Ours Is the Fury

A week or so ago, Crown of Gold asked in a comment on a previous post how one would translate the words of House Baratheon into Dothraki. The words are: “Ours is the fury.” I might’ve responded to the comment directly, but the question is actually much more complicated than one might think.

Starting just with the English, “Ours is the fury” is an instantiation of what appears to be a rather bizarre (or at least crosslinguistically rare) construction. I think an English speaker has the sense that “Ours is the fury” means something fundamentally different from “The fury is ours”, but it’s hard to characterize that difference. As I see it, it’s not simply a difference in focus. It’s kind of like in the first one, the idea is that the fury is inherent in who we are—it’s part of what defines us (here, the “us” is House Baratheon, of course). In “The fury is ours”, it sounds like we just obtained it—or purchased it.

Personally, I always think of Captain Planet. When he said, “The power is yours!“, it always sounded to me like he was either giving us the power, or informing us that we now had the power (and perhaps always had it). Had he said, “Yours is the power!”, it would have been something quite different—more of a reminder that we have it within us to put an end to pollution and poaching and the like.

(By the way, I invite English speakers to comment on what they think the difference between these two might be. Do you get my sense, or something different? Or do they sound the same to you?)

Anyway, so before translating it into Dothraki, I needed to figure out what the heck it means in English. And since I was on IRC at the time, I asked ingsve and Qvaak what they thought. It turns out in Swedish and Finnish, there’s no equivalent for “Ours is the fury” (you’d translate it as “The fury is ours”). Part of that has to do with the fact that neither language actually has a distinct possessive pronominal form. English, on the other hand, has a full complement of them, as shown below:

  Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun
1st Person Singular my mine
2nd Person Singular your yours
3rd Person Singular (Fem.) her hers
3rd Person Singular (Mas.) his his
3rd Person Singular (Ina.) its its
1st Person Plural our ours
2nd Person Plural your yours
3rd Person Plural their theirs
WH-Word whose whose

Like Finnish and Swedish, Dothraki also makes no distinction between the possessive adjective and the possessive pronoun: All there are are the pronouns in the genitive (or the ablative, as the case may be [no pun intended (but enjoyed, nevertheless)]). Even so, there are situations in which a genitive pronoun will be interpreted as a possessive pronoun. Consider the two sentences below:

  • Hazi hrazef anni. “That’s my horse.”
  • Hazi anni. “That’s mine.”

However, you can’t turn that around:

  • #/? Anni hazi. “Mine is that.”

Okay, that sentence may be infelicitous for other reasons, but this one makes sense in English:

  • #/? Anni athhajar. “Mine is the strength.”

I can’t even characterize how bizarre that looks… I can’t say for certain that it’s ungrammatical, but it just doesn’t look or sound right. So one couldn’t translate “Ours is the fury” straight up into Dothraki (the way you can, more or less, in Spanish).

In order to try to approximate the flavor of the original, then, I had two ideas: (1) Fix it so that the word order could be preserved, or (2) try to translate the sense I get, regardless of word order and lexical items. So instead of giving “the” translation, Crown of Gold, I’ll give you two. Not sure which is best (interlinears given in lieu of translations, as we know what the translation is):

  1. Kishaan athostar. /1PL.ALL fury-NOM/
  2. Athostar dothrae mra kisha. /fury-NOM ride-3SG in 1PL.NOM/

I think each translation has its own merits. The first preserves the word order and simplicity of the original English, but it implies the same thing that “The fury is ours” implies, in my mind—that is, the fury is somewhere outside of us, and it’s coming to us.

The second should be somewhat familiar, as it parallels Daenerys’s quote from A Game of Thrones: Khalakka dothrae mr’anha, “A prince rides inside me”. She’s referring to her unborn child, of course, but I thought that it really accurately describes the sense I get from “Ours is the fury”. I think it works! Though I did just think of a possible alternate:

  1. Athostar dothrae kishi. /fury-NOM ride-3SG 1PL.GEN/

So literally, this would be something like “Fury rides with us”, or “Fury rides beside us” (reminiscent of that scene from Tombstone). I think that’s a pretty good approximation of “Ours is the fury” done Dothraki-style!

