Monthly Archives: June 2013

Some More High Valyrian Inflection

Another season of Game of Thrones is in the books, which means that this blog will go back to discussing grammar—this time with Valyrian added to the usual Dothraki posts (though I will mention that the Dothraki posts have not disappeared. There’s more there yet!).

This week I wanted to talk a little bit more about verbs. I spent a lot of time on the verb conjugation paradigm, and am reasonably pleased with how it came out. We’ve already gotten a look at the present indicative tense, so let’s jump to the past. There are two main tenses that occur primarily in the past: the perfect and the imperfect. Each tense has a stem modification in addition to personal endings, but the stem modification for the imperfect is predictable. The perfect displays patterns of predictability, but is not 100% predictable based on the shape of the root.

To start with, let’s look at the imperfect. The imperfect tense is used primarily to set up action in the past. It focuses on a specific action in the past that is viewed internally (i.e. is viewed as not yet having been completed). In a sentence like “He was talking to some lady when her dragon lit him on fire”, the verb “was talking” would be in the imperfect in High Valyrian. The imperfect tense is associated with the -il suffix (by the way, pay careful attention to my use of the word “suffix” there. I’ve seen “infix” thrown around, but such an analysis is inaccurate) plus the e set of personal endings. Here’s what the imperfect looks like with a consonant-final stem. Below I’ll use the verb pāsagon, which means “to trust” or “to believe”.

Person/Type Imperfect Active Tense
Indicative Subjunctive
Singular Plural Singular Plural
First Person pāsilen pāsilin pāsilon pāsiloty
Second Person pāsilē pāsilēt pāsilō pāsilōt
Third Person pāsiles pāsilis pāsilos pāsilosy
Imperative  
Infinitive
Participle

The imperfect has no associated participle, and no stand-alone infinitive or imperative.

When a verb stem with a final vowel is put into the imperfect, the vowel of the suffix -il coalesces with the vowel of the stem to produce a long vowel. As our example, I’ll use the verb bardugon, which means “to write” (coined in honor of Leigh Bardugo, author of Siege and Storm, which just came out [plug!]. You may remember her from such Dothraki words as lei).

Person/Type Imperfect Active Tense
Indicative Subjunctive
Singular Plural Singular Plural
First Person bardīlen bardīlin bardīlon bardīloty
Second Person bardīlē bardīlēt bardīlō bardīlōt
Third Person bardīles bardīlis bardīlos bardīlosy
Imperative  
Infinitive
Participle

As you can see, the tense isn’t that difficult to get a handle on. The only wrinkle is figuring out whether a stem is consonant- or vowel-final, and then what the result is if the stem is vowel-final. Here’s a summary (using the first person singular active indicative as an example):

  • pās-agon “to trust” → pāsilen
  • bardu-gon “to write” → bardīlen
  • keli-gon “to stop” → kelīlen
  • mije-gon “to lack” → mijīlen
  • nekto-gon “to cut” → nektēlen
  • penda-gon “to wonder” → pendēlen

The above should be fairly intuitive. Moving on to the next tense, the perfect probably enjoys much greater use than the imperfect. The perfect tense focuses on an act that has been completed. By definition this action will have occurred in the past, but it can often be used with present relevance (what is often called an anterior). In English you can actually use the simple past in just this way. For example, if someone offers you food but you’re full, you can say, “I’ve eaten”. This is the English perfect, and it’s fairly standard. You could also say, “I ate”—even better if you add “already”. Think of the High Valyrian perfect as both of those uses rolled into one, but without needing the word “already”. Using our example above, the verb “lit” would be in the perfect in High Valyrian.

In the perfect, it’s not enough to simply know whether the stem ends with a consonant or vowel to figure out what the perfect will look like. Most of the time it has a -t or -et suffix, but this isn’t always (or exclusively) the case. Here’s what our two example verbs look like in the perfect. First, pāsagon.

