Now, let it be known: Anha vos astok ki Dothraki. Well, at least not well and not yet. But after a wee 30 minute lesson in the language of Game of Thrones‘ horse lords, we were already performing better than in our previous attempts to learn Spanish and Italian in high school and college. Apparently all one needs to master such a thing — real or fake — is just a little bit of obsession and a really, really good teacher. Luckily for us, we had Nerdist podcast guest David J. Peterson as our guide — the dude who created the damn language in the first place. See, you guys: stuff like this is why Comic-Con is the best.
Peterson has been creating languages since 2000, but is perhaps most well-known for his work in crafting Dothraki and Valyrian for the HBO series, in addition to the Castithan and Irathient languages for Syfy’s Defiance, and the language used by the Dark Elves in Thor: The Dark World. So, y’know, the man’s got some serious Hollywood linguistic chops. It’s no wonder he’s decided to use those skills for our pleasure and create a course to teach the unsullied among us how to talk like a Dothraki in real life.
From Living Language, the Dothraki course comes in two iterations — a guidebook/audio CD and an online course — with a companion app available for iPhones the world over. Several of us journo-types were given a crash course in basic pronunciation interspersed with anecdotes from Peterson’s journey to create the language itself.
First thing’s first: Dothraki is really freaking hard, you guys. Given that most of you reading this are likely speakers of romance and germanic languages, the hard glottal sounds and serious use of the back of your throat can be a tricky thing to master. But mastery of such business is important when you consider there are over 4,000 words in the Dothraki language. Between the rolling r, the phlegm-y kh (as in Bach), and confounding q (pronounced like a ‘K’ but way, way far in the back of your throat — like “make your tongue touch your uvula” far back), there are plenty of pronunciation challenges when it comes to picking it up. But if you want to survive in Essos, learn it all you must.
The fun thing about it is how much care, consideration, and fun Peterson had in his creation. Heck, he even managed to be a bit progressive with the whole thing, too. “With Dothraki, I decided to have fun with it and eliminate gender distinctions in the grammar,” Peterson explained. “There is no equivalent of he or she — it’s the same word. I thought ‘oh, let’s throw gender equality into the language. Just for fun.'” Also because, ugh, gender pronouns are so 2000-and-late, amirite?
After fumbling through a few attempts to pronounce several words — George R.R. Martin’s particular favorite is the term for mountain, “krazaaj,” and yes each one of those doubled-up vowels gets its own syllable — Peterson commended us on our pronunciation pick-up, giving us a high-five at one point. Which took the edge off of being utterly terrified about getting it wrong.
Some other fun things we learned? There aren’t really any words for “please” and “thank you” because, well, we guess the Dothraki just aren’t into casual pleasantries, and the most offensive swear word the horse folk have? Ifak, which means walker — because lord help you if you can’t ride one of those majestic beasts across the Dothraki Sea.
Guess this means we are — at long last! — on our way to becoming a full-fledged Khaleesi. Whether you say it valar morghulis or ei mahrazhi’th drivoe, one thing is for certain: the languages of Game of Thrones will likely live on long after all those men go and die.
The Dothraki course from Living Language hits our Realm on October 7th, 2014. Who’s going to learn with us?