Since it’s come up in the comments and elsewhere, I thought I’d give a quick rundown of my read on the Valyrian in the world as it exists in A Song of Ice and Fire. It’ll be useful to refer to this map in the discussion to come, since I’m going to be talking mostly about Slaver’s Bay.
High Valyrian was spoken in Valyria for centuries. The Ghiscari Empire was preeminent in the ancient history, and five times they tried to conquer Valyria. Each time they failed, as Valyria had dragons, which they used to repel the invasion. After the last attempt, the Valyrian army wiped the capital of the Ghiscari Empire, Old Ghis, off the face of the planet, and the empire fell, Ghiscari culture being displaced by Valyrian culture. At this time, the Valyrian Freehold took control of Slaver’s Bay, and three formerly small cities became large and rather important: Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen.
Looking at the map, it makes sense to me that the way Valyria interacted with these three cities was by boat. An army could march overland and get to Meereen, then Yunkai, then Astapor, but why bother? A trip by boat is much quicker. Consequently, Astapor is the closest of these three cities to Valyria. (Oh, and if you’re wondering why Daenerys, who, presumably, is coming from the north, goes to Astapor, Yunkai and then Meereen, as opposed to the other way around, it’s because she traveled all the way to Qarth first, and then traveled from there. Qarth is way east and south of Astapor.)
In these cities in Slaver’s Bay, everyone would have spoken Ghiscari, during the ancient wars. When Old Ghis fell, though, a Valyrian ruling class would have had to have been installed, and High Valyrian would have replaced Ghiscari by fiat, and also in practice. When this happens, it generally takes three generations for a language to be lost in a single family. In five or six generations, the Ghiscari language could have been stamped out, if that was a goal of the Valyrians (and it was, I think it’s safe to assume). The old language, though, would have survived in local vocabulary (why lose a word for something that the new language doesn’t even have a word for anyway?), and in the vocabulary of those who weren’t taught the new language explicitly. The result ends up being a Valyrian language grammatically, but with a lot of Ghiscari vocabulary.
Now, all this time, High Valyrian could have been maintained. With the presence of a home base in Valyria and a Valyrian upper class, there would always be motivation to maintain the original language. It seems likely that Valyrians would care about maintaining the language so they could communicate with every part of their vast Freehold. So even as new languages are emerging amongst the lower classes in Slaver’s Bay, High Valyrian would carry on.
The aggravating factor in this history is the mysterious Doom of Valyria, which we don’t know a whole lot about. The Doom was some sort of cataclysmic event that destroyed Valyria and left physical scars all over the region. Not even sailors were go near it now. It’s considered haunted and/or cursed. Linguistically, this is when the umbilical cord was severed for the various outposts of the Valyrian Freehold. I’ll leave the Free Cities out of this discussion for the time being and instead focus on two areas: Slaver’s Bay and Dragonstone.
Dragonstone was founded by the House Targaryen before the Doom of Valyria. It’s located in Blackwater Bay, and is a stone’s throw from King’s Landing (which didn’t have that name at the time). Initially it was established as an outpost to facilitate trade between the Valyrian Freehold and Westeros. Consequently, the Targaryens here would be upper class High Valyrian speakers. After the doom, Aegon I conquered Westeros, and the Targaryen dynasty was established. Naturally, they would have to learn the Common Tongue (it’d just make things simpler), but it doesn’t mean that they’d lose High Valyrian. Valyrian is the tie not only to the old Freehold, but to Essos and the old culture. It would easily have been retained over at least the first two generations. Thereafter, if it was important, it could be maintained through family use and careful instruction. It takes resources to do so, naturally, but they’re royalty; they’ve got resources. So to me it makes sense that High Valyrian is maintained by the Targaryens.
The evolution of the language is difficult to map realistically, since the time depth is greater than the real world analogues George R. R. Martin used. For example, at least 5,000 years are supposed to have passed between the old days of Valyria and the Doom. From 0 CE to today, Latin went from being an everyday spoken language to not existing. In fantasy, though, there’s a bit of wiggle room. I like to think that the rate of change in High Valyrian was accelerated by two factors: (1) contact with other languages; and (2) distance from Valyria.
In the case of Dragonstone, the Targaryens were far from Valyria, but also weren’t really mixing with Common Tongue speakers, per se. They kind of kept to themselves. So rather than change, the language is preserved, while the other varieties of Valyrian evolve past it. Low Valyrian never touched Dragonstone. When it comes to pronunciation, though, Common Tongue pronunciations did end up affecting the Targaryens. This is why older pronunciations of j and v aren’t maintained in the otherwise pristine form of High Valyrian spoken by the Targaryens.
Back to Slaver’s Bay. Although Yunkai is geographically closer to Meereen, I’ve always thought of it as being closer to Astapor culturally. Looking back, I’m not sure how precisely I came to this determination (I admit that). It felt, though, that Yunkish Valyrian and Astapori Valyrian would be closer to each other than either is to Meereenese Valyrian.
