Monthly Archives: September 2011

Yes You Khal!

Aena shekhikhi! (Good morning!)

This is from quite a while ago, but Thomas Magnum (his Twitter account is here) put together this outstanding mock up of the famous Barack Obama “Hope” poster using our own Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) and some Dothraki:

Khal Drogo "Zalat" poster by Thomas Magnum.

Click to enlarge.

Outstanding. Notice the Horse Gate (Emrakh Hrazefi) logo in the lower right in place of the Obama “O” logo. A lot of work went into this, and it deserves a wider audience, so I’m posting about it here.

No doubt those who know a bit about Dothraki will have a question about zalat as it’s written there. It certainly does mean “to hope” or “to want”, but I think that the infinitival form might not be the one wanted here… In English (as in Hawaiian), we have single words (or word forms) that serve many, many different functions. In Dothraki, these forms don’t always line up one to one.

Regarding “HOPE”, as it is on the original poster, my sense (and please feel free to voice your opinion if you think differently) is that the form of the verb is supposed to be the imperative (i.e. it’s a command that we ought to hope). Given that this is English, though, it’s not clear. Below is a breakdown of everything that it could be with the corresponding Dothraki translation:

Grammatical Form Dothraki Form English Form
Infinitive zalat hope
First Person Plural Present zalaki hope
Imperative (Informal) zalas hope
Imperative (Formal) zali hope
Nominal athzalar hope

As you can see, the English leaves much to interpretation (which is always fun. Dothraki does the same thing elsewhere in the language). Interpreting the original poster in at least one way would, I think, call for the infinitive; I’m just not sure if that’s the way we’re supposed to interpret it.

Time passes as I do some wikipediating…

Oh, you know what? I think it’s supposed to be a noun. There are other versions of the poster with “CHANGE” and “PROGRESS”. Now the former can be a noun or a verb, but the latter can only be…wait a minute… Of course, the verbal and nominal versions of “progress” are pronounced differently, but they’re spelled the same! Huh. Though the verbal version wouldn’t make much sense, given the context…

Okay, from circumstantial evidence, I think it’s supposed to be a noun. That said, I think ZALAT looks better than ATHZALAR. It’s simpler.

Anyway, I thought the poster was pretty cool, so thought I’d share. I was also planning to work in the word for “market”, but since I can’t think of a clever way to do it, here it is, zhey Daenerys: jereser. The Western Market would be Jereser Jim, and the Eastern Market Jereser Tith.

Any Color You Like

Today’s topic comes from ingsve over at the Dothraki fora. The inventory of color terms in any given language is likely to prove more interesting than one would imagine at first blush. In discussing color terms in Dothraki, then, I’ll add layers of complexity as we move on, starting with the simplest information.

Here are the ten basic color terms of Dothraki:

English Term Dothraki Term Color Swatch
red virzeth
blue thelis
green dahaan
yellow veltor
purple reaven
pink theyaven
brown nozhoven
gray shiqeth
white zasqa
black kazga

There is no “orange”; that term is covered usually by veltor; sometimes by virzeth. Otherwise, those color terms can be used freely to cover the colors we have in English. The forms above are adjectival. To change them to verbs, simply add -at to those that end in a consonant, and -lat to those that end in a vowel.

Having said that, those who’ve studied Dothraki a bit will notice that at least three of those terms should look suspicious—specifically, those ending in -ven. And if you thought so, you’re right. Though Dothraki now has words to cover ten of the eleven basic color terms, they’re not equal, linguistically.

For many years, Dothraki had the basic set of color terms listed below. For each color, its prototypical value is given, followed by the range of colors it was used for.

English Term Dothraki Term Color Swatch Color Range
red virzeth
blue/purple thelis
yellow/green dahaan
yellow/orange veltor
light zasqa
dark kazga

And before that there were fewer color terms (for example, dahaan, in a time long before the present, derived ultimately from a type of grass called dahana. Prior to this, thelis was used for most blues and greens). As Dothraki khalasars met with traders, caravans and cities around the edges of the Dothraki Sea, they encountered new products, new types of clothing, new dyes, and found a need for new terms. As they prefer native terms to borrowings, they would often derive terms from Dothraki words, such as:

Dothraki Word Color Term Image

Color Swatch
rea “internal organ” reaven A human heart.
theya “nipple” theyaven A human male nipple.
shiqethi “iron” shiqeth An old radiator made of iron.

