Category Archives: Grammar
Discussions about Dothraki grammar.
It’s now February 20th, and this is the first Dothraki post of the month. Given that it’s a short month, this may very well be the last, as well. I feel obliged to offer up some sort of explanation, given that (most months) I’ve been pretty good about living up to my unwritten (until now) four posts per month goal.
As it has turned out, this month has been pretty busy. In addition to the SWTX PCA/ACA Conference from last week, I’m giving a TED University talk at TED this month (a whole 6 minutes on the 28th!), and have been busy doing a lot of prep work for that and for TEDActive, where I’m giving a workshop. If you want to talk any Dothraki, the best place to catch me these days is on Twitter or at our weekly Dothraki chat on IRC.
I didn’t want this post to be completely devoid of Dothraki, though, so I thought I’d address an issue that came up on Twitter. Our latest (and quite prolific!) Dothraki speaker Tyene Sand was trying to translate a sentence using the Night’s Watch (that is, the name “the Night’s Watch”). That can be translated in a number of ways (I offered Vitihiraki Ajjalani), but the translation called for the phrase to be declined in some way. This is where one runs into a dilemma.
In Turkish, if you take a foreign noun and try to decline it, the word behaves a little differently from native (or assimilated) Turkish nouns. Turkish names take a number of case suffixes (similar to Dothraki), but these suffixes participate in vowel harmony. Here’s a small example:
|mağaza||store||mağazada||at the store|
|göl||lake||gölde||at the lake|
As you can see, in the Turkish forms in the third column, there’s a suffix that’s either -da or -de. Which suffix you get depends on the character of the previous vowel (for more, see this article on Turkish vowel harmony), but they both mean the same thing.
That’s fine and good. What happens, though, when you add these suffixes to a foreign word? Turkish, as it turns out, does a couple of things differently. First, the suffix is always attached with an apostrophe (kind of like how sometimes in English, acronyms are pluralized with an ‘s as opposed to just s [e.g. DVD's rather than DVDs]). Second, unless the quality of the vowels is quite apparent, Turkish just uses one of those two suffixes—specifically, the -da suffix. Here’s an example:
So, now that we know what Turkish does, what does Dothraki do?
First, Dothraki noun phrases are often declined on the head noun. This is the rough equivalent of “passerby” vs. “passersby” in English (the latter being the formal plural of the former). Take, for example, the phrase asavva evomen, which has various meanings depending on context (for now, let’s say “afterlife”). If one wanted to pluralize this phrase, the appropriate plural would be asavvasi evomeni (the latter adjective taking an -i on account of concord). That is, asavva is the head noun, so it takes the plural; one doesn’t treat the whole thing as a single noun and attempt to add some sort of inflection to the end of evomen.
That said, one may want to write in Dothraki and talk about modern people, companies, products, places, etc. For something like “Google”, one option would be to try to translate the concept (good luck) or to render it in Dothraki (Gogol?). This might end up making things more confusing than necessary, though. As a result, the kind of catch-all repair strategy used in Dothraki is the preposition haji. Haji means something like “because of” or “on account of” or sometimes “with respect to”. In Dothraki proper, its meanings are a bit more specific. When used in conjunction with foreign names or terms, though, it stands in for any preposition and/or the genitive, allative or ablative cases. Thus, one might say something like:
- Anha tih mae haji Reddit.
- “I saw it on Reddit.”
Technically haji there could be standing in for she, ma, irge, hatif, vi, ha, ki—or the ablative, genitive or allative cases. Really, though, given the context, it seems likely that it’s standing for she (a general locative. Not sure if anything more specific would be used to refer to something one sees on a webpage. Mra, maybe?). One might be able to supply a context that would force another reading, but the most obvious reading suggests that whatever was seen was seen on Reddit.
Though the solution is pretty simple, the drawbacks are that there could be confusion or ambiguity, so it behooves one to supply the proper context so that only the correct interpretation is plausible. If more specificity is absolutely required, one can always use the proper preposition. If a case is needed, it’s probably best to attempt to render the noun in Dothraki, as below:
- Anha dothrak Disneylandaan!
- “I’m going to Disneyland!”
