In recent months there’s been some new interest from various quarters in Dothraki, so I thought what I’d do is write up a short post introducing you to some of the basic concepts behind Dothraki grammar and show you where to go for more detailed information. As such, this’ll be a good place to start if you’d like to learn how to read and write in Dothraki. (Note: You can get much of this information on a .pdf I wrote up which you can download here.)
Spelling and Pronunciation
Something I’ve neglected doing thus far on the blog is a post just on spelling and pronunciation. Oops! The spelling system is pretty much phonetic, though (i.e. each letter is pronounced the same way every time it appears), so it shouldn’t be too bad. For a quick rundown of each letter and digraph, go to the transcription section of the Dothraki Wiki.
If you’d like to perfect your pronunciation, I recommend clicking on the audio tag of this blog. That will bring up all the posts in which I’ve included a Dothraki recording. In addition, I’d like to recommend a few posts specifically that go over some trickier aspects of Dothraki pronunciation:
Of course, if you ever have a question about how something is pronounced, drop me a line! I like to practice, so I’m always happy to do recordings (though it may take me a while to get around to it).
Here’s a list of the personal pronouns of Dothraki in the nominative case (i.e. when used as the subject of the sentence):
|Second||Familiar||yer||you||yeri||you, you all|
|Formal||shafki||you||shafki||you, you all|
|Third||me||he, she, it, one||mori||they|
Some things to notice about the table above:
- Though most varieties of English don’t distinguish between “you” when addressing one person or “you” when addressing more than one, Dothraki does.
- Dothraki also distinguishes between familiar and formal address, much like Spanish or German or French. The formal pronoun shakfa, though, does not distinguish between singular and plural (the same pronoun is used for both).
- Dothraki makes no gender distinction. Thus, me serves for “he”, “she” or “it”—and is also the pronoun used in impersonal constructions (e.g. “One shouldn’t run with scissors [even though it’s a lot of fun].”).
For more detailed information on pronouns (including their various forms in different cases), you can check out this blog post on pronouns, or go to the pronouns section of the Dothraki Wiki.
In Dothraki, there are two important things one needs to know about a noun in order to use it properly: What its gender or noun class is, and what case it’s to be used in. We’ll discuss those two things separately.
In Dothraki there are two types of nouns: Vekhikh Hranna (Grass Nouns) and Vekhikh Asavva (Sky Nouns). The two types of nouns differ in how they decline—that is, the forms they use in a sentence. The noun type is something that simply must be learned and memorized, though there are some clues that help one determine how likely a noun is to be a Grass Noun or a Sky Noun. For more information on this, see the section on noun animacy in the Dothraki Wiki.
For translation purposes, the main difference between Grass and Sky Nouns is that Grass Nouns don’t distinguish between singular and plural; Sky Nouns do.
Now to discuss nominal declension. In English, we say “He saw the dog” and “The dog saw him”. We don’t say “Him saw the dog” or “The dog saw he”. Ever wonder why? It’s because (most) English pronouns decline for case. Dothraki nouns are like English pronouns, except they have more forms than (using “he”) just “he”, “him” and “his”. These forms correspond to different roles the nouns play in a sentence. These roles are summarized below:
- Nominative: A case associated with the subject of a sentence.
- English Example: The hunter saw the dog.
- Dothraki Version: Fonak tih jan.
- Accusative: A case associated with the direct object of a sentence.
- English Example: The dog saw the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano tih fonakes.
- Genitive: A case associated with the possessor of some other noun.
- English Example: The hunter’s dog is loud.
- Dothraki Version: Jano fonaki lavakha.
- Allative: A case associated with the goal or destination of the action of the sentence.
- English Example: The dog ran to the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano lan fonakaan.
- Ablative: A case associated with the point of departure of the action of the sentence.
- English Example: The dog ran from the hunter.
- Dothraki Version: Jano lan fonakoon.
Basically in comparing Dothraki to a language like English or Spanish, rather than using a preposition like “to” or “of” or “from” (or a or de in Spanish) followed by a noun, the noun itself is modified to incorporate the meaning of the preposition. If you’d like to use a noun of Dothraki, you’ll likely need to make use of a noun in one or more cases (note that plurality is encoded by the case suffix). In order to decline a noun correctly, head over to the section on noun cases in the Dothraki Wiki.
