The time has come to call a close to this year’s Dothraki haiku competition. Nice job this year! Too good, in fact. It was really hard to choose a winner. I’d feel more conflicted if winning came with any sort of prize. Thank goodness it doesn’t!
I received eleven haiku, all intriguing. Since there were so many, I’m going to choose one from each author to discuss. First, from our newest Dothraki reader, Meghan, we have a haiku from which came the title for today’s post. Here it is:
Ez qoy asshekhi.
Which translates to:
The palomino gallops.
Found today’s blood.
Very, very nice! Meghan basically just started working with Dothraki, like, a few weeks ago, and already she’s putting together long strings of text—and using one of my favorite words (qahlan) that rarely sees the light of day. Athdavrazar, zhey Meghan! The best haiku paint a picture, and this one paints a good one.
Next we have a haiku from Hrakkar:
Fonat ma adakhalat
And the intended translation is:
The lions are ready
To hunt and to eat
This is close, but there are two issues (one my fault. Sorry!). Here the verb hethkat should be used, in which case it should be hethki not hethke. Next, though I gave everyone the adjective hethke, I never gave the verb, and never said how you’d say “ready to” or “ready for”. That’s my bad there. In fact, you say hethkat ki. So if you wanted to say “they’re ready to hunt and eat”, you’d say hethki k’athfonari ma k’athadakhari. Of course, the last three words would be way over seven syllables, so that wouldn’t work. I really like this idea, though. After all, the Dothraki Sea is a place where horses and lions roam. It stands to reason that the lions would hunt those horses the way lions in our world hunt zebras. That’d be pretty cool to witness.
Next we have a poem from ingsve:
“Hethkas she oakah” ma
“Hethkas she khado”.
And my attempt at a translation is:
The scouts’ motto
“Be ready in your soul” and
“Be ready in your body”.
Very clever! It took me forever to figure out what was intended by the first line, and I eventually needed to seek out ingsve’s help. Turns out he was using an off-brand word for “scout”. I’ve got tihak for “scout” (in the literal sense: someone who serves as a lookout), and I’d probably use that for the “boyscout” version of “scout”. Using oakah for this version of “mind” is interesting (I translated it as “soul”, but the original calls for the English word “mind”). Nice work!
Next is a haiku from Zhalio, which is brilliant:
Vo sanneyos vort
Zhavvorsoon fin nem azh.
And this is the translation:
Don’t count the teeth
Of the dragon that was given (you).
Say “thank you”.
In High Valyrian. Ha! I gathered he’d try to work that in, and he did it well. This is a great version of the English phrase “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, and works perfectly. I was also quite pleased to see the correct usage of the negative imperative. And, adding to its worth, I think it sounds better in Dothraki than any translation I can muster in English, which is just awesome. You can hear Zhalio reading it aloud here (brother got some bass in that voice! Nice reading!).
Alas, there can be only one winner, and this year, as with last year, our winner is Qvaak. He did it again. Here’s his winning haiku:
Rhaesh ath hethka.
Oqoe ven vash memof
And my translation:
The dry land is ready.
A great noise reverberates like a stampede
From the sky.
Worthy of Eliot. An initial draft of this poem had a grammar error, and when he fixed it, it called for a radical reorganization of the syntax of the second line. The result harkens back to the old days of Dothraki, with the verb in initial position. Furthermore, by putting memof, the subject of the sentence, at the end, there’s a curious type of enjambment (if that’s even the right term in this case) which allows one to read memof asavvasoon as a single noun phrase. In fact, memof is the subject, and the phrase asavvasoon modifies the verb phrase. Semantically, though, the great noise (memof) actually is coming from the sky (asavvasoon), so it’s still semantically felicitous. Just awesome. There’s been a decent amount of material written in Dothraki, but this may be the best thing ever composed. And for that, Qvaak has earned this year’s Mawizzi Virzeth: The Red Rabbit!
