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Nûrlâm

Nûrlâm (LOS “Scholar language”) is the conlang aka dialect based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Black Speech created by Un4givenOrc for BlackSpeech.ru site. The dialect is under construction, which is the reason of documenting it in wiki format. The quick review on this page was a draft for the dialect and due to regular changes may differ from more specific articles, so consult with them first.

Nûrlâm had basically started as a subdialect of Shadowlandian Black Speech with acceptance of some dictionary and grammatical rules from other dialects if they suit author's ideas. The dictionary is based on Red Hand Orcs wordlist by Lugrekh which is a compilative dictionary of 4 major Neo Black Speech dialects (Shadowlandian, Horngoth, Svartiska, MERP). It was corrected according to original wordlists of these dialects. However during the work on Nûrlâm some additional canonical information was discovered in Tolkien's sources, which Shadowlandian contradicts with, so it became a clearly distinct dialect. Currently only about 50% of dictionary is borrowed from other Neo Black Speech dialects unmodified.

Objectives used for creation of Nûrlâm dialect can be read in separate article.


Internal history of the language (fictional)

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:

  • The language initially had Ergative alignment with SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) sentence structure;
  • Nouns and verbs have numerous grammar forms expressed by long chain of affixes;
  • Postpositions and case suffixes are used instead of prepositions;
  • Pronouns are placed after the corresponding word or attached to it as a suffix (or clitic);

Analysis of the Ring Verse inscription, 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;

However from letters of J.R.R. Tolkien we know that Classical Black Speech had also subjective prefixes, so word order was Subject-Verb-Object, and there is no evidence of ergativity.

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

  • Move to Nominative-Accusative alignment with SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) structure;
  • Restricting number of cases to 14 and make others standalone postpositions;
  • Added prepositions;

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

There is separate article on evolution of Black Speech exists.


Support for subdialects and derivatives

As major dialects (Shadowlandian, Horngoth, Svartiska) started to melt and mix their dictionaries already in 2003, and Red Hand group assumed to mix them all totally in 2005, and all new dialects are considered a Debased Black Speech and Orcish languages, not high Classical Black Speech of Sauron, it would be wrong to declare the rules of this new dialect to be strict and the only possible ones (even though additional research for Tolkien's sources was done). So the rules of Nûrlâm in pronunciation, grammar and syntax are quite flexible by offering different means to read and express thoughts. These alternative rules are considered as attributes of countless subdialects. Articles here usually speak about two stages of Nûrlâm dialects: standard and modern (or colloquial), with focus on standard language, and sometimes archaic stage is mentioned. And you can choose options in any combination on your taste. But as there are no canonical dialect exists, you should always specify which one you are using in your Black Speech translations, or on which one you based your own dialect.


Writing system

There is no single conventional writing system for Black Speech. The choice depends on place, writing tool, surface for inscription, personal preference, etc. The Latin script is obvious choice for use in the web or sharing text in real life for easy understanding. Tengwar and Cirth are better for authenticity in role-playing games. Sauron used Tengwar for the Ring inscription. It's the best choice for calligraphy (most likely by Nazgûl and Maiar). Runic-like Cirth is better for carving on the wood or stone. According to Appendix E of LOTR “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”, so it's assumed to be better known by majority of Sauron's servants. There are some fan-made alphabets based on Cirth's cursive adoptation for hasty handwriting for The Land of Shadow.com site, ogham-like, Tengwar stylized to cuneiform-like Maushur for Zhâburi.


Phonetics and Orthography

Letters, sounds and pronunciation

Nûrlâm has relatively small set of sounds. When writing with Cirth or Tengwar every sound corresponds to single sign. With Latin script some sounds have to be written with two letters. As the real pronunciation may differ in dialects this short review will use orthographic representation of sounds.