The key thing to keep in mind about verbs is that they inflect for person, number and tense (and also polarity, but that can be ignored for those just starting out). This means that if you look up a verb in the online dictionary of the Dothraki Wiki, the form of the verb you find there will need to change.
For our purposes, let’s focus on two different verbs and two different tenses. One verb we’ve already seen is tihat. That’s the citation form for the verb “to see”. Another common one is dothralat. That’s the citation form of the verb “to ride”. These verbs differ in their stems: the first ends with a consonant (the stem is tih), and the second ends with a vowel (the stem is dothra). Most of the time, you simply strip off the suffix -at or -lat to get the stem of a verb (though be careful to note verbs whose stem ends in l!).
Once you have the stem of the verb you want to inflect, you have to know whether the subject of the sentence is first, second or third person singular or plural, and what tense the sentence is going to be in. Let’s start with the present tense. Start with the stem (we’ll do tih first), and then modify them in the following ways to conjugate a verb in the present tense:
|First||tihak||I see||tihaki||we see|
|Second||tihi||you see||tihi||you see|
|Third||tiha||s/he/it sees||tihi||they see|
Now here’s how you conjugate a verb whose stem ends in a vowel:
|First||dothrak||I ride||dothraki||we ride|
|Second||dothrae||you ride||dothrae||you ride|
|Third||dothrae||s/he/it rides||dothrae||they ride|
The future tense is identical to the present tense, save you prefix a- to the front of stems that begin with a consonant and v- to the front of stems that begin with a vowel. Thus atihak is “I will see” and adothrae is “they will ride”.
The past tense is simpler than the present and future. In the past tense, there’s no person distinction whatsoever, so both stems are shown below:
|Tihat||tih||I/you/she, etc. saw||tihish||we/you/they, etc. ride|
|Dothralat||dothra||I/you/she, etc. rode||dothrash||we/you/they, etc. rode|
For more information on verbs, check out the following pages in the Dothraki Wiki:
In Dothraki, adjectives follow the nouns they modify, as shown below:
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dorvi erin “the kind goat”
In addition, Dothraki adjectives agree with the nouns they modify in number and case (but only slightly). Consider the examples below:
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dothrakaan haja “to the strong rider”
- dothraki haji “the strong riders”
- dothrakea haji “to the strong riders”
Whereas in English adjectives often appear as the object of a copular construction, Dothraki uses stative verbs. Some examples are given below:
- Anha hajak. “I’m strong.”
- Dothrak haja. “The rider is strong.”
- Chiorisi haji. “The women are strong.”
For more information on adjectives, see the adjectives section of the Dothraki Wiki.
To augment the Dothraki case system, a variety of prepositions are used. In order to use a preposition appropriately, one needs to know what it is, what it means, and what case it assigns to the noun it modifies. A couple of common examples are shown below:
- she okre “on the tent” (assigns the nominative)
- ha okraan “for the tent” (assigns the allative)
- oleth okri “over the tent” (assigns the genitive)
Some prepositions can alter the case they assign to affect the meaning of the preposition. Consider ha from above:
For a large list of prepositions and their usage, see prepositions section of the Dothraki Wiki.
Here are some instructional materials that have been posted around the web (if you find more, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them):
- Tutorials at the Dothraki Wiki
- Audio/Visual Dothraki Tutorials on YouTube
- Step-by-Step Tutorial Based on the YouTube Videos Above
- Dothraki Flashcards at Quizlet
- Dothraki Subreddit
And, of course, there’s plenty more material here and scattered around the web that goes into more detail. If you ever have questions, just drop a line. Fonas chek!
Jane Edwards Gerds….see
Jane Edwards Gerds….see
Jane Edwards Gerds….see
Shamelessly tagging someone else that might be interested: Nephele
Shamelessly tagging someone else that might be interested: Nephele
Does this mean we’ve got the wiki pages (as they are now) you linked right? Or mostly right?
Absolutely. You guys have done a great job!
Athdavrazar, zhey David!
This is very useful and instructive, and clears up a lot of little items for me.
The classification of ‘grass’ and ‘sky’ words is most interesting, and casts the ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’ concepts in a whole new light.
