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Notas Shekhaan…

majin zanissho varthasi irge yeri. That was the phrase I was asked to translate for a tattoo by Youyou. The French she gave me was Tourne toi vers le soleil et l’ombre sera derrière toi, which I translated as, “Turn yourself towards the sun and the shadows will be behind you” (I suppose it technically ought to be “and your shadow will be behind you”, but I interpreted it loosely). The translation into Dothraki was Notas shekhaan majin zanissho varthasi irge yeri, and Youyou recently sent me a picture of the completed tattoo, which you can see below:

A back tattoo with Dothraki

Click to enlarge.

Athdavrazar! Tremendous work!

I also wanted to share my Norwescon schedule. I first attended Norwescon two years ago, and I’m happy to be returning this year, where the guest of honor will be none other than George R. R. Martin. Consequently, this will likely be the biggest Norwescon in recent memory. Norwescon is in Seattle, and will be held April 2-5, which means that I won’t be at WonderCon this year (which is too bad, because it’s awfully convenient. I could almost walk there!). If you happen to be in the Seattle area and you’re interested in seeing me at Norwescon, you’ll have more than a dozen opportunities—literally. Check out this schedule (note: my re-printing of this schedule should not be taken as a personal endorsement of 24 hour clocks, of which I disapprove):

  1. Thu 17:00-18:00
    Creative Insults
    David J. Peterson (M), Marta Murvosh, Sue Bolich, Pat MacEwen
  2. Thu 20:00-21:00
    Why Can’t They Get It Right?
    Matt Hammond (M), Bart Kemper, Keffy R. M. Kehrli, Loretta McKibben, David J. Peterson
  3. Thu 21:00-22:00
    Speaking Amongst the Stars
    David J. Peterson (M), Gerald Nordley, Brent Kellmer
  4. Fri 12:00-13:00
    How Are Games & Gamers Changing the World?
    Donna Prior (M), Elizabeth Shoemaker, David J. Peterson, Jonny Nero Action Hero
  5. Fri 16:00-17:00
    Ask the Experts: Biology
    PZ Myers (M), Alan Andrist, David J. Peterson, Misty Marshall, Stephanie Herman
  6. Fri 17:00-18:00
    The Languages of Game of Thrones
    David J. Peterson (M)
  7. Fri 19:00-20:00
    The Languages of Speculative Fiction
    Gregory Gadow (M), David J. Peterson, Kurt Cagle, Eva-Lise Carlstrom, Nina Post
  8. Sat 12:30-13:00
    Reading: David J. Peterson (I’ll be doing a reading from Nina Post’s The Zaanics Deceit, for which I created the Væyne Zaanics language!)
    David J. Peterson
  9. Sat 14:00-15:00
    SF & Fantasy Themes In Metal Music
    David J. Peterson, Donna Prior, Christian Lipski
  10. Sat 15:00-16:00
    Autograph Session 2
    Jeff Sturgeon, Nicholas Django Wexler, Randy Henderson, G. Willow Wilson, James C. Glass, Kristi Charish, Richard Hescox, Darragh Metzger, David J. Peterson, Esther Jones, Jack Skillingstead, Jeremy Zimmerman, John (J.A.) Pitts, Kevin Radthorne, Laura Anne Gilman, Michael G. Munz, Rhiannon Held, Shanti Singleton, Steven Barnes, Tim McDaniel
  11. Sun 12:00-13:00
    Collaborative Writing
    David J. Peterson, Nina Post, Steven Barnes, Esther Jones
  12. Sun 14:00-15:00
    Be Your Own Agent
    Kristi Charish (M), John Ellis, Amy Raby, David J. Peterson
  13. Sun 15:00-16:00
    Alien Communication
    Eva-Lise Carlstrom (M), Gerald Nordley, David J. Peterson, Luna Flesher, Sar Surmick

So…yeah. I’ll be busy. But that’s what I asked for. Load me up! I want my voice to be throaty and unrecognizable by Sunday! I want to be singing Johnny Cash!

In the interim, I’m going to be giving a talk at APOGEE in Pilani, India, in case you’ll be in the neighborhood, and I’ll also be heading to Nacogdoches, Texas to give a talk at Stephen F. Austin State University (that’ll be March 3rd). If you’re nearby, I hope to see you! Otherwise, I’m on Twitter, etc. World’s a small place.

Hey, guess what! Coming tomorrow, Game of Thrones season 4’s on DVD! And that means it’s just a couple of months until season 5! Eyelke jada!

