Living Language Dothraki | David Peterson | Talks at Google

DAVID PETERSON: Thank you guys for coming My voice usually doesn’t sound like this I am really, really sick So don’t touch me at all [LAUGHTER] I will infect all of you with something just awful But it is nice I should take advantage of it It’s very rarely that I can sing Johnny Cash “Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” Yeah, won’t be able to do that in two weeks Anyway, so what are we doing here All right, that’s me as a freshman in college at UC Berkeley I’m very grateful– oh thank you So there are some Bears here at this place that was founded by people from Stanford That’s nice to know But that was me That was me probably before classes even started when I was a freshman in college where my search engine of choice was, of course, Alta Vista I remember when people first told me about Google, and I said why would I ever use a different search engine? Alta Vista is perfect It looks like you guys won that battle It’s funny You should go to altavista.com now It’s not the same thing Anyway, but I started creating languages when I was a freshman in college I came to college with the express intention of being an English major in order to teach English at the high school level And I eventually did finish out that major, but in addition when I got there I became fascinated with language, and I was really just blown away by how many languages you could take at Berkeley So I took Arabic my first semester because I didn’t want to just really go nuts yet It was my first semester I wanted to get my feet But then my second semester I took the second semester of Arabic I took the first semester of Russian I took the first semester of Esperanto, which was a student run class that was pretty cool In addition to, I guess an English major class would have been 19th century literature And my first linguistics class, which was just a very basic introduction to linguistics, which I took us a favor to my mother She said I would really, really like linguistics I didn’t think I would because I was always interested in learning languages not in studying them abstractly And so my first reaction was why would you ever do linguistics? You don’t even learn the languages It seems pointless But first of all, it came along really easily, and it was a lot of fun It’s so much different from reading novels and writing long essays about them So it was all of that stuff that kind of contributed to me creating my very first language in college, which was terrible It was so terrible I’m not even going to show you an example of it, but just to give you an idea of it’s terrible-ness, the name the language was Megdavi My name is David My girlfriend at the time was named Megan You can fill in the rest of the blanks Anyway, eventually I found other language creators online because, like most language creators, I thought I was the very first person to do it, or, in my case, I thought I was the first person to do it for fun I’d heard of Esperanto and its competitors I’d never heard of somebody creating a language for fun, despite having heard of Tolkien Had no idea he created languages And being a fan of Star Trek The Next Generation, had no idea Klingon was a language That’s just the way it went for us But anyway I went about with it, and I started creating languages, and I eventually got better at it This was, I think, my biggest and best known language before I started creating languages for television shows It’s a language called Kamikawi, and you can see this sentence here, “Oku ke–” what is that? Oh boy, my eyes are terrible “Oku ke mata ie leya oala okuka,” which means I never saw the talking rocking again So if you ever wanted to know how to say that that’s how you do it Anyway, I kept on with linguistics of course, and so I really started to learn more and more about languages These were three of the most influential people in my linguistics career One on the left there is somebody you might be able to recognize That’s John McWhorter, and he’s kind of famous He’s been on the “Colbert Report,” so that means he’s famous He taught a class on Pidgin and Creole languages which just totally blew my mind And then when I went to graduate school at UC San Diego, the middle fellow is Farrell Ackermann, and he just completely blew my mind again once I realized that you don’t have to analyze a language in terms of morphemes for those of you who are linguists in here You don’t It’s a theoretical construct, and it’s a bad one I’m just going to say that on YouTube Don’t do morphemes It’s just a mistake It’ll lead you down the wrong path, and it leads to bad created languages But anyway, so Farrell The next person I have never match That’s Joan Bybee, but I read her book “The Evolution of Grammar,” which was my third big huge revelation for language that completely blew my mind, and that kind of took me to where I am today I wanted to meet her