To make it clear, one may (in the Turkish style) separate the case ending from the root with an apostrophe, but personally I prefer it without.
I hope your February’s going well and that it’s not too cold where you are! It rained today, so California will get a bit chillier for the next couple of days, but otherwise I can’t complain. For those of you who speak or are familiar with other case languages, what do those languages do with foreign proper terms? How would “Google” come out in the instrumental in Russian? Or the translative in Finnish?
In recent months there’s been some new interest from various quarters in Dothraki, so I thought what I’d do is write up a short post introducing you to some of the basic concepts behind Dothraki grammar and show you where to go for more detailed information. As such, this’ll be a good place to start if you’d like to learn how to read and write in Dothraki. (Note: You can get much of this information on a .pdf I wrote up which you can download here.)
Spelling and Pronunciation
Something I’ve neglected doing thus far on the blog is a post just on spelling and pronunciation. Oops! The spelling system is pretty much phonetic, though (i.e. each letter is pronounced the same way every time it appears), so it shouldn’t be too bad. For a quick rundown of each letter and digraph, go to the transcription section of the Dothraki Wiki.
If you’d like to perfect your pronunciation, I recommend clicking on the audio tag of this blog. That will bring up all the posts in which I’ve included a Dothraki recording. In addition, I’d like to recommend a few posts specifically that go over some trickier aspects of Dothraki pronunciation:
Of course, if you ever have a question about how something is pronounced, drop me a line! I like to practice, so I’m always happy to do recordings (though it may take me a while to get around to it).
|Second||Familiar||yer||you||yeri||you, you all|
|Formal||shafki||you||shafki||you, you all|
|Third||me||he, she, it, one||mori||they|
Some things to notice about the table above:
- Though most varieties of English don’t distinguish between “you” when addressing one person or “you” when addressing more than one, Dothraki does.
- Dothraki also distinguishes between familiar and formal address, much like Spanish or German or French. The formal pronoun shakfa, though, does not distinguish between singular and plural (the same pronoun is used for both).
- Dothraki makes no gender distinction. Thus, me serves for “he”, “she” or “it”—and is also the pronoun used in impersonal constructions (e.g. “One shouldn’t run with scissors [even though it's a lot of fun].”).
In Dothraki, there are two important things one needs to know about a noun in order to use it properly: What its gender or noun class is, and what case it’s to be used in. We’ll discuss those two things separately.
In Dothraki there are two types of nouns: Vekhikh Hranna (Grass Nouns) and Vekhikh Asavva (Sky Nouns). The two types of nouns differ in how they decline—that is, the forms they use in a sentence. The noun type is something that simply must be learned and memorized, though there are some clues that help one determine how likely a noun is to be a Grass Noun or a Sky Noun. For more information on this, see the section on noun animacy in the Dothraki Wiki.
For translation purposes, the main difference between Grass and Sky Nouns is that Grass Nouns don’t distinguish between singular and plural; Sky Nouns do.
Now to discuss nominal declension. In English, we say “He saw the dog” and “The dog saw him”. We don’t say “Him saw the dog” or “The dog saw he”. Ever wonder why? It’s because (most) English pronouns decline for case. Dothraki nouns are like English pronouns, except they have more forms than (using “he”) just “he”, “him” and “his”. These forms correspond to different roles the nouns play in a sentence. These roles are summarized below:
- Nominative: A case associated with the subject of a sentence.
- English Example: The hunter saw the dog.
- Dothraki Version: Fonak tih jan.
- Accusative: A case associated with the direct object of a sentence.
- English Example: The dog saw the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano tih fonakes.
- Genitive: A case associated with the possessor of some other noun.
- English Example: The hunter’s dog is loud.
- Dothraki Version: Jano fonaki lavakha.
- Allative: A case associated with the goal or destination of the action of the sentence.
- English Example: The dog ran to the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano lan fonakaan.
- Ablative: A case associated with the point of departure of the action of the sentence.
- English Example: The dog ran from the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano lan fonakoon.
Basically in comparing Dothraki to a language like English or Spanish, rather than using a preposition like “to” or “of” or “from” (or a or de in Spanish) followed by a noun, the noun itself is modified to incorporate the meaning of the preposition. If you’d like to use a noun of Dothraki, you’ll likely need to make use of a noun in one or more cases (note that plurality is encoded by the case suffix). In order to decline a noun correctly, head over to the section on noun cases in the Dothraki Wiki.
