Monthly Archives: October 2011

Hajas, Zhey Khal!

I know it’s not the most popular costume this Halloween, but some may have the idea of going trick-or-treating as Khal Drogo. You could probably grab a Conan the Barbarian costume and modify it, sure. That’s cool.

Or you could make your own Khal Drogo costume. Authentically. From scratch.

Sound impossible? If you’re someone like me, yes. If you’re someone like Skxawng over at the Dothraki forum, though, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility.

Way, way back on June 10th, Skxawng announced his intention of creating a Khal Drogo costume. He mentioned the materials he thought he’d need to create a leather girdle, bracers, a medallion belt, an arakh, etc., which sounded impressive, but it’s the pictures that really tell the story.

Here, for example, is an arakh in the process of being made:

An arakh made by Bryce Homick (image by Bryce Homick).

Click to enlarge.

And here’s one of the knives that Drogo carries with him:

A knife made by Bryce Homick (image by Bryce Homick).

Click to enlarge.

And here’s the girdle in the early stages:

Dothraki girdle made by Bryce Homick (image by Bryce Homick).

Click to enlarge.

But perhaps the most impressive shots are these before and after shots. Here’s the cardboard mock-up Skxawng made at the beginning:

Dothraki girdle mock-up made by Bryce Homick (image by Bryce Homick).

Click to enlarge.

And here’s what it looks like today:

Finished Khal Drogo costume by Bryce Homick (image by Bryce Homick).

Click to enlarge.

Are you kidding me?! That’s outstanding! Great job, Skxawng!

If you want to read more details about the creation process, you can go to the original topic at the Dothraki forum, or you can go to Skxawng’s (real name Bryce Homick) blog In fact, there’s quite a bit more detail at Skxawng’s blog (including how he made these incredible horse medallions!); I highly encourage you to go check it out.

There is one bit remaining issue, though. In the original post, Skxawng was looking for some Dothraki phrases to memorize to go with the costume. I’m not sure if he ever got them, so here are some that might serve:


  1. M’athchomaroon! “Hello!”
  2. M’ath! “Hi!”
  3. M’ach! “Hi!”
  4. Athchomar chomakea! “Greetings to you all!”
  5. Hajas! “Be strong!” (Like “Goodbye!”)
  6. Dothras chek! “Ride well!” (Another farewell.)


  1. Ifas maisi yeri! “Go walk with your mother!”
  2. Yer affesi anna! “You make me itch!”
  3. Ezas eshna gech ahilee! “Find another hole to dig!”
  4. Ki fin yeni?! “What the heck?!”

Some Compliments

  1. Yer chomoe anna. “You do honor to me.”
  2. Hazi davrae. “That’s good.”
  3. Yer zheanae (sekke). “You’re (very) beautiful.”
  4. Anha vazhak yeraan thirat. “I will let you live.”


  1. Hash yer asti k’athijilari? “You’re speaking truthfully?”
  2. Hash yer dothrae chek asshekh? “Do you ride well today?”
  3. Hash anha atihak yera save? “Will I see you again?”
  4. Fini hazi? “What is that?”


  1. Yer ojili! “You’re wrong!”
  2. Anha efichisak haz yeroon! “I disagree!”
  3. Anha dothrak chek asshekh. “I feel well today.”
  4. Athdavrazar! “Excellent!”

Update: lol It’s literal years later, and I finally got the audio working here, only to notice that I misread Yer ojili! as the ungrammatical Yer ojila! Oh well… It’s right on the page; not in the audio file.

Skxawng’s going to have some more pictures after Halloween, so stay tuned! Again, great job!

Numbers, Numbers Everywhere

So let’s all take a drink! Per a request initially made by ingsve over at the Dothraki forum, today’s post will be about numbers in Dothraki. In addition, though, since I think it might be interesting, I’m going to expand on the topic to talk about number, in general, in Dothraki.