I was in Albuquerque once– she’s at New Mexico– and I sent her an email saying, hey, I’m a language creator I worked on “Game of Thrones.” I’m a really, really, really big fan I was wondering if I could meet you, and she said, well, I’m not going to be on campus while you’re here, but it’s nice to know you And that was it But that’s all right, because she is an absolute genius, so she can do whatever she wants Anyway, so they really kind of shaped my linguistic understanding, my formal understanding of language And then some of these folks– these are just some of the people who really influenced me as a language creator Oh by the way, I was a freshman in 2000, so I guess I’ve been doing this for like 14 years now, almost 15 But these are some of the language creators I knew who, when I finally got out of my phase of thinking I was the only person who did this and was therefor the best at it– once I started seeing some of the work that some of these people had done, I was like, wow, I am really terrible and I’ve got a lot to learn, and I learned a whole lot from them You might know a few of those names Like John Quijada’s language was profiled in a story in “The New Yorker,” because his language was taken up by what turned out to be Russian terrorists It’s absolutely true It’s a fascinating story Sally Caves wrote an episode of “Star Trek The Next Generation.” She wrote the episode “Hollow Pursuits” that introduces the character Barclay, and she’s had a language she’s been working on her entire life Anyway, these are really outstanding people that took me over the hump and helped me realize that I had a lot to learn And I’ve done a fair bit Anyway so the reason people probably know me is because of my work on “Game of Thrones.” That’s my kitty She has such a lovely face She’s a nice kitty Very nice kitty She meows very loudly Anyway, so I started working on “Game of Thrones” as a show based on these books written by George RR Martin The first language I created for it was Dothraki I wanted to create High Valerian and a variant of I call Low Valerian And there’s a new language coming that I can’t say anything about But anyway, what I thought I would do today is teach you something about what it’s like to create a language I was insanely proud of this Look at that chalkboard [LAUGHTER] That’s hilarious And of course I used Comic Sans [LAUGHTER] Why wouldn’t you? Anyway, I thought what I would do is, since the book that I did, “Living Language Dothraki” just came out, I thought I would go over some steps about creating a language using Dothraki as a model, which is different from when you’re sitting down and creating a brand new language just totally on your own, and you’ll see why, but it’s kind of a way in So if you’re creating your first language, what might you do? Well, the very first thing that a language needs is a purpose And this is insanely important, and I think that it does not get enough credit, because you can sit down to create a language for any reason But you need to know what that reason is, and if you don’t, you’re undoubtedly going to have a language that tries to fulfill a bunch of different goals For example, maybe you do some things in the language just because you like it Then you do other things in the language because you think that’s the way languages work even if you don’t like it And then maybe you do other things because, well, I want it to be easy to learn Then you do other things just because you think they’re neat And so it ends up being a language that serves a whole bunch of different masters and ends up being a disaster, kind of like my first language Don’t Google it Well, Google it I wrote an essay about how my first language was so bad and why So if you Google Megdavi, you should find it But anyway, with Dothraki I guess I always ask this question when I’m working for any show, which is basically are the speakers of this language approximately humanoid? So with the Dothraki, of course they’re supposed to just be humans But like with other shows I work on, for example, “Defiance.” They’re a bunch of aliens, but they’re really, really kind of human-y aliens Same with some of the other shows I worked, like “Star-Crossed.” They’re human in the most important ways For example, they have to get together in order to produce children, and they have some sort of vested interest in rearing them They have the same kind of speech organs Things like that It’s like if those are all true, it’s like, yeah, they’re basically human So anyway, if the speakers are basically humanoid, then they deserve a language that is basically human And the things the kind of make our languages human are not, for example, you sit down and say I’m going to throw in a language and it’s going to have nothing but clicks in it Or it’s going to have 20 different pronouns No, that’s not the way our languages work Our languages are basically evolved steadily over time, and they’re kind of like the least common denominator I mean you can do really interesting things in English if you want, but if nobody else understands you,

then it’s not– that little facet you’ve created isn’t going to pass on Kind of like how I pronounced both with an L. I always have I don’t think that’s something that’s really going to– anybody else do that? AUDIENCE: Yeah DAVID PETERSON: Yay Right on There’s two of us Pretty soon you’ll be doing it Or even if you won’t, your children will be We’ll get to them, and then we’ll spell it B, O, L, T, H– the way it should be spelled So yeah, when you sit down to create a language, if they’re human, the language should be human But of course, I discovered working for television series, there are other factors that come into play So for example, when I did my Dothraki proposal– and the way it worked it was a competitive process, so there were like 30 other language creators that were competing for that job And so what I ended up doing– because the application was interesting in that it didn’t put a cap on the amount of material you could present, which meant that it was a Cold War I decided I’m going to do two things One, I’m going to overwhelm the producers with more material and than they could possibly sift through, and I did By the time I gave them my final proposal– I had like a month and a half to do this– I had over 300 pages of material I though I’m going to make it look as complex and linguistic-y as possible, so they’ll just look at it and go whoa That’s huge and enormous I can’t even comprehend that Then what I’ll do is