Suggestion for Transcribing Dothraki in Cyrillic

Note: This post originally appeared (in a modified form) at my old blog. As I’m no longer using that blog anymore, I decided to port the post over here (though the original post still exists).

As a conlanger and orthography enthusiast, one of the things I like doing is figuring out how to write a language in a different script. In the past, I’ve created dozens of romanization systems for my conlangs (even alternate versions depending on whether Unicode is available), alternate orthographies for some of my languages using the scripts of other languages of mine, even alternate spelling systems for English. And all just for fun! This is the strange life I lead.

Recently I came across a couple sites that have been translating the English closed captioning for episodes of Game of Thrones that have aired so far into other languages. One of these sites is translating the English into Russian. From what I’ve seen, though, the Dothraki remains untransliterated (i.e. it remains written in Roman characters). Where’s the fun in that?

Here, then, is a suggestion for writing Dothraki using the Cyrillic alphabet. My Russian isn’t great, so take this with a grain of salt (and feel free to amend it or comment on it), but I think it works.

I should note that my primary experience with Cyrillic is in Russian, which I studied in college. I’m not very familiar with other Cyrillic systems (cyrillization systems? cyrillicization systems…?) used for the various languages of Eurasia, or how accessible a given character choice will be to the largest number of viewers. Since the original site I found was focusing on Russian, though, I’ve tended to go with what a Russian speaker would recognize over what a Mongolian, Serbian, Ukrainian, etc. speaker would recognize.

With those caveats out of the way, the table is presented below:

Romanization Cyrillic Comment (If Any)
a а
b б
ch ч I actually like this better than using a digraph (which is necessary in English without resorting to accents or alien assignments).
d д
e э I think this is the best solution to avoid the onglide of Russian “е”.
f ф
g г Always hard; never pronounced like English “h”.
h х See comment on “kh”. See alternative below.
i и
j дж Funny: English and Russian are opposites here (cf. “ch”). See alternative below.
k к
kh х I had two choices, really: Have “g” and “h” spelled with the same letter, or “h” and “kh”. I went with the latter, since “h” is closer to “kh” in sound, and pronouncing a word with “kh” with “h” (or vice versa) will be far less confusing than pronouncing a word with “g” with “h” (or vice versa). See alternative below.
l л
m м
n н
o о
p п
q к I have no clever idea for this sound. I figure “к” is closest, so might as well use it (since we already have one confusion built in with “h” and “kh”). See alternative below.
r р
s с
sh ш Sound is actually closer to “щ”, but “ш” is a simpler character.
t т
th ц Can I get away with this? The sounds are nothing alike, but the place of articulation is close! If not, it’d just have to be “т”, I guess (unless anyone still remembers “ѳ”).
v в
w ў In all positions.
y й In all positions.
z з
zh ж
Or just leave it out entirely; it’s not important.

And here are some common words:

  • khal ~ хaл
  • khaleesi ~ хaлээси
  • arakh ~ aрaх
  • vezhven ~ вэжвэн
  • athchomar ~ aцчомaр
  • jahak ~ джaхaк
  • yeroon ~ йэроон

Based on some comments made on the original LiveJournal post by Owen Blacker, I’ve got some ideas for possible revisions to the system above:

  • Apparently Serbian uses “ђ” for Dothraki j (or something very close to it), so that might be a nice alternative to the digraph (though I’m not sure if it comes standard on a Russian keyboard).
  • Searching for a possible alternative for Dothraki q led me to one interesting solution. Some languages use “қ” for q, but apparently some of the Iranian languages have replaced that with the digraph “къ”, which I think is perfect! The little “b” character (ъ) is the “hard sign” in Russian’s orthography. It has a very specific use there, but since it doesn’t in Dothraki—and since it would be immediately recognizable to Russian speakers—the usual “к” glyph would be augmented to “къ” for q, making it seem like q is the “hard” version of k—and that’s not too far off!
  • Cyrillic “һ” is a possibility for h (leaving “х” free to be kh), but I’m not sure how common it is. Another possibility presents itself, though. Since “г” is commonly used for [h] in Russian, it could become the new letter for h, and then “гъ” (or “hard г”) could become the way to write g. Kind of odd to think of writing g as a digraph, but it works!

Unfortunately, I’ve still found no satisfactory solution for th. It’s a tricky sound to handle in Cyrillic, because it used to exist in a lot of Slavic languages, but was eventually replaced by either [t] or [f]—with the character itself taking over to spell those new sounds. However, if we continue to spell it with “ц”, there’s an amusing little in joke. In Russian (and many other Slavic languages), this character is used for the affricate [ts]. In the episode where Irri is teaching Dany to speak Dothraki properly, Dany practices with the word athjahakar. When she gets it wrong, though, she pronounces it atsjakar. Thus, the Russian character to spell it—if pronounced as it would be in Russian—would lead one to mispronounce the beginning part of that word in the exact same way Dany mispronounces it. Ha!

Well, thanks for indulging me yet again. I hope your weekend has been spent in safety, and far away from the madness surrounding shopping centers around this time of year. Fonas chek!

Posted on November 26, 2012, in Conlanging and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 55 Comments.

  1. When designing a Cyrillic orthography for Rokbeigalmki I discovered that Bashkir uses C and 3 with cedillas (ҫ and ҙ) for /þ/ and /ð/

  2. To avoid confusion, as well as the Bashkir work around for the dental fricative, you could use ҳ (Tajik) or һ (Kildin Sami) for ; ҡ (Bashkir) or ӄ (Khanty) for ; җ (multilingual) for .

  3. I can even provide a custom-tailored cyrillic keyboard layout for various slavic languages that could cover all your sounds. :D

  4. Nice! I like Cyrillic orthographies a lot!

    By the way, I know David J. Peterson must be very busy, but I wonder whether he will award a Smiley Award this year (you know, they are sort of the Academy Awards / Oscars of the conlangingsphere)

  5. J Diego Suárez Hernández: Yes, there will be a Smiley this year (just a matter of writing it up).

    Regarding fita, it would certainly solve the major problem with the transcription system, but is it available on a standard Russian keyboard? See, the original idea wasn’t necessarily to come up with the *best* system, but to come up with a system that would work for those transcribing the Russian subtitles. They translate everything into Russian but Dothraki, and rather than using Cyrillic for Dothraki, they use the standard romanization. This was to provide a solution for that.

  6. There’s always ъ анд ь that you could use! Ть could make for a good “th” sound, while the aspirated “kh” as in “khaleesi” would be best represented by either кх or кь. Or at least, that’s how I would probably go with it!

  7. Cool! By the way, what is the script in the blog’s header (supposing it’s a script at all)? I’ve read that Dothraki doesn’t have a native script (though Carlos Carrion Torres (and possibly other people) has made one), so this has puzzled me a lot.

    In my opinion, Tse is the best way unambiguously represent that dental fricative with common Cyrillic letters (it’s such a pity that such a nice letter as Fita isn’t used anymore u.u). Jack’s idea of using the soft sign is quite good, though I’d implement it differently (к=q, кь=k, xь = h, x =kh)

  8. I don’t think the soft sign would work, because for a native Russian speaker, that soft sign is used for palatalization. I don’t think Ть would come out quite right. I like the idea of using the hard sign with к for [q], though.

    Oh, and the native script is one I invented for a group conlang. I tricked it out to simply make it spell out “Dothraki” in stylized roman characters. I wrote a post about it here:

    http://www.dothraki.com/2011/09/the-header-script/

  9. Also, while some slavic languages did in fact adopt some greek letters for loanwords, fita was always pronounced either as /f/ or as /t/ depending on the language or dialect. For example, the greek name “Ѳэодѡрос” would be rendered as either Тэодорос(actual serbian name: Теодор=Teodor) or Фэодорос(actual russian name: Фёдор=Fyodor).

  10. Dothraki was the very language that got me into conlanging in the first place.

  11. Mark Eckenstaler: Wow, seriously? That totally makes my day. Welcome aboard. :)

  12. I’m glad that makes your day! Just wondering though… why? Haha.

  13. Wow. I just realize who you are! It’s awesome to be talking to you.

  14. I know that this might be considered spamming, but I’m just very excited.

  15. Well, nice to make your acquaintance, Mark. I’m also a metalhead, so I’m glad to know you.

  16. m/ I love Game of Thrones, too. I just want Joffrey to die already… lol Daenerys is my favorite character, too. She’s very…. strong. “Wo sind meine Drachen!” (I don’t actually speak German fluently, so I hope that is correct.)

  17. I also don’t speak German fluently, so we should be able to communicate pretty well in incorrect German (perhaps so well that fluent German speakers wouldn’t be able to understand us). Der Stallion den werde die Welt mönten. ;)

    • Gah! I know that was a joke, but it made me a twitch a little ;)

      The correct translation is “Der Hengst, der die Welt besteigt.”

      To climb = “steigen”. Like most German verbs, it needs to add the prefix be- if there’s a direct object stated. “Ich antworte” = I answer, “ich beantworte die Frage” = I answer the question.

      The second ‘der’ is the relative pronoun, which has to agree in case/gender etc to its purpose in that clause. And in the relative clause the verb goes to the end.

  18. I also don’t speak German fluently, so we should be able to communicate pretty well in incorrect German (perhaps so well that fluent German speakers wouldn’t be able to understand us). Der Stallion den werde die Welt mönten. ;)

  19. I’m laughing pretty hard there.

  20. I think one of the coolest things I saw in the Dothraki language was the lack of a verb for “to be.” Unfortunately, most of my languages don’t have a valid way to pull this off, because most do not use cases.

  21. Well, Arabic also doesn’t have “to be” (at least in the present tense), and its case system doesn’t really exist in the modern language anymore…

  22. Interesting… I think I’ll need to look into that more. I do have to apologize for one thing though… I was going to learn Dothraki… BUT I think I liked it a little bit too much. Instead of learning it, it inspired me to achieve my own creations. Sorry I never followed through on learning it. Haha.

  23. Hebrew, Aramaic, and other Semitic languages work similarly to Arabic in that regard also. Although Hebrew and Jewish Targumic Aramaic have a direct-object preposition, which can help disambiguate.

  24. Mark Eckenstaler: That’s even better.

    Stephen Belsky: Oh, they do? Man, that makes it easy! They could probably maintain VSO pretty well with that bad boy…

  25. Speaking of Arabic, I wanted to know if you or anyone had developed an Arabic alphabet transcription system? (I have a soft spot for that particular alphabet…)

  26. I think Spanish also has a direct object preposition for people. My teacher calls it “Personal A.”

  27. David J. Peterson: In Hebrew it’s used only for definite objects, ex. “I ate a cow” ˀaḵaltī pārā, vs “I ate the cow” ˀaḵaltī ˀEṮ happārā.

  28. Maybe I can work with a Chinese traslator friend to come up with some Chinese transliterations for you. You’ll probably lose a LOT of info there, of course.

  29. Maybe Bashkir could yield some contributions in this matter, that language uses the Cyrillic script and has Ҫ for the “th” sound alike Dothraki and also Ҡ for the uvular “q” that exists in that language. Those could be interesting options. Also for the “kh”, “h” differentiation you could go with Һ vs. Х or you could use the digraph Кх for “kh” which I understand is pretty standard in Russian usage.

  30. I just stumbled upon this post. As a native Russian speaker and a fan of GRRM books, I would like to thank you for your ambitious efforts in developing the Dothraki language and for this cyrillization system in particular. :)

    Anyway, the main problem with this system is Ў letter for W. Actually, it is from Belarusian Cyrillic, and most Russians could neither read this letter, nor input it with a standard keyboard. Also, Ц for TH is somewhat strange, and I don’t think it ever fits, Т or Ф would be much more suitable.

    On the other hand, КХ looks like an appropriate transcription for KH. In fact, the Russian translations of the books use this one (khaleesi is кхалиси и arakh is аракх).

    • Oh, wow! An actual Russian speaker who’s seen the Russian translation of the books! Okay, I have a series of questions for you.

      For me, the problem in using КХ is that it would be impossible to distinguish between [x] and [kx]—both of which exist in Dothraki and are distinct. Is there any reason I couldn’t just use Х? The only idea that would come to mind is if the Russian translation uses Х for [h], and this is a question that you could answer—along with some other questions I have.

      In your copy, how are the following words transcribed?

      • Dothraki
      • hranna
      • hrakkar
      • Cohollo
      • Bharbo
      • mhar
      • rhaggat

      It might take some hunting, but any information you could provide would be invaluable!

      • >The only idea that would come to mind is if the Russian translation uses Х for [h]
        Exactly. [h] is Х and [kh] is КХ in the Russian translation.

        Dothraki: дотракийцы (noun) / дотракийский (adjective). The Dothraki language is дотракийский язык.
        hranna: хранна
        hrakkar: храккар
        Cohollo: Кохолло
        Bharbo: Бхарбо
        mhar: мхар
        rhaggat: рхаггат

        • Fascinating! They added a bit of morphology to the end of those words, and basically eliminated the [θ] sound. The problem remains, though, that Dothraki distinguishes all of the following: [x], [h], [xx], [hh], [kx]. I don’t think the usual transcription method would be good enough to take care of it.

          • I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the morphology added to “Dothraki” (the ethnonym, at least) is gender and case morphology. But I’ll step back for the actual Russian speaker confirm.

            • Actually, neither: they’re derivational affixes. An adjective, of course, can appear in any gender or any case depending on what its modifying, and the affix on the noun appears to be…feminine plural? Neuter? But mainly I think it’s a demonym marker, correct? (Something on par with “Dothrakian”, “Dothrakite” or “Dothraki-ese”.)

            • Oh, interesting. I guess I assumed since Russian even puts gender and case on proper names — but of course it makes sense they’d derive the ethnonym noun and adjective using a derivational suffix, and then plug whatever case and gender stuff they needed into that.