One of the questions one has to answer when creating a language is just how that language will treat numbers and number—that is, grammatical number or plurality. Many languages deal with number in many different ways. Some languages (Arabic, for example) have a dedicated dual number. In the case of Arabic, this means that in addition to having a plural suffix, nouns can take a suffix which means “exactly two” (and, in fact, the plural suffix is used not to mean “more than one” but “more than two”). Here are a couple examples:

Singular Dual Plural
sadiiq “friend” sadiiqaan “(two) friends” ‘asdiqaa’ “(three or more) friends”
rajul “man” rajulaan “(two) men” rijaal “(three or more) men”
waalida “mother” waalidataan “(two) mothers” waalidaat “(three or more) mothers”

There are also languages with trial numbers (forms for one of something, two of something, three of something, and four or more of something), and a paucal, and different things like that—and, if you believe the stories, even languages that don’t seem to have any number system at all.

In Dothraki, as I’ve stated before, I wanted to realize the language as it might be imagined to exist in the universe of A Song of Ice & Fire. So even though a conlanger doesn’t need an excuse to, say, create a number system that relies on a base other than ten, I felt like I needed a pretty good reason to do anything other than what an English-speaking audience would expect.

In the books, numbers are pretty much exclusively base-10 (including references to the size of khalasars [twenty thousand, forty thousand, fifty thousand], and other groups). In addition, since the Dothraki—and those groups that border the Dothraki Sea—all trade, I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that by the time of the action of the books, everyone will have converted to the same base (this is generally what’s happened in our world, even in places where various societies retain their own monetary system). So while it might have been interesting to make Dothraki base-8 or base-12, I stuck with base-10.

As for nominal expression, I decided to stick with singular and plural (rather than dual or something else) for a rather practical reason: I wasn’t sure if I’d know for certain whether or not something referred to in a script was dual or plural. One can never be sure, after all, and if I needed to translate the phrase, “Get those horses”, I’d need to know if there were two horses or three or more to translate it properly—and even if I got the information at the outset, who knows but the director might decide at the last minute, “No, there aren’t enough horses. Add two more.” Languages that have duals usually are pretty strict in using them, so it’d be odd if a line referring to two of something used the plural, and extremely bizarre if a line referring to three or more of something used the dual.

Along those same lines, I decided one thing I’d do to distinguish animate nouns from inanimate is that inanimate nouns would make no number distinction at all—at least not on the nouns themselves. In effect, inanimate nouns are treated like mass nouns (part of the reason they’re called vekhikh hranna, “grass nouns”). Even so, number may be marked on verbs and adjectives. Here are some examples:

  • nerro chak “silent foal” or “silent foals”
  • nerro chaki “silent foals”
  • Nerro chaka. “The foal is silent.” or “The foals are silent.”
  • Nerro chaki. “The foals are silent.

With the third sentence there, the plural interpretation is much easier if, for example, there were a pen full of foals (in fact, there the singular version of the verb is preferred). The idea behind the lack of number for inanimate nouns is that many of them are, in fact, mass nouns. Those that aren’t are usually inanimate for other reasons (e.g. because they sound like another word that’s inanimate, or because in the older form of the language they ended in a consonant, or their meaning has changed over time, etc.). And one way Dothraki speakers have individuated certain inanimate nouns throughout the history of the language has been to make them animate (so you often see pairs of words that are identical save for their class membership).

I think that just about settles the issue of “number”. Now for “numbers”.

A while back, the numbers 1 through 10 were released over at the Making Of blog (you can see that in .pdf form here). Here they are again (so you don’t have to go searching):

Number Dothraki Number Dothraki
1 at 6 zhinda
2 akat 7 fekh
3 sen 8 ori
4 tor 9 qazat
5 mek 10 thi

Beyond the numbers 1 through 10, the number system is fairly combinatorial. To form the teens, you add the digit to the front of thi, as shown below:

Number Dothraki Number Dothraki
11 atthi 16 zhindatthi
12 akatthi 17 fekhthi
13 senthi 18 oritthi
14 torthi 19 qazatthi
15 mekthi 20 chakat

You’ll notice that there are two irregularities in there: the numbers for 16 and 18. The original numbers were, certainly, zhindathi and orithi, but since every other number in the teens is stressed on the penultimate syllable, the th was geminated so that the stress patterns of 16 and 18 would match the rest.

