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Letter 193

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 193
RecipientTerence Tiller
DateNovember 2, 1956
Subject(s)Advice on “Accents” for a BBC Radio Program

Letter 193 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Summary

Tiller, adapting and producing the BBC Third Programme version of The Lord of the Rings, had written to Tolkien asking for advice on "accents". Tolkien took what he meant by "accent" to be the non-technical definition of "more or less consistent alterations of vowel and consonants of 'received' English". In the cases Tiller queried Tolkien said that no accent-differentiation was needed or desired. Orcs should not drop aitches; that was not done in the text, deliberately. If by "accent" Tiller meant intonation, articulation, and tempo then he had to use such means to make Orcs sound nasty.

If his "history" were real, said Tolkien, all users of Common Speech would reveal themselves by their accents, differing in place, people, and rank. That could not be done when rendering Common Speech into English and was not necessary. Tolkien had already paid great attention to such linguistic differentiation in his text so he doubted if much more could be imported. As Minas Tirith was the source of Common Speech it was to Common Speech as London is the modern English – none of its inhabitants should have any "accent".

The Rohirrim undoubtedly spoke with a slower tempo and more sonorous articulation than modern English, but Tolkien felt it was safe to have them speak Common Speech just as in Gondor. Probably better and slower than a native since to them it was a learned language, but that was a nicety safely neglected. Théoden was born in Gondor and the Common Speech was the domestic language of the Golden Hall in his father’s day.[1]

References

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The House of Eorl", "The Kings of the Mark"