I can see a few spots where the wiki may need to be adjusted– one that stands out is the definition of ‘allative’ and ‘ablative’.
Oh yeah, I was surprised to see that I hadn’t used those terms yet (hranna and asavva in Dothraki). They’ve been around a while. It’s how inanimate/animate nouns are discussed in Dothraki.
Could you please add this to the list of links? It’s a website of mine with a Flash application that has all my tutorials into one. (Well, not all. It’s going to be updated, though.) Here it is.
Added. Thanks, sunquan8094! Those are outstanding!
Hello, I’ve run into another point of confusion over on the Game of Thrones Wiki (for the TV show). Well actually I have two questions:
Question 1 – Several interviews have leaked out that “Valyrian” will appear in Season 3. Specifically, Nathalie Emmanuel tweeted that she has to practice a lot of “Valyrian” lines that Missandei has.
Now, there isn’t really one language called “Valyrian”. “High Valyrian” is the dead lore-language analogous to Latin that was spoken by the Valyrian Freehold (analogous to the Roman Republic). After that empire fell 400 years ago, it developed into Romance languages (much as French/Italian mutated from Latin). One or two words of High Valyrian are spoken in the TV show quoting the books, but you’ve previously stated that High Valyrian is not being developed as a language for Season 3.
However, “High Valyrian” mutated into at least TEN distinct Romance languages. One for each of the Free Cities, and one for Slaver’s Bay. The books directly state that while the Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen have somewhat separate dialects their Low Valyrian is mutually intelligible between the three, and thus one “language” — Slaver’s Bay Low Valyrian, which I *assume* is what Missandei speaks, is strongly influenced by the old Ghiscari language.
Now, later books in the series actually spend more time in the other Free Cities (Braavos, Volantis, etc.) so we may have to see more of those later.
My question is, is the “Valyrian” we’ve heard being referred to actually termed “Low Valyrian”? (what do you call it in your notes to distinguish it from High Valyrian?)….and should we call it “Low Valyrian” or “Bastard Valyrian”?
Because its more of a “Valyrian language family”, with “Braavosi”, “Myrish”, “Volantene” etc. described as not even really “dialects” anymore but separate languages
***OR, is the “Valyrian” being developed for the series a catch-all “Low Valyrian” which will be spoken in Slaver’s Bay, Braavosi, Volantis, etc. ignoring for the sake of convenience that in the books they are not mutually intelligible?
Also, as all ten languages developed from High Valyrian, won’t it be difficult to develop a Romance language without knowing much about their common Mother Tongue?
Question 2 – I’ve been fixing up the Religion articles over on the Game of Thrones wiki, and ran into a point of some confusion with regard to the Dothraki. We’ve been listing them by the name of the deity, i.e. “The Drowned God” or “The Lord of Light” for the whole religion. At first we were using “The Great Stallion” as the name of the article for the Dothraki religion, but then it was pointed out that the Dothraki seem to be Polytheistic, not Monotheistic, and (it seems) the Great Stallion is one god among several.
Indeed, its not clear if the Dothraki believe that the gods of other religions are “false gods”, or if like some ancient cultures or fantasy groups, they just think every group has its own “local” gods, whathaveyou.
So how far, exactly, has the Dothraki religion been developed?
A specific point is when Khal Drogo says he will “drag their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak” — does he think that non-Dothraki Gods like the Seven are “false gods”? Or does everyone just have “gods” and he accepts this as a given? That every nation has its “idols” which are its physical “gods”?
Is the Great Stallion the head of the “Dothraki pantheon” or something? Do they have other deities?
Eventually we gave up on the term “Great Stallion” and just titled the article on their religion, “Dothraki religion”. They do apparently believe in a wide variety of supernatural forces.
Question 1: This touches on some elements specific to season 3, which I can’t discuss at all at this juncture. I will tell you that answers exist, though—precise ones.
Question 2: The Dothraki religion is, of course, up to George R. R. Martin. I’ve tried to encode it the best I can in the Dothraki language, to the extent that there’s material available. I believe that there’s a lot to back up the point of view that the Dothraki believe that other gods may, in fact, exist, and that by stealing and destroying their statues, they are defeating them. (This type of belief was quite common to many ancient peoples in our world.) This was actually the inspiration for the word for “deity” in Dothraki, which is the same as the word for “statue”.
