Monthly Archives: January 2012

Fog Talking

The title for today’s post comes from the word athastokhdevishizar, which means “nonsense”, but which literally translates as “fog talking”. It was also used in the first Dothraki haiku submitted in response to last week’s post. As it happens, it was authored by ingsve, whose (at the time of writing) birthday it is! Happy birthday, ingsve! Here’s what he wrote:

Anha tokikof?
Anha dirgakof!

Which translates to (translating loosely):

I’m a big idiot?
I’m a deep thinker!

You can let me know how close I got to what you were thinking. Ordinarily yes/no questions are preceded by hash, but I think the lack of hash here works to make this kind of an echo question (e.g. “You’re nothing but a lazy daffodil!”, “I’m a lazy daffodil?!”).

Another of ingsve’s is his birthday-inspired haiku:

Kisha vazhaki
Chisen ma at halahis

Which is:

We will give
Thirty-one flowers
To the conlanger.

San athchomari, zhey ingsve! I’d coined the word lekhmove for “conlang” previously, but this is the first time I’d seen lekhmovek for “conlanger”. I like it!

I made one correction above: What was halahi in the original should be halahis, as it’s a plural direct object (and halah is an animate noun). And, since it’s his birthday (and I believe we’re the same age), here’s a haiku back, zhey ingsve:

Ma anha vazhak
Chisen ma at halahis

It’s funny. A lot of times it’s hard to fit large Dothraki words into the slender frame of a haiku, but in both of these, we had to not contract a word in order to get the right number of syllables.

One more of ingsve’s: An ambitious attempt to translate Robert Oppenheimer’s quoting of the Bhagavad Gita. Here’s what he came up with:

Ajjin anha ray
athdrivaroon, drozhak

For those unfamiliar, the quote is, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. If I were to translate the above, this is how I would translate it:

Now I was already
Death, killer
Of worlds.

In order to tackle this translation, one has to come to terms with the English, which, I think most native speakers would admit, is fanciful, at best. If one were to switch out “Death” for, say, “teacher”, one would probably say, “Now I’m a teacher”, or, perhaps, “Now I’ve become a teacher”. The use of “am” is reminiscent of an older form of English where people said things like, “Now I’m come” to mean “Now I’ve come” (if you want to learn more about it, look up unaccusative verb and prepare to have your mind melt). Dothraki doesn’t have anything like that (he said, sweeping under the rug material for potential future blog posts), though, so before one translates the quote, one has to reword it a bit.

It was Qvaak, I believe, who pointed out that I translated something similar for the LCC4 relay. In that text, I translated the line, “The crone turned into a wolf” as follows:

  • Yesi nemo ficho mehas venikh veri.
  • /crone REFL obtain therefor semblance-ACC wolf-GEN/
  • “The crone got unto her the semblance of a wolf.”

That could work, technically, but I get the sense that it would mean something more like, “I took on the semblance of Death”, or, “I turned into Death”, which I think kind of defeats the tone of the thing. It’s more direct as it is, and the translation should reflect that.

So if I had to translate it, I would probably just have it as (not trying to keep to the haiku form):

  • Ajjin anha Athdrivar: Ohharak rhaesheseri.

Perhaps one could say “Athdrivaraan” and cast it as the future tense. Depends on how you read it. Nice job, ingsve! Way to push the envelope.

Next, Qvaak did a series of seasonal haiku, which I’ll look at it inverse order. Let me know if I got these right. The first:

Hrazef vos govo.
Chaf ish atthasa okre,
Chiori memras.

The horses don’t mate.
The wind maybe fells the tents,
A woman therein.

I made a slight correction (typo: hrazhef for hrazef), but otherwise I think that’s about how it translates. Nice use of the adverbial preposition! Next:

Halah she sorfo;
Negwin nem eyyelie.
Dani vekh hazze.

A flower on the ground;
A stone is spotted.
A gem is there.

I have to admit this one sent me to my dictionary. I knew eyel was “rain”, but the verb eyyelilat is something that Qvaak coined for this poem. The verb eyelilat is a stative verb meaning “to be spotted” (like the ground after it’s begun to rain lightly). Qvaak causativized it to produce eyyelilat, which means “to spot” or “to put a spotted pattern on”—then he passivized it! Nice.

I was trying to figure out what the poem actually means, and what I can guess is that there’s a rock, and there’s actually a gem inside, which you can see sparkling? Reminds me this old thing. The meaning of the flower, though, escapes me.

