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The Dark Tongue

Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (1990), p80-81 — The Dark Tongue

The Dark Tongue, also known as the Black Speech, is the language of Chaos as spoken by its servants and followers. It has undoubtedly earned its colloquial names because it is uttered in shadows by those clad in robes of darkness.

The Dark Tongue is a ritual language and the only tongue in which the mysteries of Chaos can truly by expressed. It is the language of Daemons, Beastmen and Chaos Creatures who have the power of speech. Daemon names and the secret daemonic names of Champions are all of the Dark Tongue. The servants of Chaos learn the Dark Tongue so that they can converse with daemons and other creatures that speak it. Chaos Warriors, Wizards and Cultists can communicate in the Dark Tongue, and most can carve the Runes of Chaos which are used to write it. The Skaven know the Dark Tongue, but find it impossible to pronounce properly; their own squeaky language, Queekish, is ultimately derived from the Dark Tongue. The Dark Elves also speak a related language known as Black Elvish, a cross between High Elvish and the Dark Speech. Dark Elves still use the pure Dark Tongue for their rituals and magic.

Chaos Runes

The Dark Tongue is written in Chaos Runes. The inscriptions on Champions' banners, Chaos Monoliths, and Beastman Braystones are al made using Chaos Runes. Runes are also used on magic weapons and items, and are daubed on Chaos temples and shrines. Each rune represents an individual Reward of Chaos, but there are also special phonetic runes which can be used to write any language including the Dark Tongue. Phonetic runes evolved when Chaos Wizards recorded their spells, incantations, and other occult works. Examples of the Dark Tongue and Chaos Runes are sought after by cultists and witchfinders alike, but where the cultists seek to collect and preserve, witchfinders are intent on expunging Chaos lore by erasing inscriptions and burning the texts. Despite these efforts, the Dark Tongue persists and flourishes, passed down by word of mouth and preserved on Chaos Monoliths.

The Chaos Language

The Dark Tongue is rich in words and phrases which express the mystical, arcane and complex cosmology of Chaos. Although it is convenient to attach basic meanings to these words, they are imbued with far greater and deeper significance. Each word really encompasses a myriad of associated meanings and concepts. For this reason the Dark Tongue, in its pure and archaic form, has become the most powerful language of sorcery and ritual. Debased versions of the language have far less power to evoke the mysteries of Chaos.

The core of the Dark Tongue is a collection of root words, heavily endowed with meaning. The root word is altered by the addition of prefixes and suffixes to bring out the various potential meanings held within the root. Yet more meanings are yielded from the root by mutation of the root itself.

Although there are relatively few root words compared to other languages, such as High Elven for example, there are innumerable potential root mutations in the Dark Tongue. Few human cultists will ever learn all of them and so be able to unlock all the secrets held within the language. It is this characteristic of the Dark Tongue which makes it such an effective and potent means of expression for arcane and occult lore and lends it the haunting quality which gives power and eloquence to ritual incantations.

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 Kharneth, Slaaneth, Nurgleth and Tzeeneth. From these are derived the names by which they have become commonly known: Khorne, Slaanesh, Nurgle and Tzeentch.

Root WordSimplified Basic Meaning
KhaosChaos, the sea of souls, magic power
PhaosPsychic essence, soul, will
DhaosPsychic entity, spirit, daemon, power
TzeenChange - the will to change
NurghDecay - the will to live / defy decay
SlaaEcstasy - the will to feel and sense
KharRage - the will to dominate
Leth, nethLord of, Master of, Ruler of


Recording Rewards

Rewards bestowed upon followers by the Chaos Powers, including Chaos Attributes, are expressed by specific Chaos Runes. It is traditional for Champions of Chaos to indicate their progress on the Chaos Path by inscribing the appropriate Chaos Rune or Runes on their shields, armour, weapons or other items of equipment.

Every Chaos Reward, be it a Gift or Chaos Attribute, is represented by its own rune. When the Champion writes his name he will append it with the runes indicating his Rewards. Should his followers raise a monolith to his memory then his runes will be displayed prominently upon it as a testament to his achievements.

The Chaos Runes are illustrated on the following pages. They provide a complete catalogue of Chaos devices which can be painted onto a Champion model's armour or shield, or drawn onto his banner. As decorative features, the Chaos Runes can be drawn in different styles should players wish to do so; after all, the Chaos Warriors and their followers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and there is no reason to assume that they would all draw a rune in exactly the same way.

So long as the rune is recognisable for what it is any degree of variation or decoration can be used. The highly elaborate runes of Nurgle and Tzeentch which are illustrated throughout this book show just one way in which this can be done. You can copy these designs or make up new variations of your own - as simple or as elaborate as you like.

The Colours of Magic

Chaos is the stuff of raw magic used by Wizards to work their spells. When Chaos enters the material world it fragments into eight different colours of magic. These colours plus two others (Dark and Rainbow representing undivided and reunited Chaos) are the Colours of Magic. They are represented in the Dark Tongue by their own names and runes. Each is also known by a common magical name which identifies the Wizard's allegiance or College as this is known. For example a Wizard who uses Yellow Magic is a Golden Wizard and the Chaos Rune Chamon appears on his clothes and regalia.