That’s two years in a row, zhey Qvaak! I think we’re going to need to start giving you a handicap of some kind…
Thanks so much to everyone who submitted haiku! It was a tough choice this year, and you did incredible work. I’m already looking forward to next year. I also think that (regarding the experiment) I’m going to keep the challenge word as optional only. If it were a requirement, we wouldn’t have seen some incredible haiku (e.g. Zhalio’s), and I wouldn’t want to inhibit that. So I’ll include a challenge word as a possibility to get folks jumpstarted, but it won’t be a requirement. Thanks again for the incredible work!
It’s been a year, and I’m now 32 years old. Among other things, this means I’m halfway to 64. It certainly has been a heck of a year, and I feel physically sound, so I can’t complain.
Enough about me, though. It’s time for the annual Dothraki haiku competition! Last year, Qvaak took home the coveted Mawizzi Virzeth: a prize which comes with no money, no reward, and next to no recognition. Who will take home the prize this year!
But first, in keeping with the semi-tradition I semi-started last year, here’s a haiku of my own:
Oleth rami hoshora
All of those words should be either available in the Dothraki.org dictionary or figure-out-able (if ramasar is a collection of plains, then ram would be…?). Post your translation in the comments, and we’ll see who can get it right first!
As for your haiku, I have an idea, but it is just an idea. For those who might have trouble coming up with a topic, I have a challenge/suggestion: In your haiku, use the word hethke, “tight” (adjective) or “ready, prepared” (adjective). If this works out well, I may start having a challenge word for all successive competitions, and only considering those with the challenge word for the prize. For this one, though, just try it out, and let me know if we should consider making this a permanent change. To repeat: The winning haiku for this year’s competition will not need to use the word hethke.
Otherwise, entries need to be in Dothraki, and I’ll call the competition when it looks like I’ve stopped receiving entries. Leave your entries in the comments, or e-mail them to me at “dave” at “dothraki” period “com”. Below are some instructions I wrote up for last year’s competition which I will repeat here verbatim. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment!
For the purposes of this contest, a haiku is 17 syllables long, with the syllable counts for each line being 5, 7 and 5, in that order. If you need to fudge, we’ll set up a separate category for haiku that are 17 syllables, but maybe don’t hit the right line numbers.
Also (and this is important), since this is Dothraki, we are definitely going by syllable count, not mora count. Regarding syllable-counting, in Dothraki, a syllable is defined as a vowel plus one or more consonants on either side. A syllable cannot contain more than one vowel, which means that a word like kishaan is trisyllabic, not disyllabic.
If it helps, you may or may not contract the various prepositions that contract. So, for example, mr’anha (two syllables) is the usual way of saying “inside me”. For your haiku, if you wish, you can separate the two out, i.e. mra anha (three syllables). You can also drop purely epenthetic e vowels (so the past tense of “crush”, kaffe, can be rendered as kaff’). Feel free to play with word order and drop pronouns, as needed, bearing in mind that such language is figurative, and the reader will still need to be able to figure out who’s doing what to whom.
Shieraki gori ha yerea! Fonas chek!
Update: Added audio for my haiku.
As a conlanger and orthography enthusiast, one of the things I like doing is figuring out how to write a language in a different script. In the past, I’ve created dozens of romanization systems for my conlangs (even alternate versions depending on whether Unicode is available), alternate orthographies for some of my languages using the scripts of other languages of mine, even alternate spelling systems for English. And all just for fun! This is the strange life I lead.
Recently I came across a couple sites that have been translating the English closed captioning for episodes of Game of Thrones that have aired so far into other languages. One of these sites is translating the English into Russian. From what I’ve seen, though, the Dothraki remains untransliterated (i.e. it remains written in Roman characters). Where’s the fun in that?
Here, then, is a suggestion for writing Dothraki using the Cyrillic alphabet. My Russian isn’t great, so take this with a grain of salt (and feel free to amend it or comment on it), but I think it works.