I’ll give them one page of material that’s called Dothraki fun facts, and it’ll just have some of these things about the language that are totally– the things that people don’t really know a lot about language want to hear about language So this is one of those factoids that I put on this one page thing So did you know the Dothraki have four different words for carry, three different words for push, three different words for pull, and at least eight different words for horse, but no word which means please It’s like whatever It’s true [LAUGHTER] It’s not necessarily that interesting, but I thought it would be something that they would really latch onto So at this time I had seen an early version of the pilot, which was very different And then what happened later on when I was doing translation and I saw there was a new version of pilot, suddenly there was this new scene that was added where Emelia Clark turns to Iain Glen and says what’s the Dothraki word for thank you? And then Jorah turns to her and says in Dothraki there is no work for thank you As it happened, there was [LAUGHTER] This is just a little screen shot of an early version of the dictionary– the English to Dothraki side of the dictionary that I had– and I’ve highlighted there the Dothraki word for thank you And then of course the next thing I did was just hit the Delete button, because of course when you’re working for a television show, you have masters above you You’re not exactly the one who calls all the shots in the language So now Dothraki absolutely has no word for thank you That word sannacho doesn’t exist It does not exist in a language It’s gone All right, next So once you’ve got your purpose down and you know exactly why you’re creating this language, the next thing you do is create the sound system, basically how you say stuff So the boring version is this This the phonology of Dothraki, and the linguists in the room will see that and know kind of what it is Phonologies kind of arrange themselves in this way, but that was the endpoint So what I had to start to do was– usually it’s up to you to decide how you want it to be pronounced, but what I had to do was there were a whole bunch of words in the books that were already existing And one of the goals not only for the producers but also for myself– because I know how big George RR Martin’s fan base is, even before “Game of Thrones.” I know it’s enormous, but before it was big I wanted to basically take everything that was in the books and make sure that it was still grammatical and worked when I’d finished the language I thought it would have been a really unfortunate thing if I saw it was in the books and say, yeah, yeah I get what you’re trying to do here Now here’s the real Dothraki No, no, no That’s just silly So I started off kind of like this Here’s some words that are in the books And depending on how you analyze this, whether you analyze these things as consonant clusters, or single consonants, or digraphs– I analyze them as digraphs These actually all have the same structure They’re all consonant vowel consonant So K, H is khuh S, H is shuh And then what’s spelled J I ended up doing as an affricate juh Seemed to make sense So they all have that structure What that means is that if there are words that have that shape, they’re going to be more words that have that shape So then that was kind of like the place where I first started, so it’s like OK We’ve got this shape, so let’s create some more words that of that same shape using the same phonology So those are words that I created that weren’t in the books that still have the same CVC shape

And then of course there are more words in the books that have a whole bunch of different structures, and so I did the same process to figure out what the phonotactics would have to be to accommodate everything that was in the books, and then what further I could with that I ended up with the structure the kind of looks like this It doesn’t quite work, but I was having problems because if you do parentheses C parentheses, it really wants to turn it into the copyright symbol [LAUGHTER] But the idea is that you have your consonant and then you have a very small number of consonants that can follow it, a vowel, and the vowel is the only things that’s required You can actually have several vowels in a row And then a syllable can end with a single consonant, or a word can end with two, but a word internal syllable can’t end with two constants It’s pretty simple It makes sense Kind of– no, it’s not like Turkish at all Never mind No it’s not And then it was up to me to kind of figure out the intonational patterns, which was fun Next though is you get to the larger part of the grammar Obviously this can be an entire book or series of talks, but I’m just going to try to do it quickly Especially for those non linguists in the room Grammar exists basically whenever you have two words that come next to one another and there’s a meaning Then there is grammar So for example, this, that’s a kitty That’s the word for cat And this is what a phone looks like We all recognize that that’s a phone That’s a modern phone So the question is this, what is a cat phone? Feel free to shout out What would a cat phone be? AUDIENCE: Phone shaped like a cat DAVID PETERSON: There you go Phone shaped like a cat, basically Or like a phone that was made out of a cat in a really scary taxidermy way [LAUGHTER] It’s like, how do we know that? We know that as English speakers That’s intuitive to us We have this idea that the first part modifies the second even though they’re both nouns But notice that I didn’t present you that term in a neutral way I actually said this, “CAT phone.” I didn’t say “cat phone?” So there’s a