It’s now February 20th, and this is the first Dothraki post of the month. Given that it’s a short month, this may very well be the last, as well. I feel obliged to offer up some sort of explanation, given that (most months) I’ve been pretty good about living up to my unwritten (until now) four posts per month goal.
As it has turned out, this month has been pretty busy. In addition to the SWTX PCA/ACA Conference from last week, I’m giving a TED University talk at TED this month (a whole 6 minutes on the 28th!), and have been busy doing a lot of prep work for that and for TEDActive, where I’m giving a workshop. If you want to talk any Dothraki, the best place to catch me these days is on Twitter or at our weekly Dothraki chat on IRC.
I didn’t want this post to be completely devoid of Dothraki, though, so I thought I’d address an issue that came up on Twitter. Our latest (and quite prolific!) Dothraki speaker Tyene Sand was trying to translate a sentence using the Night’s Watch (that is, the name “the Night’s Watch”). That can be translated in a number of ways (I offered Vitihiraki Ajjalani), but the translation called for the phrase to be declined in some way. This is where one runs into a dilemma.
In Turkish, if you take a foreign noun and try to decline it, the word behaves a little differently from native (or assimilated) Turkish nouns. Turkish names take a number of case suffixes (similar to Dothraki), but these suffixes participate in vowel harmony. Here’s a small example:
|mağaza||store||mağazada||at the store|
|göl||lake||gölde||at the lake|
As you can see, in the Turkish forms in the third column, there’s a suffix that’s either -da or -de. Which suffix you get depends on the character of the previous vowel (for more, see this article on Turkish vowel harmony), but they both mean the same thing.
That’s fine and good. What happens, though, when you add these suffixes to a foreign word? Turkish, as it turns out, does a couple of things differently. First, the suffix is always attached with an apostrophe (kind of like how sometimes in English, acronyms are pluralized with an ‘s as opposed to just s [e.g. DVD’s rather than DVDs]). Second, unless the quality of the vowels is quite apparent, Turkish just uses one of those two suffixes—specifically, the -da suffix. Here’s an example:
So, now that we know what Turkish does, what does Dothraki do?
First, Dothraki noun phrases are often declined on the head noun. This is the rough equivalent of “passerby” vs. “passersby” in English (the latter being the formal plural of the former). Take, for example, the phrase asavva evomen, which has various meanings depending on context (for now, let’s say “afterlife”). If one wanted to pluralize this phrase, the appropriate plural would be asavvasi evomeni (the latter adjective taking an -i on account of concord). That is, asavva is the head noun, so it takes the plural; one doesn’t treat the whole thing as a single noun and attempt to add some sort of inflection to the end of evomen.
That said, one may want to write in Dothraki and talk about modern people, companies, products, places, etc. For something like “Google”, one option would be to try to translate the concept (good luck) or to render it in Dothraki (Gogol?). This might end up making things more confusing than necessary, though. As a result, the kind of catch-all repair strategy used in Dothraki is the preposition haji. Haji means something like “because of” or “on account of” or sometimes “with respect to”. In Dothraki proper, its meanings are a bit more specific. When used in conjunction with foreign names or terms, though, it stands in for any preposition and/or the genitive, allative or ablative cases. Thus, one might say something like:
- Anha tih mae haji Reddit.
- “I saw it on Reddit.”
Technically haji there could be standing in for she, ma, irge, hatif, vi, ha, ki—or the ablative, genitive or allative cases. Really, though, given the context, it seems likely that it’s standing for she (a general locative. Not sure if anything more specific would be used to refer to something one sees on a webpage. Mra, maybe?). One might be able to supply a context that would force another reading, but the most obvious reading suggests that whatever was seen was seen on Reddit.
Though the solution is pretty simple, the drawbacks are that there could be confusion or ambiguity, so it behooves one to supply the proper context so that only the correct interpretation is plausible. If more specificity is absolutely required, one can always use the proper preposition. If a case is needed, it’s probably best to attempt to render the noun in Dothraki, as below:
- Anha dothrak Disneylandaan!
- “I’m going to Disneyland!”
To make it clear, one may (in the Turkish style) separate the case ending from the root with an apostrophe, but personally I prefer it without.
I hope your February’s going well and that it’s not too cold where you are! It rained today, so California will get a bit chillier for the next couple of days, but otherwise I can’t complain. For those of you who speak or are familiar with other case languages, what do those languages do with foreign proper terms? How would “Google” come out in the instrumental in Russian? Or the translative in Finnish?