I should note that my primary experience with Cyrillic is in Russian, which I studied in college. I’m not very familiar with other Cyrillic systems (cyrillization systems? cyrillicization systems…?) used for the various languages of Eurasia, or how accessible a given character choice will be to the largest number of viewers. Since the original site I found was focusing on Russian, though, I’ve tended to go with what a Russian speaker would recognize over what a Mongolian, Serbian, Ukrainian, etc. speaker would recognize.
With those caveats out of the way, the table is presented below:
|Romanization||Cyrillic||Comment (If Any)|
|ch||ч||I actually like this better than using a digraph (which is necessary in English without resorting to accents or alien assignments).|
|e||э||I think this is the best solution to avoid the onglide of Russian “е”.|
|g||г||Always hard; never pronounced like English “h”.|
|h||х||See comment on “kh”. See alternative below.|
|j||дж||Funny: English and Russian are opposites here (cf. “ch”). See alternative below.|
|kh||х||I had two choices, really: Have “g” and “h” spelled with the same letter, or “h” and “kh”. I went with the latter, since “h” is closer to “kh” in sound, and pronouncing a word with “kh” with “h” (or vice versa) will be far less confusing than pronouncing a word with “g” with “h” (or vice versa). See alternative below.|
|q||к||I have no clever idea for this sound. I figure “к” is closest, so might as well use it (since we already have one confusion built in with “h” and “kh”). See alternative below.|
|sh||ш||Sound is actually closer to “щ”, but “ш” is a simpler character.|
|th||ц||Can I get away with this? The sounds are nothing alike, but the place of articulation is close! If not, it’d just have to be “т”, I guess (unless anyone still remembers “ѳ”).|
|w||ў||In all positions.|
|y||й||In all positions.|
|‘||‘||Or just leave it out entirely; it’s not important.|
And here are some common words:
- khal ~ хaл
- khaleesi ~ хaлээси
- arakh ~ aрaх
- vezhven ~ вэжвэн
- athchomar ~ aцчомaр
- jahak ~ джaхaк
- yeroon ~ йэроон
Based on some comments made on the original LiveJournal post by Owen Blacker, I’ve got some ideas for possible revisions to the system above:
- Apparently Serbian uses “ђ” for Dothraki j (or something very close to it), so that might be a nice alternative to the digraph (though I’m not sure if it comes standard on a Russian keyboard).
- Searching for a possible alternative for Dothraki q led me to one interesting solution. Some languages use “қ” for q, but apparently some of the Iranian languages have replaced that with the digraph “къ”, which I think is perfect! The little “b” character (ъ) is the “hard sign” in Russian’s orthography. It has a very specific use there, but since it doesn’t in Dothraki—and since it would be immediately recognizable to Russian speakers—the usual “к” glyph would be augmented to “къ” for q, making it seem like q is the “hard” version of k—and that’s not too far off!
- Cyrillic “һ” is a possibility for h (leaving “х” free to be kh), but I’m not sure how common it is. Another possibility presents itself, though. Since “г” is commonly used for [h] in Russian, it could become the new letter for h, and then “гъ” (or “hard г”) could become the way to write g. Kind of odd to think of writing g as a digraph, but it works!
Unfortunately, I’ve still found no satisfactory solution for th. It’s a tricky sound to handle in Cyrillic, because it used to exist in a lot of Slavic languages, but was eventually replaced by either [t] or [f]—with the character itself taking over to spell those new sounds. However, if we continue to spell it with “ц”, there’s an amusing little in joke. In Russian (and many other Slavic languages), this character is used for the affricate [ts]. In the episode where Irri is teaching Dany to speak Dothraki properly, Dany practices with the word athjahakar. When she gets it wrong, though, she pronounces it atsjakar. Thus, the Russian character to spell it—if pronounced as it would be in Russian—would lead one to mispronounce the beginning part of that word in the exact same way Dany mispronounces it. Ha!
