INSIDE THE SERIES
by David J. Peterson
David J. Peterson, a conlanger (or inventor of languages) worked with the Language Creation Society and the creators of 'Game of Thrones' to design a full Dothraki tongue for use on the upcoming HBO series. The details of his process (which are pretty fascinating) have been reported around the web and picked up by fan sites like Winter Is Coming and Westeros. Here on "Making Game of Thrones," David will be offering a series of crash courses in the Dothraki language, beginning with this introductory lesson:
Dothraki is the language of the nomadic horse warriors who populate the Dothraki Sea: a vast grass plain in the center of the continent of Essos, which lies to the east of Westeros, across the Narrow Sea.
Their language differs greatly from the Common Tongue of Westeros and the languages of the Free Cities, which descend from High Valyrian. In the coming weeks, we'll introduce you to the Dothraki language (or Lekh Dothraki) little by little, but here's an overview of some of the basic facts that lay the foundation for what's to come.
Before delving into the grammar of Dothraki, let's go over some of the basic details. One of the first things one learns about a language is how the basic elements of the language fit together to form phrases and clauses. To begin, let's go over some terminology you'll remember from English class:
Subject: A grammatical relation most commonly associated with the performer of an action (e.g. "The man" in "The man opened the box.").
Object: A grammatical relation most commonly associated with the affected party (e.g. "the box" in "The man opened the box.").
Verb: The action itself (e.g. "opened" in "The man opened the box.").
In a basic sentence, the order of these elements (when all three are present) is as in English: First comes the Subject (S), then comes the Verb (V), then comes the Object (O). Here's an example:
Khal ahhas arakh.
"The Khal (S) sharpened (V) the arakh (O)."
When only a subject is a present, the subject precedes the verb, as it does in English:
"The arakh (S) is sharp (V)."
Two of the words used above should be quite familiar, hopefully making these examples pretty straightforward. This information doesn't cover everything one needs to know about word order in Dothraki, but it does cover most basic clauses.
ADVANCED WORD ORDER:
The subject or object of a sentence can consist of just a noun (as shown above, with "khal" and "arakh"). But it can also contain other elements, and those elements are ordered in a particular way. For example:
(just the noun)
"(a/the) kind father"
(the noun modified by the adjective erin, "kind")
ave sekke erin
"(a/the) very kind father"
(now the adjective is modified by the adverb sekke, "very")
jin ave sekke erin
"this very kind father"
(the word jin, "this" has been added to the front)
jin ave sekke erin anni
"this very kind father of mine"
(a possessor, anni, which means "of mine," specifies just whose father we're talking about)
jin ave sekke erin anni ma dorvoon
"this very kind father of mine with a goat"
(and now the father is with goat, or ma dorvoon)
Wait, that doesn't sound very Dothraki... Let's fix that:
jin ave sekke verven anni m'orvikoon
"this very violent father of mine with a whip"
The example above uses what's known as a preposition. A preposition is a little word like "in," "at," "from," "with," "to," etc., which precedes a noun and tells the listener what role the noun plays in the sentence. To use a famous example that comes from book one of 'A Song of Ice and Fire:'
Khalakka dothrae mr'anha.
"A prince rides within me."
Here, the preposition “mra” modifies the pronoun "anha," which means "I."
Finally, adverbs (words that modify adjectives, verbs or other adverbs) come at the end of the sentence, for the most part. They can come at the beginning of the sentence if the speaker uses the adverb to provide background information necessary for understanding the content, but their natural position is sentence-final. An example with and without an adverb is shown below:
Me oge oqet.
"He slaughtered a sheep."
Me oge oqet oskikh.
"He slaughtered a sheep yesterday."
Certain other adverbs commonly occur directly after the verb. One such is the emphatic negative "vosecchi," as shown below (first without, then with):
Yer ofrakhi sajoes mae.
"You will not touch her steed."
Yer ofrakhi vosecchi sajoes mae!
"You will NEVER touch her steed!"
A warning wisely heeded.
Finally, there is a class of adverb-like words that modify the character of the sentence in very particular ways. Some examples are shown below:
Me kaffe rek tokikes.
"It crushed that fool."
Me ray kaffe rek tokikes.
"It already crushed that fool."
Me laz kaffe rek tokikes.
"It could crush that fool."
Me vil kaffe rek tokikes.
"It managed to crush that fool."
In the weeks to follow, there will be more grammatical information about specific aspects of the Dothraki language, but this, at least, will give you an idea of what full sentences look like and how they work. Until next time, Fonas chek (hunt well)!