Person/Type Perfect Active Tense
Indicative Subjunctive
Singular Plural Singular Plural
First Person pāstan pāsti pāston pāstoty
Second Person pāstā pāstāt pāstō pāstōt
Third Person pāstas pāstis pāstos pāstosy
Imperative    
Infinitive pāstagon
Participle  

What a tasty verb… And now bardugon.

Person/Type Perfect Active Tense
Indicative Subjunctive
Singular Plural Singular Plural
First Person bardutan barduti barduton bardutoty
Second Person bardutā bardutāt bardutō bardutōt
Third Person bardutas bardutis bardutos bardutosy
Imperative    
Infinitive bardutagon
Participle  

Again, the endings are fairly simple (the same as the present tense endings), it’s just figuring out the stem. Here are some examples of perfect stems (again using the first person singular) and their associated infinitives:

  • gaom-agon “to do” → gōntan
  • henuj-agon “to exit” → hembistan
  • māzi-gon “to come” → mastan
  • pikīb-agon “to read” → pikīptan
  • pygh-agon “to jump” → pȳdan
  • qanem-agon “to sharpen” → qanēdan
  • rāpūlj-agon “to soften” → rāpūltan
  • rij-agon “to praise” → riddan
  • rȳb-agon “to hear” → ryptan
  • sik-agon “to bear” → sittan
  • tat-agon “to finish” → tetan
  • urne-gon “to see” → ūndan
  • verd-agon “to arrange” → vēttan

A lot of the major patterns are contained in that list along with a couple of the more bizarre ones.

At this point, I think it’s more than possible to put a few sentences together. I’ll see what else I have time to put out in the coming months. Until next time, geros ilas!

Mhysa

And now its watch is at an end (it being season 3)! Good show, D&D! I know there haven’t been many seasons, but this was by far the best. That said, it’s understandable if as a viewer you felt this finale was a little anticlimactic after last week’s showstopper. There’s absolutely no event that could top the horror of the Red Wedding (well, except for the event that many thought would happen last night that didn’t. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll have to wait till next season [or read A Storm of Swords]). Instead of trying to do that, they tried to tie up as many story lines as possible and set the table for next season, and I thought they did a good job. But there was also some fantastic stuff in this episode that it’s easy to forget about upon reflection.

Certainly at the top of my list was the Small Council scene. Tywin Lannister is, as you know, my favorite Song of Ice and Fire character, and you can’t ask for more than Joffrey being Joffrey and Tywin being Tywin at the same time. There’s rarely more electricity in the room than when someone publicly threatens Tywin Lannister. What genius! At the various premiere events I’ve been to, I have yet to run into either Charles Dance or Jack Gleeson, but I’d love to shake both of their hands. The quality they bring to their work and the life they’ve imbued in their characters is, for me, one of the highlights of the show. Game of Thrones is filled with twists, action and some great special effects, yes, but for me some of the most fun I have watching the show is witnessing the verbal repartée between characters with massive egos—one of the same reasons I enjoy watching Downton Abbey so much, in fact.

Since we’re in King’s Landing, I also wanted to tip my cap to Lena Headey. Cersei is an extremely unsympathetic character if you read the books. Some of the things she does have been left out of the show, but they’ve added some new scenes which really help to round Cersei out—and one of them came in “Mhysa”. I thought it was a lovely scene with her and Tyrion, and it adds a little something extra to this whole Joffrey question (i.e. how does the worst person ever come to be the worst person ever? What went wrong?). Not even she is blind to how awful Joffrey is, and yet he is her son. Lena Headey does a good job conveying just how tough that is.

Also I actually like that the reunion of Cersei and Jaime is a bit overshadowed and understated. It’s not a triumphant return, but also theirs is not the best relationship. It’d feel a little weird to be cheering that reunion like it’s Ross and Rachel (and before anyone comments, yes, I recognize that a good chunk of America was not cheering for that reunion [I was among them], but I don’t know how many would be familiar with Florentino and Fermina). I think the scene laid the groundwork for what’s going to become of their relationship rather well.

