Category Archives: Grammar

Discussions about Dothraki grammar.

Valahd?

UPDATE: It appears that all comments are being moderated, for some reason (it’s usually just new commenters that get moderated). I’m not sure why that’s happening, but I’m looking into it. As long as your comment gets into the moderation queue within a week that counts for the contest.

Another year, and another season in the books! The finale happened yesterday, there are a number of important characters who are now dead, and I’ve got a book to give away (more details on that at the end of this post!), but I first want to talk about something that happened in episode 509.

With the Sons of the Harpy closing in around her, Daenerys’s goose looked cooked, until Drogon showed up from the sky and started blasting everybody. With Drogon getting hurt (poor dragon!), Dany mounted Drogon’s back and told him, “Fly!”, and then she took off. At least, that’s what I heard when I saw it, and I didn’t question it. Later on I started hearing from people that she said something different, which I thought was weird, because it sounded and looked like “fly” to me. I dismissed it, until I saw something extremely bizarre: In the closed captioning, the word “VALAHD” had been added, as shown below:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I found this utterly baffling for a number of reasons. For starters, she obviously does not say “valahd”, unless it’s a French word with a silent “d” (I have accepted that she does say something “v”-like at the very least, even though I didn’t catch it in my initial viewing). Second, “valahd” is not only not a word of High Valyrian, it’s not a word in anything (or so I thought, though more on this later). It looks like gibberish and its inclusion confounded me—especially as I had some behind-the-scenes information about this scene.

Initially, I had translated the High Valyrian command “fly” for this scene, and that’s what was in the materials I sent off (the word is Sōvēs!, which you can hear in my official recording here—and, in fact, it already appeared in the series in episode 310, albeit in the plural: sōvētēs). This wasn’t a pick-up line or something added in ADR: It was a part of the script whose translations I sent off last August. For whatever reason, though, that line didn’t make it into the recording that day, and what Emilia Clarke did say was “Fly!” in English. (It happens sometimes: Scenes get busy, lots of activity, sometimes a word gets forgotten and that take turns out the best, etc.)

Many months later when they were doing ADR for that scene, they decided to try to add the High Valyrian back in. I sent the post-production folks the original line and MP3, but there was a problem: Dany’s mouth didn’t match the word sōvēs, as what she said was English “Fly!” They asked me for something shorter, so I offered Jās!, High Valyrian for “Go!”, and they said they’d try it.

Anyway, I guess that didn’t work, so we got “valahd”, and I was wondering where the heck it came from—until I found it.

Dothraki has about 4,000 words, many of which are quite obscure and would never make it into a scene (nhizokh, “raven plumage”? I mean, maybe…?). I’ve probably forgotten over half the words I created—especially as I haven’t translated into it recently. I was looking through the dictionary, though, and came across an entry I’d forgotten: valad.

Valad is the word for “horizon” (among other things), but I came up with it initially when I was creating a bunch of horse commands for the Dothraki. The reason is that I wanted two different words for “giddyup”. We already have hosh or hosha, which is used to urge a horse on (usually when it’s already going), but then there’s this expression: Frakhas valad! That translates to “Touch the horizon!”, and it’s used at the outset of a journey. The interesting thing is the note I added to the end of the definition, which is “often just valad“. And that makes sense: You typically don’t speak in full sentences to horses when you’re riding. Valad! is a much better horse command than Frakhas valad! But yeah, basically it’s just a word that urges the horse to get going.

Back to our “valahd”, here’s what I think happened. Everyone on the production has access to all my materials. I think they just went through and found something that fit Emilia’s mouth movements that seemed like it was close to the original meaning. And hey, if the Dothraki rode dragons, I could imagine them using Valad! to urge them to take off. And it is pretty close to “Fly!”, aside from the final d. So overall, pretty good!

Some open questions, though: Why the “h”? I’m guessing since this didn’t come from me directly, someone was trying to sound it out and spelled it that way? Works for English speakers! Why Dothraki, though, instead of Valyrian? I think it was because of the similar meanings and the mouth movements. True, the dragons are supposed to only understand High Valyrian, but I mean Drogon probably got the gist of it. Plus, he’s named after famous Dothraki speaker Khal Drogo, so maybe he’s got a little Dothraki in him. He’s probably heard Dothraki a bunch growing up, too. And what better reason to switch to Dothraki than when riding a dragon like a horse? I’m still confused as to why the closed captioning was even added. Is that usually done with the languages? Wouldn’t the subtitle that’s already there convey well enough what’s being said? Was it for foreign audiences…? I don’t know—there’s a lot I don’t know about that process. Either way, our “valahd” appears to be Dothraki valad, and it works, in context, so all’s well that ends well.

Regarding the finale, I did want to make one Valyrian note. For this episode I got to translate one of my favorite exchanges, and I wanted to show you how it worked. When Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm, Jorah and Daario are left awkwardly in charge of Meereen (I loved this scene. They’re all sitting there like, “So…”), Missandei begins saying something in Valyrian and fumbles over what to call Tyrion. This is because she knows what she would say, but feels awkward calling him krubo, “dwarf”, as he’s standing right there. She ends up calling him byka vala, which literally translates to “little man”. Tyrion jumps in and helps her out, though, saying the following:

  • Krubo. Nyke pāsan kesor udir drējor issa? Munna, nya Valyrio mirrī pungilla issa.
  • “Dwarf. I believe that’s the word? Apologies, my Valyrian is a bit nostril.”

You know I love translating intentionally ungrammatical stuff. A better translation of the above would be “Dwarf. I do believe that is the correct word? Sorrows, my Valyrian is a little nostril.” Missandei then corrects him with:

  • Mirrī puñila.
  • “A little rusty.”

The English dialogue above is exactly as it was written, so I got the chance to create this near-miss. I started with “nostril”, which is actually formed from the word pungos, “nose”, via a suffix associated with byproducts. After that it was a matter of creating a word that had a pronunciation that was kind of close to that. What I came up with was the adjective puñila, which means “worn” or “weather-beaten”—and also, when used in conjunction with a skill or a language, “rusty”. I figured this would be a good pair for a non-native speaker to confuse. First, a double ll vs. a single l would be tough for a speaker who isn’t used to doubling consonants. Second, ñ is a non-English nasal consonant somewhere in the vicinity of the nasal you get when pronouncing ng. Although ñ will just come out as n before i in casual speech, it would be taught as something different from plain n, meaning that it would be remembered by a second language learner as something different from plain n—thus giving rise to the possible confusion, in this context, between puñila and pungilla.

So, I found that fun! Thank you for indulging. I love doing stuff like this, so I was delighted when I saw it in the script!

Posts here have been infrequent, I know, but I have been busy! Today I’m happy to announce the launch of my new website ArtofLanguageInvention.com. I’ll still have posts to add here, but I’m moving full speed ahead as I’m preparing to promote my new book The Art of Language Invention, which you can preorder now. As a part of that promotion, I would like to give away to a lucky commenter here a galley copy of The Art of Language Invention. Can we get a shot of those galleys?

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

There we are! A bunch of galleys being lorded over by little Roman, my feisty feline!

Now, as this is a galley, it isn’t a final copy of the book, but that makes it quite unique. I’ll sign the book and write something in Dothraki or Valyrian and mail it off to you for you to keep! All you need to do is leave a comment below (if you can’t think of something to write, tell me your favorite flavor of ice cream or sorbet). Leaving multiple comments doesn’t count as multiple entries, so I’ll choose one random commenter among each unique commenter and contact them. In order to be eligible, you have to leave at least one comment here that wouldn’t get screened out via my usual screening methods (so nothing offensive, no rants, etc.), and, if you win, you have to be willing to send me a mailing address. The deadline is one week from today. Otherwise, that’s it! Thanks for reading, and geros ilas!

New Bit of a Language

M’athchomaroon! We’re eight episodes into season 5 of Game of Thrones, and if you watched last night’s episode, you saw, among other things, a giant named Wun Wun—who spoke! For those wondering, yes, his utterances were linguistic (or were close, anyway), and, yes, I did create a language for the giants, though that’s all you’ll hear of it this season. In this post, I’ll give you a little background on it, but not much (I will explain why, though).

For readers of the book series, one question probably comes to mind first: Is this the Old Tongue? The answer: Kind of. I think George R. R. Martin explains it best himself (and these are words we should keep in mind throughout this post):

The giants are not literate, and, truth be told, are not all that bright either. They do speak the Old Tongue, after a fashion, but not well.

Given these marching orders, I crafted a language for the giants that fit the bill—not the Old Tongue, but Mag Nuk: The Great Tongue.

We know very little about the Old Tongue, and I was not tasked with creating it, in its purest form, so I devised a kind of rubric for deriving Mag Nuk from the Old Tongue, if it existed. The result is a pidgin, in one sense of the word. In this case, though, it’s not a pidgin because it hasn’t been spoken for very long, or because it’s a mixture of other languages: It’s a pidgin because it’s not a full language, and is not entirely consistent at any point. It’s a system of communication used by a race of creatures that simply don’t have the mental capacity of an ordinary human being, so they really took a bat to the Old Tongue.

Because I haven’t actually created the Old Tongue and we don’t know if we’ll see it in future books (or to what extent), I want to release very little about the language. I want to have as much latitude in reshaping Mag Nuk, should it be necessary, and that’s easiest to do if I keep things in house. Frankly, I think it’d be great to actually create the Old Tongue and hear it on screen, but given where we are in the story, I simply have no idea if it would even make sense. Dave and Dan might, but they haven’t told me anything about it. We’ll have to wait for more books or more seasons of the show to come out to know.

Some of the things I did with the language, though, I’ll tell you here. For example, whatever systems the Old Tongue had (noun declension, pluralization, verb tense, etc.), all of them are gone in Mag Nuk. Furthermore, all polysyllabic words have been cut down to a single syllable. In addition, the phonology of the language has been simplified. To give you one example that we can be fairly sure of, we know that skagos is “rock” in the Old Tongue. The Mag Nuk version is skag.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the line from last night’s episode as written, and then afterwards we’ll talk about what was actually said (coarse language incoming):

  • Lokh doys bar thol kif rukh?
  • “The fuck you looking at?”

(Oh, and for pronunciation, vowels are o [ɔ]; a [æ], unless it’s before r, in which case it’s [ɑ]; i [ɪ]; u [ǝ]. Then for the few consonants that might be confused, kh [x]; r [ɹ]; th [θ].)

Okay! Each of these words has an etymology, and I will list them, if you promise to treat this information as provisional! It may need to be revised at some future date if more Old Tongue words are revealed that somehow make the etymologies impossible. I’ll fix it so that the spoken Mag Nuk line will work, but I make no promises for the etymologies. Below is a word-for-word gloss of the line, and below that an Old Tongue correspondence for each word:

  • Lokh doys bar thol kif rukh?
  • Who/what fuck/shit you sit look it/him?
  • Lokh doysen bar thol kifos rukh?

You can probably figure out what I was doing grammatically there. Doys was supposed to be a general curse word (could mean anything), and lokh a general question word. The order is SVO, given the lack of inflection, but that’s not necessarily the order of the Old Tongue. The precise meanings of each of the Old Tongue words I’ll leave for later, but I did intend for the pronouns at least to hold up. We’ll see, though!

Anyway, if you go back and watch the episode, though, it’s pretty obvious that what Wun Wun says is three syllables long. What I believe (or would like to say I believe) I heard is the following:

  • Lokh kif rukh?
  • Who/what look it/him?
  • Lokh kifos rukh?

If that’s the case, I have to say, I’m pretty pleased. I think it’s actually more simple—more giant-like—than what I originally had, which is in keeping with the spirit of how George R. R. Martin described the giants’ use of the Old Tongue. It’s even less language-y than my sentence, but there’s still some meaning you can recover from it. The important bits are there. Plus, the whole point of the thing is that it’s not consistent. This is inconsistent with what I’d written, but in a good way (i.e. the three most important bits are there). So, right on!

That’s the long and short of it. We’ll have to wait and see if the language is used in any form in the future. For now, though, I like what it added to this episode. I also liked Wun Wun’s “Tormund”. Be cool to see the giants totally whaling on things at some point in time in the future of the series if there’s some truly epic Lord of the Rings-style battle-to-end-all-battles (and though we don’t have all the books, I think it’s fair to speculate that there might be before it’s all over).

Thanks for reading! Also, though I’ve announced it elsewhere, I did want to mention here that my next book The Art of Language Invention will be coming out September 29th! It’s available for preorder right now, and you can preorder the book here.

Relative Clauses in High Valyrian

Today’s post is going to be long and a little convoluted, for today I’m going to talk about relative clauses in High Valyrian. I promised this post to Mad Latinist a while ago, so there’s no avoiding it now: it has to happen. But worry not! If grammar isn’t your thing, I have below, in the grand tradition of relative clause posts to the Dothraki blog, a picture of my cat Keli against a dark background:

My cat keli.

Click to enlarge.

Now. To business.

Relative clauses are actually one of my favorite parts of creating a language. Unlike other clause structures, they tend to be very orderly, and so can be fun to put together. Basically, when it comes to me creating a language, a noun is to a verb as a relative clause is to a subordinate clause. I love me some relative clauses; subordinate clauses give me fits (so hard to get just right!).

High Valyrian relative clauses pose two types of problems for an English speaker trying to learn them. The first we can deal with quite simply before getting into the rest. In English, a relative clause is a sentence that follows a noun or pronoun that gives the listener more information about that noun or pronoun. Here are some examples:

  • The goat who tolerates me.
  • The octopus that I saw crying over a Twinkie.
  • The jaguar I sold a camera.
  • The penguin I rented Driving Miss Daisy with.
  • The duck whose uncle I glazed at the Super Bowl.

The underlined clauses all modify the non-underlined nouns on the left. All of them have something in common, though: The clause follows the noun it modifies, and there’s a gap in the sentence that corresponds to the noun being modified (e.g. “I rented Driving Miss Daisy with” is not a full sentence. There’s a gap after “with” that the noun “the penguin” should occupy).