The two words ending in -ven should be self-explanatory (-ven is used to mean something like “-like” or “-ish”). Shiqeth is actually a backformation. The original word is shiqethi, which is the word for “iron”; shiqeth was formed on analogy with virzeth (and the other CV(C)CVC color words thelis and veltor).

That explains everything except nozhoven thus far, but that one’s going to lead to a whole other topic: horse breeds (or colorings). There are quite a number of terms for specific types of horses, but the only ones that got used in the show were the generic “horse” (hrazef), and the word for “mount” (sajo). (Hmmm… Though now that I think of it, maybe vezh, “stallion”, and lame, “mare”, made it in, too.) It seems to me that words for the type of horse would be used more commonly, but that would require seeing the actual horse being referred to (and who knows if it would change from shoot to shoot, episode to episode). So I never managed to use any of the words for particular breeds of horse in the first season (we’ll see if any make it in in the future).

Anyway, the word nozho is the word for a chestnut horse, which is brown (anywhere from a reddish brown to a light brown), with a mane that is mostly the same color (sometimes lighter). Nozhoven, then, is a word meaning “like a chestnut horse”—or, in this case, “similar in color to a chestnut horse”. Most horses have a color term associated with them in this way, but since chestnuts tend to be largely one color all over (and since there was no other term for “brown”), nozhoven was adopted as the word for “brown”.

There are dozens of horse coloring types, and also related terms having to do with horse coloring, and there’s no time to go through all of them. I did want to introduce some, though, since the horse color terms are used in another unique way. In English, we’ve taken words from a number of places to describe skin color: actual color terms (white, black…); plants or food (olive, mocha…); light descriptors (light, dark…); and other sources (tan, pale, splotchy…). In Dothraki, all such descriptors come from horse colorings. Here are some common ones:

Horse Term Color Term Image

messhih “perlino” messhihven A perlino-colored horse.
ocha “dun” ochaven A dun-colored horse.
qahlan “palomino” qahlamven A palomino horse.
nozho “chestnut” nozhoven A chestnut horse.
cheyao “dark bay” cheyaoven A dark bay horse.

The way I figure it, if the Dothraki refer to you with a horse term, it’s a sign of respect, as horses of all types are to be respected. If they refer to you as some sort of lesser animal, though (like oqet, a sheep), then it’s time to worry.

Now just a few words about how to use them. Color terms are all stative predicates, and so can be used postpositively as adjectives, or as verbs, e.g.:

  • Haz rhaggat virzetha. “That cart is red.”
  • Anha vavvirsak haz rhaggat virzetha nakhaan! “I’m going to burn that red cart to the ground!”

The word for “color” itself is visshiya, which derives, ultimately, from vish, which means “forehead”. For different qualities of color (to make finer distinctions), one uses words that would translate to “light” and “dark”, but they’re not actually the words “light” and “dark”. The Dothraki conceptualize color value in terms of water depth, darker colors being deep (ao), and lighter colors being shallow (dei). Then each of those terms can be modified to delineate further. Here’s an example:

Dothraki Term English Translation Color Swatch
virzeth adein shallower red
virzeth dei shallow red
virzeth red
virzeth ao deep red
virzeth asaon deeper red

That’s a basic introduction to color terms in Dothraki. There’s more to be said, certainly, but this should be enough to allow one to use some color terms in writing and in speech.

Asshekhqoyi Vezhvena!

I just learned that today is the birthday of forum member Daenerys. Majin yeraan, zhey khaleesi, astak anha ki, “Asshekhqoyi vezhvena!”

I’m not sure how (or if) the Dothraki would celebrate a birthday, but it occurred to me that they’d probably have a word to describe it (it’s a significant enough day in a given year [and I’m going to ignore the entire discussion of how seasons and years work in the Song of Ice and Fire universe. Consider that discussion permanently tabled]). The issue was raised during an IRC chat with members, but I forget by whom… It was probably someone’s birthday, and I could’ve sworn the conversation would be in my chat transcripts, but it isn’t (so if someone wants to post a comment and remind me, please do).

As I recall, what we discussed is what, if anything, would be important about commemorating the day of one’s birth. Aside from one’s coming into the world, the day of one’s birth is the day one first bleeds (due to the cutting of the umbilical cord). That seems like it would be pretty important to a race of warrior nomads. Thus, one’s birthday is one’s asshekhqoyi—literally, one’s blood day.

The phrase Asshekhqoyi vezhvena! is actually a shortening of a longer phrase: Anha zalak asshekhqoyi vezhvena yeraan!, “I wish for an excellent blood day for you”. The word asshekhqoyi itself is in the genitive (the accusative is used with zalat only when the subject wants something that they will then possess), which means that vezhven, the word for “excellent”, takes a suffixed -a (a form of agreement). If you want to add someone’s name in there, simply add zhey followed by their name at the end.

And there you have it! That’s how to wish someone “happy birthday” in Dothraki. And, of course, I hope you’re having a good birthday, zhey Daenerys. Saqoyalates gavat hrazefoon yeri! (I.e. “May your horse meat be bloody!”)

The Header Script

I’ve gotten a few questions about the script in the header (the one in black below the word “Dothraki” in white), so I thought I’d address it, even though it doesn’t relate much to Dothraki itself.

First (in case there’s anyone who can’t make it out), it’s intended to say “Dothraki” in English (works if you kind of squint your eyes at it [especially when you get to the “a”]). Even so, the script was not intended to be a Roman font: it was created for a conlang.

Back in mid-2010, when I was working on season 1 of Game of Thrones, I was also participating in a group conlang creation project (the language was called Kenakoliku). It didn’t end up being successful (group projects are very difficult to maintain), but it was fun at the time. Since my favorite part of creating a language is creating its orthography, I devoted my energies to creating a possible orthography for Kenakoliku.

I initially fonted up five proposals (just one character for each): two instantiations of someone else’s hand-drawn proposal, and three of my own. They’re shown below:

Five orthographic proposals for Kenakoliku.

Click to enlarge.

I actually liked the one called “Curvy Glyphs” the best, with “Kadani B” coming in a close second (for some reason it reminded me of those block Greek letters you see on fraternity houses…), but most everyone else liked what I called “Halfsies”: an orthography where the consonant was on the bottom, and the vowel on the top. As a result, I filled the font out, creating possible consonant and vowel characters without assigning any values to them (so people on the board could choose which ones they liked best). Here’s the chart I came up with:

Full version of the Halfsies font.

Click to enlarge.

From this sample, everyone (mostly) settled on form-sound combinations they liked, and I produced a font, a sample of which is shown below:

A sample of the full Halfsies font.

Click to enlarge.

The font had some problems, and I mostly fixed them so that the font worked in my word processor of choice, but then it still had problems in other word processors, and then the language itself kind of wound down anyway, so I abandoned the project and the script. If you’d like, you can download what remains of the font and toy around with it here (.zip). I warn you, though: the ligatures may not work on your end, and I’m no longer maintaining it.

Anyway, several months later, Game of Thrones debuted, and I started up a LiveJournal account mainly to make comments on George R. R. Martin’s LiveJournal. In order to do so, though, I needed an icon. I didn’t want to use a picture of one of the actors from the show (or, even worse, a picture of me), and Dothraki didn’t have its own script, so I was in a quandary. I’d always liked the Halfsies font, though (I always referred to it in my head as the Swashbuckler’s Script), and one of the characters kind of looked like a “D”, so I made it my LJ icon:

The Dothraki D.

And that’s been my little Dothraki icon ever since.

When it came to making this blog, I found a theme I really liked (props to digitalnature!), but the font in the header looked way too plain (sans-serif?! Decidedly un-Dothraki!). And since I didn’t want to actually go in and mess with the CSS, I just created a background image with the Halfsies font. In order to get something that looked like English, I had to pick and choose characters (and alter some, using Photoshop), some of which you will have seen in the image above:

Characters used in the background image.

Click to enlarge.

And eventually I had it.

So that’s the story behind the script in the header. The look of it was, indeed, inspired by Devanāgarī, but the actual structure is a bit different. The font above can’t actually be used to write English (it’d need a lot of work for that), but maybe if someone’s interested they can take it and manipulate it.

I feel like I should have something related to Dothraki in here, since this is a Dothraki blog. Let’s see… If I had to give “Halfsies” a name in Dothraki it’d probably be Lirisirazo (a class B inanimate noun, as all noun-adjective compounds are that end in a vowel), which means something like “Bladed Writing”.

