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Happy Thanksgiving

To those in America, Happy Thanksgiving! To those in Canada, Happy Thanksgiving about a month ago! To those elsewhere, happy day!

Something that may have been asked before but which I didn’t address was a Dothraki word for turkey. It seems to me that there would be no turkeys in Essos, if it was modeled after Eurasia (it seems like Westeros was modeled after North America, and Essos Eurasia, or something close to that), which would mean there would be no native word for turkey. If it were to be borrowed, it’d probably be borrowed from Westeros through one of the languages of the western coast of Essos. And since the Common Tongue is spoken in Westeros, it’d probably come out as “turkey” (or something based on it).

Thanks to Abe Simpson of The Simpsons, though, we do have a handy compound for turkey we can calque: a walking bird. A Dothraki calque for that would be zir ifay. In fact, we can put that together and get zirifay. That works pretty nicely.

So, to one and all, allow me to say: Asshekhi Zirifayi Vezhvena! Stay safe, and may the Cowboys lose (after Miles Austin gets two touchdowns. I need this win in fantasy)!

I Care!

Happy Wednesday! I thought I’d do a mini-post on a small question that’s come up a couple times and deserves a tiny bit of fleshing out (hashtag little).

More than a few people have asked how to say something along the lines of either “That’s important to me” or “I don’t care”. Our English verb “care” is a mystery to me. It’s so…squishy, if that’s a linguistic term. I’d fully expect it to have a quirky case subject in some language that’s prone to such things. It didn’t seem verb-worthy in Dothraki, so there is no equivalent verb for “to care”.

So how do you do it? Actually you do it with a prepositional phrase, much like the phrase mra qora which was used in the wine merchant scene of episode 107. The phrase is mra zhor, which means “in the heart”. Thus, if you say the following:

Sajo anni mra zhor.

It means either “I care about my mount”, or “I care for my mount”, or “My mount is important to me”. Though it’s an expression now, zhor is inalienably possessed (unless you’re eating it, I guess), so a possessor need not be specified if it’s clear from context. The default context is always the speaker (especially so when you have a possessor like anni right in there). If you want to specify an alternate context (or simply emphasize the one to who cares), all you need to do is add an inalienable possessor to the word zhor, as below:

Sajo anni mra zhor moon.

And that would be “My mount is important to him”, or “He cares about my mount”.

To say something like “I don’t care”, you just have to turn it around a little bit:

Hazi vo mra zhor.

That is literally “That isn’t in my heart” and would mean “I don’t care about that”. Conventionally, you could shorten it up and say Vo mra zhor, and you can intensify it by saying Vo mra zhor vosecchi. Also, though it’s not directly related, if you wanted to say “I don’t care anymore”, you’d say Vo mra zhor ajjinoon. Ajjinoon means “anymore” most of the time in negative contexts (or at least that’s how it’s translated into English. It has other uses in positive contexts).

That said, I hope your day is a good one. Why? Hajinaan meme mra zhor anhoon. Me nem nesa.


That’s my nearest approximation of “quick hits”. A chiftikh is a word for a strike (with a blade) that we might describe as a “glancing blow” in English—a nick. Only a flesh wound.

A friend of mine—and one of the Old Guard conlangers—Barry Garcia has taken recently to conscripting (minus the conlanging), and this past week he wrote up a version of the numbers one through ten (and also one hundred) in Dothraki. Here’s what they look like:

Barry Garcia's Dothraki numerals 1-5.

That’s 1-5. Now for the rest:

Barry Garcia's Dothraki numerals 6-10 and 100.

