Analysis of the Black Speech

The purpose of this analysis is “constructive”, with that I mean that if there are several different possible interpretations of a word or sentence  the one that contributes the most to the creation of Zhâburi is chosen. The principles of the Hurrian language works as the governing principle.

The outline of the analysis

  1. Pure Black Speech and Orcish debased Black Speech
  2. Circumflex or Accent sign
  3. The Ring Verse
  4. The Orc-curse
  5. Single Words
  6. Compound Words
  7. Isolated Words
  8. The ending -hai
  9. The question of Hyphens
  10. A Definite Article?

1. Pure Black Speech and Orcish debased Black Speech
In this analysis of the Black Speech we clearly distinguish between Black Speech and Orcish. We are only interested in the Black Speech. There are two arguments for analyzing them together: a larger corpus and avoiding the problem of distinguish from each other. But not distinguish them is a fundamental problem because it will never be an analysis of the pure Black Speech but of a hybrid.

With that said the orcish words will still be used but incorporated in the language. But the Orcish syntax, the structure of the language, will not. In practice this means that the language will never be pure from Orcish.

The core of the material consists of the Ring Verse Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul. And the words nazgûl, uruk, uruk-hai, olog and olog-hai.

Then there are som words that are clearly Orcish the core being the stated in the Orc-curse  sentence Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai.

Then there are some words that could be either: ghâsh, lugbúrz, oghor, sharkû, snaga, tark, golug and dushgoi, nar.

2. Circumflex or accent sign?
One problem is that both accents (´) and circumflexes are used in writing Black Speech and Orcish. One theory is that there is no distinction between them and that Tolkien just was inconsistent when spelling Orcish and the Black Speech. This seems to be the most common interpretation. Daniel Craig has put forward the interesting hypothesis that ”’û’ is a rounded front vowel (like German ’ü’), which would be more likely to cause ’sharkû’ to be corrupted into ‘Sharkey’ as the nearest vowel in any other language in Middle Earth is ’i’.” I wonder if ’â’ in ’ghâsh’ then ought to be pronounced like German or Swedish ’ä’ (’æ’ in Danish and Norwegian) i.e. somewhat like  ’ai’ English ”air.

There are five words with circumflex where two seems to share the same suffix -ûk. Three are explicitly of pure Black Speech: durbatulûk, thrakatulûk and nazgûl; and two which are active Orcish words but could be Black speech: ghâsh and sharkû.

There are just two words spelled with accent none of which are explicit pure Black Speech words: lugbúrz and búbhosh both compound words. Then there are three Orc names: Uglúk, Grishnákh and Mauhúr. One interesting pattern is that the only word where the circumflex or the accent sign is not in the last syllable is in ’búbhosh’.

My hypothesis is that is that the circumflex is used for the Black Speech and that the accent is used for Orcish. The circumflex is used in the Ring Verse (suffix -ûk) and nazgûl which are clearly of the Black Speech. There are two words in which circumflex is used, ’ghâsh’ and ’sharkû’, for which it is unclear whether they are Black Speech or Orcish. The only word that might be of the Black Speech where an accent is used is in ’Lugbúrz’. Interestingly the element “dark” in the Ring Verse (burzum) have neither accent sign nor circumflex. This would interpretation means that ’Lugbúrz’ is Orcish and that the Orcish word for ”dark” is ’búrz’ with a long vowel and that the Black Speech variant is ’burz’ with a short vowel.

Another interesting interpretation is that the last syllable in the descriptive word in the end of compounds word is lengthened so that ‘lugbûrz’ would be the Black Speech variant and that the only difference would be in spelling conventions.

3. The Ring Verse
See also “Hurrian and the Black Speech, here is the introduction to Hurrian that I use. Information on Quenya grammar can be found here and here is a Quenya word list.

