Dialects

It's possible to find a plenty of different dictionaries of fan's additions to Arda languages. But only few of them develop Tolkien's ideas. Some of the dictionaries are too small, made just for fun or simply have nothing common with Black Speech linguistics. And some good vocabularies are dead for a long time...

“Ring Verse” Analyzis

J.R.R. Tolkien left only few Black Speech words, but we shall analyze them to develop the language according to his ideas. Obviously The Ring Verse is too short and repetitious to be the source for statistical accounting, but unfortunately it's the only example of Classical Black Speech. Anyway Nils-Lennart Johanneson made a phonetical analyzis of Black Speech in comparsion with Quenya (his work among the others can be found in this book). He showed why Tolkien considered Black Speech “harsh” and elvish languages “fair”. The Ring Verse contains less vowels and more non-sonorant sounds including stops (p, b, t, k, g) and fricatives (f, v, s, z, etc.). The syllabes are mostly closed as opposed to Quenya where the majority of syllabes is opened. Some paragraphs below I'll put his results (for Black Speech only). Grammatical overview of Ring Inscription was published “Parma Eldalamberon” journal (issue 17), my remarks to it can be found on forum.

Neo-Black Speech dialects overview

All attempts on reconstruction of Black Speech despite their quality should be called Neo-Black Speech or just Orkish. But very often clarifying prefix “Neo-” is omitted by their creators. These pages also use it rarely just for simplification (and this prefix doesn't look good with two words long term “Black Speech” in oppose to single word as “Neo-Quenya”).

“The Lord Of The Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies and “Middle-Earth: Shadow of War” computer game use the version of Black Speech by linguist David Salo (abbreviated in dictionaries as DS). Other widely used Neo Black Speech dialects are Shadowlandian (LOS), Svartiska (SV), MERP (Middle-Earth Roleplay) and Horngoth. Let's briefly review them and compare their phonology with Ring Verse.

MERP (Middle-Earth Role Play) – was the table roleplay game published by Iron Crown Enterprises since 1982. The first organized Orcish wordlist (~ 150) was published in supplement book “Lords of Middle-Earth Volume III – Hobbits, Dwarves, Ents, Orcs & Trolls” (ICE8004, 1989), which makes it the oldest distinct Neo Black Speech dialect (for my knowledge). The Second Edition added more than 1000 new words with “Angmar” module (ICE2018, 1995), most of which were lazily borrowed from Albanian language. This fact wasn't known until recently. MERP had a big influence on later dialects, so these Albanian borrowings invaded other dialects too without their authors' awareness, unfortunately. But many citations in other dialects came through The Orcish Nations site, which had a lot of typos and had omitted all diacritic signs. MERP used additions to other languages of Arda as well (e.g. many modules took place in Harad).

Svartiska Orkish is the dialect of Swedish roleplayers. It was created by Mikael “Adragoor” Bynke and David “Meldon” Burström in mid 1990's. Its name is translated from Swedish as “blackish”. Actually it doesn't sound very “blackish” because of using letters absent in Tolkien's examples and higher rate of open syllabes. The author himself states that Svartiska “has very little to do with the language invented by J.R.R. Tolkien”. But Swedish community is the most active it seems. So this dialect has very large vocabulary, and spread beyond Sweden to other countries. It has many borrowings from MERP. There are some subdialects exist which differ in grammar. Attention! Svartiska dictionary was originally BS-Swedish and was translated into English later, therefore it has some typos and inaccurate translations. But the original seems to be vanished from the web.

LOS (Shadowlandian, Uzg Burgûlu-ob) was the closest to Tolkien's works and the most promising dialect in my opinion. It has taken its name from site The Land Of Shadow, which actively used it. This dialect was created by Scatha in early 2000s. It has the simple set of language's rules and the most restricted phonological inventory. It is based on idea of adopting and perverting words from languages of other Middle-Earth races by orcs. So Scatha adopted some words from Quenya without remorse, sometimes these words seems very different from original (for non-linguist person), sometimes it was just dropped ending. Although orcs hate the elves above all, their vocabulary was the largest amongst the nations of Middle-Earth. Moreover, Quenya was significantly better developed by Tolkien than other languages. Later this dialect started to mixing with Svartiska and MERP.

Horngoth is translated from Black Speech as “cowboy”, that was a nick of its creator. It started around the same time as Shadowlandian and these two dialects heavily influence each other. Many unique words of it are closer to original BS than LOS, sometimes sounding even more harsh than Tolkien's examples. Another distinctive feature in Horngoth is the vowel reduction in verb forming (i.e. ghashan – ghashn). But a lot of words are taken from other dialects because of their widespread use. So it sounds like LOS but sometimes uses Svartiska variants. Unfortunately it isn't widespread.

