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Interview with Edouard Kloczko

Edouard Kloczko writes books, teaches and lectures. Born in in 1963 in Lviv. He spent his childhood in Riga and Warsaw. Professor of Comparative Literature (Paris) and Linguistics (Aix-en-Provence), he is one of the very few linguists with a deep interest in the Constructed Tongues of J.R.R Tolkien. In the mid 1980’s he founded the first French Tolkien club (La Faculté des études elfique).


When did you first become interested in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien?

It all begun in 1982, when I read for the first time “Unfinished Tales”. I was in New York then and had only read the “Lord of the Rings” in French. So at the same time I discovered not only a new book by J.R.R. Tolkien (which I did not expect at all) but also the extraordinary appendixes of the “Lord of the Rings”, which haven’t been translated into French. After reading “Unfinished Tales”, I decided to study his constructed languages, because I was struck by what Tolkien wrote in his Introduction: “I had little hope that other people would be interested in this work, especially since it was primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of ‘history’ for Elvish tongues.” If I wanted to understand what it was all about, I had to be able to follow Tolkien’s steps into his constructed languages (or ConLangs).

What do you think makes Tolkien’s works special?

That is a big question! A book would be necessary to answer it properly. It boils down to each and every one finds something special in it, I guess. It is a very complex Secondary World. Tolkien’s constructed languages are certainly what make it so special to me. Others like the poems and Tolkien unique prose style, others will love the carefully written history of Gondor and Rohan. There is plenty for everyone, whatever you like Literature, Linguistics, Old Maps, Philosophy or Theology.

Did you first read Tolkien in French or English, and what are the differences with the translation?

I first read Tolkien in French, “Bilbo le Hobbit”, then “Le seigneur des anneaux” in 1978 it was during my first trip to London, quite a unique experience. I finished the third volume about 5 o’clock in the morning, exhausted. But the French translation is awful: sentences are missing, and most of the time it is just bad French. I won’t recommend it to anyone, unless he or she is seeking the worst translation ever.

You are well known as a linguist — can you give us an overview of your researches?

I started to study Tolkien ConLangs around 1983. In France back in the mid 1980’s no one was interested in Fantasy or Tolkien, who was just another “fancy English” writer for kids. At that time only a few sentences and about 1500 words were available (Elvish, Dwarvish, and Adûnaic put together). My understanding of Tolkien’s ConLangs has made a lot of progress since then, thanks to the publication of dictionaries and grammars written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Today some 30 000 words, several grammars of Elvish, and one of Adunaic have been published. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that the study of the ConLangs is not part of “official” Linguistics. There is almost no interest at all in ConLang in the professional field of Linguistics. Scholarly journals devoted to the ConLang do not exist. Linguistics is a very complicated field. Most people think Tolkien was a Linguist, which is not the case. Tolkien was a Philologist and a Medievalist.

The use of the word “elf” by hundreds of authors of Fantasy and games has contributed to blur the image of “Tolkienian Elves”. It gives the impression to some that there is one single “Elven Race” speaking some kind of fairy language that is broadcast on the Net for free, which is not the case of course. Last but not least, journalists, and sometimes even critics, write much absurdities about the Elven languages and the Elvish letters, the Tengwar. Clearly the subject of Tolkien’s ConLang is complex and demands some thought.

I have been working on a new expanded dictionary of the Elvish languages. A good dictionary is paramount if you want to study a language. And none is available. My first edition was published back in 1995. This new volume should be published next year in France. It will be just under 1000 pages long and deal with Quenya and Telerin. It will present my analyses of Tolkien's Elvish and his Logopoeia.

Over the years I published several books about this Secondary World; some are for adults like the two about Tolkien’s ConLangs (“Le Dictionnaire des langues elfiques”, “Le Dictionnaire des langues des Hobbits, des Nains, des Orques”), a new one for children will be published this fall in French and Portuguese “Le Monde Magique de Tolkien” with drawings by a very talented French illustrator Krystal Camprubi. I’m not good at making short papers, I prefer writing long books or do lectures to students. I have presented my research in seminars and given talk about Elvish in France, and have been invited to many countries and Universities, in Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, and Finland. I edited the Breton translation of the Hobbit, “An Hobbit”. Maybe one day I will be invited to that special place where people speak almost like Elves, Cymry, to give a lecture about the Elvish tongues.

How do you think Tolkien’s invented languages compare to real world languages (RWL)?

The first and most important difference is that many people (or cooks as Tolkien put it) craft the RWL. The RWL are the product of an entire civilization. Tolkien invented his languages all by himself, in his study. He never tried to promote or teach them, either to his friends, children, or students and he was the one and only speaker of Quenya, and Sindarin.

Do you think one day the Elvish tongues could become some sort of living speech, a Human tongue for communication?

I’m not Ben-Yehouda, but we both come from the Baltic countries and share a few common ancestors. So yes, I hope that in the near future, say circa 2040, when all what Tolkien has written about Elvish will be published; two of his tongues, Quenya and Sindarin, will be used for everyday communication by people from all other the globe. But we are far from reaching that state right now, something many people are not aware of.

The dissemination of grammars anddictionaries of “Broken Elvish” on the Net and in books has created a cohort of hungry fans. But the “Elvish grammars” on the Net and in books are not correct, just a product of their imagination. Each and every language built by Tolkien has grammatical rules you must follow. And you need time to study them. Today it is quite impossible to form grammatically correct new sentences in Sindarin, because we know almost nothing about its grammatical rules. This is why I have focused my studies on Quenya, Noldorin, Eldarissa and Goldogrin instead. Sindarin has to wait up to the time when Tolkien’s grammars of Sindarin are published.

Are there any unpublished works of Tolkien's that you would particularly like to see published?

I would love to be able to read the missing parts from the marvelous “Book of Lost Tales” cut by C. Tolkien, and also in full “The Lay of the Fall of Gondolin”. Professor Tolkien kept several personal diaries in English using his invented alphabets. They must be very interesting to read, indeed. As a linguist I would love to read the many missing pages from “The Etymologies”, still awaiting publication. And what about his unfinished translation into modern English of “Beowulf”? I guess we all would love to read it one day. “The Lives of the Númenoreans and a Description of Numenor” which has not been published in full but only in parts in “Unfinished Tales”. It deserves a much fuller and better editing. Many of his early poems deserve to be published, too, like “The New Lemminkäinen”. Tolkien wrote an Arthurian romance. Would not it be nice to read the adventures of King Arthur as seen by Professor Tolkien even if they are unfinished? And I could continue for a long, long list: a grammar of Quenya entitled: “Outline of Phonetic Developpement which deals briefly with changes of the Eldarin sounds that produced the Quenya language”; the grammar and vocabulary of Taliska (a ConLang) ; the grammar of Sôval Phârë or Common Tongue ; the grammar and vocabulary of Magol a ConLang based on Hungarian which Tolkien thought once to make the tongue of his Orks ; his “Sellic Spell” ; his many uknown and unpublished drawings, like the one of the flower Númellótë ; that dozen unpublished maps of Middle-earth I saw once during an exhibit in Oxford ; the talk he gave to the Dante Society entitled “A Neck-verse” ; his Oxford lectures about the “Gothic heroes”, etc., etc., etc.

I think every bits and pieces, however minor, written by J.R.R. Tolkien deserve to be published. Tolkien developed many interesting ideas on many subjects. ut most important, serious scholars arein great need of a good catalogue of Tolkien’s manuscripts held in Marquette, Oxford and elsewhere, with a complete list of all known letters; some very important letters are held in private hands.

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