Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Treasure of the Wastes

So back when I announced the annual Dothraki haiku contest, I thought it would be fun to see if anyone could do something with High Valyrian. Then this thing basically became all about High Valyrian. Yikes!

All right, so let’s deal with that first. Since Japanese originally used mora counting for its haiku, I thought it would be cool to do that for High Valyrian, since it also had long and short vowels. Clearly I did not think this through. High Valyrian words are way too big for a haiku. The form just doesn’t make sense. If anything, one should only pay attention to syllables. That might make haiku possible for High Valyrian; it just makes the practice a little less interesting. Haiku seem to work very well for Dothraki, but it’s just not going to work for High Valyrian.

In discussing this with my wife, she had an idea: What about limericks? Kind of sillier, but I think it could work, because three of the lines are usually quite longer. I think of the classic limerick as being 9-9-5-5-9 (syllable count) with an AABBA rhyme scheme. However true limericks often will have more syllables than that (or fewer, as the case may be), which I think would suit High Valyrian quite well.

So this is what I want to try. Those who were trying to do High Valyrian haiku, try a limerick. Give it an AABBA rhyme scheme and try to make the B lines shorter, but there will be no strict syllable counts. We all know what limericks sound like, so you should try to make it sound like that. Use the heavy syllables to your advantage. If you want, you can have long vowels count for more than one syllable, if it makes sense in your schema, but you’ll be in charge of coming up with that schema (the poem itself will, essentially, argue for a meter). Anyway, once you’ve tried it out, if you think it’s doable, I’ll announce a separate High Valyrian limerick contest at some point in time later on. You’ll have more time than the Dothraki haiku contest, since the form is longer and a bit more complicated. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Now, unfortunately because of new work that has come up, I’m not going to be able to review as many submissions as I wanted to. If you’re new here, go check out the comments on the announcement post, because there’s some great material there. For this post, first let’s look at Joel W’s Valyrian haiku:

ōrbar ñuqīr

The intended meaning is “Smoke and ash will come with the winds”. Very elegant! I like the use of the coordination strategy to stretch out the second line (i.e. lengthening the last vowel of ñuqir). Very well done! Technically it should be jelmȳssi, but that doesn’t change the mora count. Also the second line is one mora short if you discount codas. If you count the final r of ōrbar, though, it works, so I will count it. I like it! This is probably my favorite High Valyrian offering of the bunch.

This is another good one from Zhalio:

Gō ropatas
Valyria, yn vēzos

That is “Valyria fell before, but the sun continues to rise”. That’s the literal translation. Discounting final consonants, that does work. Nice job! In the comments, Mad Latinist suggested that it should be ropetas? It should not: ropatas is correct. This is because the stem is ropa-, not rop-. Easy mistake to make, though.

Honorary mentions go out to Zhalio and Joel W who tried to translate the Pater Noster, despite lacking most of the necessary words! You can see Zhalio’s translation here, and Joel W’s translation here. I don’t have time to review them, but will look into coining some of that vocabulary.

And before leaving Valyrian, I definitely want to mention Mad Latinist’s opening to the Dæneryd, which sounds like an awesome subject for an epic poem. Mad Latinist wrote up this post on his LiveJournal discussing and presenting two lines he wrote in epic Graeco-Roman hexameter in High Valyrian. The form is, indeed, much better suited to High Valyrian than a haiku is, and the result is incredible. The lines are here:

Ābre se zaldrīzī bone ivāedan hen Essot jitte
ēlī Pento se Dothrakoti Embraro rȳ ondoso vējo…

He didn’t attempt a fluent English translation, but I will: “Dragons and that woman I sing, from Essos sent / First through Pentos, then the Dothraki sea, by the hand of fate…” Sounds awesome. Sounds like something that should be attempted after the series has completed (I promise High Valyrian will have enough words to handle it at that point). It’d require GRRM to sign off on it, but wouldn’t that be awesome? After all, all the old myths are told and retold; they’re not made up whole cloth. Daenerys would be an outstanding subject for an epic poem (or I’m assuming. I too don’t know how it ends). You can hear Mad Latinist’s friend pronounce it here (good reading!).

If there is one quibble I’d have, it’s with ivāedan. Since the oblique applicative is being used, it should be standing in for some sort of adpositional phrase which is appropriate to the oblique applicative. Unfortunately if you want to say something “about” something, the postposition you’d use is , which is technically a locative postposition, so it should probably be uvāedan (and the cases would have to change accordingly). But maybe you could get away with ivāedan.

Okay, enough Valyrian. On to the Dothraki!