Well, thanks for indulging me yet again. I hope your weekend has been spent in safety, and far away from the madness surrounding shopping centers around this time of year. Fonas chek!
In recent months there’s been some new interest from various quarters in Dothraki, so I thought what I’d do is write up a short post introducing you to some of the basic concepts behind Dothraki grammar and show you where to go for more detailed information. As such, this’ll be a good place to start if you’d like to learn how to read and write in Dothraki. (Note: You can get much of this information on a .pdf I wrote up which you can download here.)
Spelling and Pronunciation
Something I’ve neglected doing thus far on the blog is a post just on spelling and pronunciation. Oops! The spelling system is pretty much phonetic, though (i.e. each letter is pronounced the same way every time it appears), so it shouldn’t be too bad. For a quick rundown of each letter and digraph, go to the transcription section of the Dothraki Wiki.
If you’d like to perfect your pronunciation, I recommend clicking on the audio tag of this blog. That will bring up all the posts in which I’ve included a Dothraki recording. In addition, I’d like to recommend a few posts specifically that go over some trickier aspects of Dothraki pronunciation:
Of course, if you ever have a question about how something is pronounced, drop me a line! I like to practice, so I’m always happy to do recordings (though it may take me a while to get around to it).
|Second||Familiar||yer||you||yeri||you, you all|
|Formal||shafki||you||shafki||you, you all|
|Third||me||he, she, it, one||mori||they|
Some things to notice about the table above:
- Though most varieties of English don’t distinguish between “you” when addressing one person or “you” when addressing more than one, Dothraki does.
- Dothraki also distinguishes between familiar and formal address, much like Spanish or German or French. The formal pronoun shakfa, though, does not distinguish between singular and plural (the same pronoun is used for both).
- Dothraki makes no gender distinction. Thus, me serves for “he”, “she” or “it”—and is also the pronoun used in impersonal constructions (e.g. “One shouldn’t run with scissors [even though it's a lot of fun].”).
In Dothraki, there are two important things one needs to know about a noun in order to use it properly: What its gender or noun class is, and what case it’s to be used in. We’ll discuss those two things separately.
In Dothraki there are two types of nouns: Vekhikh Hranna (Grass Nouns) and Vekhikh Asavva (Sky Nouns). The two types of nouns differ in how they decline—that is, the forms they use in a sentence. The noun type is something that simply must be learned and memorized, though there are some clues that help one determine how likely a noun is to be a Grass Noun or a Sky Noun. For more information on this, see the section on noun animacy in the Dothraki Wiki.
For translation purposes, the main difference between Grass and Sky Nouns is that Grass Nouns don’t distinguish between singular and plural; Sky Nouns do.
Now to discuss nominal declension. In English, we say “He saw the dog” and “The dog saw him”. We don’t say “Him saw the dog” or “The dog saw he”. Ever wonder why? It’s because (most) English pronouns decline for case. Dothraki nouns are like English pronouns, except they have more forms than (using “he”) just “he”, “him” and “his”. These forms correspond to different roles the nouns play in a sentence. These roles are summarized below:
- Nominative: A case associated with the subject of a sentence.
- English Example: The hunter saw the dog.
- Dothraki Version: Fonak tih jan.
- Accusative: A case associated with the direct object of a sentence.
- English Example: The dog saw the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano tih fonakes.
- Genitive: A case associated with the possessor of some other noun.
- English Example: The hunter’s dog is loud.
- Dothraki Version: Jano fonaki lavakha.
- Allative: A case associated with the goal or destination of the action of the sentence.
- English Example: The dog ran to the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano lan fonakaan.
- Ablative: A case associated with the point of departure of the action of the sentence.
- English Example: The dog ran from the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano lan fonakoon.
