Monthly Archives: February 2012


In some of our IRC chats, Qvaak has asked me to go over demonstratives in Dothraki, so I’ll aim to do that today.

A demonstrative is a word like “this” that’s used in front of nouns or noun phrases. In English, we have these four common demonstratives:

  • Give me this book. (Nearby, Singular)
  • Give me that book. (Not Nearby, Singular)
  • Give me these books. (Nearby, Plural)
  • Give me those books. (Not Nearby, Plural)

Notice that the plural demonstratives above agree with the noun in plurality, but don’t actually mark plurality (i.e. you can’t say “Give me those book”). With that in mind, though, the English demonstratives encode two properties: number (singular vs. plural), and distance (nearby vs. not nearby).

In English, you may also use the demonstratives by themselves as demonstrative pronouns. They look just the same and can be used without nouns. The sentence above, then, would look like this:

  • Give me this. (Nearby, Singular)
  • Give me that. (Not Nearby, Singular)
  • Give me these. (Nearby, Plural)
  • Give me those. (Not Nearby, Plural)

Dothraki demonstratives, as modifiers, encode only one property: distance. Unlike English (but like many, many natural languages), Dothraki distinguishes three different distances: near to the speaker, near to the addressee, and near to neither. Demonstrative modifiers in Dothraki different from adjectival modifiers in that they precede the nouns they modify, rather than follow them. Using arakh instead of “book”, here are some sentences illustrating the distinctions made in Dothraki:

  • Azhas anhaan jin arakh. “Give me this arakh.” (Near Speaker)
  • Azhas anhaan haz arakh. “Give me that arakh.” (Near Addressee)
  • Azhas anhaan rek arakh. “Give me that arakh.” (Near Neither)

Note that the form of the demonstrative doesn’t change regardless of the plurality of the the noun, as shown below:

  • Anha tih rek hrakkares. “I saw that lion.”
  • Anha tih rek hrakkaris. “I saw those lions.”

If you want to use the demonstratives by themselves as stand-alone pronouns, however, the forms do change, unlike in English. Basically, in order to use a demonstrative as a pronoun, one needs to know the animacy of the intended referent. The demonstrative then declines as a noun would that matched in animacy. The animate form for each demonstrative pronoun adds -ak to the end of the demonstrative in the nominative, and the inanimate adds an -i. The animate forms decline like any consonant-final animate noun, and the inanimate form declines like the relative pronoun fini (its declension is shown here). Below are some examples:

  • Hazi zhokwae.That (thing) is big.”
  • Azhas rek anhaan. “Give that (thing) to me.”
  • Azhas mae hazakaan. “Give it to that (one).”
  • Jinak simon anni.This is my uncle.”

Notice also the difference here between a copular phrase and a noun phrase:

  • Jini havzi. “This is a cat.”
  • jin havzithis cat”

Regarding when to use which demonstrative, it’s fairly straightforward, given a specific circumstance. Let’s say we had two nameless interlocutors in a bizarre, Photoshop-esque landscape with multi-colored bones, as shown below:

Two dudes next to two bones with a third bone floating in space, apparently.

Let’s take our speaker as the dark red dude. If he wants to refer to the orange bone, he says jin tolorro. If he wants to refer to the green bone, he says haz tolorro. If he wants to refer to the blue bone, he says rek tolorro. Simple enough. Now let’s look at a different scenario:

Three people with three bones on a splotchy field.

In this scenario, if the speaker is still the red dude and the addressee is still the yellow dude, the same exact demonstratives are used as were used in the previous example (jin for orange; haz for green; rek for blue). If his addressee is the pinkish dude, though, you’d use haz for blue and rek for green. The choice will be determined by who’s being spoken to, not how close the thing is to the speaker, necessarily.

Now how about if the red dude is speaking to both of those other dudes at the same time. In that instance, you’d use haz for both and point or further specify with words if necessary. Since both addressees are being addressed at once, anything that’s near either of them will be considered close enough to warrant haz.

Now let’s throw in a further wrinkle:

Three dudes and four bones.

A new light blue bone has fallen from the sky! Let’s say that the red dude is addressing the yellow dude and the pink dude is just there. In this case, the red dude will refer to both blue bones with rek. The reason is that the green bone is still present. As it’s the closest to the addressee, it will get haz. This leaves rek to handle both of the bones that are further away, and the speaker will have to further specify if further specification is required.

Now how about this scenario:

Two guys, two real bones, and one imagined.

Now the red dude is thinking about the light blue bone from the last picture. In this case, the red dude refers to the light blue bone with rek. Presumably he could only do so if the light blue bone was known to both he and the yellow dude (otherwise he would need to introduce it into the discourse), but once it’s a part of the shared experience of speaker and addressee, it can be referred to with a demonstrative. As the addressee has a bone that’s near at hand (the green bone), it gets haz, leaving rek for the light blue bone.

Now how about this scenario:

Two men (one couchant), and two bones.

Yellow dude was out for his morning ride (around the green bone like every morning), when he sees that his friend red dude is lying on the ground in distress. He dismounts and walks past the green bone to get a closer look. Red dude, for whatever reason, has been incapacitated, and, as he gurgles out, the only thing that will save him is the orange bone that’s relatively near at hand. What the red dude does, then, is refers to the orange bone with haz, rather than jin, in order to imply to the yellow dude that the orange bone is not, in fact, nearby. Though it may be physically quite close, in this instance, it’s further than his body will take him, and so he uses haz to indicate that. If he were to refer to the green bone for any reason, then, he’d use rek, even though it’s quite close to the addressee.

This kind of gives you an idea how to choose between the three demonstratives of Dothraki. This same schema applies to non-physical elements, such as discourse topics. So, for example, if a speaker has an idea about something, he may refer to that idea with jin (as it’s a produce of the speaker’s imagination, the idea is, metaphorically speaking, near at hand). An idea that an addressee has come up with, then, can be referred to with haz. Something that’s to be introduced to the discourse (which is, perhaps, the product of neither speaker nor addressee) can be referred to with rek.

In addition, due to the nature of this spatial metaphor, a Dothraki can actually give opinions about another’s idea by using a different demonstrative. So, for example:

  • Hazi dirge davra!That’s a good idea!”
  • Reki dirge toki!That’s a stupid idea!”

Both ideas are the product of the same person, but by using reki in the second sentence, the speaker has attempted to place the idea even further out of the discourse space, making it seem bizarre (and, thereby, unacceptable). And, of course, a speaker can take that the other way, using jin to make it seem like they had something to do with the idea, even though someone else came up with it.

As this post is getting a bit long, I’m going to cut it off here, but it’s a start! Consider this an introduction to deixis in Dothraki. More will follow in future posts.

Modern Terminology

I’m back home from Albuquerque, and finally getting back into the swing of things. I don’t have any pictures of me presenting (I was presenting), but here’s an awesome picture of me with Sean Endymion from the University of Texas, San Antonio. He’s got “Valar Morghulis” and “Valar Dohaeris” tattoed on his arms:

Me and Sean Endymion.

Pretty cool! Now let’s take a look at some of the words coined for modern implements.

As ingsve rightly pointed out, I did, in fact, coin something for “train” in the New York Times article (forgot!). The coinage I came up with was zhav taoka, which is “metallic lizard” or “metal lizard”. Looking at it now, though, I think gezri taoka, “metallic serpent”, makes more sense. Hrakkar, though, came up with some really cool possibilities:

  • vezhtawaki “metal stallion”
  • vezhshiqethi “iron stallion”

Those are pretty cool! I think over time, vezhshiqethi would simplify to vezzhiqethi, making it even more cohesive. Another option would be vezh taoka. I think any of those would work. The difference between using tawak with the genitive and taoka (simply an adjective) is that tawaki might suggest “real” instead of “metal”, since, as an adjective, tawak means “real” or “authentic” (though the -i on the end should make it clear that it’s not an adjective).

