It’s now February 20th, and this is the first Dothraki post of the month. Given that it’s a short month, this may very well be the last, as well. I feel obliged to offer up some sort of explanation, given that (most months) I’ve been pretty good about living up to my unwritten (until now) four posts per month goal.

As it has turned out, this month has been pretty busy. In addition to the SWTX PCA/ACA Conference from last week, I’m giving a TED University talk at TED this month (a whole 6 minutes on the 28th!), and have been busy doing a lot of prep work for that and for TEDActive, where I’m giving a workshop. If you want to talk any Dothraki, the best place to catch me these days is on Twitter or at our weekly Dothraki chat on IRC.

I didn’t want this post to be completely devoid of Dothraki, though, so I thought I’d address an issue that came up on Twitter. Our latest (and quite prolific!) Dothraki speaker Tyene Sand was trying to translate a sentence using the Night’s Watch (that is, the name “the Night’s Watch”). That can be translated in a number of ways (I offered Vitihiraki Ajjalani), but the translation called for the phrase to be declined in some way. This is where one runs into a dilemma.

In Turkish, if you take a foreign noun and try to decline it, the word behaves a little differently from native (or assimilated) Turkish nouns. Turkish names take a number of case suffixes (similar to Dothraki), but these suffixes participate in vowel harmony. Here’s a small example:

English Turkish
mağaza store mağazada at the store
göl lake gölde at the lake

As you can see, in the Turkish forms in the third column, there’s a suffix that’s either -da or -de. Which suffix you get depends on the character of the previous vowel (for more, see this article on Turkish vowel harmony), but they both mean the same thing.

That’s fine and good. What happens, though, when you add these suffixes to a foreign word? Turkish, as it turns out, does a couple of things differently. First, the suffix is always attached with an apostrophe (kind of like how sometimes in English, acronyms are pluralized with an ‘s as opposed to just s [e.g. DVD’s rather than DVDs]). Second, unless the quality of the vowels is quite apparent, Turkish just uses one of those two suffixes—specifically, the -da suffix. Here’s an example:

English Turkish
Google Google Google’da on/at Google

So, now that we know what Turkish does, what does Dothraki do?

First, Dothraki noun phrases are often declined on the head noun. This is the rough equivalent of “passerby” vs. “passersby” in English (the latter being the formal plural of the former). Take, for example, the phrase asavva evomen, which has various meanings depending on context (for now, let’s say “afterlife”). If one wanted to pluralize this phrase, the appropriate plural would be asavvasi evomeni (the latter adjective taking an -i on account of concord). That is, asavva is the head noun, so it takes the plural; one doesn’t treat the whole thing as a single noun and attempt to add some sort of inflection to the end of evomen.

That said, one may want to write in Dothraki and talk about modern people, companies, products, places, etc. For something like “Google”, one option would be to try to translate the concept (good luck) or to render it in Dothraki (Gogol?). This might end up making things more confusing than necessary, though. As a result, the kind of catch-all repair strategy used in Dothraki is the preposition haji. Haji means something like “because of” or “on account of” or sometimes “with respect to”. In Dothraki proper, its meanings are a bit more specific. When used in conjunction with foreign names or terms, though, it stands in for any preposition and/or the genitive, allative or ablative cases. Thus, one might say something like:

  • Anha tih mae haji Reddit.
  • “I saw it on Reddit.”

Technically haji there could be standing in for she, ma, irge, hatif, vi, ha, ki—or the ablative, genitive or allative cases. Really, though, given the context, it seems likely that it’s standing for she (a general locative. Not sure if anything more specific would be used to refer to something one sees on a webpage. Mra, maybe?). One might be able to supply a context that would force another reading, but the most obvious reading suggests that whatever was seen was seen on Reddit.

Though the solution is pretty simple, the drawbacks are that there could be confusion or ambiguity, so it behooves one to supply the proper context so that only the correct interpretation is plausible. If more specificity is absolutely required, one can always use the proper preposition. If a case is needed, it’s probably best to attempt to render the noun in Dothraki, as below:

  • Anha dothrak Disneylandaan!
  • “I’m going to Disneyland!”

