IV. Elvish, Orcish & the Black Speech

This is a hypothetical internal history of the Black Speech were I sketch my version of the  relationship between Orcish and the Black speech and Primitive elvish. It should be pointed out that one reason for this hypothesis is pragmatic; to connect the Black Speech to a Primitive Orcish as a dialect of Primitive Elvish opens up a lot more source material to work with.

According to Appendix F in The Lord of the Rings “the Black Speech was devised by Sauron in the Dark Years, and that he had desired to make it the language of all those that served him, but he failed in that purpose. From the Black Speech, however, were derived many of the words that were in the Third Age wide-spread among the Orcs, such as ghâsh ‘fire’, but after the first overthrow of Sauron this language in its ancient form was forgotten by all but the Nazgûl. When Sauron arose again, it became once more the language of Barad-dûr and of the captains of Mordor.” And that the Olog-hai, the Troll-race bred by Sauron in the Third Age,“spoke little, and the only tongue that they knew was the Black Speech of Barad-dûr.”

1. Orcish speech and Primitive Elvish

The speech of the Orcs was from the beginning incoherent and according to Appendix F “they had no language of their own, but took what they could of other tongues and perverted it to their own liking, yet they made only brutal jargons, scarcely sufficient even for their own needs, unless it were for curses and abuse.” Helge K. Fauskanger takes the example of of the word Golug (Noldor Elf) as a borrowing from Sindarin Golodh of the same meaning. Another example is the word Uruk (orc) which is very similar to Quenya urco or orco and sindarin orch but it is identical to Primitive Elvish uruk or urukû which means “horror”. One can quite easily imagine that the captive Elves became horrors in their own eyes. 

My interpretation is that the first speech of the orcs actually was a dialect of Primitive Elvish. This, of course, is just a hypothesis but it opens a whole new source of material for the development of a hypothetical Black Speech and there is more to it than the word uruk. It is not far fetched but rather reasonable that if the first orcs descended from elves then their speech ought to do so as well.

There are also some similarities between some words in the Ring verse. There is the element ‘dur’ in durbatulûk (to rule them all) which is quite similar to the Primitive Elvish tûrê and Quenya tur- of the same meaning. Then there is the word burzum (darkness) with the element bur(z) which is also present in Lugbúrz (The Dark Tower) which is quite like the Primitive Elvish mori and Quenya morë. And then there is the postposition or locative ending -ishi which is not that dissimilar to the Quenya locative ending -ssë. 

My suggestion is that when Sauron took over as the Dark Lord of Middle Earth in the Second Age he created the Black Speech as an instrument of unity and  control of the disorganized hordes of darkness. And as a base for the Black Speech he used some variant of orcish of the first age which in turn was a form of degenerate Primitive Elvish. But the language that he created was a uniform administrative language which drew on other sources than degenerate Primitive Elvish. One of these seems to be Valarin, the language of the Valar. The word nazg “ring” seems to be related to Valarin naškâd.

One part of this project is to reconstruct  Primitive Elvish drawing on Quenya, Telerin and even Old Sindarin. We have much more material of Quenya but Telerin gives us some better understanding of the sounds of Primitive Elvish. This reconstruction will then be the basis for a reconstruction of a version of primitive orcish which enables us to use Primitive Elvish words and elvish roots for the Black Speech.

2. Orcish and the Black Speech

The Black Speech and Orcish has always been interrelated in a complicated way. The base of Black Speech, as described here, is that of the Orcish of Angband spoken during the last part of the First Age which developed from Primitive Elvish. (See Angband Orcish.)

It took about 500 years for Sauron to reappear in Middle Earth. And we know that at the time, II1200, of the forging of the Ring the Black Speech was a fact. So somewhere within this time span the Black Speech was created. In lack of more information it is plausible to assume that Sauron created the Black Speech when he established Mordor and build Barad-dûr ca II1000. At that time the unified Orcish language of Angband of  the First Age must have developed into a myriad of different dialects. I imagine Sauron, when trying to organize his legions of Orcs, being very frustrated by the hopeless task to build an effective command structure so he takes the Angband-Orcish that he knows very well and constructs his own language for his state.

The Black Speech became the Lingua Franca of the Mordorian hegemony and it heavily influenced the different variants of Orcish dialects as substrates. The Orcs most probably never uniformly spoke pure Black Speech even during the hight of Sauron’s empire. Instead the Black Speech can be seen as a mark of authority where the Black Speech gets more pure the higher up in the hierarchy the user is. And because the Black Speech is constructed, and thus dead or cemented, new words and expressions which does not fit the Black Speech are deemed as Orcish or debased. 

Because of this there is only a theoretical clear demarcation between the Black Speech and Orcish. In practice they constitute a continuum. This continuum can be divided logically into Pure Black Speech in one end and Pure Orcish in the other. Orcish, of course, in contrast to the Black Speech never was a coherent language but a complex multitude of several dialects.

We can try to describe this continuum between the Black Speech and Orcish dialects by logically distinguish different points in it A to F.

(BS = The Black Speech)

A. Pure BS – only BS grammar and words
B. Only BS grammar, some Orcish words
C. Orcish influenced BS grammar, a lot of Orcish words
D. Orcish grammar influenced by BS grammar, some BS words.
E. No BS grammar, some BS words
F. Pure orcish – no BS grammar and no BS words

Note that Orcish here are several overlapping dialects. We can imagine it like a pyramid with A as the very tip of the top with no differentiation and F at the bottom with the widest differentiation.

Probably only Sauron and his higher servants, such as the Nazgûl, used the pure form A. Pure Orcish, F, was probably very uncommon and only spoken by very isolated orcs (except of course in the era before the Black Speech was constructed). The Olog-hai is said to only know the Black Speech but I find it hard to believe that would not use any words from any other language.  

During the Third Age most orcs would fall under the category E and some orcs of Mordor and Minas Morgul such as Grishnákh in D. Higher in the hierarchy there would probably be some in category C and just few in B. 

During the Second Age the positions would be one level above so that most orcs are categorized in D, elite orcs from core areas such as Mordor and Angmar in C, those higher up in the hierarchy in B and a few in category A.

In the table below I sketch my idea of the development of Orcish and its relation to Primitive Elvish and The Black Speech.

I Age Captured elves The War of the Jewels II Age II1000 III Age
Primitive Elvish Utumno Orcish (could possibly develop to a far eastern orcish language) Angband Orcish (develops in western parts of Middle Earth) Northen orcish The Black Speech of Mordor Gundabad orcish (northern substrate)
Eastern orcish Three substrate orcish languages Misty Mountains (Nortthen and southern substrate)
Southern orcish All orcs are blended together in the Machine of Mordor, speak BS Mirkwood (north and eastern substrate)
Rhûn (eastern substrate)
Mordor (Southern substrate)

Updated 2020.01.04