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:
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:
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|
* 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:
- Qoy qoyi. “Blood of my blood.”
- Hake mae “Haqe”. “His name is ‘Tired’.”
- Kisha dothraki yomme qeshah. “We ride across the sand.”
And here’s a tongue twister for fun:
- 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.