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Earthdate 2004-01-05

“Horsey” Vikings II — Did the Rohirrim speak Old English?  No

Among Bainbridge's requirements, the rest we'll consider in a moment, Stephen declares that the Rohirrim spoke Old English (!), pointing to a note by Tolkien which, Stephen asserts, verifies this point of view.  Now, we'll look at Tolkien's note shortly, but all one really has to do is glance at a map of Middle Earth to discern that it's nowhere near to possibly representing Britain, or Germany, or Europe, or anywhere else on (non-Middle) Earth; and thus nowhere where true speakers of Old English have ever lived in any numbers (that is, Britain or — stretching things a bit — the lower Elbe valley/Jutland peninsula region of Germany).  Ergo, the people of Middle Earth cannot “really” (love this sort of thing when talking about fiction!) have spoken Old English.

The notes that Bainbridge points to in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books further contradict the point he's trying to make.  Tolkien makes it quite clear in these notes that in his “translation,” as he puts it, he's mapping the archaic variants of his so-called “Westron Common Speech” such as the Rohirrim, men of Gondor, and some others in Middle Earth spoke, into what he calls “ancient English.”  As Tolken says: 1

In presenting the matter of the Red Book, as a history for people of today to read, the whole of the linguistic setting has been translated as far as possible into terms of our own times.  Only the languages alien to the Commmon Speech have been left in their original form; but these appear mainly in the names of persons and places.

The Common Speech, as the language of the Hobbits and their narratives, has inevitably been turned into modern English.  […]  The language of Rohan I have accordingly made to resemble ancient English, since it was related both (more distantly) to the Common Speech, and (very closely) to the former tongue of the northern Hobbits, and was in comparison with the Westron archaic.

From this and context of intervening pages, it's clear that the “actual” (!) Rohirrim and other languages of Middle Earth were nothing like Old English or any other real or historic Earth language except by analogy. 

It also must be propounded that the language a candidate people from history once spoke is nearly wholly orthogonal to the important issues of whether and how that folk resembles the Rohirrim.  Accordingly, language will not be regarded as a determining factor.



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