Taking a break from grammar, I thought I’d write up a little guide about how to write Dothraki using the Arabic script. It’s actually mostly written up, so all I have to do is transfer it over to the blog (heh, heh…).
Of course, one might wonder: Why would I already have a guide for transcribing Dothraki using the Arabic script? For that, we have to go way back to the days before the Game of Thrones pilot was filmed. Back then, I think the general feeling was that the show would be picked up for at least one season (it wasn’t official, of course, but we all kind of had a gut feeling), and at the time (back when Daenerys was being played by Tamzin Merchant), the Dothraki scenes were all being shot in Morocco—and I, at least, thought they would continue to be shot in Morocco.
In Hollywood, though, radical sweeping changes can happen overnight, and soon Tamzin Merchant was replaced by Emilia Clarke, and Morocco itself was replaced by Malta, and the rest is history. During the Morocco days, though, the word was that many Dothraki extras would likely be Moroccan, meaning they might know French, and would likely know Arabic, but might not know English. Since the Dothraki romanization was designed with English speakers in mind, I decided it would make sense to devise a French-inspired romanization system, as well as one utilizing the Arabic script. I detailed both of these systems in the original materials I sent to Dave and Dan. I’ll probably write up the French romanization system I came up with later, but for now, let’s take a look at the Arabic system.
First, some important facts about Arabic writing. The system is, technically (as it’s used today), an alphabet, but it began its existence as an abjad. An abjad is a writing system that treats vowels as incidental, encoding only the consonants. Thus, in an Arabic word like kataba, “he wrote”, you generally write the equivalent of ktb, with the vowels being assumed. As it is now, there are certain vowels that must be written (long vowels), and there’s a secondary set of diacritics that can be used to optionally write all vowels, so it really looks more like an alphabet, but it’s abjadic history is evident to any who use the script.
Unlike most Western scripts, the Arabic script is written from right to left (which is a nightmare if you want to drop a word of Arabic into a predominantly English text, let me tell you), and most of the characters connect to one another (as with cursive writing in English). It’s also, in my opinion, gorgeous. I fell in love with the Arabic script the first time I saw it, and am glad to have had the opportunity to learn the language and use the script (also is useful to be able to read it).
Anyway, for those who love great big tables, you’re in for a treat! Here’s the full system for rendering Dothraki in Arabic (note: for diacritic vowels, I’m using Arabic د [d] as the bearer below; romanized forms with an asterisk are non-standard. I’ve also enlarged the font size of the Arabic a little bit so the characters are easier to see):
|Arabic Transcription of Dothraki|
|Romanized Form||IPA Transcription||Arabic Transcription|
|A, a||[a]||دَ ,ۃ ,ا|
|E, e||[e]||دَ ,ۃ ,ا|
Many of the choices above are (as anyone who reads Arabic will probably immediately recognize) not uncontroversial. It is nice, though, that Arabic has dedicated letters for q and th, which are often difficult for native, real world orthographies to represent. A summary of the reasoning behind some of the decisions made above is below:
- I’ve completed conflated a and e. It’s difficult to distinguish between the two in the Arabic script, frankly. Apart from introducing a new letter (or, perhaps, using the diphthong يْ), though, there isn’t much to be done. I’d be open to suggestions. (Note: I’d originally used a kasra diacritic for e, but decided against it, as it seemed unnatural.)
- As in Arabic, there’s no distinction between y and i. One choice I made was to mirror that with w and o (in Arabic, w and u). The character و is often used for o in borrowings (e.g. دبلوم “diploma”), so I figure all it would take is a note that و is always pronounced [o] when used as a vowel, and Arabic speakers would get it right.
- It was quite tempting to render zh as ج, but most speakers actually have something closer to j for that, so I resorted to using a non-standard character ژ, which I hoped would be recognizable.
- Arabic speakers will notice that I used ح rather than ه for h, even though the latter is closer to the Dothraki h in most places. The reason is (thinking back to the actual Moroccan extras, remember), I was hoping they’d actually use the Arabic sound ح which I thought would be too difficult for English-speaking actors. I’d always imagined that sound in particular when creating and working with Dothraki.
- The character گ is the one I see most often for g (probably because it’s used in Farsi), but my brother-in-law, who’s been to Morocco, said they use ݣ, so I went with that.
- Of course, as with Arabic, gemination is indicated with a shadda above the consonant in question. It looks like a little w (دّ).
Now with that out of the way, let’s see it in action! Here’s a Dothraki sentence in the romanization, then in the Arabic script, then translated:
- Hash yer vineseri dothrakh ataki kishi, zhey shekh ma shieraki anni?
- حاش يَر ڤينَسَري دوثراخ آتَكي كيشي، ژَي شَخ ما شيَّرَكي انّي؟
- “Do you remember our first ride, my sun and stars?”
Ha! That was so much fun. I realize I may be the only one who appreciates this, but despite the vowel clusters of Dothraki, I always imagined it written in the Arabic script. Even though it’s a pain in the choyo to write it out using Unicode, it’s fun to see it on the screen.
Thanks for indulging me!