HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is well known for the gore and action that is packed together into every scene, inducing massive adrenaline rushes as well as showcasing colorful imagery. Created as an adaption of George R. R. Martin’s book series “Game of Thrones” in 2010, the show explores the civil war among the noble houses for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms while also noting the impending threat of the people and creatures of the North.
One of the most unique parts of “Game of Thrones” is the spoken language, namely the Dothraki and Valyrian languages that are often associated with Daenerys Targaryen and her late husband, Drogo. What most people do not know is that the Dothraki and Valyrian languages are actually fully constructed languages consisting of extensive vocabulary and working grammar.
On Nov. 3, 2015, Wellesley College gave a warm welcome to David J. Peterson, the mastermind behind creating the Dothraki and Valyrian language, with a full house and multiple snaps. An alumnus from UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, Peterson has been constructing languages for multiple films and TV shows such as “Thor: The Dark Age” and “Defiance”. His passion for linguistics stems from his fascination with languages itself, notably the sounds produced by either solely the lips, the tip of the tongue or the back of the throat.
In his talk, Peterson introduces several basic concepts behind languages: sounds, words, evolution and the written word. In terms of sounds, he presented a table of different sounds that the human mouth can pronounce in letters. In the example of Dothraki, the top left corner of the letter chart was missing, indicating that the Dothraki language does not pronounce the p/b sound in words. Peterson then proceeded to present the procedure for sounds, which is: define your sound set, define your syllable shape and define your word shape. Overall, sounds are the basis for how the words and symbols of a language must be set in order for the language to become structurally sound.
Near the end of his talk about the evolution of language, he explored this evolution starting with two words: night and knight. In the beginning of time, night had been nixt while knight had been knixt. Though the spelling is similar, the pronunciation of the two words is slightly different as the “k” in knixt is pronounced rather than ignored. But as time passed by, the two words underwent multiple changes to become two words that are spelled differently yet pronounced the same.
He then explained that evolution of language relates to the Dothraki language. Daenerys Targaryen’s nickname evolves from the Dothrakian word for woman, which is “yasi.” As “khal” translates to chieftain, the female khal would be “khalyasi,” and through time, “khalyasi” evolved to “Khaleesi.”
With that Peterson closed with the observation of the different ways to use language to express something. With an excited “Here we go!”, he flipped through his slides stating the various methods to state “Valar Tuerkis” aka “All men must twerk.”