Sorry for the late response, Crown of Gold, but that one made me think quite a bit. It was a good one! Always nice to work through a new translation. Oh, and as for athostar, it derives ultimately from ostat, which means “to bite”. It’s an animalistic type of anger which I thought better suited the English word “fury” than any other term referring to anger. “Fury” itself is kind of an odd word as it exists in English. It doesn’t just mean “anger”: it implies violent action. That’s what I got from athostar (which has been around for a while), so I thought it’d work for this translation.

Thanks for the question, zhey Crown of Gold!

Update: Matt Pearson suggested an alternate for the first translation that uses the ablative, instead of the allative:

  1. Kishoon athostar. /1PL.ABL fury-NOM/

That’s another option to consider. I think it sounds even more aggressive than “Ours is the fury”—more like, “Mess with us, and taste our wrath!” What do you think?

Posted on January 10, 2012, in Community, Grammar and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. As a tweak to alternative (1), what about using the ablative instead of the allative? Wouldn’t that give the sense that the fury is somehow coming out of us?

    • Huh. You know I never once considered the ablative. In fact, it sounds even more aggressive than Kishaan athostar. Huh. I’ll add it to the post as an option.

      • That’s a nice suggestion. It sort of also makes it a parallel to the source verb class but used in a non-copula situation rather than with a verb. Sort of like “Fury is and we are the source”.

  2. I’ll share some thoughts on David’s question concerning what difference in meaning there might be between ‘Ours is the fury’ and ‘The fury is ours’ in English.

    When David, Insgive and Qvaak began trying to work through this sentence, the concentration was on using a word for ‘ours’ in the genitive. When you first look at that sentence, the genitive makes sense for ‘ours’. However, there is also a very strong dative sense there as well– ‘To us belongs’. This also explains why the allative case works there as well, as the allative is similar to the dative case (which Dothraki does not otherwise have). When you turn this sentence around– ‘The fury is ours’, the dative sense, at least for English speakers, is greatly diminished. (There is probably a very long linguistic term for describing this effect.) With ‘ours’ at the head of the sentence, it makes the ‘ours’ look like both the recipient and the owner at the same time. It is as if the fury always belonged to them, and they have a right to it. With ‘ours’ at the end of the sentence though, the ‘receivership’ sense goes away, and the ‘ours’ then merely possesses the fury. The sense here is that the fury was given to them, but it is not necessarily theirs to begin with. So yes, syntactically not a really huge difference between the two sentences, but a moderately profound difference in meaning.

    • The sense here is that the fury was given to them, but it is not necessarily theirs to begin with.

      I think that’s a pretty good way of describing it. As for how it arose, I think it’s one of those situations where both were possible, and they meant the same thing, but since one was more common, it became standard, which left the other to accrue more meaning simply because it was uncommon and different. Seems like either that will happen or the thing will just fall into disuse, possibly becoming ungrammatical.

      Though, of course, there are differences which seem to produce absolutely no difference whatsoever. I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but we’ve got a lot in English (maybe “different from” vs. “different than”, the latter being formerly ungrammatical…?).

  3. Evening good sers:)

    Thank you so much for the awesome (and amazingly detailed post). Sorry for the slow reply, had a heavy schedule at work. I’m all in for Kishoon Athostar:)

    How about “They are weaving dragon banners for you and hosting secret toasts.”

    Thank you so much again,

    • How about “They are weaving dragon banners for you and hosting secret toasts.”

      lol You serious?! First “Ours is the fury”, and now this?! “Hosting”, “toasts”, “secret”…? It’ll take a lot of work to Dothrakify those up! ;)

      However, “They are weaving dragon banners for you in secret” wouldn’t be too hard… I can’t think of the word for “weave” or “banner” off the top of my head, but it would come out to something like:

      Mori “weave (pres.)” zhavvorsi “banners” ha shafkea torga essheyi.

      But “toasts”? A toast carries with it so much cultural baggage… It would take a lot of work to get that done right.

  4. I think we have lost something in English with the loss of noun cases. Word order controls in English, but sometimes cultural experience has to come into play as well. “Ours is the fury” is a good example of that. The ‘dativeness’ arising from having ‘ours’ on the left arises, I think, from the way sentences like this get used, and not (as you have shown) from any grammatical construction. It is also a further constraint on word order in English usage.

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