Game of Thrones: How to Speak (and Curse!) Like the Dothraki
Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke
Athchomar chomakaan, khal vezhven! (Welcome, great khal!)
After last week's Game of Thrones stayed firmly in Westeros, Sunday's episode (airing at 9/8c on HBO) returns to the land of the Dothraki, those nomadic warriors across the Narrow Sea who value a good piece of horseflesh for both riding and eating.
But we're not here to discuss Dothraki livestock recipes, as delicious as they may be. Instead, we shall delve into their language, a liquid-sounding tongue inspired by the limited Dothraki vocabulary, as seen in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels on which Thrones is based. Executive producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, with the help of the Language Creation Society's mononymous Sai, selected David J. Peterson to create and expand the Dothraki language, which now stands at 2,763 words at the last count, for the HBO series.
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"The handful of Dothraki words and names and a couple of phrases that Martin has in his books seemed pretty consistent," Sai tells TVGuide.com. "They suggested at least the very bare bones of the structure. They had a consistent sound to them, which I think is a compliment to him as a writer because one can't say that about all writers who try doing even minimal languages."
Learning to speak Dothraki is no easy undertaking. Jason Momoa, who plays warlord Khal Drogo, went through a month-long ordeal to deliver a rather epic speech in the upcoming May 29 episode.
"It was the hardest thing I'd ever done," he admits. "I literally locked myself into a hotel room with some beer and pizza. I had to break it apart almost like a song really. It's like memorizing a f---ed-up song. Trying to get a melody to it and then afterwards learning all the words and how to say them. That's what worked for me."
Fear not. We don't need to start with massive Dothraki speeches quite yet. In fact, we can begin with simple, essential phrases that everybody who learns a language wants to know. No, not "Where is the bathroom?" or "I have a blue pencil." We're talking about curse words. These will come in handy for any aspiring Dothraki lajak (warrior) who knows it's all about attitude and condescension when it comes to dealing with weak outsiders.
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Three beginner's curses/insults:
Ifak - foreigner (Peterson: "It actually sounds dirtier in English, but it is not. It literally translates to 'walker, somebody who walks.' The idea is that Dothraki are the riders. People that are outsiders, they are walkers. Anybody who comes from one of the cities, they call them ifak. They kind of laugh about it.")
Choyo - a kind of jocular term used for somebody's hindquarters
Graddakh - refers to refuse or waste (Peterson: "If you are really upset and ticked off about something, and you just want to exclaim but not necessarily insult somebody else, you would say graddakh.")
Advanced students who have perfected their nomadic tan and are comfortable wearing animal hides can move on to full sentences that will mark them as a true member of a khalasar (Dothraki horde).
Three sentences to show off your Dothraki know-how:
Me nem nesa - It is known. (Peterson: "One of the things that the Dothrakis say all of the time in the books is, 'It is known.' That would probably peg you as native Dothraki.")
Yer affesi anna - Literally "You make me itch." (Peterson: "Dothraki don't wear much clothing. The clothing that they wear is made by themselves out of coarse leather. Some of the elaborate trappings that are seen in the Free Cities are made of things like wool and things like that. They think of that type of clothing as itchy. So if you want to tell somebody that you don't like this person or they make you uncomfortable, you say: Yer affesi anna.")
Fichas jahakes moon - Literally "Take his braid." (Handy in a fight when you want to encourage your fellow lajaki to "Get him!" A Dothraki warrior wears a long braid to indicate his success in combat.)
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By now, it's become apparent that knowing something about the Dothraki culture will help to learn the phrases. For Drogo's lengthy speech, Peterson was called upon to create several new words that weren't in the source material, and so he turned to what he knew about the culture for inspiration.
"I think it was up to this point that I had to come up with a word for god, a deity," he explains. "The Dothraki have a whole collection of these statues of other civilizations' gods that they have toppled, and they took their statues and put them on display in Vaes Dothrak and broke them. So, vojjor, the word for deity actually derives from the word for statue. That was a fun one."
Not every phrase in Dothraki culture is inspired by conquering and one-upmanship though. For sentiments of love and to wish someone good luck, the nomads look to the heavens to express such lofty, benevolent feelings.
Three phrases to warm the heart:
Yer jalan atthirari anni - You are the moon of my life. (Used when addressing a beloved woman since the moon is seen as female)
Shekh ma shieraki anni - My sun and stars (Referring to a beloved man since the sun is the male counterpart to the moon)
Shieraki gori ha yeraan! - The stars are charging for you! (Said to someone who is going into battle. Peterson: "The Dothraki believe that when a warrior dies, he becomes a star in the sky mounted on a celestial steed.")
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As for pronunciation, there aren't many audio examples out there other than this press release and a YouTube channel. The best way to learn is to listen to how the language is spoken on Game of Thrones. Of the actors playing the Dothraki, Peterson says the ones with the best pronunciation are Elyes Gabel, who plays bloodrider Rakharo, and Amrita Acharia, who plays Irri, the handmaiden teaching Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) the Dothraki language and culture.
Dothraki language students looking to continue their education will find like-minded warriors online. "There is a fan community that is already started up," Sai says. "They are doing sort of the same thing that happened with Na'vi in the movie Avatar. Without anything other than what everybody has access to, they are compiling a dictionary, grammar, practicing sentences, things like that. That is boosting things. We also have a few posts on the Making Game of Thrones blog that are introductory Dothraki grammar posts."
Although learning to speak Dothraki may seem daunting, a little practice, pizza and beer can help with the process. And just keep in mind these inspirational words: Shieraki gori ha yeraan!
Game of Thrones airs on Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.