Basically in comparing Dothraki to a language like English or Spanish, rather than using a preposition like “to” or “of” or “from” (or a or de in Spanish) followed by a noun, the noun itself is modified to incorporate the meaning of the preposition. If you’d like to use a noun of Dothraki, you’ll likely need to make use of a noun in one or more cases (note that plurality is encoded by the case suffix). In order to decline a noun correctly, head over to the section on noun cases in the Dothraki Wiki.
The key thing to keep in mind about verbs is that they inflect for person, number and tense (and also polarity, but that can be ignored for those just starting out). This means that if you look up a verb in the online dictionary of the Dothraki Wiki, the form of the verb you find there will need to change.
For our purposes, let’s focus on two different verbs and two different tenses. One verb we’ve already seen is tihat. That’s the citation form for the verb “to see”. Another common one is dothralat. That’s the citation form of the verb “to ride”. These verbs differ in their stems: the first ends with a consonant (the stem is tih), and the second ends with a vowel (the stem is dothra). Most of the time, you simply strip off the suffix -at or -lat to get the stem of a verb (though be careful to note verbs whose stem ends in l!).
Once you have the stem of the verb you want to inflect, you have to know whether the subject of the sentence is first, second or third person singular or plural, and what tense the sentence is going to be in. Let’s start with the present tense. Start with the stem (we’ll do tih first), and then modify them in the following ways to conjugate a verb in the present tense:
|First||tihak||I see||tihaki||we see|
|Second||tihi||you see||tihi||you see|
|Third||tiha||s/he/it sees||tihi||they see|
Now here’s how you conjugate a verb whose stem ends in a vowel:
|First||dothrak||I ride||dothraki||we ride|
|Second||dothrae||you ride||dothrae||you ride|
|Third||dothrae||s/he/it rides||dothrae||they ride|
The future tense is identical to the present tense, save you prefix a- to the front of stems that begin with a consonant and v- to the front of stems that begin with a vowel. Thus atihak is “I will see” and adothrae is “they will ride”.
The past tense is simpler than the present and future. In the past tense, there’s no person distinction whatsoever, so both stems are shown below:
|Tihat||tih||I/you/she, etc. saw||tihish||we/you/they, etc. ride|
|Dothralat||dothra||I/you/she, etc. rode||dothrash||we/you/they, etc. rode|
For more information on verbs, check out the following pages in the Dothraki Wiki:
In Dothraki, adjectives follow the nouns they modify, as shown below:
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dorvi erin “the kind goat”
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dothrakaan haja “to the strong rider”
- dothraki haji “the strong riders”
- dothrakea haji “to the strong riders”
- Anha hajak. “I’m strong.”
- Dothrak haja. “The rider is strong.”
- Chiorisi haji. “The women are strong.”
To augment the Dothraki case system, a variety of prepositions are used. In order to use a preposition appropriately, one needs to know what it is, what it means, and what case it assigns to the noun it modifies. A couple of common examples are shown below:
- she okre “on the tent” (assigns the nominative)
- ha okraan “for the tent” (assigns the allative)
- oleth okri “over the tent” (assigns the genitive)
Some prepositions can alter the case they assign to affect the meaning of the preposition. Consider ha from above:
Here are some instructional materials that have been posted around the web (if you find more, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them):
- Tutorials at the Dothraki Wiki
- Audio/Visual Dothraki Tutorials on YouTube
- Step-by-Step Tutorial Based on the YouTube Videos Above
- Dothraki Flashcards at Quizlet
- Dothraki Subreddit
And, of course, there’s plenty more material here and scattered around the web that goes into more detail. If you ever have questions, just drop a line. Fonas chek!
As we’re approaching the April 1st premiere of season 2 of Game of Thrones, I thought it’d be worthwhile to take a look back at the early days of Dothraki.
To start us off, let’s take a look at the Dothraki that existed in the books before I took a crack at it. Step number one was deciding how the words in the books would (and/or could and/or should) be pronounced. I came up with a solution (summarized here), but it wasn’t without controversy. In analyzing the words in the books, I held to the following principles:
- The spellings in the books are canon.
- Different spelling = different sound.