Each of the dialects (and I would characterize them as dialects of a kind of “Ghiscari Valyrian”) would be grammatically very similar. They have a common culture, and seem to exist in a kind of symbiotic way, with each city having something the others don’t. Since Meereen is the largest, it likely also has the largest lower class. This is where I saw the most distinct form of the language emerging. This is why it made sense to me that Meereen could support a Valyrian variant that’s quite different in sound from the other two. It’s the same language, but it’s developed its own distinct character.
With Daenerys, she grew up with High Valyrian from Viserys and from the loyalists that helped raised them. In Essos, she would’ve been exposed to a ton of different Valyrian dialects from the Free Cities. This would help her be able to pick up a new one. And, of course, if you look at Astapori Valyrian and compare it to High Valyrian, though there are sound changes, they’re not that drastic. I think it’s plausible that Dany could get the gist of it, even if she can’t speak it. Meereenese, though, is tougher. It’s hard to see a word and tie it to an Astapori Valyrian word, let alone a High Valyrian word.
Regarding comparisons, I likened Meereenese Valyrian to Scots English and Astapori Valyrian to Southern California English. They’re way different, but they’re the same language with some vocabulary items that differ. A couple of commenters have likened the two to Spanish and Portuguese. I simply don’t know if I’d go that far. If I see Portuguese written out, I can kind of get the gist of it, but hearing it? I get nothing. If I studied it a little bit and got used to the sound changes, I mean, maybe, but I’m not sure they’re close enough grammatically. In some ways, Portuguese and Spanish are too close, and in other ways, too far. The pronunciation of Portuguese and Spanish is closer than the pronunciation of Meereenese and Astapori, but the grammar is much further apart. This is why I really think of them as dialects not separate languages.
As for Yunkish, I don’t put it in the middle of the two dialects. Rather, it’s all but identical to Astapori. Truth be told, I haven’t had to do anything specific for Yunkish, but if I did, the variation would be minor.
If I’ve left anything out, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll add it to this explanation. It isn’t as thorough as it could be, but it’s a start. The Valyrian language family is really a fun linguistic experiment, so I wanted to at least give you an idea how I was approaching it. Thanks for reading!
Edit: Some thoughts on New Ghis. New Ghis is an island to the south of Slaver’s Bay:
Regarding New Ghis, where I would start is with the notion that the Ghiscari culture was wiped off the face of the Earth. If we accept that as a truth, we have to accept that they’re speaking some form of Valyrian in New Ghis. New Ghis is pretty far from Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen, so one would have to expect it to be quite different, but how is a question I haven’t dealt with yet. Presumably they can still converse with the cities on the mainland (this happens in Book 5), so it couldn’t have diverged too much. At this point, I think that’s all we can say about New Ghis.
We are officially half way through with the fourth season of Game of Thrones, and after last night’s episode, I know exactly what’s on everyone’s mind. Two words:
You kidding me?
Cersei and Tywin are sharing a pretty good scene—finally getting down to brass tacks with one another—and then Cersei drops this one on us (speaking of the Iron Bank of Braavos):
Cersei: But someone does work there; it is comprised of people.
Tywin: And a temple is comprised of stones.
When I heard this, I felt like Bender attending his own funeral. WHAT?! I mean, it’s one thing for Cersei to say something like this (she tries to act younger than she is), but for Tywin Lannister to say “comprised of”?! I…just…
Listen. You’ve got exactly two options, and they are these:
- is composed of
That. Is. It. You cannot hope to create a timeless it’s-not-television-it’s-HBO classic and date yourselves thus. What’s next? Is Tyrion going to use “whom” in subject position when he’s trying to sound formal? Why even have the British accents? Where’s that guy that played Benvolio in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet? Why not have him play Jaime Lannister?!
(Oh, and a note, as I put my responsible linguist’s hat on: This is a fight that’s already been lost. At present, the best we can say is that you can still use “comprise” as an active verb. “Comprised of” is totally the norm now, and will continue on its path to becoming the only correct way to use “comprise”.)
But, yeah, with that out of the way, welcome to my first post in three months! I’ve been intensely busy, and have less to show for it than I should, but much more than I would if I’d been keeping up with everything I’d been keeping up with. One of those casualties has been this blog, which I never intended to abandon (and still don’t), but from which I’ve had to take a step back for a bit. It’s actually been quite encouraging to hear from a few people that they’ve missed the episode recaps I did the past couple of seasons. In fact, it’s because of one person on Tumblr specifically that I’m writing this post (because I promised I would).
There’ve been a lot of big talking points this season, which, honestly, has kind of surprised me. I mean, the Purple Wedding, sure, but there are some other things that really caught me off guard. I’ll try to hit them all.