Let’s start with Hrakkar’s:

Me zheanalat
Chaf hol she mae noreth
Me davra hrazef

The intended meaning is, “She is beautiful, wind blew on her hair, she is a good horse”. Of course, “she” is just a translation choice; it could be “he” or “she” in Dothraki. There are a couple of things that need fixing. First, zheanalat is the infinitive; it should be zheanae. Next, the possessor comes after the thing it possesses, so it would be noreth mae, but also since “hair” is inalienably possessed, it should be moon, or just not expressed. I might also have used vi instead of she for “through her hair”. So it would be Chaf hol vi norethaan, which would indeed be seven syllables. It’s debatable, though. She is supposed to serve as the locative preposition that “makes sense”, so it could work here. In the last line, it should be hrazef davra (noun-adjective word order), but otherwise this is pretty good! I like it!

Here’s The Majesty’s submission:

Athkisar notat
Lirof mra lekhofaan
Noreth nem jesa

I think the intended meaning is “Trying to turn a great piece of writing into a great language is hair being pulled”. I’ll give you an A for effort here, The Majesty, but this doesn’t really work. Neither kis nor notat can be used in that way. But you did get the message across! Yeah, I gave up on trying to translate the prologue for the first book after sentence one.

Next we have Zhalio’s entry:

Vezh ahajana
Vosma mra noreth anni
Ale ayena.

A good translation of this is “The stallion is stronger, but my hair has more bells in it”. A nice one! Two things are standing in the way of this one being great, though. The first is that “hair” is inalienably possessed, so it should be noreth anhoon. That’d put it one syllable over, but you could do vosm’mra (it is poetry, after all). Second, adjectives follow nouns, so it should be ayena ale. I could see how you’d get a determiner reading for this, though. If you were to put it in front, I would say it has to be ale ayeni—maybe alikh ayeni, “a surplus of bells”. The content is terrific, though, and I really like the use of mra here as “have”. Ordinarily it’s just mra qora which is kind of used as “to have”, but it makes sense to use it with noreth here. Great job!

Now we move to Qvaak. This year Qvaak did a cycle of poems switching between High Valyrian and Dothraki. It was a bold attempt! You can see the whole thing here. I’ll only discuss the two Dothraki haiku here.

First, it begins with this:

Mra qevir noreth
fenoe hatifaan;
azho qosari.

My translation is, “In the forest, hair clings to one’s face: a gift of the spiders.” My only complaint is with the punctuation: I would’ve used a colon rather than a semi-colon. Otherwise, this is good Dothraki! Excellent choice of adding the inchoative -o suffix to fenat (an invention of Qvaak’s; wholly appropriate). I might also have said azho qosaroon, given where it comes from. Otherwise, very good—and certainly a feeling we all know, if you’ve ever run into a spiderweb.

But, of course, no poem with spiders in it is going to win the Mawizzi Virzeth! No, that honor goes to this haiku:

Mas athasari

tolorro mahrazhoa

finis adakh me.

My translation is “The treasure of the wastes is the bones of men whom it has devoured.” Qvaak translated this as “desert”, but there actually is a Dothraki word for “desert”: zelatha (inanimate, Class A). I think it’s also the mark of a good poem when the translation doesn’t do the original justice, and I think that is the case with this poem. I like that on account of the relative clause the subject is forced to go last. Gives it kind of a stinger at the end. Also, if you wanted to switch to “desert”, it’d be an easy fix: Just change it to masar zelathi. I like it the way it is, though. Very nice!

Here’s my rendition of it:

And, yes, this means that, three years running, the Mawizzi Virzeth goes to the evidently unbeatable Qvaak.

You’re a machine, Qvaak! A soulful, artistic machine. Hajas, zhey Qvaak!

The Red Rabbit, 2014, awarded to Qvaak!

Thank you to all who submitted haikus this year, and thank you to all those who ventured into Valyrian territory. Let me know what you think about my idea and we’ll see about starting up another competition. A different option might be two do a hexametrical couplet like Mad Latinist did, but I thought this might be too difficult. Thoughts? I’m open to either. Mad Latinist’s was outstanding.

Asshekhqoyi Anni Save…Save

Well, it’s that time again. It’s been another year, and now I’m thirty-three. It’s been a heck of a year. I presented at TED and El Ser Creativo, did a really epic season of Game of Thrones that got totally shafted by the Golden Globes, the first season of Defiance, Thor: The Dark World, and picked up a couple new projects. What I didn’t do was get to 4,000 Dothraki words. :( Things have really slowed down on that front. Having a bunch of stuff to work on is outstanding, but it does mean that I’m not able to expand the languages as much as I’d like to, or give them as much attention as I’d like to. I haven’t forgotten about anything, I can assure you, it’s just going to take more time for me to get things settled.