- The resultant phonology should be linguistically sound.
- The resultant phonology shouldn’t be too difficult for an English-speaking actor to pronounce.
As a result of the above, the hr in hranna is pronounced differently from the rh in rhaggat, and so forth. There were a couple of changes I made, though, and they’re worth discussing. One minor one was a spelling change that can be illustrated nicely with one name: Jhiqui.
That’s how her name is spelled in the book. I didn’t quite know what to make of jh when I first saw it. It contrasts with j by itself (consider haj and Jommo), which means that jh should be a different sound from j. Since the “h” in English tends to make stops into fricatives (cf. “t” > “th”) and move the place of fricatives towards the palate (cf. “s” > “sh”), I thought it’d be reasonable to assume that jh stood for a voiced palato-alveolar fricative ([ʒ], like the “z” in “azure”). I may have been influenced by the fact that [ʒ] is my favorite sound, but I still think the supposition is a reasonable one.
Anyway, this is where I made a decision. Since jh is rather a bizarre digraph, I decided to change the spelling to zh. I’ve always thought that that was the best way to represent the sound to an English speaker, because it fits this analogy:
s : sh :: z : zh
That, however, has not proved to be the case. Not only did some of the actors have trouble with zh (often pronouncing it as if it were z), but I’ve also heard from others that zh is problematic.
There are two reasons I can think of that an English speaker wouldn’t do well with zh for [ʒ]: One, they don’t know how the digraph ought to be pronounced (at a glance), or two, they misinterpret it as a sequence of z and h.
At the heart of both problems, I believe, is the nebulous nature of the phoneme [ʒ] in English. There are no minimal pairs (or at least no common ones. Perhaps if someone knows of one, they can leave a comment), but there are near minimal pairs in “pleasure” and “pressure”. (Ooh… Actually, what about “azure” and “asher”?) Additionally, there is no systematic way to spell the sound. It appears as “ge” in “rouge”, “g” in “genre”, “s” in “leisure”, “si” in “fusion”, “z” in “azure”, “j” in “Taj Mahal”, and part of “x” in “luxury”. English has a funky spelling system, but for just about every other consonant phoneme, there is a definite, basic spelling. Not so with [ʒ].
Daenerys has suggested that it’s more difficult to get zh right before a and o; less so before i and e. This makes intuitive sense because zh is a palatal sound, and i and e are front vowels. She suggested that zh might be spelled zhy, but perhaps just in front of a and o—which does make sense. I’d thought previously of spelling the sound zy. For the sake of neatness, though, I’d want to respell what is now spelled as sh as sy, which doesn’t seem ideal… As a result, I think we’re stuck with zh.
Anyway, the whole point of bringing this up is that I decided to respell jh as zh (thought it’d be easier. Oh well). This doesn’t mean, though, that the spellings in the books ought to change. Since it’s a one-to-one correspondence, jh is just the book’s way of spelling Dothraki zh (or vice-versa). This means that if anything from modern Dothraki with zh shows up in the books, it would be spelled with jh, e.g. jhavvorsa, mahrajh, vejhven, etc.
Oh, and also present in Jhiqui’s name is the change from qu to kw, which shouldn’t be too controversial. Beyond that, though, I made a couple of other changes which are worth noting.
The letters p and b occur almost nowhere in Dothraki. In fact they only appear in two places: In the names Pono and Bharbo. Given the sound change I proposed (a merger of older p and f as well as b and v), it seemed reasonable enough to have them survive only in names. As the Havazh Dothraki is large, it seems reasonable to assume that there are probably several different varieties of Dothraki spoken by different khalasars. They’re probably mutually intelligible (being able to communicate in Vaes Dothrak is motivation enough to maintain communicability), but it seems likely that some varieties may have preserved the p/f and b/v distinctions, meaning that this is a dialectal variation that Dothraki speakers everywhere are likely aware of (kind of like the t/k distinction in Hawaiian).
