While Game of Thrones fans from all over the world wait eagerly with bated breath for the next season’s release, we decided to take a little sneak peek into the languages invented for the show. Long gone are the days when fantasy drama series spouted gibberish on screen. Production designers today are not afraid to invest in the anthropological details: be it the hand-embroidered costumes, rusty drapes or the crested weaponry! One such globally-admired detail is Dothraki, Khal Drogo’s native tongue.
Mother of fantasy tongues!
The Dothraki language is a constructed fictional language in George R. R. Martin’s novel series and its television adaptation Game of Thrones, where it is spoken by the Dothraki tribes from Essos and eventually by the much-loved protagonist, Daenerys Targaryen. While this language first appears in the novels, it was developed for the TV series by the linguist and professional conlanger, David J. Peterson to enhance the cultural context of the characters and the world they belong to.
The dream job
HBO hired the Language Creation Society (yes, that’s a real thing!) to create such a language for Game of Thrones. The application process alone involved over thirty conlangers (people who invent conlangs or constructed languages as an artistic and/or intellectual hobby), in which David Peterson was hired after having submitted a 180-page proposal with functional grammar and nearly 2000 words – dictionary and audio files included!
He drew inspiration from George R. R. Martin’s description of the language, as well as from natural languages such as Turkish, Russian, Estonian, Inuktitut and Swahili.
Fiction or reality?
While the Dothraki’s tongue is intended to be harsh and guttural, considering they are nomadic tribes, George R.R. Martin has stated that the Dothraki do not resemble or represent any tribe or community in particular, but they have been loosely inspired from the Mongols, Huns, Alans, Turks, Native American plains tribes and various other nomadic horse-riding people who lived on the open steppe, typically with a large frame, dark eyes and dark hair.
Other invented languages
While the first entirely artificial language “Lingua Ignota” was developed way back in the 12th century; entertainment industry conlangs have come a long way since Klingon’s utterance in Star Trek (1979). Popular “conlangs” today include Elvish (Lord of the Rings) and Na’vi (Avatar).
After being introduced to Esperanto by his linguistics professor, Peterson caught the bug and now has a string of languages under his belt – or well, on his website. He developed High Valyrian for the nobility in Game of Thrones, along with Castithan, Irathient, Zhyler, Njaama and Sidaan, most of them for sheer pleasure.
Hey, I want to learn Dothraki!
While you’re probably already well-versed with the term “Khaleesi” (the Dothraki term for a queen or the wife of a khal i.e. a ruler) there are plenty of web and mobile apps that teach you how to pronounce words, learn with games, discuss morphology theories and have a conversational dialogue! In 2014, David Peterson also produced a guidebook for learning the language: Living Language Dothraki.
So happy learning and fonas chek! (Goodbye!)