Category Archives: Grammar
Discussions about Dothraki grammar.
Another season of Game of Thrones is in the books, which means that this blog will go back to discussing grammar—this time with Valyrian added to the usual Dothraki posts (though I will mention that the Dothraki posts have not disappeared. There’s more there yet!).
This week I wanted to talk a little bit more about verbs. I spent a lot of time on the verb conjugation paradigm, and am reasonably pleased with how it came out. We’ve already gotten a look at the present indicative tense, so let’s jump to the past. There are two main tenses that occur primarily in the past: the perfect and the imperfect. Each tense has a stem modification in addition to personal endings, but the stem modification for the imperfect is predictable. The perfect displays patterns of predictability, but is not 100% predictable based on the shape of the root.
To start with, let’s look at the imperfect. The imperfect tense is used primarily to set up action in the past. It focuses on a specific action in the past that is viewed internally (i.e. is viewed as not yet having been completed). In a sentence like “He was talking to some lady when her dragon lit him on fire”, the verb “was talking” would be in the imperfect in High Valyrian. The imperfect tense is associated with the -il suffix (by the way, pay careful attention to my use of the word “suffix” there. I’ve seen “infix” thrown around, but such an analysis is inaccurate) plus the e set of personal endings. Here’s what the imperfect looks like with a consonant-final stem. Below I’ll use the verb pāsagon, which means “to trust” or “to believe”.
|Person/Type||Imperfect Active Tense|
The imperfect has no associated participle, and no stand-alone infinitive or imperative.
When a verb stem with a final vowel is put into the imperfect, the vowel of the suffix -il coalesces with the vowel of the stem to produce a long vowel. As our example, I’ll use the verb bardugon, which means “to write” (coined in honor of Leigh Bardugo, author of Siege and Storm, which just came out [plug!]. You may remember her from such Dothraki words as lei).
|Person/Type||Imperfect Active Tense|
As you can see, the tense isn’t that difficult to get a handle on. The only wrinkle is figuring out whether a stem is consonant- or vowel-final, and then what the result is if the stem is vowel-final. Here’s a summary (using the first person singular active indicative as an example):
- pās-agon “to trust” → pāsilen
- bardu-gon “to write” → bardīlen
- keli-gon “to stop” → kelīlen
- mije-gon “to lack” → mijīlen
- nekto-gon “to cut” → nektēlen
- penda-gon “to wonder” → pendēlen
The above should be fairly intuitive. Moving on to the next tense, the perfect probably enjoys much greater use than the imperfect. The perfect tense focuses on an act that has been completed. By definition this action will have occurred in the past, but it can often be used with present relevance (what is often called an anterior). In English you can actually use the simple past in just this way. For example, if someone offers you food but you’re full, you can say, “I’ve eaten”. This is the English perfect, and it’s fairly standard. You could also say, “I ate”—even better if you add “already”. Think of the High Valyrian perfect as both of those uses rolled into one, but without needing the word “already”. Using our example above, the verb “lit” would be in the perfect in High Valyrian.
In the perfect, it’s not enough to simply know whether the stem ends with a consonant or vowel to figure out what the perfect will look like. Most of the time it has a -t or -et suffix, but this isn’t always (or exclusively) the case. Here’s what our two example verbs look like in the perfect. First, pāsagon.
|Person/Type||Perfect Active Tense|
What a tasty verb… And now bardugon.
|Person/Type||Perfect Active Tense|
Again, the endings are fairly simple (the same as the present tense endings), it’s just figuring out the stem. Here are some examples of perfect stems (again using the first person singular) and their associated infinitives:
- gaom-agon “to do” → gōntan
- henuj-agon “to exit” → hembistan
- māzi-gon “to come” → mastan
- pikīb-agon “to read” → pikīptan
- pygh-agon “to jump” → pȳdan
- qanem-agon “to sharpen” → qanēdan
- rāpūlj-agon “to soften” → rāpūltan
- rij-agon “to praise” → riddan
- rȳb-agon “to hear” → ryptan
- sik-agon “to bear” → sittan
- tat-agon “to finish” → tetan
- urne-gon “to see” → ūndan
- verd-agon “to arrange” → vēttan
A lot of the major patterns are contained in that list along with a couple of the more bizarre ones.
At this point, I think it’s more than possible to put a few sentences together. I’ll see what else I have time to put out in the coming months. Until next time, geros ilas!
As many will have noticed, there’s no new episode of Game of Thrones this week. There’s also no new episode of Defiance, for fans of the Syfy show. In fact, there’s not much on TV this weekend except for sports. The reasons is evident, though it seems that networks are only catching on this year. This Monday is Memorial Day in America.
