Blog Archives

Vaes Chafi

I’m back from Chicago and an excellent WorldCon. I’d never really been to Chicago before (just its airport), so this was my first trip to the city, and I have to say: I was mightily impressed. What a city! I didn’t manage to see a Cubs game or get to the lake shore (construction), but I did get to enjoy some great food (as below) and saw some magnificent buildings, which was enough to whet my appetite. Rarely do I visit a city I would like to visit again. Chicago is an exception.

A picture of pizza we had in Chicago.

Click to enlarge.

I was on three panels while I was there which were good (especially the last, which I expected to be the driest and least well attended. Turned out to be the opposite), and managed to get a dinner in with some of my conlanging friends. You can see our own Hrakkar in the picture below—taking a picture:

Tim Stoffel and Tim Smith.

Click to enlarge.

One of the highlights of the trip was the parties with the Brotherhood Without Banners. The BWB is a fan group of George R. R. Martin’s (named after the group from A Song of Ice and Fire), and they throw a series of killer parties at every WorldCon. Both George R. R. Martin and his wife Parris attended (as usual), but this year we also got to meet Ron Donachie, who played Rodrik Cassel in Game of Thrones—and had one of the most brutal death scenes I can remember ever seeing.

In addition, I got to meet (in some cases) and see again (in other cases) members of the Song of Ice and Fire Forum. (By the way, who made that beef jerky? It was outstanding!) Special shout out to the translator of the Polish edition of A Song of Ice and Fire Michał Jakuszewski, and also George R. R. Martin’s German agent Martin Fuchs and his daughter, with whom I had a nice discussion about books (and thanks to whom I’m now well into Jack Vance’s The Languages of Pao!).

I also got to hang out with one of my favorite people who is rapidly approaching the realm of literary superstardom, Leigh Bardugo (author of Shadow and Bone, and the inspiration for the Dothraki word lei), and met a new friend in author Nina Post (her books The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse and One Ghost Per Serving both came out this year, and she has another one coming out this fall!), of whom I got an outstanding picture shown below:

Another picture of my outstanding cat.

Click to enlarge.

Okay, that’s actually a picture of my cat and my wife’s arm. Apparently Nina doesn’t like pictures, so I shall respect her wishes. But I actually got a really outstanding picture of her. This happened. Me nem nesa.

While it was bittersweet to leave (oh, by the way, played a nice game of Ingenious with some folks from Minnesota while waiting for sushi!), on returning, I got something to console me: Football. And, no, I don’t mean soccer: I mean football. I’ve got two fantasy teams running this year (and a lack of production on the part of the Giants is hurting me, at present [halftime]), and this got me to thinking: How might one handle football terms in Dothraki? I kicked it around a bit and came up with a few:

English Dothraki
Ball firi
Down akkimikh
Extra Point ovvethikhi
Field Goal ovvethikh
Flag khiro
Football (specifically) firi chenoven
Game vilajerosh
Pass ovvethe
Pigskin kherqifo
Rush lana
Tackle nokito
Touchdown athjadozar
Yard rhaesof

Okay, I could probably keep going, but it might be more fun to see what others can come up with. Also, if you think you’ve got something better for some of the terms I’ve already coined, feel free! This is non-canon Dothraki, so anything goes! By the way, if you’re looking for my preseason Super Bowl prediction, I’m calling Eagles over Texans. I’m also predicting a very frustrating season for Raiders fans like me. (Some day…)

Update: Whoops! I miscopied. The word for “tackle” is nokito, not noko. This is a crucial difference—not merely morphology! My bad!

Finnaan Anha Dothrak?

So unlike MiniDisc, apparently turn-by-turn navigation systems aren’t going away any time soon (go figure). Thanks to our very own Hrakkar, though, we’ll soon have the option of getting turn-by-turn directions in Dothraki. Pretty wild, right?