While for the most part the schema I came up with above worked out pretty well, there were a couple places where it may have caused more problems than it solved. One obvious one is the word khaleesi. Going by Dothraki’s spelling system, the word should be pronounced [ˈxa.le.e.si] (or KHA-lay-yay-see). More often than not, though, it’s pronounced [ka.ˈli.si] (or kah-LEE-see). There’s not much to say about the [k] and the stress (bound to happen), but the “ee” part is troubling. It seems quite sensible that any English speaker would pronounce the “ee” as if it were like the “ee” in “keep” or “seem”. What wasn’t sensible, perhaps, was my idea that it wouldn’t be any trouble to switch over to the “real” Dothraki pronunciation (i.e. pronouncing it just like it’s spelled). Evidently they made an executive decision on the show to pronounce it like the “ee” in “keep” even when it’s spoken in Dothraki. And I suppose I can’t blame them. It does seem reasonable enough. If I had it to do over, perhaps I would’ve bent the rules just a little bit and made the official spelling khalisi—or maybe even khalissi to get the stress right. Oh well. Live and learn.
One I’ve mentioned before elsewhere (but not here, I believe) is George R. R. Martin’s peculiar pronunciation of the word “Dothraki”. Those who have seen him in person know how he pronounces it, but if you haven’t, he pronounces the last “i” as if it were like the “i” in “bike” or “fungi” or “alumni”. I was shocked the first time I heard it. I thought I simply misheard him, but no: His pronunciation is consistent on this point. It does certainly change the character and flavor of the word quite a bit. As far as I know, though, he’s the only one that pronounces the word this way, so I didn’t feel too bad about giving it the usual “ee” pronunciation.
Finally, there’s the issue of the vowel sequence ae. I honestly had no idea what to do with this. I thought I’d be well served in treating the two as separate vowels (as in Spanish “caer”). It seems, though, that the preferred pronunciation is like the “a” in “gate”. Aside from the variant of “Rachel” spelled “Raechel”, I don’t think we have that sequence pronounced that way in English, so I’m not sure if I would’ve guessed that that was how it was “supposed” to be pronounced. On the show, most of the time they went with standard Dothraki pronunciation. The one major time where they didn’t was with the pronunciation of the name “Rhaego”. That, however, is Dany’s old brother’s name (Rhaegar) with a Dothraki -o added in place of the Valyrian -ar, so it’s not too bizarre that the spelling has a different pronunciation (it’s not a true Dothraki name, after all).
Well, I had intended all of this to be rather the introduction to a longer post. The word count thingy at the bottom of this post tells me I’m up over 1400 words already, though, so I suppose I’d better bring this to a close. I’ll likely revisit this topic some time in the future, though, as there’s more to be said. Until then, fonas chek!
Taking a break from grammar, I thought I’d write up a little guide about how to write Dothraki using the Arabic script. It’s actually mostly written up, so all I have to do is transfer it over to the blog (heh, heh…).
Of course, one might wonder: Why would I already have a guide for transcribing Dothraki using the Arabic script? For that, we have to go way back to the days before the Game of Thrones pilot was filmed. Back then, I think the general feeling was that the show would be picked up for at least one season (it wasn’t official, of course, but we all kind of had a gut feeling), and at the time (back when Daenerys was being played by Tamzin Merchant), the Dothraki scenes were all being shot in Morocco—and I, at least, thought they would continue to be shot in Morocco.
In Hollywood, though, radical sweeping changes can happen overnight, and soon Tamzin Merchant was replaced by Emilia Clarke, and Morocco itself was replaced by Malta, and the rest is history. During the Morocco days, though, the word was that many Dothraki extras would likely be Moroccan, meaning they might know French, and would likely know Arabic, but might not know English. Since the Dothraki romanization was designed with English speakers in mind, I decided it would make sense to devise a French-inspired romanization system, as well as one utilizing the Arabic script. I detailed both of these systems in the original materials I sent to Dave and Dan. I’ll probably write up the French romanization system I came up with later, but for now, let’s take a look at the Arabic system.