Vowels

Nûrlâm has 4 vowels a, i, o, u with o considered rare sound. Each vowel has long counterpart expressed with circumflex, accent (in early Tolkien's drafts) or by doubling a letter (usually in the web for quick input without messing with diacritic marks). So for example û, ú and uu are all pronounced as [u:]. Altering vowel length may change the meaning of the word, but Nûrlâm avoids it for completeley unrelated meanings. Stress should not affect the length of vowel's sound. There are also 3 dipthongs attested which are ai, au and oi. There is a proposal that û can be pronounced as [y] sound (as in Scandinavian languages) which explains transformation of word “sharkû” into “sharkey” in LOTR. While it looks reasonable this doubts pronunciation rules for other vowels with diacritics treated as long vowels not only in Black Speech but also in other languages of Arda.

Consonants

Consonants do not have any division in aspiration, palatalization, velarization etc., however some subdialects could contain aspirated, palatalized or velarized consonants depending on nearby sounds.

Most frequent (20–30%) consonant sounds are stops (or plosives): p, b, t, d, k, g. Some subdialects may include glottal_stop ([ʔ]).

Fricatives include (15–20%): f, s, z, sh ([ʃ] as in English ship), zh ([ʒ] as in English pleasure), th ([θ] as in English think), dh ([ð] as in English the), kh ([x] as in German buch, not in ich), h (as in English home). This category also includes two tricky sounds. The first one is gh ([ɣ] as in Ukrainian, Belarusian, southern dialects of Russian “golova”, modern Greek γ, old Turkish ğ, as softened “g” at the end of the words in Russian and some dialects of Germanic languages). The second one is bh may be pronounced as [β], [bʰ] – aspirated “b”, [bʱ] – breathy voiced (whispery, murmuring) “b”. kh, gh and bh could be pronounced in some subdialects as k, g or b with aspiration or with “glottal stop”, thus making them stops instead of fricatives.

Nasals are the least frequent category of sounds (6–9%). They include m, n and ng ([ŋ] as in English ring). ng may be pronounced as two separate sounds in some dialects.

Liquids include l and r. These two letters are quite often used (12–16% together). The pronunciation of these sounds differs very much from one dialect to another. It is assumed though that l should be “dark” (as in English “all”, strictly opposed to “soft” l in some German dialects) and r should be “French” (guttural or uvular) or as in German.

There are also two semivowels (or glides) in Nûrlâm, y ([j]) and [w] occurred only in diphtongs. In Shadowlandian sound [w] is met also in Quenya-borrowed words in combination qu. This was replaced with kh in Nûrlâm.

Merging sounds

During synthetic word-forming through merging two roots or when attaching short adjectives to nouns and some other cases, adjacent sounds are often merged into one in such situations:

  • First root is ending with vowel and the second root is starting with vowel. If the vowels are the same then they become one long vowel. Non-equal vowels are merged into one of them or totally different depending on ease of pronunciation.
  • First root is ending with consonant (or consonant cluster) and the second root is starting with consonant (of cluster of them) hardly pronounceable together.

Please note, that these rules are applied only for derivation (making new words), while regular inflection (including clitics) is not affected.

Shifting sounds

Transition of vowels from short to long and shifting consonants from unvoiced to voiced (or vice versa) is often used for making new words from older ones with similar meaning. Also this approach is used for borrowing words from other languages, specially if Black Speech lacks such sounds (i.e. v→f, e→i, etc.)

Stress

Stress is always on the first syllable if the word consists only of the root. However when adding suffix (or some) the main stress moves to the first syllable of the first suffix, but first syllable of root receives secondary stress. Adding prefix doesn't change the stress position.


Lexical categories and Grammar

Main article is Grammar.

Nouns

Nouns in Nûrlâm do not have distinction in animacy and gender. The special feature of this dialect is the absence of category of number for them. Usually information on number is contained in verbs and pronouns. Moreover the default translation of noun is the plural form. Therefore quantity of objects is usually specified either by exact numbers (ash = one) or quantifier words (equivalents of few, many, some etc.).

There are two declensions. Nouns ending with consonant are considered the 1st declension and nouns ending with vowel are the 2nd declension. But declension has little impact on grammar. The only situation showing the difference is adding suffix ending with vowel to the noun of 2nd declension, and in most cases it's just about inserting suffix -z- between them.

