Accents in Dothraki

Today’s topic was suggested by ingsve over at the Dothraki fora, but it comes originally from Blizzard over at Westeros.org. Blizzard writes (in the Requests thread of the Dothraki subforum):

How the Dothraki would pronounce the words of the westerosi houses? Or “Where is my horse?”

Well, the latter’s pretty simple: Finne sajo anni? But the former is today’s topic—specifically, Dothraki-accented English.

When I put together my initial proposal for Dothraki, I included materials for how an English speaker would pronounce Dothraki, and also materials for how a native Dothraki speaker would pronounce English (or Common). I’ll be drawing primarily from that document here.

All speakers are different, of course, and as I’ve mentioned at other times, it seems likely that the Dothraki spoken by different khalasars would differ from each other in more or less consistent ways, but with the Dothraki accent I had in mind, I came up with three different pronunciations for three different levels of fluency. I call these the Thick Dothraki Accent; the Middling Dothraki Accent; and the Non-Native Fluent Dothraki Accent.

Regarding word choice, there are a number of things that could be said about changes that are made by less-than-fluent English speakers with Dothraki as a native language (e.g. dropping articles, mixing up the gender of third person pronouns, etc.), but I don’t want this post to be too long, so I’ll focus on pronunciation. Here are some of the phonetic characteristics of Dothraki-accented English:

  • The English “r” ([ɹ] in my dialect) is one of the most difficult sounds for any non-English-speaker to pronounce. It seems likely that none but the most fluent speaker would ever master it, replacing it with the tapped or trilled Dothraki r.
  • A Dothraki speaker will inconsistently produce a distinction between English “f” and “p” and English “v” and “b”. They can hear the difference, of course, and produce it, but the pairs don’t distinguish meaning in Dothraki, so a Dothraki speaker is unlikely to treat the distinction as an important one.
  • Diphthongs are uncommon, at best, in Dothraki, so the common diphthongs of English will likely be broken into two vowel sequences (e.g. “lice” might come out as lais rather than lays).
  • No Dothraki word ends in g, p, b, q or w. English words that end in (well, the first three of) these sounds will have an epenthetic e attached to the end. Additionally, words that begin with “s” plus some consonant will have an epenthetic e attached to the front (much like Spanish).
  • The epenthetic e will also break up long word-internal clusters foreign to Dothraki. So a word like “kingsguard” would probably be pronounced kin-gess-guard.
  • The large vowel system of English will be radically simplified in Dothraki-accented English. For example, in English we’d distinguish between “who’d”, “hood”, “hoed” and “hawed” (if you’re from the East Coast). In Dothraki, they’d all probably come out the same—or, at least, would be produced inconsistently.
  • The alveolar obstruents “t”, “d”, “n” and “l” will be pronounced dentally, as they are in Dothraki. In addition, the voiced version of English “th” (i.e. the “th” in “that”, “this” and “thou”; not the unvoiced one in “thing”, “thin” and “think”) would be pronounced as a Dothraki d. [Note: A native English speaker would likely not hear the difference, as what is supposed to be a fricative in English is often produced as a dental stop—much like the Dothraki d.]
  • No words in Dothraki begin with a w. For English words that do, the sequence “w” + vowel will probably be rendered as a two vowel sequence beginning with o.
  • Finally, as Dothraki stress is regular (not lexical), unfamiliar words will likely be stressed with the Dothraki stress pattern (e.g. “backpack” would get stressed on the second syllable). For the many words of English that have penultimate stress, a coda consonant will likely be lengthened to produce a situation where Dothraki would also have penultimate stress (for example, the r in the name “Viserys”, which we stress on the second syllable, would likely be doubled in an attempt to reproduce the conditions for penultimate stress).

Okay! That’s a long list and might be a bit opaque, so the best thing to do would be to actually hear the difference. To illustrate, I’ll read the following short passage from the prologue of A Game of Thrones:

His heart stopped in his chest. For a moment he dared not breathe. Moonlight shone down on the clearing, the ashes of the firepit, the snow-covered lean-to, the great rock, the little half-frozen stream. Everything was just as it had been a few hours ago.

For the purposes of comparison, here it is first in my ordinary reading voice:

Now here it is with a Thick Dothraki Accent:

Now with a Middling Dothraki Accent:

And finally, the Non-Native Fluent Dothraki Accent:

That should give you an idea about how one would pronounce English with a Dothraki accent. Now to the meat of Blizzard’s original question: How would you pronounce the words of the Westerosi houses? That’s kind of a tough one unravel. Is it just how are the houses themselves pronounced with a Dothraki accent? The houses and their words (i.e. their slogans or mottoes)? Or how would they all be translated into Dothraki? I wasn’t sure, so I just recorded a number of the house names themselves. If the words are wanted, I can do those later. Here are some of the most prominent houses:

House Stark:

House Baratheon:

House Targaryen:

House Lannister:

House Tully:

House Arryn:

House Tyrell:

House Martell:

House Tarly:

House Greyjoy:

House Royce:

Now that I’m thinking about it, it seems more likely that the original poster was asking about having the house mottoes translated into Dothraki… Oh well. At the very least, here’s House Targaryen’s motto: Vorsa ma Qoy, “Fire and Blood”. A pretty cool slogan, though I do like the motto of House Plumm: Come Try Me! Heh, heh…

Posted on October 7, 2011, in Pronunciation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. #1 of “His heart stopped…” sounds like a thick and very angry Russian accent, #2 similar to what I’ve heard in renditions of Middle English ;)

  2. I’m fortunate that its the Dothraki that need to understand my accent. ;)

  3. Citadel credits “Come Try Me” to House Plumm. … Your readings are really impressive. Can you just switch to strange ad hoc accents with your linguist powers, or do you need to write some kind of IPA-ish help?

    • Citadel credits “Come Try Me” to House Plumm.

      So it does! I mis-saw. I’ve corrected it in the post.

      I sometimes write things down to make sure I get them right (because reading words and pronouncing them differently can be distracting), but otherwise, once you kind of get it in your head, it’s not too much trouble to keep up with it.

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