First, some important facts about Arabic writing. The system is, technically (as it’s used today), an alphabet, but it began its existence as an abjad. An abjad is a writing system that treats vowels as incidental, encoding only the consonants. Thus, in an Arabic word like kataba, “he wrote”, you generally write the equivalent of ktb, with the vowels being assumed. As it is now, there are certain vowels that must be written (long vowels), and there’s a secondary set of diacritics that can be used to optionally write all vowels, so it really looks more like an alphabet, but it’s abjadic history is evident to any who use the script.
Unlike most Western scripts, the Arabic script is written from right to left (which is a nightmare if you want to drop a word of Arabic into a predominantly English text, let me tell you), and most of the characters connect to one another (as with cursive writing in English). It’s also, in my opinion, gorgeous. I fell in love with the Arabic script the first time I saw it, and am glad to have had the opportunity to learn the language and use the script (also is useful to be able to read it).
Anyway, for those who love great big tables, you’re in for a treat! Here’s the full system for rendering Dothraki in Arabic (note: for diacritic vowels, I’m using Arabic د [d] as the bearer below; romanized forms with an asterisk are non-standard. I’ve also enlarged the font size of the Arabic a little bit so the characters are easier to see):
|Arabic Transcription of Dothraki|
|Romanized Form||IPA Transcription||Arabic Transcription|
|A, a||[a]||دَ ,ۃ ,ا|
|E, e||[e]||دَ ,ۃ ,ا|
Many of the choices above are (as anyone who reads Arabic will probably immediately recognize) not uncontroversial. It is nice, though, that Arabic has dedicated letters for q and th, which are often difficult for native, real world orthographies to represent. A summary of the reasoning behind some of the decisions made above is below:
- I’ve completed conflated a and e. It’s difficult to distinguish between the two in the Arabic script, frankly. Apart from introducing a new letter (or, perhaps, using the diphthong يْ), though, there isn’t much to be done. I’d be open to suggestions. (Note: I’d originally used a kasra diacritic for e, but decided against it, as it seemed unnatural.)
- As in Arabic, there’s no distinction between y and i. One choice I made was to mirror that with w and o (in Arabic, w and u). The character و is often used for o in borrowings (e.g. دبلوم “diploma”), so I figure all it would take is a note that و is always pronounced [o] when used as a vowel, and Arabic speakers would get it right.
- It was quite tempting to render zh as ج, but most speakers actually have something closer to j for that, so I resorted to using a non-standard character ژ, which I hoped would be recognizable.
- Arabic speakers will notice that I used ح rather than ه for h, even though the latter is closer to the Dothraki h in most places. The reason is (thinking back to the actual Moroccan extras, remember), I was hoping they’d actually use the Arabic sound ح which I thought would be too difficult for English-speaking actors. I’d always imagined that sound in particular when creating and working with Dothraki.
- The character گ is the one I see most often for g (probably because it’s used in Farsi), but my brother-in-law, who’s been to Morocco, said they use ݣ, so I went with that.
- Of course, as with Arabic, gemination is indicated with a shadda above the consonant in question. It looks like a little w (دّ).
Now with that out of the way, let’s see it in action! Here’s a Dothraki sentence in the romanization, then in the Arabic script, then translated:
- Hash yer vineseri dothrakh ataki kishi, zhey shekh ma shieraki anni?
- حاش يَر ڤينَسَري دوثراخ آتَكي كيشي، ژَي شَخ ما شيَّرَكي انّي؟
- “Do you remember our first ride, my sun and stars?”
Ha! That was so much fun. I realize I may be the only one who appreciates this, but despite the vowel clusters of Dothraki, I always imagined it written in the Arabic script. Even though it’s a pain in the choyo to write it out using Unicode, it’s fun to see it on the screen.
Thanks for indulging me!