The numeral glyphs above are from his own script, and the writing below is a transliterated form of the Dothraki words (i.e. at, akat, sen, etc.) The glyphs at the beginning and end are used to demarcate paragraphs or set off quotes. If I know my modern “literary” press publications right (Vintage, I’m looking at you), the English equivalent would be:

Since I introduced one at the beginning of this post, now might be as good a time as any to discuss sword fighting (or arakh fighting) terminology in Dothraki. While there are basic words like “to cut” and “to stab” in Dothraki, there are also a series of specific terms used for types of sword strikes one employs in a fight. They’re all derived in the same fashion from native animal terminology. Since we’ve already seen chiftikh, I’ll use that as my example.

A chiftikh is a weak or glancing blow with a sword—something that was intended to hit, but missed the mark (or, perhaps, was too weak to do much damage). It derives from the word chifti, which means “cricket”. To use it in a sentence, you use the verb ildat, “to strike”. The direct object, then, is the type of strike, rather than the one struck. To indicate the one who is struck, you include an allative object (optional), and if you wish to mention the weapon used, you can include an ablative object (also optional). Thus, if you wanted to say the equivalent of (I think this is the best way to word this in English), “I fetched him a glancing blow with my arakh”, you would say:

  • Anha ilde chiftikh maan arakhoon anni.

And there you have it. Below I’ll list the various ildo (i.e. “sword strikes”), along with the animal they’re associated with and their meaning:

Animal Term Ildo Meaning
chifti “cricket” chiftikh A weak hit or glancing blow.
gezri “snake” gezrikh A feint (a strike intended to throw the opponent off and disguise one’s true intent).
hlizif “bear” hlizifikh A wild but powerful strike (effective if it lands, but relatively inaccurate).
hrakkar “lion” hrakkarikh A quick, powerful and accurate strike.
kolver “eagle” kolverikh A straight sword thrust (middling and relatively uncommon).
ver “wolf” verikh A defensive strike intended to back an opponent off, but not necessarily to land.

As a framework, this isn’t intended to encompass swordsmanship (or arakhsmanship) in any way. These are just older terms that are intended to be employed in discussing a sword fight. They’re not meant to run the gamut of sword fighting terminology, or to dictate a particular style: they’re just there to make discussion move along a bit more easily.

And you may also notice that the word for “eagle” up there drew its inspiration from Stephen Colbert. I felt I needed a word for “eagle”, and in searching for a phonological form to fit it, I decided that Stephen Colbert embodied eagleness quite well. As his last name fit Dothraki’s syllable structure rather nicely, the word for “eagle” became kolber—or, at least, in the oldest form of the language. In modern Dothraki, it, of course, comes out as kolver, with the older b changing to v, but if the t can become silent on account of a historical sound change, I figure a change from a stop to a fricative shouldn’t be all that alarming.

I’m off to Chicago on Thursday! If I get any good pictures, I’ll be sure to post them here. Fonas chek!

Jalan Atthirari Anni

If I may step away for a moment from my regularly-scheduled Dothraki posts, today my wife and I celebrate our four year wedding anniversary (though in November we will have been together ten years). Erin has stood beside me and supported me ever since we’ve been together—and that can’t have been easy. She supported me when I decided to leave graduate school to teach community college. She supported me again when I decided to leave teaching to write, with little to no prospects. She supported me yet again when I left off writing to apply for the Dothraki job, and continued to support me as I had to tell friends and family vague details about my doing “something” that was “work”, though I couldn’t tell them anything about it. It’s not a prototypical path to success (looking back, in fact, it sounds rather like the exact opposite)—and who knows how it’ll pan out five to ten years down the line—but Erin’s steadfast support and encouragement have been instrumental in my being able to muddle my way through a taxing (to say the least) decade—not to mention her linguistic expertise. (It’s great to have someone I can talk to about conlang problems!)

I’ve tried my best to thank Erin along the way however I could (I’ve already mentioned how the word erin, “good, kind”, was coined in her honor, as was alegra, “duck” [her middle name]), but I don’t think I’ve done so publicly, so I figure this is as good an opportunity to do so as any.