Another book comment. I like that the scene with Davos was allowed to play out. In the book, as I recall, that’s one of those chapter enders that George R. R. Martin is fond of: Davos is being carried away to be executed, and to save himself he pulls out a slip of paper and begins to read. You don’t know what or why; you have to wait until it’s explained later. Bleh. I’m a busy man. I’ll take my answers now, thank you.

As I’ve been watching this season with friends, I can say with confidence that Ramsey Bolton is a crowd favorite. He introduced acquitted himself quite well this season, what with his little horn and his sausage from this episode. That’s classic mirth-making. Ditto to Arya and the Hound. I hope we get a few more good scenes out of that pairing next season.

Before getting to the scene in Yunkai, I’d also like to mention a point of discussion that came up in regard to the “Wolf King” bit. This is something from the books, but we all found it to be quite a bit more awful than we were imagining—and I think this reaction has been a common one on the net. I think one thing that’s surprising is both my friend and I had the exact same reaction, which is that we thought the wolf head thing would be a lot cleaner than it actually was—but, realistically, there’s no reason it should have been. It should have been shoddy work, and, indeed, the wolf head should have looked like it didn’t fit on their properly. Still, when we read and imagined the season, we somehow imagined precision tailoring: a perfect fit for the wolf head, neat stitching… It’s comical, if you think about it, how unrealistic that expectation was. My friend contends this is on account of the fact that unless something is described in vivid detail (in the books it’s just an anecdote related by Salladhor Saan), our imaginations probably aren’t going to try to shock or horrify us. After all, such a thing isn’t pleasant. Thus, we get the Nutcracker Mouse King version of Robb with a wolf head in our imagination.

The season ends in Yunkai with some darling little dragons. I’m quite certain that if my cat had wings, she’d be Drogon. At first Missandei addresses the crowd (one wonders how many could actually hear. What did they do in the old days without sound systems…?):

  • Bizy sa Daenerys Targarien, Jelmazmo, Dorzalty, Dāria Sikudo Dārȳti Vestero, Muña Zaldrizoti. Sa va zer sko enkat jiva derve.
  • “This is Daenerys Targaryen, the Stormborn, the Unburnt, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the Mother of Dragons. It is to her you owe your freedom.”

The astute reader will note that this isn’t actually pure Low Valyrian, but rather a mix. Dany’s name and titles are done in High Valyrian, and everything else is done in Low. This was intentional.

Next, Dany says a good portion of the following:

  • Dāervose jevosy yne enkot daor. Jemot ziry tepagon koston daor. Dāerves jevys tepagon yne sytilībos daor. Jemēle mērī sytilības. Lo ziry arlī jaelāt, jemēlo syt ziry mazemagon jemo bēvilza. Tolvies jemys.
  • “You do not owe me your freedom. I cannot give it to you. Your freedom is not mine to give. It belongs to you and you alone. If you want it back, you must take it for yourselves. Each and every one of you.”

If there’s a controversial bit in that translation, it’s the choice of verb and tense in lo ziry arlī jaelāt—i.e. “if it again you want”. There are a couple of ways I could’ve gone. One would be, for example, to use the verb emagon, “to have”, in the subjunctive. I felt that was too hypothetical. This translation I felt was more direct (i.e. using the indicative rather than the subjunctive and using the verb for “to want”), and I liked it better for the content. It was a choice, though, so feel free to skewer me in the comments.

After that, Dany commands her dragons to fly with sōvētēs (all three of them—hence, the plural command), and she asks her Unsullied to let her pass by saying Ynot rebagon. I know you’re probably looking at that and you’re all like, “Whaaaaa…?” so let me explain. Permissive commands (“let me pass”, “let him speak”, “let my dragon roast him like Roseanne Barr”, etc.) are done differently from other commands. The verb in the imperative is actually gaomagon, but it’s pretty much never used. Instead what you have is gaomagon in the imperative preceded by a verb in the infinitive (the main verb of the sentence) preceded by an agent in the dative. Thus instead of it being something like, “Pass to me”, it’s “Let me pass”.

