A Game of Thrones gets a constructed language
HBO, which is turning George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, the first novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, into a television series, recently announced that they have hired David J. Peterson, an expert in language creation, to construct the Dothraki language for the production. That is the language spoken by Khal Drogo, a warlord of the Dothraki people, in the books.
While I haven’t read Martin’s books (yet…people keep recommending them to me, so I’m going to have to read them soon), the whole idea of creating a language for fictional characters intrigues me. This is true even though I’m not very good at foreign languages, something that Martin also claims for himself in a recent blogpost where he admits that he has only created a few words of the Dothraki language for his books. He says that instead, he has mostly just altered syntax and rhythms to convey the flavor of a foreign language in his writing. That makes sense to me. I have enough trouble writing in English sometimes, but I’ve tutored enough non-native English speakers to know that syntax differs significantly among languages. This makes it an attractive way for the writer to communicate the idea that a character is speaking another language without having to actually construct a language from scratch.
I am aware enough of created languages to know that J. R. R. Tolkien created languages for his characters in The Lord of the Rings, and that someone created Klingon for Star Trek and Na’vi for Avatar. But, not being talented in learning existing foreign languages, I haven’t given much thought to making up new ones just for the fun of it. Which, it turns out, some people do.
I never knew, until I tried to find out more about HBO’s decision to hire Peterson to create Dothraki, that there is an organization called the Language Creation Society for people interested in constructing languages. I had no idea that constructed languages are called conlangs, and a person who creates them is a conlanger. I didn’t know, either, that there are several kinds of conlangs until I read the Society’s web page. Auxlangs are international auxiliary languages such as Esperanto, which was created in the late 1800s as a means of international communications. Esperanto is officially recognized by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and it is sometimes used by the US military in its wargames. There are also englangs, or engineered languages, which are used mostly for experimental purposes, and artlangs, such as Klingon. Artlangs are usually created for aesthetic purposes or just for fun.
I’ll probably never attempt to construct a language. I don’t plan on writing anything that would necessarily require that. It is good to know, however, that there are resources such as the Language Creation Society to help when a writer decides that a new language is just what their novel needs. Or when HBO decides that they need an existing Dothraki language for its adaptation of A Game of Thrones.
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