Since it’s come up in the comments and elsewhere, I thought I’d give a quick rundown of my read on the Valyrian in the world as it exists in A Song of Ice and Fire. It’ll be useful to refer to this map in the discussion to come, since I’m going to be talking mostly about Slaver’s Bay.
High Valyrian was spoken in Valyria for centuries. The Ghiscari Empire was preeminent in the ancient history, and five times they tried to conquer Valyria. Each time they failed, as Valyria had dragons, which they used to repel the invasion. After the last attempt, the Valyrian army wiped the capital of the Ghiscari Empire, Old Ghis, off the face of the planet, and the empire fell, Ghiscari culture being displaced by Valyrian culture. At this time, the Valyrian Freehold took control of Slaver’s Bay, and three formerly small cities became large and rather important: Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen.
Looking at the map, it makes sense to me that the way Valyria interacted with these three cities was by boat. An army could march overland and get to Meereen, then Yunkai, then Astapor, but why bother? A trip by boat is much quicker. Consequently, Astapor is the closest of these three cities to Valyria. (Oh, and if you’re wondering why Daenerys, who, presumably, is coming from the north, goes to Astapor, Yunkai and then Meereen, as opposed to the other way around, it’s because she traveled all the way to Qarth first, and then traveled from there. Qarth is way east and south of Astapor.)
In these cities in Slaver’s Bay, everyone would have spoken Ghiscari, during the ancient wars. When Old Ghis fell, though, a Valyrian ruling class would have had to have been installed, and High Valyrian would have replaced Ghiscari by fiat, and also in practice. When this happens, it generally takes three generations for a language to be lost in a single family. In five or six generations, the Ghiscari language could have been stamped out, if that was a goal of the Valyrians (and it was, I think it’s safe to assume). The old language, though, would have survived in local vocabulary (why lose a word for something that the new language doesn’t even have a word for anyway?), and in the vocabulary of those who weren’t taught the new language explicitly. The result ends up being a Valyrian language grammatically, but with a lot of Ghiscari vocabulary.
Now, all this time, High Valyrian could have been maintained. With the presence of a home base in Valyria and a Valyrian upper class, there would always be motivation to maintain the original language. It seems likely that Valyrians would care about maintaining the language so they could communicate with every part of their vast Freehold. So even as new languages are emerging amongst the lower classes in Slaver’s Bay, High Valyrian would carry on.
The aggravating factor in this history is the mysterious Doom of Valyria, which we don’t know a whole lot about. The Doom was some sort of cataclysmic event that destroyed Valyria and left physical scars all over the region. Not even sailors were go near it now. It’s considered haunted and/or cursed. Linguistically, this is when the umbilical cord was severed for the various outposts of the Valyrian Freehold. I’ll leave the Free Cities out of this discussion for the time being and instead focus on two areas: Slaver’s Bay and Dragonstone.
Dragonstone was founded by the House Targaryen before the Doom of Valyria. It’s located in Blackwater Bay, and is a stone’s throw from King’s Landing (which didn’t have that name at the time). Initially it was established as an outpost to facilitate trade between the Valyrian Freehold and Westeros. Consequently, the Targaryens here would be upper class High Valyrian speakers. After the doom, Aegon I conquered Westeros, and the Targaryen dynasty was established. Naturally, they would have to learn the Common Tongue (it’d just make things simpler), but it doesn’t mean that they’d lose High Valyrian. Valyrian is the tie not only to the old Freehold, but to Essos and the old culture. It would easily have been retained over at least the first two generations. Thereafter, if it was important, it could be maintained through family use and careful instruction. It takes resources to do so, naturally, but they’re royalty; they’ve got resources. So to me it makes sense that High Valyrian is maintained by the Targaryens.
The evolution of the language is difficult to map realistically, since the time depth is greater than the real world analogues George R. R. Martin used. For example, at least 5,000 years are supposed to have passed between the old days of Valyria and the Doom. From 0 CE to today, Latin went from being an everyday spoken language to not existing. In fantasy, though, there’s a bit of wiggle room. I like to think that the rate of change in High Valyrian was accelerated by two factors: (1) contact with other languages; and (2) distance from Valyria.
