When I first began to study Elvish I was baffled by how confusing the data was. To create not one, but fourteen languages, and leave only bits and pieces of them behind to be painfully reconstructed: its exhausting. Every linguists dream is an straightforward and massive corpus. Instead, we get fragments. Even Quenya, by far the most complete language he created is sorely lacking in many areas, with conflicting opinions on different words and roots. As Treebeard might have said were here in my place, "A linguist should know better!"
I bring up my Elvish reconstruction woes because it clicked while I was reading Tolkien's letter to Mr. Rang and brought up what was (for me) a startling question. Might Tolkien not want his readers to study his languages?
There are certainly arguments to support this idea. Tolkien was aware that he was not providing enough information to his "linguistically minded readers" and characterized it as "unfair" of him (Letters, p427), but although he understands that there is not enough information, he reprimands both Mr. Rang and Mr. Jeffery on the manner in which they go about their etymological studies in Elvish. When explaining why Aragorn and Arathorn are not related to the word for tree ('orn'), he says that the proper understanding of the word would require "more historical records and linguistic records from Sindarin than... I have found time or need to invent" (Letters p426). His tone in responding to both of these letters is often irritated, as if he wished they wouldn't go poking about in his work.
However, I do not think that is the case. Tolkien certainly was irritated by Rang, and minorly with Jeffery, but it is not because they wanted to expand or understand his languages. Indeed, he stated that he was "honored" and "pleased" that people were interested in the work he'd spent so much of his life on. What he objected to was the manhandling of his languages, the "ignorance and disregard" shown towards the information he provided and the focus on fitting words into places they neither fitted nor belonged in. Tolkien states that these fancies do not elucidate him or his actual "intentions or procedure" (Letters p380). Rang had an idea of what things should be, from his own mind, and then jammed the Elvish into it.
And that's the crux of it. Its not that Tolkien disapproved of etymological study into his languages, but that they were not done in the spirit of his methods. As Christopher Tolkien writes in the introduction to the Etymologies that his father did not create just a language, but a practically *real* language, and "inconvenient" language, complete with idiosyncrasies, irregularities, history, and growth. How could Tolkien create all that and expect us "linguistically minded readers" to just sit back and ignore the gaps he didn't have time to fill?
Tragically, Tolkien is no longer around; I cannot write him letters and he cannot correct my Elvish grammar. But it would be wrong and cruel to go about my studies in the manner of Mr. Rang, even if he cannot scold me in person. As a philologist and a lover of Quenya and Tolkien, its my duty to follow the "clues and information" scattered throughout his books, take evidence only from "within the source" and to enjoy the linguistic archeology ahead.
This is true of all our projects; one cannot simply fill in the blanks logically or at random. We have to add to the Legendarium almost scientifically or archeologically; finding clues that will lead is to more solid ground, in the sure knowledge that if we wrote to Tolkien, he would approve.