Also, the last item there is a bit different. There’s a unique lexeme for 10 (thi), but after that, the numbers in the tens form a pattern, with either ch- or chi- being prefixed to the numbers 2 through 9. Here they are below:

Number Dothraki Number Dothraki
10 thi 60 chizhinda
20 chakat 70 chifekh
30 chisen 80 chori
40 chitor 90 chiqazat
50 chimek 100 ken

You also see the Dothraki equivalent of 100 above. This leads to the next round of numbers: the hundreds:

Number Dothraki Number Dothraki
100 ken 600 zhindaken
200 akatken 700 fekhken
300 senken 800 oriken
400 torken 900 qazatken
500 mekken 1,000 dalen

A couple notes here. What I have written as akatken and qazatken sometimes comes out as akathken and qazathken. Though written as a single word, these are two word compounds (or at least started out as two word compounds), but, like the teens, they’re fusing. The late fuse means the words aren’t subject to the spirantization that affected Dothraki words in the past, but old habits die hard, meaning that you’ll often here akathken for akatken, etc. The pairs are in free variation. Somewhat less common (but nevertheless present) is senhen for senken.

Beyond 900, the numbers are, indeed, two word compounds, so 2,000 is akat dalen, 3,000 is sen dalen, etc. The largest unit is yor, which is one million, though it tends to be used more often as yorosor, which means…basically, some huge number (like a jillion in English). It seems doubtful that there would be a practical use for yor in Dothraki, unless they started dealing with the Bank of Braavos.

For in between numbers, the connector is ma. So, for example, 21 is chakat m’at, and 2,431 is akat dalen ma torken ma chisen m’at. The rest should be self-explanatory.

Two other comments about numbers. Or wait. Three other comments about numbers; my bad.

First, I made an executive decision early on that the Dothraki would have discovered the concept (but perhaps not yet taken full advantage) of zero. The word for zero is som, which comes from the word of the same form which means “absent” or “missing”.

Second, when applied to noun phrases, the noun may be realized in the singular or plural. The plurality is optional, since the number itself indicates plurality. A couple examples:

  • fekh khalasar “seven khalasars”
  • sen gevesi “three moles”

Finally, I couldn’t leave numbers without talking about ordinals. Ordinal numbers work quite differently in Dothraki. Forming an ordinal is simple enough: one adds the agentive suffix to a digit (or the last number in a sequence). Here are the ordinals for 1 through 10:

Number Dothraki Number Dothraki
1st atak 6th zhindak
2nd akatak 7th fekhak
3rd senak 8th orik
4th torak 9th qazatak
5th mekak 10th thik

Each of these are animate nouns (and, in case you’re curious, they’re used to stand in for either an animate or an inanimate noun), and mean something like, “the first one” or “the fifth one”, etc. When applied to a noun (e.g. to say “the fifth horse”), the ordinal number is placed in the genitive and put after the noun it modifies. Some examples are shown below:

  • hrazef mekaki “the fifth horse”
  • diaf qazataki “the ninth skull”
  • darif chitor ma senaki “the forty-third saddle”

There you have it! Anything and everything you might possibly have wanted to know about numbers in Dothraki. Seems kind of dry to me, since I’m not really much of a numbers guy (or a math guy [or a science guy]), but, hey, there it is! Now you can give a number to everything you see—in Dothraki!

What’s Said Is Said!

Thanks for all the responses! I was quite pleasantly surprised to see how quickly everyone (pretty much) either hit on the right translations, or hovered right around them. Now I’ll go through them and make some comments.

First, big ups to ingsve, who responded with almost perfect translations only 26 minutes after the post went live. Nice job!

House Stark: “Winter Is Coming”

The unofficial tagline of Game of Thrones, and probably the most famous house motto of them all. Those who follow my Twitter will note that I tweeted this translation way back on December 14th of last year (or at least I think it was last year. They don’t seem to list a year on tweets…). I think ingsve took note of this on the Dothraki Wiki, and he also got the exact translation: Aheshke jada.

Some others that were offered:

  • Qvaak added an interesting take on it with Aheshke zin jada, which he translated appropriately as, “Winter is still coming”. Personally, I like to think of zin as the counterpart to ray. It can mean “still”, but it also emphasizes that an action is being viewed internally as incomplete. I think Aheshke jada is the more appropriate translation, but you could say Aheshke zin jada, if you were, say, looking at winter, and it was charging right at you.
  • Laura (hi, Laura! Nice to meet you!) and Daenerys each offered the same translation with a version of jadi rather than jada. Here jada is appropriate if you think of “winter” as a third person singular argument. Since aheshke is an inanimate noun, though, Aheshke jadi is grammatical: it just means something like, “The winters are coming.” Perhaps one might offer Chafi aheshke jadi, which would mean, “The winds of winter are coming.”