As Hrakkar pointed out, trains and cars probably aren’t dissimilar enough to merit separate coinages. Using rhaggat, as ingsve suggested, would probably be what would happen (after all, we got our word “car” pretty much the same way). However, I would like to suggest (in honor of both Bob Marley and Hrakkar’s awesome neologisms) hrakkarshiqethi: an iron lion! (Hey, even if it doesn’t work for a general word for “car”, it could certainly be a brand of car.)

For airplane, ingsve suggested rhaggat asavva, “sky cart”, on analogy with rhaggat eveth, “water cart” (which is the word for “ship”). Hrakkar, yet again, busted out some awesome ones:

  • zirtawaki “metal bird”
  • vezhasavva “sky stallion”
  • sajasavva “sky steed”

I love all of those. “Sky stallion” just sounds awesome. From the Dothraki perspective, though, I kind of like sajasavva better (makes it feel like the pilot is more in control).

We also had a suggestion for a Klingon spaceship in a pretty kickass (and lengthy!) comment from LoghaD. After all, if the main warship of the Klingon is the bird of prey, it would certainly make sense to translate it directly as zirqoyi. I like it! As for how “Klingon” would render in Dothraki, my guess would be khlingan (based on the breathiness of the original affricate, which I think would take precedence over the stop). This would mean that there would be a hard g sound, but I find that more likely than the velar nasal becoming alveolar.

As we jump to cellphone, things do become quite a bit more abstract. The first is ingsve’s long-range compound vekhikh astokhhezhahan, which I would bracket this way:

  • [ vekhikh [ [ [ astokh ] hezhah ] -an ] ]

If you can follow that, the word is actually a tripartite compound (and, by the way, the way ingsve wrote this might serve to answer one of loghaD’s questions from the last post), rather than a two-word compound plus another word, and means “thing for far-speech”. If this were a real compound, the word vekhikh adds practically nothing, as far as semantics goes, so it would likely drop out, leaving astokhhezhahan. By projecting, I could see that being reduced phonologically to astokhezhahan and then astokhezhaan and then astokhezhan—and maybe even further to tokhezhan. It’s not monosyllabic like “cell”, but it’s close!

Hrakkar’s suggestion would need a little work. If the intended meaning is “something that converses intended for one’s hand”, I’d probably retranslate it as “thing for hand-conversation”. The word for “conversation” is vasterikh, so “hand-conversation” would be vasterikhqora or maybe vasterikh qora (the difference being where the stress would land). That’d give us vekhikh vasterikh qoran, and then vasterikh qoran, and maybe vasterikhoran—and then after that, maybe rikhoran. That could work!

While we’re on phone, ingsve also came up with a word for smart phone, specifically: vekhikhdavrakhan, i.e. “a thing for apps”. This was based on an interview I did somewhere where they asked me what a Dothraki translation for “app” would be. I said that an app is a “useful thing”, which I translated as davrakhan. Somehow, though, that became the word for app (unofficially officially). So, when ingsve got to “computer”, he added the augmentative suffix to the word for smartphone: vekhikhdavrakhanof. This is rather something to ponder. After all, there’s no question that the computer came first, but it does rather seem like computers and smartphones are getting closer and closer to one another (especially for us Apple users). I’ll bet there are probably young kids (or kids not yet born yet) who think (or will think) of computers as big iPhones, rather than iPhones as small computers! Wild.

Hrakkar’s suggestion was dirgakhtawaki, which is a “metal thinker”. I think I might prefer dirgak taoka (or dirgakhtaoka), but I can see the former working.

For “e-mail” and “text”, there were calls for more words, and, indeed, that’s probably in order. Hrakkar suggested asathmovezari, “words of magic”. I think the adjective would work better there, giving us asmove, “magic words”. But something that would probably make this a lot easier is the word assokh, which means “message” (also means “instruction”; comes from the same root as ase, “command”). The question then becomes, though, is it important to distinguish between text message and e-mail? It is in our world (so you don’t waste time checking your texts if someone’s sent you an e-mail, and vice-versa), but it may be hard to distinguish without more specific vocabulary having to do with “writing”.

Thanks for the comments, though! I had a lot of fun reading through them. Look for this to become a regular feature on the blog. I’ll have to think up a title for it, though, so we know what we’re talking about… Any suggestions?

