UPDATE: It appears that all comments are being moderated, for some reason (it’s usually just new commenters that get moderated). I’m not sure why that’s happening, but I’m looking into it. As long as your comment gets into the moderation queue within a week that counts for the contest.
Another year, and another season in the books! The finale happened yesterday, there are a number of important characters who are now dead, and I’ve got a book to give away (more details on that at the end of this post!), but I first want to talk about something that happened in episode 509.
With the Sons of the Harpy closing in around her, Daenerys’s goose looked cooked, until Drogon showed up from the sky and started blasting everybody. With Drogon getting hurt (poor dragon!), Dany mounted Drogon’s back and told him, “Fly!”, and then she took off. At least, that’s what I heard when I saw it, and I didn’t question it. Later on I started hearing from people that she said something different, which I thought was weird, because it sounded and looked like “fly” to me. I dismissed it, until I saw something extremely bizarre: In the closed captioning, the word “VALAHD” had been added, as shown below:
I found this utterly baffling for a number of reasons. For starters, she obviously does not say “valahd”, unless it’s a French word with a silent “d” (I have accepted that she does say something “v”-like at the very least, even though I didn’t catch it in my initial viewing). Second, “valahd” is not only not a word of High Valyrian, it’s not a word in anything (or so I thought, though more on this later). It looks like gibberish and its inclusion confounded me—especially as I had some behind-the-scenes information about this scene.
Initially, I had translated the High Valyrian command “fly” for this scene, and that’s what was in the materials I sent off (the word is Sōvēs!, which you can hear in my official recording here—and, in fact, it already appeared in the series in episode 310, albeit in the plural: sōvētēs). This wasn’t a pick-up line or something added in ADR: It was a part of the script whose translations I sent off last August. For whatever reason, though, that line didn’t make it into the recording that day, and what Emilia Clarke did say was “Fly!” in English. (It happens sometimes: Scenes get busy, lots of activity, sometimes a word gets forgotten and that take turns out the best, etc.)
Many months later when they were doing ADR for that scene, they decided to try to add the High Valyrian back in. I sent the post-production folks the original line and MP3, but there was a problem: Dany’s mouth didn’t match the word sōvēs, as what she said was English “Fly!” They asked me for something shorter, so I offered Jās!, High Valyrian for “Go!”, and they said they’d try it.
Anyway, I guess that didn’t work, so we got “valahd”, and I was wondering where the heck it came from—until I found it.
Dothraki has about 4,000 words, many of which are quite obscure and would never make it into a scene (nhizokh, “raven plumage”? I mean, maybe…?). I’ve probably forgotten over half the words I created—especially as I haven’t translated into it recently. I was looking through the dictionary, though, and came across an entry I’d forgotten: valad.
Valad is the word for “horizon” (among other things), but I came up with it initially when I was creating a bunch of horse commands for the Dothraki. The reason is that I wanted two different words for “giddyup”. We already have hosh or hosha, which is used to urge a horse on (usually when it’s already going), but then there’s this expression: Frakhas valad! That translates to “Touch the horizon!”, and it’s used at the outset of a journey. The interesting thing is the note I added to the end of the definition, which is “often just valad“. And that makes sense: You typically don’t speak in full sentences to horses when you’re riding. Valad! is a much better horse command than Frakhas valad! But yeah, basically it’s just a word that urges the horse to get going.
Back to our “valahd”, here’s what I think happened. Everyone on the production has access to all my materials. I think they just went through and found something that fit Emilia’s mouth movements that seemed like it was close to the original meaning. And hey, if the Dothraki rode dragons, I could imagine them using Valad! to urge them to take off. And it is pretty close to “Fly!”, aside from the final d. So overall, pretty good!
Some open questions, though: Why the “h”? I’m guessing since this didn’t come from me directly, someone was trying to sound it out and spelled it that way? Works for English speakers! Why Dothraki, though, instead of Valyrian? I think it was because of the similar meanings and the mouth movements. True, the dragons are supposed to only understand High Valyrian, but I mean Drogon probably got the gist of it. Plus, he’s named after famous Dothraki speaker Khal Drogo, so maybe he’s got a little Dothraki in him. He’s probably heard Dothraki a bunch growing up, too. And what better reason to switch to Dothraki than when riding a dragon like a horse? I’m still confused as to why the closed captioning was even added. Is that usually done with the languages? Wouldn’t the subtitle that’s already there convey well enough what’s being said? Was it for foreign audiences…? I don’t know—there’s a lot I don’t know about that process. Either way, our “valahd” appears to be Dothraki valad, and it works, in context, so all’s well that ends well.