In High Valyrian, the order of this is completely backwards. So starting with the simplest relative clause (the type where the modified noun is a subject in the embedded sentence), here’s a comparison between High Valyrian and English:

  • Ābre kustittas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who encouraged the woman is a friend.”
  • Word-for-word, the above sentence is, “Woman encouraged who man friend is”. This is basically backwards when compared to an English relative clause. That said, once you get used to it, it’s not too bad. Instead of thinking of the relative clause as a clause, try thinking of it as a great big adjective. So instead of thinking of it as “The who encouraged a woman man is a friend”, think “The woman encouraging man is a friend”. Grammatically those two clauses are distinct, but I found it helped me to wrap my head around it the first time I saw a relative clause like this.

    Now we can move on to the complicated stuff.

    Aside from word order, the biggest difference between High Valyrian and English relative clauses is that while English has a relative pronoun, High Valyrian has a relative adjective: lua. The difference is subtle, if you stick to simple relative clauses, but becomes quite noticeable when you move outward. Let’s start with the simple ones. We’ve already seen an example where the target of relativization is a subject in the embedded clause. Now let’s look at some others:

    • Subject: Ābre kustittas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who encouraged the woman is a friend.”
    • Direct Object: Ābra kustittas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man whom the woman encouraged is a friend.”
    • Indirect Object: Ābra rūklon teptas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man whom the woman gave a flower is a friend.”

    Notice that lua, the relative adjective, doesn’t change in any one of those sentences, while “who” becomes “whom” in the English translations. This is a direct result of the relativizer being an adjective. It agrees with the noun in case, gender and number. In all of those sentences, vala, the target of relativization (i.e. the noun being modified), is singular, lunar and nominative, because it’s the subject of the matrix clause “is a friend”. Watch what happens if we change the matrix clause (using just the subject example from above):

    • Ābre kustittas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who encouraged the woman is a friend.”
    • Ābre kustittas lue vale ūndetan. “I saw the man who encouraged the woman.”
    • Ābre kustittas luo valot rūklon teptan. “I gave a flower to the man who encouraged the woman.”
    • Suddenly the relativizer is changing form just like “who” does in English. This is because the relative adjective has one foot in the embedded clause, and one foot in the matrix clause. Grammatically, it behaves as if it’s in the matrix clause, but semantically it links the two (basically the opposite of English “who”). This doesn’t cause any problems with sentences like the first three, where it’s pretty clear who did what to whom. But here are some further examples to complicate matters:

      • Possessor: Ābra kepe rhēdes lua vala raqiros issa. “The man whose father the woman knows is a friend.”
      • Location: Ābra morghūltas luon lenton pryjataks. “The house where the woman died was destroyed.”
      • Comparand: Ābra kirinkta issa lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who the woman is happier than is a friend.”
      • Adposition: Ābra dekurūptan lua vala raqiros issa. “The man the woman walked up to is a friend.”

      So, if you’re following the grammar here, you may be wondering: How do these sentences mean what they mean? The most literal translation of the first sentence would probably be something like, “The man whom the woman knows the father is a friend”. That’s not quite grammatical in English, but you get the idea. And actually it will probably seem more grammatical when you put it into English because word order does so much for it. An even more literal translation of the second sentence might be “The a woman died house was destroyed”. There’s nothing in it to tell you why the relative clause and the modified noun are related, because the relative adjective doesn’t bear the case of the noun in the embedded clause.

      Now here’s the crucial part: This was intentional. Certain languages allow constructions like this (Japanese is one, I’m pretty sure), and High Valyrian is one of them. Basically it gives you two clauses and the relative adjective lua says, “Figure it out”.

      I decided to do relative clauses this way for two reasons. First, I always wanted to do it (I tried with Zhyler, I think, but it didn’t come out well). Second, I wanted to create a structure that was likely to be destroyed by daughter languages. Some of the Low Valyrian languages may keep this strategy, sure, but no one would bat an eye if they decided to do something more explicit. Thus it almost begs for the daughter languages to distinguish themselves. I did that in several places throughout High Valyrian, and did so on purpose.

      A result of this is that relative clauses in High Valyrian are much freer than they are in English. You can say just about anything and have it describe the target of relativization. However, repair strategies do exist. Basically you can include a pronoun if it’s absolutely necessary. Most of the time it’s not, though, and the natural strategy is to leave it be. Nevertheless, here are the four sentences above with a redundant pronoun (bolded):

      • Possessor: Ābra zȳhe kepe rhēdes lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who the woman knows his father is a friend.”
      • Location: Ābra konīr morghūltas luon lenton pryjataks. “The house where the woman died there was destroyed.”
      • Comparand: Ābra zijosy kirinkte issa lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who the woman is happier than him is a friend.”
      • Adposition: Ābra va zijot dekurūptan lua vala raqiros issa. “The man the woman walked up to him is a friend.”

