Orkish


Yrksk Orðabók

Although there is quite a bit of Orkish in the films of The Hobbit, the vocabulary involved in the dialogue is quite small. This is for two reasons: first, the dialogue is fairly repetitive; second, the Orcs are intended to have had a fairly small vocabulary to begin with, supplementing it as needed by words from the languages of Elves, Dwarves, and Men, and also Black Speech, when that became widely used in Middle-earth again at the end of the Third Age. Even what can be considered the foundational vocabulary is itself a mélange of older borrowings, very few of which can be traced back to the aboriginal Orkish of the First Age — which was itself influenced by both Avarin and Eldarin languages, and may even have been a simplified Avarin language to begin with. One such word that might seem to have survived, in various forms, is golug “elf”; but it seems more likely that it was a revival, reimported from Black Speech. The original word, however, may well have been an alteration of the Sindarin word golodh “one of the Noldor.”

Because of the limited nature of this vocabulary, it is possible to list all of the Orkish words that have appeared in the Hobbit films thus far. Some of these words are pan-Orkish; most, however, are probably limited to the Orcs who lived at the northern end of the Misty Mountains, with a standard (if such a thing can be said to exist) originally set by the Orcs of Mount Gundabad, prior to the Dwarf and Goblin war, about 150 years before Bilbo’s journey. But the internal evidence of the language suggests that the vernaculars of several different tribes were combined to form this standard; and in the time since the war, much change and decay had already taken place, particularly the loss of final vowels, which are however retained in some situations. Here then is this short word-list, all that can (so far) be gleaned from the meager evidence.

A
a-, pref.: away, out
â, cj.: and
ab, pref.: after, behind, following
abgur, v.: follow, chase after, pursue
-ai, -ayi-: plural suffix attached to peoples
adad, n.: being
agor, agr(a), n.: blood
-an(i): past tense suffix
ân, n.: human being
arg, a.: other
argad, n.: another thing
ash, a.: one, some
ashad(o), n.: one thing, a single thing
az, pron.: I
azgar, n.: war [Adûnaic zagar-]

B
bag, v.: pay [Eldarin *mbakh-?]
bakh, n.: shadow
ban, v.: stay, remain
band, n.: town
bar, a.: advantageous
bir(i), prep./postp.: for, to
bolneg, a.: painless
bolum, n.: pain
borzum, n.: darkness [cf. BS burzum]
buzb, n.: maggot, fly [cf. Eldarin *buzb-]
, v.: passive auxiliary
bun, num.: two
bûn, v.: past tense of na-, “was, were”

D
, n.: land [*daɣ]
dai, cj.: then, therefore, in that case
dai, pron.: they
-d(o): 3rd person suffix “their”; “him, her, them”
dorg(u), n.: master [*durbgu]
du, cj.: than [probably the same as below]
du, prep.: to [cf. Khuzdul du]
dum, av.: to the end, to completion, to success
dur, av.: soon
durdur, av.: very soon

E
-esh, postp.: in [BS ishi]
êsh, a.: alone [*ashi-]

G
-g(i), -g(u): 2nd person suffix “your”
ganzil, v.: remember
gar, av.: already
garm, n.: wolf
gast, n.: fear
gast, v.: fear
gel, av.: around
gelnakh, v.: to surround
gim, v.: find [cf. BS gimb-]
gin, a.: new [cf. Eldarin *win-?]
gin, n.: report, news
gir, v.: try
gloz, v.: sleep
go, postp.: with
golgi, n.: female elf
golug, golg-, n.: elf
gonakh, v.: come together, gather (intr.)
gor, n.: death
gor, v.: kill [*gur-; cf. Eldarin *ŋgur-]
gorb, v.: catch, grab; understand
gorgar, n.: bane, killer, slayer [*gurkar-]
gorgor, v.: slaughter, kill in large numbers
gorun, a.: killed, dead
gorz, v.: end, finish (something)
gud, av.: for a long time
gukht(i), n.: horde [cf. Eldarin *wekt-]
gul, n.: trick, deception, illusion
gun, a.: near
gur, v.: run, go (quickly)
gûr, n.: heart [cf. Sindarin gûr]