But first and foremost, I want to talk about one dude: Jack Gleeson. I never got a chance to meet him (I’m sure we’ve been at the same thing at some point in time; I just never ran into him), but now that Joffrey is gone and Jack is done with the show, can we please give this guy a standing ovation? What a challenge. Joffrey is awful, of course, but he’s also vulnerable, and at times quite pathetic—and then sometimes he turns right around and plays Prince Charming to a T! There may have been another actor that could have done one or two of these traits very well, but Jack Gleeson embodied that little so-and-so named Joffrey so well that he became the face of the character—for the books as well as the show. He owned that role. And if he never acts again, which is what he’s claiming at the moment, his place in television history is cemented. He doesn’t need to do anything else. His skill is on screen for the ages, and he can do whatever he wants now for the rest of his life. He earned it.
Other minor notes: Love Prince Oberyn. Can’t wait till he gets revenge on the man that killed his
father sister. Love every single gif that came out of the Purple Wedding. Pure genius. Lena Headey deserves an Emmy nomination (she was wonderful in yesterday’s episode), but probably won’t get one, because I know the Emmy dudes are real grammar sticklers. Would love to see a spinoff entitled something like Arya and Her Dog—or, maybe when she gets a little bit older, The Fox and the Hound? (You can boo now.) I know people felt bad for Hodor when he was being attacked, but I bet Hodor probably felt worse when he awoke from a trance and saw what he did to Vargo Hoat Locke. Love Pod, Love Bronn, Jaime and Cersei…
Oh yeah, that.
There’s already been a lot that’s been said about Jaime raping Cersei. I know book readers probably felt betrayed, since this is at least the second time this has happened (Dany and Drogo being the first), but my wife had an interesting point. At no point in time is the rape portrayed as consensual (duh, it’s a rape, I know, but bear with me). After seeing that scene, there can be no argument that Cersei starts to “enjoy” it, and so it’s not a “legitimate” rape (a shockingly common argument made by rape apologists). Public opinion, for some crazy reason, loves to side with the rapist when there’s any potential “gray area”. There was none in this scene. No matter what way you look at it, that scene, both in world and out, was negative, and the reaction was supposed to be negative—and it was. So, at the very least, we’ve come that far, I guess.
But here’s what really bothers me about it. After that scene is over with, it’s like it never happened. It’s not as if Cersei’s not trying to think about it, or anything: it’s like it literally never happened. The very next episode, we see Jaime right back on his upward-trending arc, giving armor and a sword to Brienne, and Cersei out to avenge her dead son. In the book, that scene was supposed to be disturbing because it happens next to Joffrey’s dead body, and is supposed to further characterize Jaime and Cersei’s bizarre relationship. In the show, the scene—or that act, rather—has absolutely no dramatic function. This is actually one of the problems I had with Battlestar Galactica. Often you’d have an episode where some really tense, really dramatic stuff happens, and then the next episode, it’s like none of that stuff happened: two people that are mortal enemies at the end of episode X are suddenly friends in episode X+1. This is something I expect to happen on a show with a dozen or more writers. But Game of Thrones is literally shrinking its writing staff as the show goes on. It’s now down to four, and I don’t expect it to grow. There’s no excuse for this. It’s weird.
(Note: I won’t delete the above, since it already appeared, but this was worded much too strongly, and there’s a key piece that’s missing. We’re only five episodes in—and four seasons. The dramatic function of the rape scene is to produce a clear and obvious rift between Jaime and Cersei. This rift may play out later this season; it may play out later this series. It has the potential to be a defining moment between these two characters. The show has done an outstanding job at planting seeds that bear fruit several episodes or even several seasons later. We have to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and see what happens as the story unfolds. -DP)
All right, on to language stuff.
Now for a positive surprise. I didn’t get to watch the episode “Breaker of Chains” live because I was on a trip to Colorado (shout out to the CU Linguistics Department! Thank you guys so much for having me; it was awesome!). I ended up watching it right before “Oathkeeper”. Consequently, I was puzzled why I was getting so much Twitter love after the episode aired.
It’s not as if I didn’t know what was in that episode—I mean, I translated all that—I just didn’t think it would be particularly memorable. With the scene from episode four of season three, I knew beforehand that that was going to be good. I’d read the books; I knew the scene; and the script was great. I didn’t get that sense from this one, though. I mean, it was cool, and all (it’s Game of Thrones), but I had no idea how awesome that scene was going to be. And man, the ending—with the slave holding the collar, the master right behind him? That was badass! That scene played way better than what I was imagining in my head, and Emilia Clarke’s really got the rhythm of High Valyrian down. It’s wonderful to hear.
Here’s her full speech. You’ll have to forgive me, because I know for a fact I’m going to miss some of these long vowels. There’s a lot of text, and, as I’ve said before, Final Draft (the program I use for the scripts) doesn’t allow macrons, so I have to reinsert them where I remember them. Eventually I’ll get it all right.