The key thing to keep in mind about verbs is that they inflect for person, number and tense (and also polarity, but that can be ignored for those just starting out). This means that if you look up a verb in the online dictionary of the Dothraki Wiki, the form of the verb you find there will need to change.
For our purposes, let’s focus on two different verbs and two different tenses. One verb we’ve already seen is tihat. That’s the citation form for the verb “to see”. Another common one is dothralat. That’s the citation form of the verb “to ride”. These verbs differ in their stems: the first ends with a consonant (the stem is tih), and the second ends with a vowel (the stem is dothra). Most of the time, you simply strip off the suffix -at or -lat to get the stem of a verb (though be careful to note verbs whose stem ends in l!).
Once you have the stem of the verb you want to inflect, you have to know whether the subject of the sentence is first, second or third person singular or plural, and what tense the sentence is going to be in. Let’s start with the present tense. Start with the stem (we’ll do tih first), and then modify them in the following ways to conjugate a verb in the present tense:
|First||tihak||I see||tihaki||we see|
|Second||tihi||you see||tihi||you see|
|Third||tiha||s/he/it sees||tihi||they see|
Now here’s how you conjugate a verb whose stem ends in a vowel:
|First||dothrak||I ride||dothraki||we ride|
|Second||dothrae||you ride||dothrae||you ride|
|Third||dothrae||s/he/it rides||dothrae||they ride|
The future tense is identical to the present tense, save you prefix a- to the front of stems that begin with a consonant and v- to the front of stems that begin with a vowel. Thus atihak is “I will see” and adothrae is “they will ride”.
The past tense is simpler than the present and future. In the past tense, there’s no person distinction whatsoever, so both stems are shown below:
|Tihat||tih||I/you/she, etc. saw||tihish||we/you/they, etc. ride|
|Dothralat||dothra||I/you/she, etc. rode||dothrash||we/you/they, etc. rode|
For more information on verbs, check out the following pages in the Dothraki Wiki:
In Dothraki, adjectives follow the nouns they modify, as shown below:
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dorvi erin “the kind goat”
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dothrakaan haja “to the strong rider”
- dothraki haji “the strong riders”
- dothrakea haji “to the strong riders”
- Anha hajak. “I’m strong.”
- Dothrak haja. “The rider is strong.”
- Chiorisi haji. “The women are strong.”
To augment the Dothraki case system, a variety of prepositions are used. In order to use a preposition appropriately, one needs to know what it is, what it means, and what case it assigns to the noun it modifies. A couple of common examples are shown below:
- she okre “on the tent” (assigns the nominative)
- ha okraan “for the tent” (assigns the allative)
- oleth okri “over the tent” (assigns the genitive)
Some prepositions can alter the case they assign to affect the meaning of the preposition. Consider ha from above:
Here are some instructional materials that have been posted around the web (if you find more, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them):
- Tutorials at the Dothraki Wiki
- Audio/Visual Dothraki Tutorials on YouTube
- Step-by-Step Tutorial Based on the YouTube Videos Above
- Dothraki Flashcards at Quizlet
- Dothraki Subreddit
And, of course, there’s plenty more material here and scattered around the web that goes into more detail. If you ever have questions, just drop a line. Fonas chek!
Or something close to that, anyway. In honor of the Olympics (though not really in honor of the Olympics), I thought I’d go over a very small, very specific bit of Dothraki grammar.
But before I do that, after upgrading OS X Mountain Lion, the weirdest thing is happening in WordPress. Basically (and there’s really no other way to put it), certain punctuation marks are disappearing. They’re there, of course, and they show up in the published post, but I’m not allowed to see them, apparently. There’s no way to demonstrate other than showing you exactly what I mean, so here’s a screenshot of what I’m seeing:
You see! (Oh, how I’m glad you can’t see what that exclamation point was just reduced to on my screen…) True, the parens are mostly there, there are commas galore, and you can kind of make out the periods, but what of the apostrophes?! Where have they gone? WHERE ARE MY APOSTROPHES?! Man, when I get them back, I am so saying dracarys!
