I’m not sure about you, but ever since I saw the savage Dothraki warriors in HBO’s epic fantasy Game of Thrones I’ve fancied myself as a bit of a horselord. Riding shirtless through the desert while my mighty braid whips through the air seems like exactly my sort of fun, and I often secretly hoped I might get my chance if entertainment journalism didn’t work out.
So when the chance came up to learn the language of the Dothraki (from a Living Language set made by the language’s creator David PJ. Peterson for HBO), I jumped at the chance. Here was my opportunity to engage with their mighty culture – and become as fearsome as Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) himself.
To begin with, it was easy. Appropriately enough I galloped through the opening pronunciation stages of the book and accompanying CD (it’s all very guttural, a bit like the Welsh I studied at school).
I even picked up a few useful phrases – Happy Birthday is Asshekhqoyi vezhvana, and while the Dothraki have no word for thanks (a fact noted in Game of Thrones series 1), you can say San athchomari yeraan (A lot of honour to you) instead.
So far, I was having fun. Anha ezok lekhes Dothraki! (I’m learning Dothraki), I thought to myself with warrior glee.
“Rai (hooray)!” I yelled across my kingdom (well, my kitchen).
Warning: This video contains scenes of violence
Then came the sentence “Before we get too far in discussing pronouns, you need to know that the Dothraki language marks case.” And then it all went wrong.
Page after page of genitive, ablative and nominative nouns sucked all the fun out of speaking the language of fearless killers. God knows how any of the Dothraki have time to pillage considering all the grammar they must have to learn.
And while learning any language is hard, as time went on I became struck by the fact that this was a fundamentally pointless exercise. It reminded me of when I had to study Old English from a book at university; but learning Dothraki was perversely somehow even less useful for day-to-day life than being able to read Beowulf in its original form.
Admittedly the examples for expressing noun possession were quite funny, like Anha vaddrivak year m’asikhtek khadokh (I will kill you and spit on YOUR body), but by then the attraction of Dothraki life was leaving me. Horses aren’t even that great; did I really need to learn six different ways to express their speed?
I gave up on the language after a heroic hour and a half of scholarly diligence. Fundamentally I couldn’t help but feel one could spend the time learning an actual language, still annoyed and bored but at least able to order food in France.
That’s not to say that I wouldn’t recommend the Living Language set to anybody; there are Game of Thrones fans out there far more dedicated than me, and considering that there are now degrees in Star Trek’s Klingon or Lord of The Rings’ Elvish, learning this language will definitely appeal to some.
Aan athchomari yeraaan, I say to those brave souls – but from me it’s Dothras chek (goodbye).
Dothraki: Living language book/CD set is available from the HBO Store