Gh
ghâsh, n.: fire [pan-Orkish word]

H
hag, v.: do, act
hakht, v.: speak [Eldarin *pakt-]
har, v.: travel, move
hir, postp.: by, through
hirimbag, n.: controller, wielder [cf. BS krimp-?]
horug, v.: hunt
horuga, n.: hunter
hugum, av.: here
hukh, v.: curse word
hum, av.: now
hur, av.: so
hurnash, intj.: “so it is”; unquestionably, definitely, exactly
huru, n.: eastern region, the east

I
-i: precedes modifying nouns and adjectives, linked to preceding noun
i, rel. pron.: which, that
-(i)d: 3rd person object suffix: him, her, it, them
ishor, num.: three

K
kab, v.: have
kair(a), n.: life [cf. Eldarin *koir-]
ker, v.: hide
ki, pron.: you [cf. Eldarin *ki-]
ki, cj.: if
kibul, n.: silver [Khuzdul kibil]
kil, v.: hide, conceal
kin, v.: see [cf. Eldarin *ken-]
kirg, n.: crossing, (mountain) pass
kirm(a), n.: blade
kirz, n.: tooth
kirzad, a.: toothed, dangerous, vicious
kod,dem. pron.: that
kogum, av.: that place, there; where
kom, av.: that time, then; when [*ko-mi]

Kh
kharb, n.: beast
khobd(u), n.: head
khozd, n.: dwarf [Khuzdul khuzd]
khun, n.: dog
khurg, n.: guts, bowels

L
-l: accusative suffix
lo, prep.: beyond, exceeding, excessive, too
log, n.: horse [cf. Eldarink *rok- and Northmannish *loh-]
lôg, n.: lake
loga, n.: horse-rider
lum: suffix indicating units of measure; X-lum = “X by X”
lur, a.: wet
lurdâ, n.: “wet land,” swamp

M
marg, v.: attack
mazd, v.: think
-m(i): 1st plural suffix, “we”
mig, a.: small, little
migul, migl-, n.: tiny, despised thing
mod, pron.: what?
mog, v.: permit, allow
mogum, pron.: where?
mol, n.: associate, ally
mong, n.: road
mor, pron.: how?
morg(u), n.: bear
moz, dem.pron.: this
murg, a.: many
murg, n.: a multitude
murg, v.: to be many, multiply, abound
murgad, n.: number

N
-n: definite suffix
na, v.: be [Eldarin na-]
nakh, av.: backwards, back
nakh, v.: come [Adûnaic]
nakht, v.: cause to come, lead
nar(u), postp.: to, toward; till, until
narnar, c.: until
narg, v.: want
nauzd, v.: smell, have a smell
nazd, a.: near
-neg: privative suffix, without, -less
nuzd(u), n.: scent, smell
nuzd, v.: smell (something), track

O
ô, o, cj.: but
ob(o), prep.: about; with; from
-ob: suffix of deprecation
obgur, v.: escape, get away
obhakht(i), n.: excuse
obhakht, v.: “speak away,” to excuse oneself
obkhurg, v.: remove the bowels, disembowel
obrish, v.: cut off
om-: comparative or superlative prefix (when du is not used)
omash, a./av.: first
omgun, a.: nearer, nearest, next
ommig, a.: less, least
ommurg, a.: more, most
ord, n.: mountain
org, n.: orc

P
pog, n.: ten
poig, n.: boy

R
-r: accusative suffix (archaic variant of -l)
ragsh, v.: tear
ran, n.: king [cf. Sindarin aran]
rang, v.: abandon, leave
ri, v.: taste
rish, v.: cut
rizg, v.: impale
ru, prep.: on, upon
ruzad(a), n.: opportunity (literally “on-fall”)
ruzad, v.: come upon, happen on

