Hail and well met friends! We are a bit behind schedule but at last we have another featured website for your enjoyment. Today we bring to you Merin Essi ar Quenteli by member and linguist in training dreamingfifi. As some of you may know, she has a great love of Tolkien and languages, two loves that meet in her study of Sindarin. So sit down, grab a drink and enjoy getting to know more about dreamingfifi and her love of Sindarin!
Viking: Your site on the network is mostly news and updates for your main site. Could you explain the relationship between the two?
Dreamingfifi: This is pretty complex actually… I was approached by Elvishmouse back in May about the possibility of becoming a partner with Middle-earth Network. I liked the idea, but was a little concerned about how the website would be hosted. So, I talked with Tyler and Elvishmouse on Skype for a few hours, and by the end, we’d realized that the way my website is designed and the plans I had for it (the phrasebook database) wouldn’t work with Word Press very well – even possibly destabilizing the Middle-earth Network website and making it vulnerable to hacking! So, a full partnership was simply impossible. Rather than give up on the idea completely, we came to a compromise. I moved over the only sections that made sense to move over: the News and Updates. Then I went off and hunted down all of the updates for my website that I could find. My website has been around in one way or another since 2002, but I could only find records reaching back to 2005. I didn’t have my own computer until then. I probably lost all of the old updates when I transferred over to my first laptop.
Dreamingfifi: Languages are the centerpiece of Arda. Go back and think of all the times in LotR that everything stops so that the characters can discuss some linguistic detail. My second favorite part of LotR is when Bilbo and Frodo are chatting, and Bilbo explains at length what ”Dúnadan” means, and why it is Aragorn’s nickname.
Sindarin is the common Elven language in Middle-earth at the end of the 3rd Age. Upper-class Gondorians speak it and write in it as a second language (Bilbo had taken up teaching other Hobbits Sindarin and the Tengwar, a Middle-earth version of a classical education, it seems), and it’s mostly supplanted the Nandorin languages, so various dialects of Sindarin are spoken by Elves all over Middle-earth.
Sindarin developed as a language in Beleriand. During and after the war with Morgoth, the Sindar were scattered all over Middle-earth. They became leaders amongst the Nandorin elves, who looked up to them, and therefore adopted their speech. I remember that Treebeard talked about that a bit when talking about the names for Lothlórien.
Viking: You also teach Sindarin. How does your program work? And how difficult is it to learn for the average person?
Dreamingfifi: I don’t teach Sindarin; I teach about Sindarin. Huge difference. It’s impossible to study it like studying a real language. It’s just not developed to that extent. There are huge gaps in the language, ones that we don’t know how to begin filling – no matter how hard we lean on Neo-Sindarin constructions.
I run my lessons by semesters – a short semester during the winter and a long semester during the summer. Students turn in their homework every Monday through e-mail, and we correspond (through e-mail and/or Skype) throughout the week until the assignment is 100% correct. That means every student gets one-on-one instruction, and I can adjust my teaching method to suit the needs of each individual student. This also means I can teach a wide variety of skill levels in Linguistics, or even skill levels in English. I’ve had some English as a second language students, which is an interesting challenge.
I think that my class is quite difficult. I’ve had only a handful of people make it to the end, and only 2 people have completed the final exam. My guess is that most people go into it thinking it will be like a regular language class, but as I said at the beginning of my answer to this question, it isn’t. The focus of my class is describing Sindarin. Being able to use Sindarin is secondary.
Viking: Having browsed through all of the updates, it is striking how long you’ve been promoting Sindarin. How did you develop this obvious dedication to and love of the language?
Dreamingfifi: I’ve always been interested in Linguistics. In Highschool, I was terribly bored. My friends were studying French, but my PE (Physical Education) classes got in the way of taking French. So, terribly jealous, and not satisfied by studying the speech of the animals at my folks’ ranch, I started analyzing Tolkien’s languages, and trying to build names and short phrases. I was writing LotR fanfiction by then, and people liked the names I made for my characters because they sounded more authentic. So I made names for them. Then I posted a list of names I made by mining the back of the Silmarillion. Soon, I was getting lots of requests. Seeing a niche that needed filling, I dived in, and made the first version of my website in Freewebs. I was working on my own for the first 3 years, and didn’t know that places like Ardalambion existed. Then I met an older fan, who introduced me to all of the previous scholarship that had been done. I was hopelessly in love with Tolkien languages from then on.
Viking: On your main site, you have a number essays directed towards writers of Tolkien fan fiction. What in particular motivated you to write these?
Dreamingfifi: I started out as a fanfiction writer. The essays are very simple, to-the-point, not getting in depth into the concepts at all. They aren’t very good if you want to study Tolkien’s grand creation – but if you want a quick reminder on what happened during the Council of Elrond or want to know if Elves can shoot fireballs out of their hands, there it is. I’d gotten into critiquing fanfiction by then, and saw the same mistakes being made over and over. I was responding to a need more than a personal interest. My fascination with Tolkien’s work has always been in the languages, not as much in the canon.
Viking: Is there any fan fiction that you would recommend?
Dreamingfifi: Yes… but I’ve been out of it for a while. I’ve been far too busy with being a college student and building and rebuilding large chunks of my website to read fanfiction lately.
I like Fish-out-of-water stories. Let’s see… the ”Don’t Panic!” series by boz4PM is pretty good, ”Thursday” by ”Willow Myst” is good, but I don’t think she ever finished it. ”There Is No Applause” by JennyJoy4 I quite like too. I remember that ”Pyres of Illusion” by Tindomiel was very well written. Ach, there’s too many to list.
Viking: Finally, do you have any ambitions to enter into professional Tolkien scholarship?
Dreamingfifi: Maybe. I’m more interested at this point in getting to do linguistic research. I’m interested in studying what happens when two languages or dialects meet – what and how features transfer between languages, and how language changes over time. I’m also interested in constructed languages, and want to build languages for movies/TV shows/video games. My linguistic interests are a lot broader than just Tolkien’s languages, but they being my first, they’ll always have a special place in my heart.