ColourCommon NameChaos NameRune
All ColoursRainbowQhayshQhaysh

Like all root words in the Dark Tongue these magic names 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 Chaos can produce the following range of meanings:

Aqshy'yBronze or brass
AqshThe colour red
AkhBattle, bloodshed, to slay in battle
KsyKey or solution
IakashLock or obstacle
AkshoTo seek
Akhamshy'ySlayers or warriors

Codex: Chaos (1996), p61

Khorne shall be called with blood.
Aksho Kharneth Akhash

Slaanesh shall be called with anguish.
Aksho Slaaneth K'khaa

Tzeentch shall be called with fire.
Aksho Tzeeneth Phaos

Nurgle shall be called with death.
Aksho Nurgleth Dh'Akh

The door is unlocked, Daemons of Chaos I call thee forth.
Ksy'Iakash Dhaos Akhamshy'y Khaos Akso'mi!

Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (1990), p84 — Phonetic Runes

The Chaos Language is written in special Phonetic Runes. Phonetic Runes are runes which represent sounds in the same way as our familiar latin alphabet. Any language can be written using the phonetic runes, including English. We like to use these runes to write messges or slogans on our own Chaos Champions' banners. In the Warhammer World itself, Chaos devotees often use the phonetic runes to write languages other than their own. In fact, many Chaos Champions are humans and the language they speak and write will be human and not the Dark Tongue.

The phonetic runes are shown below with their nearest English sound equivalent. In some cases there is no direct English equivalent to a sound in the Dark Tongue, in which case one of several runes can be used depending on which the writer believes is closest in nature to the intended sound.

Numerals are also represented by specific runes. These runes can be written together to indicate multiple values. The runes for ten, a hundred and a thousand are simply repeated as many times as necessary to produce a number like three hundred or eight thousand. Because this repetition of the rune may be a little cumbersome, it is also acceptable to represent a number such as three hundred by writing the number three followed by the number hundred. Both systems are used and it is really up to the individual to decide which they prefer - some scribes combine both systems in the same document, using whichever best fits the space available.

Warhammer Armies: Beasts of Chaos (2003), p74 — The Beast Tongue (Dark Tongue, Black Speech)

The Dark Tongue is a ritual language and the only tongue in which the tru mysteries of Chaos can properly be expressed. The language is rich in words and phrases that express the mystical and arcane complexity of Chaos. It is the language used by daemons when they enter the material world, as well as the basis of the languages spoken by the many mortal followers of Chaos, including the Beastmen.

The core of the Dark Tongue is a collection of root words, heavily endowed with meaning. The root word is altered by the addition of prefixes and suffixes to bring out the various potential meanings held within the root. Yet more meanings are yielded from the root by mutation of the root itself. It can be a highly complex language, but equally it can be spoken in a very simple manner. Although it is convenient for mortals to attack basic meanings to each word, in reality they are imbued with far greater and deeper significance to the daemons themselves; each word encompasses a myriad of associated meanings and concepts, as well as holding a power in themselves. The socerers worshipping Chaos have begun to tap the power of the Dark Tongue, but only the most powerful will even have an inkling at the potential power that is contained within it. Few mortals can unlock all the secrets within the language, nor do they need to in order to communicate effectively. The Chaos Warriors and Marauders of the far north all speak their own debased tribal variations of the Dark Tongue. Communication is possible between the different tribes, as almost all worshippers of Chaos can communicate with each other no matter what dialect they speak, although it might be difficult and slow.

Beastmen can only form many of the sounds of the Dark Tongue with difficulty, and other sounds are impossible for them to pronounce with their fang-filled, bestial mouths. They use a crude mix of brutish sounds together with the Dark Tongue and the regional languages of the Old World to form a language commonly called the Beast Tongue. To an outsider, this bastardised language sounds little more than a braying jumble of noise, a cacophony of growls, bleats and guttural howls. Indeed, their language is not at all subtle, and some of them do not have the power of speech at all. However, they are intelligent creatures, and even the most base of them can understand speech, though they themselves might only be able to communicate using grunts and growls. The Beast Tongue is an unnatural sounding language that Men cannot speak - when Beastmen and the Human followers of Chaos meet, they communicate using a mix of basic Dark Tongue, Beast Tongue, body language and signals to convey their meanings.

When leaving their mark on the herdstones, the Beastmen use a corrupted and simplified version of the phonetic runes that are sometimes used to write the Dark Tongue. However, the marks carved by the Beastmen are crude affairs, for they write only with difficulty and, as such, their written language is particularly direct and to the point.

An example of the Dark Tongue

Ghaar-Gor Kharnn Grrarh Raahkhamshy'y

This is the typical type of sentence that a Wargor might scratch onto the central herdstone at a Brayherd gathering. It states simply "Ghaar-Gor, Khorne, 5 and 10 warriors". This would indicate that the Wargor Ghaar-Gor, Champion of Khorne and his warband that numbered either 50 or 15 (the language tends to be unspecific about numbers and is written using different conventions by different herds) camped at the stones.