Me Nem Nesa: A Phonological Analysis of Dothraki

Me Nem Nesa: A Phonological Analysis of Dothraki

Author: Sanjeev Vinodh

MS Date: 05-01-2019

FL Date: 08-01-2019

FL Number: FL-00005F-00

Citation: Vinodh, Sanjeev. 2019. «Me Nem Nesa: A
Phonological Analysis of Dothraki.» FL-
00005F-00, Fiat Lingua,
. Web. 01 August 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Sanjeev Vinodh. This work is licensed

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NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Me Nem Nesa

A Phonological Analysis of Dothraki

Sanjeev Vinodh

Overview

Dothraki is a constructed language created by David J. Peterson with the Language Creation

Society for the HBO TV show ‘

’, based off of a collection of words found in
Game of Thrones

the ‘

’ book series by George R.R. Martin. According to Peterson, the
A Song of Ice and Fire

language behaves most like Arabic (due to its harsh velars and uvulars) and Spanish (due to its

-lat and -at lexical verb classes, dental consonants, and fusional conjugations) (Wright 2).

Inventory, Romanization, and Pronunciation

Dothraki’s phonetic inventory is near identical to that of English, with a few key differences. The

language does not contain the labial plosives [b] and [p] (except in names), has the notable

additions of [x] and [q], and only contains 4 vowel phonemes: [a], [e], [i], and [o]. The

romanized orthography of the phonetic inventory is identical to IPA for vowels, and identical to

English for consonants. The segments [x], [θ], [ʃ], [tʃ], and [ʒ] are represented by the digraphs

‘kh’, ‘th’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’, and ‘zh’ respectively. When these digraphs are geminated, they are

shortened, and represented orthographically as ‘kkh’, ‘tth’, ‘ssh’, ‘cch’, and ‘zzh’, while all other

consonantal geminates are represented as double consonants (like ‘nn’). Adjacent vowels are

pronounced separately (becoming nuclei of adjacent syllables), so geminates are represented

orthographically as double vowels (like ‘oo’) (Peterson 17-19).



Typological Tractability

Before beginning the phonological analysis of a language, there is a question that must be asked.

Is Dothraki a reliable language to analyze for phonological phenomenon? As a conlang, does it

have the consistency required to be analyzed as any other natural language? To answer this

question, we must look to a metric called typological tractability, which predicts how

typologically ‘normal’ a language is. Matt Destruel of Boston University approached the

assessment of this metric by examining Dothraki’s adherence to Joseph Greenberg’s ‘

Universals

’ (1963), a set of 45 linguistic universals compiled through extensive
of Human Language

analysis of 30 natural languages (see Works Cited). In a 2014 research paper titled published in

’, Matt Destruel demonstrated that Dothraki adheres to all 15 of Greenberg’s
Lingua Frankly

Universals that are relevant to it (Destruel 12), thus proving it to be typologically tractable and

eligible for further study.


Phonology

The specific phonological phenomenon in Dothraki that will be analyzed in this paper are [ɾ] vs

[r], vowel laxing after [q], and stress assignment.

The ‘r’ alternation

One of the most prominent characteristics present in Dothraki is the pronunciation of the

orthographic ‘r’. Consider the following data (taken from “

”).
The Dothraki Language Dictionary

a) rikh

[rix] –

rotten

rhaesh

[rʰaeʃ] –

land

b) khogar

[xogar] –

clothes

rai

[rai] –

hooray

rhoa

[rʰoa] –

animal

yer

[jer] –

you

mhar

[mʰar] –

sore

hoshor

[hoʃor] –

golden

c)

jerriya

[dʒerija] –

discussion

d) chare

[tʃaɾe] –

ear

mori

[moɾi] –

they

e) mithri

[miθɾi] –

rest

tolorro

[toloro] –

bone

darif

[daɾif] –

saddle

chiori

[tʃioɾi] –

woman

krazaaj

[kɾazaadʒ] –

mountain

dothralat

[doθɾalat] –

to ride

davra

[davɾa] –

good

From (a), (b), and (c), it is clear that the orthographic ‘r’ is pronounced trilled when word-initial,

word-final, or geminated. On the other hand, (d) and (e) present examples where the ‘r’ is tapped

word-centrally, regardless of whether it is preceded by a vowel in (d) or a consonant in (e). Since

both segments [ɾ] and [r] are orthographically identical, and since they never occur in the same

environment, it is reasonable to propose that they are allophonic. The underlying form must be

the tapped /ɾ/, since this would allow predictable surface forms through the following rule:






































/ɾ/ → [r] / {#__, __#}

/ɾ/ → [ɾ] / elsewhere

Finally, we can posit that similar to Spanish, the orthographic ‘rr’ is represented underlyingly as

/r/, thus resulting in the proper derivation for the geminate cases.