-at Hurrian -ed- formant of jussive/intended future in verbal form formant of future in verbs
-ishi “in”, or possibly “in the”. Similar to Quenya locative ending -ssë
-ul “them”; Hurrian-lla, -l“them” as object of action in transitive verbal forms” (and subject of intransitive verbal forms”
-um Formant of infinitive and nominalization; Hurrian, the form –umme produces the nominal of the action, that is, the infinitive
-ûk “All”, “completeness”; Hurrian -ok, formant with a meaning “fully, truthfully, really” in a verbal form
agh And; Urartian aye, the same as “mit” and “bei” in German
ash “one” Hurrianshe (root sh-)
burz- “dark” or “to be dark”. Quenya morë; Primitive Elvish mori “dark(ness)”, mornâ “dark”; Hurrian wur + z could really give the meaning “where the seeing is near/at its limits”; Elburz Mountains along the north of Persia.
durb- “to rule”; Quenya tur- “to rule”; Hurrian torub- “something (disastrous), which is predestined to occur; enemy”
gimb- “to find”; Hurrian -ki(b) “to take, to gather”
krimp- “To bind”; Hurrianker-imbu-, to make longer fully/completely/irreversibly”, if it respects to a rope, e.g., it nicely fits the concept of “tie tightly”
nazg “ring”; Valarin(a)naškad“ring”; Gaelicnasg, nasc= “ring”
thrak- “to bring”; Hurrian s/thar-(ik)- “to ask, to demand to send something to someone”, so meaning “to ask for/to cause bringing of something to someone” is implied.

The Orc curse
The Orc-curse Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai is uttered in LotR 3, VI by an orc. There are three different translations of this sentences.

The first translation appeared in the draft of Appendix F, published in The Peoples of Middle-earth. “Uglúk to the cesspool, sha! the dungfilth; the great Saruman-fool, skai!”.

In a second translation, published in an article by Carl F. Hostetter in Vinyar Tengwar 26, the phrase reads Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob – búb-hosh skai!, and the translation is “Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth – pig-guts, gah!”.

The third translation, published in Parma Eldalamberon 17, is from the late 1950s, and as far as is known, Tolkien’s last word on the subject. Here, the sentence is divided into one long sentence and one shorter – only expressing more contempt.

“[Ugluk] u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob. Búbhosh – skai!” “Uglúk to torture (chamber) with stinking Saruman-filth. Dung-heap. Skai!”.

In addition, according to Nerimovskys analysis “uglúk” can be interpreted as inspired by Hurrian meaning “frightens all”.

Orcish Version A Version B Version C
u to to to
bagronk cesspool dung-pit torture
sha sha with with
pushdug dungfilth stinking stinking
Saruman-glob Saruman-fool Saruman-filth Saruman-filth
búbhosh great pig-guts dung-heap
skai skai gah skai

The B-version is the most constructive because it provides the most word elements. All three agrees that ‘u’ means “to” and that ‘skai’ is just some kind of interjection like “gah” in English. The B-version provides two words two words for ‘bagronk’ – “dung” and “pit” and ‘búb-hosh’ gives us “pig” and “hosh”. Even though version A provides two word from ‘pushdug’ “dung” and “filth” the B- (and C-) versions provides us with a verb ending which I analyse as -dug which corresponds to English -ing in “stinking”. Version B is also the one that used in the Svartiska.

5. Single words
There are a few single words that are quite unproblematic.

Ghâsh: Is stated to mean “fire” and that it is a common word for “fire” among Orcs and that it is derived from the Black Speech. I might be a debased form but here we treat it as a Black Speech word.

Oghor: From oghor-hai dúedain or the Wood people could be Black Speech but more probalby Orcish. In our analysis ‘oghor’ means “forest”. See below for an analysis of the suffix -hai.

Uruk: The general term for “Orc” but among Orcs it refers to larger individuals and elite soldiers. Probably from Primitive Elvish ‘uruk’ “horror”.

Snaga: The word ‘snaga’ is stated to mean “slave” and could be Black Speech or Orcish. As most other nouns ends in a consonant (exceptions are the endings -hai and -ishi and sharkû). It is possible that ‘snaga’ kan be analysed as snag+a and that the final ending is an agental ending borrowed  from Westron seen in words such ‘batta’ “talker” and ‘puta’ “blower”. Orcs communicated in Westron when they could not understand each other because of the differences of Orcish dialects. Is so ‘snaga’ is a Orcish word but ‘snag-‘ can be seen as a Black Speech root.  

