Category Archives: Community

Dothraki community news.


Firesof athvezhvenari! Happy New Year! 2014 was a pretty swell year for Dothraki, as it saw the publication of Living Language Dothraki, the official introductory guide to the language, but onward we ride!

To start the new year off, I thought I’d go back and do a post I’ve been wanting to do for some time. A while back, Monserrat Vargas asked me for a translation of the famous Star Trek phrase “To boldly go where no man has gone before” into High Valyrian, as she intended to get it tattooed. I provided the translation here, and shortly thereafter, she got it tattooed—and sent me the pictures! Since I had her on the line, though, I decided to turn her new acquisition into an interview.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

You see, I, like the majority of Americans, do not have any tattoos. (A poll quoted here says about 23% of Americans have tattoos, as of 2010.) This is not something that’s likely to change, as I can’t imagine getting a tattoo, and my wife is opposed. Unlike the majority of people who actively do not want to get tattoos, though, I think tattoos are the absolute coolest things in the world. I have opinions about what makes a good tattoo, and how much is too much, for my aesthetic tastes, but in general, I find tattoos fascinating and, well, badass. Nothing’s tougher than a tattooed biceps.

Because of this fascination, I’m always curious as to why those with tattoos get them, why they chose the tattoos they chose, etc. In the case of Monserrat Vargas, the choice is doubly interesting—not merely because she decided to get a tattoo in High Valyrian, but because this was her very first tattoo! I’m not certain, but I think that may be a first, for my languages (as far as I know, everyone else who had something tattooed in one my languages already had other tattoos). To learn more about why she made this decision and what went on behind the scenes, I conducted an interview with Monserrat Vargas over e-mail, which is copied below (with pictures!). Enjoy!

Q: Is this your first tattoo? If so, why did you decide to get a tattoo? If not, why did you decide to get your first tattoo? (Feel free to go into the meaning, but I’m also curious why you thought a tattoo was the way to go.)

A: Yes, this was my very first tattoo. I’ve always known that I wanted tattoos. They do tend to get a bad rap because they’re so permanent and that’s an intimidating thought. But to me, they’ve always represented the wearer at their deepest—most honest—level. I wanted my tattoos to be a visual representation of who I am. However, I also wanted it to be subtle. Truly an art piece. Everyone chooses how best to express themselves—I chose tattoos! The decision to FINALLY get my first tattoo was made because I was about to embark on a new stage of my life. I was leaving my hometown of Los Angeles, California to move to Seattle, Washington. It felt right to get my first tattoo as a tribute to my hometown. It would be the ultimate reminder of family and friends!

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

[Note: I didn’t know you lived in LA! But now that you’re gone, I’m going to be in Seattle this April for Norwescon. We should meet up!]

Q: What’s your connection to Star Trek—and what’s your favorite instantiation of the series?

A: I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek from a very young age. It inspired my love for the stars and most especially for the science-fiction genre. Of course I love TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series). That was how I discovered Star Trek and that’s a bond that can’t be matched. But, as sacrilegious as it may be to say, I especially loved Enterprise because I was old enough to catch the real time broadcasts as opposed to discovering it via re-runs. It was always such a thrill to be a part of their next, great, space adventure!

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Q: You kind of answered this already, but why this quote in particular? And then why around your ankle?

A: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” The quote that encompasses and defines Star Trek. This was a quote that followed me as I grew up. It became more than a symbol for the show—it became a value I chose to live by. It encouraged me to not do things just because they’ve always been expected and done. To genuinely consider new, and even scary, possibilities. It’s what gave me the courage to pack up and leave the home I’ve always known. The choice in placement… I’ll be answering that part of your question in question 7. ;)

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Q: Who did the lettering? It’s gorgeous! Did you do it?