In the case of Dragonstone, the Targaryens were far from Valyria, but also weren’t really mixing with Common Tongue speakers, per se. They kind of kept to themselves. So rather than change, the language is preserved, while the other varieties of Valyrian evolve past it. Low Valyrian never touched Dragonstone. When it comes to pronunciation, though, Common Tongue pronunciations did end up affecting the Targaryens. This is why older pronunciations of j and v aren’t maintained in the otherwise pristine form of High Valyrian spoken by the Targaryens.
Back to Slaver’s Bay. Although Yunkai is geographically closer to Meereen, I’ve always thought of it as being closer to Astapor culturally. Looking back, I’m not sure how precisely I came to this determination (I admit that). It felt, though, that Yunkish Valyrian and Astapori Valyrian would be closer to each other than either is to Meereenese Valyrian.
Each of the dialects (and I would characterize them as dialects of a kind of “Ghiscari Valyrian”) would be grammatically very similar. They have a common culture, and seem to exist in a kind of symbiotic way, with each city having something the others don’t. Since Meereen is the largest, it likely also has the largest lower class. This is where I saw the most distinct form of the language emerging. This is why it made sense to me that Meereen could support a Valyrian variant that’s quite different in sound from the other two. It’s the same language, but it’s developed its own distinct character.
With Daenerys, she grew up with High Valyrian from Viserys and from the loyalists that helped raised them. In Essos, she would’ve been exposed to a ton of different Valyrian dialects from the Free Cities. This would help her be able to pick up a new one. And, of course, if you look at Astapori Valyrian and compare it to High Valyrian, though there are sound changes, they’re not that drastic. I think it’s plausible that Dany could get the gist of it, even if she can’t speak it. Meereenese, though, is tougher. It’s hard to see a word and tie it to an Astapori Valyrian word, let alone a High Valyrian word.
Regarding comparisons, I likened Meereenese Valyrian to Scotch English and Astapori Valyrian to Southern California English. They’re way different, but they’re the same language with some vocabulary items that differ. A couple of commenters have likened the two to Spanish and Portuguese. I simply don’t know if I’d go that far. If I see Portuguese written out, I can kind of get the gist of it, but hearing it? I get nothing. If I studied it a little bit and got used to the sound changes, I mean, maybe, but I’m not sure they’re close enough grammatically. In some ways, Portuguese and Spanish are too close, and in other ways, too far. The pronunciation of Portuguese and Spanish is closer than the pronunciation of Meereenese and Astapori, but the grammar is much further apart. This is why I really think of them as dialects not separate languages.
As for Yunkish, I put don’t put it in the middle of the two dialects. Rather, it’s all but identical to Astapori. Truth be told, I haven’t had to do anything specific for Yunkish, but if I did, the variation would be minor.
If I’ve left anything out, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll add it to this explanation. It isn’t as thorough as it could be, but it’s a start. The Valyrian language family is really a fun linguistic experiment, so I wanted to at least give you an idea how I was approaching it. Thanks for reading!
Edit: Some thoughts on New Ghis. New Ghis is an island to the south of Slaver’s Bay:
Regarding New Ghis, where I would start is with the notion that the Ghiscari culture was wiped off the face of the Earth. If we accept that as a truth, we have to accept that they’re speaking some form of Valyrian in New Ghis. New Ghis is pretty far from Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen, so one would have to expect it to be quite different, but how is a question I haven’t dealt with yet. Presumably they can still converse with the cities on the mainland (this happens in Book 5), so it couldn’t have diverged too much. At this point, I think that’s all we can say about New Ghis.
We are officially half way through with the fourth season of Game of Thrones, and after last night’s episode, I know exactly what’s on everyone’s mind. Two words:
You kidding me?
Cersei and Tywin are sharing a pretty good scene—finally getting down to brass tacks with one another—and then Cersei drops this one on us (speaking of the Iron Bank of Braavos):
Cersei: But someone does work there; it is comprised of people.
Tywin: And a temple is comprised of stones.
When I heard this, I felt like Bender attending his own funeral. WHAT?! I mean, it’s one thing for Cersei to say something like this (she tries to act younger than she is), but for Tywin Lannister to say “comprised of”?! I…just…
Listen. You’ve got exactly two options, and they are these:
- is composed of
That. Is. It. You cannot hope to create a timeless it’s-not-television-it’s-HBO classic and date yourselves thus. What’s next? Is Tyrion going to use “whom” in subject position when he’s trying to sound formal? Why even have the British accents? Where’s that guy that played Benvolio in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet? Why not have him play Jaime Lannister?!