We Have a New Winner

I said in our last IRC chat that today would be the deadline for submissions, and since Qvaak has not submitted a haiku, we will have a new winner this year! But who will it be? First, let’s take a look at the contenders. Starting with Dothraki…

First, we have this entry from Zhalio:

Khal vezhven akka
laz drivo ki zisoshi
kash me vos villo.

The intended meaning is:

Even a great king
could succumb to a mere scratch
when his wisdom failed.

I don’t see how the last line works… It literally translates to “While he isn’t wise”. I would have used arrek for “when” rather than kash, but that would’ve exceeded the syllable count. I think kash could work in this way. Nevertheless, a nice reference to the untimely death of the mighty Khal Drogo, felled by a zisosh (or, maybe, a maegi).

Next, we have an offering from first-time haiku submitter vaqari:

Javrath aranas
fansa zin fredrilates
yer chir chafaan

It’s tough to understand, but I think what’s being said is, “Drop the reins! Let the dapple continue to gallop! You will nearly be the wind!” If that was the intended meaning, first, punctuation would’ve helped, and second, though a little unorthodox, I would’ve recommended Yer achafoe. That kind of turns chaf into a verb, but I think it works. I’m trying to wrap my brain around whether or not this works, but I very much like the aesthetic.

Now for High Valyrian, the number of entries of which absolutely dwarf Dothraki this year. What happened?! A lot of people turned in themed haikus, or multi-part haikus. I’m still looking for the best one, though. Let’s see what we’ve got!

Starting with Danny, check out this poem:

Gevives aōhon
Iderēpta issa
Ābrar bē.

The intended meaning is:

The beauty of yours
It is chosen
By the people.

Close! It should be aōho (the genitive of the second person possessive pronoun aōhon), although this technically could work as a kind of “Oedipus the King” construction. That’d be more “The beauty yours”. So yes, you’re good there. The second line, though, should really just be a verb. The “to be” plus participle strategy really isn’t done in High Valyrian, though it remains a plausible strategy for languages descended from High Valyrian. “It is chosen” can be done with a single verb form. Also, I know there are problems with the whole applicative thing. Let that lie; I’ll take care of it. I like your use of ābrar for “people” (it’d mean more “humanity” rather than “populace”), but I haven’t seen used for the reintroduced agent of a passive verb. That’d be new territory for High Valyrian. Innovative, though!

Next, let me turn my attention to what I’m calling Zhalio‘s Fig Cycle. For those unfamiliar, I gave a talk at Google where I talked quite a bit about dried figs, for which there is a word in Dothraki (kemis). For the record, I spent a year in my youth in Fresno, where my step-grandmother and step-grandfather owned a house on which were kept many, many fig trees. The smell of rotting figs is…unmistakable. So is the joy of not having to ever eat figs. What an ugly word: fig. It’s like “pig” plus some dirty word that starts with “f”… Anyway, playing on the theme of figs (the word, for which, in High Valyrian is rōbir—one of the earliest High Valyrian words, oddly enough), Zhalio produced this brilliant quartet of haikus:

yne sȳngus daor,

Relgot ñuhot
Dārenka jeme
ynot kessi.

Dōnykton ynot

«Sparos», limā,
«Rōbir angotas?»
— Nyke gōntan.

His fanciful English translations are even better than their comparatively spare High Valyrian counterparts:

Your unsightliness
Doth nothing to deter me,
O figs, fruit of gods!

Upon my palate
adorned in kingly splendor
you shall seem to me.

Hard-won victory
How much sweeter is your taste
Than all the world’s figs.

«Who», I hear thee wail,
«did bite this fig, mine by rights?»
— ‘Twas no-one but I.

Honestly, I don’t even know what to say. This transcends brilliance. There is a word for “ugliness” in High Valyrian, but Zhalio‘s use of qringevives I think adequately expresses the ambivalence a fig lover must have upon viewing the mawan that is a fig. Gevives (the High Valyrian challenge word) means “beautiful”, and qrin- is a kind of pejorative prefix. It doesn’t mean “un-” precisely, it’s more like “mis-” in “misinformation”. Very well chosen. Also, I love sȳngus supposedly from sȳngagon, which isn’t a word. I may add it as a backformation. The word for “royal” is actually dārōñe, but everyone would understand dārenka. There is a verb for “seem”, but the translation you chose works well. Masterful use of the instrumental collective of “fig”. I knew that case/number combination would come in handy one day. And finally your use of the independent pronoun in the nominative in the last sentence of the last haiku in conjunction with the regular conjugation of gaomagon was marvelous. Very well done! Truly better than figs!