Case system of nouns is similar to Finno-Ugric (Uralic), Northeast Caucasian and extinct Hurrian languages. So there are about 13 case suffixes which are usually translated into English as nouns with prepositions.

Nouns in colloquial speech

All these rules are changing under the influence of English grammar through modern orcish dialects. So the division in animacy was introduced as well as category of number. Initially only inanimated nouns had plural form, but in colloquial speech all nouns have it. The plural suffix itself was changing in time from -i to -u and then to . The last one is recommended to use despite some “legacy” of other dialects. Cases being used in colloquial speech are Nominative, Genitive, Dative (mixed with Allative) and Instrumental with later two being abandoned too. Other cases are replaced with postpositions which are also changed into prepositions since then.

Adpositions

Adpositions combine two categories: prepositions and postpositions. Black Speech initially had only postpositions. Case suffixes can be classified as clitic postpositions for easier translation and understanding by English students. General rule is that postpositions refer place, orientation in space and consist of one syllable, but prepositions used mostly when specifying time or consist of two syllables. Some adpositions can be used both as pre- and post-positions depending on context. Some postpositions can be clitic thus resembling case suffixes, this can be considered as indication of larger case quantity in the archaic Black Speech. Under modern influences postpositions and many case suffixes become prepositions (e.g. famous “Uglûk u bagronk”).

Adjectives

Adjectives in Nûrlâm do not agree with noun in any grammar category (because short, one-syllable long adjectives are often added to the noun as clitics) and are placed after nouns they describing. However the rule of their position is not strict even in Tolkien's sources. In modern dialects and colloquial speech adjectives agree with nouns in number (including rules of declension) but not in case. Adjectives are made from other words by adding suffix -ûrz.

Adjectives have two degrees of comparison: comparative (formed by adding suffix -ar) and superlative (by suffix -az). These suffixes are added after -ûrz suffix if adjective has one or to the stem otherwise.

Numerals and quantifiers

As there are no such grammar category as number in Classical Black Speech, numerals and quantifier words are used more often than in majority of real world languages for the purpose of clarification.

Numbers in Black Speech have no inflection in case or any other grammar form. However some case suffixes have special meaning (see below). Numerals precede nouns even in archaic Black Speech (“ash nazg …”). However they can be used alone without noun as subject or object. The ordinary counting numbers (cardinals) are given in the table below:

Number Black Speech
1 ash
2 krul
3 krig
4 hant
5 krâk
6 ink
7 udug
8 skri
9 krith
10 nuk
100 tusk
1000 mink

Numbers from 11 to 19 are formed as nu(k)<digit> with -k- at the joint of the words being reduced for better pronunciation. 11 and 12 have no special words. Multiples of ten are formed as <multiplier>nuk. Hundreds and thousands are formed similarly to tens. The word “agh” (and) separates every exponent of ten. Example: number 16384 is expressed as (10 + 6)x1000 + 3×100 + 80 + 4; thus it becomes “nukink mink agh krigtusk agh skrinuk agh hant”.

Modifier suffixes

Instrumental case suffix -irzi express distributive numbers. Example hantirzi = by four(s), ashirzi = one by one.

Ordinal numbers are formed by adding suffix -ûrz therefore technically they are adjectives. The only special form of ordinals is âshûrz (“the first”) with first a becoming long. Ordinal numbers are also used to express fractions “ash khagûrz gaub” = “one third of fruit”.

Adverb suffix -arz indicates multiplicatives (so krularz = two times/twice).

Quantifier words

Some words (usually adjectives and indefinite pronouns) are used instead of exact numbers. They are placed before described words. Black Speech don't distinguish countable and uncountable nouns, so phrases like “much water”, “a lot of meat” and “many ropes” will be translated using the same word “mak” as “mak nîn”, “mak âps” and “mak krimp”.

Pronouns

There are two categories of pronouns in Nûrlâm: standalone and clitic. Personal clitic pronouns take the role of verb's affixes of person. There are no special possessive pronouns, genitive case of personal pronouns is used instead.