(Oh, and a note, as I put my responsible linguist’s hat on: This is a fight that’s already been lost. At present, the best we can say is that you can still use “comprise” as an active verb. “Comprised of” is totally the norm now, and will continue on its path to becoming the only correct way to use “comprise”.)
But, yeah, with that out of the way, welcome to my first post in three months! I’ve been intensely busy, and have less to show for it than I should, but much more than I would if I’d been keeping up with everything I’d been keeping up with. One of those casualties has been this blog, which I never intended to abandon (and still don’t), but from which I’ve had to take a step back for a bit. It’s actually been quite encouraging to hear from a few people that they’ve missed the episode recaps I did the past couple of seasons. In fact, it’s because of one person on Tumblr specifically that I’m writing this post (because I promised I would).
There’ve been a lot of big talking points this season, which, honestly, has kind of surprised me. I mean, the Purple Wedding, sure, but there are some other things that really caught me off guard. I’ll try to hit them all.
But first and foremost, I want to talk about one dude: Jack Gleeson. I never got a chance to meet him (I’m sure we’ve been at the same thing at some point in time; I just never ran into him), but now that Joffrey is gone and Jack is done with the show, can we please give this guy a standing ovation? What a challenge. Joffrey is awful, of course, but he’s also vulnerable, and at times quite pathetic—and then sometimes he turns right around and plays Prince Charming to a T! There may have been another actor that could have done one or two of these traits very well, but Jack Gleeson embodied that little so-and-so named Joffrey so well that he became the face of the character—for the books as well as the show. He owned that role. And if he never acts again, which is what he’s claiming at the moment, his place in television history is cemented. He doesn’t need to do anything else. His skill is on screen for the ages, and he can do whatever he wants now for the rest of his life. He earned it.
Other minor notes: Love Prince Oberyn. Can’t wait till he gets revenge on the man that killed his
father sister. Love every single gif that came out of the Purple Wedding. Pure genius. Lena Headey deserves an Emmy nomination (she was wonderful in yesterday’s episode), but probably won’t get one, because I know the Emmy dudes are real grammar sticklers. Would love to see a spinoff entitled something like Arya and Her Dog—or, maybe when she gets a little bit older, The Fox and the Hound? (You can boo now.) I know people felt bad for Hodor when he was being attacked, but I bet Hodor probably felt worse when he awoke from a trance and saw what he did to Vargo Hoat Locke. Love Pod, Love Bronn, Jaime and Cersei…
Oh yeah, that.
There’s already been a lot that’s been said about Jaime raping Cersei. I know book readers probably felt betrayed, since this is at least the second time this has happened (Dany and Drogo being the first), but my wife had an interesting point. At no point in time is the rape portrayed as consensual (duh, it’s a rape, I know, but bear with me). After seeing that scene, there can be no argument that Cersei starts to “enjoy” it, and so it’s not a “legitimate” rape (a shockingly common argument made by rape apologists). Public opinion, for some crazy reason, loves to side with the rapist when there’s any potential “gray area”. There was none in this scene. No matter what way you look at it, that scene, both in world and out, was negative, and the reaction was supposed to be negative—and it was. So, at the very least, we’ve come that far, I guess.
But here’s what really bothers me about it. After that scene is over with, it’s like it never happened. It’s not as if Cersei’s not trying to think about it, or anything: it’s like it literally never happened. The very next episode, we see Jaime right back on his upward-trending arc, giving armor and a sword to Brienne, and Cersei out to avenge her dead son. In the book, that scene was supposed to be disturbing because it happens next to Joffrey’s dead body, and is supposed to further characterize Jaime and Cersei’s bizarre relationship. In the show, the scene—or that act, rather—has absolutely no dramatic function. This is actually one of the problems I had with Battlestar Galactica. Often you’d have an episode where some really tense, really dramatic stuff happens, and then the next episode, it’s like none of that stuff happened: two people that are mortal enemies at the end of episode X are suddenly friends in episode X+1. This is something I expect to happen on a show with a dozen or more writers. But Game of Thrones is literally shrinking its writing staff as the show goes on. It’s now down to four, and I don’t expect it to grow. There’s no excuse for this. It’s weird.