Also, for the curious, Dothraki is now up to 3,163 words: More words than Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn has hits, but still a ways to go to catch Pete Rose (and my guess is Dothraki will have double his number before he gets even a sniff of the Hall of Fame).

Dothraki Writing System…?

Periodically I’ll spotlight cool stuff being done by Dothraki community members here on the blog. Today I want to take a look at something really cool done by member Qvaak.

Prior to the Fourth Language Creation Conference, attendees took part in the LCC4 Conlang Relay. To start the relay off, I provided a text in Dothraki about an incorrigible goat.

That was pretty much the end of the story, until recently, when I got a tweet about the existence of a possible orthography for Dothraki. The tweet linked to the following image:

LCC4 Relay Text in Dothraki Calligraphy.

Click to enlarge.

Check that out! That’s the text of my leg of the relay written in a modified romanization designed for Dothraki by Qvaak. Pretty cool! Here’s a summary of the changes that were made with commentary:

  • y > j: Probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to English speakers, but this is common enough in European languages (e.g. German, Dutch, Finnish, etc.).
  • ch > c: It seems that one of Qvaak‘s goals here was to remove all the digraphs, which is a good idea, generally, but something I didn’t want to do for (primarily) English-speaking actors. For example, if chomat was spelled comat, no English speaker would pronounce it correctly.
  • sh > ſ: Now we didn’t see any examples of a capital sh, so I’m not sure if Qvaak uses a different character for the upper case version, but this one (kind of like a barless “f”) is used for a lower case long “s” in some languages. If you want a whole character and not an “s” with a diacritic, this is a good choice. (Update: The actual character is ʃ, which is the same as the phonetic character, and also what you see in older English texts and elsewhere for lower case “s” in certain places.)
  • kh > x: When I create romanization systems for my own languages, I always use “x” for [x]. I couldn’t do it here, though, because “x”, to an English speaker, is [ks]. This is a good, uncontroversial change.
  • th > δ: Qvaak, you’ll have to forgive me if I got the wrong character, but that looks like a Greek lower case delta, as opposed to ð, which is a lower case eth. This change is rather controversial, in my opinion—and it’s always tough to choose a glyph when you need to represent [θ] in a romanization. In the history of English, we used þ, which looks an awful lot like p. The character used here looks an awful lot like d—which, at least, will get you closer to the correct sound, but may be confused by readers without a d to compare it to. Looks neat, though!
  • zh > ʒ: Love it. One of my favorite sounds, and one of my favorite Latin characters.
  • j > ʒ̇: I like the way this character looks a lot, but unless I’m missing something, it can’t be represented by a single Unicode character. What I had to do was use ʒ with a combining dot above (so if you see a strange box or something after the ʒ, it’s supposed to be a dot above it). Too bad, because I think the look of the character is just right. (Update: According to Qvaak, this character is actually ǯ [an ezh with a caron], which is used in the world’s languages; the caron just becomes a dot in the calligraphic form.)
  • > Ø: Of course, the apostrophes to indicate contractions are optional, anyway, so removing them helps to make the text look less cluttered. Good decision.
  • Geminate > Ligature: Some of the absolute coolest characters in this text are the geminate ligatures (geminate s is my favorite, with geminate g a close second). Very cool! Makes me wish I’d included more in the relay text so we could see what they look like. (No double vowel ligatures, though?)

Now, of course, this wouldn’t work for Dothraki in the Song of Ice and Fire universe, since: (a) we know the Dothraki have no written form for their language, and (b) it’d be too incredible a coincidence for an orthography to develop naturally using the exact same glyphs that are used in the roman alphabet in our world. But in our universe, I have to say, it looks pretty good!

So, perhaps the question we should ask now is: Where’s the font, Qvaak? ;)

Great job! Totally love it.

Update: Qvaak has provided us with another image of the characters in the font in a more typographic style. It’s shown below:

Qvaak's typographic version of his script.

Click to enlarge.

And here’s the calligraphic version of the script:

The calligraphic version of Qvaak's script.

Click to enlarge.

Also, for some feedback from Qvaak himself, check out his lengthy comment below.

Long (or Doubled) Consonants

It’s been a little bit, but I’m back with the first non-first post. Before getting to that, I should mention that I knew beforehand there was going to be some lag time with getting this blog off the ground. I told the folks I would be starting up a blog before I’d even settled on a site theme, and then I put out my first post knowing that I’d be completely unable to post anything else for at least a week. My apologies.

