“It’s a big house this, and very peculiar. Always a bit more to discover, and no knowing what you’ll find round a corner. And Elves, sir! Elves here, and Elves there! Some like kings, terrible and splendid; and some as merry as children. And the music and the singing…” (Sam - The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 1)
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: