Orthography, pronunciation, phonology


In J.R.R. Tolkien's universe the Black Speech was written by Sauron using Tengwar while Orcs preferred more simple Cirth. Some fans invented their own alphabets, but they didn't become widespread.

All lessons and articles in the Nûrlâm's wiki use romanization for learner's comfort. Following Tolkien's transliteration of the One Ring inscription and Orc-curse Nûrlâm utilizes digraphs for consonants not found Latin, while they have distinct letters in Tengwar and Cirth. However, some vowels have diacritic signs.

The alphabet of Nûrlâm consists of 19 letters: a, b, d, f, g, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, y, z.

Nûrlâm has 7 digraphs: bh, dh, gh, kh, sh, th, zh.

All 4 vowels can be long, which are marked with circumflex ˆ: â, î, ô, û. However in some names in LOTR accent marks (ú) are used instead. In computer typing these long vowels were often replaced with double vowels aa, ii, oo, uu. Nûrlâm normalizes spelling of all long vowels to circumflex-marked even with words attested in LOTR with accent mark (for examples “Lugbúrz”), as variant with circumflex was preferred by J.R.R. Tolkien in his later drafts and letters.


As not everyone is familiar with International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), I'll provide links to Wikipedia articles about every sound used in Nûrlâm, they contain examples of pronunciation in different languages and pictures of tongue position for precise description. Hover the cursor over notes to see the links to Wikipedia.

Nûrlâm supports sub-dialects, so you may used the closest sounds of your native tongue instead, if you struggle with some of the sounds.


Basic vowels are pronounced as in Spanish. Letter o and especially it's long counterpart ô were considered rare in Black Speech (by J.R.R. Tolkien), however, in Nûrlâm and Debased Black Speech it's more frequent than i.

Letter IPA Comments
a [a] 1)
â [aː]
i [i] 2) [ɪ] 3) in diphthongs (see below) and some sub-dialects, especially after l, sh and zh
î [iː]
o [o] 4)
ô [oː]
u [u] 5) [ʊ] 6) in diphthongs (see below) and some sub-dialects
û [uː] [y] 7) in some dialects, but not welcomed in Nûrlâm

Letter i does not palatalize the previous consonant.

Distinction between short and long vowels is important in Black Speech. While Nûrlâm tries to reduce amount of words where difference completely changes their meaning, it still can. For example: “lug” (tower) vs. “lûg” (serpent, dragon), or with less drastic change “burz” (noun “darkness”) vs. “bûrz” (adjective “dark”).


The following diphthongs are attested in Tolkien's writing: ai, au and oi. Nûrlâm treats their ending as vowels [aɪ], [aʊ̯], [oɪ], not as approximants (semi-vowels) [aj], [aw], [oj] for the sake of aligning with grammatical features, while you can pronounce them both ways.


Most consonants are pronounced similar to Russian and Turkic languages, but they are not getting devoiced at the end of the words and before other consonants (with an exception of compound words) as in Russian.

Letter IPA Comments
b [b] as in “bad”
d [d̪] dental
f [f] as in “fat”
g [g] as in “good”
h [h] as in English “hot”, not Russian “х”
k [k] as in “can”
l [ɫ] 8) so-called “dark L”, as in English “full”, but in any position, like in Australian English.
m [m] as in “mud”
n [n] as in “nut”
[ŋ] 9) allophone of n before some consonants: ng, nk, nd, nt; but unlike English “ring” [rɪŋ], g is still pronounced
p [p] never aspirated, as in English “spin” or “map”, not in “pit”
r* [ʀ] 10) as in German “rot” before vowels or word-initially; may be “full” or “rolled” R [r] 11) as in Russian or Spanish
[ʁ] 12) / [ɹ] 13) as in French and Standard German before other consonants or word-finally
s [s̪] as in “kiss”, more dental as in Russian
t [t̪] dental
y [j] as in “yard”; occurs only word-initially before vowels
z [z̪] as in “buzz”, more dental as in Russian

* both variants of r are non-contrasting allophones


Digraphs (combinations of two letters) represent less common sounds, and may be difficult to pronounce, so all of them have at least two variants of pronunciation.

Digraph IPA Comments
bh [β] 14) imagine trying to pronounce v, b and w at the same time; similar to Spanish b~v merger “huevos” but a little bit closer to b; may also resemble Ukrainian “в” word-initially before vowels.
[bʰ] / [bʱ] aspirated or “breathy-voiced” b – in some dialects, especially after vowels
[v] as in “voice” – use regular v only if you struggle with other options; similar to how Ancient Greek letter “phi” (φ) with sound [pʰ] became Modern Greek [f]
dh [ð] 15) as in “breathe”
[d̪ʰ] aspirated d in some dialects, especially after vowels
gh [ɣ] 16) partially devoiced g; as in second syllable of this sample; as g before voiced consonants in Icelandic; as Ukrainian г or Russian г in some dialects, at words' boundaries when first word ends with г, and the second starts with voiced consonants, or in some borrowed words or few interjections, e.g. “бог дал”, “бухгалтер”, “угу”;
please note that many examples provided in Wikipedia article are closer to some sort of “r” rather than “g”.
[gʰ] aspirated g in some dialects, especially after vowels
kh [x] 17) as in Scottish English “loch”; as in Standard German “Buch” (but not “ich”!); as Russian letter “х
[kʰ], [q]18) aspirated k in some dialects, especially after vowels
sh [ʂ] 19) Russian “ш”, found in many other Slavic languages (usually represented with š); also frequent in Turkic languages.
[ʃ] 20) as in “ship”
th [θ] 21) as in “think”
[t̪ʰ] aspirated t in some dialects, especially after vowels
zh [ʐ] 22) Russian “ж”, found in many other Slavic languages (usually represented with ž); also frequent in Turkic languages.
[ʒ] 23) as in English “pleasure” or French “bonjour”

The distinction between g, gh, k, kh and h is very important in Nûrlâm, as mutations between these 5 consonants are often used to make new words or modify the word's meaning: “ghâsh” = “fire”, “gash” = “heat”, “khash” = “warmth”.


Hyphens are used to indicate that digraphs should be read as two separate phonemes, especially in combined words like “búb-hosh” (['buːb.hoʂ], not ['buːβoʂ]) or “Uruk-hai” (['uruk.haɪ], not ['uruxaɪ]). They may also indicate a pause or glottal stop occuring when appending words starting with vowel, e. g. “burzum-ishi” should be read as ['buʁzum.ˌiʂɪ] not ['buʁzuˌmiʂɪ].



Most of the word roots consist of only one syllable, so you don't have to memorize stress. Very few words are two-syllable long (“uruk”, “golug”), the stress fall on the first syllable then.

When word changes by adding grammatical suffices the stress remains on the first syllable. But when some grammatical particles may be used stand-alone (mostly “prepositions”, adverbs and pronouns), these particles receive secondary stress (there was example with “burzum-ishi” before).


Use “shouting” tone even in questions.

See also

lessons/pronunciation.txt · Last modified: 2024/04/13 20:42 by morgoth