      In High Valyrian, you can’t leave a preposition stranded, of course, so it’s reintroduced in the last sentence.

      But this isn’t the end. Oh no. For while lua above is an adjective, it can also be a pronoun. There are two forms of the relative pronoun: and līr. The former is for specific entities (and people), and the latter for generic. They can be used by themselves, as shown below:

      • Specific: Ābra kustittas lȳ sȳz issa.The one who encouraged the woman is good.”
      • Generic: Ābra kustittas līr sȳrior issa.That which encouraged the woman is good.”

      These are often used to say things like, “Whatever works”, or “Whoever can find it”, so another way to translate the above would be “Whoever encouraged the woman is good” and “Whatever encouraged the woman is good”, respectively.

      The pronouns can be modified by an adjective, rendering the meaning “that which is x”, where x is an adjective. Here are two examples:

      • Specific: Kaste lī ipradinna. “I’ll eat one which is green.”
      • Generic: Kastor līr ipradinna. “I’ll eat that which is green.”

      And finally, the relative pronouns can also take a nominal possessor in the genitive. The resultant meaning is either a possessive construction, or very similar to the adjective construction, but with a nominal adjectival interpretation:

      • Specific: Valo luo vaoresan. “I prefer one which is a man(‘s).”
      • Generic: Valo lurio vaoresan. “I prefer that which is a man(‘s).”

      The difference between the two should be clear from context.

      Finally, as those who follow High Valyrian grammar closely will note, the relative adjective and pronouns are irregular. The full declension tables for all three are listed below. First, the relative adjective (a Class I adjective):

      Singular/Collective Lunar Solar Terrestrial Aquatic
      Nominative lua lȳs luon luor
      Accusative lue luon luor
      Genitive luo luo luo luro
      Dative luo(t) luo(t) luo(t) luro(t)
      Locative luā luo(t) luro(t)
      Instrumental luos luos luos luros
      Comitative luom luom luom lurom
      Vocative lūs lȳs luos luos

      And here it is in the plural/paucal:

      Plural/Paucal Lunar Solar Terrestrial Aquatic
      Nominative lȳz lua lura
      Accusative lua lura
      Genitive luo luo luo luro
      Dative luo luo luo luro
      Locative luo luo luro
      Instrumental luos luos luos luros
      Comitative luom luom luom lurom
      Vocative līs lȳz luas luas

      Notice that these lack full forms. That’s because the relative adjective will always and only appear directly before the noun it modifies. Consequently it has no need of a full form (though, of course, it’d just be the same as any Class I adjective). The same notes apply for t in parentheses as for other Class I adjectives: it appears when the following word begins with a vowel, but disappears otherwise. Also the plural/paucal forms of the solar have a z when the following sound is voiced; voiceless otherwise.

      Now for the pronouns. First, the specific pronoun :

      Case Singular Plural Paucal Collective
      Nominative lȳn lȳr
      Accusative lȳni lȳri
      Genitive luo luoti lȳno lȳro
      Dative luot luoti lȳnty lȳrty
      Locative lȳnny lȳrry
      Instrumental luomy luommi lȳssy lȳrzy
      Comitative luomy luommi lȳmmy lȳrmy
      Vocative lȳs lȳs lȳssy lȳrzy

      And now the generic pronoun līr:

      Case Singular Plural Paucal Collective
      Nominative līr lura lurin lurir
      Accusative līr lura lurini luriri
      Genitive lurio lurȳti lurino luriro
      Dative luriot lurȳti lurinti lurirti
      Locative līr lurȳti lurinni lurirri
      Instrumental lurȳsi lurȳssi lurissi lurirzi
      Comitative lurȳmi lurȳmmi lurimmi lurirmi
      Vocative lȳs luas lurissi lurirzi

      And that’s the end of it. Now you should know how to do relative clauses in High Valyrian, plus a little bit extra. If you made it to the end of the post, I have a reward for you: Another picture of my fantastic cat. Here she is sleeping on my foot:

      Keli sleeping on my foot.

      Click to enlarge.

      Geros ilas!

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.

So.

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!

Valyrian Numerals

Rytsas! I’ve busied up nice and good in recent days. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to keep up with this blog. To keep up momentum, I’d be happy to feature user-generated content. If you have any ideas, throw them at me! I’m down.

