How Game of Thrones' Dothraki Language was Invented for TV

By Gerald Lynch on at

It may sound to the untrained ear like gibberish, but each made-up culture in Game of Thrones has its own carefully-mapped language. Ahead of the start of series five of the swords and boobs fantasy epic, the Guardian caught up with David J Peterson of the Language Creation Society, the man responsible for the language of the Mongol-like Dothraki in Game of Thrones, who explained how you go about building a believable language.

"I gathered all the words that existed in books one through three … and analysed them chronologically to determine what syllable shapes were like, what word shapes were like, which sounds could occur where," Petersen told the Guardian.

"Then, once I had that, you can create more syllable shapes and determine what types of consonant clusters there would be at the beginning of a word.

“Grammatically, it was just a matter of determining what I could get away with, what I was allowed to do. So, the few parts where there were two words that came next to one another, that limited what you could do with the language, if you wanted to make sure that everything that was in the book was still accurate afterwards.”

Over the course of filming, Petersen's now put together more than 4,000 Dothraki words, as well as working on the show's Valyrian language. But despite creating complex rules for how the words should be spoken, the linguist still has to contend with ad-libbed lines, and how to integrate them into the framework he has built. Iain "Ser Jorah Mormont" Glen was one culprit.

“Something that helped me out tremendously was Glen’s character being non-Dothraki,” says Petersen. “One thing that non-native speakers will do is mispronounce tough consonants," explained Petersen, allowing him to work Glen's pronunciation into the canon.

The Guardian has a great chat with Petersen on the intricacies of creating a fantasy language. Whether you're a linguist or Game of Thrones cosplayer looking to perfect your art, it's definitely worth a read. [Guardian]