Recently, one of our social media posts dealt with Dothraki, the language spoken in the hit television show, Game of Thrones (GoT). With the new season of GoT just around the corner, we thought we’d take a closer look at the languages spoken in the book so that you are Hollywood-ready for the next season!
Speaking the GoT languages – did you know there is more than one?
A massive part of the GoT culture is the language. In the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, different languages are frequently referenced.
Although there are a few words that are of different languages, the dialogue is actually English, so the writers adapting the books for TV have had to create dialogues in languages that didn’t exist. Linguist David J. Peterson was up for the task, though, and although he came up with several languages, it is Valyrian and Dothraki that are heard the most in the show.
The Valyrian languages
In the show, there is both high Valyrian and low Valyrian. The character Daenerys is the native speaker of the high variety. As for low Valyrian, we find that Grey Worm is the dominant speaker.
The prominent speaker of Dothraki is Khal Drogo. This is the language spoken by nomadic mounted tribes found in the central plains of Essos and was the very first language invented for GoT. According to Peterson, it is very similar to Russian, but cues were also taken from Arabic.
Linguist vs. Author
While Martin may be the author of the book series, it is Peterson who is the linguist, and the creator of the languages we hear in the TV show. In fact, TV network HBO approached the Language Creation Society for help creating the languages. When the producers of the show approached the society, it held an internal competition where it finally chose Peterson’s 180-page Dothraki proposal, along with his audio files and comprehensive dictionary. The items were presented to producers who were quick to hire Peterson. In order to create the new language, Peterson looks to languages like Swahili, Estonian, Russian, Turkish, and Inuktitut for inspiration. In creating Dothraki, he has to ensure that actors would be able to pronounce and learn the vocabulary – a task he took on with gusto, as relayed in a YouTube video.
Do you want to learn Dothraki?
If you are an avid GoT fan, or you just enjoy the challenge of learning a new language, you can now learn Dothraki at university level. Peterson now teaches a six-week summer course at UC Berkeley.
The languages in Game of Thrones work to create different tribes, different atmospheres, all coming together to create powerful plots – and that is the power of language. Language is representative of entire cultures and nations and it is thanks to the linguists that GoT and its languages have had a powerful impact on viewers, fans, and lovers of linguistics alike.