Today I’m going to briefly discuss the number system in High Valyrian. Valyrian numerals are a bit more complicated than Dothraki numerals, but there are some nice bits in the system that improve its usability. First, all numbers are adjectives. In effect, you could treat them like participles, for those who are familiar with Valyrian grammar (for those who aren’t, I’ll show you how that plays out in a second). Here are the numbers 1 through 10 in High Valyrian in the lunar class (showing both cardinal and ordinal numbers):

Number Valyrian Number Valyrian
Cardinal Ordinal Cardinal Ordinal
1 mēre ēlie 6 bȳre byllie
2 lanta tȳne 7 sīkuda sīglie
3 hāre saelie 8 jēnqa jēnqelie
4 izula izunnie 9 vōre vollie
5 tōma tōmelie 10 ampa amplie

As a refresher, all three adjectival endings are utilized in the table above. The nominative endings for each adjective type in the various genders look like this:

Adjective Class Lunar Solar Terrestrial Aquatic
Class I -a -ys -on -or
Class II -e -ior
Class III -ie -ior

Anyway, you’ll notice that with the exception of tȳne, “second”, all ordinals are Class III, which should be helpful. The rest of the numbers split their class membership with one important exception, which I’ll explain in a bit.

Essentially, numbers agree with the nouns they modify in case and number. This should be fairly simple for certain things, but not for others. Let’s start with a couple ordinary examples. First, here’s an example using lanta, “two”, and a noun of each gender (vala “man”; azantys “knight”; dōron “stone”; hāedar “younger sister”) in the nominative:

  • Lunar: lanti vali “two men”
  • Solar: lantyz azantyssy “two knights”
  • Terrestrial: lanta dōra “two stones”
  • Aquatic: lantra hāedri “two younger sisters”

As you can see, all these nouns are in the nominative plural, and so the number matches in case and number. As all numbers are adjectives, though, they do display the same agreement that other adjectives do outside of the singular and plural numbers. Here are a couple examples (lentun “community”; mentyr “army”):

  • Paucal (Terrestrial): mēriar lentun “one community”
  • Collective (Solar): mēre mentyr “one army”

So above, even though we’re only talking about a single community, the agreement on the adjective “one” is plural (i.e. mēriar as opposed to mērior), just as the agreement on “army” is singular. Things are complicated slightly when these terms become words in their own right (falling into Declension Class VI). Some words do indeed jump the shark, so to speak, and become words of a more usual class (I know this was a question that came up before). For example, lentor, originally the collective of lenton, “house”, is now just an aquatic noun of Declension Class III, rather than a collective of Declension Class VI. In that case, lentor (the word for “family line” or “house”, in the Westerosi sense) would behave in the usual manner. A word like tembyr, though (“book”, lunar), behaves differently. Here it is in its two numbers:

  • Singular: mēre tembyr “one book”
  • Plural: lanti tembyri “two books”

Here even though it’s built off a collective, the adjective “two” gets plural agreement in the plural. Similarly, even though a paucal would ordinarily get plural agreement, it will get singular agreement in the singular if the word is being treated as a separate, relexified word.

All of this, of course, is much simplified when dealing with ordinal numbers. A couple of examples appear below:

  • Singular: ēlie vala “first man”
  • Plural: ēlī vali “first men”

That latter might look familiar (or its meaning, at least). Anyway, ordinal numbers agree entirely in case and number with the nouns they modify, since the number of an ordinal doesn’t actually determine or interact with the number of a noun in any way.

Now for the slightly more complicated part (although its effect will be to simplify things). Though lanta, “two”, and ampa, “ten”, might look similar, they are different in that ampa is never inflected. Thus:

  • Lunar: ampa vali “ten men”
  • Solar: ampa azantyssy “ten knights”
  • Terrestrial: ampa dōra “ten stones”
  • Aquatic: ampa hāedri “ten younger sisters”

The number ampa never changes for any reason, though its ordinal, amplie, does (in the usual fashion). Ampa is not the only number to do so. To see more, here’s another table with the numbers up to twenty:

Number Valyrian Number Valyrian
Cardinal Ordinal Cardinal Ordinal
11 mēre ampā kūrie 16 bȳre ampā byllie ampā
12 lanta ampā ñallie 17 sīkuda ampā sīglie ampā
13 hāre ampā saelie ampā 18 jēnqa ampā jēnqelie ampā
14 izula ampā izunnie ampā 19 vōre ampā vollie ampā
15 tōma ampā tōmelie ampā 20 lantēpsa lantīblie

A couple of things to note about the above. First, note the special ordinal forms for “eleven” and “twelve” (holdovers from the old days). Also note that all other forms use a modified version of ampa that ends in a long consonant. This is the result of the standard juxtaposition process of coordination. In short, the final vowel is lengthened, and main stress shifts to the last syllable (as with commands). The result, ampā, is still never modified, and is used in both cardinal and ordinal constructions. The word for “twenty”, lantēpsa, is likewise indeclinable.