The Zhâburi interpretation is that it refers to a relation between Orcs of masters and slaves where the uruk is the word for orc master. But the this is a dynamic relationship where someone that in one relation is snaga could be a master in another relation. There is a difference between the two terms. Whereas ‘uruk’ only refers to orcs ‘snaga’ is not limited to orcs.  

Tark: Orcish “man of Gondor”, probably from Westron Tarkil “person of Númenórean descent”, similar to Quenya tarcil(de) and Primitive Elvish ‘tarkhilde’ meaning “High Man”. In lack of another word for human ‘tark’ is used for humans in general.  

Golug: Orcish “Noldor elf” supposed to be borowed from Sindarin ‘Golodh’ “one of the Noldo” or “wise person, sage”; Primitive Elvish ‘ñgolodô’ of the same meaning. Just as with ‘tark’, we use it for elves in general in lack of another better word.

Nar: Orcish “no”? From the LotR, VI “The Land of Shadow”, a tracker orc and a soldier orc in conversation. The tracker snarls: “Nar! I’m going home.” In Svartiska it means “no” and it is not an unreasonable interpretation even though it is probably just an empty interjection like ‘skai’. The orc begins two later sentences with “ar!”. But with such a small corpus it is better than nothing.

6. Compound words
Nazgûl and Lugbúrz is the only compound words of which we know what each part means. Both words have elements in them that appears in the Ring Verse ‘nazg’ and ‘burz(um-ishi)’ respectively. The pattern of word formation is interestingly and problematic different in the two compounds.

The compound ‘nazgûl’ means “ringwraith” and follows the same pattern as the English word but ‘lugbúrz’ has the opposite order – “tower-dark”. This is important because the word order of compound words determines how other compounds are supposed to be interpreted and how compounds are to supposed to be formed in the Zhâburi.

The word order of ‘lugbúrz’ is the same as the Sindarin equivalent Barad-dûr “tower dark”.

Because ‘nazgûl’ is clearly stated as a Black Speech word and ‘lugbúrz’ is not the pattern of ‘nazgûl’ is clearly that of the Black Speech and Zhâburi. The formation of ‘lugbúrz’ could be a possible pattern in the Black Speech. One interpretation is that in compounds made of two nouns the pattern is that of ‘nazgûl’ but when an adjective is part of the compound such ‘burz’ then the pattern is that of ‘lugbúrz’. A third possibility is that there is no pattern and it does not matter how two words are compounded.

The second interpretation is the most constructive because it provides a framework in which both patterns of ‘nazgûl’ and ‘lugbúrz’ fit. This pattern also follows the traditional analyses of the words from the Orc curse: ‘bagronk’ “dung pit” -> bag = “dung”; ronk = “pit”; ‘búbhosh’ “pig guts” -> búb = “pig”; hosh = “guts”. 

Sharkû:“old man” (Appendix F) and is often interpreted as ‘shar’ “man” and ‘kû’ old following the pattern of lugbúrz i.e. lug “tower” and búrz “dark”. It could be the other way around – shar “old” and “man” follow the pattern of nazgûl “ringwraith” nazg “ring” and gûl “wraith”. Another interpretation is that it it is constituted of a stem for “old” and a suffix such as Swedish gamling (gam(mal) + ling) “old person” or it could be that the word cannot easily be broken down into different parts, like the Swedish word gubbe “old man”.

The different interpretations all have different pros and cons, the last interpretation being the least constructive because it only provides one special word. The others either gives two words and a pattern for compounding of nouns or one word and one derivative suffix. Following the interpretation of the pattern of ‘lugbúrz’ outlined above under “compound words” provided us with ‘shar’ = “(human?) man” and ‘kû’ “old”. But maybe ‘ku’ if descriptive words attached to nouns in compound words are lengthened.