- Daenerys Jelmāzmo iksan. Kostilus jevi āeksia yno bē pirtra jemot vestretis, iā daoruni jemot vestretis. Daoriot jemas. Doriar udra pōnto syt eman. Mērī jemī ivestran.
- I am Daenerys Stormborn. Your masters may have told you lies about me, or they may have told you nothing. It does not matter. I have nothing to say to them. I speak only to you.
I’ve always wondered how they could hear her—or how anyone could hear anyone in our world in the days before amplification—but maybe everyone in Meereen has HBO GO. Continuing, Dany says:
- Ēlī Astaprot istan. Astaprot dohaertrossa sīr yno inkot iōrzi, dāeri. Hembār Yunkaihot istan. Yunkaihī dohaertrossa sīr yno inkot iōrzi, dāeri. Sesīr Mirinot mastan.
- First, I went to Astapor. Those who were slaves in Astapor now stand behind me, free. Next I went to Yunkai. Those who were slaves in Yunkai now stand behind me, free. Now I have come to Meereen.
Okay. Dude. Like, you have no idea how much I was laughing at the fact that I literally got to use a pluralized nominalization of a past habitual participle. This has happened several times in Game of Thrones, actually, where I created some word or some grammatical form and thought, “This is cool, but it’ll never see the light of day.” Then all of a sudden I get to use the Dothraki words for “duck”, “rabbit” and “cooking pot”—and now this. The fact that High Valyrian even has a past habitual form still makes me chuckle (this is a form of the verb that is approximately equivalent to “used to” in English). I remember when I first looked at these sentences and had to translate them, I kind of rolled my eyes, and was like, “Oh, brother, I’m going to have to do a big old relative clause…” Then I paused, looked again…and my eyes got wide. It’s kind of like going for a royal flush as a joke in Texas Hold ‘Em and then the last card is the jack of hearts you’ve been waiting for. I laugh right now as I’m thinking about it.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me back up. Dohaeragon is a verb that means “to serve” (everyone should recognize it from the expression Valar dohaeris). Dohaeran means “I’m serving (right now)”. Dohaerin means “I serve (generally)”. Dohaertin means “I used to serve”. Each of these can be turned into participles. For example, dohaerare is the adjective “serving”, and you might use it to say dohaerare vala, “the serving man”, or “the man who is serving us at the moment” (e.g. a waiter). You can turn the participle itself into a noun to shorten things up, though, and say dohaeraros, which could mean something like “waiter”, so long as it’s understood that it’s temporary. You can do the same with other participles, as well. For example, the High Valyrian word for “slave” is dohaeriros, or “someone who serves habitually”. Dany uses the word buzdar, a Ghiscari word for “slave”, so the slaves in Astapor will understand what she’s saying (they may not know the High Valyrian term).
In this case, though, Dany turns the past habitual into a participle and nominalizes it. So dohaertre becomes dohaertros, which, when pluralized, is dohaertrossa, which means, “those who used to serve habitually”—and, if you put Astaprot in front of it (the locative version), you get Astaprot dohaertrossa, which literally means “those who were slaves in Astapor”.
All of that in two words! Man alive, this is what makes the job fun!
Yeah, so what was I doing when I got side-tracked? Oh, Dany’s speech. Still a lot left, actually. Here’s the next bit:
- Jevys qrinuntys ikson daor. Jevys qrinuntys jemo paktot issa. Jevys qrinuntys jevor riñar laodissis ossēnīs. Jevys qrinuntys jemo syt mērī belma se boteri se udrāzmī ēzi. Udrāzmī jemot maghon daor. Iderennon maghan. Se jevo qrinuntoti pōjor gūrotriri maghan. Naejot!
- I am not your enemy. Your enemy is beside you. Your enemy steals and murders your children. Your enemy has nothing for you but chains and suffering and commands. I do not bring you commands. I bring you a choice. And I bring your enemies what they deserve. Forward!
(Note: Above, ēzi should be ēza, but I misconjugated. I was thinking of the subject as “the masters” not “your enemy”.)
And finally, when she tells them to fire the catapult, this is what she says:
That is, “unfasten” or “unleash” (she’s talking about catapults, after all). An incredibly awkward word, with four long vowels in a row. If all the vowels are long, how can you even tell?
Anyway, there’s been other Valyrian, but I don’t have time to go into all of it (this post is getting a bit long). I was pleasantly surprised by Michiel Huisman’s performance in 401 (another Dutch actor!). His Low Valyrian was great. Jacob Anderson, though… Well, but who could ever top the master?
In 404, we got to hear some of Meereenese Valyrian (MV), which we’ll get to hear more of in the second half of the season. I know that Mad Latinist has been conjecturing that it’s not as close to Astapori Valyrian (AV) as I let on, but, I mean, it is literally the same language—I promise you this. I don’t have a separate document; just a section in the AV grammar entitled “Meereenese Shift”. It’s just AV with sound changes. There are a lot more Ghiscari-derived words in the MV dialogue, but they now exist in AV, too. They were new words. They weren’t created specifically for MV, but were created because there was a need for them in the MV dialogue. I thought of them as just new Low Valyrian words.
