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Book Announcement

I’m pleased to announce today that I have reached an agreement with Viking Penguin to write a book on how to invent a language called just that: How to Invent a Language. 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.

Elat k’Athivezhofari…

I’ve returned from SpaceCityCon, and had a bit to settle in here, so it’s time to start the year in Essosian conlanging. But first, I got a couple pictures of me with Jason Momoa (one below), who is, of course, awesome. The guy just absolutely loves life and is a ton of fun to be around—and he’s nice. He’s a good guy. If you get a chance, you should check out Road to Paloma, which he’s directing and starring in coming out this year (trailer here.

Me and Jason Momoa

Click to enlarge.

On my last blog post I got a request to translate “To boldly go where no man has gone before”—the old Star Trek slogan (the new one, of course, being “where no one has gone before”)—into High Valyrian. Seems like an odd pairing, but it is somewhat amusing for linguistic reasons. The whole “don’t split an infinitive” thing is one of those false rules that gets handed down from teacher to teacher, and the Star Trek motto is always held up as either an egregious example of the miscarriage of grammatical justice or as evidence that you can, in fact, split an infinitive. It is, of course, an example of the latter, with the whole “splitting infinitive” thing coming from the fact that you can’t “split” an infinitive in Latin, since it’s a single word. And Latin, of course, was George R. R. Martin’s inspiration for High Valyrian, in which you can also not split an infinitive, since it’s a single word. Consequently the translation won’t feature the same split that English does.

(Oh, and with my linguist’s hat on, I should say that “to x” isn’t actually an infinitive in English. The bare form of the verb is the infinitive. If you use it by itself, it has to be preceded by “to”, but you see the actual bare infinitive elsewhere—for example, after “will”, where you say “I will go with you”, and not “I will to go with you”. But that’s splitting hairs. [Ha. Split.])

Anyway, there were a couple of attempts to translate the phrase in the comments, but it’s missing some key vocabulary, so let me go through and do this, since it seems like fun.

Let’s start with the easy part. The “to go” part is going to be jagon, and it’ll be the last word in the sentence, so we can file that away and focus on the rest. There is no subject, which is handy, so let’s deal with the first modifier on jagon, which is “boldly”. In English, “bold” is pretty much a gentlemanly word for “brave”, so let’s stick with “brave”, which is nēdenka, in the nominative lunar singular (it’s an adjective). To turn that it into an adverb, you have to know the adjective class. Nēdenka is a Class I adjective, which means that it takes a suffix -irī to become an adverb. Thus we can change nēdenka to nēdenkirī and get nēdenkirī jagon. We can pop that bad boy at the end of the sentence and we’ve got the business part of the sentence done.

Now for the troublesome bit: Where no man has gone before. Again, let’s start with the easiest part. Since this is for a tattoo, I want to give you the option of saying “no man” or “no one”. This is a new clause of which the subject is “no man”, so we know that phrase will be in the nominative. To say no one, you’d say daorys, and that concludes that. To say “no man” specifically, you’d say dōre vala, but if you’d like to have a prolix gender neutral expression, you could say dōre issaros, which would be “no being”. Whichever one you like, though, you’re now done, because their citation forms happen to be the forms that are necessary for the function the “no man” bit plays in the clause.

For the verb, you’d use the perfect. In Low Valyrian you might use a different construction for “has gone” as opposed to “went”, but in High Valyrian the two are conflated. The form of the verb is istas, so the phrase becomes daorys istas (or dōre issaros istas or dōre vala istas), which is “no one went” or “no one has gone”.

Before getting to the clause-linking part, Mad Latinist conjectured that you might be able to use naejot to mean “before”, but Zhalio noted that this was unlikely, given its etymology. In this case, Zhalio was correct. You can use naejot to mean “before” for the meaning “in front of”, but you can’t use it for the temporal “before”. For that, in fact, you use . You might remember from such meanings as “underneath” and “below”. It also means “before” in the temporal sense. This is a part of a guiding metaphor High Valyrian employs where height is associated with time depth. Consequently, things that happen before the present are below the present, and things that happen after the present happen above it (tolī as an adverb or toliot as a postposition). The postposition can be used as a postposition or as an adverb (just as with naejot), and so the expression now has become daorys gō istas.

Now for the last bit. Mad Latinist used the relative adjective lua in his translation attempt, which is a good guess, but doesn’t work in this instance. Hopefully the difference can be explained succinctly using these three examples:

  • Skoriot istas?Where has he gone?”
  • Skoriot istas ūndan. “I saw where he went.
  • Istas luon lenton ūndan. “I saw the house where he went.

The difference here is that in the second you’re not really modifying “where” the way you’re modifying “house” in the third, if that makes sense. Think about something like, “I know who wrote Catch-22” and how it differs from “I know the guy who wrote Catch-22“. The first is a statement about a question (e.g. “Who wrote Catch-22?”), whereas the second is an actual assertion about someone you know (in fact, you’d use two different verbs in Spanish for this). That is, it brackets thus:

  • I know [who wrote Catch-22].
  • I know [the guy [who wrote Catch-22] ].