Dushgoi: Orcish for “Minas Morgul” (War of Jewels). This compound is tricky to solve because we do not really no what the different parts means. The Svartiska interpretation is that ‘dush’ means “magic” or “sorcery” and that ‘goi’ means “town” or “city” (Swedish “stad”) which renders the same meaning as the Sindarin name which means “Tower of Sorcery”. This also the interpretation of A. Appleyard’s analysis of the Black Speech. This is the nazgûl-pattern of word formation, noun+noun where the first noun functions as a description of the main noun.

The element could be taken from Valarin ‘dušamanûðân’ (š=sh) meaning “marred” from Aþâraphelûn Dušamanûðân “Arda Marred” just as ‘nazg’ could be taken from Valarin ‘naškad’. My interpretation, which I admit is a bit creative, is this: The concept of ‘Arda Marred’ is that Melkor corrupted the world with his dissonance. If so, ‘dush’ can be interpreted the “marring” of Arda. More specifically ‘dush’ is the practice of the deep and dark knowledge of Melkor, i.e. sorcery. But iy

Then we have the element ‘goi’. The simple interpretation is that it means “town” or “city” but I am not happy with it because it does not feel to be a Black Speech Word. It is obviously an Orcish word in my opinion

7. Isolated words
These are words isolated from compounds.

Gûl: From the compound ‘nazgûl’ analysed as nazg “ring” + ‘gûl’ “wraith” or “any one of the major invisible servants of Sauron dominated entirely by his will (A Tolkien Compass)”. The word ‘gûl’ is very similar to the Elvish word root NGOL “wise” or “wisdom” and Primitive Elvish ñgôlê “Science/Philosophy” and identical to Sindarin gûl “deep knowledge; perverted or evil knowledge, sorcery, necromancy, black arts, magic”.

The interpretation for Zhâburi is that ‘gûl’ means someone who has gained deep knowledge through the black arts of Sauron which also means that one is dominated by his will and  one’s perspective of the world is completely that of the Dark lord.

lug: ”tower”, isolated from ’lugbúrz’ ”[the] Dark Tower”, Sindarin ”Barad-dûr” of the same meaning. Could be Orcish or genuine Black Speech.

burz/búrz: ”dark”, isolated from ’burzum-ishi’ in the Ring Verse and ’lugbúrz’ ”The Black Tower”. The accent in ’lugbúrz’ is problematic because it is unclear what it means and why there is one i ’lugbúrz’ and not in ’burzum’. See the discussion of this above/below under ”Circumflex or Accent?”.

bag: “dung” isolated from ’bagronk’ ”dung-pit”.

búb: “pig” isolated from ’búbhosh’ ”pig-guts”.

dush: “magic, technology” isolated from ’dushgoi’ and might be taken from Valarin ‘dušamanûðân’. The difference between ‘dush’ and ‘gûl’ is that ‘gûl’ has to do with (dark) knowledge and that ‘dush’ has to do with the practice of (dark) knowledge.

goi: “town”, “city”, “administrative centre” isolated from ‘dushgoi’.

hosh: “guts” isolated from ’búbhosh’ ”pig-guts”.

: “old” solated from sharkû.

ronk: “pit” isolated from ’bagronk’ ”dung-pit”. The Svartiska has ”gronk” instead.

shar: “man” opposed to “woman” isolated from sharkû.

8. The suffix -hai
The suffix -hai is hard to interpret. My interpretation is that i marks the substantive as descriptive (adjective), as part of something or that it has its quality. So Uruk-hai means something like “Orcish” or “Urukian”, “being part of orcs” or “has a quality of Orcs”.

This is a interpretation of the ending -hai that differs from both the LARP-orcish where it means something like “elite” and the interpretation that it means “folk”.

In the first version of Zhâburi -hai had the meaning now given to the suffix -shâ which would correspond to “folk”. But it does not really makes sense that it should mean ‘Orc-folk’. It is clearly used to indicate a particular group of orcs, the Isengarders in the chapter Uruk-hai, and in the chapter  “The Land of Shadows” two orcs discuss  “… then it must be a pack of rebel Uruk-hai…”. And this sentence  Appendix F, “Of other races”, “Orcs and the Black Speech”: “… the word uruk [was] of the Black Speech, though it was applied as a rule only to the great soldier-orcs that at this time issued from Mordor and Isengard. The lesser kinds were called, especially by the Uruk-hai, snaga ‘slave’.

In the paragraph on Trolls it is stated that “… at the end of the Third Age a troll-race not before seen appeared in southern Mirkwood and in the mountain borders of Mordor. Olog-hai they were called in the Black Speech.   

If -hai would mean ‘folk’ or ‘race’ then the uruks from Mordor like Grishnákh ought to be included in Uruk-hai. The the two orcs discussing the “rebel Uruk-hai” can be interpreted as “orc-folk rebels” but it is more plausible that they distinguish the Uruk-hai from the Uruks.

The same distinction, between Uruk and Uruk-hai and Olog and Olog-hai respectively, seems to be valid in the Appendix F parts as well. It is possible to interpret it as a plural ending so we could transform the sentence to “The lesser kinds were called, especially by the Uruks, snaga ‘slave”. In such a reading uruk is distinguished from some other unnamed groups that discusses different orc breeds in orcish or the Black Speech.

It is even more implausible interpretation with regards to the what is stated about the Olog-hai which are supposed to be a new “troll race”. If -hai indicates ‘race’ or ‘folk’ all Trolls should be included in the term Olog-hai.

There is a hypothesis that the ending means human or half indicating that Uruk-hai and Olog-hai are half bloods or half human. Such an interpretation would give that Elrond the half elf is a Golug-hai.

That -hai means ‘half blood’ does not fit with Oghor-hai (the forest people) even though it is reasonable for Uruk-hai and Olog-hai. It is more reasonable that it would mean something with human but only if Uruk-hai and Olog-hai really were part human.

My solution and interpretation is that -hai marks that noun is part of something or has its quality. This is taken from Hurrian where there is a suffix -(h)he that attached to nouns marks a) ethnic and geographic adjectives like hurri+he > hurro-he “Hurrian”; b) adjectives expressing the material or interior quality like hiari+hhe > hiaro-hhe “golden”; c) belonging to as in Tukrish+he > Tukrish-he “belonging to Tukrish”.

According to this interpretation uruk-hai are “orcish” in that way they have a orcish part or are belonging to the Uruk society. In the same way the Olog-hai are “trollish” and the Oghor-hai are part of or belong to the woods – “woodish”.

See also “10. A definite article?” below.

9. The question of Hyphens
The hyphens seen in nouns are problematic because they do not really fit the Hurrian language structure. The Hurrian language has long suffix chains for both the verb and the noun. But we only have examples of this kind of structure for verbs in the Black Speech.

We have two types examples of nouns with hyphens both involving suffixes; the suffix -hai following uruk, olog, and oghor respectively and the suffix -ishi following burzum in the ring Verse. The hyphen does not appear in the tengwar version of the Ring inscription. I seems like the hyphen is only used with grammatical endings. Word conjunctions are clearly possible like nazgûl (nazg+gûl). But in the Orc-curse ‘glob’ is attached to ‘Saruman’ with a hyphen “Saruman-glob”, probably because ‘Saruman’ is a name and maybe because it is neither Orcish or of the Black Speech.

There are two ways treat the hyphen. Either ignore it as Craig-analysis or as inte the Land of Shadow-analysis always put a hyphen between nouns and suffix. To use a hyphen is clearly more in line with the Tolkien original spelling. But what does the hyphen mark?

In the first version of Zhâburi the hyphen is used to clarify that two letters don’t form a digraph, e.g. not kh in uruk-hai/*urukhai, or some other forbidden sound combination. This solution is not consistent with the spelling of burzum-ishi and maybe not oghor-hai depending on whether rh is allowed or not. This solution is clearly not satisfying.

I have the following hypotheses: 1) It is just superficial and reminds of how cuneiform is transcribed like ‘hurro=he’ (hurrian). 2) It has something to do with the formation of nouns. 3) It indicates that the ending is pronounced as a free word in it self even though it is part of the noun.