Here’s a nice comparison of all three Valyrians (this is an actual line of MV):
- MV: Shka ma khurf. P’ashkesh she kraj waov.
- AV: Ska me gurp. P’aeske si kotovi uvuve.
- HV: Mittys iksā. Āeksia tolī kostōbi issi.
- English: You’re a fool. The masters are too strong.
You can see each thing I mentioned at work here. Gurp is a Ghiscari word for “fool” that surfaced for the first time in MV, but is now in AV as well. Schwas are unmarked, but if it’s written a and occurs at the end of a word and is unstressed, it’s a schwa in MV. The word kraj has a reflex in krazi in AV, where it means “large”. MV is more Ghiscari in this way, since kraz- is a Ghiscari root. Otherwise it’s all sound changes. Radical sound changes, to be sure, but sound changes nonetheless. To give you an example how of just how radical the sound changes are, here’s the word “Unsullied” in all three Valyrians:
- MV: Thowoá
- AV: Dovoghedhy
- HV: Dovaogēdy
- English: Unsullied
Dave and Dan wanted MV to sound different enough that Dany wouldn’t be able to understand it, so I did that. Still, though, if you speak AV fluently, I contend that you can figure out MV without too much trouble. It’s just a thick accent with a lot more Ghiscari vocabulary.
All right, at almost 2500 words, I’m going to bring this to a close. I likely will not have an episode-by-episode recap for the last five episodes, but I will post again before the season’s over (or the day after it’s over). Fun stuff coming!
P.S.: If you’re wondering about the title, let me tell you: Silicon Valley is definitely worth watching. Absolutely loving it. Veep is killing it, too. Add John Oliver, and we’ve got some great Sundays ahead of us.
Today’s post is going to be long and a little convoluted, for today I’m going to talk about relative clauses in High Valyrian. I promised this post to Mad Latinist a while ago, so there’s no avoiding it now: it has to happen. But worry not! If grammar isn’t your thing, I have below, in the grand tradition of relative clause posts to the Dothraki blog, a picture of my cat Keli against a dark background:
Now. To business.
Relative clauses are actually one of my favorite parts of creating a language. Unlike other clause structures, they tend to be very orderly, and so can be fun to put together. Basically, when it comes to me creating a language, a noun is to a verb as a relative clause is to a subordinate clause. I love me some relative clauses; subordinate clauses give me fits (so hard to get just right!).
High Valyrian relative clauses pose two types of problems for an English speaker trying to learn them. The first we can deal with quite simply before getting into the rest. In English, a relative clause is a sentence that follows a noun or pronoun that gives the listener more information about that noun or pronoun. Here are some examples:
- The goat who tolerates me.
- The octopus that I saw crying over a Twinkie.
- The jaguar I sold a camera.
- The penguin I rented Driving Miss Daisy with.
- The duck whose uncle I glazed at the Super Bowl.
The underlined clauses all modify the non-underlined nouns on the left. All of them have something in common, though: The clause follows the noun it modifies, and there’s a gap in the sentence that corresponds to the noun being modified (e.g. “I rented Driving Miss Daisy with” is not a full sentence. There’s a gap after “with” that the noun “the penguin” should occupy).
In High Valyrian, the order of this is completely backwards. So starting with the simplest relative clause (the type where the modified noun is a subject in the embedded sentence), here’s a comparison between High Valyrian and English:
- Ābre kustittas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who encouraged the woman is a friend.”
- Subject: Ābre kustittas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who encouraged the woman is a friend.”
- Direct Object: Ābra kustittas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man whom the woman encouraged is a friend.”
- Indirect Object: Ābra rūklon teptas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man whom the woman gave a flower is a friend.”
- Ābre kustittas lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who encouraged the woman is a friend.”
- Ābre kustittas lue vale ūndetan. “I saw the man who encouraged the woman.”
- Ābre kustittas luo valot rūklon teptan. “I gave a flower to the man who encouraged the woman.”
- Possessor: Ābra kepe rhēdes lua vala raqiros issa. “The man whose father the woman knows is a friend.”
- Location: Ābra morghūltas luon lenton pryjataks. “The house where the woman died was destroyed.”
- Comparand: Ābra kirinkta issa lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who the woman is happier than is a friend.”
- Adposition: Ābra dekurūptan lua vala raqiros issa. “The man the woman walked up to is a friend.”
- Possessor: Ābra zȳhe kepe rhēdes lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who the woman knows his father is a friend.”
- Location: Ābra konīr morghūltas luon lenton pryjataks. “The house where the woman died there was destroyed.”
- Comparand: Ābra zijosy kirinkte issa lua vala raqiros issa. “The man who the woman is happier than him is a friend.”
