Sound Play: So What?

We observed previously that the sound words are fairly steady through the work with two peaks:

2015.07.09 Sound Only Graph

Chapter 9 Barrels Out Of Bond is full of grumbling, snoring, slapstick bumbling about, and sneezing – here are the thirty nine culprits which form that little peak: trotting clang bumped clank clink snored trotting bumped grunted racket thumped grumbling grumbling snoring bumping grumbled grumbled bump ho plump splash bump smacking thudding splash spluttering bumping creak bump dripping drippings sneezes snivel racket sneeze sneeze sneezed creaked grumbled.

Early on I entertained the idea that poetry was an indicator of high register.  Ahem.  One rousing chorus of [01.064] “Chip the glasses and crack the plates!” soon cured me of that, although I maintain that once Thorin declares himself, the register of the poetry rises, even including the reprise of Tra-la-la-lally.  I thought, “How can I measure poetical words within the prose?”  It’s too easy to cherry-pick one’s examples without a strict criterion, so I thought of onomatopoeia – poetry words that could be identified objectively.  Lucky for us, the OED marks words that are onomatopoetic – including echoic and imitative words – so I let those awesome editors make the human-yet-objective identifications for me.

Sound-play words became my measurement of poesy, and I abandoned all pretense of calling these words “high” register immediately, and of marking them either “low” or “high” very shortly after that.

In the end, it’s Chapter 5 which uses sound play words like the instruments of the London Symphony Orchestra.  After all, the chapter is not titled “Riddles in the Well Lit Parlour with Plenty of Visual Images”.

The exciting news for us is that we can measure exactly what Tolkien changed between his two editions of Chapter 5, and we know exactly why he made those changes.  We’ve proven that the new paragraphs were full of uncommon words, we’ve proven that those new paragraphs were full of sound words.  I believe we can conclude positively that the sounds of stagnant water and deep-throated swallowing and Gollum words and a preponderance of initial-S words are Tolkien’s specific instruments for creating the tone of decay and corruption which emanates from The Ring.  I would be excited to carry this idea forward to examine the ring-influenced portions of The Lord of the Rings.

So what?  So we have a tool – a robust and valid tool – for seeking the influence of the Ring, of corruption, of evil in Tolkien’s work at a subtler level.  It’s right there, encoded in the sounds of the words, waiting for us to discover.

footnote: alert Word Fans who hang on every graph will realize that this is a new version of the Sound graph made since the decision to count the names Gollum and Roäc and Carc as sound play words.  The scale goes up to 0.03 now to contain that Chapter 5 peak and even the Chapter 9 peak looks rather puny in comparison. For comparison, the overall uncommon words graph scale reaches to 0.070.  See the posts tagged 1937 to see with smaller windows even stronger influence of sound on Chapter 5.

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