Consequently, there’s not a lot of new material to work with for this year’s Dothraki haiku competition—which begins right now! I’ve thought a lot about expanding to include Valyrian, so here’s what I’ll say. I will allow Valyrian haiku, but they won’t compete directly with the Dothraki haiku. If there are a sufficient number of submissions, I’ll make Valyrian a permanent member of the haiku competition. For now, though, Valyrian is an expansion language, and Valyrian compositions will not be accepted for the coveted Mawizzi Virzeth.

Now, let’s see if I can come up with something of my own:

Vezh chak karlina
Ma frakhoki vash kashi
Eya kishoon.

Okay, that should be figure-out-able, but I won’t lie: it’s a little tricky.

This year’s challenge word is noreth, “hair”. Because I like it. Again, the challenge word is not required, but if you wanted something to give you a jump start (in case you can’t think of a theme ex nihilo), try using the challenge word. It’s got kind of a strange shape (and was likely inspired by the Moro word ndreth, which is the plural of ereth, which means “clothes”).

And here are the rules, reposted from last year:


For the purposes of this contest, a haiku is 17 syllables long, with the syllable counts for each line being 5, 7 and 5, in that order. If you need to fudge, we’ll set up a separate category for haiku that are 17 syllables, but maybe don’t hit the right line numbers.

Also (and this is important), since this is Dothraki, we are definitely going by syllable count, not mora count. Regarding syllable-counting, in Dothraki, a syllable is defined as a vowel plus one or more consonants on either side. A syllable cannot contain more than one vowel, which means that a word like kishaan is trisyllabic, not disyllabic.

If it helps, you may or may not contract the various prepositions that contract. So, for example, mr’anha (two syllables) is the usual way of saying “inside me”. For your haiku, if you wish, you can separate the two out, i.e. mra anha (three syllables). You can also drop purely epenthetic e vowels (so the past tense of “crush”, kaffe, can be rendered as kaff’). Feel free to play with word order and drop pronouns, as needed, bearing in mind that such language is figurative, and the reader will still need to be able to figure out who’s doing what to whom.

For Valyrian: Long vowels count as two mora, and a vowel with a coda counts as two mora, but a syllable will not have more than two mora. So a long vowel plus a coda consonant will still be two mora, for the purposes of the poem. Try doing this with mora, instead of syllables, and see how it goes. This will make it more like a real Japanese haiku. If you need a particular word in a particular number/case combination or a verb in a particular conjugation, please let me know and I’ll give it to you.

Addendum: Rising diphthongs count as two mora (i.e. ae and ao); falling diphthongs count as one (e.g. ia, ua, ue, etc.). Also, word order is certainly freer in poetry than it is in everyday speech, but the rules about adjectives still apply (i.e. you use the short forms if the adjective appears directly before the noun it modifies; otherwise they’d take their full forms). And, finally, word-final consonants are extrametrical. Thus if a word ends in -kor, that counts as one mora, not two.

Shieraki gori ha yerea! Fonas chek!

Elat k’Athivezhofari…

I’ve returned from SpaceCityCon, and had a bit to settle in here, so it’s time to start the year in Essosian conlanging. But first, I got a couple pictures of me with Jason Momoa (one below), who is, of course, awesome. The guy just absolutely loves life and is a ton of fun to be around—and he’s nice. He’s a good guy. If you get a chance, you should check out Road to Paloma, which he’s directing and starring in coming out this year (trailer here.

Me and Jason Momoa

Click to enlarge.

On my last blog post I got a request to translate “To boldly go where no man has gone before”—the old Star Trek slogan (the new one, of course, being “where no one has gone before”)—into High Valyrian. Seems like an odd pairing, but it is somewhat amusing for linguistic reasons. The whole “don’t split an infinitive” thing is one of those false rules that gets handed down from teacher to teacher, and the Star Trek motto is always held up as either an egregious example of the miscarriage of grammatical justice or as evidence that you can, in fact, split an infinitive. It is, of course, an example of the latter, with the whole “splitting infinitive” thing coming from the fact that you can’t “split” an infinitive in Latin, since it’s a single word. And Latin, of course, was George R. R. Martin’s inspiration for High Valyrian, in which you can also not split an infinitive, since it’s a single word. Consequently the translation won’t feature the same split that English does.