Oh, and a note since folks have asked, the lyric in that final chant was based on the last speech Dany gives, but was altered for the choir. I don’t think you can necessarily recover any of the text at this point. I haven’t checked, though. I didn’t write it and wasn’t involved with it.

Now to close the discussion of this season: Talisa’s letter. Before getting into the issues, let me just give you the whole thing. Here it is in High Valyrian:

Muñus jorrāeliarzus,

Olvie hen embraro tolmiot nykēlot avy ivestragon issa. Nykēlo syt ūndon daor luo valzȳro ñoghossi ōressiks. Dārys issa vestris, se prūmio ñuho konir drējior issa. Ȳghāpī īlōn rāelza, kesrio syt lanta iksan, rūso zȳhosy gōvilirose zijo syt pyghas lue prūmie. Vīlībāzma ajomemēbza, yn aderī, mōrī, aōt māzīli se hēnkirī īlvi biarvī manaerili.

And here is the original English, written by Cat Taylor:

Dearest mother,

So much news I have to give you from over the seas. I find myself held by the arms of a husband I never expected to have. They say he is a king and of my heart that is true. He holds us safe, for now I am two, with his child beneath the heart that beats for him. The war rages on, but soon, when it is all over, we shall come to you and celebrate together.

Okay. The Valyrian’s all there, so those who are interested can work on it. For those who were interested in the letter specifically because of the theory that Talisa was a Lannister spy (if you’re unfamiliar with this theory, go here for a full breakdown), obviously you can now see that the letter reveals that, in fact, she was not—or, at the very least, that she was actually writing a letter to her mother. You might be able to say it was a code, but if you go back to the letter that Arya saw from a Lannister spy, that doesn’t make much sense, since Arya had no trouble (a) reading it (i.e. presumably it was in Common), and (b) judging its content. In reality, all the letter does is point up the fact that there really is no actual evidence for Talisa being a Lannister spy.

That said, the original video was very clever (even though it misses some obvious things. Everyone from Essos has an accent? What about Varys?), and I felt that revealing the contents of the letter right after episode 7 would have pretty much torpedoed the theory (though note that the author of the video says at the end that the theory was a joke. Others thought it quite plausible). Conspiracy theories are fun when they’re about television shows (Who shot Mr. Burns? Who killed Laura Palmer? Who is Number One?), so it’s no fun to have someone with inside knowledge rain on everyone’s parade.

Plus, if fans can have fun generating conspiracy theories, can’t I have fun teasing? I’m probably never going to get another chance!

But, yeah, the Lannister spy theory would’ve been a tremendous break from canon, I think. And even though they’ve broken from canon before (and will again), there are certain lines that they can’t cross, and that’d be one of them. Plus, I’d expect much better of Tywin. Plant a random girl in Robb’s army of thousands and expect that not only will he run into her, but he’ll fall in love with her? There’s way too many variables in that plan for someone as awesome as Tywin.

Anyway I guess that does it for season 3. The first season, Game of Thrones was just getting its feet, and the second was building an audience. This season, I thought, was superb, and I would not be surprised to see it garner some serious attention when the Golden Globes and Emmys roll around. I contributed to the first two seasons, but I’m really proud of the performances in this season. Wonderful, wonderful work.

And, to close the chapter on this season, I’ve got two words, and two words only.

JACOB

ANDERSON

Kastāmiro Daomior

Now, I’m not a superstitious man, but there was no word for “rain” in High Valyrian when I went to the dictionary to translate the title of tonight’s episode. After creating it (and the verb “to rain”) it brought the official word total of High Valyrian up to 666:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Admittedly, even knowing what was coming, that was pretty harsh—even harsher than hearing it from Roy Dotrice. So well played, D&D!