Zhâburi – the most serious approach on Black Speech in many years, however under construction yet (started around 2011). Using mostly Svartiska vocabulary, but with more developed complex grammar inspired by A. Nemirovsky's hypothesis that Tolkien's Black Speech was based on ancient Hurrian language.

Nûrlâm (LOS: “Scholar language”) – is the new dialect under construction made specially for Black Speech School site. Started as fork of Shadowlandian in the end of 2018 it quickly became very distinct after several discoveries of canonical information regarding Black Speech (e.g. in “Parma Eldalamberon” journal). The vocabulary is mostly a debased version of Elvish languages with some Shadowlandian borrowings (~ 30%). But Nûrlâm's main focus is extensive grammar description rather than the dictionary.

There also other dialects, but they are whether disappeared from the web (as Mugbûrz) or are purely compilative. Example of the last case is Red Hand, lead by Lugrekh. It has even more adoptations from languages of real world including Slavic. This situation can be explained by looking at home country of its contributors (Poland, Bulgaria). Officially Red Hand dialect is a subset of Shadowlandian. But Lugrekh is the first one who mixed all dialects existing back then (around 2005: LOS, Svartiska, MERP, Horngoth). There were also Bulgarian and Russian dialects, defunct now. Both of them were created on the basis of LOS. Distinction was in some grammatic rules.

Phonetical comparison of dialects

I made an analyzis of Orcish-English-Russian dictionary using some automation script. As it could contain some errors in algorithm, and the whole word list with repeating stems and not the real text was analyzed it is not 100% accurate, but it's better than nothing. Diphtongs and some of consonants clusters pronounced as the single sound were treated as one letter. Finally, here are resulting tables. First column is based on Johanneson's Ring Verse analyzis, the second – on whole Tolkien's wordlist, others are for modern dialects which include original LOTR Black Speech words. All values are expressed in percents.

Sounds

  Ring TK LOS SV MERP HORN
Sonorants 59.1 55.4 59.7 60.2 61 57.9
Vowels 37.9 34.7 34.6 35.5 36.6 34.1
Glides
(j, qu, w, y)
0 0 0.3 1 1.4 0.1
Liquids
(l, r)
12.1 14.3 16.6 15.4 14.5 16
Nasals
(m, n, ng)
9.1 6.4 8.2 8.4 8.5 7.7
Non-Sonorants 40.9 44.6 40.3 39.8 39 42.1
Fricatives
(f, v, th, dh, s, z, sh, zh, h, gh, kh)
15.1 15.1 17.1 15.1 13.7 17.6
Affricates
(ch)
0 0 0 0.2 0 <0.1
Stops
(p, b, t, d, c, k, g)
25.8 29.5 23.2 24.5 25.3 24.5

Syllabes

All words were splitted in syllabes. “Opened” syllabes are ended with vowel (V) and “Closed” – with consonant (C)

  Ring TK LOS SV MERP HORN
Open 36 23 30.1 34.4 37.3 28.7
V 4 8 4.2 2.8 2.7 3.3
CV 28 12.6 21.8 28.7 31.7 22.1
CCV 4 2.3 4 2.9 2.9 3.4
Closed 64 77 69.9 65.6 62.7 71.3
VC 16 6.9 4 2.3 1.6 2.9
VCC 0 1.1 1.7 0.7 0.4 1.1
CVC 32 46 42.3 45.6 49.7 45.2
CVCC 12 17.2 13.3 10.5 5.5 12.9
CCVC 4 4.6 6.8 5.4 4.6 6.9
Other
(i.e. longer syllabes)
0 1.1 1.8 1.2 0.8 2.2


Number of syllabes per word

Black Speech words invented by Tolkien were typically short. And what about neo-orcish?

Syllabes
count
TK LOS SV MERP HORN
1 62.3 37.9 31.9 34.5 37.2
2 37.7 51.4 46.8 45.2 52.8
≥ 3 0 10.7 21.3 20.3 10

Conclusion

As you can see from tables above difference in sound's distribution between dialects is small enough to consider it as statistical error. However in syllabic structure deviation is little more sufficient. But groups of dialects (Tolkien vs LOS and Horngoth vs. Svartiska and MERP) differ mostly in average number of syllabes per one word.