S
silz, v.: lie
silig, v.: let, release, loose

Sh
-sh(i): 3rd person subject suffix: he, she, it, they
shâ, av.: not
shad, n.: nothingness, void, destruction
shadgar, n.: destroyer
shâgum, n.: no place, nowhere
shâhakht, v.: say no, refuse
shast, v.: hear [cf. Eldarin √slas]
shâzil, a.: unknown
shâz’liz, a.: any, whatever (literally “I don’t know”)
shir, a.: fresh
shirz, n.: fragment, piece; “cut”
shirzlum, av.: piece by piece, piecemeal, by pieces
shog, v.: drink [cf. Eldarin √suk-, √sok-]
shorâ, a.: pale
shorakh, shrakh, n.: scum, filth
shotag, v.: break [cf. Eldarin √stak-]
shûg, a.: foul
shûg, n.: filth
shul, v.: wait, stay, tarry, stop
shulun, a.: delayed, late

T
tar, v.: cross [cf. Sindarin thar “across”]
torag, v.: bring, fetch, summon
torask, v.: beat, strike
torkh, n.: nest, lair
tud, v.: watch [Westron]
tung, n.: price
tunum, num.: thousand
tur, v.: have power, be able

U
-ug: suffix of completeness or generality; “all”
ulg(u), a.: each, every
ul(u), a.: all
um, a.: bad, worse
-un: impersonal verbal suffix, “one” (archaic)
-un: passive participle suffix
unar(u), n.: father
undag(u), adj.: born [*ontaku]
undum, n.: birth

Y
-ya: future suffix
yaz, n.: name [cf. Q esse]
yaz, v.: to call, to name
-yesh: locative suffix, “in”
yun, n.: offspring, spawn

Z
-z(a): 1st person possessive suffix, my
zad, v.: fall
zadgar, v.: cause to fall, cut down
zag, pron.: self (oneself, himself, herself, themselves)
zail, v.: learn
zey, n. & a.: light
zeyborz, n.: “light-dark,” a cycle of day and night
zidgar, v.: inform, make known
zidg(u), n.: wizard
zib, a.: fast
zibzib, a.: very fast
zil, v.: know
zog, v.: look for, expect, seek
zor, a.: hard
zorzor, a.: very hard
zung, a.: safe, secure
zungum, n.: safety, security
zur, v.: lose, lose track of

Til hamingju með afmælit

On this, the 122nd anniversary of the birth of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the Miðgarðsmál blog would like to wish him a

  • Mána ontalérë
  • Aur onnas alwed
  • Ênâd-nurt gêdul

and a

  • Zeyborzi undumi bolneg

Glosses
Quenya
mána “blessed”
onta– “produce, create, beget, give birth to”
ontale “production, creation, genealogical descent” — hence (presumably) birth as well
“day” (of 24 hours)
ontale+ré = ontalére, preserving the original long final vowel of *ontālē (cf. yáviére, tuilére)

Sindarin
aur “day” (of 24 hours)
onnas “birth” — a conjectural noun form, from the slightly less conjectural onna-, equivalent to Quenya onta– (cf. edonna– “beget”)
alwed “fortunate, prosperous”

Neo-Khuzdul
ênâd “birth” from *aynād, from the root √YND “give birth to” (influenced in fact by both Quenya yondo and Semitic √WLD, √YLD).
nurt “24-hour day” — a word from archaic formation, from √NRT “turn”; probably referring, not to the turning of the earth on its axis, but to the apparent turning of the sun around the earth. This root has been in my notes for a while, and I can’t find which word it was originally intended to explain or remember its origin; it looks now like simply an anagram of “turn,” but I may have had something else in mind, possibly Indo-European *wert- . “Turning” itself would be anrât.
gêdul “joyful, happy,” from a noun gayad, gêd- (*gayd-). No doubt Latin gaudium had an influence here.