(Oh, and with my linguist’s hat on, I should say that “to x” isn’t actually an infinitive in English. The bare form of the verb is the infinitive. If you use it by itself, it has to be preceded by “to”, but you see the actual bare infinitive elsewhere—for example, after “will”, where you say “I will go with you”, and not “I will to go with you”. But that’s splitting hairs. [Ha. Split.])

Anyway, there were a couple of attempts to translate the phrase in the comments, but it’s missing some key vocabulary, so let me go through and do this, since it seems like fun.

Let’s start with the easy part. The “to go” part is going to be jagon, and it’ll be the last word in the sentence, so we can file that away and focus on the rest. There is no subject, which is handy, so let’s deal with the first modifier on jagon, which is “boldly”. In English, “bold” is pretty much a gentlemanly word for “brave”, so let’s stick with “brave”, which is nēdenka, in the nominative lunar singular (it’s an adjective). To turn that it into an adverb, you have to know the adjective class. Nēdenka is a Class I adjective, which means that it takes a suffix -irī to become an adverb. Thus we can change nēdenka to nēdenkirī and get nēdenkirī jagon. We can pop that bad boy at the end of the sentence and we’ve got the business part of the sentence done.

Now for the troublesome bit: Where no man has gone before. Again, let’s start with the easiest part. Since this is for a tattoo, I want to give you the option of saying “no man” or “no one”. This is a new clause of which the subject is “no man”, so we know that phrase will be in the nominative. To say no one, you’d say daorys, and that concludes that. To say “no man” specifically, you’d say dōre vala, but if you’d like to have a prolix gender neutral expression, you could say dōre issaros, which would be “no being”. Whichever one you like, though, you’re now done, because their citation forms happen to be the forms that are necessary for the function the “no man” bit plays in the clause.

For the verb, you’d use the perfect. In Low Valyrian you might use a different construction for “has gone” as opposed to “went”, but in High Valyrian the two are conflated. The form of the verb is istas, so the phrase becomes daorys istas (or dōre issaros istas or dōre vala istas), which is “no one went” or “no one has gone”.

Before getting to the clause-linking part, Mad Latinist conjectured that you might be able to use naejot to mean “before”, but Zhalio noted that this was unlikely, given its etymology. In this case, Zhalio was correct. You can use naejot to mean “before” for the meaning “in front of”, but you can’t use it for the temporal “before”. For that, in fact, you use . You might remember from such meanings as “underneath” and “below”. It also means “before” in the temporal sense. This is a part of a guiding metaphor High Valyrian employs where height is associated with time depth. Consequently, things that happen before the present are below the present, and things that happen after the present happen above it (tolī as an adverb or toliot as a postposition). The postposition can be used as a postposition or as an adverb (just as with naejot), and so the expression now has become daorys gō istas.

Now for the last bit. Mad Latinist used the relative adjective lua in his translation attempt, which is a good guess, but doesn’t work in this instance. Hopefully the difference can be explained succinctly using these three examples:

  • Skoriot istas?Where has he gone?”
  • Skoriot istas ūndan. “I saw where he went.
  • Istas luon lenton ūndan. “I saw the house where he went.

The difference here is that in the second you’re not really modifying “where” the way you’re modifying “house” in the third, if that makes sense. Think about something like, “I know who wrote Catch-22” and how it differs from “I know the guy who wrote Catch-22“. The first is a statement about a question (e.g. “Who wrote Catch-22?”), whereas the second is an actual assertion about someone you know (in fact, you’d use two different verbs in Spanish for this). That is, it brackets thus:

  • I know [who wrote Catch-22].
  • I know [the guy [who wrote Catch-22] ].

Hoping this makes sense. Consequently it’s not really a relative clause. Rather it’s a self-contained clause that is the object (or topic) of the matrix verb.


Back to our original translation request: To boldly go where no one has gone before. This is what we’ve got:

  • Skoriot daorys gō istas nēdenkirī jagon.

And there it is.

I suppose if you did want to mimic the so-called infinitive split, you could put nēdenkirī in the front (something like “Boldly where no one has gone before to go”), but I wouldn’t recommend it. And, of course, you can substitute dōre vala or dōre issaros for daorys if you so choose. So there you go, Monserrat Vargas! If you get a tattoo, please send us a picture.

Also, a couple general notes. I’ll have a big announcement later this month, but I did want to note that this year I’ll be working on the show Dominion on Syfy. No major info on that yet, but I’m working on an a posteriori language for the show (my first, though not as stringently a posteriori as a language like Brithenig or Wenedyk). It’s called Lishepus.

Otherwise, happy new year! Stay tuned for the yearly Dothraki Haiku Competition. It’s coming!

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