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I cannot doubt that language owes its origin to the imitation and modification, aided by signs and gestures, of various natural sounds, the voices of other animals, and man’s own instinctive cries.

— Charles Darwin, 1871

A new born baby knows no language. The mother takes the initiative to teach the child words to communicate. The family members follow this initiative and the child is taught more and more words. The child hears and learns more words, segments and then complete sentences. Loan words from other languages enter into its vocabulary. While it is widely understood that our ability to communicate through speech sets us apart from other animals, language experts, historians and scientists can only hypothesize how, where and when it all began.

A recent study conducted by a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand namely Quentin D. Atkinson’s findings challenges a long-held belief by linguistics that the origin of spoken language only dates back some 10,000 years. Industrialization and technological development paved the way to globalization and mankind’s interest to learn other languages widened.  Most languages are age-old ones and man makes some changes as language evolves.

The fantasy of having constructed languages also known as conlangs became viral and The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series invented an entire family of fantasy languages. Esperanto – The Language of International Peace, sought to become the lingua franca for international diplomacy. Solresol a constructed language devised by François Sudre enjoyed a brief spell of popularity.

British novelist Alan Garner soon created Skeksis, the language used by the villains of Jim Henson’s 1982 film, The Dark Crystal. Shortly thereafter, the Star Trek language known as Klingon premiered in a new, fully fleshed-out version in The Return of Spock. By the early 2000s, half-baked fictional languages such as the Ubese spoken by Jabba the Hut in the 1983 Star Wars movie Return of the Jedi, would no longer stand up to the scrutiny of the growing conlang community.  Since the inception of the internet, in the early 2000s ultimately decentralize the conlang community, dispersing into thousands of smaller groups across the web.

Developments in conlangs kindled David Joshua Peterson an American language creator, writer, and artist, to dream up new languages for television and movies such as Thor: The Dark World and Doctor Strange. Hey, wait! Who is this language creator?

David J. Peterson is a conlanger. He has an M.A. in linguistics from the University of California, San Diego, and his bright blue, 1990s-chic web site has an alternate black-and-white version, in case you find it easier to read that way. Peterson’s web site lists 13 separate languages of his own invention. Peterson explains in his new book The Art of Language Invention, conlanging is an art as well as a science, something you might do for your own pleasure, as well as for the entertainment of others.

In 2009, the television network HBO needed a fictional language for the Game of Thrones television series and turned to the Language Creation Society for help. This resulted in a contest, which Peterson won. Peterson created conlangs the Dothraki and Valyrian languages for the television series Game of Thrones.

The Dothraki language is a constructed fictional language in George R. R. Martin‘s fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation Game of Thrones. It is spoken by the Dothraki, a nomadic people in the series’ fictional world.

The language was developed for the TV series by the linguist David J. Peterson, working off the Dothraki words and phrases in Martin’s novels. Dothraki and Valyrian have been described as “the most convincing fictional tongues since Elvish languages”. Peterson drew inspiration from George R. R. Martin’s description of the language, as well as from such languages like Estonian, Inuktitut, Turkish, Russian, and Swahili. The Dothraki vocabulary was created by Peterson well in advance of the adaptation. Once selected, Peterson delivered 1700 words before the initial shooting. David J. Peterson and his development of the Dothraki language were featured on an April 8, 2012, episode of CNN’s The Next List. He went on to create the Valyrian languages for season 3 of Game of Thrones. He constructed Valyrian like a real language nearly from scratch, complete with grammar and rules. Peterson and his development of Dothraki were also featured on the January 8, 2017 episode of To Tell the Truth. Today, Dothraki has about 4,000 official words and Valyrian about 2,000. To help “Game of Thrones” actors speak Dothraki and Valyrian correctly, Peterson records audio versions of each line, so the performers have a model to follow. 

Here are a few examples of Dothraki terminology:

  • Dothraki – lit. “men who ride”, “riders”; the Dothraki people. A single Dothraki rider is a dothrak.
  • The noun for “riders” plural is Dothraki. The verb for “ride” conjugates as Anha dothrak = “I ride,” Me dothrae = “You ride,” Kisha dothraki = “We ride.” Thus “dothraki” can also be the first person plural conjugation for “(We) ride” – it’s just a homonym.[6]
  • Khal – Dothraki warlord.
  • Khaleesi – The wife of the khal.
  • Khalasar – Dothraki clan or tribe, led by a khal.

David Peterson is a conlanger for hire—besides Game of Thrones, Peterson has also worked on the Castithan, Irathient, Indogene and Omec languages for Syfy’s Defiance, in which humans and aliens coexist in postapocalyptic Missouri—an artist who will put words into the mouths of the characters, words which are part of a fully functioning language. Peterson’s recent projects include the creation of the Inha and Munja’kin languages for the NBC series Emerald City. Peterson has worked to popularize the activity of language creation, or “conlanging.” He produced a number of videos on YouTube, in a series called ‘The Art of Language Invention’ and published a book of the same title in 2015. Peterson also worked as an executive producer on the 2017 documentary film, ‘Conlanging – The Art of Crafting Tongues’.

While learning a fictional language may have little practical value, it offers a way for people to connect with their passions and interact with like-minded individuals. And it does have other benefits, according to Peterson. “Studying a created language that nobody speaks is not really going to help you with communicating with somebody else,” he admitted. “But it does improve your ability to learn a language. You’re engaging the same part of your brain. And the more languages you study, the easier it gets to study yet another one.”

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