Orkish (The dialect used in the film of The Hobbit)
zeyborz “day,” literally “light-dark”; zey from more archaic *zil, and borz from Black Speech burz.
The suffix -i marks a noun or noun phrase that is modified by an adjective or another noun. Its origin is probably the same as the Elvish relative pronoun i or ya.
undum “birth” or “spawning” from a verb und– “procreate.” This again seems to show Elvish influence.
The Orcs do not really appreciate the concept of joy, as understood by most other creatures (a literal description of it in Orkish would amount to “madness”), much less blessedness. I was forced to use an approximation of the concept that would make sense to an Orc:
bolneg “free from pain,” from the Orkish root √bol– (cf. bolum “pain”) and the privative suffix –neg, marking an absence of something. The latter is reminiscent of Latin negare; this is a coincidence (as they say in Middle-earth). The actual source is Quendian *-enekā, from the root √nek– “deprive of.”

The mind of the Dark Lord

Since I had so little direct linguistic information about Black Speech to go on other than what could be gleaned from the Ring-inscription (object suffixes -ul, -ulûk; verbal infinitive (perhaps) ending -at; abstract ending -um in burzum “darkness”, containing the same burz element seen in Lugbúrz “Dark Tower”; postposition –ishi “in”) I had to go on à priori notions of what a language such as Black Speech might be like — I had to get inside the mind of Sauron, and try to figure out what somebody like the Dark Lord of Mordor might put into his language.

As a matter of fact, this is something I had thought about some years before. As an undergraduate in college, I had contributed to a set of ongoing stories, where each participant wrote additional chapters and introduced characters and events as he or she pleased. Into one of these stories I introduced the character (played partly for humor, partly tragically) of a misfit Orc who, sometime after the fall of Mordor, had found himself transported through time and space into a new environment. On introducing this Orc, I thought it would add a touch of realism to let him speak in his own language; so I sketched the outline of what I imagined Black Speech might be like, and wrote a couple of paragraphs in it.

I have no idea if any copy of this text survives somewhere in my files. At any rate, I made no direct use of it, except for one small element that I retained in memory, the 1st person pronoun za — possibly suggested by Avestan azəm.

What I did retain, however, was the overall notion of Black Speech as a complex but consistent language, rich in affixation and inflection, but with a wholly transparent morphology. Indeed, the transparency of the morphology, the lack of any phonetic alterations between morphemes that could obscure the structure, would help explain the prevalence of clashing consonant clusters; morphemes ending in one consonant were jammed up against morphemes beginning in another, with nothing to ease the transition.

Sauron, I imagined, was an enormously practical person, who would have made the Black Speech as “perfect” (according to his notions of perfection) as he could make it, with a rigorous consistency and logic, but without making any allowance for æsthetics. It would not eschew borrowings from other languages of Middle-earth, but it would adapt them to its own style. It would in fact have been, as my friend Helge Fauskanger terms it, Sauron’s Esperanto.

Whether I actually managed to capture this vision of Sauron’s mind in my version of Black Speech may be doubted. I largely lack that sort of mental rigor, and when it comes to language I often prefer sloppiness to tight organization. Nonetheless, I think I succeeded in making my version of Black Speech a bit more consistent than most of the other languages of this milieu, though not without its own quirks.

In sharp contrast to the relatively tight organization of Black Speech, the Orkish languages were to be simple, disorganized, and inconsistent, the result of years of rapid and ungoverned evolution. There would be grammar, of course, but also a fair amount of toleration of variation, and a continuous tendency to proliferate new words and abandon old ones. They would show a strong influence from Black Speech, at various stages in their development; but they would fail to adhere by its rules.

For the Lord of the Rings films I intended to come up with three Orkish dialects in addition to Black Speech: one, spoken by the Orcs of Mordor, would be closely based on Black Speech, but spoken in a more casual and clipped manner. The other two, the Orkish of Isengard and the Orkish of Moria, ideally should have been developed as wholly independent languages, touched by Black Speech only through borrowings. Faced with rapidly approaching deadlines, however, I cheated; I made all of them descendants of Black Speech, via a hypothetical Proto-Orkish, with the language of Isengard showing several distinguishing sound changes, and the language of Moria showing an even more advanced set of sound changes, intended to give the Moria-goblins a hissing, sibilant sound.