Zhalio also gave us this non-fig-based haiku:

Valar iāris
hae jesot jelmiot
keso glaeso.

The fanciful translation is below:

All men must needs fly
like dust in the fickle winds
of this vengeful life.

In this case, though, I like the Valyrian better. Much sparser; to the point. Very nice poem. I also really like the use of the verb iāragon. Nice job!

Moving on to Joel W‘s submission, first we have:


Which is:

continue to see ourselves
in all beauty

I think the English translation of this one is clumsier than the Valyrian, which is good. I also like how “in all beauty” was put at the end; it’s a better capper for the poem than the verb. Very nice poem! Here’s the next:

The next is a cycle of poems called Zaldrīzero bē, “On Dragonkind”. Here they are:

Zaldrīzero bē

iā perzenka;
skorion issa?

Gīmin daor
Kostilus lantra
iā daorun

Yn otāpan
lo mirre drēje;

And here is the intended meaning:

Like flesh
or like fire;
which is it?

I don’t know
Perhaps both
or neither

But I think
if either is true:
what great beauty!

This is a great idea, but there are a few problems here and there. The first is the first verb should be gīmion (subjunctive), and the second is that I swear there’s a “to be” verb missing in the second half. Maybe it could work? The meaning would be “Perhaps both or none”, though. I think that works. The same is true of the next sentence, with a missing “to be”. In truth, the haiku format is simply unsuited to High Valyrian; it’s not as economical as Japanese. There are no null copulas in High Valyrian, so sometimes you just have to go without, and the result is a little clunky. I really like your use of the vocative in the last line, though! I’m not sure if that’s something I’ve done before (i.e. “what a x” or “such a x”, but I like it! I may add that to the official grammar. I like the first of these haikus the best. I think it works the best as a haiku and works the best grammatically. Excellent job!

To close, let’s look at Papaya‘s 12 (yes, 12) haikus. The first four were presented in a group, though they’re not thematically linked. Nevertheless, I will present them together, to make things easier on myself:

bantī gevives
jēdro gō.

Iosr’ issa
se sōnar māzis.
Skoriot ilā?


Se pikīptan
Raqan lī tembī
Se geviar udra.

The meanings are:

Your eyes,
beauty in the night
under the sky.

It’s cold
and winter is coming.
Where are you?

We fought
We were victorious.

And I read
The pages I love
And beautiful words.

Some notes: As Papaya realized, the fourth poem breaks the mora count, because what was initially lua should indeed have been . All good, though! The first and third are my favorite. I like how simple the third one is. It just takes an idea and expresses it. Very nice! By the way, after you had composed this poem—and for a totally unrelated reason—I created a new word: ēbrion. It refers to the sky specifically at night. Of course, ēbrio gō still works!

Up next is an epic eight haiku cycle called Embro gō, “Under the Sea”. Here they are:

Embro gō

Embar kesor
Dekossa rizmot

Embār glaeson
Dōnon ynot

Vestris hae
Dōnot averoti
S’ynot morghon

Tolmiot jagon
Se morghūljagon.
Kesir jaelan.

Kirine iksan
Yn iosre tolī
Embro gō

Yn skoriot iksan?
Kempr’ iēdro gō
Gīmion daor

Yn sparos iksan?
Zōbrȳr embro
Gō nyk’ ilan

Ñuhor lōgor
Ojūdan embrot
se qrimbughen.

And here are the intended meanings:

This sea
Kisses my feet
In the sand

Like silver
A life in the sea
Would be sweet for me.

It seems like
Sweet grapes
And death to me

To go far
And to die.
That’s my wish.

I’m happy
Although too cold
Under the sea

But where am I?
Under this heavy sea,
I don’t know

And who am I?
I lie
Under this dark sea.

I lost
my ship in the sea
And I sink/drown.

Wow. Stunning. Unless I’m missing something, these are flawless. A lot of nice choices made here. Some of the elisions are a little rough (in the sixth poem in particular), but they work! Excellent job.

And now the heavy burden falls to me to choose two winners. As I said before, from now on there’s going to be one winner for Dothraki, and one for High Valyrian. Competition was, uh, niqe for High Valyrian; not so much for Dothraki. First, then, I shall award the Mawizzi Virzeth—the Red Rabbit—given to the annual winner of the Dothraki Haiku Competition. This year’s winner is Zhalio!