Anyway, we’ve already seen how to form a relative clause in Dothraki. That’s actually the tough part. Next comes identifying indefinite relative clauses. These are (by my definition, anyway) relative clauses where the target of relativization is unknown. In English (and in many languages), what happens is the indefinite relative is actually an embedded WH-question. Here are some examples:
- I don’t know where he slept.
- I saw who ate the sausage.
- We’re deciding when to come.
There are a number of sensible reasons for doing things thus (which is why the strategy is common), but Dothraki does things a little differently. Dothraki uses its series of distal demonstrative pronouns in place of WH-words and then forms a sentence very much like a relative clause. Let’s start with a simple example—the second sentence from above. First, here’s a standard relative clause:
- Anha tih mahrazhes fin adakh ninde.
“I saw the man that ate the sausage.”
The word mahrazh, “man”, is put in the accusative case, because it’s the object of tih, “saw”. Fin, “that/who”, is put into the nominative case because it acts as the subject of the embedded verb adakh, “ate”. So far so good.
Now for the indefinite relative. Since it’s not revealed who performed the action, we don’t have a noun to hang fin off of. Thus we insert the pronoun rekak. Here’s the sentence above translated into Dothraki:
- Anha tih rekakes fin adakh ninde.
“I saw who ate the sausage.”
This basically looks exactly like the first sentence, but now the pronoun rekak, “that one”, stands in place of mahrazh. Additionally, since the pronoun is used conventionally in these contexts, it can often be used without fin—and often in either the case it would take in the embedded clause or the matrix clause.
Now for the new part. There are other types of indefinite relatives that don’t act exactly like standard relative clauses. Consider our first sentence from above: I don’t know where he slept. In this one, the pronoun becomes rekke, and the sentence is translated thus:
- Anha nesok rekke remek me.
“I don’t know where he slept.”
Now there’s no need for fin at all (indeed, using it would be ungrammatical [or at least bizarre] at this stage) and rekke acts a lot more like “where” in the English translation. The same can be done with arrek (best translated as “when” in such sentences). For “how” and “why”, there are two constructions that can be used, but are nevertheless rare (usually the sentence is just reworded). Those terms are: kirekhdirgi “why” and kirekosi “how”.
And there you are! Now you should be able to tackle some tougher texts in Dothraki. For those who made it all the way to the end of this post, I shall reward you with a picture of my havzi vezhven:
Look at that little pink tongue! What a cat she is!
M’ath to all those attending Comic-Con in San Diego! Enjoy. Some of us ’round here still have work to do! (In fact, I spoke with Dan Weiss and David Benioff yesterday, and they’re not making it this year, either [season 3, and whatnot].) A quick note for those visiting from out of state, though: This weather is NOT normal. It straight up rained here in Orange County—poured! That may be humdrum if you’re from New York or Florida, but in Southern California?! I can’t remember the last time.
Anyway, if you’re wandering around the Gaslamp and happen to bump into anyone dressed as Khal Drogo or Daenerys and want to say “boy, howdy!”, here’s a quick and dirty Dothraki primer:
|Hash yer dothrae chek?||How are you?||
|Anha garvok!||I’m hungry!||
|Anha fevek!||I’m thirsty!||
|Hash rekak che Oil Oiton che Jonathon Freykis?||Is that Will Wheaton or Jonathan Frakes?||
|Vojosor heme vos ahhimo anna.||I’m not into furries.||
|Finne zhavorsa anni?!||Where are my dragons?!||
|Anha afichak rek h’anhaan ma vorsoon ma qoyoon!||I will take what is mine with fire and blood!||
Listen to the audio for the pronunciation—or just be sure the vowels are pure and you pronounce the Q’s like K’s (they’re not, but that’s close enough). If you’d like more of an introduction, you can check out the other posts on this blog, or head over to YouTube where sunquan8094 has an entire series of Dothraki tutorials. San athchomari to all those that made the trip down! I plan on being there next year. Until then, fonas chek!
[Featured Photo: Me, my wife and my little sister down in San Diego in younger days. The relationship to the topic at hand is...tenuous.]