Invented languages in the media: Dothraki


Following on from previous posts about Na’vi (the language invented for James Cameron’s Avatar), Klingon Star Trek, and most recently, the language of Dragons (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim): here’s another language invented for the media – Dothraki.

Though the language is not actually seen in and of itself in the series of novels by George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, when HBO serialized the books into the hit show Game of Thrones, they undertook to create an actual language – complete with full vocabulary, grammar and syntax – for the Dothraki race of people.

Some people build model railroads or re-enact Civil War battles; Mr. Peterson, a 30-year-old who studied linguistics at the University of California, San Diego, is a “conlanger,” a person who constructs new languages. Until recently, this mostly quixotic linguistic pursuit, born out of a passion for words and grammatical structures, lived on little-visited Web sites or in college dissertations.

Today, a desire in Hollywood to infuse fantasy and science-fiction movies, television series and video games with a sense of believability is driving demand for constructed languages, complete with grammatical rules, a written alphabet (hieroglyphics are acceptable) and enough vocabulary for basic conversations.

It seems that constructing languages has become something of a fashionable addition for big-budget productions such as Game of Thrones. While Martin did not lay the groundwork for the language in the same way that J. R. R. Tolkien famously did for the Elvish and Dwarven tongues in Lord of the Rings, it’s amazing to see how the attention to detail of making a language really does help to flesh out a fantasy world and make it seem more real – even if it’s only the true fanatics who make the effort to learn to speak them.