Regarding the finale, I did want to make one Valyrian note. For this episode I got to translate one of my favorite exchanges, and I wanted to show you how it worked. When Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm, Jorah and Daario are left awkwardly in charge of Meereen (I loved this scene. They’re all sitting there like, “So…”), Missandei begins saying something in Valyrian and fumbles over what to call Tyrion. This is because she knows what she would say, but feels awkward calling him krubo, “dwarf”, as he’s standing right there. She ends up calling him byka vala, which literally translates to “little man”. Tyrion jumps in and helps her out, though, saying the following:
- Krubo. Nyke pāsan kesor udir drējor issa? Munna, nya Valyrio mirrī pungilla issa.
- “Dwarf. I believe that’s the word? Apologies, my Valyrian is a bit nostril.”
You know I love translating intentionally ungrammatical stuff. A better translation of the above would be “Dwarf. I do believe that is the correct word? Sorrows, my Valyrian is a little nostril.” Missandei then corrects him with:
- Mirrī puñila.
- “A little rusty.”
The English dialogue above is exactly as it was written, so I got the chance to create this near-miss. I started with “nostril”, which is actually formed from the word pungos, “nose”, via a suffix associated with byproducts. After that it was a matter of creating a word that had a pronunciation that was kind of close to that. What I came up with was the adjective puñila, which means “worn” or “weather-beaten”—and also, when used in conjunction with a skill or a language, “rusty”. I figured this would be a good pair for a non-native speaker to confuse. First, a double ll vs. a single l would be tough for a speaker who isn’t used to doubling consonants. Second, ñ is a non-English nasal consonant somewhere in the vicinity of the nasal you get when pronouncing ng. Although ñ will just come out as n before i in casual speech, it would be taught as something different from plain n, meaning that it would be remembered by a second language learner as something different from plain n—thus giving rise to the possible confusion, in this context, between puñila and pungilla.
So, I found that fun! Thank you for indulging. I love doing stuff like this, so I was delighted when I saw it in the script!
Posts here have been infrequent, I know, but I have been busy! Today I’m happy to announce the launch of my new website ArtofLanguageInvention.com. I’ll still have posts to add here, but I’m moving full speed ahead as I’m preparing to promote my new book The Art of Language Invention, which you can preorder now. As a part of that promotion, I would like to give away to a lucky commenter here a galley copy of The Art of Language Invention. Can we get a shot of those galleys?
There we are! A bunch of galleys being lorded over by little Roman, my feisty feline!
Now, as this is a galley, it isn’t a final copy of the book, but that makes it quite unique. I’ll sign the book and write something in Dothraki or Valyrian and mail it off to you for you to keep! All you need to do is leave a comment below (if you can’t think of something to write, tell me your favorite flavor of ice cream or sorbet). Leaving multiple comments doesn’t count as multiple entries, so I’ll choose one random commenter among each unique commenter and contact them. In order to be eligible, you have to leave at least one comment here that wouldn’t get screened out via my usual screening methods (so nothing offensive, no rants, etc.), and, if you win, you have to be willing to send me a mailing address. The deadline is one week from today. Otherwise, that’s it! Thanks for reading, and geros ilas!
M’athchomaroon! We’re eight episodes into season 5 of Game of Thrones, and if you watched last night’s episode, you saw, among other things, a giant named Wun Wun—who spoke! For those wondering, yes, his utterances were linguistic (or were close, anyway), and, yes, I did create a language for the giants, though that’s all you’ll hear of it this season. In this post, I’ll give you a little background on it, but not much (I will explain why, though).
For readers of the book series, one question probably comes to mind first: Is this the Old Tongue? The answer: Kind of. I think George R. R. Martin explains it best himself (and these are words we should keep in mind throughout this post):
The giants are not literate, and, truth be told, are not all that bright either. They do speak the Old Tongue, after a fashion, but not well.