Edit: If you take a look at Qvaak’s comment below, you’ll see that he meant “ford” when he used dani. “Ford”! I never thought I’d see another person use that word in a million years. The idea is to evoke spring rains and spring flooding.


Kash shekh vervena,
Kash hranna veltoroe;
Voji virzethi.

When the sun is violent
The grass yellows;
Red people.

Yet again, Qvaak coined a word, and it makes perfect sense. Veltor is the word for “yellow”, and veltorat means “to be yellow”, so, of course, veltorolat means “to yellow” or “to grow yellow”. Very nicely done! If only it would have fit the syllable count, I think vervenoe would’ve worked even better in place of vervena.

Now, as for “red people”, I have to ask: Did you mean “sunburned people”? If so, nice try! When I get around to it, there will probably be a different word for “sunburned”. (Virzethoe would also work well, though, again, it’d be one syllable too many.)

Edit: Qvaak intended “People are red” as the translation of voji virzethi, but either translation works.

Excellent haiku, you guys! But, of course, there can only be one “winner” (in the non-contest sense): Only one that can claim the mighty and fearsome Mawizzi Virzeth (the Red Rabbit). And here it is, the first from Qvaak’s seasonal series (and below that an audio file of me reading it):

Vorsa erina.
Ikh dozgosoon anni;
Ahesh sash qisi.

At first I didn’t even read it right, because I thought the verb in the first line was an adjective. But, indeed, it’s a verb. Here’s my translation:

Fire is kind.
Ashes from my enemies;
Fresh snow nearby.

Now that’s evocative! Nicely done! And for penning my favorite of the bunch, you win the “coveted” Mawizzi Virzeth:

The 2012 Red Rabbit Award presented to Qvaak.

This precious award comes with no physical prize. In fact, as the Dothraki don’t value money, it doesn’t even come with a virtual prize. It does, however, come with much respect. San athchomari, zhey Qvaak! And thanks to both Qvaak and ingsve for submitting haiku! I know specific grammatical information on Dothraki isn’t easy to come by even now, and the available lexicon is smaller than the total lexicon, but you took the plunge! And for that, I salute you.

In other news, if you haven’t seen it elsewhere, I’m going to be presenting on Dothraki at the Southwest Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conference next month. The conference is being held from February 8th to the 11th, and my talks will be during the day on the 9th, and in the evening on the 10th. The latter is open to the public. So, if you happen to be in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stop on by! It’ll be lots of fun.

Update: Added audio of Qvaak’s poem.

Asshekhqoyi Anni

Today is my 31st birthday, which seems like a much more frightening prospect than my 30th… But at least I have two years until my 33rd. If you’re wondering about the featured image for this post, the explanation is quite simple: Since I’m writing this post before my actual birthday, I don’t have any pictures from my birthday, which led me to go back to photos from my previous birthday, when my wife took me to Vegas, where many hotels featured displays inspired by Chinese New Year (at the time, the Year of the Rabbit), and, as a big fan of rabbits (and topiary), I, naturally, had to take some pictures. And, yes: I do have more pictures. Many more.

I was trying to figure out something fun to do for my birthday, and then…I figured it out. (I couldn’t think of a snappy way to finish that sentence. Then I started writing the last one. And now this…) Back on December 17th, I did an interview with Monique Stander for a South African radio station. The interview was at midnight, and I got a call from a station assistant a half hour beforehand to make sure I was there and ready. Once that had been ascertained, he also asked if I’d write a haiku, since they were talking about haikus on the show that day. I asked him if he wanted one in English or Dothraki, and he said English, so we hung up and I started writing a haiku in English (kind of tough to come up with a good one, but I did my best).

He then called back at 11:55 p.m. and said that, in fact, it was in Dothraki they wanted the haiku, not English. He asked how much time I had, and he said three minutes. So we hung up again, and in three minutes, I came up with this:

Sajo anni ma
Haja ma ivezhofa.
Sek. Me nem nesa.

Which is (approximately): “My horse is / Strong and fierce. / Yes. It is known.” It’s not Bashō, but at least it has the right number of syllables in the right places (something I wasn’t sure of when I went on the air!).