House Greyjoy: “We Do Not Sow”

I knew, of course, that ingsve had taken House Greyjoy’s sigil as his personal icon, but I had completely forgotten that I had already pretty much translated House Greyjoy’s motto for him (or at least created the words, and I think ingsve did the rest). So ingsve’s Kisha vo velaineroki is correct. Daenerys came up with the same translation, which is also correct. Nice job!

After that, both Laura and Qvaak came up with an interesting variant using a postpositive negative particle. Qvaak’s is based on a well-observed pattern: Kisha velaineroki vosecchi. I like it! It’s rather emphatic. Laura’s translation used vos postpositively, which is something I haven’t done myself before, but I really like it. After all, if you can have vosecchi, it seems like you ought to be able to have vos. So, for example, the usual negation pattern would be the ordinary version; using vos postpositively would be emphatic; vosecchi would be really emphatic; and the double negation (which is also possible) would be really emphatic (i.e. Kisha vo velaineroki vosecchi!).

House Tyrell: “Growing Strong”

This was one of the toughest. The word is obvious enough (since Dothraki has that inchoative, if hajat is “to be strong”, then hajolat is “to grow strong”. Nice and easy!), but it’s up to interpretation how “Growing Strong” works in English, and then how it should be rendered in Dothraki. Here were the options:

  • The first offering was ingsve’s hajoy, which is, indeed, the active participle of hajolat, and means, roughly, “growing strong”. In English, our active participle is identical to our gerund, so, for all intents and purposes, the difference between the two is rendered trivial. In Dothraki, though, the participle form of the verb cannot be used as a noun, which would make hajoy look very strange standing by itself. One would see it and wonder, “Where’s the noun?”
  • Qvaak, Laura and Daenerys offered the present tense form of the verb in the first person plural, which I thought was clever. It’s basically a statement that means, “We grow strong” or “We are growing strong”. I like this, but it wasn’t what I had initially imagined. (By the way, Laura’s conjugation mistake was, in fact, my fault. Remember how I remarked on how the stem should be separated from the infinitive suffix in a previous post? Yeah… I didn’t do that. Oops! If you know the verb hajat, the stem of hajolat is easy to guess, but if you’re just looking at it, it’s easy to mistake the stem as being hajol rather than hajo. My bad!)

Actually, the translation I was thinking of was simply: Hajolat. When I see “Growing Strong”, in English, I think of it as a self-contained, nominal concept. To me, hajolat seemed like the most obvious translation. But this is why it’s so interesting to see other translations: You get different interpretations.

Update: Oh, you know what? There’s one more I forgot to list: Athhajozar. That also seems to work.

House Mormont: “Here We Stand”

This one was probably fairly straightforward. Laura, ingsve and Daenerys came up with the same translation: Kisha kovaraki jinne. That’s pretty much, “We stand here”.

To the extent that you think of the “here” as being emphasized in the English, I could see fronting the word jinne, which is exactly what Qvaak did: Jinne kisha kovaraki. I think I prefer this translation, though it is possible to emphasize jinne in final position. Qvaak also suggested the order of the subject and verb might be flipped. Here’s what he wrote:

I almost flipped the word order to VS, too, while I was at it, but then I felt that the phrase sounded more solemn than lofty, so I left it simple[.]

I wanted to quote this because I have to say I think exactly the same thing! I don’t know if I would’ve put it into those words beforehand, but when I read it, I thought, “Hey, yeah! That’s exactly how it feels!” Nice observation!

House Tully: “Family, Duty, Honor”

I thought this one would be the simplest, since, as ingsve, Daenerys and Laura did, you could just translate it word for word: Rhojosor, atthar, chomokh. There’s nothing wrong with that translation. The words in English are separated from usual English syntax (after all, you’d expect an “and” in there, too, if it were a part of a sentence), so it stands to reason that they might fall outside the usual syntax in Dothraki as well.

