Know Your Zhs and Qs: 5 Dothraki Speaking Tips From New York Comic-Con

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Lured by the idea they'd "learn to speak like a khal," eager GoT fans crowded the New York Comic-Con panel Dothraki 101 With Language Creator David Peterson. Peterson is the linguist responsible for several of GoT's fictional languages – including High Valyrian and Dothraki, the language of the nomadic horse tribes of Essos. Peterson recently released Living Language Dothraki, a conversational language course designed to turn any new speaker into a fierce warrior… conversationally, at least. 

Peterson's Comic-Con panel functioned as a 45-minute language lesson; he walked through some basic tips, vocabulary and behind-the-scenes details. Below you'll find five rules to speak by, in Vaes Dothrak and beyond. 

1. Conquer the 'q' 

"'Q' is the hardest sound in Dothraki," Peterson explained: it's not pronounced like "q" or "k" in English. Peterson characterized the Dothraki "q" to be spoken like "a 'k' but further back in the throat." He advised putting the back of your tongue right against the uvula (the part that hangs down from the roof of your mouth). The crowd tried the sound together, resulting in a cacophony not unlike a flock of ravens caw-cawing. Peterson estimated that about 60 percent of the group had it right. "You can swallow your tongue … that is possible" Peterson cautioned, "so don't do that."

2. Nail the vowels 

A good way to prove your mastery of a second language? Get the vowels right. In Dothraki, vowels are always pronounced separately. As an example, Peterson presented the word "soaiso," pronounced: so-a-i-so and meaning "drunk." As another example, Peterson offered a five-syllable traditional Dothraki greeting, "m'attchomaroon." The literal translation is "with respect," which Peterson noted is "how you greet somebody if you don’t want to get killed."

3. Don't get intimidated 

Some Dothraki letter combinations will throw off the actors, particularly if they are pronounced differently than in English. "Zh" is one such example; luckily, Peterson has a trick for Dothraki novices – "s" is to "z" as "sh" is to "zh." The result is a sound similar to garage or genre or measure. "Kh" is another tricky combo. "We kind of get freaked out about this," Peterson said, "but this sound does exist in English." He cited an expression of exasperation, "hugh." One audience member documented the experience: 

4. Gather the necessary supplies

Peterson recalled the study habits of his pupil Jason Momoa, the actor who played Khal Drogo. After receiving multiple .mp3 files from Peterson of a speech he had to learn, Momoa "freaked out … got a six-pack of beer, ordered a pizza, and took it back to his hotel room," revealed Peterson. "All night he just listened to the speech over and over again." The result? "Man," Peterson marveled, "did he nail it."

5. Know the classics

Given their distinct culture, the Dothraki have several go-to expressions. Here are the ones to perfect:

Me nem nesa
The most famous expression. It means, "It is known."

Yer shekh ma shieraki anni.
Spoken to a male, this means, "You are my sun and my stars."

Yer jalan atthirari anni.
Spoken to a female, this expression means, "You are the moon of my life." 

Hajas!
This expression means "cheers," "goodbye," "be awesome" – and finally, "be strong"