As Daenerys Targaryen discovers in Game of Thrones, learning Dothraki language and customs is no walk in the park. Whether it’s fictional or not, language learning is tough. Have you ever tried to invent your own?
Even if you are not a fan, it is highly likely that you have at least heard of George RR Martin’s mammoth A Game of Thrones series. It started out in books and has since made the leap to the silver screen with a hugely popular TV adaptation by HBO.
As a team of linguists and language-lovers, we spend a lot of time pondering languages. Why are some more difficult to learn than others? What is the best way to practice pronunciation? How do you invent Dothraki language from scratch?
What is Dothraki Language?
The Dothraki are tribal inhabitants of the lands of A Game of Thrones, and the language they speak in the TV version of the story was invented by David J. Peterson.
Peterson is a linguist who was hired by HBO to take the few phrases of Dothraki offered by Martin in the books, and make a full language. He also took on the task of creating ‘High Valyrian’ – a nearly ‘dead’ language in the fictional world of Westeros, not unlike Latin or Ancient Greek for us.
The two languages reflect the cultural needs of their speakers. The Dothraki language has 14 words to say ‘horse’, but none to say ‘toilet’. This makes sense for a culture who live on horseback and are constantly on the move.
How Do You Invent a Language?
It would seem that the best way to start is by learning languages. JRR Tolkien said that the setting for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was borne of his interest in language. The language of his world was created long before he invented a world for it.
He studied Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon and Gothic from a young age, and was already inventing his own languages in his teens.
Peterson has a Masters in Linguistics and has written books on the complexities of his fictional languages. So far, he has created two principal languages for the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, but they are complete and learnable. The words are not just sounds, they are part of an overarching system.
We’ve mentioned already how the words invented for the Dothraki language reflect the imagined needs of that kind of society.
So language building relies on linguistic rules, but also an awareness of the social context in which it will be used. Even, or rather, especially in fiction, we have a duty to make language believable and useful.
Where Can I Learn High Valyrian or Dothraki Language?
For fictional languages, they are more accessible that you might think!
You can learn High Valyrian for free on Duolingo – just ten minutes a day will get you ready to pledge allegiance to your chosen ruler on the Iron Throne.
Peterson’s books are available online and he is also fairly active on his forum. Recent updates include the Haiku competition, written in, you guessed it! High Valyrian or Dothraki language.
Feeling inspired? Let us know in the comments!
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