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So it was revealed in the comments on my last post that I have apparently never gone over alienable vs. inalienable possession in Dothraki—or at least not directly. Let me take a moment to do so now.

First, a couple of definitions. Grammatical possession is probably something everyone is familiar with (e.g. in a phrase like “the man’s hat”, “the man” is the possessor and “hat” is the possessee, with the “‘s” there to indicate that “the man” is the possessor of what follows). Some languages make a finer grain distinction when it comes to possession than English does. For example, consider the actual relationships specified in the English examples below:

  • my pencil
  • my arm
  • my aunt
  • my bank account
  • my opinion
  • my country

All of these are expressed with the same construction, but is having a pencil in one’s hand really the same thing as having an aunt? One is an inanimate object that can be owned and wholly contained, while the other is a living individual with which one simply has a unique familial relationship. And what about a pencil vs. an opinion? Does one have an opinion in precisely the same way that one has a pencil? And while a bank account is more concrete than an opinion, in some ways, one can’t pick it up the same way one can a pencil.

A language like English treats these relationships the same, presuming that the words themselves will give one enough information about what the relationship is. Other languages, though, will focus on different aspects of these possessive relationships and encode them differently. Dothraki is one such language.

In Dothraki, the morphological expression of possession is dependent upon its alienability. Put simply, alienability is the ability for a possession to be separated from its possessor. For example, consider one’s nose. Unless one has met with a rather unfortunate set of circumstances (or, perhaps, found oneself in a story by Gogol), one’s nose is not easily removed from one’s face. This is a canonical example of inalienable possession (that is, one possesses one’s nose inalienably). A pencil, though, is easily removed from one’s possession, and is one of many examples of alienable possession.

In Dothraki, the genitive case is the default expression of alienable possession. It’s used for most types of garden variety possession, including interpersonal relationships, as shown below (with the possessor in the genitive following the possessee):

  • sajo anni “my mount”
  • okeo yeri “your friend”
  • arakh mae “his/her arakh”
  • okre khali “the khal’s tent”

Inalienable possession is expressed with the ablative, rather than the genitive, and the possessor is optional: it can be stated for emphasis or if the possessor isn’t obvious, but if it is, it’s typically left out. Some examples are given below:

  • qora (anhoon) “(my) arm/hand”
  • tihi (yeroon) “(your) eyes”
  • noreth (moon) “(his/her) hair”
  • jahak (khaloon) “(the khal’s) braid”

In English, you actually do see a bit of this alienability sometimes. Consider, for example, a sentence like, “I looked him in the eyes”. Whose eyes? Well, his eyes. It’s obvious from the context. You could actually say, “I looked him in his eyes”, but it’s not necessary. The same thing occurs with Dothraki, but in a wider context. For example, consider this sentence below:

  • Qora zisa.

That means simply “the arm hurts”. If one walks in holding one’s arm and utters that, though, it’s obvious from context that it’s the speaker’s arm that hurts, meaning that the “missing” possessor is anhoon. If one’s companion said that, it’d be obvious that the “missing” possessor is moon.

Moving beyond body parts, though, the inalienable possession construction is used with inherent parts of things. Here are some examples:

  • az arakhoon “the blade of the arakh”
  • lenta halahoon “the stem of the flower”
  • rayan krazaajoon “the summit of the mountain”
  • riv zhanoon “the tip of the spear”

Mastering the two types of expressions will also allow one to make subtle distinctions that may or may not prove useful, e.g.:

  • Qora anhoon mesa.
  • Qora anni mesa.

Both sentences above mean “My arm is swollen”. The second sentence, though, refers specifically to an alienably possessed arm. Thus the most obvious interpretation is that the speaker is wielding a severed arm as a weapon, and, having bludgeoned someone or something with it, the arm has now swollen, and perhaps doesn’t swing as well as it once did.

While the rules above will work for 99% of cases, some expressions are unpredictable. For example, chiva krazaaji, “the tip of the mountain”, has krazaaj in the genitive rather than the ablative, even though one would expect the ablative. In addition, bodily conditions (injuries, illness, etc.) are often expressed with the ablative, rather than the genitive. In general, though, it’s more common to see the genitive where one would expect the ablative, rather than vice versa.

Okay, now I can be absolutely sure that I discussed possession on the blog (unlike before, when I was absolutely certain and mostly wrong). Athdavrazar!

Oh, and here, for no real reason, is a link to my article entitled “Linguistics Manifesto” which appeared in Speculative Grammarian.

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.


I’ve got this terrible headache right now (and an ankle ache), so in order to distract myself, I’ve decided to talk about some of Dothraki’s pain vocabulary. This should work, right?