Personal pronouns

Nûrlâm has complex system of personal pronouns similar to Hurrian. Subject pronouns and object pronouns have different forms (but both can be standalone or clitic). Initially singular and plural pronouns had the same form. The process of appearing of number category started with 3rd person by separating singular form (the same for he/she/it) from plural. Later 1st and 2nd personal pronouns became singular and their plural form formed by adding common plural suffix (-i, -u or depending on dialect). The 3rd person singular also have split in gender (he/she/it). The following table shows subject personal pronouns in 2nd phase of this process (in Nominative case).

Person Nûrlâm English
1st sing. da I
1st pl. dak we
2nd sing. fi you, thou
2nd pl. gi you, ye
3rd sing. ta he, she, it
3rd pl. tak they

Personal pronouns are inflected in cases the same as nouns, but many of them have special irregular form for some cases. See main article for the full list.

Demonstrative pronouns

Nûrlâm English
za this, these
zîg that, those

In colloquial speech regular plural suffix is added to distinguish plural forms. Please note that calling these words “adjectives” as in many web articles about English grammar and language teaching courses is technically incorrect despite their position or role in a sentence.

Demonstrative pronoun za is often used to translate definite article “the” but this is a calque of English, .

Reflexive pronouns

Black Speech has only one reflexive pronoun îm for all persons. It can be inflected in case (regulary) and number (in modern colloquial speech).

Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns or question words are the following:

Interrogative English translation
min where?
mash what/who/which?
mûr why?
marz how?
mil when?

Under the influence of modern languages and their animacy concept the word “mai” is introduced to distinguish animated subjects (translated as “who”). Question words requiring noun, pronoun or adjective as an answer (mash, mai, min) can be inflected in case and number.

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are formed from interrogative pronouns by adding prefix a-.

Indefinite pronouns

This category is numerous and includes quantifier words. See Pro-form article.

Verbs

Verb is the most complex lexical category in Black Speech. Verbs carry grammatical information not only about action itself, but often about subject and object (i.e number). Dictionary form of verbs is the root of the word without any grammar suffixes. All verbs are conjugated regularly except “kul” (to be) and “gâkh” (let, may).

Tense

Black Speech has 3 basic tenses: past, present and future. Any other gradation is made through the category of aspect. English Present Perfect tense is usually expressed with past tense.

Tense Suffix
Past -uz
Present -∅ (zero-ending)
Future -ub

Aspect

Additional tenses found in many languages, like English continuous and specially various perfect forms found in many languages, are considered different aspects of the same tense. Aspect is marked by short clitic adverbs in Black Speech.

Suffix Literal meaning Usage
-âzh slightly, partially Incomplete action, can be translated as English continuous tenses but do not require any details on time or duration of action
-ok always, usually Repeated, regular, iterative action
-ûk completely, fully Complete action, usually translated as Perfect tenses (except Present)

Person and number

Person and number are denoted by clitic pronouns. In archaic Black Speech they are mandatory thus subject pronouns are not used as standalone words.

Voice

The passive voice may expressed by adding suffix -âk before tense markers or similarly to English by verb “to be” in required tense with passive participles (see below). Gerundive and some impersonal constructions may also express passive but are limited in use.

Suffix chain

Position Meaning
Standard Modern/colloquial speech
-4 person (subject/agent pronoun)
(da-, fi-, ta-)
-3 negation
(nar-)
-2 interrogative mood
(mar-)
-1 derivational prefix
(kru-, ri-, thu-)
0 root
1 passive voice marker
(-âk)
2 tense
(-ub, -uz)
subjunctive mood
(-ulg)
suffixes of nonfinite forms
(infinitive or participles: -at, -ut, -ag, -uga, etc.)
3 number/3rd person clitic1)
(-â, -û)
number of participle
(-û, -z)
3a auxiliary suffix -t-
(used only between positions 2 and 3, 2 and 4, 2 and 5;
absent if position 2 is final)
4 object pronoun2) object pronoun3)
reflexive pronoun
(-îm)
cooperative marker
(-sha)4)
5 derivational suffix
(usually some clitic adverb or adposition)
6 aspect
(clitic adverb: -ûk, -ok, -âzh)

Adverbs

Adverbs are made from adjectives with suffix -arz which replaces suffix -ûrz if adjective had it or just added to the stem if adjective was without it. For example, hîs (quick) becomes hîsarz (quickly) but aktûrz (accurate) becomes aktarz (accurately). Dictionary has few short adverbs without suffix -arz.