Since we’ve got all the time in the world here on the internet, I thought a Dothraki haiku might be a fun (and relatively manageable) translation challenge! So the gauntlet is cast. If you’re interested, write a haiku in Dothraki. For the purposes of this contest, a haiku is 17 syllables long, with the syllable counts for each line being 5, 7 and 5, in that order. If you need to fudge, we’ll set up a separate category for haiku that are 17 syllables, but maybe don’t hit the right line numbers.

Also (and this is important), since this is Dothraki, we are definitely going by syllable count, not mora count. Regarding syllable-counting, in Dothraki, a syllable is defined as a vowel plus one or more consonants on either side. A syllable cannot contain more than one vowel, which means that a word like kishaan is trisyllabic, not disyllabic.

If it helps, you may or may not contract the various prepositions that contract. So, for example, mr’anha (two syllables) is the usual way of saying “inside me”. For your haiku, if you wish, you can separate the two out, i.e. mra anha (three syllables). You can also drop purely epenthetic e vowels (so the past tense of “crush”, kaffe, can be rendered as kaff’). Feel free to play with word order and drop pronouns, as needed, bearing in mind that such language is figurative, and the reader will still need to be able to figure out who’s doing what to whom.

So, there it is! Good luck! Feel free to post responses in the comments to this post, or e-mail them to “dave” at “dothraki” dot “com” (feel free to include audio!). I’ll discuss the responses in a future post, and will possibly give my favorite some sort of (likely virtual; definitely rabbit-related) prize. If you need any help, head over to, and you should find what you need.

Fonas chek!

Ours Is the Fury

A week or so ago, Crown of Gold asked in a comment on a previous post how one would translate the words of House Baratheon into Dothraki. The words are: “Ours is the fury.” I might’ve responded to the comment directly, but the question is actually much more complicated than one might think.

Starting just with the English, “Ours is the fury” is an instantiation of what appears to be a rather bizarre (or at least crosslinguistically rare) construction. I think an English speaker has the sense that “Ours is the fury” means something fundamentally different from “The fury is ours”, but it’s hard to characterize that difference. As I see it, it’s not simply a difference in focus. It’s kind of like in the first one, the idea is that the fury is inherent in who we are—it’s part of what defines us (here, the “us” is House Baratheon, of course). In “The fury is ours”, it sounds like we just obtained it—or purchased it.

Personally, I always think of Captain Planet. When he said, “The power is yours!“, it always sounded to me like he was either giving us the power, or informing us that we now had the power (and perhaps always had it). Had he said, “Yours is the power!”, it would have been something quite different—more of a reminder that we have it within us to put an end to pollution and poaching and the like.

(By the way, I invite English speakers to comment on what they think the difference between these two might be. Do you get my sense, or something different? Or do they sound the same to you?)

Anyway, so before translating it into Dothraki, I needed to figure out what the heck it means in English. And since I was on IRC at the time, I asked ingsve and Qvaak what they thought. It turns out in Swedish and Finnish, there’s no equivalent for “Ours is the fury” (you’d translate it as “The fury is ours”). Part of that has to do with the fact that neither language actually has a distinct possessive pronominal form. English, on the other hand, has a full complement of them, as shown below:

  Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun
1st Person Singular my mine
2nd Person Singular your yours
3rd Person Singular (Fem.) her hers
3rd Person Singular (Mas.) his his
3rd Person Singular (Ina.) its its
1st Person Plural our ours
2nd Person Plural your yours
3rd Person Plural their theirs
WH-Word whose whose

Like Finnish and Swedish, Dothraki also makes no distinction between the possessive adjective and the possessive pronoun: All there are are the pronouns in the genitive (or the ablative, as the case may be [no pun intended (but enjoyed, nevertheless)]). Even so, there are situations in which a genitive pronoun will be interpreted as a possessive pronoun. Consider the two sentences below:

  • Hazi hrazef anni. “That’s my horse.”
  • Hazi anni. “That’s mine.”

However, you can’t turn that around:

  • #/? Anni hazi. “Mine is that.”

Okay, that sentence may be infelicitous for other reasons, but this one makes sense in English:

  • #/? Anni athhajar. “Mine is the strength.”

I can’t even characterize how bizarre that looks… I can’t say for certain that it’s ungrammatical, but it just doesn’t look or sound right. So one couldn’t translate “Ours is the fury” straight up into Dothraki (the way you can, more or less, in Spanish).

