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Dates
Said to have been devised 'in the Dark Years'1 (that is, some time in the Second Age). It would presumably have fallen out of use after the War of the Ring.
Origins
An artificial language created by Sauron for use by his servants.

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  • Updated 25 August 2019
  • This entry is complete

Black Speech

The tongue of the servants of Sauron

"Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul
ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul
"
The Ring-inscription, in its original ancient Black Speech
From The Fellowship of the Ring II 2 The Council of Elrond

As Sauron ascended to become the new Dark Lord during the Second Age, he found that the Orcs who served him were divided into scattered tribes speaking mutually unintelligible Orkish dialects. Sauron therefore devised a new language to be used by all his servants, a language that came to be known as the Black Speech.

The origins of the words used in the Black Speech are obscure, but at least some of them seem to have been adopted from existing Orkish dialects. The Orcs had no language of their own, but they freely adopted and twisted words from other languages, and there are apparent examples of these words within the Black Speech.

The Nazgûl (who were enslaved to Sauron's will) naturally adopted the Black Speech. Indeed, the word Nazgûl itself came from the Black Speech, being the equivalent of 'Ringwraith' in that language. The Orcs proved too unruly, however, to adopt a universal tongue. Instead they retained their own multitude of dialects, though they acquired words from the Black Speech as they did from other languages. When Orcs of different tribes met, they would at times use the Black Speech as a shared language, though they would often prefer the to use the Common Tongue instead.

After Sauron's overthrow at the end of the Second Age, the Black Speech was all but forgotten, but with the Dark Lord's return he brought it back into use. When Mordor was reoccupied, the Black Speech was the language used by Sauron himself, his Nazgûl and his captains. Even the Orcs of Mordor spoke a version of the tongue, though in the nature of their kind this was a broken and debased form of the Black Speech as it had originally been devised by Sauron.

Examples of the Black Speech

Samples of the Black Speech in actual use are extremely rare, and indeed we only have two sources that provide more than a word or two. The first of these is the Ring-inscription, the string of words running around the inside and outside of the One Ring, which read: Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul. The translation of the inscription runs as follows:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Certain patterns stand out here that we can associate with other known fragments of the language. Ash nazg, for example, means 'One Ring', and the word nazg, 'ring', is also used in Nazgûl, 'Ringwraith'.2 Burzum is 'darkness', and that connects with Lugbûrz, the name in the Black Speech for Sauron's 'Dark Tower' of Barad-dûr. It should perhaps be noted that the Ring-inscription was said to be in an ancient form of the Black Speech, implying that the language evolved in some respects, but words like burzum and nazg seem to have remained constant across its history.

Our only other significant source of Black Speech is rather less elevated than the Ring-inscription: a string of curses from the Orc Grishnákh against his fellow Orc Uglúk, and the Isengarders he was forced to accompany across Rohan. It is said to have been in a debased form the Black Speech, and runs Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai!. This is not interpreted in the text of The Lord of the Rings, but a translation does appear in volume XII of The History of Middle-earth: 'Uglúk to the cesspool, sha! The dungfilth; the great Saruman-fool, skai!'

A handful of other words are known, but these are from Orkish sources and so may be somewhat corrupted from the original Black Speech form. Among these are ghâsh, 'fire' and snaga, 'slave'. Another example is uruk, 'Orc', from which the soldier-orcs known as the Uruk-hai took their name. Sharkû, 'old man', was another example of the same kind, further corrupted to 'Sharkey' as a name given to Saruman by his underlings during his brief rule in the Shire.


Notes

1

This reference is in The Lord of the Rings Appendix F I, Of Other Races. In fact, the Black Speech must have existed before II 1600, because the One Ring, which bears an inscription in this tongue, was forged on about that date.

2

The Gaelic languages contain a word nasc or nasg, a binding or link, that can be interpreted as 'ring'. The similarity to Black Speech nazg is remarkable, but appears to be coincidental. At least, according to comments in a letter of 1967, Tolkien did not consciously base his invented word on this Gaelic source.

Indexes:

About this entry:

  • Updated 25 August 2019
  • This entry is complete

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