Author Topic: On knowing meaning  (Read 4556 times)

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Qvaak

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On knowing meaning
« on: November 21, 2011, 05:55:42 pm »
Conversational post :)
Slightly silly. Contains errors and crappy terminology.

Now and then we run into doubts about our vocabulary's (and dictionary's) words definitions - and for good reason. Many of the words are picked from very thin sources, often from just a single sentence or a plain one-word translation by Peterson. In my oponion we hardly know meanings of any Dothraki words. We know about meanings. In some cases we know more, in some cases we know less.

First we have deeply cultural level. Words carry connotations. There are established methaphorical extensions, established associations. Any text has subtext both intentional and unintentional. In a way this is wise-assy thing to even bring up; connotations do not belong to dictionary, the only way to truly get into them is to understand the whole Dothraki culture - everything from their stories to their daily routines. But we are interested in dothraki culture, and anyway it's always good to know, what we don't know (even if we do an awful lot of not knowing).

Our modern culture is rapidly changing organic mix of professions, sub cultures and diverse living environments. We are quickly moving from a bunch of heterogenic nations to international ("northern hemisphere western") community. Even though our culture is incredibly rich in symbols, I think our shared connotations are watered down and vague. Dothraki culture should be almost a polar opposite: nearly static largely homogenic culture. Their shared connotations should be myriad and sharply defined. When two dothraki from the same social group (male, female or slave, I guess) and the same khalasar talk, I'd imagine the level of shared conversational subtext could be likened to close grown siblings of our society.

Then again, one of the main ideas of fantasy genre is that while society is medieval-like in tech-level, social classes and harsh presense of violence, the mentality of peoples is still accessible. Perhaps we should expect even Dothraki society to be more accessible than the alienity of the culture would indicate. We are left to speculate. Peterson keeps his hands somewhat tied when it comes to intimately cultural stuff, so most of this stuff isn't even fixed.

Then there is the stuff that might go into dictionary. What is the core meaning of the word? How far does the scope reach? Does the word have established metaphorical extensions?


Semirandom examples:

Jano is a word I honestly think we know well enough to consider it known. There are, sure, some questions, but they are very superficial:
  • It seems Dothraki eat almost everything, and certainly they eat dogs. Even though I don't find it likely, Dothraki might have an own word for dog meat (David might have even commented on possibility of special meat words, but I don't remeber for sure).
  • Dothraki know at least two unmissably similar canines, wolves and dogs, so there's a possibility that there is super group - sub group hierarchy. If jano would extend to super group term, then wolves would be "wolf kind of dogs" and dogs "regular dogs".
    ...but that's all I can think of.

    On more cultural level, though, there's a lot of interesting questions:
  • What is a stereotypical dog? My image of the dogs Dothraki know is a feral garbage eating pests following the khalasar. Do Dothraki keep domesticated dogs, and if they do, what kind of dogs would those be? Would they be dependable shepherd helpers, ferocious but noble hunting dogs, half wild guards chained around the camp?
  • Consequently, Dothraki seem to be rather keen on using animals as archetypes of different natured humans. What human characteristics are associated with dogs?
  • Dothraki are not committed to genetics, their words don't - strictly speaking - denote to biological species. Would Dothraki allow a lap dog jano, or would they be all "That thing might have jano ancestrors, but it ain't no jano! ..Janosh, perhaps."


    Ador seems at first glance well understood word, too, but on the closer inspection the uncertainities seem less trivial. The questions are largely the same, but carry more weight:
  • What is a regular ador? Our stereotypical chairs have four legs and a back. It's an exemplary piece of furniture. I doubt Dothraki carry around a lot of proper chairs, or keep them at Vaes Dothraki. I'd imagine Dothraki mostly seeing and using benches and stools, often of impromtu kind. Perhaps ador means more stool than chair.
  • If ador truly denotes foremost to an object with four legs, a seat and a back, it seems like rather specific word for somewhat rare item - word that could be likened in our culture to eg. divan. It would probably not be a supergroup word, so benches and stools would not be ador, rather the other way around.
  • For us chair has a metaphoric dimension as a place of power. Dothraki leaders are not leading sitting down. Would ador rather communicate weakness and retirement for them? When they hear of Ador Shiqethi will it sound cool or slightly silly? Shiqethi at least should have very positive vibe; I'd guess that the trueness of metal would have some echo in shiqethi even if tawak carries the conventional true extension.
Game of Thrones is not The Song of Ice and Fire, sweetling. You'll learn that one day to your sorrow.

ingsve

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Re: On knowing meaning
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2011, 06:20:54 pm »
  • Consequently, Dothraki seem to be rather keen on using animals as archetypes of different natured humans. What human characteristics are associated with dogs?
This is perhaps one of the key issues that are hard to figure out without direct knowledge. For the use of the word jano for the animal itself I imagine that you could get away with viewing it as a generic word with a broad scope and you would probably be understood. But when it comes to specific cultural connotations then we can't really speak with authority in the same way. We would probably end up just applying our own connotations rather than proper Dothraki connotations.

