The Dark Tongue, sometimes called the Black Speech, is the language of Chaos, spoken by its servants and followers. It is the only language that can adequately express the mysteries of Chaos, capturing the mystical and the arcane in ways that no other language can. While similar in some ways to Daemonic — the magical language used for casting Chaos spells and rituals—Black Speech lacks the magical weight found in the other more blasphemous tongue. Speaking the Dark Tongue does not (always) attract the attention of the Dark Gods, nor can it be used to speak the incantations needed to cast a spell or recite a ritual. The Dark Tongue is also a root language for others spoken in the Old World and beyond.
Queekish is ultimately a bastardisation of the Black Speech, polluted by mispronunciations and injected with squeaks, trills, and other sounds, since the Ratmen lack the mouth structure to enunciate the words properly. Also, the Dark Elves of Naggaroth speak a related language called Black Elven (or sometimes Druhir), which blends the lexicons of Eltharin (the tongue of High Elves) and Black Speech, though they use pure Dark Tongue when discussing matters related to sorcery. Beastmen speak a mix of the Dark Tongue and crude grunts, roars and gestures, as their bestial faces, in a myriad of different forms, often have a difficult time conjugating pure Dark Tongue.
As mentioned, the Dark Tongue is rich in phrases and words that express the complex nature of Chaos. Many make the mistake of attributing basic meanings to the words, but each holds far greater meaning and significance than a translation can supply. Each word encompasses a broad range of concepts, each with a different connotation depending on their arrangement with other words in the language and the addition of prefixes and suffixes, revealing different and deeper meanings held within the root. And, of course, mutating the root yields even more meanings.
Though the individual words have incredible depth, there are far fewer words in the Black Speech than in many other languages, though the root mutations as well as the addition of prefixes and suffixes allow innumerable variations. Thus, few speakers of the Dark Tongue know the language fluently or learn the many secrets it hides. As a result, this tongue is an effective means of expression for occult lore.
When written, the Dark Tongue uses Chaos Runes. These inscriptions can be found in everything related to Chaos, from banners and the Chaos Monoliths that demarcate the boundaries of the Chaos Wastes, to the hasty scratches on Herdstones, etching on weapons, and marks on shrines and temples, daubed in blood or dung. Chaos Runes are distinctive, readily identifiable for their character; there is no mistaking a Chaos Rune for anything other than what it is.
Chaos Runes represent ideas and experiences. In a sense, these Runes are shorthand for more complex phrases. A single Rune could represent a mutation or even mark a place of significant pools of Dhar. It’s believed there’s a single rune for every mutation, every change that has ever existed and will come to be. Many creatures blessed by the Dark Gods also discover these odd Runes pressing against their flesh from within. Hidden Mutants may cut these symbols out of their skin to preserve their cover. Hence, extensive scar tissue makes Witch Hunters suspicious.
Chaos Runes are represented by phonetic runes. These are used just like letters, forming words and phrases based on their arrangements. The runes are evolved from the Daemonic phonetic runes used in scribing spells and rituals. Such writings are highly sought in the Empire and beyond. Witch Hunters and other agents of the Cult of Sigmar seek to destroy these writings, while cultists covet them for the secrets they contain.
The following root words demonstrate how the Dark Tongue works in its crudest form including the principle elements of the names of the four great Chaos Powers. In the most ancient and purest texts of the Dark Tongue, used in Chaos rituals, they are named as Karneth, Slaaneth, Nurgleth and Tzeeneth. From these are derived the names by which they have become commonly known: Khorne, Slaanesh, Nurgle and Tzeentch.[2i]
|Root Word||Simplified Basic Meaning|
|Khaos||Chaos, the sea of souls, magic power|
|Phaos||Psychic essence, soul, will|
|Dhaos||Psychic entity, spirit, daemon, power|
|Tzeen||Change - the will to change|
|Nurgh||Decay - the will to live/defy decay|
|Slaa||Ecstasy - the will to feel and sense|
|Khar||Rage - the will to dominate|
|Leth, neth||Lord of, Master of, Ruler of|
- Tzeeneth - Tzeentch - Changer of the Way
- Nurgleth - Nurgle - Lord of Decay
- Slaaneth - Slaanesh - Lord of Pleasure
- Karneth - Khorne - Lord of Blood
Like all root words in the Dark Tongue, the magical names for the Winds of Magic can be mutated to draw out deeper and more diverse meanings. For example, the root word Aqshy, which refers to the red or bright shade of colour Chaos can produce (but is not limited to) the following range of meanings: Aqsh for red, Akhash for blood, Aksha for battleaxe, Akhshami for secret, and Ksy for key or solution.[2i]
- Aghkam'ghran'ngi -- Plaguebearers.[2b]
- Akami -- Guardians.[2j]
- Akh -- Battle, bloodshed, to slay in battle.[2j]
- Akhshami -- Secret.[2j]
- Akhamshy'y -- Slayers or warriors.[2j]
- Akhash -- Blood.[2j]
- Aksha -- Battleaxe.[2j]
- Aksho -- To seek.[2j]
- Aqsh -- The colour red.[2j]
- Aqshy -- Red or bright.[2j]
- Aqshy'y -- Bronze or brass.[2j]
- Azyr -- Blue or celestial.[2j]
- Iakash -- Lock or obstacle.[2j]
- K' Chanu'tsani'i -- Flamers.[2g]
- K'echi'tsonae -- Discs of Tzeentch.[2h]
- Kha'a'a Akh'h -- Juggernauts.[3d]
- Kha'a'a Khak'hyshk -- Flesh Hounds.[3c]
- Khan'gurani'i -- Nurglings.[2c]
- Khak'akamshy'y -- Bloodletters.[3b]
- Khak'akaoz'khyshk'akami -- Bloodthirsters.[3a]
- Ksy -- Key or solution.[2j]
- Q'qha'shy'ythlis -- Fiends of Slaanesh.[3g]
- Q'qha'thashi'i -- Mounts of Slaanesh.[3h]
- Q'tlahsi'issho'akshami -- Keepers of Secrets.[3e]
- Q'tlahs'itsu'aksho -- Daemonettes.[3f]
- Qhaysh -- Rainbow or all colours.[2j]
- Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Tome of Corruption (pg. 110).
- 2: Warhammer: Realms of Chaos -- The Lost and the Damned