In order to try to approximate the flavor of the original, then, I had two ideas: (1) Fix it so that the word order could be preserved, or (2) try to translate the sense I get, regardless of word order and lexical items. So instead of giving “the” translation, Crown of Gold, I’ll give you two. Not sure which is best (interlinears given in lieu of translations, as we know what the translation is):

  1. Kishaan athostar. /1PL.ALL fury-NOM/
  2. Athostar dothrae mra kisha. /fury-NOM ride-3SG in 1PL.NOM/

I think each translation has its own merits. The first preserves the word order and simplicity of the original English, but it implies the same thing that “The fury is ours” implies, in my mind—that is, the fury is somewhere outside of us, and it’s coming to us.

The second should be somewhat familiar, as it parallels Daenerys’s quote from A Game of Thrones: Khalakka dothrae mr’anha, “A prince rides inside me”. She’s referring to her unborn child, of course, but I thought that it really accurately describes the sense I get from “Ours is the fury”. I think it works! Though I did just think of a possible alternate:

  1. Athostar dothrae kishi. /fury-NOM ride-3SG 1PL.GEN/

So literally, this would be something like “Fury rides with us”, or “Fury rides beside us” (reminiscent of that scene from Tombstone). I think that’s a pretty good approximation of “Ours is the fury” done Dothraki-style!

Sorry for the late response, Crown of Gold, but that one made me think quite a bit. It was a good one! Always nice to work through a new translation. Oh, and as for athostar, it derives ultimately from ostat, which means “to bite”. It’s an animalistic type of anger which I thought better suited the English word “fury” than any other term referring to anger. “Fury” itself is kind of an odd word as it exists in English. It doesn’t just mean “anger”: it implies violent action. That’s what I got from athostar (which has been around for a while), so I thought it’d work for this translation.

Thanks for the question, zhey Crown of Gold!

Update: Matt Pearson suggested an alternate for the first translation that uses the ablative, instead of the allative:

  1. Kishoon athostar. /1PL.ABL fury-NOM/

That’s another option to consider. I think it sounds even more aggressive than “Ours is the fury”—more like, “Mess with us, and taste our wrath!” What do you think?

And a Happy Goat Year!

Happy 2012 to you all!

2012 should be a good year for Game of Thrones fans: Season 2 is debuting in April, and George R. R. Martin will be finishing up The Winds of Winter! Okay, maybe not, but A Dance with Dragons will be coming out in paperback, after kicking some choyo in hardback. Athdavrazar!

Since it’s a new year, I thought I’d do some resolutions, since I never seem to do any. For Dothraki, I’ve got a big one: 5,000 words by December 31st, 2012. We’re currently at 3,300, so that’s a fair amount, but I’ll give it my best shot!

To start things off this year, let’s look at some year-related words, if that’s a licit category. We know the word for “day” (asshekh) already. The word for “year” is firesof, deriving ultimately from fir, an adjective meaning “round” or “circular”. I’ve left uncreated words for things like “week”, “fortnight” and “month”, for the time being, since it seems like at least some of these might end up being borrowed from other languages, so those lexemes will have to remain mysterious for the time being. Something everyone in the universe of Ice and Fire certainly has to deal with, though, is the seasons.

If you’re new to A Song of Ice and Fire, seasons work very, very differently. In the world of Westeros and Essos, summers and winters can last several years at a time, or just a few months; one never knows. How does it work? Magic. (Or, for more information, go here, but don’t expect a complete answer.) But certainly the seasons aren’t something one can shrug off, like we can here in Southern California. (Want to know what the high here was today? 75°F/24°C. Yeah… We got it good here.)

Since the seasons are unpredictable, I decided to derive the terms for the seasons from climatological phenomena. The four seasons are as follows (all inanimate nouns):

  • eyelke “spring” (from eyel, “rain”)
  • vorsaska “summer” (from vorsa, “fire”)
  • chafka “autumn” (from chaf, “wind”)
  • aheshke “winter” (from ahesh, “snow”)

There are parts of Essos that won’t see snow in the winter, but the Dothraki travel all over, and likely weather snow for a good part of a given winter.

As firesof is an inanimate noun, a new year would be a firesof sash, but to wish someone a happy new year (or the equivalent), one would more likely say something like, Firesof athvezhvenari! And you can replace athvezhvenari with any other superlative noun in the genitive, such as, Firesof shekhikhi! or, Firesof alikhi!

So, to one and all, Firesof athdavrazari!