This past summer at San Diego Comic-Con, we took part in a mini-class taught by David J. Peterson, creator of the Dothraki — and Valyrian! — language found in George R.R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, heard on-screen in HBO’s Game of Thrones. It was a fun time and a chance to really let our geek flag fly in more ways than one (we’re a sucker for GoT AND linguistics). So when Living Languages sent us the full Dothraki dictionary and instructional course, we were naturally pretty tickled at the thought of going full-fledged Khaleesi, our daydreams of a khalasar of our very own less far off than ever before (except for that whole, y’know, they’re-totally-not-even-real aspect). So we dove in head first and tried ezzolat kifinosi astolat Dothrak (that soooorta means “to learn how to speak Dothraki.” Yay)!
The first thing to know about the language — even though GRRM coined its first words on the page — is that it is not a written one, but rather exclusively spoken. The Dothraki are a nomadic people, too busy riding horses and pillaging the steppes of Essos to be bothered with figuring out how and where to write down their words. And it is fairly glottal, as well — which makes it pretty hard to figure out, pronunciation-wise, from simply looking at it on the page. Which is why the instructional course disc is so vital to learning Dothraki. You need to be able to feel and hear the words in order to really make much sense of them. And unless your some sort of savant, it WILL take awhile — particularly for English speakers, with which the language has very little in common, inflection-wise.
The most important thing is to TAKE YOUR TIME. This is not some language that’s all that easy to pick up, even if you were gangbusters in Spanish in high school. Peterson’s layers of linguistic and grammatical rules have all but ensured this — to the language’s benefit, to be sure — but once you get a hang of the inflections, things get much, much easier. Be prepared to freak out your roommate’s cat while you repeatedly mutter “arraggat” (“to choke”) over and over again until you get the syllabic differences down.
The whole thing is broken down quite logically, building upwards by first ensuring your competence in uttering the sounds themselves. From there, vocabulary, grammar, and context are given through various chapters both in the book and on the accompanying CD. For fans of ASOIAF and Game of Thrones will particularly appreciate the cultural touchpoints, with more than a few references (and words for!) horses, war, travel, as well as dos, don’ts, and other put-downs and slang terms that feel wholly appropriate to the Dothraki people in general.
There are even lesson plans, filled with translatable material and do-it-yourself sentence structuring, just like everyone’s favorite language books from high school. Just be warned: there are way more syllables than you’re likely to anticipate — just be prepared.
And, thanks to the gracious folks over at Living Language, we’re giving away FOUR copies of the set! Yes, for a whopping FREE-NINETY-NINE (minus the ninety-nine part), you, too could become the khal of all your friends. The qorasokh (that means prize, or spoils) is well within your reach. All you have to do is tweet us what YOUR Dothraki name is using the hashtag #MyDothrakiNameIs. Click here to tweet or craft a tweet of your own! (My Dothraki name, for example, would have to be ZHASSI, MOTHER OF PUPPIES!) The contest ends Monday, October 13, 2014 at midnight, so make sure you share your Game of Thrones-inspired name before then.
Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course Based on the Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones is available tomorrow, October 7, 2014.
Now, the only question that remains is: when are we going to get the guide to Valyrian, eh? Leave your guesses in the comments.
For full contest rules, please click here.