Appendix E: Canonical Tolkien's Black Speech

There is little known about Classical Black Speech. And it's the reason why many Tolkien's fans are against expanding it. I tried to collect all canonical information in this page.

For explanations on Orcs personal names I suggest reading wiki article.

Black Speech and Orcish

Black Speech is divided into Classical Black Speech, the language of Sauron and Nazgûl, and Debased Black Speech, the language of orcs and trolls of Mordor and more specifically of Barad-dûr. The further from Mordor orcs and trolls live, the further their language differs from Black Speech. Therefore, to understand each other different tribes of orcs had to use Westron, however also debased.

The Black Speech was only used in Mordor; it only occurs in the Ring inscription, and a sentence uttered by the Orcs of Barad-dûr (Vol. II p. 48)1 and in the word Nazgûl (cf. nazg in the Ring inscription). It was never used willingly by any other people, and consequently even the names of places in Mordor are in English (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144 to Naomi Mitchison)
So it was that in the Third Age Orcs used for communication between breed and breed the Westron tongue; and many indeed of the older tribes, such as those that still lingered in the North and in the Misty Mountains, had long used the Westron as their native language, though in such a fashion as to make it hardly less unlovely than Orkish. (LOTR III, Appendix F, Of other races)
One of the Orcs sitting near laughed and said something to a companion in their abominable tongue. ‘Rest while you can, little fool!’ he said then to Pippin, in the Common Speech, which he made almost as hideous as his own language. (LOTR II, Book Three, Chapter III: The Uruk-hai)
To Pippin’s surprise he found that much of the talk was intelligible; many of the Orcs were using ordinary language. Apparently the members of two or three quite different tribes were present, and they could not understand one another’s orc-speech. (LOTR II, Book Three, Chapter III: The Uruk-hai)

Beside speaking Westron some orcs could even write with Cirth:

The Cirth in their older and simpler form spread eastward in the Second Age, and became known to many peoples, to Men and Dwarves, and even to Orcs, all of whom altered them to suit their purposes and according to their skill or lack of it. (LOTR III, Appendix E, II: Writing)

Classical Black Speech

The only example of Classical Black Speech is the inscription on the Ring:

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

For many years only the literal English translation was used in analyses of Black Speech:

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

In 2007 journal “Parma Eldalamberon” (issue 17) published J.R.R. Tolkien's paper “Words, Phrases and Passages (in various tongues in the Lord of the Rings)”, which contained his analysis of Ring Inscription. I cite it here with additional markup:

ash, one.

nazg, (finger-)ring, cf. Nazgûl “Ringwraith”.


durb-, constrain, force, dominate.

-at, verb ending (like a participle) (durbat = constraining, of a sort to constrain);

=ulûk, verbal ending expressing object (particles indicating “subject” were usually prefixed) 3rd person pl. “them” (ul) in completive or total form “them-all”.

gimb-, seek out, discover.

thrak-, bring by force, hale, drag.

burzum, darkness (cf. búrz, dark, adjective) .

ishi, in, inside (placed after noun usually in Black Speech).

krimp-, tie, bind.

The same article of “Parma Eldalamberon” also has a quotation from the copy of a letter to Mr. W.R. Matthews (dated 13–15 June 1964) which Tolkien placed in the same file with manuscript “Words, Phrases and Passages”. It contains further explanations to Black Speech. I cite it with minor cuts:

The Black Speech was not intentionally modeled 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, and the verbal system must have included pronominal suffixes expressing the object, as well as those indicating the subject: -ul is pl. objective, translated “them”, and -ûk an element meaning “the whole, all”... The stem búrzdark” is also found in the later Lugbûrz = Barad-dûr; in the archaic ring-inscription burzumishi is evidently made up of this stem + a particularizing suffix or “article” um, and an enclitic “preposition” ishiin, inside”. The debased form of the B.S. which survived in the Third Age only in the Dark Tower is seen in few names (as Uruk-haiOrc-folk”) and the fragment of vitupetation uttered by one of Grishnakh's companions, emissaries from Sauron...

See also Ring Inscription linguistic analysis by Tolkien on forums.

Tolkien's explanation of ring-verse mentions also words Lugbûrz and Uruk-hai:

Lugbúrz: búrz = dark, lûg = fortress, lock-up, prison.

Special meaning of “uruk” as “the fighting-orcs” appeared in drafts to LOTR (see “Sauron Defeated” and “War of Jewels”), later dismissed.

uruk: Black Speech form of orc.

Opposition of Uruk-hai to regular orcs still occurs several times in final text of LOTR.

It's said that only Nazgûl remember this Classical Black Speech:

but after the first overthrow of Sauron this language in its ancient form was forgotten by all but the Nazgûl (LOTR III, Appendix F, Of other races)

“Parma Eldalamberon” 17 also has translation of word Nazgûl:

nazgûl, cf. nazg = ring, gûl (phantom, shadow of dark magic, necromancer), slave, servant? nazggûl.

