The linguistics of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones has the richest linguistic universe since Tolkien’s Middle Earth, according to a recent article in The Economist (5th August 2017).

The article defers to David J. Peterson, the language expert who is responsible for Game of Thrones’ Dothraki and Valyrian languages. Peterson cites Tolkien as an inspiration for creating fictional languages with depth and linguistic history embedded within them.

Peterson describes his bafflement at the fictional languages of his youth. The Star Wars films featured foreign ‘languages’ that were nothing more than a series of weird sounds.

Instead Peterson wanted to create a language which had etymologies and meaningful depth, where the word ‘feud’ is related to ‘blood’ and ‘fight’, for example. He also wanted to infuse the languages with an element of the disordered irregularities that crop up in real-life language evolution – such as the lack of gender differentiation in Valyrian in the word for prince/princess.

What’s most interesting about Peterson’s language creation is that he has been so successful in creating a ‘natural’ language, that people are keen to learn it in real life as well. Living Language (a language-textbook publisher), and Duolingo (an online language learning platform) both offer material for learning the languages of Game of Thrones.

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