Erin: Thank you so much for four wonderful years of marriage, and close to ten wonderful years together. Yer jalan atthirari anni. Every day I get to spend with you is a day worth living. Anha zhilak yera nakhaan, ma hash anha laz et mae, hash anha akemok ma yeroon save. Happy anniversary!

Hash Yer Ast Fin…?

The finale has come and gone, so I thought it might be fun to take a look back at my last Dothraki adventure from season 2. In addition to elucidating a key piece of dialogue from episode 210, it’ll also give you a glimpse into what it’s like to work as a conlang translator for a show like Game of Thrones.

As was mentioned in the last post, the final Dothraki line of season 2 is Jorah’s, and it’s shown below (with its on screen translation):

  • Mas ovray movekkhi moskay.
  • “Take all the gold and jewels.”

As those who’ve studied a bit of Dothraki probably realized, there’s not much tie between those words and that translation. In fact, one might say that none of those Dothraki words corresponds with any of the English words of the translation—and such a one would be correct. This is what happened.

At around 1:45 a.m. Pacific Time on October 10th, 2011 I was feeling sleepy, and was thinking about going to bed. This was unusual for me, because generally when I’m doing work for Game of Thrones, I go to sleep between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m., as it’s not uncommon for me to get a translation request around 4:00. It’d been a few weeks since I’d done anything at all for the show, though, and I was, for all intents and purposes, done, so on this night in particular I thought to myself, “You know what? I’m going to switch to a more normal schedule: In bed at 2:00 a.m., up at 10:00 a.m.” Pleased with my decision, I shut my computer and everything down and went to sleep at 2:00 a.m.

As luck (or fate) would have it, I received an e-mail from Bryan Cogman at 4:03 a.m. entitled “EMERGENCY Dothraki line!!!” He said they needed the Dothraki for “Take all the gold and jewels”, and they needed it in a couple hours. I ended up reading this e-mail at around 1:00 p.m. on the 10th, because I way overslept (you have reasonable control over the time you go to sleep; not necessarily over the time you wake up). Even though it was late, I quickly translated the line and sent it off to Bryan at 1:09 p.m. The line translated into Dothraki was:

  • Fichas ei hoshor ma dan.
  • “Take all the gold and jewels.”

Unfortunately, it did not, in fact, make it in time. Bryan wasn’t on set that day, but he said he thought they did it in Common—which is unfortunate (the more Dothraki, the better!), but what could I do? So I chalked that one up to bad luck, and promptly forgot about it.

Until May 29th, 2012.

At 2:17 p.m. I got an e-mail from the Game of Thrones postproduction supervisor asking for the Dothraki version of “Take all the gold and jewels”. While I think it’s primarily for foreign language versions of the show, they use the actual Dothraki lines for something in post (you never see them in the standard English broadcast without subtitles), and every so often something gets in that they can’t find the Dothraki translation for, so they ask me. In this case, I was a bit baffled, as I could’ve sworn my Dothraki translation for that line didn’t make it in. I sent her the correct translation above and asked if it sounded right, and she said that it sounded a “little different”. She then e-mailed me a recording of the line:

…and I’m all like, Ki fin yeni?! Then I realized what happened: They wanted Dothraki, so they had Iain Glen ad-lib. Now, we’ve seen some ad-libbing before, but never a sentence this long—and never for a sentence for which an actual Dothraki translation was already available (translating the above required no new Dothraki words). So I asked if I could have a day (bearing in mind that this episode would be airing in five days), and set to work.