Adverbs have only comparative degree of comparison, which is formed by adding suffix -ar to the adverb (including suffix -arz if it has it). Adverbs do not have any other grammatical forms and have no agreement with verb in grammar.

Archaic Black Speech has few clitic adverbs used as verb's aspect suffixes or derivative prefixes. Lately they became standalone adverbs.

Participles

Participles are special nonfinite form of verbs. They have no person but differ in tense (present or past/perfect) and voice (active or passive). Under modern influences they are tending to have also number in which they agree with nouns (subject) and verbs. In total there are 4 different forms of participles with every of them able to be used as adverbial or adjectival phrase (8 different usage cases).

Participles are formed with following suffixes depending on tense and voice:

Tense Voice
Active Passive
Present -ug -ag
Past (Perfect) -uga -aga

Verb ending -at which was considered as infinitive suffix is actually a special form of 'participle' according to Tolkien, but resembles more to Latin Gerundive.


Morphology

Main article is Morphology.

Nûrlâm Black Speech is synthetic agglutinative language where each of numerous grammatic forms is expressed by adding it's special affix (prefix or suffix) to the word's stem forming a “chain” of affixes (specially with verbs). Derivation is also made by adding a suffix, however some derivational prefixes also exist. Some words (usually pronouns, short adjectives and particles, some adverbs) are attached to main sentence members (expressed by verbs and nouns). Such words are described in articles on suffix chains but technically they are not suffixes but clitics which could be written separately. Case suffixes can also be treated as clitic postpositions.

Being an agglutinative language suppose that every grammar category has it's own separate affix, and if some parts of speech have same grammar category (i.e. number) then it is formed the same. But Nûrlâm has some fusional properties (specially in verbs person and participles).

However under the influence of English Black Speech is transforming into Analytic language denying clitics and many grammatical forms with remaining ones expressed via word order. This behavior is considered dialectical or colloquial but also supported by Nûrlâm.

The morphemes besides word roots include: inflection suffixes used to express different grammatical forms of the same word; derivational suffixes are used to transform one part of speech into another and to make new word out of older one; prefixes serve the same purpose as derivative suffixes but are rare in Black Speech.

Affix chains

Since Black Speech is agglutinative language many words grow in length with numerous affixes expressing different grammatical categories. Placing them in the right order can be a hard task. So there are some rules for the sequence of suffixes. Currently suffix chains for every part of speech are described in appropriate chapters in Grammar section

Compound words

Black Speech excessively uses compound words for derivation. Basing on Tolkien's examples the rules are following:

  • When joining adjective with noun, adjective should go after a noun, like in Lugbûrz (where lug = tower and bûrz = dark).
  • When joining two nouns, modifier should precedes main word. Examples are Nazgûl (from nazg = ring and gûl = wraith), Dushgoi (from dush = sorcery and goi = city, citadel), bûbhosh (bûb = pig, hosh = guts).

Syntax and word order

Main article is Syntax

Nûrlâm has Subject–Verb–Object (SVO) word order with Nominative–Accusative alignment. Standalone modifier words (adjectives, adverbs, participles, numerals, etc.) and clauses can either follow words they describe (archaic style) or precede main elements of sentence in analytic constructions. Clitic determiners are usually attached to the words they describe as suffix. Word order for adverbials is Place–Manner–Time. Analytical Modern Nûrlâm also tends to place suffixes of various verb forms before the verb as standalone auxiliary particles.


Lexicon and dictionary

1)
only when subject is not a personal pronoun, e.g. noun, relative or indefinite pronoun
2)
only in accusative/objective or absolutive case
3)
only with 3rd person accusative
4)
“together”
nurlam.txt · Last modified: 2022/11/07 00:59 (external edit)