High Valyrian Phonology

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The High Valyrian language has 18 distinct consonant phonemes (not including two that only occur in loanwords), 6 vowels (each of which may be long or short) and 2 glides.

Contents

Standard Romanization

Letter IPA English approximation Notes
a a US bot, UK bath
ā father
b b bother
d d dog
e e bait
ē bade
g g good
gh ɣ ~ ʁ
h h ham
i i beet
ī bead
j d͡ʒ ~ ʒ ~ j judge, azure, or yes
k k skill
kh x ~ χ Bach, or Chanukkah Only found in loanwords.
l l left
lj ʎ million
m m man
n n no Assimilates to following velar or uvular consonant.
ñ ɲ onion Pronounced, and usually written, as n before i, or any consonant except for j.
o o moat
ō mode
p p span
q q
r r ~ ɾ A tap when following a vowel, except at the end of a word. Trilled elsewhere.[1]
rh Voiceless, trilled.[2]
s s see
t t stop
th θ think Only found in loanwords.
u u crouton
ū food
v v ~ w voice or wave
y y
ȳ
z z zoo

Phonetics

Because High Valyrian was once the language of a wide empire, and because it is now a learned language (that is, it is no longer anyone's native language, with the possible exception of the Targaryens), the pronunciation varies a good deal from region to region. It is likely that many of the inhabitants of the Free Cities and Slaver's Bay pronounce High Valyrian very similarly to their native form of Low Valyrian. As a result, the pronunciations given below are only ideals, not absolutes, and even then they are often quite broad (e.g. the pronunciation given for j).

In particular, note that most of the speakers we have heard on the show pronounce y as [i], and do not carefully distinguish vowel quantities.

Consonants

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m [m] n [n] ñ [ɲ] (n [ŋ ~ ɴ])
Plosive voiceless p [p] t [t] k [k] q [q]
voiced b [b] d [d] g [g]
Fricative voiceless (th [θ]) s [s] (kh [x ~ χ]) h [h]
voiced v [v ~ w] z [z] j [d͡ʒ ~ ʒ ~ j] gh [ɣ ~ ʁ]
Approximant
Lateral l [l] lj [ʎ]
Rhotic voiceless rh [r̥]
voiced r [r ~ ɾ][3]

Pronunciation of v

It has been often noted by DJP[4], that the letter v varies in pronunciation depending on era and place in a word:

  • In modern times, v in High Valyrian (ignoring daughter languages) is pronounced always like the v in English [v].
  • However, in antiquity, its pronunciation varies in a great grade depending on what precedes and follows "v". So:
    • Pronounced as [v] when preceding the vowels i and e.
    • Pronounced as [w] when preceding the vowels o and u.
    • If before a or y, its pronunciation is not certain. Probaly not as [v] or [w], realized as [ɥ] (= jw). Also it's mentioned that it was perhaps pronounced [ʋ], when before a.
    • When after a vowel and behind a consonant, functioning as the second part of a diphthong, it was most likely expressed as [u], maybe [w].

The pronunciation of v changed quite a lot throughout time and it is difficult to pinpoint a specific pronunciation for a particular case in any given time point. In this regard, it is up to the speakers themselves.

Borrowed Sounds

Like all languages, High Valyrian contains loan words from other languages that might not fit into the language properly if not altered to do so. A word might not fit into the declension patterns of High Valyrian and are declined according to a special declension for foreign words and it usually contains some sounds not native to Valyrian speakers that are reduced to ones native if the speaker is unable to pronounce them or doesn't want to for reasons of not creating phonological inconcistencies. So digraphs to express foreign sounds and their rendered pronunciation:

  • KH
High Valyrian uses the digraph to express the "kh" sound found in eg. German (Buch) or Dothraki (arakh). The sound /x/ is most commonly rendered into a /k/ by a Valyrian speaker but depeding on the speaker it could also be turned into /h/ or even /ɣ~ʁ/.
For example arakh , borrowed [aˈɾax], would be pronounced as [aˈɾak],[aˈɾah] or by some even as [aˈɾaɣ] or [aˈɾaʁ].
  • TH
This digraph is used to express the "th" (/θ/) sound as in "think" and Valyrians will most likely render it as a regular Valyrian /t/.
For example dothraki, borrowed [do'θraki], would be pronounced as [do'traki].
  • SH
This digraph expresses the thick "sh" (/ʃ/) sound found in words like "shell" and Valyrians will most likely render it as a regular Valyrian /s/, albeit some dialects feature this sound especially for the cluster "sr" (instead of regular rendering as j).
  • VH~PH~F
The "f" (/f/) sound found in words like English "father" is transcribed in various ways. The older is with the digraph "vh"[5]. Its pronunciation is most usually rendered as Valyrian /p/ or /v/.
For example: "Winterfell(i)" » /vinter'pelli/ .

Notes:

  • In antiquity, /j/ could be pronounced [j] or [ɟ]: always [ɟ] before [i] or [y]; often before [e]; sometimes elsewhere. Modern speakers' pronunciation varies between [j], [ʒ] and [dʒ], depending largely on region, and native language.
  • [ŋ] and [ɴ] are in parentheses because they are not phonemes, but allophones of /n/. The phoneme /n/ assimilates to a following velar or uvular consonant, e.g. ēngos /ˈeːngos/ "tongue" is pronounced [ˈeːŋgos], valonqar /vaˈlonqar/ "little brother" is [vaˈloɴqar].
  • [θ] and [x ~ χ] are in parentheses because they occur only in words of foreign origin. As foreign sounds, they may not always be pronounced as they ideally should be. For instance, some speakers might pronounce Thoros as [ˈθoros], but others might just say [ˈtoros] or possibly even [ˈsoros]. Likewise, some might pronounce arakh [aˈɾax] or [aˈɾaχ], some [aˈɾah], some might even say [aˈɾaɣ] or [aˈɾaʁ].
  • /r/ is generally a trill ([r]), but is a tap ([ɾ]) when following a vowel medially.
  • In antiquity, /v/ could be pronounced [w] or [v]: always [v] before [u]; often before [o]; sometimes elsewhere. Modern speakers' pronunciation varies between [w], and [v], depending largely on region, and native language.

Vowels

High Valyrian has 6 phonetically distinct vowel qualities, each of which can be either long or short:

Short Long
Front Back Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i [i] y [y]* u [u] ī [iː] ȳ [yː]* ū [uː]
Mid e [e] o [o] ē [eː] ō [oː]
Open a [a] ā [aː]

* Many modern speakers do not distinguish y from i and pronounce both as [i].

Diphthongs

High Valyrian diphthongs can divided into two categories: "falling" diphthongs (which end with e or o), and "rising" or "on-glide" diphthongs (which begin with i or u).[6] Falling diphthongs have a more official status in the language: when the word "diphthong" is used without qualification, it usually refers to falling diphthongs. The on-glides in rising diphthongs never count as consonants.

While falling diphthongs are always considered "long vowels" for prosodic purposes, rising diphthongs count as short or long depending on the length of their last vowel.

Coda -a -e -o
Falling a- ae [ae̯] ao [ao̯]
ā- āe [aːe̯] āo [aːo̯]
Rising i- ia [i͡a] iā [i͡aː] ie [i͡e] iē [i͡eː] io [i͡o] iō [i͡oː]
u- ua [u͡a] uā [u͡aː] ue [u͡e] uē [u͡eː] uo [u͡o] uō [u͡oː]

Hiatus

Occasionally, two vowels will occur in a row, without forming a diphthong. These should be pronounced as two separate vowels. The most common of these are [a.eː] and [a.oː], which are never pronounced as diphthongs. It is also possible, but very rare, for two vowels that could have formed a diphthongs are pronounced as two separate vowels instead. The only known example of this, so far, is daor "not," which may be pronounced either as one syllable ([dao̯r]) or two ([da.ˈor]).

Prosody & accent

A High Valyrian syllable may be "heavy" or "light."