My narrow transcription of what Iain Glen says is something like this (treating it like one big word with several main stresses):


There’s no [b] in Dothraki, of course, but all that means is it makes no difference if you pronounce something with [v], [b] or even [β]—and there’s probably a fair amount of dialectal/idiolectal variation. So the fact that there is (to my ear) a clear [b] in his ad-lib is no big deal. No, the thing that tripped me up was the presence of two [aj] diphthongs. As both are stressed, my immediate reaction was: participle. Participles in Dothraki aren’t common, but they’re possible—and most end in -ay (or [aj]). With that in mind, then, I could break down the stream into at least the following:

[ˈbɾaj mo.ˈve.hi.mos.ˈkaj]

At this point, it was a matter of chopping up words even further. Both the participle syllables could not stand on their own (if they did, they would need to come from the words brat/bralat or kat/kalat, respectively, both of which would end up violating Dothraki minimal word constraints in one tense or another), which means that they’d need to borrow at least one mora from a previous syllable. Seeing as participles most comfortably modify nouns—and seeing as the word ma is already a word in Dothraki and isn’t a noun—I decided the first chunk absolutely had to be mas ovray. As for the second, there’s that other stress to contend with. Having non-initial stress on an open syllable is nearly impossible in Dothraki, and seeing as -i is a ready verb ending, I decided to make the last participle moskay, leaving the middle part [mo.ˈve.hi].

Something that helped me out tremendously was Iain Glen’s character being non-Dothraki. One thing that non-native speakers will do is mispronounce tough consonants. So if you have a verb that’s [mo.ˈve.hi], there almost certainly must be a geminate. And since a geminate velar fricative would likely be flubbed by a non-native speaker, I decided that this verb would somehow relate to vekhat: a verb so semantically empty I could make it mean just about anything.

Once I had the words chopped, I had an even greater challenge: To create something grammatical that would have the same intended meaning as “Take all the gold and jewels”. The presence of participles made this more difficult than it might have otherwise been, but I saw this as an opportunity to fill in some gaps in Dothraki’s vocabulary.

For the first chunk, I decided that mas should refer to valuables, and ovray should mean something like “remaining”. Since I already had a word for “remain”, though, I poked around to see what I didn’t have. While I had something meaning “slack” (as in a rope), I didn’t have a word for something that was not attached, or not fastened down. As a result, ovray came to mean “loose” or “moveable”—and (especially) “portable”. I was able to use the same stem to derive the word ovrakh, which means (depending on context) “opening”, “availability”, “opportunity”, “vulnerability”, “weakness” or “weak point”. From mas I created a word meaning “to decorate” (ammasat).

The word movekkhat is a strange one, I’ll admit. It derives from the phrase nemo vekkhat. The latter verb is no longer really used by itself and the product of an old derivational strategy that you see in verbs here and there (e.g. lorat “to wink” ~ lorrat “to blink”), and it’s used to mean “to be intended for” or “to be for”. Vekhat means “to exist”, so vekkhat kind of extends that meaning. Since it was conventionally used with a reflexive subject, the mo of nemo glommed on to the front of the verb, until it eventually became a new verb (not an unusual process).

As for the last word, moskay, it means “to load” (a moska is a pack or sack used for transporting goods). Here is where I, yet again, took advantage of Jorah’s non-native intuition. To say something like “Everything not nailed to the floor is intended for transporting”, you’d actually use the infinitive. So, properly, the translation ought to be:

  • Mas ovray movekkhi moskat.
  • “The loose valuables are for loading.”

You could also use athmoskar, I guess, but moskat makes more sense to me. Jorah, though, comes from a language (Common, a.k.a. English) that makes much greater use of its participles—and also has a form that doubles as a gerund (e.g. “running” is a participle and a gerund). So it’s understandable if instead of using the correct infinitive he uses the participle.

And that’s how the last line of the season went from 100% ad-lib to official Dothraki. I sent off the above translation the next day, and it became canon. If he ever happens across this post, let me give a big thank you to Iain Glen for coming up with some phonologically plausible Dothraki! That’s not as easy to do as one might think.

Yet again I’ve written too much, so I’ll close this up. Thanks for reading! There’ll be more Dothraki tidbits throughout the offseason.

Ei Mahrazhi’th Drivoe

And so Game of Thrones is ready for another 8 month or so break. I’m sad to see it go, but looking forward to getting to work on season 3 (no further details yet). Today’s season finale had quite a bit of meat on its bones, though, so let’s get right to it!