So this is how it works. Hrakkar found a text file used by Garmin to translate its directions into various languages. All you need to do is translate the set phrases and provide audio, and voilà! It won’t translate street names (which is appropriate), or do them in the appropriate accent, but that would be a bit much to expect. Hrakkar got a jumpstart on translating the list of commands, and I helped him fill in the rest. The entire list of commands is presented below, with commentary:

English Dothraki
Proceed to highlighted route. Dothra osaan shovena.
Recalculating. Anha gachak mae ajjin.
Traffic ahead. Hrazefeser hatif shafki.
Continue on route. Vatteri dothralat she os.
Make a U-turn. Idiro.

Above, the word I used for “highlighted” (shoven, suffixed with -a above as it modifies a noun in a non-nominative case) basically means “smudged” or “marked”. It’s difficult to translate English’s “headline language” into Dothraki (the same is true of just about any inflectional language), so that something that renders quite simply in English (e.g. “Recalculating”) requires a full sentence in Dothraki (literally, “I’m figuring it out right now”). There’s no real word for “traffic” (and no concept for it), so I used hrazefeser, which is kind of like a herd of wild horses. Hrakkar gets credit for what I think is the most brilliant translation of the bunch: idiro, which, in this context, means “Make a U-turn”. Idirolat derives from the Dothraki word for “owl”, idiro. It literally means “to owl”, and implies that one has made a full 180° turn quite suddenly, as owls do with their heads. That’s basically what a U-turn is, so in this case Dothraki is more succinct than the English (that doesn’t happen often!).

Here’s the next batch:

English Dothraki
Destination ovvethikh
Via Point eleisosakh
Arrive at… Jado she…
Arriving at… Shafka jadoe she…
Enter roundabout. Emra osfir.
In she
Then majin
Turn noti
Take okki
Take ramp. Okki yathokh.

As you’ll note, we’re using the formal second person throughout (seems like the safest bet). The word for “destination” is just the word for “goal”, which comes from the word for “target”, which is why it’s related to the word for “fly” (ovethat). For “roundabout”, I went with “round road”, which seems close enough. I think it’s a happy accident that, at least for English speakers, you can pluck the word “sphere” right out of the word osfir. Should help one remember the word.

Regarding “in”, you’ll note that the word she is used, as opposed to mra, which means “in” or “inside”. This is because the word here is the English word “in”, and that brings us to a major translation issue in Doing this. The English word “in” could be used by Garmin in a number of ways—most likely in a sentence like, “Turn left in three miles”. There, it’s pretty clear that “in” doesn’t mean “inside”. Rather, it could almost be translated “after” (i.e. “Turn after three miles have passed”) or “at” (i.e. “Turn at the three mile mark from this point”), etc. In Dothraki, she is the most semantically empty locative preposition. As a result, it’s probably our best bet here, even if it doesn’t match up perfectly (and it helps that, in its basic form, she governs the nominative, which will prevent case problems, for which see below).

Here’s the next set:

English Dothraki
Ahead hatif shafki
Keep vatteri dothralat
Exit esemrasakh
Left sindarine
Right haje
Turn left. Noti sindarine.
Turn right. Noti haje.
On left she sindarinekh
On right she hajekh
Navigate off road. Hezhahi she osoon.
Navigate on road. Hezhahi she osaan.

I have absolutely no idea what “Navigate off road” or “Navigate on road” means, but I thought Hrakkar’s use of hezhahat was inspired, so I stuck with his translation. (Also, nice use of she with the allative and ablative!). There is no adverb “ahead” that’s used just like the English word, so hatif shafki means “in front of you”. And a word like “keep” just gives me fits (lousy analytical English!). I decided to translate it as “Keep riding”, reasoning that it’ll probably be used in expressions like “Keep right” or “Keep left”. Unfortunately, it won’t be translated quite right (I think a more appropriate translation for “Keep right” would be Vatteri dothralat she hajekh), but that’s on account of the fact that the basic language here is English. If the initial language had been anything else (say, Russian), it would have had more phrases to translate, rather than words. In English, the form of a word doesn’t change all that often (just pluralization on nouns and minimal verb tense), so you can separate them out and not worry about the context of surrounding words. Not so with Dothraki. As a result, some things will not be combined appropriately. I imagine the same would be true of a language like Russian if it were to translate the program using this script. So it goes.