The last was not actually my own idea; I received a message (February 20, 2001) from writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, asking for the following characteristics of the Orcs:

Mordor Orcs – harsh and guttural, reflecting the barrenness of Gorgoroth.
Moria Orcs – more secretive, whispery, hissing, reflecting the darkness of the tunnels.
For the Uruk-hai we want powerful sounds that reflect aggression and hatred, also a discipline to the language not shown by the lesser Orcs.

Since “harsh and guttural” and “aggression and hatred” were likely to be associated with these languages in any case, I didn’t have to do much with regard to the dialects of Mordor and Isengard other than to render them distinct; but for Moria I had to implement sound-changes (of a somewhat improbable nature) that considerably increased the proportion of fricatives.

By way of illustration, I copy a list of words which I wrote out at the beginning of this task. From *lutu- down this is actually a rationalization of miscellaneous jottings, not necessarily consistent with the rest of this list or even with themselves; they were probably added later. You can also observe that I was not very consistent with my choice of symbols.

Meaning Proto-Orkish Mordor Isengard Moria
sky *kilmi kilᵊm kʰīm ʃīm
sun *ūru ūr ūr ūʒ
tree *turu tur tʰur suʒ
foot *tulu tul tʰul sū(l)
tooth *nakṛ nakur nagū pl. nāgā noɣ
flesh *marna marn mān mān
bite *naka- naka- naga- naɣa-
beat *bada- bada- bara- vaza-
whip *badgu badg bāg vāɣ
fight *kutkuta- kukut- kūkda- χūχza-
kill *daka- daka- daga- zaɣa-
war *kutmu kutum kūm χūm
die *guru- guru- gura- ɣur-
death *gurutu gurut gūt ɣūʃ
heave *giba- giba- giva- ʒīa-
pull *tugu- tugu- tʰuɣu- sū-
hack *skada- skada- kʰara- χaza-
slash *kliza- kliza- kʰiza- χliza-
command *durbu- durbu- dūbu- zū-
light *gāra gār gār ɣāʒ
day *garmu gārum gām ɣām
to daw [sic] *garmuza- garmuza- gāmza- ɣānza-
dawn *garmuzata- garmuzat gāmzad ɣānzaz
arise *huru- huru- huru- uʒu-
burn *laka- laka- laga- laɣa-
burn (caus) *lakja- lača- laiga- laʒa-
feel, touch *maka- maka- maga- maɣa-
want/will *hizi- hizi- hizi- iʒi-
hurry *klikja- kliča- kʰīga- χīɣa-
come *lutu- lutu- ludu- ruzu-
rest luzu-
close *karba- kāba- χaχāv-
flee *drigi- drigi- diɣi- dī-
work *bulu-
wait, stay *dara- dara- dara- zara-
feast *mamata- mamata- manda-
scream *skriki- kʰigi-
screaming *skrikikai χriχa
crawl *smugu-  smugu- muɣu- šmū-
crawling *smuguku muɣgu šmūɣ
gnash *karka- kāka- χāχa-
see *guglu- gūgu- ɣūɣu-
more *tʰag
get *snaba- nava- ʃnā-
mountain *urudu
come *nakʰ
return *agnakʰ
army *kʰotʰ
destroy *gutja- gūda-
hard *kraka kʰag

Isengard kūm is doubtless a mistake for kʰūm. There are likely other errors as well.

I did not write down any details of the sound changes, since I presumably made them up as I went along; nonetheless they appear to be fairly regular. Mordor-Orkish loses the final vowels in nouns, and adds an epenthetic vowel in some final consonant clusters. Isengard-Orkish aspirates initial voiceless stops and voices medial ones, while turning medial voiced stops to voiced fricatives (but -d- to -r-), drops preconsonantal r with compensatory lengthening, and has a variety of other assimilations. Moria-Orkish assimilates like Isengard-Orkish, but also turns almost all stops to fricatives.