Given these marching orders, I crafted a language for the giants that fit the bill—not the Old Tongue, but Mag Nuk: The Great Tongue.
We know very little about the Old Tongue, and I was not tasked with creating it, in its purest form, so I devised a kind of rubric for deriving Mag Nuk from the Old Tongue, if it existed. The result is a pidgin, in one sense of the word. In this case, though, it’s not a pidgin because it hasn’t been spoken for very long, or because it’s a mixture of other languages: It’s a pidgin because it’s not a full language, and is not entirely consistent at any point. It’s a system of communication used by a race of creatures that simply don’t have the mental capacity of an ordinary human being, so they really took a bat to the Old Tongue.
Because I haven’t actually created the Old Tongue and we don’t know if we’ll see it in future books (or to what extent), I want to release very little about the language. I want to have as much latitude in reshaping Mag Nuk, should it be necessary, and that’s easiest to do if I keep things in house. Frankly, I think it’d be great to actually create the Old Tongue and hear it on screen, but given where we are in the story, I simply have no idea if it would even make sense. Dave and Dan might, but they haven’t told me anything about it. We’ll have to wait for more books or more seasons of the show to come out to know.
Some of the things I did with the language, though, I’ll tell you here. For example, whatever systems the Old Tongue had (noun declension, pluralization, verb tense, etc.), all of them are gone in Mag Nuk. Furthermore, all polysyllabic words have been cut down to a single syllable. In addition, the phonology of the language has been simplified. To give you one example that we can be fairly sure of, we know that skagos is “rock” in the Old Tongue. The Mag Nuk version is skag.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the line from last night’s episode as written, and then afterwards we’ll talk about what was actually said (coarse language incoming):
- Lokh doys bar thol kif rukh?
- “The fuck you looking at?”
(Oh, and for pronunciation, vowels are o [ɔ]; a [æ], unless it’s before r, in which case it’s [ɑ]; i [ɪ]; u [ǝ]. Then for the few consonants that might be confused, kh [x]; r [ɹ]; th [θ].)
Okay! Each of these words has an etymology, and I will list them, if you promise to treat this information as provisional! It may need to be revised at some future date if more Old Tongue words are revealed that somehow make the etymologies impossible. I’ll fix it so that the spoken Mag Nuk line will work, but I make no promises for the etymologies. Below is a word-for-word gloss of the line, and below that an Old Tongue correspondence for each word:
- Lokh doys bar thol kif rukh?
- Who/what fuck/shit you sit look it/him?
- Lokh doysen bar thol kifos rukh?
You can probably figure out what I was doing grammatically there. Doys was supposed to be a general curse word (could mean anything), and lokh a general question word. The order is SVO, given the lack of inflection, but that’s not necessarily the order of the Old Tongue. The precise meanings of each of the Old Tongue words I’ll leave for later, but I did intend for the pronouns at least to hold up. We’ll see, though!
Anyway, if you go back and watch the episode, though, it’s pretty obvious that what Wun Wun says is three syllables long. What I believe (or would like to say I believe) I heard is the following:
- Lokh kif rukh?
- Who/what look it/him?
- Lokh kifos rukh?
If that’s the case, I have to say, I’m pretty pleased. I think it’s actually more simple—more giant-like—than what I originally had, which is in keeping with the spirit of how George R. R. Martin described the giants’ use of the Old Tongue. It’s even less language-y than my sentence, but there’s still some meaning you can recover from it. The important bits are there. Plus, the whole point of the thing is that it’s not consistent. This is inconsistent with what I’d written, but in a good way (i.e. the three most important bits are there). So, right on!
That’s the long and short of it. We’ll have to wait and see if the language is used in any form in the future. For now, though, I like what it added to this episode. I also liked Wun Wun’s “Tormund”. Be cool to see the giants totally whaling on things at some point in time in the future of the series if there’s some truly epic Lord of the Rings-style battle-to-end-all-battles (and though we don’t have all the books, I think it’s fair to speculate that there might be before it’s all over).
Thanks for reading! Also, though I’ve announced it elsewhere, I did want to mention here that my next book The Art of Language Invention will be coming out September 29th! It’s available for preorder right now, and you can preorder the book here.