Let’s start in the most obvious place: the root nith. This root is most closely associated with “pain” in Dothraki. As an adjective, nith means “painful”. The root itself, though, is experiencer-focused, if that’s a term (or rather, if that’s the term for what this is). Thus, the natural interpretation of nith will be “painful to the one most intimately connected to the modified noun” (e.g. if you have some sort of otherwise neutral phrase like rhae nith, it will mean “my painful foot”, or, more specifically, “my foot that is painful to me”—never “my foot that’s causing something or someone else pain”). As a result, it can also be used to mean something like “in pain”, for example mahrazh nith, which would mean “the man who’s in pain” (or I guess “the painful man”, but that doesn’t quite mean the same thing in English).

As a verb, its sole argument is the one that feels pain. This started out referring exclusively to the individual, but has been extended to cover other objects. So while, for example, Anha nithak, “I pain”, would be more ordinary, one could say Rhae nitha, “My foot feels pain”. More usual for the latter, though, would be the causative version of the verb, annithat, for which you’d say something like Rhae annitha anna, literally “My foot pains me”, but probably best translated as “My foot hurts”.

Sidestepping athnithar (“pain”) for a second, I’d also like to briefly introduce the word athnithizar. Those familiar with Dothraki morphology will note that this is the diminutive of athnithar. While historically it’s related to the same root, today it means “to feel encouraged” or “to feel invigorated”. Its causative, annithilat, is what you’d use to say “to encourage” or “to invigorate” or “to entice”.

Back to pain, what I’ve got now is a mhari, or “headache”. It derives from the same root that gives us “sore”—one of the words coined by George R. R. Martin. A migraine headache would probably be mharisof, but if I ever have one, I may decide a stronger word is needed at that time.

The other thing I’ve got that should be clearing up is basically a rhae darin, which is a less-than-optimally-functioning leg. The verb form darinat is used most often to indicate that someone is limping (at the moment), though it can be used with other body parts (e.g. if one said of themselves Qora darina, it might mean that they sprained their wrist or did something which has affected the regular function of their arm).

Since we’re on limps, though, if one has a persistent and habitual limp, the appropriate verb is mattelat (vimatterat can also be used, but really only to emphasize it). This one refers specifically to one’s legs, though, whereas darin can be used elsewhere. The verb ammattelat is kind of a vicious one: it’s where you go for someone’s legs specifically to hobble them. Ooh! Ooh! Just got an idea:

  • Ammattes mae. Hash yer nem vaesie ki reki?
  • Vos, sensei!

Heh, heh, heh… That last word is a borrowing; not a Dothraki word. See if anyone figures that one out.

Now if something aches specifically, you can use the verb ziroqoselat. This verb derives from the word oqo, which is the word for a beat or some sort of rhythmic noise. The form of the root was onomatopoeic in origin.

If pain needs to be qualified, Dothraki actually makes use of the words lavakh, “loud”, and haf, “quiet” or “soft”. Thus, of my headache now (post-Ibuprofen), I can say, Me vos athnithar lavakh.

And there you have it! That’s some of the pain vocabulary used in Dothraki. You know, I prefer athnithar to the English word “pain”. English’s word has that awful “p” sound in it. Blech! What a terrible sound. Can’t imagine having a name—even a last name—that begins with that sound…

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!


In some of our IRC chats, Qvaak has asked me to go over demonstratives in Dothraki, so I’ll aim to do that today.

A demonstrative is a word like “this” that’s used in front of nouns or noun phrases. In English, we have these four common demonstratives:

  • Give me this book. (Nearby, Singular)
  • Give me that book. (Not Nearby, Singular)
  • Give me these books. (Nearby, Plural)
  • Give me those books. (Not Nearby, Plural)

Notice that the plural demonstratives above agree with the noun in plurality, but don’t actually mark plurality (i.e. you can’t say “Give me those book”). With that in mind, though, the English demonstratives encode two properties: number (singular vs. plural), and distance (nearby vs. not nearby).

In English, you may also use the demonstratives by themselves as demonstrative pronouns. They look just the same and can be used without nouns. The sentence above, then, would look like this:

  • Give me this. (Nearby, Singular)
  • Give me that. (Not Nearby, Singular)
  • Give me these. (Nearby, Plural)
  • Give me those. (Not Nearby, Plural)

Dothraki demonstratives, as modifiers, encode only one property: distance. Unlike English (but like many, many natural languages), Dothraki distinguishes three different distances: near to the speaker, near to the addressee, and near to neither. Demonstrative modifiers in Dothraki different from adjectival modifiers in that they precede the nouns they modify, rather than follow them. Using arakh instead of “book”, here are some sentences illustrating the distinctions made in Dothraki:

  • Azhas anhaan jin arakh. “Give me this arakh.” (Near Speaker)
  • Azhas anhaan haz arakh. “Give me that arakh.” (Near Addressee)
  • Azhas anhaan rek arakh. “Give me that arakh.” (Near Neither)

Note that the form of the demonstrative doesn’t change regardless of the plurality of the the noun, as shown below:

  • Anha tih rek hrakkares. “I saw that lion.”
  • Anha tih rek hrakkaris. “I saw those lions.”

