The man behind the language of “Game of Thrones” talks the talk

By Cassandra Stathis

For many, thinking ‘I want to learn every language on the planet,’ is a crazy, unrealistic idea. This is the thought that drove Peter J. Davidson to take courses in college for Arabic, Russian and Middle Egyptian. This is also the thought that led him to create the fictional languages known as Dothraki and High Valyrian from the hit television series “Game of Thrones.”

The language course that inspired Davidson to create his own dialect was his Esperanto class. Esperanto is an international form of communication that was created in 1887 by L. L. Zamenhof and is still used today. In a presentation for his book, “Art of Language,” Davidson discussed some important tips on how to create a language. 

There needs to be consistency, the created words need to make sense and not change when using different tones and phrases. Words need to have functionality, such as having past, present and future tenses so sentences flow better. Lastly, the language needs to have originality and be authentic. 

An example Davidson used for a language with excellent authenticity was Rikchik which was created by Denis Mokowitz. The language is a series of symbols that aliens can create using their tentacles to communicate with one another. 

When asked about the process of his own languages, Davidson said that he had to depend on the books to help with pronunciation, grammar and sound from the names of High Valryian and Dothraki speakers. Although the books helped him with creating the language, the series was not finished and Davidson had to depend on the first four books. 

Davidson said the biggest obstacle while creating languages for “Game of Thrones” was that he “didn’t have control over the universe,” obstructing the ability to create the entirety of the language at once but instead making it a long, continuous process. 

Overall, Davidson’s favorite part of building the languages in “Game of Thrones” was the ability to create the words because it told “the story of the people” in the collection. The presentation brought a lot of insight on the creative and challenging world of linguistics. 

Chair of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Maria Villalobos gave students the opportunity to see the creation and process behind some of their favorite shows. 

While the event taught students and professors a lot about linguistics, behind the scenes, Villalobos went through a lot of hard work to plan this presentation. 

“[This was] hard work since this process required complex logistics,” she said. 

Planning the event also involved a lot of back-and-forth between her team and Davidson’s team. 

First, a negotiation needed to occur between Villalobos and Davidson’s agent which would then lead to her convincing her donors that the event was worth the cost. Then, both parties had to find a date that did not have many other conflicting events scheduled but also worked with the speaker’s schedule, Villalobos explained. Finally, a contract was discussed and advertising for the event begun.

Villalobos said that she organized this event “to showcase the transformative power of language learning and how a requirement could open a myriad of possibilities.” 

The presentation showed how language goes beyond everyday life and can be used in a creative form. This helps the viewers feel more immersed in what they are watching and helps build a culture within the show. 

The event left students educated on the intricacies of linguistics, and both “Game of Thrones” fans and language students alike were able to enjoy Davidson’s talk on the topic.

Published in the 11/20/19 issue of The Rider News.

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