Incidentally, before going into it any more, I realize that these posts have been “spoilery” in that they’re reviews of episodes that have aired, and are written under the assumption that an episode that has aired has been watched by whoever might be reading it. I know that this is not always the case. As such, is there anyone reading who’s a WordPress user who could recommend some sort of spoiler-friendly plugin that functions, essentially, like the LiveJournal cut tag? All it would do is require the reader to click a link to get to content that contains spoilers (and I’d prefer that to a blackout tag like you see commonly on fora). It won’t work for this post (though if it’s pretty good, I may go back and edit previous posts), but I’d like to use it for when we eventually get to season 3, and thereafter.

Anyway, now that that’s dispensed with, we’ve gotten our first look at some actual High Valyrian in the show! It’s nothing that wasn’t in the books, but I think many were curious how the phrase would end up being pronounced. In IPA (transcribing broadly), what we had was /ˈva.lar mor.ˈgu.lis/ for the phrase written Valar morghulis. I know there are those who would’ve preferred that the gh be pronounced as a voiced velar fricative, but for me, that doesn’t matter much at all (after all, this is High Valyrian as pronounced by someone from Braavos. A change like *ɣ > g isn’t impossible): what mattered to me was the intonation. And, as it happens, the stress pattern is exactly what I was hoping for—and no English long “a” to boot! (Which, by the way, is how it’s pronounced in the audio book—something like “veil-are”, done in English fauxnetics.) All in all, I was quite pleased.

As for the episode itself, how adorable was it that Dany’s dragons had itty-bitty little chains holding them down?! I mean, sad, but adorable!

Dany's dragons in chains.

And though they’re still little bitty things, they’re already breathing fire! Bitey has served our khaleesi well! (Though Pyat Pree’s kind of stupid. Really, brah? You can produce mirror images of yourself but can’t anticipate—let alone put out—a fire? Fail.)

Before getting to the Dothraki, a couple quick comments about Tyrion’s scenes. Something I’ve been wondering about since the beginning is what they would do about Tyrion’s scar. In the books, the scar is supposed to be right across the nose and make Tyrion look pretty ugly. But Peter Dinklage, of course, has been blowing up ever since the show’s premiere. How could they give him a scar that was faithful to the books without making Peter Dinklage (the actor) look so hideously ugly that the audience wouldn’t be repulsed by him? Would they short change it and give him a tiny scar on the cheek that no one would even notice in real life? Would they actually cut off part of his nose? Neither, it turns out. The scar is there—and right across the face and nose—but, at the same time, I thought he still looked pretty cool! Obviously the wound’s still fresh in the finale, but come season 3, it’ll heal up and make him kind of look like a badass! Well done, sirs.

Also well done to Conleth Hill on Varys. I was reflecting on this after the finale ended. I was, honestly, kind of cool to his interpretation in season 1. Admittedly, I was largely biased by Roy Dotrice’s portrayal in the audiobooks. His Varys just drips slime—like you’d be afraid to touch him, lest his grease would just rub off on you. Hill’s Varys is quite different: less self-assured—almost meek. And yet, especially in his last scene with Tyrion and Shae, I bethought myself. Varys in the show is so…credible. You almost do feel sorry for him at times, and even like him. And after all, just how could he obtain the influence he has—and stay alive—if he wasn’t such a believable liar? He has to be likable, or someone somewhere would just put a knife in him, consequences be damned. So kudos, Mr. Hill (and writers)! I’ve come around.

Now for the Dothraki. There was quite a bit of Dothraki dialogue in this episode, but none of the missing dialogue from episode 8: looks like those scenes were cut entirely. (Not a big loss, storywise: just setting up other scenes.) As for what was kept in, I was quite pleased with the first line, given below:

  • Vaes leisi, zhey khaleesi. Me nem nesa.
  • “A house of ghosts, khaleesi. It is known.”