- Adposition: Ābra va zijot dekurūptan lua vala raqiros issa. “The man the woman walked up to him is a friend.”
- Specific: Ābra kustittas lȳ sȳz issa. “The one who encouraged the woman is good.”
- Generic: Ābra kustittas līr sȳrior issa. “That which encouraged the woman is good.”
- Specific: Kaste lī ipradinna. “I’ll eat one which is green.”
- Generic: Kastor līr ipradinna. “I’ll eat that which is green.”
- Specific: Valo luo vaoresan. “I prefer one which is a man(‘s).”
- Generic: Valo lurio vaoresan. “I prefer that which is a man(‘s).”
Word-for-word, the above sentence is, “Woman encouraged who man friend is”. This is basically backwards when compared to an English relative clause. That said, once you get used to it, it’s not too bad. Instead of thinking of the relative clause as a clause, try thinking of it as a great big adjective. So instead of thinking of it as “The who encouraged a woman man is a friend”, think “The woman encouraging man is a friend”. Grammatically those two clauses are distinct, but I found it helped me to wrap my head around it the first time I saw a relative clause like this.
Now we can move on to the complicated stuff.
Aside from word order, the biggest difference between High Valyrian and English relative clauses is that while English has a relative pronoun, High Valyrian has a relative adjective: lua. The difference is subtle, if you stick to simple relative clauses, but becomes quite noticeable when you move outward. Let’s start with the simple ones. We’ve already seen an example where the target of relativization is a subject in the embedded clause. Now let’s look at some others:
Notice that lua, the relative adjective, doesn’t change in any one of those sentences, while “who” becomes “whom” in the English translations. This is a direct result of the relativizer being an adjective. It agrees with the noun in case, gender and number. In all of those sentences, vala, the target of relativization (i.e. the noun being modified), is singular, lunar and nominative, because it’s the subject of the matrix clause “is a friend”. Watch what happens if we change the matrix clause (using just the subject example from above):
Suddenly the relativizer is changing form just like “who” does in English. This is because the relative adjective has one foot in the embedded clause, and one foot in the matrix clause. Grammatically, it behaves as if it’s in the matrix clause, but semantically it links the two (basically the opposite of English “who”). This doesn’t cause any problems with sentences like the first three, where it’s pretty clear who did what to whom. But here are some further examples to complicate matters:
So, if you’re following the grammar here, you may be wondering: How do these sentences mean what they mean? The most literal translation of the first sentence would probably be something like, “The man whom the woman knows the father is a friend”. That’s not quite grammatical in English, but you get the idea. And actually it will probably seem more grammatical when you put it into English because word order does so much for it. An even more literal translation of the second sentence might be “The a woman died house was destroyed”. There’s nothing in it to tell you why the relative clause and the modified noun are related, because the relative adjective doesn’t bear the case of the noun in the embedded clause.
Now here’s the crucial part: This was intentional. Certain languages allow constructions like this (Japanese is one, I’m pretty sure), and High Valyrian is one of them. Basically it gives you two clauses and the relative adjective lua says, “Figure it out”.
I decided to do relative clauses this way for two reasons. First, I always wanted to do it (I tried with Zhyler, I think, but it didn’t come out well). Second, I wanted to create a structure that was likely to be destroyed by daughter languages. Some of the Low Valyrian languages may keep this strategy, sure, but no one would bat an eye if they decided to do something more explicit. Thus it almost begs for the daughter languages to distinguish themselves. I did that in several places throughout High Valyrian, and did so on purpose.
A result of this is that relative clauses in High Valyrian are much freer than they are in English. You can say just about anything and have it describe the target of relativization. However, repair strategies do exist. Basically you can include a pronoun if it’s absolutely necessary. Most of the time it’s not, though, and the natural strategy is to leave it be. Nevertheless, here are the four sentences above with a redundant pronoun (bolded):
In High Valyrian, you can’t leave a preposition stranded, of course, so it’s reintroduced in the last sentence.
But this isn’t the end. Oh no. For while lua above is an adjective, it can also be a pronoun. There are two forms of the relative pronoun: lȳ and līr. The former is for specific entities (and people), and the latter for generic. They can be used by themselves, as shown below:
These are often used to say things like, “Whatever works”, or “Whoever can find it”, so another way to translate the above would be “Whoever encouraged the woman is good” and “Whatever encouraged the woman is good”, respectively.
The pronouns can be modified by an adjective, rendering the meaning “that which is x”, where x is an adjective. Here are two examples:
And finally, the relative pronouns can also take a nominal possessor in the genitive. The resultant meaning is either a possessive construction, or very similar to the adjective construction, but with a nominal adjectival interpretation:
The difference between the two should be clear from context.