Red Rabbit 2015 Winner Zhalio

Hajas, zhey Zhalio!

And now announcing a new award: The coveted Golden Owl (Āeksio Atroksia), given to the annual winner of the High Valyrian Haiku Competition. This year’s winner of the Golden Owl is Papaya, for his second haiku from the “Under the Sea” series!


Rijes aōt, Papayus!

It was tough to choose a winner for the High Valyrian side, but I thought that haiku of Papaya‘s was perfect, even apart from the greater context.

Fantastic work this year! Perhaps some of these may end up in the Game of Thrones Compendium? Here’s hoping!

(Note: I’ll still do recordings, but I’ll have to do them later today and add them. No time!)

Asshekhqoyi Anni Save…Save…Save!

Today is my birthday once again; I’m now 34 years old. Since there are no snappy songs associated with the number 34, I think it’s about time for me to stop announcing my age… (Well, except Charles Barkley’s number was 34 on the Suns). I received a nice gift from a fellow conlanger, Andrew Gerber, whose tales from Mongolia helped to inspire a number of Dothraki terms (including the separate words for wet and dried animal dung!). He sent me a card he wrote in Dothraki…

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

…and in Mongolian:

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Click to enlarge.

Veteran Dothraki speakers might spot a few errors in the first message, but give him a break! He’s still learning. I thought it was pretty good! As for the Mongolian, I have a hard time even pronouncing it (Mongolian’s use of Cyrillic is…unique). Wildly impressed how fluent he became in three years in Mongolia with the Peace Corps!

Now to business. It is time for this year’s Dothraki haiku competition. This year I’ve decided to throw a twist into it. We will have the haiku competition in Dothraki, as usual, where the prize will be the coveted Red Rabbit (Mawizzi Virzeth), won all three years by the amazing Qvaak. Will this be the first year he’s dethroned?! Be interesting to see if we get any from Living Language Dothraki users this year! (Though it’ll be understandable if there aren’t any: It’s only been out about three months.) Anyway, that competition will run per usual (rules at the end of this post). What I’m adding this year is an official High Valyrian haiku competition. It will not be for the Red Rabbit, but for some separate prize of my choosing (I haven’t decided yet). This way the different languages won’t be in competition. There will be separate rules for the Valyrian entries, so pay attention to those at the end. Feel free to submit one of each.

But before all that, here are my haikus for the year. First, Dothraki:

Lajaki laqi
Achrakh ozokhi she yash
Glas rayim rissa.

Words that may not be available in there: yash is “air”; ozokh is the corpse of an animal; and rayim is like ray, but also passive. Now for High Valyrian:

Hūro gō
Tubī kȳvana

A new word here is kȳvanon, which means “plan” or “strategy”. (And I think tubī works for the meaning I intend. Don’t you judge me! It’s my birthday!)

All right, this year’s challenge words are niqe, “stiff”, for Dothraki (take note of the rules regarding epenthetic vowels below) and gevives, “beauty”, for High Valyrian. Now here are the rules, reposted from years prior:


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, go for it, but I will weight exact syllable counts more highly..

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. If you can’t do the poem using mora, do it with syllables, but I’ll weight those done with mora more highly. 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!


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

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

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Click to enlarge.

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

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

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Click to enlarge.

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

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

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Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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Click to enlarge.

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

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

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Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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Click to enlarge.

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

The Treasure of the Wastes

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

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

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

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

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

ōrbar ñuqīr

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

This is another good one from Zhalio:

Gō ropatas
Valyria, yn vēzos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, enough Valyrian. On to the Dothraki!

Let’s start with Hrakkar’s:

Me zheanalat
Chaf hol she mae noreth
Me davra hrazef

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

Here’s The Majesty’s submission:

Athkisar notat
Lirof mra lekhofaan
Noreth nem jesa

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

Next we have Zhalio’s entry:

Vezh ahajana
Vosma mra noreth anni
Ale ayena.

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

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

First, it begins with this:

Mra qevir noreth
fenoe hatifaan;
azho qosari.

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

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

Mas athasari

tolorro mahrazhoa

finis adakh me.

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

Here’s my rendition of it:

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

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

The Red Rabbit, 2014, awarded to Qvaak!

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

Asshekhqoyi Anni Save…Save

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

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

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

Vezh chak karlina
Ma frakhoki vash kashi
Eya kishoon.

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

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

And here are the rules, reposted from last year:


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

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

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

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

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

Shieraki gori ha yerea! Fonas chek!

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