A: The lettering is intended to be Elvish from Lord of the Rings. I say “intended” because there are some slight modifications that needed to be made. When you get a tattoo you can’t just tell the artist, “I want this!” Certain alterations need to be made. What looks good on paper won’t necessarily translate well to skin. I researched heavily before I got my tattoo and I finished my journey at Ink Monkey Tattoo in Los Angeles (on the corner of Venice and Lincoln). I came across artist Juan Ramón Solano (goes by Ramón). He’s a magician when it comes to line work and lettering. When I saw his portfolio I knew I was in good hands.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Q: I’ve always been curious. A tattoo artist, in effect, has to be able to do every type of art—and well—in order to reproduce others’ drawings. And furthermore, they have to do it without making a mistake. So, like…how? How nervous are you of the tattoo artist making a mistake? Can you get your money back if they do make a mistake?

A: You’re putting a permanent piece of art on your body, of course you’re going to be scared that something’s going to go wrong! But you do your best to mitigate that fear beforehand. You REASEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. I can’t stress that enough! Do NOT go into some random beach tattoo parlour, do NOT make this choice when you’re inebriated. Do NOT make this choice unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure it’s what you want. If you interview with an artist and you’re not comfortable, don’t do it. There was an artist I interviewed with whose portfolio was promising and seemed capable—but their station was a mess! That immediately drew me away. There were establishments I didn’t even consider for more than a minute because the entire place was a mess. If you sense a tiny bit of unease, red flag that place and walk away.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

When I walked into Ink Monkey it was immediately welcoming. The atmosphere was clean, professional, and fun. Ramón sat me down and we talked at great length about what I wanted and what options I had. We worked together on reworking the idea in my head into something that would complement me. He knew I was nervous so he thoroughly explained every part of the process and repeated himself as he began every step. He attended to my needs and helped keep me calm and happy. We build a bond of trust between artist and canvas.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

He actually did make a slight mistake! Sometimes no matter what you do—mistakes happen. But Ramón handled it like a pro! In the word nēdenkirī what he thought was an n was actually the . Ramón immediately realized his mistake—confirmed with me that it was a mistake—and set it right. He mixed an ink color that perfectly matched my skin tone and broke the line between the two letters. When he was done, you couldn’t even tell that there had ever been a mistake! When mistakes do happen, any reputable tattoo artist has methods in place to correct it and make sure you walk away absolutely thrilled with your decision. There are even tattoo artists whose portfolio consists of fixing the shoddy work of other (less talented) tattoo artists!

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Q: And, of course, the top question on the mind of anyone who’s never gotten a tattoo: On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being most), how much did it hurt?

A: In regards to pain, that depends on the location of your tattoo. If you get it in a location with more fatty tissue or muscle to cushion you, it will hurt less. But if you get it somewhere where there’s very little to cushion the bone, then be prepared for it to sting! Since I got my tattoo on my ankle, I was in quite a bit of pain! The WORST bit was closer to the heel. I was handling it like a champ until he got to that part. Ultimately, it’s a needle piercing just underneath your skin. If you can’t handle a shot—then I’d rethink a tattoo. In answer to your question I started out with a 6/10 but it definitely ended with an 8/10!

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Q: Any ideas for another tattoo if you’re getting one?

A: As far as other tattoos I plan to get… Now that’s where this gets pretty dorky. I got the tattoo around my ankle because this tattoo will be part 1 of a 3 part tattoo. This part is a matrimony of 3 television/book series that I deeply enjoy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Star Trek), all represented in a way meant to represent my love of language.

Part 2 (which I’ve already gotten as of July) is a representation of my love of music. It is located on my other ankle and it’s a musical arrangement containing pieces from Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The final part—which is still in the planning stages—will represent my love of symbolism in art and it will be an homage to some of my favorite video games (Gears of War, Bioshock, and World of Warcraft) that will be located between my shoulder blades. Thus turning myself into a visual representation of a Triforce. The ULTIMATE homage!

[Note: As a ten year WoW player, it’d better be the Horde emblem you’re getting, and not the Alliance!]

Thank you for taking the time and sharing your photos, Monserrat Vargas! Your tattoos are awesome! You’re a lajak tawak in my book.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Coming soon: The Dothraki Haiku Competition. Maybe now that Living Language Dothraki has come out, we’ll see even more challengers trying to knock Qvaak off the throne!