Here’s the next group:

English Dothraki
Board ferry. Emra rhaggat eveth.
Leave ferry. Esemrasa rhaggat eveth.
At roundabout she osfir
Exit roundabout. Esemrasa osfir.
To destination ovvethikhaan
To via point eleisosakhaan
Feet qorraya
Yards rhaesof
Meters rhaesof Valiri

There isn’t, of course, a large nautical vocabulary in Dothraki: a boat is a boat is a boat is a water cart. For our measure words, I had to create some on the fly to serve. These aren’t to be used in-universe; they’re just for us. So the word for “feet” (or “foot”, as the singular and plural are the same) is qorraya, the Dothraki word for “forearm” (about as long as a foot). A yard, on the other hand, is a bit longer, and so it’s a rhaesof—not a larger foot, in this case, but a stride. And I’m mightily entertained by my word for “meter”, which is, essentially, “a Valyrian yard”. I think of “meters” as basically “British yards” (even though we got our measure from England initially), and so I thought, “What would the equivalent of ‘British’ be in Dothraki…?” I wanted to say Lhazareen, but that didn’t seem very fair to the British, so I went with Valyrian. You’ll see it again in the next group:

English Dothraki
One quarter mile irvosa
One half mile chetira
Three quarters of a mile sen irvosa
Mile karlina
And a quarter ma saccheya
Miles karlina
And a half ma sachi
And three quarters ma sen saccheya
Kilometer karlina Valiri
Kilometers karlina Valiri

And there’s our Valyrian miles (a.k.a. kilometers). There’s no word for “quarter” in Dothraki, so I borrowed over the word saccheya (derived from the word sachi, which means “half”) which actually means something like “part” or “division”. It could mean “half” in the right context, but more often it’s less than that, and conventionally I think it works well as “quarter”. As for the terms for miles and parts of miles (another rare instance where Dothraki proves more economical than English), you can read more about their etymologies in this blog post I did for CNN’s The Next List.

Finally, there are a bunch of numbers. It calls for the cardinal numbers 1 through 10 and also 100, and the ordinal numbers 1 through 9. There’s no call for ordinal 10 or 100, but since it’ll make a neater table, I’ll go ahead and include those too:

English Dothraki English Dothraki
One at First atak
Two akat Second akatak
Three sen Third senak
Four tor Fourth torak
Five mek Fifth mekak
Six zhinda Sixth zhindak
Seven fekh Seventh fekhak
Eight ori Eighth orik
Nine qazat Ninth qazatak
Ten thi Tenth thik
Hundred ken Hundredth kenak

And there you have it! I’m not quite sure what step lies between having this information translated and recorded and getting it onto your own Garmin, but I believe Hrakkar will provide us with that info in time (at which point this post will updated). If you happen to already know what to do, I’ve got audio of me reading all of the above which you can download here (right click on that. I thought about embedding the audio as I’ve done with previous posts, but there’d just be too much, and this page loads slow enough as it is). You can also get the text from above in a handy .txt file by clicking here. If you’d like to record your own version, send it my way and I’ll put it up here.

In other news, if you’re going to be at WorldCon in Chicago at the end of the month, I will be there. Come find me and test my on-the-fly Dothraki fluency! (Then prepare to be disappointed [though I’ve always been much more of a writer than a speaker, when it comes to second languages].) Until next time, fonas chek!

Modern Terminology

I’m back home from Albuquerque, and finally getting back into the swing of things. I don’t have any pictures of me presenting (I was presenting), but here’s an awesome picture of me with Sean Endymion from the University of Texas, San Antonio. He’s got “Valar Morghulis” and “Valar Dohaeris” tattoed on his arms:

Me and Sean Endymion.

Pretty cool! Now let’s take a look at some of the words coined for modern implements.

