Monthly Archives: November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you’re American, today is the day dedicated to feasting on turkey, oeta and asfavirzeth (yams and cranberries). To you all, I wish you a safe and happy Thanksgiving! To everyone not celebrating Thanksgiving, have a splendid Thursday! Not much else to share, but I was sending a message on my phone yesterday, and this happened:

Autocorrect filling out my Dothraki message.

Click to enlarge.

Heh, heh. Awesome! I was just sending a congratulatory message in Dothraki to someone, and my iPhone knew right where I was going. Priceless.

Qute Responses

Last time I listed some sentences sample sentences featuring the Dothraki Q, and asked for recordings from readers of the Dothraki blog. Here are the results!

1. Qoy qoyi

This is the translation of the famous Dothraki phrase “blood of my blood”. The full phrase would actually be Qoy qoyi anhoon, but the anhoon is left off, as it’s understood (and this happens more often than not with inalienable possession). We got four responders: Hrakkar, ingsve and Qvaak from the Dothraki forums, and George Corley, one of the hosts of the Conlangery Podcast. Here they are (note: some are quite quiet):





Nice job! Most everyone got the [q] down. It’s a toss-up as to which comes closest, but I think it’s Qvaak. Nice job, all!

2. Hake mae “Haqe”

Next, the most ridiculous sentence of the bunch because I wasn’t clever enough to think up a realistic sentence with the words for “name” and “tired” in them (“What’s the name of that tired man?” Dang! Where were you last week?!). Anyway, it means “His name is ‘Tired’” (just totally bizarre; doesn’t look like a Dothraki name at all), and here’s the audio:





Nice job all, but this time, I give the horse heart to George (his A vowels were a little closer than Qvaak’s)!

(I suddenly just imagined a Dothraki award ceremony far, far in the future, where bronzed horse hearts are given out as awards. This should happen.)

3. Kisha dothraki yomme qeshah

In this sentence (which means “We ride across the sand”), I just wanted to get the word qeshah in there, because it’s one of my favorites. Truth be told, I really like the English word “sand” for sand, but qeshah is a close second. Here’s how it came out:





The Q’s sound pretty good, but the stress tripped some people up. Hrakkar got the stress of qeshah right and ingsve got all the stresses right, but George and Qvaak stressed it on the first syllable. Also, unless it didn’t get picked up by the mics, no one gave voice to the final H. That one ain’t there for a decoration, like it is in English! Amongst those who submitted, though, I’d say ingsve’s second reading comes the closest. Nice job!

4. Qafak qov kaffe qif qiya fini kaf faqqies fakaya

Finally, this tongue twister was put together with Qvaak in mind. He’s kind of famous for coming up with these really, really weird Dothraki sentences just to see if they work (check out his user page over at the wiki), so I decided to come up with one that was equally weird. Since I was trying to make use as much as possible of K, Q and F, that didn’t turn out to be too difficult. This sentence means, “The trembling questioner crushed the bleeding boar that squished a kicking corn bunting.” (What else should trembling questioners do?) Here’s the audio:





And, as promised, here’s me doing the tongue twister the first time through without editing:

Ha! I did all right, but the thing that screwed me up towards the end was the stress on faqqies. I was focusing so much on getting the i following the qq right that I begun stressing the word initially, even though it should be stressed finally. I tried to rescue it mid-word, and that just screwed everything up.

Listening through, it looks like everyone else had roughly the same problem. None of us got the stress completely right. It should be (using acute accents to mark it):

  • Qafák qov káffe qif qíya fíni kaf faqqiés fákaya.

All in all, though, good tries! Of all five of us, I think Qvaak did the best job. The moral of the story: Hard tongue twisters are hard.

Thanks for the great recordings! Hope you had fun. And clearly I’m going to need to come up with some sort of graphic for the Horse Heart Award…

Qute Noises

Somewhere over at the forums a question came up about how exactly to pronounce Dothraki Q. It’s a favorite sound of mine, so I thought it’d be nice to dedicate a post to it.

I first encountered the sound which in IPA is transliterated as [q] in 1999, when I took my first Arabic class at Berkeley. I’d previously known the character (the letter qaaf, which looks like this: ق), but the descriptions I found were probably worse than useless (many tried to compare it to “qu” in English, which makes absolutely no sense). Since I knew it was a sound completely foreign to English and had nothing but terrible descriptions, I went into my first class assuming the sound was going to be incredibly difficult. As a result, I made it more difficult by (I now realize) geminating the sound in all positions (which was quite difficult in initial position).

The sound is actually as easy to produce as a [k]; it just makes the vowels around it harder to produce. It’s also harder to produce clusters like [qr] and [ql] because your tongue has to stretch further forward after the closure. But the stop itself is no big deal. Here’s how you do it.

The best place to start is to look at the consonant [k] (like in English “bike”). To form a [k], you take the back of your tongue and form a closure by placing it against the soft palate. Here’s what that area looks like on a human:

A sagittal section highlighting the velum in orange.

Click to enlarge.

To make a closure at the uvula, all you do is bunch up the back of your tongue and move it further backward along the soft palate. Here’s that area circled on the same image:

A sagittal section highlighting the uvula in teal.

Click to enlarge.

If you do it right, it should produce a kind of hollow sound that, to me, sounds like a drop of water. [Heh. It's funny. I was just talking to Jeff Jones about how we often use vague descriptions to describe sounds. Guess I'm guilty of it too!]