In English dog references comes up with regards to sexual interactions between men and women. Men are dogs in the meaning of being a player while women are called bitches. Dog is also used in various forms with the connotation of being mans best friend and it has even become directly synonymous with friend. I imagine that the Dothraki would have completely different connotations in thier use of hte word jano. If anything it seems like horses would fill much of the same connotations that dogs do in English. A horse is probably closer to the Dothrakis best friend and even the doggie style sexual position is likely to be called horsie style unless they would use a more generic "animal style" compound.
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Hrakkar

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Re: On knowing meaning
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2011, 07:43:41 pm »
Interesting speculations.....

Jano Be it a poodle or a German shepherd, they are all dogs. The fact that there are wolves (and direwolves) implies that there is a hierarchy of canines in their world, just like there is a hierarchy of cats in our world (and dogs, too but over a smaller size range). I think the term 'dog' as an animal would refer to any domestic, semidomestic or feral canine. I would be very surprised if their dogs are not all somaller, wolf-like creatures who like living with people. As far as a cultural use of the term, 'dog' is often used to refer to a 'trouble-making low-life'. No sexual connotations here, but certainly not something you would want to be called.

ador I think is simpler. It is simply nothing more than an implement to sit on, regardless of the form it takes. As most adors in Dothraki-land would be simple affairs (as described by Qvaak), the term could easily be 'mapped' to some other sitting-device (such as an iron throne). The Dothraki obviously do not recognize the iron throne as a seat of power to be reverenced, so they just call it an 'iron chair'. They do have a couple words for 'sit' in the vocabulary as we know it.
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ingsve

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Re: On knowing meaning
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2011, 10:05:41 pm »
ador I think is simpler. It is simply nothing more than an implement to sit on, regardless of the form it takes. As most adors in Dothraki-land would be simple affairs (as described by Qvaak), the term could easily be 'mapped' to some other sitting-device (such as an iron throne). The Dothraki obviously do not recognize the iron throne as a seat of power to be reverenced, so they just call it an 'iron chair'. They do have a couple words for 'sit' in the vocabulary as we know it.

What complicates it a bit is that we also have the word nevakh which loosely translates as sitting spot. Though I guess they're not really mutually exclusive. Something can be both a generic sitting spot and the implement you sit on at the same time.
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Hrakkar

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Re: On knowing meaning
« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2011, 01:31:55 pm »
What complicates it a bit is that we also have the word nevakh which loosely translates as sitting spot. Though I guess they're not really mutually exclusive. Something can be both a generic sitting spot and the implement you sit on at the same time.

I think you definitely clarified the distinction there.
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Qvaak

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Re: On knowing meaning
« Reply #5 on: November 23, 2011, 03:44:58 am »
Ingsve:
Quote
Men are dogs in the meaning of being a player while women are called bitches. Dog is also used in various forms with the connotation of being mans best friend and it has even become directly synonymous with friend.
Hrakkar:
Quote
As far as a cultural use of the term, 'dog' is often used to refer to a 'trouble-making low-life'.
Also some strong connotations on servile and submissive attitude. Sometimes accompanied with overall stupidity and simplisitude.
And dogs can also be just plain miserable and maltreated.

Quote
Jano Be it a poodle or a German shepherd, they are all dogs.
Not all dogs are poodles .. or hounds. 'Dog' has been reasonably good translation (in contexts we've met the word) for jano, but that doesn't necessarily mean jano means exactly 'dog'. I would be surprised if there really were any significant difference, I'm just saying it's possible.

Quote
ador I think is simpler. It is simply nothing more than an implement to sit on, regardless of the form it takes.
Well, here I would not be so surprised to find surprises. Ador has only been used to refer to Iron Throne (and Game of Thrones). We know it does not mean 'throne', but rather 'chair'. Ador seems simple everyday word, not derivation or compound, so it's reasonable to expect it to refer to a simple everyday item, so: 'stool', sure; 'bench', likely; 'saddle' .. maybe not?.

Mr. Peterson has implied several times that while making things interesting, exotic and culture appropriate, to make the language accessible he also tries to avoid unnecessary complications. I think this goes for vocabulary, too. If there isn't a good cultural or etymological reason to push meaning boundaries to differ from English, we should be comfortable in expecting a close match. I just love to speculate.
Game of Thrones is not The Song of Ice and Fire, sweetling. You'll learn that one day to your sorrow.