If you want to use the demonstratives by themselves as stand-alone pronouns, however, the forms do change, unlike in English. Basically, in order to use a demonstrative as a pronoun, one needs to know the animacy of the intended referent. The demonstrative then declines as a noun would that matched in animacy. The animate form for each demonstrative pronoun adds -ak to the end of the demonstrative in the nominative, and the inanimate adds an -i. The animate forms decline like any consonant-final animate noun, and the inanimate form declines like the relative pronoun fini (its declension is shown here). Below are some examples:

  • Hazi zhokwae.That (thing) is big.”
  • Azhas rek anhaan. “Give that (thing) to me.”
  • Azhas mae hazakaan. “Give it to that (one).”
  • Jinak simon anni.This is my uncle.”

Notice also the difference here between a copular phrase and a noun phrase:

  • Jini havzi. “This is a cat.”
  • jin havzithis cat”

Regarding when to use which demonstrative, it’s fairly straightforward, given a specific circumstance. Let’s say we had two nameless interlocutors in a bizarre, Photoshop-esque landscape with multi-colored bones, as shown below:

Two dudes next to two bones with a third bone floating in space, apparently.

Let’s take our speaker as the dark red dude. If he wants to refer to the orange bone, he says jin tolorro. If he wants to refer to the green bone, he says haz tolorro. If he wants to refer to the blue bone, he says rek tolorro. Simple enough. Now let’s look at a different scenario:

Three people with three bones on a splotchy field.

In this scenario, if the speaker is still the red dude and the addressee is still the yellow dude, the same exact demonstratives are used as were used in the previous example (jin for orange; haz for green; rek for blue). If his addressee is the pinkish dude, though, you’d use haz for blue and rek for green. The choice will be determined by who’s being spoken to, not how close the thing is to the speaker, necessarily.

Now how about if the red dude is speaking to both of those other dudes at the same time. In that instance, you’d use haz for both and point or further specify with words if necessary. Since both addressees are being addressed at once, anything that’s near either of them will be considered close enough to warrant haz.

Now let’s throw in a further wrinkle:

Three dudes and four bones.

A new light blue bone has fallen from the sky! Let’s say that the red dude is addressing the yellow dude and the pink dude is just there. In this case, the red dude will refer to both blue bones with rek. The reason is that the green bone is still present. As it’s the closest to the addressee, it will get haz. This leaves rek to handle both of the bones that are further away, and the speaker will have to further specify if further specification is required.

Now how about this scenario:

Two guys, two real bones, and one imagined.

Now the red dude is thinking about the light blue bone from the last picture. In this case, the red dude refers to the light blue bone with rek. Presumably he could only do so if the light blue bone was known to both he and the yellow dude (otherwise he would need to introduce it into the discourse), but once it’s a part of the shared experience of speaker and addressee, it can be referred to with a demonstrative. As the addressee has a bone that’s near at hand (the green bone), it gets haz, leaving rek for the light blue bone.

Now how about this scenario:

Two men (one couchant), and two bones.

Yellow dude was out for his morning ride (around the green bone like every morning), when he sees that his friend red dude is lying on the ground in distress. He dismounts and walks past the green bone to get a closer look. Red dude, for whatever reason, has been incapacitated, and, as he gurgles out, the only thing that will save him is the orange bone that’s relatively near at hand. What the red dude does, then, is refers to the orange bone with haz, rather than jin, in order to imply to the yellow dude that the orange bone is not, in fact, nearby. Though it may be physically quite close, in this instance, it’s further than his body will take him, and so he uses haz to indicate that. If he were to refer to the green bone for any reason, then, he’d use rek, even though it’s quite close to the addressee.

This kind of gives you an idea how to choose between the three demonstratives of Dothraki. This same schema applies to non-physical elements, such as discourse topics. So, for example, if a speaker has an idea about something, he may refer to that idea with jin (as it’s a produce of the speaker’s imagination, the idea is, metaphorically speaking, near at hand). An idea that an addressee has come up with, then, can be referred to with haz. Something that’s to be introduced to the discourse (which is, perhaps, the product of neither speaker nor addressee) can be referred to with rek.

In addition, due to the nature of this spatial metaphor, a Dothraki can actually give opinions about another’s idea by using a different demonstrative. So, for example:

  • Hazi dirge davra!That’s a good idea!”
  • Reki dirge toki!That’s a stupid idea!”

Both ideas are the product of the same person, but by using reki in the second sentence, the speaker has attempted to place the idea even further out of the discourse space, making it seem bizarre (and, thereby, unacceptable). And, of course, a speaker can take that the other way, using jin to make it seem like they had something to do with the idea, even though someone else came up with it.

As this post is getting a bit long, I’m going to cut it off here, but it’s a start! Consider this an introduction to deixis in Dothraki. More will follow in future posts.