I. Introduction

This is an interpretation of the Black Speech and its purpose in Tolkien’s mythos and should be considered as such. Most of this text was written for the LARP Utumno.

Sauron’s dark arts consists not only of technical inventions like explosive fire and huge catapults, biological contorted creatures like the olog-hai or artifacts that metaphysically effect the world like the Rings of Power but also social technologies like bureaucracy. A substantial part of Mordor’s power is based on administration which allows the organisation of mass armies. The basis of this totalitarian machinery is the language of the administration, i.e. The Black Speech which is a fundamental part of Mordor machinery and an expression of the social technology of Sauron’s black art.

The Black Speech is the administrative language of the Tower and the Machine, without living elements. It is a tool of power, primarily intended to bind the servants of Sauron closer to his subcreation. In the original Black Speech there are no interjections or curses, but new ones are constantly invented by the Orcs – the servants and proletariat of the Tower. This shows that among the Orcs, a small part of Eru’s original creation still persists; their language is still alive and develops. Thus the difference between the Black Speech and the Orcish tongue becomes an illustration of Sauron’s will to dominate His slaves and the slaves’ resistance. What little remains of the word-loving Elves that have been corrupted into uruks (a word that in primitive Elvish means ”horror”) is the will to create gibes and taunts about their surroundings.

In every culture, language is important and it is hard to describe a culture without describing its language. For Tolkien, language was fundamental and according to himself he created his myths and tales to give his invented languages a place and time where they could become alive. Two languages were developed in particular; the two Elven, or Eldarin, tongues of Quenya and Sindarin. But he also roughed out several other languages for his world. Not only several other Elven ones but also the Adûnaic of Númenor, the Dwarven Khuzdul and the, for us relevant; Black Speech of Mordor. (Ardalambion)

The Black Speech was constructed by Sauron for his servants’ use. It is a tongue of power and bureaucracy that utterly lacks the spirit of living languages. After the fall of Sauron at the end of the Second Age the Black Speech fell into disuse, remembered in its pure form only by the Nazgûl. But fragments remained and developed into numerous Orcish dialects that were eventually mixed up with various Mannish tongues. Thus there is a distinct language-based disparity between the commanders and the rank and file in the armies of Mordor.

Very little is known about the pure Black Speech, but a central verse is the inscription on the One Ring (Ash Nazg Durbatulûk, Ash Nazg Gimbatul, Ash Nazg Thrakatulûk agh Burzum-ishi Krimpatul) along with a few other scattered words.

But one has to remember to keep the true Black Speech separate from the degenerate Orcish dialects that are also present in the source material. The material that remains has been analysed many times over and many attempts have been made to construct a functional language. Among these was an Orcish wordlist published in ”Angmar”, an addition to the roleplaying game Middle-Earth Role Playing (ICE (1995) Angmar, stock 2018, second edition, s. 122-136). In Sweden during the 1990’s the ”lajvsvartiska” or “LARP-orcish” was developed using the Angmar-list as a foundation and was used by LARP’ers who portrayed Orcs and other creatures of evil. The LARP-orcish had the ambition to be similar to Tolkien’s Black Speech but was in reality more of a kind of Orcish. The language presented here, Zhâburi, was first developed for the LARP project Utumno.

This version of the Black Speech is more in line with Tolkien’s own vision of the Black Speech of Sauron. It is based on the hypothesis of the historian Alexandre Nemirovsky’s analysis of the Black Speech as inspired by Hittite/Hurrian, a Bronze Age language spoken in the Middle East between 2300-1200 years BCE, basing this decision upon the fact that Nemirovsky’s analysis shows a striking similarity between the Black Speech of the Ring inscription and Hurrian, and the fact that Tolkien was greatly inspired by existing languages when he developed his own (Welsh for Sindarin and Finnish for Quenya, to name two). But parts of the LARP-orcish and its grammar has been kept where it fits in, so those who are familiar with that language will recognise some it.

The goal and purpose of this new Black Speech was manifold. First and foremost, the grammar and phonology should conform with that of the Ring inscription. Second, that the language should retain the same sense of prodigious power and cruelty possessed of the Ring inscription, very much unlike the messy and ugly feel that can be found in the sentence ”Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai”. This sentence is instead considered Orcish. But since the material is so fragmented, we decided to keep some sounds from Orcish sources as well. The third goal was that the language should be useable for LARPs without forfeiting the previous two. This means that where we have been forced to bridge grammatical or phonological gaps with our own constructions, the solutions have been as close to Swedish or English as possible. However, it should be noted that the language described here does not have an indo-european structure, meaning that the Black Speech will appear inherently foreign to most.

The first version of this Black Speech of Mordor was developed for LARP with the purpose to bring the LARP-orcish closer to Tolkien’s vision of the Black Speech. Since then the language have developed further. At the moment I’m trying to bring in it closer to hurrian in the grammatical structure instead of Swedish and English and closer to the mythos by incorporating Primitive Elvish and Valarin into the word-roots.