But leaving the bad, let’s get to the best part of the episode: the adonis Jacob Anderson fighting like a lajak. Dude is awesome. The only thing more I could’ve wanted from this episode is to see that scene continue. It was a little 1960s Batman, but I’ll take it. I was mightily entertained.

Unfortunately there’s no good news for the High Valyrian in this episode. What I sent was, apparently, altered, so I’m not sure, on first blush, what they’re saying. First, Jorah says a line in English that was to be Dany’s in High Valyrian. Then Dany says…something (I’ll get to it; need to rewatch that bit), and Grey Worm says:

  • Odaban sko ydras drejikydho.
  • “I think he is telling the truth.”

That’s translated as “I trust him”. Same intent, really, so no big deal. I did, however, recommend strongly that he say “this one” instead of “I”. What I should have done is simply translated it how I wanted to and sent it to them (noted for the future). Perhaps they’re suggesting he’s in the process of developing some agency (clearly true), but I never took the use of “this one” as anything more than a linguistic pattern—just something that happens on account of the idiolect spoken by the Unsullied—or perhaps even just a way of showing deference. Of course if it was the latter, perhaps this is a way of unassimilating himself. There’s a thesis in here somewhere, I swear!

Okay, back to Dany’s lines. Let me try and figure out what she’s saying, and then I’ll see if I can figure out where it comes from… Ahh! Okay, I’ve got it. First, here’s the line as I delivered it (it’s split into two parts, but it was written as one line):

  • Lo jention mirre nūmāzme ēza, iderenna qopsa verdagon issa.
  • “If leadership is about anything, it’s about making hard choices.”

If you go and listen, this line was split at the comma, and each half was translated as (respectively): “You are a leader now” and “Do you trust him?”

So, first, let me just comment on the writing here. I like the scene as it actually appears in the episode much better than what’s written. First, Jorah wouldn’t actually have that much of a footprint on this scene if he didn’t have the line that was originally in Valyrian (i.e. “You command the Unsullied. What do you think?”). It also changes the dynamic a bit. Jorah’s going to Grey Worm as an ally, more than anything else. Almost as if he’s a Vulcan, or something: Grey Worm can tell no lies. So if Grey Worm thinks the plan is a bad idea and Daario’s leading them into a trap, it must be true. I like that better than Dany asking him, so kudos there. Furthermore, I also like the idea of Jorah addressing him in English, and then Dany kind of coming back to him in Valyrian. It makes it look less like he’s suddenly learned to understand Common (even though the dialogue, as written in the show, would make it seem like he does. How else could he understand the plan well enough to comment? All Daario was doing was pointing at a map—and that only slightly).

Second, I also like the change to Dany’s lines. The lines as written are much more didactic—like Dany’s teaching him how to be an individual. As it’s written, it’s more like Dany is simply acknowledging his agency and giving Grey Worm the opportunity to step up and be a part of the conversation. The result is an exchange that’s less paternal (or maternal) and more empowering, in my opinion.

Of course, I could easily have translated the actual lines if they’d asked (seriously, what else do I do? Translating for Game of Thrones is cake! It’s a treat I give myself after a long day of doing hard work on Defiance). They didn’t. Perhaps they thought there wouldn’t be enough time or I was too busy. Whatever it was, though, there’s no match between the lines and the subtitles. Even so, the direction of the scene didn’t change, so it’s not at all an implausible course of events (i.e. if you just read the subtitles or just listen to the Valyrian, it shouldn’t be a surprise what happens).

For the sake of completion, here’s the other line from this episode:

  • Jentys Dovaogēdyro syt iksā. Skoros otāpā?
  • “You command the Unsullied. What do you think?”

I know there’s not a lot of Valyrian in this episode, but perhaps it’ll help to fill in some holes.

Also, to return to an earlier topic, I was waiting for this episode to air to say anything about Talisa’s letter. The point is, I think, now moot, but I believe the subject deserves its own post. So bear with me; it’s late and I have to be on my game tomorrow. I’ll put up Talisa’s letter soon (perhaps before the post accompanying the last episode of the season).

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