Dialects

It's possible to find a plenty of different dictionaries of 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).

Neo-Black Speech dialects analyzis

The most widely used Black Speech dialects are Shadowlandian (LOS), Svartiska (SV), MERP Horngoth. Let's briefly review them and compare their phonology with Ring Verse.

LOS (Shadowlandian, Uzg Burgûlu-ob) is 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. It has the simpliest set of language's rules and the most restricted character set. It is based on idea of adopting and perverting words from languages of other races by orcs. So Scatha adopted some words from Quenya without remorse, but sometimes these words seems very different from original (for non-linguist person). Although orcs hate the elves above all, their vocabulary was the largest amongst the nations of Middle-Earth. Moreover, this language was significantly better developed by Tolkien than any other one. Now this dialect is slowly mixing with Svartiska. The only thing I don't like in Shadowlandian is the sound “qu” adopted from Quenya, which is used not so seldom as it should be.

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”. 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 orc community is the most active it seems. So this dialect has very large vocabulary, and spread beyond Sweden to other countries. Some of its words became to get into LOS. I've recently discovered that there are some subdialects exist which differs in Grammar. Attention! Svartiska dictionary was originally BS-Swedish and was translated into English later, therefore it has some typos and inaccuracy traslations. But the original seems to be vanished from the web.

MERP (Middle-Earth Role Play) – I don't know the history of this dialect, but it seems the dictionary came from The Orcish Nations site. It looks like Svartiska without diacritic marks and with some inconsistent additions to vocabulary. For the Slavs some words would sound almost just funny as the ones from humorous dictionaries because of their similarity to Turkish and Slavic words. Apparently the association of Orcish horde with Mongol-Tartarian has played a role. There also borrowings from other Middle-East languages. Because this dialect was created by a group of users, it contains a lot of contradictions and too large number of synonyms and omonyms. On the other hand MERP has very big vocabulary. Note: this dialect doesn't contain long wovels, so you'll meet a word with them in dictionaries only in shared entries for several dialects. In this case just omit ^ above wovel for translation into MERP.

Horngoth is translated from Black Speech as “cowboy”, that was a nick of its creator. 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.

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 the dialects described above indeed. There were also Bulgarian and Russian dialects, defunct now. Both of them were created on the basis of LOS. Distinction is in some grammatic rules.

Phonetical comparsion 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 tipically 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 plays 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 Zhburi
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.



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