Morphological analyzis

Black Speech is considered as synthetic and agglutinative language with suffixal derivation which means that words are grammatically modified (inflected) by adding numerous suffixes. But Classical Black Speech has lack of grammatical categories (no gender, few cases etc.), at least in Tolkien examples, and very short words (one or two syllabes); sole word stem could mean noun, present tense verb or adjective, which brings some analyticness similar to English. Pure agglutinative languages have a lot of grammar categories and distinct morphemes for each of them. But modern Black Speech dialects have lack of grammar forms (even having added some to Tolkien's inheritance) with some morphemes having dual meaning, and some meaning several categories at once, which brings a bit of fusional model of inflection in addition to analytic feel. Svartiska has rich set of cases for nouns and pronouns but lacks category of person for verbs. Shadowlandian has no cases but case postpositions (similar to English prepositions “of”, “by”). Horngoth has perfect verb times in addition to indefinite. Horngoth's vowel reduction in forming verbs from nouns indicates more fusional properties. All modern dialects have tendency to make new words by joining two existing (i.e. names for animals) and also to spell some phrases as one word, that signifies polysynthetic derivation. But after all in my opinion Black Speech is still agglutinative language, with strong analytic properties however.

Black Speech in modern media

Ring verse was read by many musical groups but very few of them have lyrics completely in Black Speech. In PC games Orcish language is rarely stylized to Tolkien's Black Speech. Often their creators doesn't even consider to loose the time for language development. But there is some exceptions:

Austrian band Summoning, whose works based entirely on Tolkien's books, has a song “Mirdautas Vras”, lyrics for it is written completely in Black Speech. They used Shadowlandian dialect. However, the band also tried to invent their own words absent in LOS dictionary. I have found 6 words created by Summoning, one of them has a meaning close to existing LOS word (“werewolf” was used as “wolf”), and one conflicting with LOS phonetics – “shosvart” (“victory”). The other 4 inventions comply with Black Speech rules. As you can see the composition's title violates the LOS rules, but this phrase was invented by one of the Black Speech contributors long before the creation of all dialects mentioned here.

Swedish two-man band Za Frûmi comes even further. Their debut album “Za Shum Ushatâr Uglakh” (The Great Warrior Uglakh) contains compositions with orcs talking! They used Svartiska dialect of course. Only 3 of 7 albums has Black Speech, on the last releases the band started to use other languages of their created world.

There are also a lot of bands using Black Speech words in their names (these bands play Black Metal as a rule), The most famous of them is Burzum of course. But these artists didn't go further than citing Ring verse and inventing names for themselves.



 

Comments

bjornaxen  2016-06-01, 23:39:41

On the Svartiska

"Svartiska is the dialect of Swedish roleplayers. It was created by Mikael “Adragoor” Bynke in the late 1990's, so it's the oldest surviving Black Speech version nowdays. Its name is translated from Swedish as “blackish”."

Adragoor didn't invent it but collected different dialects and tried to systemize the language. I first encountered it in 1997 and it was a couple of years old then.


bjornaxen  2016-06-02, 22:55:57

The first Swedish LARP that I know of were the Svartiska was used was "Trenne Byar" (Three Villages) in 1994. Here are some infomation of that event:

https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Trenne_byar


Un4givenOrc  2016-06-03, 11:57:29

The link explains that setting was not Tolkienish... so was the language
Thx!


bjornaxen  2016-06-04, 00:41:30

The setting for the LARP Utumno was Tolkien though for which I developed Zhâburi
https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Utumno


bjornaxen  2016-06-04, 00:46:58

And yes the Swedish LARP-orcish is not really Tolkienish but general fantasy inspired by Tolkien but there has always been a connection to Tolkien in the spirit of the language. The Swedish LARPs don't have any common world so the Tolkien Middle Earth became the focus point and inspiration for the Svartiska.

The Svartiska was for example used as Tolkien orcish in the LARP "I skuggan av Ringen" (In the Shadow of the Ring) in 2002.


bjornaxen  2017-11-28, 18:03:01

There are two versions of Zhâburi. First the one I developed for the Tolkien LARP Utumno, now called Zhâburi A. This one is quite complete but I haven't translated the word list from Swedish yet. But you can use all the Svartiska words just change all 'e's to 'i's and all 'j's to 'zh's. Then there is a second version that started on which I call Zhâburi B which is under construction.

Zhâburi A has quite much in common with Svartiska and can be said to be Svartiska inspired by Nemirovsky's analysis of BS as inspired by Hurrian.

Zhâburi B on the other hand is much closer to Hurrian and much more complex than Zhâburi A and the connections to Svartiska is much weaker and the more I work on it the weaker that connection gets. The main idea for Zhâburi B is to draw inspiration for grammar (the skeleton) from Hurrian but words (the flesh) from the languages of Arda.

I have summarised  Zhâburi A here: https://zhaaburi.wordpress.com/zhaburi-a/

Most of the page is dedicated to Zhâburi B  https://zhaaburi.wordpress.com/


Un4givenOrc  2018-10-11, 11:51:43

I've found a forum post by Adragoor stating that Trenne Byar's Svartiska was a "rip-off". Therefore Svartiska is even older than from 1994


bjornaxen  2018-10-14, 21:49:22

Interesting but not surprising. It shares some similarities with the Appleyard dialect.



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