Anyway, the best I can do is produce some audio of some Dothraki words and phrases using Q—and contrasting it with K, so you can hear the difference.

Here’s me pronouncing kafat, “to smash” and qafat, “to ask”:

Now to put it in medial position, here’s hake, “name” and haqe, “tired”:

And here it is as a geminate in the phrase coined by George R. R. Martin jaqqa rhan:

You’ll probably notice that the vowels following Q sound a little different from the vowels following K. This is quite common (though not obligatory) in natural languages that have [q] (or other uvular consonants). Here’s a table showing how a Dothraki vowel will sound when it follows K and how it’ll sound when it follows Q:

Vowel Phoneme Sound Following K Sound Following Q
A [a] [ɑ]
E [e] [ɛ]
I [i] [e]
O [o]* [ɔ]

* Actually the pronunciation of O even in ordinary situations varies a little bit. Sometimes it will come out as [u] after a velar consonant like K, G or KH.

Now that you know how it sounds and how to produce it theoretically, why not give it a shot? If you’ve got recording equipment, give these words/phrases a try, and e-mail the files to “dave” at “dothraki” dot “com”. If I get some sound files, I’ll put them up in a new blog post (unless you don’t want me to, in which case let me know!), and I’ll tell you how you did. It’s just for fun, so don’t feel pressured to get it perfect: Just give it a shot!

Here are some phrases to try:

  1. Qoy qoyi. “Blood of my blood.”
  2. Hake mae “Haqe”. “His name is ‘Tired’.”
  3. Kisha dothraki yomme qeshah. “We ride across the sand.”

And here’s a tongue twister for fun:

  1. Qafak qov kaffe qif qiya fini kaf faqqies fakaya. “The trembling questioner crushed the bleeding boar that squished a kicking corn bunting.”

What’s a corn bunting, you ask? Why, a bird, of course. Can I pronounce that sentence…? Well, if you give it a shot, I will too—and I’ll post the unedited, first-try recording here on the blog.

Good luck!

Manner Adverbs

There have been a few questions about how adverbs work in Dothraki, but the topic is actually larger than one might expect. For that reason, I decided to break it down by category.

Those who grew up with English may be surprised (or, at least, I was at first) to learn that there are actually three types of adverbs, and they behave differently from language to language. The three types are: manner adverbs; temporal adverbs; and spatial adverbs (I’d like to link the other two, but I can’t find a nice description for either online). The type of adverb that most of us think of when we hear the word “adverb” is the manner adverb, so I thought that would be a good place to start.

Manner adverbs modify the verb by specifying the manner or way in which the action is performed. Most common adverbs that end in “-ly” in English are manner adverbs. In fact, most derivable adverbs in English are manner adverbs (“crazily”, “jerkily”, “monetarily”, “mockingly”, etc.), though we do have a couple ways of creating others (e.g. “-ward(s)” to make spatial adverbs, such as “homeward”, “store-wards”, “computer-wards”, etc.).

In Dothraki, I liked the idea of manner adverbs being a closed class, for the most part. There are a few manner adverbs that are derived in a regular way (or were derived in a regular way some time in the past), but that derivational process is frozen. Here are a few examples:

  • alle (adv.) farther, further (cf. ale, “more”)
  • atte (adv.) first (cf. at, “one”)
  • disse (adv.) only, just (cf. dis, “simple, plain”)
  • yomme (adv.) across (cf. yom, “crossing”)

Most old adverbs work this way, though there are one or two that don’t (the prime example being chek). If you want to make a conventional manner adverb out of a modern adjective, then, you have to do something a little different.

If you want to say, “That colt is running with a limp” or “That colt is running lamely”. First thing you do is take the word for “lame” or “limp”, darin, and turn it into a noun: athdarinar, “lameness”. Next you prepose it with the preposition ki. Since ki assigns the genitive, you put athdarinar in the genitive, and since the word begins with a vowel, ki gets shortened to k’-. Then you put it at the end of the sentence and you get:

  • Rek manin lana k’athdarinari.

Literally, that would be something like, “That colt runs by lameness”. The idea is that ki preposes the cause of the action. Since the action, in this case, is running that looks painful or unnatural, the suggested cause is lameness. And that’s the story behind the construction.

(Note: One can imagine that, a century or so later, this construction might give birth to a new circumfix that could be used to form adverbs productively.)

Regarding placement, adverbs of manner usually occur sentence-finally. They can be fronted for emphasis, but the construction would be marked (i.e. the adverbs would be noticeably out of place, and so could only be there for some pragmatic purpose). If there’s more than one post-verbal phrase, the adverb could occur in a non-final position, but usually it’d only be on account of what’s known as heavy shift. Here’s an example:

  • Me dothrae chek rek hrazef fin azh anha yeraan oskikh hajinaan m’anha vo zigerok mae.

That is, “She rides well that horse I gave you yesterday because I didn’t need it.” Ordinarily you’d put chek at the end, but since there’s so much material in the object clause, you can shift chek closer to the verb so that the hearer (and the speaker!) don’t forget what it’s referring to.

I think that covers manner adverbs. If I’ve missed anything (or mistyped anything), I’m sure Qvaak will let me know (heh, heh!). If anything’s unclear, feel free to ask about it!

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