrainians celebrate the 25th anniversary of the independence referendum vote of 1 December 1991 and simultaneously focus on events in Ukraine over the past three years (notably the annexation of the Crimea and the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine), we continue to face fresh challenges, adapt and seek new ways of developing, communicating and working with our members and the wider community. Our newspaper, website and social media aim to bring news and events to wider audiences and promote a greater understanding, not only of our heritage, but the contribution that we can make to academic research and cultural diversity.

Fedir Kurlak, AUGB CEO