It is notable that word “Nazgûl” is used both as singular and plural form, which lead to theory that nouns in Black Speech lack grammatical category of number. However Tolkien never commented this feature.

Gûl in Black Speech for a “wraith” is probably derived from Sindarin.

It is said that word ghâsh (fire) was used both in Black Speech and various orkish dialects.

From the Black Speech, however, were derived many of the words that were in the Third Age wide-spread among the Orcs, such as ghâsh ‘fire’ (LOTR III, Appendix F, Of other races)
ghâsh, asserted to be a word for “fire” in most Orkish dialects. (PE 17)
ghâsh genuine Orkish = fire (draft to same document cited in PE 17)

It appears in various names of Orcs with some alterations: Ghash, Muzgash.

Debased Black Speech

There should be a distinction between Debased Black Speech – language of Mordor orcs and unspecified Orkish of other tribes. First one is still closely related to Sauron's Classical Black Speech, the second one may borrow from other languages.

The famous orc-curse “Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búb-hosh skai” was shouted by orc of Mordor, while Uruk-hai of Isendgard probably spoke Common Speech. This sentence was not translated in “The Lord of the Rings” but there are at least 3 translations published:

  1. In 1992 “Vinyar Tengwar” journal (issue 26) published a draft to Appendix F with analysis by it's editor Carl F. Hostetter. The translation there was “Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth – pig-guts, gah!”
  2. 1996's Cristopher Tolkien's book “The Peoples of Middle-earth” (“The History Of Middle-Earth”, volume 12) contains older draft with a translation “Uglúk to the cesspool, sha! the dungfilth; the great Saruman-fool, skai!”; this translation has the least meaningful words but is remarkable with word order where modifiers are placed after noun (“búb-hosh” and “glob”).
  3. In 2007 the journal “Parma Eldalamberon” (issue 17) published all phrases from “The Lord Of The Rings” in languages of Middle-Earth with translation and analysis. It translates the curse as “Uglúk to torture (chamber) with stinking Saruman-filth. Dung-heap. Skai!”. It was taken from the draft to the 2nd edition of LOTR (1965) written in the late 1950s (after initial release of the Trilogy in 1955). Therefore this translation could be considered the final version. The same article gave us some other translations made between 1st and 2nd editions of LOTR: bagronk = dungeon; pushdug = squalid, filthy; glob = foul, filth; búbhosh = dung-heap, muck heap.

In “The War of the Ring” (History of Middle-Earth, vol. 8) Christopher Tolkien have published drafts to LOTR where Minas Morgul was called “Dushgoi” by Mordor orcs:

Dushgoi: Orc name for Minas Morghul.

So “Dushgoi” should be considered a Debased Black Speech.

“Parma Eldalamberon” (issue 17) also give us:

snaga, Orc-word for a servant or slave, or like.

(snaga is wide-spread word possibly taken from Black Speech, so also a Debased Black Speech).

tark is an Orkish word for Númenorean. Etymology in any Elvish sense unknown; but possibly a mere abbreviation of tarkil, an ancient name for the Atani or Edain. The Eldar sometimes called all Men hildi, √KHIL “to follow behind”, the followers or after-comers. tarkhildi “high-Men” would phonetically produce Q tarkildi...

In the final chapters of LOTR Saruman is called “Sharkey” by his orcs and men. This name was translated only in Tolkien's “Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings”, published posthumously in 1975:

Sharkey. This is supposed to be a nickname modified to fit the Common Speech (in the English text anglicized), based on orkish sharkûold man”.

It's not known how sharkû should be split properly. Neo Black Speech dialects use variant “shara” + “kû” by Elerrina, but it's more likely be “shark” + “kû” (compare with transformation of Gandalf's name among dwarves from “Sharkûn” in WR to “Tharkûn” in LOTR, with meanings Grey-man, Staff-man; compare also with orkish word “tark” cited above). It may be assumed that words tark and sharkû are in some local orkish dialect.

First Age Orcish

Orcs of the First Age also used different dialects but Black Speech didn't existed back then, so they spoke various debased dialects of Sindarin, sometimes more archaic ones up to Primitive Elvish and Common Eldarin. J.R.R. Tolkien called their language Orquin or Orquian. A. Appleyard invented term Angband Orkish.

It is said that they had no language of their own, but took what they could of other tongues and perverted it to their own liking; yet they made only brutal jargons, scarcely sufficient even for their own needs, unless it were for curses and abuse. And these creatures, being filled with malice, hating even their own kind, quickly developed as many barbarous dialects as there were groups or settlements of their race, so that their Orkish speech was of little use to them in intercourse between different tribes. (LOTR III, Appendix F, Of other races)

Initially Orquin was intended to be derivative of Valarin, and even some languages of Men borrowed words from their language, but this part was rejected for Silmarillion publication.

