Yes You Khal!

Khal Drogo "Zalat" poster by Thomas Magnum.
Click to enlarge.

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.


  1. The poster is very cool and now even cooler, as I can stop feeling a little bad about the verb form :) The use of infinites as nouns is still a bit of a mystery to me. When are they appropriate? How does the meaning differ from /ath- (z)ar/ nominalization? … “Southern” would be hesk and “northern” valsh? Do adjectives generally coincide with accusatives of respective nouns?

    1. The infinitive is just a non-finite form of the verb. Sometimes it’s treated syntactically as a noun, but it’s still a verb, semantically. The ath- -ar form is different from the infinitive—sometimes only minimally, sometimes largely. For a simple one, athlanar is “running” (the act of running, for example), while lanat is just an uninflected form of the verb “to run”.

      Do adjectives generally coincide with accusatives of respective nouns?

      Generally? No. In the case of directionals, yes—and in the case of some other words, yes. But, no, it’s not a general pattern.

      1. Pardon the question. I was thinking about inanimate nouns that have more or less bare stems as accusatives. I should have asked “do bare stems from nouns act as respective adjectives”, though I trust the answer is still a no. … Stems and final vowels might make a good topic for an educational post. Every now and then I find myself wondering, how they exaclty work. Most recently I tried to figure out statives from adjectives: why hasa – hasat, but zheana – zheanalat..

        1. The short answer is it’s lexical. The long answer is it’s hasa because there was an error in transmission somewhere…? “Sharp” is has, not hasa. If this came from the Dothraki 101 post, the adjective there is being used as a verb. If the form ended in an -a, it’d have to be Arakh hasae. So it’s has~hasat not hasa~hasat.

          1. OK. I first thought it was an error, but then found so many dubious cases that I began to think we’d missed something. Samva~(samvat)~assamvat is then also an error? And haqe~haqat is irregularity due to epenthesis..? How about gende~gendat? If that is due to epenthesis, then our rules on that too are incomplete.

            1. Samva for “broken” is correct, just irregular (probably ordinarily be samve). Both haqe and gende are due to epenthesis. Remember that e is the default epenthetic vowel; a word can always use a different one.

  2. This thread brings up a good question: What is ‘lexical form’ for Dothraki? If you look in the Wiki, many words have a second word associated with them that is supposed to be the uninflected stem. For instance, for a verb awazat ‘to scream’, there is a second, past tense entry of the stem awaz. For a noun example, azhio ‘gift’ has azh as the accusative stem. Other lexicons I have worked with (Greek, Na’vi) have the uninflected nominative or present tense words listed. So, is lexical form always nominative/present tense regardless of inflection, or is it always the stem word regardless of case/tense? How about other parts of speech?

  3. Nice one!
    Though i took the liberty to change the word zalat to athzalar, to see how it went, and I prefere it with the noun.

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