Akatthi Asshekhi

As we near the day of Winter Goat (goat pictures! Send them!), I thought it would be fun to do the old “Twelve Days of Christmas” in Dothraki. I thought I’d do this with twelve days to go until Christmas, but then I forgot to do it, so instead, here’s all twelve days!

Of course, there’d be no such thing as Christmas to the Dothraki. (And, of course, in modern times, we don’t even recognize twelve days. Oh, hang on a sec. The twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas day! This must be what Germans refer to as Sylvester. Huh. Live and learn.) Consequently I had to think up something quasi-similar that they could celebrate annually (or every-so-often-ly, at least), and what I came up with was the coming of Jalan Qoyi, the so-called “blood moon”—a.k.a. harvest moon. The harvest moon doesn’t last for twelve nights, but apparently there’s a time between it and the hunter’s moon that’s special. It’s probably longer than twelve nights, but I say close enough.

So! Are you ready for a translation of a song that will definitely not scan if you try to sing it? Because I’m not! Here it comes!

Jumping straight to the twelfth day (use either khal or khaleesi, depending on your preference)…

Sh’akatthik Jalani Qoyi, azh khal/khaleesi anhaan…
On the twelfth (day) of the Blood Moon, the khal/khaleesi gave to me…

  1. Akatthi Awazakis,
  2. Twelve (Dothraki) Screamers,
  1. Atthi arakh hasi,
  2. Eleven sharp arakhs,
  1. Thi Jaqqe Rhani,
  2. Ten Mercy Men,
  1. Qazat zhoris qiya,
  2. Nine bleeding hearts,
  1. Ori vezhis haji,
  2. Eight strong stallions,
  1. Fekh Rhaeshis Andahli,
  2. The Seven Kingdoms,
  1. Zhinda serj kherikhi,
  2. Six leather vests,
  1. Mek mawizze!
  2. Five rabbits!
  1. Tor fasokhqoy,
  2. Four blood pies,
  1. Sen gal zhavvorsi,
  2. Three dragon eggs,
  1. Akat inglor,
  2. Two medallion belts,
  1. Ma firikhnharen ha khalaan!
  2. And a crown for a king!

Actually, that’s not bad to sing! There are a couple places where you have to jam in a syllable, but overall it works out pretty well. (Note: If line 7 seems like a mouthful, just remember it has only one more syllable than line 8, but you may as well treat ae like a diphthong. It’s doable.) As for the first line which needs to change each time, you can review numbers (and how to create ordinals) here. In singing, the syllable la is the one that should correspond to “day” in that line. Also, khal seems to work better if you hold it for two beats. I suppose you could do zhilak, “lover”, instead, but it’d be odd to do it without anni, “my”, and it would sound rather…personal.

And, of course, if you’d like to learn more Dothraki grammar—or get a gift for someone who might want to—you can pick up Living Language Dothraki, which is on sale now! There’s both a physical version and an online version, so it works both for folks who want an actual book in their hands and those who don’t want more stuff in the house.

Now, if I may turn my attention to long time readers of this blog, we have some business to attend to. There is a book coming from HBO called The Game of Thrones Compendium. This is a book that is going to compile and present a gigantic mezcla of fan submissions related to Game of Thrones the show (season 1 through 4—crucial to remember that it’s the show and not the books, where they differ). Afterwards, it’s going to be published. You can submit anything from analysis of the show to original works of art related to the show (visual art, songs, spoken word recordings, poetry, pictures of costumes). For a full rundown on what it is and how it works, read the faq here.

No matter what, this thing is going to be really cool. But you know what would make it cooler?


Ever wondered what you would do with a poem in High Valyrian or Dothraki other than put it in a comment on this site? This. THIS. Granted, whatever you produce should be related to Game of Thrones in some other way besides the fact that it uses a language from the show, but that shouldn’t be tough. In fact, I’m sure some of the haiku submitted already could be resubmitted for the book. (Oh, and for legal purposes, all poems, etc. submitted to this website are the property of the original authors, and by submitting them here you give me the right simply to display them; you have not conveyed the rights of the original work to me in any way: You can still do what you want with it.) Or do something new. It’s all good!