Orquin, or Orquian, the language of the Orcs, the soldiers and creatures of Morgoth, was partly itself of Valian origin, for it was derived from the Vala Morgoth. But the speech which he taught he perverted wilfully to evil, as he did all things, and the language of the Orcs was hideous and foul and utterly unlike the languages of the Qendi. But Morgoth himself spoke all tongues with power and beauty, when so he wished. (HOME vol. 5, The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Two, Chapter V: The Lhammas)

Many names of Orcs and other evil beings of 1st Age in Silmarillion and History Of Middle-Earth are considered as Elvish translations. However some of them (for example Gothmog) plus suffix “-hai” reappear in 3rd Age too. It seems that orcs sometimes took Elvish words but modified their meaning. E.g. the epithetic name Morgoth is in Sindarin with meaning “Black Enemy”, but in dismissed draft it's stated that orcs translated it as “Dark Lord” and even used just “Goth” (“Master”) to refer Melkor (HOME 5: “The Lost Road and Other Writings”, “List of Names” chapter).

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Scatha  2014-09-24, 04:01:03

Has anyone here ever tried the lessons? I think some of them may need some corrections and updates.  Let me know your thoughts.

bjornaxen  2016-06-08, 09:43:39

The Swedish LARP-orcish Svartiska was not really created by a single LARP-group but by the community of orc-larpers where different groups created different dialects.

bjornaxen  2017-12-15, 00:47:08

On pronunciation

There is an orc name that begins with y - Yagul - in The War of the Ring (The History of Middle Earth, vol. 8 )

I think Tolkien pronounce Mordor in Elvish, it is after all an Elvish name meaning Black land in Sindarin (or "shadows" in Quenya). It has nothing to do with pronunciation of the Black Speech.

And what about the sounds in the excercise: -qu- in "throqu-" and sr- in "srinkh-"? Especially -qu- seems out of place. Why not spell it kv or kw?

Un4givenOrc  2017-12-16, 10:01:39
bjornaxen wrote:

And what about the sounds in the excercise: -qu- in "throqu-" and sr- in "srinkh-"?

Yes, there as some issues with qu, specially when next letter is also u. Could be also spelled like Q. It appears only in words borrowed from elvish languages. I will replace it with something else if I would create new dialect.

I think there is nothing special with sr, for me it's easier to say than thr (thrakatulat).

bjornaxen  2017-12-23, 02:02:28

Does comparative and superlative adjectives, and adverbs mark plural?

The dark tower - lugbûrz; the darkest tower - lugbûrzaz; the darkest towers - lugbûrzazu

urukû ghâshuzat hîzarz lug "the old orc quickly burned the tower"; urukûz ghâshuzut hîzarzu lug "the old orcs quickly burned the tower"
edit 1. I saw that the adverb is not agreeing in number so: urukfuz ghâshuzut hîzarz lug
edit 2. I saw that I somehow confused the adjectives - this i now corrected.

Un4givenOrc  2017-12-23, 15:41:51

I think adverbs do not have plural form. Adjectives do in any form

bjornaxen  2017-12-25, 21:08:42

There are two collective plural, -hai and -ûk. In contrast to the ordinary plural these can be used with people and races. So we have uruk-hai (the orc people) as the most famous example. And then in the lessons (IV) there is an example of the -ûk ending used with  sharkû (old man) > sharkûk "all old men". So both the collective plurals can be used with people and races but what is the difference between them. What does sharkû-hai mean "all the old people" or maybe "the society of old men" or is it equivalent to sharkûk? Or is it just gibberish.

bjornaxen  2018-01-01, 16:47:30

In lesson XIII on suffix order, verbs collective #6 two endings are given, -ûk and -âzh. The -âzh ending is used with a verb 'ufubulâzh' (will frighten them slightly). I cannot find this -âzh in the lessons or in the wordlists (there is "azh (conj, HORN) "also").

It seems to mean "slightly" but then it is not a collective. Confusing

Un4givenOrc  2018-01-09, 13:27:04
bjornaxen wrote:

n the lessons (IV) there is an example of the -ûk ending used with  sharkû (old man) > sharkûk "all old men". So both the collective plurals can be used with people and races but what is the difference between them. What does sharkû-hai mean "all the old people" or maybe "the society of old men" or is it equivalent to sharkûk? Or is it just gibberish.

I think it's Scatha's mistake.
I don't like interpretation of -hai as collective plural suffix nor simply as "folk", "people of" etc. However I can't offer better one.

bjornaxen wrote:

n lesson XIII on suffix order, verbs collective #6 two endings are given, -ûk and -âzh. The -âzh ending is used with a verb 'ufubulâzh' (will frighten them slightly). I cannot find this -âzh in the lessons or in the wordlists (there is "azh (conj, HORN) "also").

I've added this shortly before my HDD crashed. Online version of dictionary is not updated still.
Here -uuk and -aazh are something like verb's aspect (perfect and "partial" respectively). Interpretation of "-uuk" as "completely", "fully" is taken from A. Nemirovsky's analysis

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