Hoping this makes sense. Consequently it’s not really a relative clause. Rather it’s a self-contained clause that is the object (or topic) of the matrix verb.


Back to our original translation request: To boldly go where no one has gone before. This is what we’ve got:

  • Skoriot daorys gō istas nēdenkirī jagon.

And there it is.

I suppose if you did want to mimic the so-called infinitive split, you could put nēdenkirī in the front (something like “Boldly where no one has gone before to go”), but I wouldn’t recommend it. And, of course, you can substitute dōre vala or dōre issaros for daorys if you so choose. So there you go, Monserrat Vargas! If you get a tattoo, please send us a picture.

Also, a couple general notes. I’ll have a big announcement later this month, but I did want to note that this year I’ll be working on the show Dominion on Syfy. No major info on that yet, but I’m working on an a posteriori language for the show (my first, though not as stringently a posteriori as a language like Brithenig or Wenedyk). It’s called Lishepus.

Otherwise, happy new year! Stay tuned for the yearly Dothraki Haiku Competition. It’s coming!

Season’s Bleatings

In the end, it was not close. Though my goat put up a valiant fight, there was to be one winner, and that winner was chosen decisively. With 42.86% of the vote, I present to you Winter Goat, 2013:

Winter Goat, 2013!

Winter Goat, 2013!

All hail Winter Goat, 2013!

This year’s Winter Goat is named Caspian, and is an actual goat, unlike Dorvi #3, Molly the sheep (my favorite [I know it's a sheep! But she's such a charming sheep! (Though I do admit it would be quite un-Dothraki to name a sheep Winter Goat...)]). The picture was taken by our own Hrakkar, and Caspian hails from Sierra Safari Zoo, where Hrakkar works (and I have visited). Caspian is a fine goat, and it gives me great pleasure to name him Winter Goat, 2013!

And just what has Winter Goat shook from his hoary beard for all who would seek his frosty counsel? Why, it’s an azho for our Valyrian friends! I have to present to you the 207 word Swadesh list in High Valyrian. Merry Goatmas! Here it is:

There isn’t as much information as there could be on this list, but it’s at least a good chunk of vocabulary—most of which hasn’t been released before today.

So as you venture forth today to bask in the glow of pine trees, candles, ducks and windows, take Winter Goat’s shaggy beard with you, and let his goatish presence engoaten each and every one of your wintry endeavors!

Also, if you plan to be in the Houston area next week, I will be at SpaceCityCon! I’ll be talking about the Game of Thrones languages, the Defiance languages, and about language creation in general. If you come, find me and give me a good bleating, and I shall rebleat you, in the spirit of the season.

Once again: Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerry Goatmas, one and all!

Dorvi Jada

Asp! Do you hear that? It’s the mighty rustling of Winter Goat’s shaggy shirane! Indeed, it’s time to select which goat will claim the title of “Winter Goat, 2013″! Rather than soliciting images this year, I’ve decided to re-enter the entries from last year, since ingsve’s goatish present from last year swept the competition aside at the last moment. Each entry will get a fair shake, so the votes from last year won’t be counted; the vote tallies will start anew. Here are the candidates for Winter Goat, 2013:

Let the voting commence!

Of course, I should also say something about not having blogged in several…months. It gets busy this time of year (summer and fall), and I’ve just been swamped. Plus, I’ve taken to answering a lot of conlang-related questions over on my Tumblr. It’s a bad habit, and I will try to do some posts here leading up to the season 4 premiere next year (where I’ll keep up my usual commentary).

If you’re going to be near Houston around New Year’s, I’ll be at SpaceCityCon. Come by and say hi!

This was just a short post, I know, but there will be at least one more coming this month. Geros ilas!

New Dothraki Script

Or, I suppose, a new English script, depending on how you look at it. Way back at the beginning of this year, long-time Dothraki lajak Qvaak put together a new script for writing Dothraki. Those who’ve followed the blog a while will remember Qvaak also put together another script for Dothraki that’s based heavily on the romanization system. That one was pretty cool, but this one is quite a bit different. Take a look.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Pretty wild, huh? The above is the text from one of Qvaak’s haikus, which says:

Krazaaj osti
m’oltoon sadevesha
os k’athhethkari.

The script itself is actually derived from the roman alphabet (as should be clear with some of those characters, at least), but letters have been enlarged and shrunk and arranged into glyphs (and then into word blocks) in clever ways. Essentially the way it works is the glyph is based around the vowel of the syllable in question (that’s the big boxy part). The initial consonant is put in the middle and the coda consonant is placed on the lower right. The extra lines are either giving you information about word groupings or punctuation, or they’re there for decoration (to get rid of the blank space).

To get a handle on the system, here are all the consonants:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Here are some ligatures for syllable that start with a consonant and approximant:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

And these are nasal ligatures:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

And now if you’d like a complete introduction to the system, this is Qvaak explaining exactly how it works:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Also, if you’re going to be in Southern California next week, I’m going to be doing a conlang workshop at WyrdCon. I’m also going to be on a panel with my colleagues from Syfy and Trion, Brian Alexander (writer for Defiance) and Trick Dempsey (creative lead for the Defiance game). Hope to see you there!

Valyrian Numerals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, geros ilas!

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