To make it clear, one may (in the Turkish style) separate the case ending from the root with an apostrophe, but personally I prefer it without.

I hope your February’s going well and that it’s not too cold where you are! It rained today, so California will get a bit chillier for the next couple of days, but otherwise I can’t complain. For those of you who speak or are familiar with other case languages, what do those languages do with foreign proper terms? How would “Google” come out in the instrumental in Russian? Or the translative in Finnish?

Dothras chek!


  1. Alright!

    I checked some of the Twitter conversation you mentioned, and that makes me a bit confused (that’s given, isn’t it, considering the limited space there is for explaining things).

    You use haji for haji vitihiraki ajjalani, and then comment that “for proper names, you don’t use case and just use haji.” This does not mesh with my prior understanding of the situation, and seems to clash with the above text too. I thought haji was for foreign proper names (and presumably also for other unassimilated loan words, if such are to be used). I thought Dothraki proper names like Drogo or Irri would decline as animate nouns. And I would have treated “vitiharaki ajjalani” as any noun phrase, the same way as asavva evomen.

    Evomen is a nice new word. “Beginningless”?! “Timeless”? Just a curious word for “endless”?

    As for Google in Finnish translative, that would be Googleksi ~[go:gleksi], but if someone would care to pronounce it even somewhat according to it’s English pronunciation, that would be, I guess, Googleiksi ~[gu:gəliksi] – which would be really confusing in writing, as that reads as a plural translative of the version we usually use.
    We use apostrophe only if the written form of the foreign word ends in consonant, but the pronunciation ends in vowel, eg. Bordeaux – Bordeaux’ksi. …but that’s just an issue of ortography, innit.

    Generally we have two nasty options: assimilate the word (on the spot if need be, at the worst case following the written form) – which is rather rude & crude in the case of proper names … or introduce an unplesant change in rhythm and intonation in the middle of the word.

    1. I thought Dothraki proper names like Drogo or Irri would decline as animate nouns. And I would have treated “vitiharaki ajjalani” as any noun phrase, the same way as asavva evomen.

      Basically I was treating the Dothraki translation of the Night’s Watch like a proper noun so that someone could look at the translation and pick out the word for the Night’s Watch, and wouldn’t be using some kind of declined version and treating it as the nominative.

      1. Okay, let’s see :)
        in McDonald’s: v McDonaldsu
        on Nintendo Wii: na Nintendu Wii / na Wiiju / na konzoli Nintendo Wii (yeah, the last one is cheating, introducing a new head noun ;))

        1. See, now that is interesting! You kind of throw in the ‘s as a part of the word for McDonald’s, and then do some funky things to the Wii. Let me ask: Of those three, what feels the most natural: the first, the second or the third?

          1. Yup. We take it as one word, it stands to reason speakers do not analyze the morphology of a word when they borrow it (besides, even in English, the ‘s in names of establishments is often completely integrated, right? Harrods, Fosters …). As to NW, we know it’s two words, we know Nintendo from before, and we interpret them as “the Nintendo called Wii”. Thus we can decline Nintendo as the head noun. Since it’s shorter, the most natural option in actual use is to simply call it Wii and decline that. The ‘j’ is epenthetic intervocally.

            1. Well, that’s just the thing, though. Sometimes we do analyze the morphology of other languages. This is why in English the plural of “focus” is “foci” (even though we do a very English thing in changing the pronunciation of “c” in the plural). We usually also have access to the “regular” plural (e.g. “focuses”), but use of the regular plural varies word by word (“forums” is more common than “fora”, but “fora” is more common than “stadia” as a plural for “stadium”). It’s all a little puzzling—especially when we create false plurals (e.g. octopus~octopi, cactus~cacti).

              Of course, English nouns don’t really have anything else going on but pluralization. I always find it interesting to see what happens with other languages that have richer nominal inflection (e.g. the Slavic languages, the Semitic languages, etc.).

