Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Speech of Dwarves, Men, and Orcs

Tolkien's lesser languages, although less thoroughly worked-out, had much of the same symmetry and internal consistency as Elvish, and were each designed to reflect something of the character of its speakers. Dwarvish -- Khuzdul, to be precise -- had a great deal of guttural sounds, though also a rough dignity befitting a proud race; it seems most closely to resemble Hebrew. One curious aspect of Khuzdul was the the Dwarves were very reluctant to let outsiders learn it (though a few persistent Elves were permitted the essentials), and some aspects -- their own "true" Dwarvish names among them -- they kept secret; they were not even carved upon their own tombs.

The earliest languages of Men were rather less well worked-out, though eventually the speech of the Edain, those who most closely followed in Elvish footsteps, eventually evolved into Adûnaic, the language of the Númenorians. Although after the fall of that kingdom it was no longer used in its pure form, it became the basis for most later languages of Men, and of "Westron" (a Englishing of the original Adûni), the "common tongue" employed by Men, Hobbits, and (as a sort of lingua franca) Elves and Dwarves as well. The idea that the "better" human languages were those that learned or borrowed most from Elvish was also a persistent feature of Tolkien's worldview.

Last and (deliberately) least came the unnamed "Black Speech," devised by Sauron at some point in the Second Age, and intended by him to be used by all his servants. Many orcs, alas, lacked the ability to master it thoroughly (though it appeared in their names, and the names of their regiments and fortifications); it became primarily an incantatory speech for Sauron, the Nazgûl, and his chief lieutenants. More recently, Black Speech -- or an invented extension/form of it -- has become popular in the band names of so-called "Black Metal" groups such as Burzum, Za Frûmi, and Nazgûl. The exact origins of this speech are uncertain, though it appears it was made in a kind of abasement or mockery of Elvish, and like Elvish is a higly inflected language, to judge from the very few bits we have of it. Interestingly, this makes Sauron the only figure in Tolkien's subcreation to create his own language -- Fëanor and others only created alphabetic systems -- and suggests a strange new moral about the nature of invention and imitation.


  1. While creating all of the languages, Tolkien was careful to give each language character, feeling, and almost a personality. Elvish is, in all of its forms, fluid and lofty. This character is also evident in the Elves themselves. They are aristocratic, graceful and smooth. In the case of the Dwarves, Khuzdul is more guttural , unrefined, and proud. Similarly, Dwarves are very proud, secretive, and rough people. The Hobbits speaking only the common tongue, Westron, are far more simple creature that merely want to enjoy the little things in life, and accordingly, Westron is a simplified and more basic form of Adunaic. In the same way, the Black Speech just sounds evil. It sounds dark, menacing and twisted, which is very characteristic of Sauron and his servants. In addition, since the Black Speech was supposed to be a mockery of Elvish, the twisted feel that it has is very fitting to its context and to Sauron's mentality. Tolkien pretty much infused his created languages with the the core essence of each race. I think that the more people study these languages, the more they can understand the nature of all of the races of Middle Earth.

  2. I agree with Natela in that Tolkien's languages for his populations are a reflection of those who speak the given languages. This identification of speech does help one better identify the different races throughout Middle Earth. The observation of the Dwarves' language resembling Hebrew is an interesting observation, especially given the similarities between the lives of the Dwarves in Middle Earth and the lives of the Jews, especially in Europe and the Middle East. The existence of a "common tongue", Westron, is interesting to note, as many people in our world speak multiple languages, with English being a common shared language (at least, in this part of the world).

  3. I have always found it interesting that the language of Man in any fantasy setting is depicted as the more primitive. While the Elves, Dwarves, and even Orcs had a decently or even well developed language and/or writing while the Humans were practically getting over simple grunts. I also find it interesting that the language of Human or anything similar, in this case it's Westron, is the "common" or basic speech. I find myself heavily comparing that to the English language, which I believe is where it is derived from, where the language is spread and roughly every race has some manner in which they can speak it. This concept does allow other races and cultures to communicate, because what kind of story would have races with no common language in which to speak with? Probably still a good story, but a tad confusing.
    As for Sauron's language, I assumed this was because after his predecessor was defeated and Sauron took over, he wanted to make sure that his new forces and realm was under his control. Thus, his realm could only speak his language.