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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
|Football (specifically)||firi chenoven|
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!
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:
|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:
|Arrive at…||Jado she…|
|Arriving at…||Shafka jadoe she…|
|Enter roundabout.||Emra osfir.|
|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:
|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:
|Board ferry.||Emra rhaggat eveth.|
|Leave ferry.||Esemrasa rhaggat eveth.|
|At roundabout||she osfir|
|Exit roundabout.||Esemrasa osfir.|
|To via point||eleisosakhaan|
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:
|One quarter mile||irvosa|
|One half mile||chetira|
|Three quarters of a mile||sen irvosa|
|And a quarter||ma saccheya|
|And a half||ma sachi|
|And three quarters||ma sen saccheya|
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:
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!
So it turned out to be more than a few days, but I’ve finally finished coining new Dothraki words based on the names of those who asked questions during my Dothraki presentation at WorldCon 2011. It involved me reviewing the history of boot, and making and coining dozens of unrelated words, but I’m all finished, so here they are (note: if I’ve spelled your name wrong, or you’d like to give me your last name and/or website to link to, tweet at me here):
- Key: Name – Dothraki Word (part of speech) definition.
- Dave – dave (animate noun) rosemary bush (also an adjective meaning “pungent”).
- There’s already a stem dev (based on my name!), so I went with the spelling, even though it’s pronounced nothing like “Dave” in English. The inspiration for this word came when I was sitting at my computer trying to come up with words and my wife said, “Dave, can you get me some rosemary from the bush outside?”
- Dan – dan (inanimate noun) ford (i.e. a place where you can cross a river comfortably on horseback).
- There was already a word based on the stem dan, so I just had to coin a homonym (not much else you can do with “Dan”!).
- Ryan – rayan (inanimate noun) summit, top, plateau (mainly geological).
- The stress shifts to the final syllable, of course, but that just makes the word sound more epic, in my opinion.
Jon (or perhaps John…?)John – jon (adjective) closed, shut, sealed (refers to a seal on a container or something that fits tightly).
- My friend Jon already claimed the root jan, which is used for jano, the word for “dog”, so I had to go with the spelling rather than the pronunciation here.
- Rick or Rich – rich (inanimate noun) a bubble or swelling of some kind.
- I got a lot of mileage out of this root, coining six related words from it.
- Perry – ferri (inanimate noun, class A, stem fer-) hemp (the material).
- Likely to be abundant in, at least, the southern half of Essos, hemp is a useful thing to make stuff out of. Regarding the form, older Dothraki *p became modern Dothraki f, and so the old word *perri has become modern ferri
- Sondra (or Sandra…?) – sondra (inanimate noun, class B) obsidian (or what the Valyrians and Westerosi call dragon glass).
- I was wondering what to do for this word, but your name looks so much like another pattern of words I’ve set up for precious gems and metals, this seemed like kismet. Oh, and by the way: if your name is spelled “Sandra” rather than “Sondra”, it’s not too late to change the word!
- Gene – jin (animate noun) goat (female).
- I know you’re male, Gene, but I needed a word for a female goat! This just seemed to fit. (Perhaps as consolation, there is another word jin which means “this”—probably one of the most commonly used words in Dothraki.)
- Mapu – mafo (animate noun) young goat, kid.
- A member of the Brotherhood Without Banners hailing from New Zealand! Note that the older form of this word was, in fact, *mapu, but due to regular sound changes, it is now mafo
- Sierra – siera (animate noun) nephew.
- Your full name would, in fact, be a licit form in Dothraki, but siera fits a previously-established pattern really, really well, so I dropped one of the rhotics.
- Janice – janise (animate noun) niece.
- As with siera, janise (with the -e pronounced at the end) fits a previously-established pattern very well, so I added it on the end.
Finally, there are three people I’d like to mention specially (and for whom I’ve coined words):
- Kim Raymoure – kim (animate noun) ancestor (also an adjective meaning [roughly] “original”).
- Kim came to all my panels at WorldCon (and the LCS workshop!), and helped to make my first foray into cons a pleasant one. (It’s so nice to see people in the audience who are interested and not scowling.) In addition to being generally cool, she’s written a book on Linear A, which is about as wild as wild gets.
- Tim Stoffel – tim (inanimate noun) boot.
- Tim—known as Hrakkar over at the Dothraki fora—really went above and beyond for my wife and me at WorldCon. We were staying at Circus Circus, which was quite far away from the convention center, and Tim offered to basically shuttle us back and forth the whole time. It saved us a lot of money and a lot of hassle. Tim is also a keeper of big cats, but since I (quite coincidentally) had already coined the Dothraki word for cat (havzi) after the name of his former liger (Hobbes), I felt another word was in order.
- Leigh Bardugo – lei (animate noun) ghost (also the adjective for “lost”, this is a term for an adult whose body is not burned, and, hence, is not able to ride into the Night Lands).
- Last, but certainly not least! Leigh bravely ventured forth during my presentation to read a dialogue with me, and did her best to power through an incredibly long Dothraki passage I sprung on her. She’s a good sport (a real lajak), and so I wanted to honor her with a nice, meaty word that will certainly enjoy use at some point in time. Ultimately, the word derives from *leɣi, which one might spell “leghi”, which contains all the letters for Leigh’s name, so she can always know that it was her name this word was coined from (thanks for passing along your card so I could get the spelling right!). (Update: Check out Leigh’s official site, and look out for her first novel, Shadow and Bone, coming June 5th, 2012!)
Thanks again to everyone who came out to the Dothraki presentation! If all goes well, I hope to be at future WorldCons, and to meet many more who are enthusiastic about language and want to talk conlanging.