Qvaak elected to insert the “and”, giving us: Rhojosor ma atthar ma chomokh. However in order to do this properly, it would need to be Ma rhojosor ma atthar ma chomokh (it wouldn’t work without an initial ma—in fact, it might sound like “Family is duty and honor” without it).

House Lannister: “Hear Me Roar!”

This was the most challenging one by far, because there are different ways of rendering the sentence, and they’re a little tricky. Here are the translations with comments:

  • The first is ingsve’s Charas m’anha zorak! (as Qvaak pointed out, it’d be m’anha not meanha). Daenerys also offered a version similar to this. The literal translation would be, “Hear that I roar”, which is close. To me, it puts a little bit of distance between the hearing and the roarer—kind of like, “Take note of the fact that I’m roaring”, rather than, “Listen to me, and note that I’m roaring”.
  • Qvaak’s translation fixes the above: Charas anna fin zora! The odd thing about it is the relative clause attached to the first person pronoun. I mean, you can do that, but is it just me, or does that sound a little funny? Think about this one in English: “Talk to me, who is/am from California.” Should that be “is” or “am”? And why do both sound wrong? Weird! The translation does work, though.
  • Believe it or not, Laura’s translation was exactly what I was thinking of. It is literal, but it works: Chari anna zorat! Note that she used the formal imperative, which seems appropriate for a house motto. Anyway, this structure is grammatical, as it is in English. It’s probably not how you’d always do it, but it serves for this.

Actually, I rather expected someone would come up with my other preferred translation: Chari athzorar anni! or “Hear my roar(ing)!” It’s not an exact translation, but I think it serves—and it neatly avoids subordination. Great translations!

House Arryn: “As High As Honor”

This translation showcases a feature of Dothraki which is different from English except in this very construction, in which it’s identical. Both ingsve and Laura got the translation: Ven yath ven chomokh. In Dothraki, both ven’s are obligatory, unlike in English (i.e. “High as honor” also works). Not only that, but all coordinators double in Dothraki in most situations (as we saw above with ma). There are some that can occur by themselves, but only in very specific grammatical contexts. For usual situations, coordinators appear before both elements being coordinated.

Qvaak mentioned that he thought it was strange to compare two words from different classes, but, in fact, that happens all the time and is perfectly normal in Dothraki with ven.

So, that’s it! Thanks to those who participated. You all did great! Also, props to Laura for attempting a translation of “Say your right words!” I’d offer my own translation, but I can’t quite figure out how it works in English… Maybe Asti as jili yeri…? It’s quite a quaint version of English, though, so I’m not sure if the quaintness would translate correctly.

And for those who haven’t figured out the bonus still (even with today’s title and the picture shown below), the title from our last post referred to one of my all time favorite movies: Labyrinth!

A detail from the cover of my copy of Labyrinth.

Click to enlarge.

Labyrinth is an incredible movie that stars my personal hero David Bowie, along with a number of charming puppets (as well as, of course, a very young Jennifer Connelly). When Sarah (Jennifer Connelly’s character) is reciting from her book The Labyrinth, she says, “Say your right words!” (quoting the goblins). She threatens to say the words to have the goblin king (David Bowie) take her baby brother away, since he’s annoying her. Later the goblins do come and take the baby away, and when David Bowie appears before her, she recants, saying she wants her brother back. David Bowie’s response is, “What’s said is said!”

Oh, and, by the way, in the movie, David Bowie’s character performs some contact juggling using see-through “crystals” (plastic or glass spheres). The title from the last post is the word “fire” from the blog magnified through my own glass sphere which I bought in order to master contact juggling just like the goblin king many years back. I, uh…never got too far with it.

Say Your Right Words…

A couple posts back I noted that a poster at the Westeros forum had probably asked for Dothraki translations for each Westerosi house’s words, rather than just me pronouncing the names of each house in Dothraki-accented English. My bad there.

Anyway, I’ve already translated the words of House Targaryen (“Fire and blood”), but there are loads more. Rather than translating them, I thought it might be fun to see if the readers of this blog can translate them themselves. Consider this the first of (perhaps…?) many translation exercises to come.

So here’s what I’ll do. There are way too many mottos that have been revealed to deal with in one post, so I’ll just grab a few of them, and provide what extra vocabulary is necessary (for the rest, go check out the vocabulary list at the Dothraki Wiki).

