♕ “We follow the comet,” Dany told her khalasar. Once it was said, no word was raised against it. They had been Drogo’s people, but they were hers now. The Unburnt, they called her, and Mother of Dragons. Her word was their law.
M'athchomaroon.That’s a hello to you, in Dothraki.
Initially, it may be easy to dismiss those words from the fictional language in “Game of Thrones” as a bunch of made up gibberish, but upon closer inspection, you might realize that the speech and word patterns resemble a real language.
And that’s because it is, in fact, a language with its own fully functional grammar and over 4,000 words.
Before you can even begin writing a single word in Dothraki, you have to do a ton of foundational work to make the constructed language (conlang) seem authentic and natural.
“I used the books almost as anthropological text. Paying attention not just to the dialogue in any given chapter, but also the description of what the land was like, and what people were doing, what they were eating, and wearing,” says David Peterson, the creator of the Dothraki dialect and a UC San Diego alum.
All this detailed analysis of the characters’ realities, culture and attitudes informed the words that would exist in that language.
Here’s an example: Since the Dothrakis are nomadic warriors who believe in taking what they want through brute force, there is no word for “thank you.” But there are seven words just for swinging a sword (like “hliziﬁkh,” which is a wild, but powerful strike.)
And horse riding is so entrenched in their culture, that their very name Dothraki is derived from their verb “to ride”: dothralat.
Just as modern English was developed from its Old English form, Peterson
also created an antiquated version of Dothraki and a modern version. Like real languages that have existed, each word has an etymology
that reflects how the language evolved over time.
All this may seem like an insane amount of work and thought for a few lines of dialogue, but for a language enthusiast like Peterson —who speaks eight languages— creating a conlang is a self-indulgent hobby. It’s fun.
“Creating a language is an art form, like any other. I enjoy doing it. I don’t really think about the endpoint… after all, a language is never really finished,” says Peterson, who would continue to conlangle even if he wasn’t getting paid.
For budding conlangers, Peterson recently developed some resources, including a book and YouTube series that teach more about the process of inventing languages and the history of conlang in further detail.
@teded also has this great video all about fictional languages:
Consider the the rival powers in Westeros. The Starks are fatalistic, duty-bound, honorable but kind of unsophisticated. The Lannisters are appetite-driven plutocrats. The Baratheons were markedly varied, but the surviving one is driven and joyless, having perhaps inherited the Stark “hat” now that there’s not a Stark head left to wear it. The Martells are given to plotting and sexual license. We know less about the Tyrells, but they seem to value chivalry and court culture: consider Loras’ prowess, consider the splendor of Margaery’s entourage and weddings, consider how much more talented the Tyrell fool Butterbumps is than any of the other fools we’ve met.
Now, consider the rival powers among the Dothraki. Was it Khal Jommo’s khalasar that valued chivalry? Were Khal Ogo’s people the least trustworthy? Did Khal Drogo’s have a unique worldview shaped from their long tradition of cultural exchange with the Free Cities? Or are all the khalasars exactly freaking the same, because that’s how it works when you’re an oriental other in speculative fiction?
Zozor! Hello Tumblr! I’m the creator of the languages for HBO’s Game of Thrones, Syfy’s Defiance, the CW’s The 100 and many others, and I’ll be getting up early to answer your questions for #AnswerTime Wednesday, September 30th, at 9 a.m. Pacific / 12 noon Eastern.
My ask box is here! Feel free to ask me questions about my work on the various shows I’ve worked on, my new book The Art of Language Invention (out yesterday!), language in general, or the best time to eat ice cream (answer: every time is the best time).