(Note: I won’t delete the above, since it already appeared, but this was worded much too strongly, and there’s a key piece that’s missing. We’re only five episodes in—and four seasons. The dramatic function of the rape scene is to produce a clear and obvious rift between Jaime and Cersei. This rift may play out later this season; it may play out later this series. It has the potential to be a defining moment between these two characters. The show has done an outstanding job at planting seeds that bear fruit several episodes or even several seasons later. We have to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and see what happens as the story unfolds. -DP)
All right, on to language stuff.
Now for a positive surprise. I didn’t get to watch the episode “Breaker of Chains” live because I was on a trip to Colorado (shout out to the CU Linguistics Department! Thank you guys so much for having me; it was awesome!). I ended up watching it right before “Oathkeeper”. Consequently, I was puzzled why I was getting so much Twitter love after the episode aired.
It’s not as if I didn’t know what was in that episode—I mean, I translated all that—I just didn’t think it would be particularly memorable. With the scene from episode four of season three, I knew beforehand that that was going to be good. I’d read the books; I knew the scene; and the script was great. I didn’t get that sense from this one, though. I mean, it was cool, and all (it’s Game of Thrones), but I had no idea how awesome that scene was going to be. And man, the ending—with the slave holding the collar, the master right behind him? That was badass! That scene played way better than what I was imagining in my head, and Emilia Clarke’s really got the rhythm of High Valyrian down. It’s wonderful to hear.
Here’s her full speech. You’ll have to forgive me, because I know for a fact I’m going to miss some of these long vowels. There’s a lot of text, and, as I’ve said before, Final Draft (the program I use for the scripts) doesn’t allow macrons, so I have to reinsert them where I remember them. Eventually I’ll get it all right.
- Daenerys Jelmāzmo iksan. Kostilus jevi āeksia yno bē pirtra jemot vestretis, iā daoruni jemot vestretis. Daoriot jemas. Doriar udra pōnto syt eman. Mērī jemī ivestran.
- I am Daenerys Stormborn. Your masters may have told you lies about me, or they may have told you nothing. It does not matter. I have nothing to say to them. I speak only to you.
I’ve always wondered how they could hear her—or how anyone could hear anyone in our world in the days before amplification—but maybe everyone in Meereen has HBO GO. Continuing, Dany says:
- Ēlī Astaprot istan. Astaprot dohaertrossa sīr yno inkot iōrzi, dāeri. Hembar Yunkaihot istan. Yunkaihī dohaertrossa sīr yno inkot iōrzi, dāeri. Sesīr Mirinot mastan.
- First, I went to Astapor. Those who were slaves in Astapor now stand behind me, free. Next I went to Yunkai. Those who were slaves in Yunkai now stand behind me, free. Now I have come to Meereen.
Okay. Dude. Like, you have no idea how much I was laughing at the fact that I literally got to use a pluralized nominalization of a past habitual participle. This has happened several times in Game of Thrones, actually, where I created some word or some grammatical form and thought, “This is cool, but it’ll never see the light of day.” Then all of a sudden I get to use the Dothraki words for “duck”, “rabbit” and “cooking pot”—and now this. The fact that High Valyrian even has a past habitual form still makes me chuckle (this is a form of the verb that is approximately equivalent to “used to” in English). I remember when I first looked at these sentences and had to translate them, I kind of rolled my eyes, and was like, “Oh, brother, I’m going to have to do a big old relative clause…” Then I paused, looked again…and my eyes got wide. It’s kind of like going for a royal flush as a joke in Texas Hold ‘Em and then the last card is the jack of hearts you’ve been waiting for. I laugh right now as I’m thinking about it.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me back up. Dohaeragon is a verb that means “to serve” (everyone should recognize it from the expression Valar dohaeris). Dohaeran means “I’m serving (right now)”. Dohaerin means “I serve (generally)”. Dohaertin means “I used to serve”. Each of these can be turned into participles. For example, dohaerare is the adjective “serving”, and you might use it to say dohaerare vala, “the serving man”, or “the man who is serving us at the moment” (e.g. a waiter). You can turn the participle itself into a noun to shorten things up, though, and say dohaeraros, which could mean something like “waiter”, so long as it’s understood that it’s temporary. You can do the same with other participles, as well. For example, the High Valyrian word for “slave” is dohaeriros, or “someone who serves habitually”. Dany uses the word buzdar, a Ghiscari word for “slave”, so the slaves in Astapor will understand what she’s saying (they may not know the High Valyrian term).