              We need that Russian guy to reply now :P

            • >Something on par with “Dothrakian”,
              Yes, this is a demonym, ‘Dothraki people’ or ‘Dothrakians’ (it’s a plural form, and it is gender neutral in Russian). The singular masculine is дотракиец (Dothraki + derivational suffix ‘ец’) and the singular feminine is дотракийка.

              Most of nations from the books were translated in the same manner, regardless of differences in the original English text: валирийцы (Valyrians), дорнийцы (Dornishmen), гискарцы (Ghiscari) and so on.

    • No understanding of Russian, but generally speaking…
      If I were to translate the books, I would probably be a no-brainer to go КХ for kh. Dothraki tries to evoke a feel of an exotic language with different phonology, but as long as the language does not actually exist (as it does not for the translator), it’s a bit of a leap for to invent non-English interpretations for consonant pairs. English say ~ [khalisi], so that’s an intuitive base for translation. And if you are trying to be creative, wouldn’t you rather try to add some strange consonant cluster so as to maintain to exotic-evoking feel than explain the clusters into familiar phonemes?
      Now that we have a language with fixed phonemes, trying to find good ortographies is a slightly different task …but I have nothing against КХ for kh (pronounced [x]), so I guess there’s very little point to my rambling, since I doubt this all was news to anybody.

      The problem remains, though, that Dothraki distinguishes all of the following: [x], [h], [xx], [hh], [kx]

      [xx] versus [kx]?

  31. Yassen Stoyanoff

    We should mention that Cyrilic alphabet isn’ t russian, but bulgarian.

  32. I’ve just thought, how about Я [ja] for YA? To me, Хояли (Hoyali) feels somewhat more natural than Хойали.

    • No question that it would look better, but I think it would be better practice to use a single character for [j], since you can also get [ji] sequences in Dothraki, and there’s no character for that in Cyrillic.

  33. a а In all positions.
    b б In all positions.
    ch ч In all positions.
    d д In all positions.
    e э
    f ф In all positions.
    g г In all positions.
    h һ In all positions. (Kazakh Cyrillic)
    i и In all positions. (Azerbaijani Cyrillic)
    k к In all positions.
    kh х In all positions.
    l л In all positions.
    m м In all positions.
    n н In all positions.
    o о In all positions.
    p п In all positions.
    q қ In all positions. (Kazakh Cyrillic)
    r р In all positions.
    s с In all positions.
    sh ш In all positions.
    t т In all positions.
    th ц In all positions.
    v в In all positions.
    w ў In all positions. (Belorussian Cyrillic)
    y й
    z з In all positions.
    zh ж In all positions.
    ‘ ’ In all positions.
    +additional:
    ya я ?
    ye е ?
    ia я ?
    ye е ?

    Jin ave sekke verven anni m’orvikoon. → Ҹин авэ сэккэ вэрвэн анни м’орвикоон.

  34. 01 — Аа — Aa — /a/ (/ɑ/)
    02 — Вв — Vv — /v/
    03 — Гг — Gg /g/
    04 — Дд — Dd — /d̪/
    05 — Жж — Zh — /ʒ/
    06 — Зз — Zz — /z/
    07 — Ии — Ii — /i/ (/e/)
    08 — Йй — Yy — /j/
    09 — Кк — Kk — /k/
    10 — Ҟҟ — Qq — /q/
    11 — Лл — Ll — /l̪/
    12 — Мм — Mm — /m/
    13 — Нн — Nn — /n̪/
    14 — Оо — Oo — /o/ (/ɔ/)
    15 — Рр — Rr (rr) — /r/ (/ɾ/)
    16 — Ҏҏ — Rr — /ɾ/
    17 — Сс — Ss — /s/
    18 — Ҫҫ — Th — /θ/
    19 — Тт — Tt — /t̪/
    20 — Уу — Ww — /w/
    21 — Фф — Ff — /f/
    22 — Хх — Kh — /x/
    23 — Ӿӿ — Hh — /h/
    24 — Чч — Ch — /t͡ʃ/
    25 — Ҹҹ — Jj — /d͡ʒ/
    26 — Шш — Sh — /ʃ/
    27 — Ээ — Ee — /e/ (/ɛ/)

    Season One, Episode 10
    Daenerys: Шэх ма шиэҏаки анни!
    Daenerys: Ӿаш йэр винэсэҏи доҭҏах атаки киши, жэй шэх ма шиэҏаки анни?
    Daenerys: Ӿаш йэр лаз чаҏи анна; ӿаш йер рай вос о, аттиӿaс анна.
    Daenerys: Йер лаҹак. Йер аййэйоон лаҹакоон. Анӿа зигэҏэк йэҏоон лаҹат аҹҹин.
    Daenerys: Аффин шэх йола шэ ҹимма ма дҏивоэ шэ тиҭа… Аррек йэр аҹади савэ, шэх ма шиэҏаки анни.

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