            2. Ah, true true. It’s definitely interesting.

              In the case of Latin and Greek plurals I think the case is slightly different, since I take it both the singular and the plural were borrowed together as a whole, and belong to the educated register (so arguably there was no language-internal word formation/morphology involved on the part of the English speakers). Analogies and hypercorrections are strong (and amusing) forces, however :)

  2. In Latin, you either Latinize the word by one trick or another (for example, the official Latin translation of Google treats the name as a Greek 1st decl noun, so I suppose “on Google” would be Apud Googlen or the like), or you treat the word as indeclinable (e.g. Hoc ludum pro Nintendo Wii emi). Indeclinables do occur in Latin; they can of course be a pain, because you have to get the case from contexts, but a common trick is to use a demonstrative pronoun (ludus huius wii) an adjective (A McDonalds pessimo cibum sumpsi) or an apositive (Ad urbem Væs Dothrak equitavimus).

  3. Oy, David, I’m trying to respond to your comment and fsr it won’t give me the reply button. So, starting a new thread:

    Well, that’s just the thing, though. Sometimes we do analyze the morphology of other languages. This is why in English the plural of “focus” is “foci” (even though we do a very English thing in changing the pronunciation of “c” in the plural). We usually also have access to the “regular” plural (e.g. “focuses”), but use of the regular plural varies word by word (“forums” is more common than “fora”, but “fora” is more common than “stadia” as a plural for “stadium”). It’s all a little puzzling—especially when we create false plurals (e.g. octopus~octopi, cactus~cacti).

    Wait, what’s wrong with cacti?

    As for octopi, yes, technically it should be octopodes, but notice that the word the Romans actually used for octopus, namely polypus is treated as second declension (a Doricism), with the plural polypi. If polypi is OK, then why not octopi? Furthermore, proper nouns in -pus, like Oedipus, also sometimes have second declension forms, and this happens even in Greek!

    But to return to your point, when Latin borrows words from Greek, they are generally allowed to decline as Greek, or Latin, or most commonly a mixture of the two. Sometimes even with questionable pseudo-Greek forms. Most other languages are not given this special treatment, but there are some indications of words borrowed from Gaulish or other Celtic languages keeping some of their native morphology in some instances.

    1. Thank you so much for your thorough replies, Mad Latinist! It’s a very complete picture of what happened to borrowings in Latin. I had no idea they would leave things totally undeclined. It makes sense, though, given the rich declension classes for modifiers that you could do that and just leave the modifiers declined (and it suddenly makes sense how German’s case system is almost entirely confined to its articles!). Thanks again!

      1. In the Vulgate Bible, most Hebrew names are usually indeclinable. There are a couple of exceptions (male Hebrew names that end in -yåh or -yåhū generally end up in Latin as -īās, treated as Greek first declension masculines; Hebrew -ai often, but not always, as -æus/-ēus), but equally there are some cases where a Hebrew name looks like it *should* decline, but doesn’t (unfortunately, an example escapes me at the moment). In sum, the vast majority are indeclinable.

        (Of course, as names of Hebrew origin became more common in the Latin-speaking world, many of them developed alternate declinable forms, just for the sake of convenience.)

      2. Don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before, but what you say about German reminds me: indeclinables are actually more common in Greek, precisely because, unlike Latin, Greek has definite articles.

  4. That’s one of the wonderful things about language, and English seems to be especially rife with oddities. Octopi and Cacti are indeed the common plurals, but very few people (myself included until now) would know what octopodes means. Then we have some strange plurals for words ending in x– for instance, ampex versus ampices (I wonder how that arose!)

    I kick myself frequently for not taking a *very good* Latin course that was offered by my high school. But at that time, math and science won out, and I use those skills a lot more than I would have used latin– until now!

    Otherwise, thanks for the interesting blog post. So much to learn!

    1. Just to add one pebble: Octopus in English is completely regular, so while people wrongly say octopi, octopodes does not work either since that plural form was not borrowed. Thus, simply octopus-octopuses! (maybe people don’t like using it since it sounds like octo-pussies :P)

      1. I repeat: even in Latin (which you might not realize is my obsession ;) ), I would not consider octopi wrong. In fact, it is arguably more correct than the pedantic octopodes.

        1. I agree, and I follow your arguments :) I have no stake, and little knowledge, in questions of Latin. Just talking about English and what classical plurals have been borrowed: octopus and museum, for example, only get regular English -s plurals, while other words like focus and stadium can have the borrowed classical plural or the native productive ones, often with a slight nuance in meaning or use.