Now ordinarily, one would think that since it’s a long weekend, people would be gearing up to go home and watch TV—and that’s often true. But as a holiday, Memorial Day is all but guaranteed to have the best weather of any American holiday throughout the year. The weather may be nice on certain holidays in certain parts of the country on any given year, true, but Memorial Day is just about guaranteed to have great weather in every part of the country every single year. As a result, families use this time to get together and go outside. And while sporting events work great for such weather (you can drop in and drop out, catch a play while getting something to drink, etc.), sitting down for a serious drama seems to be at odds with the gorgeous weather outside. Consequently, American networks decided to bow to the weather and take a week off.
Personally, I couldn’t be happier! This time of the year I often find myself out of town on the weekends (maybe not every weekend, but some weekends), which means that I have to miss a live airing of Game of Thrones, which is just not cool. This year I don’t have to worry! As with last year, I traveled up to the Bay Area for BayCon and also to visit with family (and with Shubert’s). And since there’s no Game of Thrones or Defiance, I can really enjoy the weekend!
While we take a breath as we prepare for the final two episodes of Game of Thrones, though, I thought I’d put up a couple of inflectional paradigms from High Valyrian. The hope is that these can be used as a general reference for the future. There’s been some excellent and fruitful discussion in the comments section of this blog, but as anyone who’s a regular commenter is well familiar with, it’s kind of hard to keep track of who said what when, and so I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes (misreading comments, saying comment x is incorrect when I really meant comment y, etc.). These paradigms I promise will be 100% correct (unless they need to be changed in the future [joking (kind of)]).
Starting with the verbs, those who’ve been following along will know that there are basically two types of verb stems in High Valyrian: those that end in a consonant and those that end in a vowel. In High Valyrian, a stem can end with any consonant or vowel, but those that end in vowels have paradigms which are quite similar to one another, and those that end in a consonant have paradigms that are quite similar to one another (in both instances, though, there will be variation in the perfect, which is the part of the paradigm most likely to be irregular). Here I want to give you the most regular versions of each paradigm so that you’ve got a base line to go off of. Let’s start with the easy one: consonant-final stems. As an example, I’ll use manaeragon, which means “to raise” or “to lift”.
|Person/Type||Present Active Tense|
A couple of comments on the table above. The (dark) grayed out part of the table are forms that don’t exist (there are no subjunctive participles or infinitives or imperatives). Where one form stretches across singular and plural, it means there’s no distinction. In the case of the participles, those are adjectives with regular adjective endings, and the first is used with a lunar or solar class and the latter with a terrestrial or aquatic (i.e. those specific adjective endings conflate lunar and solar into one class and terrestrial and aquatic into another). You’ll undoubtedly be able to glance at the table and pick out some patterns. Bear those in mind as we move to the next paradigm—this one for limagon, which means “to cry”.
|Person/Type||Present Active Tense|
Aside from the subjunctive, the tables should look quite similar (probably because the stem ends in -a), so it may prove instructive to do another vowel-final paradigm that should help to describe the rest of it. Here’s sōvegon which means “to fly”.
|Person/Type||Present Active Tense|
And with that, one should be able to figure out the rest. If you’re looking for something to hang your hat on, if you have a consonant-final stem, the first person plural present active indicative will always end in -i, and for a vowel-final stem, it will always end in -ī, regardless of the vowel in the stem. If you’re trying to fill out the rest of the vowel-final forms, yes, the first person plural and second person singular are identical with i-final stems, and in the subjunctive, the final o and u of o– and u-final stems both become v.
Since we’ve devoted a lot of space to verbs, I’d like to wrap up with a couple common noun paradigms. You’ll notice that a lot of names of Valyrian origin end in -ys. This is how nouns and names of that type decline. I’ll use the word loktys, “sailor” as an example (a solar noun of the second declension class. Most [but not all] words of this class are solar).
It might prove instructive to refer to the first declension lunar paradigm revealed last week and compare it to this one. Pay particularly close attention to the singular and plural numbers, and note where cases are conflated and where they aren’t. This is what defines declension classes in High Valyrian.
Oh, and since it doesn’t fit anywhere else but I feel like mentioning it, verb stems never end in a long vowel or diphthong, and you’ll run into the following diphthongs in High Valyrian: ae, āe, ao and āo. There are also some on-glide diphthongs which can serve as the nucleus of a single syllable: ia, iā, io, iō, ie, iē, ua, uā, ue and uē.
I hope you enjoy the week off from Game of Thrones! Come next week, things are going to start to get messy. Geros ilas!
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:
|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:
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?
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).
|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].”).
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”
- dothrak haj “the strong rider”
- dothrakaan haja “to the strong rider”
- dothraki haji “the strong riders”
- dothrakea haji “to the strong riders”
- Anha hajak. “I’m strong.”
- Dothrak haja. “The rider is strong.”
- Chiorisi haji. “The women are strong.”
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:
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!