Finally, as those who follow High Valyrian grammar closely will note, the relative adjective and pronouns are irregular. The full declension tables for all three are listed below. First, the relative adjective (a Class I adjective):
And here it is in the plural/paucal:
Notice that these lack full forms. That’s because the relative adjective will always and only appear directly before the noun it modifies. Consequently it has no need of a full form (though, of course, it’d just be the same as any Class I adjective). The same notes apply for t in parentheses as for other Class I adjectives: it appears when the following word begins with a vowel, but disappears otherwise. Also the plural/paucal forms of the solar have a z when the following sound is voiced; voiceless otherwise.
Now for the pronouns. First, the specific pronoun lȳ:
And now the generic pronoun līr:
And that’s the end of it. Now you should know how to do relative clauses in High Valyrian, plus a little bit extra. If you made it to the end of the post, I have a reward for you: Another picture of my fantastic cat. Here she is sleeping on my foot:
I’ve returned from SpaceCityCon, and had a bit to settle in here, so it’s time to start the year in Essosian conlanging. But first, I got a couple pictures of me with Jason Momoa (one below), who is, of course, awesome. The guy just absolutely loves life and is a ton of fun to be around—and he’s nice. He’s a good guy. If you get a chance, you should check out Road to Paloma, which he’s directing and starring in coming out this year (trailer here.
On my last blog post I got a request to translate “To boldly go where no man has gone before”—the old Star Trek slogan (the new one, of course, being “where no one has gone before”)—into High Valyrian. Seems like an odd pairing, but it is somewhat amusing for linguistic reasons. The whole “don’t split an infinitive” thing is one of those false rules that gets handed down from teacher to teacher, and the Star Trek motto is always held up as either an egregious example of the miscarriage of grammatical justice or as evidence that you can, in fact, split an infinitive. It is, of course, an example of the latter, with the whole “splitting infinitive” thing coming from the fact that you can’t “split” an infinitive in Latin, since it’s a single word. And Latin, of course, was George R. R. Martin’s inspiration for High Valyrian, in which you can also not split an infinitive, since it’s a single word. Consequently the translation won’t feature the same split that English does.
(Oh, and with my linguist’s hat on, I should say that “to x” isn’t actually an infinitive in English. The bare form of the verb is the infinitive. If you use it by itself, it has to be preceded by “to”, but you see the actual bare infinitive elsewhere—for example, after “will”, where you say “I will go with you”, and not “I will to go with you”. But that’s splitting hairs. [Ha. Split.])
Anyway, there were a couple of attempts to translate the phrase in the comments, but it’s missing some key vocabulary, so let me go through and do this, since it seems like fun.
Let’s start with the easy part. The “to go” part is going to be jagon, and it’ll be the last word in the sentence, so we can file that away and focus on the rest. There is no subject, which is handy, so let’s deal with the first modifier on jagon, which is “boldly”. In English, “bold” is pretty much a gentlemanly word for “brave”, so let’s stick with “brave”, which is nēdenka, in the nominative lunar singular (it’s an adjective). To turn that it into an adverb, you have to know the adjective class. Nēdenka is a Class I adjective, which means that it takes a suffix -irī to become an adverb. Thus we can change nēdenka to nēdenkirī and get nēdenkirī jagon. We can pop that bad boy at the end of the sentence and we’ve got the business part of the sentence done.
Now for the troublesome bit: Where no man has gone before. Again, let’s start with the easiest part. Since this is for a tattoo, I want to give you the option of saying “no man” or “no one”. This is a new clause of which the subject is “no man”, so we know that phrase will be in the nominative. To say no one, you’d say daorys, and that concludes that. To say “no man” specifically, you’d say dōre vala, but if you’d like to have a prolix gender neutral expression, you could say dōre issaros, which would be “no being”. Whichever one you like, though, you’re now done, because their citation forms happen to be the forms that are necessary for the function the “no man” bit plays in the clause.
For the verb, you’d use the perfect. In Low Valyrian you might use a different construction for “has gone” as opposed to “went”, but in High Valyrian the two are conflated. The form of the verb is istas, so the phrase becomes daorys istas (or dōre issaros istas or dōre vala istas), which is “no one went” or “no one has gone”.
Before getting to the clause-linking part, Mad Latinist conjectured that you might be able to use naejot to mean “before”, but Zhalio noted that this was unlikely, given its etymology. In this case, Zhalio was correct. You can use naejot to mean “before” for the meaning “in front of”, but you can’t use it for the temporal “before”. For that, in fact, you use gō. You might remember gō from such meanings as “underneath” and “below”. It also means “before” in the temporal sense. This is a part of a guiding metaphor High Valyrian employs where height is associated with time depth. Consequently, things that happen before the present are below the present, and things that happen after the present happen above it (tolī as an adverb or toliot as a postposition). The postposition gō can be used as a postposition or as an adverb (just as with naejot), and so the expression now has become daorys gō istas.
Now for the last bit. Mad Latinist used the relative adjective lua in his translation attempt, which is a good guess, but doesn’t work in this instance. Hopefully the difference can be explained succinctly using these three examples:
- Skoriot istas? “Where has he gone?”
