Harvard adds anthropology course on Tolkien languages

One of the Web sites in the Xenite.Org Network (of which SF-Fandom is a part) is Tolkien Studies on the Web. The Tolkien Studies site promotes reputable online resources for people who want to learn more about J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth. One of the sections on the site is a guide to Tolkien college courses, primarily in the United States and Canada.

The site does not add content as much as I would like it to but we were just contacted by Dr. Marc Zender, a Lecturer on Anthropology with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. He advised us that he will be launching a new course this summer that studies Tolkien’s languages. Anthropology and Archaeology S-1641 offers students an opportunity to

study the important role of language in The Lord of the Rings, applying concepts from linguistic anthropology that shed light on Tolkien’s methods and purpose as the ‘translator’ (both linguistic and cultural) of Middle-Earth. Students will be introduced to several of Tolkien’s invented languages (and their real-world inspirations), as well as two of his invented alphabets. Understanding the linguistic foundations of Middle-Earth greatly increases one’s enjoyment of Tolkien’s work, and provides insights into one linguist’s view of the intricate and interdependent relationships of language, culture, and society.

As a Tolkien researcher I can tell you this is both a fascinating and important topic because Tolkien’s use of language is intricate. He reuses many archaic words in new ways, and not all researchers agree on what Tolkien may have intended with any specific expression. If you’re attending Harvard University this summer and want to learn more about how a master linguist can shape literary theory, this may be just the course for you.

College and university educators should check out our Tolkien Studies blog post about the class for more information.


SF-Fandom is a fan-run moderated Web discussion community devoted to science fiction, fantasy, history, and mythology. Founded in 2001, SF-Fandom is part of the Xenite.Org Network of science fiction and fantasy Web sites.

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