That said, I don’t think this is tantamount to saying the Dothraki are polytheistic. Though they believe that these gods are real, they’re not their gods, if that makes sense, and I haven’t seen evidence in the books of any other god but the Great Horse God, which Dany prays to at one point. They refer to the moon as a goddess (the wife of the sun), but I’m not sure that’s enough to say that they worship the moon and sun as personified gods.
Unfortunately these are questions that I believe cannot be answered definitely. These questions can only be answered by George R. R. Martin, and my guess is that he doesn’t have answers for them at present. That doesn’t mean we can posit our own, though (I certainly don’t have that authority). If GRRM doesn’t provide answers to us in future books, these may be questions that remain forever unanswered.
One might argue from this that the Dothraki are perhaps Henotheistic which means that you accept the existance of multiple gods but you only worship a single god. This is something that was seen in the middle east as a middle step between the original polytheism and the eventual monohteism.
That’s the first I’ve ever heard of that term (linked here for those who, like me, hadn’t heard it before), but I think that rather hits the nail on the end. Again, we’d need to wait for confirmation from GRRM, but that gels with my interpretation.
Hi, I have a question: it seems that some actors in the series pronounce ‘kh’ as [kʰ]? (or [k]?). For example, in Mago’s fight Dænerys clearly says [x], but to my ear Mago’s ‘khal’ sounds more like [kal]? And in this scene Khaleesi herself seems to use [kʰ]. I’m guessing that most book readers would have a mental image like [kʰ] too.
Could I just assume [kʰ] is an allophone of /x/?
Also, when saying “Kaleesi”, they generally seem to realize /ee/ as [i:], like in English?
Properly, it should be [x], and if Westerosi speakers were to pronounce words like “khal”, I’d rather expect them to use [h] over [kʰ], but I believe both are attested in our world (i.e. speakers without [x] using [k] or [kʰ] instead). Since the Universe of Ice and Fire is larger than the show, I’d like to think that what you hear on the show is a performance of the material, rather than its home, if that makes sense.
And yes, they pronounce “Khaleesi” as if the “ee” were the same as in the word “feet”. In retrospect, I probably should’ve realized I’d never be able to get anyone to pronounce that word correctly, and just bowed to the English pronunciation. Live and learn.
Don’t be so hard on yourself, David. I rather like the “ee” being pronounced that way instead of like “feet”. I think it’s one of the things I like most about the lang, hehe.
I have a question regarding the adjectives: it’s stated on the wiki that “Unlike many languages, High Valyrian cannot simply use adjectives as nouns, without first converting them by changing the endings.”
How is it with dothraki ones ? Following the russian way, they would simply keep their adjectival endings; in English, they have to be followed by a dummy noun (i.e. “one”).
But here there is almost no inflection to begin with (especially when they’re ending in a vowel). And I wasn’t able to find the least example of such a construction like the one in English (or, for that matter, in Chinese).
Is it that the stative verb is used as a basis? Like, with an agentive noun built upon it?
For example, would “the beautiful one” be translated as zheanak, from the verb zheanalat (in turn from the adjective zheana)?
I ask this ’cause we’re trying to translate the french saying “La femme est un homme comme les autres” (Women are men like the other ones) on the french conlanging forum. I came up with Chiori mahrazh ven eshnaki, with the latter term built upon eshna “other”, but I’m very insecure…
That’s the weirdest expression I’ve ever seen. I’d do eshnaki.
Thanks ! Thus you confirm that one cannot use a standalone adjective as a noun, but must first convert it to a verb, then add –ak. Interesting !
Well, as for that expression, perhaps my wording in English is at fault. The interest resides in the fact that in French, homme stands for both “human male” and “human person”. Thus we have Les Droits de l’Homme for “Human Rights”. The use of capital H sometimes can disambiguate those meanings (but there is none in the aforementioned saying ).
Come to think, does mahrazh cover “human person” as well ?
I didn’t confirm that. That’s just what I’d use in that situation.
And, no, mahrazh should not be used for “human person”. That’s voj.
Note to self : never translate from a foreign tongue without checking the lexicon twice.
And so Dothraki is slightly less “male-centered” than French in that particular area. Who’d have thought ? I enjoyed translating to Láadan and Kēlen though.