First, the words (though one of these I know I’ve already translated somewhere):

  • House Stark: Winter is coming.
  • House Greyjoy: We do not sow.
  • House Tyrell: Growing strong.
  • House Mormont: Here we stand.
  • House Tully: Family, duty, honor.

Those should be fairly manageable once you have the vocabulary. Now here are a couple that might be more challenging:

  • House Lannister: Hear me roar!
  • House Arryn: As high as honor.

Now here’s the vocabulary you’ll need (at least the vocabulary that I don’t yet see over at the the Dothraki Wiki):

  • aheshke (ni.) winter
  • atthar (ni.) duty
  • chomokh (ni.) honor
  • hajolat (v.) to grow strong
  • kovarat (v.) to stand
  • rhojosor (na.) family
  • yath (adj.) high
  • zorat (v.) to roar

The notations (ni.) and (na.) above refer to inanimate and animate nouns, respectively (see the page on noun animacy at the wiki). The only place where noun animacy would be relevant is in assigning noun cases, but you won’t need any noun case other than the nominative for the nouns, so no worries there! You may need a case other than the nominative for the pronouns, though, so go here for the wiki page on pronouns.

Aside from that, these wiki pages may prove useful as well:

I was looking for a page discussing coordinating particles, but didn’t find one… Oddly enough, the relevant translation itself might provide a clue to their use.

Happy translating! I’ll post the first correct translations (along with the translator) up on the blog after everything’s been translated (which, now that I’m looking at it, I suspect won’t take very long…).

P.S.: Bonus points for whoever gets the title reference. The photo associated with this post on the main page is a clue (should you need it).

Relative Clauses in Dothraki

Today’s post is going to end up being rather long and grammar-heavy. Some readers will probably dig that, but it may be a bear for others, so by way of making amends, here is a picture of my cat Keli wearing sunglasses:

My cat Keli wearing sunglasses.

Click to enlarge.

From now on whenever you think of relative clauses, I hope you will think of the coolest cat on the planet (and that, of course, would be my cat).

Relative clauses are clauses which modify a noun. Here are some examples in English (with the relative clauses underlined):

  • The goat who loves me.
  • The octopus that I saw eating Twinkies.
  • The jaguar I gave a camera.
  • The penguin I saw Driving Miss Daisy with.
  • The duck whose uncle I tased at the Super Bowl.

In each case above, the modified noun plays some sort of role in the relative clause. Those roles are:

  • Subject: the goat is the one doing the loving.
  • Direct Object: the octopus is the one I saw.
  • Indirect Object: the jaguar is the one I gave a camera.
  • Object of a Preposition: in this case, the penguin is the object of “with”.
  • Possessor: the duck is the one that has the uncle I tased.

English is quite permissive in its relative clauses. You can relativize almost any role. Some languages are less permissive, allowing you to relativize only certain roles. In Kamakawi (a language of mine), for example, only subjects can be relativized (below, ana is “duck” and topu is “shout”; for more on relative clauses in Kamakawi, go here):

  • Ana poke topu i’i. “The duck that called me.”
  • Ana poke topu’u ti’i. “The duck that I called.” (lit. “The duck that was seen by me.”)
  • Ana poke topuku’u ti’i. “The duck for whom I shouted.” (lit. “The duck that was shouted for by me.”)

For Dothraki, I decided to “simplify” things (which, in all cases having to do with Dothraki, means “make things closer to English” [though English itself is far from simple]). I actually did this in several places on purpose. Dothraki is quite different from English, but it could have been differenter, if you’ll allow (though my spellchecker says that word is licit! How ’bout that…). I figured if people were going to try to use Dothraki, many would be at least familiar with English, so in order to make some rather foreign choices in some places, I dialed it back in others. The Dothraki relative clause is one of the places I dialed it back a bit.

In Dothraki, a bare noun of any case (in the embedded clause) can be the target of relativization, as can a noun that’s the object of certain (but not all) prepositions. To form a relative clause, one puts a relative pronoun whose animacy matches the animacy of the head noun directly after the head noun in the matrix clause. That relative pronoun takes on the case the head noun would display in the embedded clause. After that, one writes up the embedded sentence using VSO word order and with a gap where the relative pronoun would be.