Just for Fun

I’m currently in Albuquerque for SWTX PCA/ACA and getting ready to call it a night. Tomorrow, among other things, I’m going to talk about how Dothraki leads a kind of dual existence: One as a language in the extended Universe of Ice and Fire, and the other as a constructed language that exists in our world and can be used to the extent that its grammar and lexicon will allow. In our modern world, though, the lexicon created for the show isn’t as practical as it could be, so I thought it would be fun to try to coin some modern words from existing material. Here are some to try out:

  • airplane
  • train
  • car
  • (cell/tele)phone
  • computer
  • e-mail
  • text message

None of these words, of course, would enter the official lexicon of Dothraki (they’re not appropriate), but they might prove useful for using in other contexts. See what you can come up with! The online lexicon is here. If you need to use a word that isn’t available, just use the English word and I’ll see if I can fill in the blanks.

As a refresher, this is how compounds works.

First, sometimes a prolix expression can become a lexical entry. Consider “The President of the United States of America”. That’s a full noun phrase, but we understand it to be a single entity. You can do the same thing in Dothraki (consider Vezh fin Saja Rhaesheseres), in which case you don’t need anything but the grammatical information needed to form noun phrases.

If you want an actual compound word, there are three different types. The first is a noun-adjective compound. These work by combining any noun with any adjective to form a new noun. Starting with a noun in the nominative case, you add an adjective directly after the noun. If the combination results in a difficult consonant cluster, an e can be inserted after the noun for euphony. The resulting compound is an inanimate noun of Class A if it ends in a consonant; Class B if it ends in a vowel. Here’s an example based on Daenerys’s last name:

  • vaz “storm” + yol “born” = Vazyol “Stormborn”

Next come the noun-noun compounds, of which there are two types. The most common are combinations of a noun stem and a noun in the genitive (if possible). The meaning of a compound like this (if the two nouns are A and B) is “an A of/from B”. To form one of these compound nouns, take the first noun and strip it to its root. If the root ends in a vowel, the second noun is added afterwards. If it ends in a consonant, the second noun is still added, but the same euphony rule detailed above applies (i.e. an e is inserted if necessary). If the second noun ends in a vowel (regardless of what noun it used to be), the resultant compound will likely be an inanimate noun of Class B (sometimes it will be Class A). If it ends in a consonant, an -i is appended to the end of the new stem, and it becomes an inanimate noun of Class A. Here’s an example:

  • zir “bird” + qoy “blood” = zirqoyi “bird of prey, raptor”

The last type of noun-noun compound is the allative compound. Using our nouns A and B, an allative compound creates a word that means “an A (intended) for B”. To form it, the first noun is stripped down to its root, as with a genitival compound, and the second is added after it. If the second noun ends in a vowel, an -n is added to the end; if not, an -an is added to the end. Either way, the resultant compound is an inanimate noun of Class A. Here’s an example:

  • qemmo “cover” + tih “eye” = qemmotihan “eyelid”

One final note. Sometimes a resulting consonant cluster will not need an epenthetic e, but it will change in form. Specifically, when a stop consonant comes before another stop consonant, it becomes a fricative. Stops will become the fricative that’s closest to its place of articulation, sometimes devoicing if necessary. Here’s a chart showing which stops go to which fricatives:

  • t, d > th
  • ch > sh
  • j > zh
  • k, g, q > kh

Feel free to have fun with it! There are no right answers. I’ll have a conference update some time later in the week.


That’s the word for “frustration”. This darn blog loads too slowly! I really like my WordPress theme and what I’ve done with it (this blog, essentially, looks just the way I want it to), but, you know what they say: athdikar assila athozhokwazar. As a result, I’m writing this otherwise contentless post to ask: Is there anyone out there that can fix this? I’m looking for a solution that isn’t “Delete these plugins” or “Switch to this theme”, but something like, “I rewrote page.php and moved the JavaScript around”, or, “This plugin is much better than the one you’re using and accomplishes the same function”. A golden dragon for the one who can help! (Or perhaps just a heartfelt thank you.)

Okay, regular content will now resume.