Internal history of the Black Speech (fictional)

Analysis of the Ring Verse inscription1), some geographical and personal names gives us such distinct features as:

  • Adjectives and other descriptive words are placed after the word they describe, but this rule is not very strict even for Tolkien's sources;
  • Nouns do not have plural form, but verbs and pronouns possibly do;
  • Subjective personal pronouns are prefixed to verbs;
  • Objective personal pronouns are suffixed to verbs;
  • The verb have special form combining features of infinitive, participle and gerund.

If the Alexandre Nemirovsky's hypothesis about connection between Black Speech and Hurrian languages is right then we can assume following things to be typical for early Black Speech:

  • Nouns and verbs have numerous grammar forms expressed by long chain of suffixes;
  • Postpositions and case suffixes are used instead of prepositions;

But the significant feature of Hurrian language is Ergative alignment with SOV (Subject–Object–Verb) sentence structure, which has no evidence in known Tolkien's material.

Nûrlâm is considered to exist in time between Classical Black Speech and orcish dialects (Svartiska, Shadowlandian, etc.), and following changes occurred in it:

  • Restricting number of cases to 15 and make others standalone postpositions;
  • Added prepositions and more prefixes.

However some hypothetical features of Classical Black Speech are used for archaic style of Nûrlâm.

Taking in account rules of other dialects, their real use and common mistakes, modern Black Speech has tendency to copy English grammar and syntax:

  • Shift from agglutinative to analytic type of language, replacing long chain of suffixes and clitics with words written separately, which order determines the sense and grammar form;
  • Reducing the number of noun cases to 4 or even denying them all;
  • Adding category of number for nouns, pronouns and adjectives;
  • Pronouns restricted to 2 cases;
  • Replacing postpositions with prepositions;
  • Adjectives, adverbs, pronouns start being spelled before the words they describe;
  • Adding small hints of animacy and gender categories;
  • Infinitives merged with gerundives taking suffix -at, they become used for 3rd person or even all verbs.

Nûrlâm dialect supports these tendencies too but considers them as colloquial or dialectical.

Comparison chart of dialects

Below is the comparison chart of some influential Neo Black Speech dialects with Nûrlâm and Tolkien's Black Speech according to their timeline in Middle-Earth history.


Feature Dialects
Tolkien's Classical Black Speech2) Neo-Black Speech Tolkien's
Debased Black Speech3)
Zhâburi B Standard Nûrlâm Svartiska Shadowlandian Colloquial Nûrlâm
Syntactical alignment ? ergative nominative-accusative
Subject, object and verb's word order ? SOV SVO
Determiner's word order (adjectives, numerals) (before/after noun) before (except compound words) before before (except compound words) vary after before (except compound words)


Feature Dialects
Tolkien's Classical Black Speech4) Neo-Black Speech Tolkien's
Debased Black Speech5)
Zhâburi B Standard Nûrlâm Svartiska Shadowlandian Colloquial Nûrlâm
Animacy no no affects 3rd person pronouns ? affects 3rd person pronouns and noun's plural form affects 3rd person pronouns probably
3rd person pronoun gender no no no yes (f, m, n) yes (common / feminine) (f, m, n) only for standalone pronouns probably
Gender modifier ? no yes (-niz) ? yes (-lob) yes (-niz) not attested
Number no no for all verbs and 3rd person pronouns all
Declension classes ? 3 6) 2 ?
Cases many 8 14, accusative = nominative for nouns 7 (3 – 4 in colloquial speech) many or 6 (with accusative = nominative for nouns) depending on treatment nominative, possessive and objective only for pronouns no
Postpositions yes yes ~2/3 few yes few no
Prepositions no no ~1/3 yes few yes yes


Feature Dialects
Tolkien's Classical Black Speech7) Neo-Black Speech Tolkien's
Debased Black Speech8)
Zhâburi B Standard Nûrlâm Svartiska Shadowlandian Colloquial Nûrlâm
Agglutinative highly highly highly optionally highly optionally no
Polysynthetic yes yes yes word derivation yes no no
Fusional no ? little little due to sound merging no no
Analytical no no little optionally some optionally highly
Suffixes yes rare
Prefixes yes9) rare yes (very) possible
Clitics yes rare


Feature Dialects
Tolkien's Classical Black Speech10) Neo-Black Speech Tolkien's
Debased Black Speech11)
Zhâburi B Standard Nûrlâm Svartiska Shadowlandian Colloquial Nûrlâm
a, i, u yes
o rare quite frequent
e no in borrowed words no yes Svartiska borrowings no probably rare
p, b, t, d, th, s, z, sh, k, g, gh, m, n, f, h, l, r yes
dh, zh, kh (ch), ng not attested yes yes kh, others probably
v not attested yes no yes no no not attested
j, y not attested no rare yes rare rare rare
qu no yes, Quenya borrowings no no

Relation to other languages of Arda

While small corpus of Classical Black Speech contains at least two words from Valarin, a mother-tongue of Sauron who was the author of Black Speech, it has also words from various languages of Elves. As it's believed that orcs were made from captured, tortured and corrupted elves (at least until greater Uruk-hai were bred), Elvish influence on languages is obviously natural. So if we group languages or Arda into groups and families as for real ones, Black Speech will definitely belong to Elvish family.

Orcs used Common Speech (Westron) in communication between different breeds and tribes as it stated in LOTR, but no traces of it found in Debased Black Speech, which still has a lot of elvish words.

Angband Orcish of 1st Age appeared before Sauron created Black Speech, and it was almost entirely a corrupted version of Sindarin or more closely it's earlier version (in real-word terms) called Noldorin.

Neo-Black Speech dialects continue to actively borrow words from various elvish languages, however larger part of their Lexicon consists of unique words.

published in PE 17
3) , 5) , 8) , 11)
only for definite article
at least subject pronouns
black_speech_evolution.txt · Last modified: 2023/09/07 19:38 by