That might be a bit much to digest, so let me illustrate with some examples. First, I’ll go through two simple examples: one where the target of relativization is a subject in the embedded clause, and another where it’s the direct object:

  • Adra fin tih anna. “The turtle who saw me.”
  • Adra fines tih anha. “The turtle whom I saw.”

The first sentence (where the turtle is the subject of the embedded clause) is pretty much identical to English; the second is a little different. Specifically, you’ll notice that the subject, which ordinarily precedes the verb in Dothraki, follows the main verb of the embedded clause. The reason it does so is the word order of embedded clauses reflects the older word order of Dothraki, which was VSO. This is often the case with natural languages (relative clauses are often a way to take a glimpse into the past).

In the case of Dothraki specifically, the pre-verbal position was, for many hundreds of years, a topic position. When the word order was VSO, a noun could be dragged up front in order to topicalize it. As time passed, the topic and subject positions became synonymous. In the case of relative clauses, though, since the relative pronoun occupies the topic position, the subject remains in situ. In matrix clauses in the modern language, you can actually get pre-subject topics (now that the pre-verbal position is the subject position), giving Dothraki stylistic word order variants of both OVS and OSV.

Hopefully that’s pretty clear. Now here are some other examples of relative clauses with nouns taking on different roles (note: some of the sentences below will require you to believe that a turtle could own and perhaps wield an arakh):

  • Adra fini tih anha arakh. “The turtle whose arakh I saw.”
  • Adra finnaan azh anha arakh. “The turtle I gave an arakh to.”
  • Adra finnoon ahajanak anha. “The turtle I’m stronger than.”

That last example, in addition to showing the ablative of the relative pronoun, also shows that comparands can serve as targets of relativization (something which not all languages allow [partly depending on how they handle comparison]). Similar examples can be formed with inanimate nouns, but the inanimate form of the relative pronoun is used. Here’s the declension patterns of the animate and inanimate relative pronouns:

Case Animate Relative
Pronoun (SG/PL)
Relative Pronoun
Nominative fin fini fini
Accusative fines finis fin
Genitive fini fini fini
Allative finnaan finea finaan
Ablative finnoon finoa finoon

Lastly, I mentioned that the objects of certain prepositions could be relativized as well. This is true, but it involves a construction which is probably one of the least familiar aspects of regular Dothraki grammar (to English speakers). In Dothraki, many prepositions can be used pronominally (or adverbially… I’m not sure which it is, honestly. I think it’s pronominally) when the noun phrase it modifies is a pronominal argument already present in the discourse. That may sound complex, but actually the easiest way to illustrate how it works is with a relative clause.

Let’s start with a sentence like the following:

  • Adra zimeme mawizze ma fesoon. “The turtle distracted the rabbit with a carrot.”

That’s pretty straightforward. Now what if you wanted to say something about that carrot? Here’s what you would do:

  • Anha tih fes finoon zimeme adra mawizze memas. “I saw the carrot the turtle distracted the rabbit with.”

First, the relative pronoun is put into the case it would have been assigned had it been preposed by the preposition (in this case, since the preposition is ma, which assigns the ablative case, the relative pronoun is in the ablative). Next, the preposition is put into its pronominal (or adverbial) form and stands for the whole prepositional phrase.

In English, we actually do have vestiges of a system like this, but the language is, often, considered stilted or antiquated. For example, if the carrot were already under discussion, we might say, “And the turtle distracted the rabbit therewith”. In Dothraki, rather than fronting the preposition (e.g. “I saw the carrot with which the turtle distracted the rabbit”) or stranding it (as above), the preposition is left in situ and put into this special pronominal form.

As I mentioned, not all prepositions work like this. Here’s a list of Dothraki prepositions that do work this way:

Dothraki English Pronominal Form
ha for, from mehas
irge behind, after mirges
ki by, because of mekis
ma with memas
mra in, into, inside memras
oleth over, above molethas
she on top of, on, at meshes
torga under, underneath, below metorgas
vi between, among, through mevis

When a preposition that doesn’t fit this pattern is used, a pronoun coreferent with the relative pronoun must be put in what would otherwise be a gap. It doesn’t sound great, though, so it’s usually advisable to try to reword the clause, rather than to resort to using the copy pronoun. Here’s an example:

  • Adra finnoon drivo anha haji moon. “The turtle for whom I died.” (lit. “The turtle whom I died because of him.”)