As ingsve rightly pointed out, I did, in fact, coin something for “train” in the New York Times article (forgot!). The coinage I came up with was zhav taoka, which is “metallic lizard” or “metal lizard”. Looking at it now, though, I think gezri taoka, “metallic serpent”, makes more sense. Hrakkar, though, came up with some really cool possibilities:

  • vezhtawaki “metal stallion”
  • vezhshiqethi “iron stallion”

Those are pretty cool! I think over time, vezhshiqethi would simplify to vezzhiqethi, making it even more cohesive. Another option would be vezh taoka. I think any of those would work. The difference between using tawak with the genitive and taoka (simply an adjective) is that tawaki might suggest “real” instead of “metal”, since, as an adjective, tawak means “real” or “authentic” (though the -i on the end should make it clear that it’s not an adjective).

As Hrakkar pointed out, trains and cars probably aren’t dissimilar enough to merit separate coinages. Using rhaggat, as ingsve suggested, would probably be what would happen (after all, we got our word “car” pretty much the same way). However, I would like to suggest (in honor of both Bob Marley and Hrakkar’s awesome neologisms) hrakkarshiqethi: an iron lion! (Hey, even if it doesn’t work for a general word for “car”, it could certainly be a brand of car.)

For airplane, ingsve suggested rhaggat asavva, “sky cart”, on analogy with rhaggat eveth, “water cart” (which is the word for “ship”). Hrakkar, yet again, busted out some awesome ones:

  • zirtawaki “metal bird”
  • vezhasavva “sky stallion”
  • sajasavva “sky steed”

I love all of those. “Sky stallion” just sounds awesome. From the Dothraki perspective, though, I kind of like sajasavva better (makes it feel like the pilot is more in control).

We also had a suggestion for a Klingon spaceship in a pretty kickass (and lengthy!) comment from LoghaD. After all, if the main warship of the Klingon is the bird of prey, it would certainly make sense to translate it directly as zirqoyi. I like it! As for how “Klingon” would render in Dothraki, my guess would be khlingan (based on the breathiness of the original affricate, which I think would take precedence over the stop). This would mean that there would be a hard g sound, but I find that more likely than the velar nasal becoming alveolar.

As we jump to cellphone, things do become quite a bit more abstract. The first is ingsve’s long-range compound vekhikh astokhhezhahan, which I would bracket this way:

  • [ vekhikh [ [ [ astokh ] hezhah ] -an ] ]

If you can follow that, the word is actually a tripartite compound (and, by the way, the way ingsve wrote this might serve to answer one of loghaD’s questions from the last post), rather than a two-word compound plus another word, and means “thing for far-speech”. If this were a real compound, the word vekhikh adds practically nothing, as far as semantics goes, so it would likely drop out, leaving astokhhezhahan. By projecting, I could see that being reduced phonologically to astokhezhahan and then astokhezhaan and then astokhezhan—and maybe even further to tokhezhan. It’s not monosyllabic like “cell”, but it’s close!

Hrakkar’s suggestion would need a little work. If the intended meaning is “something that converses intended for one’s hand”, I’d probably retranslate it as “thing for hand-conversation”. The word for “conversation” is vasterikh, so “hand-conversation” would be vasterikhqora or maybe vasterikh qora (the difference being where the stress would land). That’d give us vekhikh vasterikh qoran, and then vasterikh qoran, and maybe vasterikhoran—and then after that, maybe rikhoran. That could work!

While we’re on phone, ingsve also came up with a word for smart phone, specifically: vekhikhdavrakhan, i.e. “a thing for apps”. This was based on an interview I did somewhere where they asked me what a Dothraki translation for “app” would be. I said that an app is a “useful thing”, which I translated as davrakhan. Somehow, though, that became the word for app (unofficially officially). So, when ingsve got to “computer”, he added the augmentative suffix to the word for smartphone: vekhikhdavrakhanof. This is rather something to ponder. After all, there’s no question that the computer came first, but it does rather seem like computers and smartphones are getting closer and closer to one another (especially for us Apple users). I’ll bet there are probably young kids (or kids not yet born yet) who think (or will think) of computers as big iPhones, rather than iPhones as small computers! Wild.

Hrakkar’s suggestion was dirgakhtawaki, which is a “metal thinker”. I think I might prefer dirgak taoka (or dirgakhtaoka), but I can see the former working.

