This article situates Tolkien’s “A Secret Vice” (and its accompanying notes and papers) within the cultural and intellectual milieu of the early 20th century. It claims that at the heart of Tolkien’s exploration in this material is the question of language as communication vs. language as art. It argues that Tolkien’s language invention navigates the (perceived) binary between a utilitarian aim for language invention (contemporary International Auxiliary Languages) vs. an aesthetic linguistic pursuit (contemporary Modernist and other avant-garde linguistic experimentation), by choosing a third (middle) way. It examines Tolkien's linguistic invention alongside the work of Sapir, Jespersen, Joyce, Stein, and the Dada and zaum poets.



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