In recent months there’s been some new interest from various quarters in Dothraki, so I thought what I’d do is write up a short post introducing you to some of the basic concepts behind Dothraki grammar and show you where to go for more detailed information. As such, this’ll be a good place to start if you’d like to learn how to read and write in Dothraki. (Note: You can get much of this information on a .pdf I wrote up which you can download here.)
Spelling and Pronunciation
Something I’ve neglected doing thus far on the blog is a post just on spelling and pronunciation. Oops! The spelling system is pretty much phonetic, though (i.e. each letter is pronounced the same way every time it appears), so it shouldn’t be too bad. For a quick rundown of each letter and digraph, go to the transcription section of the Dothraki Wiki.
If you’d like to perfect your pronunciation, I recommend clicking on the audio tag of this blog. That will bring up all the posts in which I’ve included a Dothraki recording. In addition, I’d like to recommend a few posts specifically that go over some trickier aspects of Dothraki pronunciation:
Of course, if you ever have a question about how something is pronounced, drop me a line! I like to practice, so I’m always happy to do recordings (though it may take me a while to get around to it).
|Second||Familiar||yer||you||yeri||you, you all|
|Formal||shafki||you||shafki||you, you all|
|Third||me||he, she, it, one||mori||they|
Some things to notice about the table above:
- Though most varieties of English don’t distinguish between “you” when addressing one person or “you” when addressing more than one, Dothraki does.
- Dothraki also distinguishes between familiar and formal address, much like Spanish or German or French. The formal pronoun shakfa, though, does not distinguish between singular and plural (the same pronoun is used for both).
- Dothraki makes no gender distinction. Thus, me serves for “he”, “she” or “it”—and is also the pronoun used in impersonal constructions (e.g. “One shouldn’t run with scissors [even though it's a lot of fun].”).
In Dothraki, there are two important things one needs to know about a noun in order to use it properly: What its gender or noun class is, and what case it’s to be used in. We’ll discuss those two things separately.
In Dothraki there are two types of nouns: Vekhikh Hranna (Grass Nouns) and Vekhikh Asavva (Sky Nouns). The two types of nouns differ in how they decline—that is, the forms they use in a sentence. The noun type is something that simply must be learned and memorized, though there are some clues that help one determine how likely a noun is to be a Grass Noun or a Sky Noun. For more information on this, see the section on noun animacy in the Dothraki Wiki.
For translation purposes, the main difference between Grass and Sky Nouns is that Grass Nouns don’t distinguish between singular and plural; Sky Nouns do.
Now to discuss nominal declension. In English, we say “He saw the dog” and “The dog saw him”. We don’t say “Him saw the dog” or “The dog saw he”. Ever wonder why? It’s because (most) English pronouns decline for case. Dothraki nouns are like English pronouns, except they have more forms than (using “he”) just “he”, “him” and “his”. These forms correspond to different roles the nouns play in a sentence. These roles are summarized below:
- Nominative: A case associated with the subject of a sentence.
- English Example: The hunter saw the dog.
- Dothraki Version: Fonak tih jan.
- Accusative: A case associated with the direct object of a sentence.
- English Example: The dog saw the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano tih fonakes.
- Genitive: A case associated with the possessor of some other noun.
- English Example: The hunter’s dog is loud.
- Dothraki Version: Jano fonaki lavakha.
- Allative: A case associated with the goal or destination of the action of the sentence.
- English Example: The dog ran to the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano lan fonakaan.
- Ablative: A case associated with the point of departure of the action of the sentence.
- English Example: The dog ran from the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano lan fonakoon.
Basically in comparing Dothraki to a language like English or Spanish, rather than using a preposition like “to” or “of” or “from” (or a or de in Spanish) followed by a noun, the noun itself is modified to incorporate the meaning of the preposition. If you’d like to use a noun of Dothraki, you’ll likely need to make use of a noun in one or more cases (note that plurality is encoded by the case suffix). In order to decline a noun correctly, head over to the section on noun cases in the Dothraki Wiki.
The key thing to keep in mind about verbs is that they inflect for person, number and tense (and also polarity, but that can be ignored for those just starting out). This means that if you look up a verb in the online dictionary of the Dothraki Wiki, the form of the verb you find there will need to change.
For our purposes, let’s focus on two different verbs and two different tenses. One verb we’ve already seen is tihat. That’s the citation form for the verb “to see”. Another common one is dothralat. That’s the citation form of the verb “to ride”. These verbs differ in their stems: the first ends with a consonant (the stem is tih), and the second ends with a vowel (the stem is dothra). Most of the time, you simply strip off the suffix -at or -lat to get the stem of a verb (though be careful to note verbs whose stem ends in l!).
Once you have the stem of the verb you want to inflect, you have to know whether the subject of the sentence is first, second or third person singular or plural, and what tense the sentence is going to be in. Let’s start with the present tense. Start with the stem (we’ll do tih first), and then modify them in the following ways to conjugate a verb in the present tense:
|First||tihak||I see||tihaki||we see|
|Second||tihi||you see||tihi||you see|
|Third||tiha||s/he/it sees||tihi||they see|
Now here’s how you conjugate a verb whose stem ends in a vowel:
|First||dothrak||I ride||dothraki||we ride|
|Second||dothrae||you ride||dothrae||you ride|
|Third||dothrae||s/he/it rides||dothrae||they ride|
The future tense is identical to the present tense, save you prefix a- to the front of stems that begin with a consonant and v- to the front of stems that begin with a vowel. Thus atihak is “I will see” and adothrae is “they will ride”.
The past tense is simpler than the present and future. In the past tense, there’s no person distinction whatsoever, so both stems are shown below:
|Tihat||tih||I/you/she, etc. saw||tihish||we/you/they, etc. ride|
|Dothralat||dothra||I/you/she, etc. rode||dothrash||we/you/they, etc. rode|
For more information on verbs, check out the following pages in the Dothraki Wiki:
In Dothraki, adjectives follow the nouns they modify, as shown below:
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dorvi erin “the kind goat”
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dothrakaan haja “to the strong rider”
- dothraki haji “the strong riders”
- dothrakea haji “to the strong riders”
- Anha hajak. “I’m strong.”
- Dothrak haja. “The rider is strong.”
- Chiorisi haji. “The women are strong.”
To augment the Dothraki case system, a variety of prepositions are used. In order to use a preposition appropriately, one needs to know what it is, what it means, and what case it assigns to the noun it modifies. A couple of common examples are shown below:
- she okre “on the tent” (assigns the nominative)
- ha okraan “for the tent” (assigns the allative)
- oleth okri “over the tent” (assigns the genitive)
Some prepositions can alter the case they assign to affect the meaning of the preposition. Consider ha from above:
Here are some instructional materials that have been posted around the web (if you find more, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them):
- Tutorials at the Dothraki Wiki
- Audio/Visual Dothraki Tutorials on YouTube
- Step-by-Step Tutorial Based on the YouTube Videos Above
- Dothraki Flashcards at Quizlet
- Dothraki Subreddit
And, of course, there’s plenty more material here and scattered around the web that goes into more detail. If you ever have questions, just drop a line. Fonas chek!