In this case, though, Dany turns the past habitual into a participle and nominalizes it. So dohaertre becomes dohaertros, which, when pluralized, is dohaertrossa, which means, “those who used to serve habitually”—and, if you put Astaprot in front of it (the locative version), you get Astaprot dohaertrossa, which literally means “those who were slaves in Astapor”.
All of that in two words! Man alive, this is what makes the job fun!
Yeah, so what was I doing when I got side-tracked? Oh, Dany’s speech. Still a lot left, actually. Here’s the next bit:
- Jevys qrinuntys ikson daor. Jevys qrinuntys jemo paktot issa. Jevys qrinuntys jevor riñar laodissis ossēnīs. Jevys qrinuntys jemo syt mērī belma se boteri se udrāzmī ēzi. Udrāzmī jemot maghon daor. Iderennon maghan. Se jevo qrinuntoti pōjor gūrotriri maghan. Naejot!
- I am not your enemy. Your enemy is beside you. Your enemy steals and murders your children. Your enemy has nothing for you but chains and suffering and commands. I do not bring you commands. I bring you a choice. And I bring your enemies what they deserve. Forward!
(Note: Above, ēzi should be ēza, but I misconjugated. I was thinking of the subject as “the masters” not “your enemy”.)
And finally, when she tells them to fire the catapult, this is what she says:
That is, “unfasten” or “unleash” (she’s talking about catapults, after all). An incredibly awkward word, with four long vowels in a row. If all the vowels are long, how can you even tell?
Anyway, there’s been other Valyrian, but I don’t have time to go into all of it (this post is getting a bit long). I was pleasantly surprised by Michiel Huisman’s performance in 401 (another Dutch actor!). His Low Valyrian was great. Jacob Anderson, though… Well, but who could ever top the master?
In 404, we got to hear some of Meereenese Valyrian (MV), which we’ll get to hear more of in the second half of the season. I know that Mad Latinist has been conjecturing that it’s not as close to Astapori Valyrian (AV) as I let on, but, I mean, it is literally the same language—I promise you this. I don’t have a separate document; just a section in the AV grammar entitled “Meereenese Shift”. It’s just AV with sound changes. There are a lot more Ghiscari-derived words in the MV dialogue, but they now exist in AV, too. They were new words. They weren’t created specifically for MV, but were created because there was a need for them in the MV dialogue. I thought of them as just new Low Valyrian words.
Here’s a nice comparison of all three Valyrians (this is an actual line of MV):
- MV: Shka ma khurf. P’ashkesh she kraj waov.
- AV: Ska me gurp. P’aeske si kotovi uvuve.
- HV: Mittys iksā. Āeksia tolī kostōbi issi.
- English: You’re a fool. The masters are too strong.
You can see each thing I mentioned at work here. Gurp is a Ghiscari word for “fool” that surfaced for the first time in MV, but is now in AV as well. Schwas are unmarked, but if it’s written a and occurs at the end of a word and is unstressed, it’s a schwa in MV. The word kraj has a reflex in krazi in AV, where it means “large”. MV is more Ghiscari in this way, since kraz- is a Ghiscari root. Otherwise it’s all sound changes. Radical sound changes, to be sure, but sound changes nonetheless. To give you an example how of just how radical the sound changes are, here’s the word “Unsullied” in all three Valyrians:
- MV: Thowoá
- AV: Dovoghedhy
- HV: Dovaogēdy
- English: Unsullied
Dave and Dan wanted MV to sound different enough that Dany wouldn’t be able to understand it, so I did that. Still, though, if you speak AV fluently, I contend that you can figure out MV without too much trouble. It’s just a thick accent with a lot more Ghiscari vocabulary.
All right, at almost 2500 words, I’m going to bring this to a close. I likely will not have an episode-by-episode recap for the last five episodes, but I will post again before the season’s over (or the day after it’s over). Fun stuff coming!
P.S.: If you’re wondering about the title, let me tell you: Silicon Valley is definitely worth watching. Absolutely loving it. Veep is killing it, too. Add John Oliver, and we’ve got some great Sundays ahead of us.
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:
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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Specific: Kaste lī ipradinna. “I’ll eat one which is green.”
- Generic: Kastor līr ipradinna. “I’ll eat that which is green.”
- Specific: Valo luo vaoresan. “I prefer one which is a man(‘s).”
- Generic: Valo lurio vaoresan. “I prefer that which is a man(‘s).”
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:
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):
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:
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):
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: lȳ and līr. The former is for specific entities (and people), and the latter for generic. They can be used by themselves, as shown below:
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:
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:
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):
And here it is in the plural/paucal:
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 lȳ:
And now the generic pronoun līr:
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:
I’m pleased to announce today that I have reached an agreement with Viking Penguin to write a book on language creation called: The Art of Language Invention. Needless to say, this is a dream come true. I’m working with editor Elda Rotor, and am basically going to put as much into this book as they’ll let me stuff in there (and if I can’t fit something in, hopefully it will serve as material for future work). There will be some material from the Game of Thrones and Defiance languages—as well as from languages by other conlangers—but the focus will be on the nuts and bolts of language design. No single book can make you an expert, but my hope is that after working through this one, you’ll know where to start if you want to create a language, what questions to ask, and where to research if you need more.
On my end, I’m being represented by Joanna Volpe from New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc., and for that I have to thank Leigh Bardugo, author of Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm of the Grisha Trilogy, plus the capper, Ruin and Rising, coming out June 3rd (my mother’s birthday!). Those who’ve been following this blog before it even existed will remember Leigh as having attended the first ever presentation on Dothraki back at WorldCon in 2011, and having a word coined in her honor. She now has two, of course (bardugon is the verb for “to write” in High Valyrian), but it means a lot to me that Leigh has remembered me over the years (lol it’s literally been years. That’s crazy), and was able to help me out here. Leigh is veiled in cascading swaths of fabulousness, but underneath it all, she’s a wonderful and kind person, and I’m happy to have her as a friend. (Of course, she’s wonderful and kind even if you don’t know her, so when it comes to Leigh, it’s really win-win.)
Of direct relevance to this blog is the fact that I’m going to be taking a serious step back—something regular readers may have already noticed, since this process started last year. I’ve got one more major High Valyrian post coming, but after that there may be next to nothing here for several months. I’ve got a big job ahead of me, and I’m going to need to take the time to do it, because I want to give this book my best work. I may come back and do my weekly Game of Thrones recaps depending on how my workflow goes, but I may not. It depends how the next couple months go. Either way, 2015 should be an exciting year—and should be a lot less busy for me—so I’ll definitely return to regular posting here in the future.
I want to say a big thank you to those who read this blog regularly, those who’ve been following me on Twitter and Tumblr and who’ve expressed interest in the Game of Thrones and Defiance languages, and those everywhere who in general have supported the TV and movie franchises that have used created languages. The fact of the matter is this book wouldn’t have become a reality if no one cared. There would be no languages for Defiance or other shows like Star-Crossed and Dominion if the fans weren’t interested in there being any—or worse, if they hated them. I know that a number of people wanted a book from me dedicated specifically to Dothraki, specifically to High Valyrian, specifically to Castithan, etc., and that this isn’t that. This is a first step, though. If this project goes well—if I do a good job and the book sells well—it may open the gates for further work—and not just by me, but by other conlangers. Hopefully this is the start of something big, not the conclusion of a movement.
Either way, I feel incredibly privileged to be in this position. Of course I wouldn’t be here without the Language Creation Society, and the Language Creation Society wouldn’t have been in the position it was without Arika Okrent—but, of course, Arika Okrent wouldn’t have sent Dave and Dan to the Language Creation Society if she hadn’t attended the Second Language Creation Conference, and there would be no Language Creation Conference if the conlang community (and specifically the Conlang Listserv) hadn’t come together to make it happen. This project is dedicated to the community that produced me. I hope I make them proud.
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:
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:
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 shold 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 bē, 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:
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:
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:
Vosma mra noreth anni
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
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:
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!
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.
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
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!