|Created by||J. R. R. Tolkien|
|Setting and usage||Mordor in Middle-earth|
The Black Speech is one of the fictional languages constructed by J. R. R. Tolkien for his legendarium, where it was spoken in the evil realm of Mordor. In the fiction, Tolkien describes the language as being created by Sauron as a constructed language to be the sole language of all the servants of Mordor, thereby replacing (with little success) the many different varieties of Orkish, Westron, and other languages used by his servants. Tolkien describes the language as having two forms, the ancient "pure" forms used by Sauron himself, the Nazgûl, and the Olog-hai, and the more "debased" form used by the soldiery of Barad-dûr at the end of the Third Age.
Little is known of the Black Speech except the inscription on the One Ring. Scholars note that this is constructed to be plausible linguistically, and to sound rough and harsh. Some similarities with the ancient Hurrian language, which like the Black Speech was agglutinative, have been described.
The Black Speech is one of the more fragmentary languages in The Lord of the Rings. Unlike his extensive work on the Elvish languages, Tolkien did not write songs or poems in the Black Speech, apart from the One Ring inscription. He stated that:
The Black Speech was not intentionally modelled on any style, but was meant to be self consistent, very different from Elvish, yet organized and expressive, as would be expected of a device of Sauron before his complete corruption. It was evidently an agglutinative language. ... I have tried to play fair linguistically, and it is meant to have a meaning not be a mere casual group of nasty noises, though an accurate transcription would even nowadays only be printable in the higher and artistically more advanced form of literature. According to my taste such things are best left to Orcs, ancient and modern.
Tolkien's attitude to the Black Speech may be discerned in one of his letters. From a fan, Tolkien received a goblet with the Ring inscription on it in Black Speech. Because the Black Speech in general is an accursed language, and the Ring inscription in particular is a vile spell, Tolkien never drank out of it, and used it only as an ashtray.
The linguist and Tolkien scholar Carl F. Hostetter wrote that the Dark Lord Sauron created the Black Speech "in a perverse antiparallel of Aulë's creation of Khuzdul for the Dwarves". Sauron attempted to impose Black Speech as the official language of the lands he dominated and all his servants, but in this he was only partially successful. Black Speech influenced the Orcs' vocabulary, but soon mutated into many Orkish dialects, which were not mutually intelligible. By the end of the Third Age, Orcs mostly communicated using a debased Westron. Tolkien described one Orc's utterances as being in "the Common Speech, which he made almost as hideous as his own tongue".
The language was used "only in Mordor", Tolkien stated, and it was "never used willingly by any other people"; for this reason, "even the names of places in Mordor are in English", representing Westron.
Translated into English:
|durb-||constrain, force, dominate|
|-at||verb ending, like a participle|
|-ulûk||verbal ending expressing object 3rd person pl. "them" (ul) (sic) in completive or total form "them-all".|
|gimb-||seek out, discover|
|thrak-||bring by force, hale, drag|
|ishi||in, inside (placed after noun usually in Black Speech).|
The Black Speech was by Tolkien's real intention, and Sauron's fictional one also, a harshly guttural language "with such sounds as sh, gh, zg; indeed," wrote Hostetter, "establishing this effect, as well as the bits of grammar needed to lend the Ring-inscription linguistic verisimilitude, seems to have been about the extent of Tolkien's work on this language."
The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey wrote that the word durbatulûk encompasses a whole phrase, "to rule them all", illustrating Tolkien's view expressed in his 1931 essay "A Secret Vice" that sound and meaning went together; Shippey commented that
certainly, the harsh vowels and jagged consonants and consonant clusters lend themselves to rough and rasping pronunciation, a fitting evocation of the voices of Orcs.
A few Black Speech words are given in Appendix F of The Return of the King. These include Lugbúrz, meaning "Dark Tower" (Barad-dûr), snaga, "slave", and ghâsh, "fire". The name Nazgûl is a combination of "nazg" meaning "ring" and "gûl" meaning "wraith(s)", hence "ringwraith".
In The Peoples of Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien gives the translation: "Uglúk to the cesspool, sha! the dungfilth; the great Saruman-fool, skai!". However, in a note published in the journal Vinyar Tengwar, it is translated: "Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth, pig-guts, gah!"
The word burzum-ishi ('in darkness') is taken from the Ring Verse, and three other abstract nouns are invented with the same ending -um. The word ashi, meaning 'only', is taken from ash ('one') in the Ring Verse. The other words were made up by Salo.
The Swedish linguist Nils-Lennart Johannesson compared the Black Speech with Tolkien's two major Elvish languages, Quenya and Sindarin in terms of phonology and syllable structure. He found that there were more sonorant sounds and more open syllables in Elvish than in either English or Black Speech. He stated that these consistent differences were "sufficiently prominent" to make Elvish sound "pleasant and harmonious", whereas Black Speech sounded "harsh and strident".
M. G. Meile, labelling the Black Speech as "Sauron's Newspeak" by analogy with George Orwell's dystopian language, noted that it was "doubly artificial": where the Elvish languages were his invention, the Black Speech was also supposedly an invention in his invented Middle-earth, since it had been created by the Dark Lord Sauron as an "evil Esperanto" for his slaves. He stated that as the only language of this type in Middle-earth, this made the Black Speech more important than it would appear from the few words Tolkien defined for it. Further, Tolkien wrote that it was made in mockery of Quenya, in other words that it was an evil language shadowing "the linguistic embodiment of good", and indeed, Meile wrote, it had many correspondences with Quenya. For instance, the word for Orcs, the monsters made in mockery of the Elves, is Quenya "urco, orco", which becomes Black Speech "Uruk".
The Russian historian Alexandre Nemirovski claimed a strong similarity to the extinct Hurrian language of northern Mesopotamia, which had recently been partially deciphered at the time of the writing of The Lord of the Rings, E. A. Speiser's Introduction to Hurrian appearing in 1941. Fauskanger corresponded with Nemirovski, and notes that Nemirovski argued that Tolkien designed Black Speech "after some acquaintance with Hurrian-Urartian language(s)." The evidence that Nemirovski presented for this is entirely linguistic, based on similarities of the elements of the agglutinative forms of Black Speech; Hurrian was similarly agglutinative.
|Black Speech||English||Hurrian||Meaning (possible interpretation?)|
|durb-||to rule||turob-||something predestined to occur (an evil destiny?)|
|gimb-||to find||-ki(b)||to take, to gather|
|burz-||dark||wur-, wurikk-||to see, to be blind (in the dark?)|
|krimp-||to tie||ker-imbu-||to make longer fully (if of a rope, to tie tightly?)|
Since I had so little direct linguistic information about Black Speech to go on other than what could be gleaned from the Ring-inscription (object suffixes -ul, -ulûk; verbal infinitive (perhaps) ending -at; abstract ending -um in burzum "darkness", containing the same burz element seen in Lugbúrz "Dark Tower"; postposition -ishi "in") I had to go on à priori notions of what a language such as Black Speech might be like -- I had to get inside the mind of Sauron, and try to figure out what somebody like the Dark Lord of Mordor might put into his language.