1. Phonology

1. Vowels

The Black Speech has the following vowels; i, a, u, o. Long vowels are marked by circumflex; î, â, ô, û. They are pronounced roughly like this; i as in sit, a as a short form of the middle ‘a’ in banana, u as a short form of the ‘u’ in rude, o as in offer. The long vowels are pronounced the same way as the short ones but lengthened. The vowels a and u are the most common and can be viewed as primary vowels.

Table 1. Vowels of Zhâburi/The black Speech

Front Central Back
Closed i u
Mid o
Open a

There are also two diphthongs; ‘ai’ which is pronounced like the ‘i’ in drive and ‘au’ which is pronounced like the ‘ou’ in pronounce.

2. Consonants

There are also a number of consonants. Some are pronounced like in English while some does not exist in the latter. Characteristic for the Black Speech are its many fricatives, or hissing sounds.

Labial Coronal Dorsal Lanyngeal
Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Palatialv. Velar Uvular glottal
Stop p b t d k g
Fricative f v th dh s z sh zh kh gh h
Nasal m n ng/k
Trill r
Lateral approx. l

Distribution of sounds

Sonorants All Common Uncommon
Vowels a, i, o, u a, u i, o
glides no
liquids l, r l, r
Nasals m, n, ng m, n ng
Fricatives f, v, th, dh, s, z, sh, zh, kh, gh th, s, z, sh, zh, kh, gh f, v, dh
Affricatives no
Stops p, b, t, d, k, g b, t, d, k, g p

p – pronounced like park
b – pronounced like boat
m – pronounced like mother
f – pronounced like father
v – pronounced like vice
th – pronounced like thing
dh – pronounced like they
t – pronounced like toe
d – pronounced like die
s – pronounced like sweet
z – pronounced like zeal
n – pronounced like no, ‘n’ placed before ‘k’ is pronounced like ‘ng’ in thing while ‘n’ before ‘g’ is pronounced like ‘ng’ in bungee
sh – pronounced like shop
zh – pronounced like French j or Russian ж
k – pronounced like cow
g – pronounced like great
kh – pronounced like German auch or Russian x
gh – pronounced like like kh but voiced.
r – pronounced like French or German r
h – pronounced like hollow (this letter is not allowed as the final consonant of a word on its own)

To show the difference between digraphs where ‘h’ is a part and words where ‘h’ is pronounced separately when ‘h’ appears after another consonant, a hyphen is used in the latter case. Therefore, one always writes ‘uruk-hai’ and not *urukhai, always ‘olog-hai’ and not *ologhai, but snagahai (‘h’ stands between two vowels).

2.1 Consonant clusters
The black Speech is limited to the following consonant clusters:

Initial consonant clusters: pl-, pr-; bl-, br-; fl-, fr-; vl, vr-; thl-, thr-; tr-; dr-; sp-, sm-, sn-, sl-, sk-; zb-, zd-, zm-, zn-, zl-, zg-; kl-, kr-; gl-, gr-.

Final consonant clusters: -mp, -mb, -ms, -mz, -msh, -mzh; -nk; -sp, -sm, -st, -sk; -zb, -zm, -zd, -zg; -nsh, -nzh, -nk, -ng, -nkh, -ngh; -shp, -shm, -sht, -shn, -shk; -zhb, -zhd, -zhm, -zhg; -lp, -lb, -lm, -lf, -lv, -lth, -ldh, -lt, -ld, -ls, -lz, -ln, -lsh, -lzh, -lk, -lg, -lkh, -lgh; -ks, -ksh; -gz, -gzh; -khp, -kht, -khk; -ghb, -ghd, -ghd; -rp, -rb, -rm, -rf, -rv, -rth, -rdh, -rt, -rd, -rs, -rz, -rn, -rsh, -rzh, -rk, -rg, -rkh, -rgh.

Most medial consonant clusters are permitted but there are some exceptions; voiced and unvoiced plosives and fricatives never stand together, the same goes for fricatives in general. Where this happens when combining words, the words are separated by a hyphen, for example ‘graz’ + ‘zhab’ > ‘graz-zhab’ (cold-tongue). The hyphen is also used in combinations where more than two consonant sounds are brought together, for example ‘zharg’ + ‘-shâ’ > ‘zharg-shâ’ (thoughts in general). There are also no long consonants in Black Speech; double consonants become a single one when words are combined or inflected; ‘nazg’ + ‘gûl’ > ‘nazgûl’ (ringwraith).

3. Stress
The pronunciation in Black Speech is mostly regular. As a rule, the stress is on the first syllable in each word. Long vowels, marked by circumflex, and diphthongs take over the stress. In other cases, the stress is marked by an accent. Examples (the stress marked by the underlined syllable); ”durbat” (to rule); ”durbatulûk” (to rule them completely); ”uruk-hai”; dúraukashi (the lord commander).