The Black Speech of Mordor is a created language from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”. Its most famous passage is the inscription on the one ring itself:

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

History of the Black Speech:

The first dark lord, Morgoth, created a language for his servants. We can assume that from this language sprang the numerous dialects of orc-speech, of which little remains to us.

“their tongues were endlessly diversified in form, as they were deadly monotonous in purport, fluent only in the expression of abuse, of hatred and fear"

It is said that his servant, Sauron, devised the black speech in the Dark Years as a lingua franca for the peoples of Mordor. It is not known whether Black Speech was his term for the language, or the name given it by other races.

The servants of Sauron: men, orcs and other fell creatures, used various dialects, and it is said that one tribe of orcs would be unable to understand the language of another, and thus were forced to use the tongues of their enemies. Different Orc tribes would thus use the Westron tongue, albeit a foul and bastardized form, in order to communicate. Sauron’s Black Speech was designed to provide a mode of communication between all his subjects. With the overthrow of Sauron at the Battle of Dagorlad, the black speech fell into disuse and was forgotten by all but the ringwraiths, the Nazgûl.

With the rising of Sauron in the third age, the black speech became once again the language of Mordor and the tongue of the captains of the black land. As is seen in The Two Towers, the orcs of Mordor used the black speech: the abusive sentence: “Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai” is the only other phrase given in Black Speech, and is considered to be a debased form of the tongue.

With the downfall of Sauron at the end of the third age it is assumed that, as with his previous defeat, the black speech would have fallen into disuse.

Origins of the black tongue:

The black speech is for the most part a corruption of other languages. As Sauron was a Maia, it can be assumed that he was familiar with Valarin – the language of the Valar. Words from this tongue may be the roots of Black Speech terms, such as the similarity between the Valarin naškâd and the Black Speech nazg: both “ring”.

Other languages of Middle-earth provided terms for the bastardised conglomerate of languages that is the Black Speech. The two major elven languages – Quenya and Sindarin – have terms such as urku and urug for a thing of dread and horror, and the term orch and urko to refer specifically to the orcish race. The Black Speech term uruk has obvious roots here. It should be noted that uruk referred to the trained and disciplined Orcs of Mordor, whereas lesser races were called snaga: slave. Another example is the use of tark for “man of Gondor”, a term derived from the Quenya tarkil.

In untangling the complex web of any of Tolkien’s languages, we must look at his real-life inspiration. It is well known that the elvish tongues are based on Finnish (for Quenya) and Welsh (Sindarin). The historian Alexandre Nemirovsky suggests that the Black Speech is based on the Hittite tongue. For a discussion on the similarities, see here: http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/orkish.htm.

The nature of the Black Speech:

That I have done, and this I have read:

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.

The change in the wizard’s voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the Elves stopped their ears.

The very sound of the Black Speech was hateful. Tolkien designed the tongue to be hideous to the ear:

"It was so full of harsh and hideous sounds and vile words that other mouths found it difficult to compass, and few indeed were willing to make the attempt".

The Black Speech contains harsh consonant clusters that do not appear in the Elvish language. Though it may have its roots in Valarin, Tolkien notes that even the language of the Valar would not have sounded pleasing to the Elvish ear. The vowel tones in Black Speech are guttural, and the consonants harsh.

There are only a few phrases in the Black Speech in the published lexicon of Tolkien’s writing– possibly in part because Tolkien himself considered the language so hideous. In a letter he notes that an admirer had sent him a steel goblet "engraved with the terrible words seen on the Ring. I of course have never drunk from it, but use it for tobacco ash". (I am forced to admit that Tolkien would have greatly disapproved of anyone actually wearing the Ring…I am unworthy…).

The structure of the few phrases we have suggests that the Black Speech does not differentiate between the singular and the plural: the term Nazgûl is used both for one ringwraith or the entire cohort of nine. It uses subject-verb-object word order, in the same way that English does, but seems to have no term to distinguish between the definite and indefinite article.

In any examination of the grammar of Black Speech, we must remember that of the two phrases we have, one is the “close enough” translation of the Black Speech into the Westron, as recorded by Frodo in the Red Book of Westmarch, then translated into English – and the text was originally a poem, giving the possibility of poetic license and atypical forms of grammar used in the rhyme. The other phrase is a bastardised insult, and we have two separate translations provided by J.R.R. Tolkien: Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai! becomes Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth, pig-guts, gah! Or in the earlier version: Uglúk to the cesspool , sha ! the dungfilth ; the great Saruman – fool, skai!

Black Speech today:

For the movies, a variant of the black speech known as the neo-Black Speech was created – a further lexicon of terms not produced by Tolkien himself.


Acknowledgements:
Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings, History of Middle Earth, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Speech
Ardalambion: http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/orkish.htm and http://www.uib.no/people/hnohf/blackspeech.htm

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