Nov 18, 2010

The Philosophical Etymology of HOBBIT

An Overview:
On one hand it is said that many authors have foolishly and regrettably argued over the etymology of the word "HOBBIT" as originating from the variation of the two words, rabbits and hobby.

Now on the other hand there is one other man (Stan McDaniel) who argues in a serious way the case of JRR Tolkien as a very intense author who was a genius in philology (the study of language forms, relationships and transformations).

In recent decades, a number of scholars have begun to delve more seriously into the relationships between the sounds of words and the meanings of words. "Sound symbolism" or relations among sounds and meanings of certain clusters of words is something that suggests a common "symbol" or image about which the nomenclature revolves.

Anthropologist Dell H. Hymes, for example, in an article "Phonological Aspects of Style: Some English Sonnets," states

"Insistence on the arbitrary nature of the connection between sound and meaning simply cuts off inquiry into a very real aspect of speech and language."

Tolkien was familiar with how meanings and their related sounds flow in and out of one another according to subtle forces by which languages have shaped our perception of the world. It is out of these depths of understanding that the delight and wonder of his stories have evolved. As he says in one place, "Deep roots are not reached by the frost." Were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings not so deeply rooted, they would not last as they have and as they will as long as there are books to read, eyes to read them, and hearts to beat to their songs.


The Unconscious Origin of Hobbit:
Tolkien once said of his stories that they grow "like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind," adding that his own personal "compost-heap" was made "largely of linguistic matter." The word hobbit came out of that inner ferment in rare moments of spontaneous intuition.

He was busy grading examination papers when the word popped into his mind, not alone but as part of a whole sentence:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Tolkien trusted his philological intuition. When a name occurred to him in this manner, he usually gave it a second look. And this case was unusual in that an entire sentence was involved, not just a single name. So, even though he had formed no idea of a story or of any of its characters, he said of the occasion, "Eventually I thought I'd better find out what hobbits were like." He would subject such names to a "severe philological scrutiny."

Tolkien's philological scrutiny of In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit turned out to be uncommonly productive. The way in which he eventually based a complex, rich, yet accessible story upon an etymological ground may be something unique in literature. Yet there are no published remarks by Tolkien about the research he must have undertaken and its relation to the story of the hobbit.


Fictional Hobbit History:
Fictionally, Tolkien characterizes himself not as author, but as translator of ancient manuscripts dating back to the Elder Days. In those manuscripts (the story goes) the word used by hobbits to refer to themselves is not hobbit at all, but kuduk, an odd-sounding expression supposed to derive from a yet older term originating in the land of Rohan and used to apply to hobbit-kind: kud-dukan, meaning "hole dweller."

Tolkien needed "English" words to translate kud-dukan and kuduk. Wishing to preserve the sense that kuduk is a "worn-down" form of kud-dukan, Tolkien first made up an "Old English" sounding word, holbytla (for hole-builder), as his "translation" of kud-dukan. Then he invented hobbit to represent a "worn-down" or modern English version of holbytla

But this is the fictional account. In order to understand just how hobbit is related to kuduk, and how Tolkien's story about hobbits is connected to philology, it is necessary to refer to a property of language which Stan McDaniel calls the eidophonetic property, or the relation between idea and sound. - Source

Read more about Eidophonetic properties and its connection to the philosophical etymology of HOBBIT, here


Wise Words for the Day: Nov 18, 2010.
"Tolkien's hobbit-stories may constitute a pivotal point in the history of science fiction and fantasy, by establishing for them more firmly than ever a base in the symbol-forming activity of human consciousness. If so, Tolkien has indeed written super science fiction. And we are only beginning to discover how super it really is. "
Stan McDaniel, from "Hobbit, The Philosophical and Literary Result."


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