Unutterable words

In the interest of keeping this story in a more-or-less chronological order, and having covered most of the work related to the Khuzdul of the films of The Lord of the Rings, I’m going to go back a bit and discuss another rather tangled complex of languages I worked on: the Black Speech of Mordor, and its various Orkish progeny.

Creating these languages posed problems similar to those of Khuzdul, but in a much more acute fashion. Whereas for Khuzdul there was at least a small vocabulary (but enough to establish a consistent phonology) and some hints at grammar, so that one knew at least what kind of language it was, for the language invented by Sauron we had almost nothing: just the inscription on the One Ring, and a couple of other words and names (such as Lugbúrz “Dark Tower,” uruk “soldier-orc,” snaga “slave-orc,” olog “troll,” ghâsh “fire,” nazgûl “ringwraith,” sharkû “old man,” and tark “man (of Gondor)”; and possibly some much older words used by the Orcs in the First Age, like golug “elf” and oghor “Wild Man”. Of the lesser Orkish dialects, just a curse uttered by a Mordor-orc, which is translated three different ways, and a variety of names are available (Isengard-orcs: Lugdush, Mauhúr, Uglúk; Mordor-orcs: Gorbag, Grishnákh, Lagduf, Muzgash, Radbug, Shagrat, Ufthak).

Appendix F provides some other indications of the nature of the languages in question: with regard to the Orcs, that they “took… other tongus and perverted [them],” making “brutal jargons”; that there were “as many barbarous dialects as there were groups or settlements,” and consequently that there was no single Orkish language, and that one Orkish tribe would be unable to communicate with another through its own language, and that therefore Westron became their <i>lingua franca</i>.

With regard to the Black Speech, it appears that Sauron devised it with the intention of it being the common language of all his subjects, but merely succeeded in providing certain common items of vocabulary for the various Orkish groups. During most of the Third Age it was forgotten, but the end of the Third Age Sauron revived it as the ‘national language’ of Mordor, and it was consequently used by his own soldiers — but in a “debased” form. This language was also used by the Olog-hai, a breed of trolls found in Mirkwood and in Mordor.

Beyond that, we have the general characterization that the sound of spoken Black Speech was “menacing, powerful, harsh as stone” — characterizations that are a little hard to relate to its written transcription.

The vowel sounds in the inscription on the Ring include only a, i, u, and û [uː]; but o is found elsewhere. The sound i is rare, and e is not found at all.

The consonants seen are:

Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Glottal
Voiceless
stops
p t k
Voiced
stops
b d g
Nasals m n ŋ
Voiceless
fricatives
f θ, s ʃ x h
Voiced
fricatives
z ɣ
Liquids
and glides
l, r j

There is really nothing exceptional in this sound system; except for [x] and [ɣ], all the sounds are easy for English-speakers to pronounce, and those sounds are fairly common in other well-known languages.
What may make the language “harsh” is the abundance of unsimplified consonant clusters of various types: Initial gl-, kr-, sk-, sn-, θr-; internal -bh-, -db-, -fθ-, -gb-, -gd-, -gl-, -gr-, -mb-, -mp-, -rb-, -rz-, -ʃd-, -ʃn-, -zg-; final -ŋk, -rk, -zg. These give the language a somewhat clunky, overcrowded phonæsthetic, but in this respect English is no better and quite possibly worse. One also notes a relatively high proportion of velars, as compared to the Elvish languages, which are coronal-rich. But perhaps more than any of this it’s the preponderance of back vowel sounds which most contribute to the “heavy” sound of the language.

But for all that, I can’t say that I personally find it an unlovely language. Gandalf’s voice may have become “menacing” when uttering the words on the Ring, but I could just as easily produce the same sounds with charming effect. In terms of its sounds, I think Black Speech comes closest to Persian, which I find a very appealing-sounding language — though front vowels are much more common in Persian.