Heavy and light syllables

A syllable is light if:

  • It ends with a short vowel (e.g. vă-). This inclueds rising diphthongs that ends in a short vowel (e.g. luĕ-)

A syllable is heavy if:

  • It contains with a long vowel (e.g. zō-)
  • It contains a falling diphthong (e.g. glae-, rāe-)
  • It contains a long rising diphthong (e.g. jiō-)
  • It ends with a consonant (e.g. lok-).
For syllable boundaries at the middle of a word, a good rule of thumb is that if a vowel is followed by two consonants, the first consonant is at the end of a syllable and thus the syllable is heavy. For this purpose:
  • Digraphs, such as rh, gh, lj count as a single consonant.
  • A plosive (p, t, k, b, d, g) followed by a liquid (r, l, rh) or a sibilant (s, z) counts as a single consonant.
  • A double consonant (e.g. rr, ss) counts as two consonants.

Placing the accent

All imperative verbs are accented on the last syllable, no matter the composition of the syllables (e.g. kelītī́s "halt!"). The same is true of words in which the final vowel is lengthened for coordination (e.g. pérzys ānogā́r "fire and blood").[7] For all other native words, the accent is based on the "weight" (heavy or light) of the second-to-last syllable (which is called the "penult"), and the third-to-last syllable (called the "antepenult"):

  • If the penult and the antepenult are both light, then the accent falls on the penult: valaro = va·lá·ro
  • If the penult is heavy, then the accent falls on the penult: valarra = va·lár·ra
  • If the penult is light, and the antepenult is heavy, then the accent falls on the antepenult: valzyro = vál·zy·ro

In other words:

  1. Place the accent on the last syllable if the word is a verb in the imperative, e.g. vestrás "say!," kelītī́s "halt! (pl)" or in coordination, e.g. pérzys ānogā́r "fire and blood"
  2. Place the accent on the antepenult (third-to-last syllable) if it is heavy, and the penult is light, e.g. póntalo (pon·ta·lo) "of themselves," morghū́ljagon (mor·ghū·lja·gon) "to die," obū́ljarion (·lja·rion) "surrender"
  3. Place the accent on the penult (second-to-last syllable) in all other cases: valáro (va·la·ro) "of all men," undéssin (un·des·sin) "I always see," iprádis (pra·dis) "always eats" (remember that pr counts as one consonant!)

Loanwords

Words and names borrowed from another language will often keep their original stress. The accent tends to stay on the same syllable, regardless of any endings that may be added. Thus:

  • Arákh (a type of sword), from Doth. arakh.
  • Buzdári "slave," from AV buzdár.
  • Rullór, gen. Rullóro,[8] "R'hllor," possibly from Asshai'i.

Notes

  1. https://twitter.com/Dedalvs/status/348173789231734784 et seq.
  2. https://twitter.com/Dedalvs/status/348276183596675073
  3. https://twitter.com/Dedalvs/status/347825905076420608
  4. https://dedalvs.tumblr.com/post/141916578563/high-valyrian-v-can-be-pronounced-either-v-or
  5. This opens the oppurtunity for interesting hypotheses. The dragon's name Vhagar would actually have original pronunciation "Fagar", when it shouldn't contain sounds not present in the language, since Vhagar was the name of an ancient Valyrian god. Or again so it was the name and its pronunciation before the Doom, being crystallised, while the language evolved within 300 years to eradicate the sound"f".
  6. "Rising" and "falling" are standard terms to distinguish between these two types of diphthong. The idea is that one of the vowels is the main nucleus of the diphthong (high), while another one is reduced to a sort of glide (low). Do not confuse this with the unrelated (but similarly termed) concepts of vowel height (indeed, it is usually the opposite) or tone.
  7. http://dedalvs.tumblr.com/post/60304113674/hey-david-big-fan-of-your-work-and-conlanging-in#comment-1032897843
  8. However, David J. Peterson has said the word might possibly be Rullōr. If this is true, it would make the stress on the oblique forms regular, if not the nominative.[1]


Phonology
DothrakiHigh ValyrianAstapori ValyrianMeereenese Valyrian
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