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 Dothraki.org 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.
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:
- Anha risse jeloon. “I cut into the lemon.”
- 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.