- Skoriot istas ūndan. “I saw where he went.
- Istas luon lenton ūndan. “I saw the house where he went.
The difference here is that in the second you’re not really modifying “where” the way you’re modifying “house” in the third, if that makes sense. Think about something like, “I know who wrote Catch-22” and how it differs from “I know the guy who wrote Catch-22“. The first is a statement about a question (e.g. “Who wrote Catch-22?”), whereas the second is an actual assertion about someone you know (in fact, you’d use two different verbs in Spanish for this). That is, it brackets thus:
- I know [who wrote Catch-22].
- I know [the guy [who wrote Catch-22] ].
Hoping this makes sense. Consequently it’s not really a relative clause. Rather it’s a self-contained clause that is the object (or topic) of the matrix verb.
Back to our original translation request: To boldly go where no one has gone before. This is what we’ve got:
- Skoriot daorys gō istas nēdenkirī jagon.
And there it is.
I suppose if you did want to mimic the so-called infinitive split, you could put nēdenkirī in the front (something like “Boldly where no one has gone before to go”), but I wouldn’t recommend it. And, of course, you can substitute dōre vala or dōre issaros for daorys if you so choose. So there you go, Monserrat Vargas! If you get a tattoo, please send us a picture.
Also, a couple general notes. I’ll have a big announcement later this month, but I did want to note that this year I’ll be working on the show Dominion on Syfy. No major info on that yet, but I’m working on an a posteriori language for the show (my first, though not as stringently a posteriori as a language like Brithenig or Wenedyk). It’s called Lishepus.
Otherwise, happy new year! Stay tuned for the yearly Dothraki Haiku Competition. It’s coming!
In the end, it was not close. Though my goat put up a valiant fight, there was to be one winner, and that winner was chosen decisively. With 42.86% of the vote, I present to you Winter Goat, 2013:
All hail Winter Goat, 2013!
This year’s Winter Goat is named Caspian, and is an actual goat, unlike Dorvi #3, Molly the sheep (my favorite [I know it’s a sheep! But she’s such a charming sheep! (Though I do admit it would be quite un-Dothraki to name a sheep Winter Goat…)]). The picture was taken by our own Hrakkar, and Caspian hails from Sierra Safari Zoo, where Hrakkar works (and I have visited). Caspian is a fine goat, and it gives me great pleasure to name him Winter Goat, 2013!
And just what has Winter Goat shook from his hoary beard for all who would seek his frosty counsel? Why, it’s an azho for our Valyrian friends! I have to present to you the 207 word Swadesh list in High Valyrian. Merry Goatmas! Here it is:
There isn’t as much information as there could be on this list, but it’s at least a good chunk of vocabulary—most of which hasn’t been released before today.
So as you venture forth today to bask in the glow of pine trees, candles, ducks and windows, take Winter Goat’s shaggy beard with you, and let his goatish presence engoaten each and every one of your wintry endeavors!
Also, if you plan to be in the Houston area next week, I will be at SpaceCityCon! I’ll be talking about the Game of Thrones languages, the Defiance languages, and about language creation in general. If you come, find me and give me a good bleating, and I shall rebleat you, in the spirit of the season.
Once again: Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerry Goatmas, one and all!
I’ve been absolutely swamped working on the second season of Defiance and the first season of Star-Crossed, so I haven’t had the time to devote to maintaining this blog. It isn’t going away, though. It’s just wintering at the moment. (Ha. Just realized that Game of Thrones always premieres in the spring. Gives “winter is coming” a bit of a different twist.) I did want to mention a few things, though.
First, on November 9th, I’ll be speaking at El Ser Creativo: an event held in Madrid, Spain that features speakers from around the globe speaking on a variety of topics. I, of course, will be speaking about sports logos. For the event, though, they had me do a little promo. They said I could do it in English, but I elected to do it in Dothraki. Here it is:
I do not know if the event will be streaming (maybe?). Worth checking out!
Additionally, since the last time I mentioned him on the blog, sunquan8094 has started a series of Valyrian lessons on his YouTube channel! The first lesson is below:
I just got back from WyrdCon, and next week I’m going to the San Diego Comic-Fest. My presentation at the latter will be at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, October 4th. If you’re in Southern California today, though, I’m going to be at the Comic Book Hideout at 5:00 p.m. We’ll be talking about cursing. Heh, heh… It’ll be fun!
Finally, my pidgins and creoles professor from UC Berkeley John McWhorter did a video for TED Ed on conlanging, and I thought it was quite good. Conlangs have really gotten the short shrift from linguists for…decades. But things have started to turn around, and I’m really proud of where we’re at. It was John McWhorter who gave me my first opportunity to do some conlang-related experimentation (undergraduate-quality work, but, well, I was an undergraduate), and it’s really gratifying to see this come full circle. You can check out the video below (a short five minute intro; worth the watch).
…though he stressed the wrong syllable in Hajas!