All of them could of course be true but the most viable interpretation is number two, that it has something to do with the formation of nouns. There are of course many possible interpretations but I have two in mind: a) that the Black Speech uses a lot of different suffixes which are grammatically difficult to categorize and that different postpositions are attached to the noun but seen as distinct parts. b) It could be that there are are only some suffixes that are attached in this way and some are treated as part of the noun, i.e. without the hyphen, and som are attached postpositions and maybe some are unattached postpositions.

The interpretation a fits quite nicely with the the published fragments. We have the adjective ‘burz’ “dark” which has the suffix ‘-um’ attached transforming it to the noun “darkness” to which the the  hyphen marked postposition or locative ending ‘-ishi’ is attached. But what if more endings are needed. The verb has long chains of endings. For example durbatulûk from the Ring inscription is usually analyzed as durb-at-ul-ûk “to rule them all” (in Zhâburi it is analyzed as durb-a-t-ul-ûk “intended to completely rule them”). It is not much of problem a sentence like “of the darkness” which with endings of  Zâburi would be burzum-ub. The trouble is with word with other endings, like uruk-hai. If we suppose that it means ‘orc-folk’ and I want to say “in the Orc-folk” where is the ending attached. Should there be a hyphen between the endings like uruk-hai-ishi? Or are they fused together to uruk-haiishi? (The ending could of course just as same be attached in the reversed order). If one imagine the Black Speech to have endings for plural they ought to be expressed with endings marked by hyphens as well. Taking examples affixes from the Svartiska “of the elite orcs ”za-uruk-hai-ob-i” (-hai is interpreted as “elite” in the Svartiska”).

This seems to be quite cumbersome and I don’t like that many hyphens in the language and thus interpretation b it is. But which noun endings and when are they attached with hyphens.

The Hurrian language, which here functions as a model, does have long suffix chains for both the verb and the noun with both case endings, attached postpositions (syntactic particles) and a few postpositions. This seems to be the case for Primitive Elvish as well. We have one case ending, the allative -ad (Quenya -nna and Telerin -na) attested, and one enclitic ending -m (which evolved to Quenya plurals in ‘n’ such as genitive plural -ion) and Tolkien has stated that the Quenya case endings probably evolved from postpositions.

My solution is a compromise where postpositions are attached to nouns with hyphens. These postpositions are created by adding a chain of suffixes to a postpositional “relational core” creating “suffix clusters”. These postpositions are structured in a certain order, following the same order as the Hurrian noun suffix chain, and are always attached right behind the noun.

10. A definite article?
Could the Black Speech have a definite article? In the Ring Verse ‘burzum-ishi’ corresponds to English “in the darkness”. One possible interpretation is that one of the i:s in ‘ishi’ is an article. In both Quenya and Sindarin the definite article is ‘i’ as in ‘auta i lómë’ “the night is passing” and ‘i aran’ “the king”. This article precedes the noun just as in English. This article is found in Primitive Elvish where it is a “deitic particle”, i.e. meaning “this” or “that” instead of “the”.

In Hurrian there is an “article”, singular “ni/ne”, plural “na” which is attached as a suffix at the second position in the suffix chain, before the case suffix. An interpretation following this would mean that the first ‘i’ in ‘ishi’ is a marker for the definite article and that the “in-ending” is ‘-shi’, maybe from a locative ending -ze in Primitive Elvish and developed to Quenya -ssë which developed from older -zë. The one known case ending in Primitive Elvish is -da which in Quenya has developed into -nna.

It is possible that this “article” also appear in the ending -hai. My interpretation is that -hai is taken from Hurrian -(h)he the position of the Hurrian “article” in the noun suffix chain is just after endings such as -(h)he. Then the ending -hai really is just -ha with the “article” meaning something like “those of orcs” or “those part of orcs”.

This interpretation means that the ‘-i’ marks something in between the stronger deitic particle ‘i’ of Primitive Elvish and the weaker definitive article ‘i’ in Quenya and Sindarin.