It’s not nearly as bad in Dothraki as the literal translation above is in English, but it’s not as elegant as other relative clauses that use the pronominal form of a given preposition, so if possible, it’s to be avoided.

As a final note, the distinction between the animate and inanimate relative pronoun is likely on its way out of the language. The default is becoming the inanimate relative pronoun (whose declension paradigm is simpler), and using it with an animate head noun is no longer as ungrammatical sounding as it once was.

That is almost all you’d ever need to know about relative clauses in Dothraki. This post is quite long as is, so I won’t go into indefinite relative clauses (I’ll save that for another time).

Oh, but as one last note, the post-subject verbal modifiers come right after the relative pronoun, if present, e.g.:

  • Adra fini ray tih anha arakh. “The turtle whose arakh I already saw.”

Aside from the indefinite relatives, that should be just about everything. Thanks for reading!

Food, Glorious Food!

Those who are fans of A Song of Ice and Fire probably already know this, but for those who don’t, two fans of the series started a blog a while back where they cook and catalog each and every dish mentioned in one of the books of A Song of Ice and Fire (and there are many). The blog is called The Inn at the Crossroads (named after the, uh…Inn at the Crossroads from the books), and it’s chock full of recipes both tasty and terrifying.

But for those of us who have read as far as A Dance with Dragons, there’s one recipe that is bound to make one shudder: Honey Spiced Locusts. The locust is, of course, edible, but the very thought of eating an insect is…disquieting. I mean, with a snail, you can close your eyes and pretend it’s a clam or a shrimp, but a locust?! Ain’t no getting around that thorax. Blech!

Needless to say, I was quite impressed that The Inn at the Crossroads folks not only made the dish, but ate it (with their mouths!). Here’s their photo of it below:

A dish made by the Inn at the Crossroads. Photo by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel.

Click to enlarge.

My hat is off to them. And since this is a dish that comes from across the Narrow Sea, the Dothraki should certainly have a word for it—or, if not the dish, then the insect, at least. As it happens, Dothraki lacks a word for locust (and grasshopper), so I decided to coin a word based on the names of the chefs at The Inn at the Crossroads: Sariann and Chelsea. The new word for “locust” in Dothraki, then, is a portmanteau of the two names: chelsian. (Try them with gizikh; apparently they’re “crunchy” and “surprisingly good”. I shall remain forever curious.)

Rather than actual locusts, they apparently used crickets. While I’ve never eaten a cricket, I have had one in my mouth. You see, back when I was at Berkeley, I lived in a co-op called Casa Zimbabwe (a.k.a. Krakistan). One evening, some fellow CZers were feeling adventurous, and so they decided to make chocolate-covered crickets. (As background, our house would get Ghirardelli chocolate chips in bulk and keep a box of them in the pantry. And me, I’d often grab a handful of chocolate chips on my way to class as a little pick-me-up.)

You probably see where this is going.

One day I reached into the Ghirardelli box to grab a handful of chocolate chips like I always did, and when I put them in my mouth, the first thing I thought was, “Ewww… There was a ball of hair in the chocolate chips for some reason.” Then I went to the sink and spit out ten to fifteen melty chocolate chips and…a dead cricket.

The dude in the dining room thought this was funny—after all, what’s wrong with a cricket that isn’t wrong with beef or chicken or fish? And while I agree with the spirit of the rejoinder, I did not plan on putting a cricket into my mouth, and, if I’d been given the choice, would have chosen not to. Really and truly I would have.

Thus endeth the tale of David’s mouth and the cricket. And if I have my druthers, no cricket will come as close to my esophagus as that cricket did that fateful afternoon ever again.

But by all means, if you feel like trying out the ol’ honey spiced locusts/crickets, give it a go! If you take a picture of yourself doing so, I’ll put it up here and give it a proper Dothraki caption of one kind or another.

(Note: Please don’t interpret this as encouragement to do so. I’ll probably be horrified if I get pictures of people eating crickets. I’ll put them up here, for sure, but I probably won’t be able to eat for a few days afterward…)