Since it’s been brought up, here’s a quick list of the powers of ten up to one hundred (note: none of the cardinal variants decline):

Number Valyrian Number Valyrian
Cardinal Ordinal Cardinal Ordinal
10 ampa amplie 60 bȳrēpsa bȳrīblie
20 lantēpsa lantīblie 70 sīkudēpsa sīkudīblie
30 hārēpsa hārīblie 80 jēnqēpsa jēnqīblie
40 izulēpsa izulīblie 90 vōrēpsa vōrīblie
50 tōmēpsa tōmīblie 100 gār gallie

A number like 121 would be (in the lunar) gār mēri lantepsā, so until you get to 200, that should take care of everything. There are numbers that go even higher (including the number naena, which does decline, which just means “too many to count”), but those will have to wait for another day.

Again, I’ve been absurdly busy of late, so I’m not at all sure if I’ll be able to hit even two posts a month, let alone four. I will do my best to keep up, though, I promise.

I’d also like to mention The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics. This is a book I contributed to along with some of the other authors over at SpecGram, the internet’s premiere site dedicated to satirical linguistics. I don’t recall if there’s any Dothraki in there off-hand (there may be), but there are a few conlang-related pieces I wrote for SpecGram that I’m a big fan of (and, in case you’re wondering, yes, there are things I’ve written that I’m not a big fan of). If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book, you can do so here. It makes a good gift/bathroom book for anyone who has even the slightest connection to language. As we all speak one human language or another, I think that covers most humans… Anyway, if you’re curious about whether or not you might like it, head over to SpecGram and take a look at some of the articles there. That will give you a fair sampling of the content you’ll find in the book.

Until next time, geros ilas!

Valyrian Adjectives

Okay, as I write that title, I’m now thinking I can’t promise I’ll say everything about adjectives, but I’ll say some things. Is that cool?

High Valyrian was primarily head-final, meaning that adjectives usually preceded the nouns they modified. It actually makes more sense to start a discussion of adjectival inflection by looking at adjectives that appear after the nouns they modify, though, as prepositive adjectival inflection can be seen as a reduction of postpositive adjectival inflection. (I’ll explain this in a second.)

Though nouns have a number of different declensions, adjectives comes in three major varieties which I’ll exemplify using these three adjectives below (for expository purposes, the endings are lunar nominative singular):

  • Class I: kasta “blue, green”
  • Class II: adere “sleek, smooth, slippery, fast, quick”
  • Class III: ēlie “first”

Couple semantic notes on the above. Kasta is a word that can refer to anything that’s in the blue-green spectrum. Such words are common in older languages which tend not to have as many lexical color terms as a modern language eventually does. For a more in-depth treatment of this phenomenon, check out this post on Dothraki color terms from a while back. Second note is that adere probably first meant “slippery”, and then went on to develop the other senses.

The adjectives above are grouped the way they are because they inflect differently. Class I adjectives are the most informative, as they will decline differently for every case, gender and number combination—or almost. As with subject-verb agreement, adjectives only display partial number agreement (all adjectives, not just Class I adjectives). While a noun can appear in the singular, plural, paucal or collective numbers, adjectives only have singular and plural forms. In agreeing with a noun, an adjective will show singular agreement with singular and collective nouns, and plural agreement with plural and paucal nouns. The same is true of subject-verb agreement.

With that out of the way, this is what the inflection of kasta looks like in the singular:

Class I
Singular
Lunar Solar Terrestrial Aquatic
Nominative kasta kastys kaston kastor
Accusative kaste kasti kaston kastor
Genitive kasto kasto kasto kastro
Dative kastot kastot kastot kastrot
Locative kastā kastȳ kastot kastrot
Instrumental kastosa kastosy kastoso kastroso
Comitative kastoma kastomy kastomo kastromo
Vocative kastus kastys kastos kastos

And here it is in the plural:

Class I
Plural
Lunar Solar Terrestrial Aquatic
Nominative kasti kastyzy kasta kastra
Accusative kastī kastī kasta kastra
Genitive kastoti kastoti kastoti kastroti
Dative kastoti kastoti kastoti kastroti
Locative kastoti kastī kastoti kastroti
Instrumental kastossi kastossi kastossi kastrossi
Comitative kastommi kastommi kastommi kastrommi
Vocative kastis kastyzys kastas kastas

Adjectives of Class II and Class III are distinguished by not having declensions that correspond to each gender. Instead, both classes group the solar and lunar genders together and then the terrestrial and aquatic genders together. Thus (and what is, by far, the most exciting part for me) each class can be represented with a single table. Behold!