Why pleased, you might ask? Not only is Leigh Bardugo’s word in there, but, believe it or not, this is the first time “It is known” is used in the show in Dothraki (all other instances were in English). Huzzah! Glad it made it in before there were no Dothraki left to speak it! Next is another line from Kovarro:

  • Finne loshaki?
  • “Where are the guards?”

The word loshak derives from the verb loshat, which means “to carry” when the thing doing the carrying is a cart, sack or contraption. It’s also the version of “to carry” used to refer to carrying a child in the womb, and also means “to contain” in a figurative sense (e.g. to say that there’s gold inside a chest, you’d say the chest carries gold). Loshak, then, plays on the sense of containment. Valuables are put into a chest to protect them and ensure that they remain safe if they’re moved from one place to another. Similarly, the guards outside a tower are there to protect the contents of the tower—thus, loshaki.

Next, Jorah responds to Kovarro:

  • Vo loshaki. Moveki addrivi k’athmovezari, vo ki tawakofi.
  • “No guards. The warlocks kill with sorcery, not steel.”

Sounds like Jorah actually says addrivat, which is an error a non-native speaker would make from time to time. To this Dany responds:

  • Azhi morea kis tat.
  • “Let them try.”

Kis is a particle like ray or eth and it means “to try to”. Literally, this would be “Give to them to try to do (so).”

Afterwards, Dany heads into the tower, and the next Dothraki we here is from none other than Jason Momoa. Khal Drogo may be dead, but that doesn’t mean he can’t come back for a scene as a result of a warlock’s spell! He greets Dany with his familiar greeting (jalan atthirari anni), and then Dany says much of the following:

  • Jini athmovezar qoyi ven athmovezar fini fich yera anhoon—fini fich yera anhoon hatif…
  • “This is dark magic, like the magic that took you from me. Took you from before I could even…”

After this, things changed a bit from what I sent, so here’s everything I’ve got:


  • Ishish anha drivak vosma anha ray nesok mae vos. Ishish anha ma yeroon she Rhaeshi Ajjalani.
  • “Maybe I am dead and I just don’t know it yet. Maybe I am with you in the Night Lands.”


  • Ma ishish anha zajje emralat Rhaeshis Ajjalani oma yeroon. Ishish anha ast Vezhofaan memé jifo hilee ma anha jad jinnaan haji ayolat yera.
  • “Or maybe I refused to enter the Night Lands without you. Maybe I told the Great Stallion to go fuck himself and came back here to wait for you.”


  • Jini vena tikh meyer jif ti.
  • “That sounds like something that you would do.”


  • Ma ishish me atthirarido. Atthirarido che yeri che anni… Anha vo nesok. Jini qafe ha mahrazhea ville ma qorasoa reddi.
  • “Or maybe it is a dream. Your dream, my dream… I do not know. These are questions for wise men with skinny arms.”


  • Yer jalan atthirari anni. Haz nesak anha disse, ma anha zigerok nesat vos alikh. Ma hash jini atthirarido, hash anha vaddrivak mahrazhes fin kis vallatha anna.
  • “You are the Moon of my Life. That is all I know, and all I need to know. And if this is a dream, I will kill the man who tries to wake me.”

Then in the last scene (which, by the way, I thought was pretty wicked. That’s what Doreah gets for tipping them off about the dragons!), Jorah has a line which would require its own blog post to explain, so I’m going to have to save it for another time. The line is:

  • Mas ovray movekkhi moskay.
  • “The remaining valuables are for loading.”

And that’s a season! Things are really starting to pick up steam. It’s been outstanding to get to work on a production as vast and fantastic as this one. Now that the season is over with, there’ll be more Dothraki-specific posts in the coming months, so stop by if you’d like to learn a little bit about the language of the dear departed Irri, Rakharo and Drogo (and Mago and Qotho, too). Here’s to 2013!