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