For “e-mail” and “text”, there were calls for more words, and, indeed, that’s probably in order. Hrakkar suggested asathmovezari, “words of magic”. I think the adjective would work better there, giving us asmove, “magic words”. But something that would probably make this a lot easier is the word assokh, which means “message” (also means “instruction”; comes from the same root as ase, “command”). The question then becomes, though, is it important to distinguish between text message and e-mail? It is in our world (so you don’t waste time checking your texts if someone’s sent you an e-mail, and vice-versa), but it may be hard to distinguish without more specific vocabulary having to do with “writing”.

Thanks for the comments, though! I had a lot of fun reading through them. Look for this to become a regular feature on the blog. I’ll have to think up a title for it, though, so we know what we’re talking about… Any suggestions?

Just for Fun

I’m currently in Albuquerque for SWTX PCA/ACA and getting ready to call it a night. Tomorrow, among other things, I’m going to talk about how Dothraki leads a kind of dual existence: One as a language in the extended Universe of Ice and Fire, and the other as a constructed language that exists in our world and can be used to the extent that its grammar and lexicon will allow. In our modern world, though, the lexicon created for the show isn’t as practical as it could be, so I thought it would be fun to try to coin some modern words from existing material. Here are some to try out:

  • airplane
  • train
  • car
  • (cell/tele)phone
  • computer
  • e-mail
  • text message

None of these words, of course, would enter the official lexicon of Dothraki (they’re not appropriate), but they might prove useful for using in other contexts. See what you can come up with! The online lexicon is here. If you need to use a word that isn’t available, just use the English word and I’ll see if I can fill in the blanks.

As a refresher, this is how compounds works.

First, sometimes a prolix expression can become a lexical entry. Consider “The President of the United States of America”. That’s a full noun phrase, but we understand it to be a single entity. You can do the same thing in Dothraki (consider Vezh fin Saja Rhaesheseres), in which case you don’t need anything but the grammatical information needed to form noun phrases.

If you want an actual compound word, there are three different types. The first is a noun-adjective compound. These work by combining any noun with any adjective to form a new noun. Starting with a noun in the nominative case, you add an adjective directly after the noun. If the combination results in a difficult consonant cluster, an e can be inserted after the noun for euphony. The resulting compound is an inanimate noun of Class A if it ends in a consonant; Class B if it ends in a vowel. Here’s an example based on Daenerys’s last name:

  • vaz “storm” + yol “born” = Vazyol “Stormborn”

Next come the noun-noun compounds, of which there are two types. The most common are combinations of a noun stem and a noun in the genitive (if possible). The meaning of a compound like this (if the two nouns are A and B) is “an A of/from B”. To form one of these compound nouns, take the first noun and strip it to its root. If the root ends in a vowel, the second noun is added afterwards. If it ends in a consonant, the second noun is still added, but the same euphony rule detailed above applies (i.e. an e is inserted if necessary). If the second noun ends in a vowel (regardless of what noun it used to be), the resultant compound will likely be an inanimate noun of Class B (sometimes it will be Class A). If it ends in a consonant, an -i is appended to the end of the new stem, and it becomes an inanimate noun of Class A. Here’s an example:

  • zir “bird” + qoy “blood” = zirqoyi “bird of prey, raptor”

The last type of noun-noun compound is the allative compound. Using our nouns A and B, an allative compound creates a word that means “an A (intended) for B”. To form it, the first noun is stripped down to its root, as with a genitival compound, and the second is added after it. If the second noun ends in a vowel, an -n is added to the end; if not, an -an is added to the end. Either way, the resultant compound is an inanimate noun of Class A. Here’s an example:

  • qemmo “cover” + tih “eye” = qemmotihan “eyelid”

One final note. Sometimes a resulting consonant cluster will not need an epenthetic e, but it will change in form. Specifically, when a stop consonant comes before another stop consonant, it becomes a fricative. Stops will become the fricative that’s closest to its place of articulation, sometimes devoicing if necessary. Here’s a chart showing which stops go to which fricatives:

  • t, d > th
  • ch > sh
  • j > zh
  • k, g, q > kh

Feel free to have fun with it! There are no right answers. I’ll have a conference update some time later in the week.

%d bloggers like this: