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I've just come across this quote from Wikipedia:

Russian historian Alexander Nemirovski claimed a strong similarity to Hurrian, which had recently been partially deciphered at the time of the writing of The Lord of the Rings, E. A. Speiser's Introduction to Hurrian appearing in 1941.

How similar are they, actually? What similarities do they have? Grammatical structure? Vocabulary? Is it even possible to tell, seeing how few examples of the Black Speech we have?

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Well, The Font of All Knowledge (a.k.a. Wikipedia) tells us several things:

  • There is not much similarity as far as phonology, as Hurrian seems to lack consonant voicing distinction (except in certain circumstances). BS clearly has this distinction.
  • There's not enough BS to determine much by way of grammar, but Hurrian seems to be extremely agglutinative; BS doesn't appear to be at all.
  • Hurrian seems to have more vowels.
  • BS has more consonant clusters.

Upon reading this analysis of Black Speech, I think it is clear that Professor Tolkien must have taken some words & grammatical forms into BS from Hurrian. For example:

  • -at < Hurrian -ed- formant of jussive/intended future in verbal form formant of future in verbs
  • -ûk < “All”, “completeness”; Hurrian -ok, formant with a meaning “fully, truthfully, really” in a verbal form.

Hurrian texts were known since discoveries in the 1910s & 1930s. A grammar wasn't published until 1941. Based on the Analysis, I think it very likely that Prof. Tolkien gained inspiration from the Hurrian direction. I'm not sure I'd agree with "strong similarity" based on the extreme paucity of BS evidence. More evidence, a lost grammar, those would be more convincing one way or the other.

  • It's entirely possible that BS could be agglutinative (Rosenfelder actually analyses the "One Ring" inscription as the opener to the Language Construction Kit book). At the very least, the verbal inflections doesn't give any indication whatsoever to state it "doesn't appear to be at all" agglutinative. – Circeus Mar 7 '18 at 15:18
  • Note that I said "extreme paucity of BS evidence". Pace Mr Rosenfelder, we can analyse one or two sentences and come up with nine different interpretations. Until there's more data, I at least can't agree with ányone's pronouncements one way or the other, though the evidence we do have doesn't give me much confidence that the agglutinative camp will win the day! – elemtilas Mar 7 '18 at 22:37
  • According to Wikipedia Tolkien himself said it "appeared" to be agglutinative. Also, you should probably compare the languages based on the 1941 grammar since Tolkien didn't have access to the Font of All Knowledge – b a Mar 8 '18 at 11:58
  • Tolkien's own assessment definitely bears more weight than anyone else's opinion, certainly mine included. While I'd take his words as "weighing heavily towards the agglutinative camp", still, we just don't have enough evidence to say one way or the other. – elemtilas Mar 9 '18 at 3:37
  • The apparent scarcity of consonant clusters in Hurrian could be an artifact of the syllabic script (compare Linear B). – Anton Sherwood Oct 5 '18 at 21:24

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