          1. For English, my own philosophy for words of classical origin is that neither the (correct) Latin plural, nor the (regular) English plural is wrong. That said, sometimes one of the two will sound horribly awkward (for instance, “syllabuses” or “musea”… OK, I admit that I do say “musea,” but they don’t call me “Mad Latinist” for nothing ;) )

    2. Well, Latin words that end in -ex or -ix very often have plurals in -icēs. Thus English “vertices,” “appendices,” “indices” etc. I don’t quite know how it happened (or when, but I was certainly was aware of it by the 90s), but somehow it became a common joke to pluralize UNIX this way, and from there Linux, Ampex, and so on. Someone along the line must have been both a computer geek, and a Latin geek.

    3. Hi! I noticed this thread just now. I know it’s old, but I’ve been reading this blog for a while, and so I figured I’d join in regardless.

      About the ampex versus ampicēs. Latin isn’t really my thing, but the inflection goes back to athematic nouns in Proto-Indo-European and so I can comment on that. Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but athematic nouns differ from thematic nouns in that they did not contain a thematic vowel between the root/suffix and the ending. The nom. sg. -s was therefore added directly to the root/suffix, giving ampek-s. This contrasts with thematic nouns, which were typically o-stems. The athematic plural was -es (like in octopodes, mentioned somewhere on this page), which would give the hypothetical ampek-es. You have the same pattern in Greek with words like kýliks – kýlikes.

      As to the Latin form, I’m not really sure, but I can make an attempt.

      First off, about the rules of syllabification in Latin; is it am.pic.ēs or am.pi.cēs? If the syllable is open, the presence of an ‘i’ instead of an ‘e’ can easily be explained by weakening of short, unstressed vowels. As to -ēs (with a long vowel), I have no explanation except that Old Latin nouns of the same type took both -eīs, -īs, -ēs and -ĕs in the plural (or so Wikipedia says), so I guess they had some trouble deciding. -ĕs at least mirrors the PIE ending, and I would guess that -eīs shows the ‘e’ preserved, before -ēs got popular by Classical times.

      1. The syllable is indeed open, and the vowel does indeed turn to i because it is short and unstressed. -ex -icis is a quite common pattern in Latin (e.g. index “informer, index,” vindex “avenger,” podex “@$#*”), and that is what Ampices is modled on. And yes, in Classical Latin the nom.pl. for this declension is -ēs… I don’t remember why the long e, but it may be generalized from the athematic accusative… (insert irrelevant digression about the merger of consonant-stems and i-stems, and i-stem accusatives in Golden Age Latin here)

  5. Obviously you have the Slovenian up there, but you asked for specifically Russian, and since nobody seems to have answered the call I’ll do that for you. In Russian it would be ‘na Googleh’ (with -eh as the case marker, as opposed to the ‘u’ of Slovenian), and for the other words you asked of the Mad Latinist, they would behave similarly: ‘v McDonaldzeh’ or ‘na Nintendo Wii’; usually, words in the singular that end with -ee are expressly foreign introductions and not conjugated at all — perhaps you might here someone use ‘na…Wiiyeh’, but that to my ears sounds rather odd.

      1. “На Гугле (na Google, or, closer na Gugle)” is the prepositional case.
        Instrumental will be “Гуглом (Guglom)”.
        For example:
        Она воспользовалась Гуглом, чтобы узнать информацию о дотракийском языке.
        She used Google to know information about the Dothraki language.

        But “she used Google” may be expressed as “Она использовала Гугл”. That’s accusative.

  6. Hi, David. I hope Ruso Chocolate won’t mind if I jump in and give the Cyrillic for ‘na Googleh’: it’s ‘на Гугле,’ which is in the prepositional case, just as you thought. A usage example is found in the title of a YouTube video: “Как создать свой сайт(блог) на Гугле БЕСПЛАТНО – YouTube” (“How To Create [Your] Own Site (Blog) on Google FOR FREE”). (The video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRlgdyWxLMY.)

    Keep up the great work, David.

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