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Tīkuni Zōbrī, Udra Zōbriar

Tonight’s linguistic recap will be short, since there was no Valyrian or Dothraki in episode 302: “Dark Wings, Dark Words.” Of course, I’ve gotten used to this kind of treatment at the hands of Vanessa Taylor… Hee, hee, just kidding. She had some good stuff for me in 204. And the way things work is that stuff always gets moved around after it’s written. I did, in fact, do quite a bit of work for episode 302, but all of it was moved to 301. I wasn’t sure if anything else would get moved to 302, but it looks like it’s been saved for later on.

Some quick comments on 302: Cersei’s line was a crowd favorite (re: Margaery’s dress), and the scene with the Queen of Thorns was wonderful. That scene was a favorite of mine from the books, and I was looking forward to it this season. It did not disappoint. Neither did Brienne fighting with Jaime! That was fun. I could watch that all day. Plus, in that armor, Gwendoline Christie looks like a tank! Truly formidable.

Anyway, since there wasn’t much to discuss language-wise in this episode, I thought I’d go back and fill in a little bit. I’ve been much busier this year than I was last year, and recently, much sicker, so I haven’t been able to do as much as I did in the past. There’s been a lot of discussion about the Astapori Valyrian, though, so I did want to see if I could help out a bit.

Something I thought might help for a start would be just listing the phonology of High Valyrian. This is what it looks like (I’m going to go ahead and use the romanization rather than IPA here):

Manner Place
Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stops p, b t, d j, lj k, g q  
Fricatives v s, z (th) gh (kh) h
Approximants r, rh, l      
Nasals m n ñ n*  

I’ll try to explain the fuzzy bits as simply as possible. First, if you go to the nasal row, the n with an asterisk next to it simply says that an n will naturally assimilate in place to a following velar or uvular consonant, but that there isn’t a separate velar or uvular nasal. Basically, this means that n works like you would expect it to, and that High Valyrian also has ñ as a separate consonant (and that’s a ñ just like in Spanish, which sounds a little like the “ni” in “onion”).

Next, you’ll see two digraphs in parentheses. These are sounds that aren’t native to High Valyrian, but which have been borrowed in (with greater or lesser success, depending on the speaker). Thus, Dothraki arakh gets borrowed in as arakh, but might get pronounced like arak or arah or maybe even aragh, depending on the speaker. From episode 301, if you hear anything that sounds like either kh or gh, it’s supposed to be gh (Dan’s accent is light on the voiced sounds. I noticed several z’s that sounded like s, a few g’s that sounded like k, and his gh often sounds like kh to my ear).

You’ll also see that three sounds don’t fit in one column and/or row: gh, v and j. These sounds vary in their production. So gh may be strongly velar for some speakers, or strongly uvular for others; the distinction isn’t phonemic. The other two sounds go between approximants and fricatives depending on the speaker and the environment. So v, for example, may sometimes sound like w, and j may sound like a Dothraki j, a Dothraki y or a Dothraki zh, depending on the speaker. In Astapori Valyrian, the j is pretty much always zh. (Oh, and as a side note, the digraph lj is used for the palatal lateral [ʎ]. It’s pretty much always a lateral, but I couldn’t manage the table otherwise.)

At the stage we’re at in the show and the books, though, High Valyrian isn’t spoken as a native language anymore: it’s always a learned second language. As a result, the pronunciation has changed from its purest form. It’s not necessarily important to know how precisely j was pronounced, but that the sound was j (the phoneme) in High Valyrian, if you follow.

Anyway, the vowels are a bit simpler:

Vowel Height Backness
Front Central Back
High ī, i ȳ, y   ū, u
Mid ē, e   ō, o
Low   ā, a

The first thing to note is that vowels with a macron over them (ī, ȳ, ū, ē, ō and ā) are long. Long vowels are held for twice as long as short vowels, and are quite common crosslinguistically (Arabic has them, Japanese, Hungarian, etc.). Words will be distinguished simply by their vowel length in High Valyrian. The vowel spelled y (and ȳ) is pronounced just like i, but with rounded lips (it’s the u in French tu). This sound may not be pronounced in modern High Valyrian (i.e. High Valyrian spoken by non-native speakers), and didn’t survive in all of the descendent languages. So, for example, the y in Daenerys is probably just pronounced like i (the way we pronounce it), even if in High Valyrian it would’ve been pronounced differently.