There are already a number of great questions/topics over at the Dothraki Forum, but I thought I’d start small and answer Tim’s question first, since it’s come up before. The question is:

How are doubled consonants pronounced differently than single consonants? How about situations where you have something like ssh vs sh?

First let me address the orthographic question. Since the Dothraki don’t have a writing system of their own, I came up with a romanization system to write the language. To make it easy on everyone, I decided to restrict myself to ASCII (aside from the texts I send to the actors, which have main stress marked with an acute accent). When one does that, one is forced to use either unorthodox characters or digraphs for sounds for which no single roman letter is used (in this case, in English). The relevant sounds in Dothraki are (romanized form followed by IPA):

  • th [θ]: like the “th” in English “math”
  • sh [ʃ]: like the “sh” in English “shout”
  • zh [ʒ]: like the “z” in English “azure”
  • ch [tʃ]: like the “tch” in English “watch”
  • kh [x]: like the “ch” in English “blech!”

If instead of these digraphs I’d chosen, for example, þ, š, ž, č and x, then romanizing a doubled consonant would be as trivial as romanizing any of the other doubled consonants. Due to some of the peculiarities of Dothraki phonology, though, I was able to represent the geminate versions of these digraphs simply by doubling the first consonant:

  • tth [θθ]
  • ssh [ʃʃ]
  • zzh [ʒʒ]
  • cch [ttʃ]
  • kkh [xx]

By “peculiarities”, I mean that the sequences that these second set of digraphs could also represent happen to be disallowed by Dothraki phonology. Specifically, homorganic oral stop+fricative clusters are disallowed. So, in the case of kkh, for example, it will always be [xx], and could never be [kx].

As for ssh and zzh, when two sibilants ([s], [z], [ʃ] or [ʒ]) occur next to one another, the former assimilates to the latter. So a potential cluster like /sz/ would become [zz], /zʃ/ would become [ʃʃ], etc. Thus, there could never be [sʃ], for example, meaning that ssh will always be pronounced [ʃʃ].

That turned out to be a longer explanation than I thought… Anyway, now to the main thrust of the question: how these are cats pronounced.

Doubled or geminate consonants are common throughout the world’s languages, but they happen not to be common in many Indo-European languages (among them: English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch…). Some of the many languages in which geminate (or doubled or long) consonants are distinctive are Japanese, Italian, Finnish, Hungarian, Russian, Arabic and Turkish. In these languages, you must be able to perceive and pronounce long consonants differently from short consonants, or you risk hearing or saying the wrong thing.

For a quick natural language example, let’s take a look at Arabic. In Arabic, the middle consonant of a number of verbal roots can be doubled to produce a kind of causative verb. The verb for “to write”, for example (in the masculine past tense), is kataba. By doubling the t, it becomes kattaba, which means “to dictate” (as in “to dictate a letter”). You can hear this pair of words below:

If the two don’t sound distinct enough, we actually do have “doubled” consonants in English, but they don’t distinguish single words from one another. For example: Imagine two women named “Ally” and “Sally”. Now put “Miss” in front of each one. The pair should sound something like this:

Notice how the [s] is longer in “Miss Sally”? Now just imagine that that length was able to distinguish words, and that’s what we have in Dothraki. Here are some sample pairs which are distinguished by the presence or absence of a geminate consonant. The pairs are: ata vs. atta; ara vs. arra; asa vs. assa; and ana vs. anna:

And now for a pair of Dothraki sentences where the only difference is a doubled consonant:

  1. Anha risse jeloon. “I cut into the lemon.”
  2. Anha risse jelloon. “I cut into the cheese.”

As for how to actually produce these differences, it kind of feels different for each type of consonant. For stops (tt, kk, qq, dd, gg, jj, cch), it kind of feels like you pronounce the first one, and then hold your breath for half a second: everything in your mouth is still for a beat, and then you release the consonant. For others (fricatives like ss and zz, or nasal sounds like nn, or even liquids like ll), you allow the sound to continue longer than you would ordinarily. To me, the latter are a bit easier than the former, but with a little practice, it’s not too hard to get the hang of both.

Thanks for the question, Tim! I hope this explanation serves.