In class, we asked the question: Why does Tolkien say the Orc-language is a “perversion” of speech? In what way is Orc-language different from all other languages? One answer given was that the purpose of language is to communicate and Orc-languages are not mutually intelligible--that is, one Orc-tribe can’t understand the speech of another Orc-tribe (unless they use the Common Speech), so their languages are not successfully communicative. This, however, crumbles under further investigation, because the states of being successfully communicative and being mutually intelligible with other languages are completely different. Nowhere (so far as I have seen) does Tolkien say that languages are superior that are mutually intelligible. The hobbits do not understand elf-speech, yet this is neither a judgment on them nor on the language itself. This would be a little silly, really: to say that a language is not communicative because other languages exist. This would mean that no language in the world is communicative. So the differences between Orc-dialects cannot account for why Orc-language is a “perversion.”
Another answer posed was that Orc-speech does not change, and language-change is essential to the growth of a healthy language. This seems possible, although I don’t remember anything about this from the readings or from the Lord of the Rings. However, the ancient secret speech of the dwarves doesn’t change, either, but that speech isn’t evil. It seems to me unlikely that Tolkien finds unchanging--dead--languages inherently evil or perverted. In fact, he expresses (in the Letters, I believe) the pure joy of learning a dead language (which I can speak to myself, as a dabbler in Latin, ancient Greek, and ancient Egyptian). Dead languages by nature do not change, yet Tolkien finds them beautiful and joyous. One could argue that dead languages are OK while they’re dead, but speaking a language without allowing it to grow somehow makes the language abhorrent. To that, I would reply that what is abhorrent here is not the result that the language doesn’t change, but the cause.
Why can’t Orcs change and grow their language? The answer, I think, is that they are incapable of sub-creation. Orcs are themselves unnatural and evil, and this bleeds into their speech. All the languages of various peoples reflect their values and histories: the ent-language is slow, just as the ents are slow; elf-song sounds like rushing water, as the elves are tied to and obsessed with the sea; the speech of Rohan is formal and heroic, just as they value old-fashioned formality and heroism; the speech of the hobbits seems to them sort of country-bumpkinly, just as they are. Language and race/people bleed into each other in Tolkien’s world, and I argue that the people are responsible for the nature of the language, not the other way around. People alter their languages to fit them. The Tree of Tongues implies this. Tolkien was a philologist, and it was important to him that his world reflected our primary world, so he applied the same linguistic rules there as apply here. When daughter languages branch off from mother languages, this is simply because the daughter-language speakers alter the mother language--they start speaking a little differently. As time goes on, the daughter languages often diverge more and more, changing because of the people. I don’t think any real linguist--Tolkien included--would claim that a mother language splits on its own without speakers altering it. A language has no will of its own when it has no speakers! The speakers reflect their nature onto the language, changing it to fit them (often unintentionally). So, Orc-language reflects the nature and values of the Orcs. Growth and sub-creation are not values that they hold, so Orc-language can never grow, but that stagnation is not why their language is evil. The language is evil simply because Orcs are evil. In Tolkien’s world, each race speaks a language appropriate to them, and thus Orcs speak an evil language. Note that they are capable of learning other languages, including the Common Speech, but even that sounds harsher coming from them, because their evil natures pollute their speech.
On the other hand, there is another reason why Orc-language does not change. We discussed how a history of language is a history of peoples interacting with one another. Someone claimed that Orc-language is corrupt because Orcs can’t really interact with anyone. This may be true, but I am not sure. I doubt that Tolkien would say that in order for languages to interact, there needs to be a positive, friendly interaction; the history of the world is full of situations in which a conquering people really do everything they can to subjugate the people they are conquering, but over time, the languages end up blending. One could claim that this blending happens due to assimilation, so that even though the relationship between the two peoples started out negative, it became positive. I don’t know whether this is true. It seems unlikely--language change is rarely intentional, so it seems unlikely that a people would ever say, “Hm, these conquerors use SVO word order, but I don’t like them, so I won’t use it. These neighboring peoples, though, are pretty cool, and they use SOV word order. I think I’ll start using that!” Living in close contact with another people seems to just cause languages to combine, regardless of whether the two peoples like each other. However, I’m not sure it is totally true that this is the reason Orc-language doesn’t have influences of other languages, and that is what makes it corrupt. Orcs, in fact, interact with all sorts of peoples. They threaten and torture people who speak many languages. However, they don’t cohabitate, as they live in Mordor, and that fact alone could explain why their language doesn’t pick things up from other languages: language assimilation requires prolonged close contact (as far as I know). So, perhaps it is true that Orc-language stagnates partly because it has no outside influences, but this is mostly due to the nature of where they live, not necessarily their evil nature.