Posted by David J. Peterson
In some of our IRC chats, Qvaak has asked me to go over demonstratives in Dothraki, so I’ll aim to do that today.
A demonstrative is a word like “this” that’s used in front of nouns or noun phrases. In English, we have these four common demonstratives:
- Give me this book. (Nearby, Singular)
- Give me that book. (Not Nearby, Singular)
- Give me these books. (Nearby, Plural)
- Give me those books. (Not Nearby, Plural)
Notice that the plural demonstratives above agree with the noun in plurality, but don’t actually mark plurality (i.e. you can’t say “Give me those book”). With that in mind, though, the English demonstratives encode two properties: number (singular vs. plural), and distance (nearby vs. not nearby).
In English, you may also use the demonstratives by themselves as demonstrative pronouns. They look just the same and can be used without nouns. The sentence above, then, would look like this:
- Give me this. (Nearby, Singular)
- Give me that. (Not Nearby, Singular)
- Give me these. (Nearby, Plural)
- Give me those. (Not Nearby, Plural)
Dothraki demonstratives, as modifiers, encode only one property: distance. Unlike English (but like many, many natural languages), Dothraki distinguishes three different distances: near to the speaker, near to the addressee, and near to neither. Demonstrative modifiers in Dothraki different from adjectival modifiers in that they precede the nouns they modify, rather than follow them. Using arakh instead of “book”, here are some sentences illustrating the distinctions made in Dothraki:
- Azhas anhaan jin arakh. “Give me this arakh.” (Near Speaker)
- Azhas anhaan haz arakh. “Give me that arakh.” (Near Addressee)
- Azhas anhaan rek arakh. “Give me that arakh.” (Near Neither)
Note that the form of the demonstrative doesn’t change regardless of the plurality of the the noun, as shown below:
- Anha tih rek hrakkares. “I saw that lion.”
- Anha tih rek hrakkaris. “I saw those lions.”
If you want to use the demonstratives by themselves as stand-alone pronouns, however, the forms do change, unlike in English. Basically, in order to use a demonstrative as a pronoun, one needs to know the animacy of the intended referent. The demonstrative then declines as a noun would that matched in animacy. The animate form for each demonstrative pronoun adds -ak to the end of the demonstrative in the nominative, and the inanimate adds an -i. The animate forms decline like any consonant-final animate noun, and the inanimate form declines like the relative pronoun fini (its declension is shown here). Below are some examples:
- Hazi zhokwae. “That (thing) is big.”
- Azhas rek anhaan. “Give that (thing) to me.”
- Azhas mae hazakaan. “Give it to that (one).”
- Jinak simon anni. “This is my uncle.”
Notice also the difference here between a copular phrase and a noun phrase:
- Jini havzi. “This is a cat.”
- jin havzi “this cat”
Regarding when to use which demonstrative, it’s fairly straightforward, given a specific circumstance. Let’s say we had two nameless interlocutors in a bizarre, Photoshop-esque landscape with multi-colored bones, as shown below:
Let’s take our speaker as the dark red dude. If he wants to refer to the orange bone, he says jin tolorro. If he wants to refer to the green bone, he says haz tolorro. If he wants to refer to the blue bone, he says rek tolorro. Simple enough. Now let’s look at a different scenario:
In this scenario, if the speaker is still the red dude and the addressee is still the yellow dude, the same exact demonstratives are used as were used in the previous example (jin for orange; haz for green; rek for blue). If his addressee is the pinkish dude, though, you’d use haz for blue and rek for green. The choice will be determined by who’s being spoken to, not how close the thing is to the speaker, necessarily.
Now how about if the red dude is speaking to both of those other dudes at the same time. In that instance, you’d use haz for both and point or further specify with words if necessary. Since both addressees are being addressed at once, anything that’s near either of them will be considered close enough to warrant haz.
Now let’s throw in a further wrinkle:
A new light blue bone has fallen from the sky! Let’s say that the red dude is addressing the yellow dude and the pink dude is just there. In this case, the red dude will refer to both blue bones with rek. The reason is that the green bone is still present. As it’s the closest to the addressee, it will get haz. This leaves rek to handle both of the bones that are further away, and the speaker will have to further specify if further specification is required.
Now how about this scenario:
Now the red dude is thinking about the light blue bone from the last picture. In this case, the red dude refers to the light blue bone with rek. Presumably he could only do so if the light blue bone was known to both he and the yellow dude (otherwise he would need to introduce it into the discourse), but once it’s a part of the shared experience of speaker and addressee, it can be referred to with a demonstrative. As the addressee has a bone that’s near at hand (the green bone), it gets haz, leaving rek for the light blue bone.
Now how about this scenario:
Yellow dude was out for his morning ride (around the green bone like every morning), when he sees that his friend red dude is lying on the ground in distress. He dismounts and walks past the green bone to get a closer look. Red dude, for whatever reason, has been incapacitated, and, as he gurgles out, the only thing that will save him is the orange bone that’s relatively near at hand. What the red dude does, then, is refers to the orange bone with haz, rather than jin, in order to imply to the yellow dude that the orange bone is not, in fact, nearby. Though it may be physically quite close, in this instance, it’s further than his body will take him, and so he uses haz to indicate that. If he were to refer to the green bone for any reason, then, he’d use rek, even though it’s quite close to the addressee.
This kind of gives you an idea how to choose between the three demonstratives of Dothraki. This same schema applies to non-physical elements, such as discourse topics. So, for example, if a speaker has an idea about something, he may refer to that idea with jin (as it’s a produce of the speaker’s imagination, the idea is, metaphorically speaking, near at hand). An idea that an addressee has come up with, then, can be referred to with haz. Something that’s to be introduced to the discourse (which is, perhaps, the product of neither speaker nor addressee) can be referred to with rek.
In addition, due to the nature of this spatial metaphor, a Dothraki can actually give opinions about another’s idea by using a different demonstrative. So, for example:
- Hazi dirge davra! “That’s a good idea!”
- Reki dirge toki! “That’s a stupid idea!”
Both ideas are the product of the same person, but by using reki in the second sentence, the speaker has attempted to place the idea even further out of the discourse space, making it seem bizarre (and, thereby, unacceptable). And, of course, a speaker can take that the other way, using jin to make it seem like they had something to do with the idea, even though someone else came up with it.
As this post is getting a bit long, I’m going to cut it off here, but it’s a start! Consider this an introduction to deixis in Dothraki. More will follow in future posts.