In looking at the Astapori Valyrian from 301, note that all long vowels have been lost—and most diphthongs (for example, an Unsullied is a Dovaogēdy in High Valyrian; in Astapori Valyrian, it’s Dovoghedhy). Oh, and since I brought it up, Astapori Valyrian dh is pronounced like the “th” in “this” or “the”. The sound doesn’t exist in High Valyrian.

I’m not sure how much this will help in decoding the Valyrian in 301, but hopefully it will help a little. Since most of it isn’t subtitled, I honestly can’t be sure what made it in and what didn’t (when it’s not subtitled, they feel much more free to cut words or sentences if it’s running long). I already heard from Dan that part of at least one of his sentences was cut, but I don’t know what episode he was talking about. Anyway, to work with something I know came through, here’s the last two lines from 301. First, Missandei:

  • Pindas skoverdi Dovoghedhi lis lerraski.
  • “She asks how many Unsullied are for sale.”

The word order should be much more familiar in Astapori Valyrian, as it’s lost the cases of High Valyrian, for the most part. It tends to stick to SVO word order. After that is Kraznys’ line:

  • Ivetra ji live Vesterozia kisa eva vaneqo.
  • “Tell the Westerosi whore she has until tomorrow.”

It was a tough choice, by the way, to go with the name “Westeros” in-universe. I mean, it’s pretty Englishy… I thought of coming up with my own term, but then I relented and decided to just keep it as is: the continent in the west is Westeros, and the continent in the east is Easteros—I mean Essos. Besides, it allowed me to change the w to v, which I thought was fun.

Hopefully this will help you decode what bits remain a bit more easily. Also, though High Valyrian has four genders, Astapori Valyrian just has the two, and in the singular, there are two definite articles: ji and vi.

Anyway, unless things got moved around majorly, there should be a good chunk of Astapori Valyrian next week. Stay tuned!

Geros ilas!

M’athchomaroon, Zhey Rhaesheser!

Athchomar chomakea! Welcome to the Dothraki language blog. Here I’ll discuss the Dothraki language, and things related to it. Posts here will likely be specific, and more or less direct responses to questions or comments posted by community members of Dothraki.org, or right here on the blog (or elsewhere [e.g. via e-mail (or in question form at various places I happen to be at)]). For a general introduction to the Dothraki language itself, I recommend heading over to the Dothraki Language Wiki hosted by Dothraki.org.

For new visitors, my name is David Peterson, and I created the Dothraki language for HBO’s Game of Thrones. For the time being, this will, more or less, be the place to get updates on the status of the language. Thanks for stopping by!

To get the ball rolling on the whole blog thing, I have a small announcement. Next week I’m going to be presenting one of the concurrent sessions at Concordia College‘s Faith, Reason & World Affairs Symposium. My session’s entitled “To Live a Wooden Life: The Art and Humanity of Language Creation” (for a short description, go here). I’ll be talking Dothraki and conlanging, so if you live in western Minnesota, or even eastern North Dakota, come on by! I’ll be glad to see you.

I’ll probably either be gearing up for the above symposium or at it for, like, a week, so in the interim, if you have topics you’d like me to address about Dothraki or something related to it, write a comment on this post, or head over to this subforum at the Dothraki forums and write it there. The only rule is that I will not be discussing anything specific about the upcoming season of Game of Thrones, or speculating about seasons beyond.

Oh, actually, one more thing. The show is a dramatization of a series of books which many people have read, but there are those who only know what’s happened in season 1 of the show (and many also who have read some but not all of the books). In the comments, I’d like to ask you to respect those who haven’t read ahead and don’t want future revelations spoiled. For those who know the series, there are a lot of big events which can be spoiled, but it’s always fun to come to them fresh, so let those revelations come in their due course for as many readers/watchers as possible.

That’s it for post #1! Thanks for reading.

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