Class II Solar/Lunar Terrestrial/Aquatic
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative adere aderi aderior aderiar
Accusative adere aderi aderior aderiar
Genitive adero aderoti aderȳro aderȳti
Dative aderot aderoti aderȳro aderȳti
Locative aderē aderoti aderȳro aderȳti
Instrumental aderose aderossi aderȳso aderȳssi
Comitative aderome aderommi aderȳmo aderȳmmi
Vocative aderes aderis aderios aderīs

And now for Class III:

Class III Solar/Lunar Terrestrial/Aquatic
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative ēlie ēlī ēlior ēliar
Accusative ēlie ēlī ēlior ēliar
Genitive ēlio ēlȳti ēlȳro ēlȳti
Dative ēliot ēlȳti ēlȳrot ēlȳti
Locative ēliē ēlȳti ēlȳrot ēlȳti
Instrumental ēlȳse ēlȳssi ēlȳso ēlȳssi
Comitative ēlȳme ēlȳmmi ēlȳmo ēlȳmmi
Vocative ēlies ēlīs ēlios ēlīs

Now Class II has a couple of subclasses which I won’t get into here, but these are the main three declension patterns you’ll need to know to correctly inflect postpositive adjectives.

Now for prepositive adjectives.

Rather than redoing the tables, I’ll just make some comments. For the most part, a prepositive adjectival form will lose its final syllable when the inflection is disyllabic. This means that you’ll lose the -ti in all forms that have it, as well as the -si in instrumentals and -mi in comitatives. Word-final -t is also lost unless the adjective modifies a vowel-initial word. Here’s an illustrative example using the dative:

  • aderot ābrot “to the quick woman”
  • adero Dovaogēdot “to the quick Unsullied”

This does mean that in the nominative and vocative plural you get, for example, kastyz rather than kastyzy (nominative) or kastyzys (vocative). That word-final -z usually devoices to -s unless the following word begins with a vowel or a voiced consonant. Another example:

  • kastys hobresse “blue goats”
  • kastyz dāryssy “blue kings”

Where a disyllabic inflectional form is simply VCV, only the final vowel is lost, not the final syllable. For example:

  • ānogro ēlȳro “of the first blood”
  • ēlȳr ānogro “of the first blood”

You’ll see this most often in singular instrumentals and comitatives, in addition to terrestrial/aquatic genitives of Classes II and III.

Finally, Class III needs some special attention. For forms that modify a solar or lunar word, where a shortening would leave the final syllable with ȳ, that vowel changes to io. The same is not true of the terrestrial/aquatic. Here are some illustrative examples:

  • valosa ēlȳse “with the first man”
  • ēlios valosa “with the first man”
  • daomȳssi ēlȳssi “with the first rains”
  • ēlȳs daomȳssi “with the first rains”

And a couple of final notes. First, as those who’ve been studying High Valyrian nominal declension will know, many paradigms often level the distinction between the instrumental and comitative (some using a comitative m form for both and some using an instrumental s form for both). When an adjective modifies a noun, it will agree with the split. All adjectives, as a result, have distinctive m and s forms, but for a particular paradigm, it may only inflect with one of the two.

Second, High Valyrian is in the process of eliminating word-final m (or, to put that more accurately, High Valyrian’s never liked word-final m), so contracted forms that end in m often only keep that m if the following word begins with a vowel or a labial consonant. Otherwise, that m becomes an n.

That should be enough to get things going with adjectives! To conclude, here are a couple notes on some things that came out in recent interviews. First, while I have provided translations to George R. R. Martin when he requested them (whether he used them or how can only be determined when the books the translations were requested for are published. I still haven’t gotten a chance to look at the maps book to see how those translations worked out), I never said I provided Valyrian translations. That was an assumption on the reporter’s part. Second, I recently did an interview for Entertainment Weekly’s radio program. Somehow my middle name came up, and at the end of the spot, one of the hosts guessed my middle name—or so I thought! When they repeated it at the interview’s close, I could have sworn they said “David Jasper Peterson”. If that is the case, then I’m afraid I misheard them the first time—i.e. they said “Jasper”, but I thought I heard my actual middle name. I hereby go on record to say that my middle name on my birth certificate is not Jasper, though I’d certainly like that name better than my actual middle name, which is terrible. My apologies to EW!

That concludes this initial look at adjectives in High Valyrian. I planned to include adjectives in Astapori Valyrian as well, but this post got too long… Another time.

OH! Almost forgot. The Valyrian section of the Dothraki Wiki is live, and it looks oustanding! Take a look at the High Valyrian vocabulary page, for example. There’s tons of interlinking examples throughout the wiki and a lot of good info. Excellent work!

A lot of hands went into putting the wiki together, but there are a few people who did the most work. Hrakkar did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work (with some help from our old friend Lajaki!) to make sure the wiki works the way it ought and all the links are correct. Then the bulk of the content was generated by Esploranto (a.k.a. Najahho) and Mad_Latinist, who’s rivaling me for the most frequent commenter on this blog. Kirimvose! It looks great!

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