Vowel laxing

Dothraki orthographically consists of 4 vowels (a, e, i, o), but has 7 vowel sounds in its phonetic

inventory: [a], [e], [i], [o], [ɑ], [ɛ], and [ɔ]. The occurrence of these segments is perfectly

predictable as seen below, and seems to exhibit a vowel laxing process triggered by the uvular

plosive [q]. Consider the following data (taken from “

”). The
The Dothraki Language Dictionary

first column is a list of words containing each orthographic vowel before [q] in word-initial and

word-central positions, while the second column is the same for [q]’s velar counterpart, [k]. The

vowel sounds in the second column are a representation of what each vowel sounds like

following any segment other than [q], so an exhaustive list has not been included.

qafat

[qɑfat] –

to ask

kafat

[kafat] –

to smash

loqam

[loqɑm] –

arrow

shokat

[ʃokat] –

to jump over

qevir

[qɛvir] –

forest

haqe

[haqɛ] –

tired

qiyalat

[qejalat] –

to bleed

kemik

[kemik] –

ally

hake

[hake] –

name

kisha

[kiʃa] –

we

naqis

[naqes] –

small

dothraki

[doθɾaki] –

men who ride

qora

[qɔɾa] –

hand, arm

koalak

[koalak] –

healer

eqorasalat

[eqɔɾasalat] –

to let go of

sekosshi

[sekoʃʃi] –

surely, certainly

































From the data above, it is clear that although orthographically identical, the vowels [a], [e], [i],

and [o] are pronounced differently when they follow [q], with no exceptions. This is phonetically

natural, since each vowel displays place of articulation assimilation to the backness of [q] by

becoming lax (or more back in the case of [i]→[e]. The alternation can be captured by the

following rules:

and since [i] has no lax counterpart in Dothraki’s phonetic inventory,

/V/ → [-ATR] / q__

/i/ → [e] / q__

Stress

The final phenomenon is stress assignment in Dothraki. Below are two sentences released from

an actual Game of Thrones script, which were marked with stress in order to help actors with

their dialogues (taken from “

”):
Season One Dothraki Dialogue

‘Anha tih mahra’zhes fin ‘kasha cha’kat kar’lin.

[‘an.ha tih mah.ra.’ʒes fin ‘ka.ʃa tʃa.’kat kar.’lin]

“I saw a man who lasted 20 miles.”

(“You Win or You Die, S1E7)

E’yel ‘varthasoe she ileka’an ‘rikhoya arreka’an ‘vekha ‘vosi yero’on ‘vosma to’lorro!

[e.’yel ‘var.θa.so.e ʃe i.le.ka.’an ‘ri.xo.ya a.re.ka.’an ‘ve.xa ‘vo.si ye.ɾo.’on ‘vos.ma to.’lor.ro]

“The rain will fall on your rotting skin until nothing is left but bones.”

(‘The Pointy End’, S1E8)


From these transcripts, words seem to fall into two predictable categories: word-final stress when

the word ends in a consonant, and word-initial stress when it ends in a vowel. However, the word

[to.’lor.ro] presents a counterexample, where the stress is penultimate rather than word-initial as

predicted. It would be simple to label this as an exception, but this pattern is also found in other

vowel-final words:

zha’vorsa

[ʒa.’vor.sa] – “

dragon”

vo’secchi

[vo.’setʃ.tʃi] – “

of course not”

(Peterson 21)

Instead of labelling every outlier an exception, a more comprehensive analysis can come from

positing that Dothraki is a quantity sensitive language, and thus relies on syllable weight for

stress assignment. In Dothraki, VC and CVC (closed) syllables can be considered heavy, while

CV (open) syllables are considered light (CVV syllables cannot exist, since Dothraki converts

vowel geminates into nuclei of adjacent syllables). Given these definitions, the stress assignment

process can be delineated through a leftward scanning system outlined in the following steps:

1.

If last syllable heavy, assign stress to it.

2. Else, see penultimate syllable. If heavy, assign stress to it.

3. Else, assign word-initial stress.




Works Cited

Battis, Jes, and Susan Johnston.

Mastering the Game of Thrones: Essays on George R.R.

. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2015.
Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire

Destruel, Matt.

Shekh Ma Shieraki Anni: Typology of a fictional language created for artistic

. Lingua Frankly 2(1), 2014. doi:10.6017/lf.v2i1.5406.
purposes

Greenberg, Joseph H.

, 73-113. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press,
Universals of Human Language

1963.

Littauer, Richard.

. Dothraki.org, 23 Jan. 2016,
The Dothraki Language Dictionary (Ver 3.11)

docs.dothraki.org/Dothraki.pdf.

Peterson, David J.

Living Language Dothraki: a Conversational Language Course based on the

. New York, NY: Living Language, 2014.
Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones

. Dothraki Wiki,
Season One Dothraki Dialogue

wiki.dothraki.org/Season_One_Dothraki_Dialogue.

Wright, Ellen B. “Creating Dothraki: An Interview with David J. Peterson and Sai Emrys.”

, 27 Jan. 2015,
Tor.com

www.tor.com/2010/04/22/creating-dothraki-an-interview-with-david-j-peterson-and-sai-e

.
mrys/






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