The point is this: I want to see some language work in this book! Original poems, original songs—maybe even a dramatic reading of some of the lines in the show (Drogo’s speech, for example?)—memes (yes, Mad Latinist, you can submit your Valyrious memes, so long as you have the rights to the images! [If you don’t, note that you can use images from the show for this])! The possibilities are limitless!

Before submitting stuff, be sure to read the faq and the submission specs. If you’d like me to proofread something, please feel free to leave it in a comment, and note that it’s for the Compendium; I’ll try my best to get to those quicker than I do other things (I know I tend to be slow in responding).

Oh, and if you have a Dothraki or Valyrian tattoo? Please take the best photo you can of that and send it in!

As someone who works on the show, is a fan of the show, and is a fan of media in general, I think this is a really awesome project, and I hope it leads to more projects of its kind for other franchises, because it’s an outstanding idea. You can start submitting work on December 18th, and the submission period will be open until March 28th. So get ready, and let’s get crackin’! Dothralates!

Ma Yer Ashili Mae Ki Shirani Moon

It’s been a heck of a month for Living Language Dothraki. It made the Los Angeles Times’ best sellers’ list, so that’s cool! I’ve been all over the country talking about Dothraki, and I got really sick at the tail end of the journey.

And speaking of tails…

Winter Goat is getting ready to make a return! If you’d like to submit a photo to be considered for Winter Goat 2014, please send them to me at “dave” at “conlang” dot “org”. If I get some photos, I’ll put them up and we’ll have a vote, as is the Yuletide tradition here.

It was a lot of fun wandering the country talking about Dothraki. It’s been a while since I’ve been so focused on Dothraki specifically, as opposed to some of the other languages I’ve been working with, and I’ve discovered that it’s still the language I’m most fluent in (despite the fact that I’m nowhere near fluent). I signed a number of books with messages in Dothraki, and I’ve realized, to my horror, that a number of those feature errors (e.g. I didn’t use the right case with the relevant preposition; I spelled a word wrong, etc.). If you find a signed copy without any grammar errors, it’ll be quite valuable.

In New York, I did a panel at New York Comic-Con which was packed. That was a really awesome way to kick things off. You never know with a language creation event: you could be presenting to a room of two or two hundred. In this case, it was probably closer to four hundred. Here’s a picture my wife took during:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

After New York I did a number of events in Southern California. Here’s a picture of the set of San Diego Living: a morning show. An early morning show. Ugh. Why don’t they record it at a different hour and just do a tape delay?! But whatever. It’s done. (Though I did flub whatever it was I said during the interview. My grammatical errors aren’t restricted to writing!)

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I did a number of signings at libraries and bookstores. Among my favorite was the signing that was held at Mission Viejo city hall. They had a gavel. It was awesome. But this is my favorite picture from the event. It’s probably too blurry to do it justice, but this was just before Halloween, and this girl came in an outstanding Arya costume. The craftsmanship was unbelievable. A photo simply can’t do it justice. Athdavrazar, zhey Ari!

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Last week I went to Colorado and then the Bay Area. In Colorado it snowed. A lot. It was literally below freezing. How people live in that nonsense is beyond me. Prof. Steven Hayward did get a nice shot of me at Garden of the Gods, though.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I also went to Berkeley, where, apparently, I failed to take a picture of anything except the hot dog I ate and this dinosaur in VLSB:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I don’t even know with me sometimes…

But hey! If the Dothraki lived in prehistorical times, they would totally ride raptors, right? Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

In the Bay Area, I participated in a couple great events at Kepler’s and Books Inc., and I also gave a talk at Google (the Google). Here’s a shot after:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

It was an employees-only event, but they did put up a video on YouTube, which you can watch here (after all, they are YouTube).

I was also really grateful to be able to see some of the original Dothraki lajaki: Crown of Gold, Daenerys and Hrakkar. I was out-of-my-mind sick, but that really made the whole trip. Thanks for coming out to dinner, and I hope I didn’t get you sick!

I’m not sure when I’ll be going out next, but per usual, I will note on here whenever I’m doing an event somewhere or will be going to a convention. If I don’t post on the day, may you have a very merry Thanksgiving! Could go for some of that turkey and stuffing right now, to be honest…

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!