difference between, for example, listing those two words next to each other saying I have a cat, I have a phone, and I have a board game, where you just have this kind of neutral intonation and saying a “cat phone.” That too is grammar So in other words, everything that comes into that pairing is something that you have to determine That’s also why, by the way, in English a cat phone is different from the phone cat What do you think a phone cat would be? AUDIENCE: Cat that operates the phone DAVID PETERSON: Yeah, I think so Like if you’re working at a company and you had a cat that answered your phones for you That would be the phone cat [LAUGHTER] Yeah, as opposed to the kitchen cat which makes your meals for you This sounds like a wonderful place to work That’d be awesome And then of course, there would be the boss cat, wears the little tie I need those memos Also my wet food [LAUGHTER] Anyway, with Dothraki if you’re a typologist, this is how Dothraki types basically So the word order is subject verb object And then you’ll notice if you– and then also determiners proceed nouns So if you subscribe to the determiner theory that determiners are heads and phrases, then you’ll notice that heads all line up on the left, so this is a head initial language, a strongly head initial language, and you’ll see comes before the object So strongly head initial But again, this wasn’t something that was completely up to me to decide And by the way, this concept that basically whenever two words come together, come next to each other, it means something That’s a really hard concept for a lot of non language people to grasp, because when I’m working with writers on various shows, they’ll often say, well, I’ll just create some made a term for whatever this is I’m like no, don’t do that Look, it’s a made up language I don’t care And I’m like, no You just broke the entire grammar of the language Don’t you realize that? And they go, no I really don’t care Anyway, I mean other shows. “Game of Thrones” is actually outstanding And they let me really kind of control it, which is just wonderful I love them for it But anyway, so when I was creating the grammar of Dothraki, I actually had constraints The big overall constraint that I was going to use George RR Martin’s text as the primary document And there are places where words come next to one another and mean something So this is how I basically determined it This a direct quote from the book You have the crones chanting “‘Rakh Rakh! Rakh haj!’ they proclaimed A boy, a boy, strong boy,” where that’s supposed to be the translation Obviously you see there are three words that are repeated and one word that is new So then this pretty much– I mean

you could try to do some sort of other funky analysis, but this is the simplest one This is the most obvious analysis And so if you have that, then it’s like all right If that’s supposed to be a strong boy, you see the adjective coming after the noun So this was, I think, the first example I ever looked at in the books And i thought, well, that’s pretty cool George RR Martin always says, oh, I’m not a language guy I don’t do anything But this is interesting This is interesting It’s not English You expect the reverse order And furthermore, also notice what I didn’t highlight– the words “a” there Usually if somebody really doesn’t know anything about language, they just do all right, let’s do English and one word for every single word here But no, you see that there’s no articles here That’s interesting That’s really, really interesting So anyway, then the next question becomes, all right, if this is the order that we see for this, how well does it cohere? It actually coheres very, very well So this is an epithet that the Dothraki use for Viserys, “The Cart King.” And we know that khal is basically the work for king It’s the word for chief We know that That was given to us So then the other word has to be cart, and so we see an interesting noun noun juxtaposition where obviously one is a modifier, one is the head, and the modifier comes afterwards So that is incredible We also have this one, which is another epithet for Viserys, “The Sorefoot King.” And so we see khal there again coming first, and so we determine that this is probably the order of these two things If we’re following, so rhae is probably foot and mhar is probably sore And I did end up determining, by the way, those H’s, I thought, well, it’s pronounced I wanted to make sure that everything that was in the books– it was like, all right, let’s treat that like the letter of the law So that’s how Dothraki ended up with H’s coming M’s and N’s I really sorry for the actors about that [LAUGHTER] Especially, the worst word is this So one of the words he created was R, H, A, E, S, H, rhaesh, which means land And so then I decided, well, how would we do the word for world if we needed I said well how about a collective suffix on the word for land which means a collection of land, so the word for world is rhaesheser, but if you put that into the accusative, which is to make it the object of a verb, it adds an S suffix on the end And if you think about the phrase “the stallion who mounts the world,” the world is of course in the accusative there, so it’s vezh fin saja And then the word for the world in the accusative becomes rahaesheseres, which is just an awful, awful word I felt so sorry for the actors that had to pronounce that awful, awful word If I could take that one back, I’d say no, no, no I’ll just create a different word for world I thought the etymology was kind of cool, but that is just a mess to pronounce All right, moving on So this was the– I guess there were two full sentences, but this was the longest one– “Khalakka dothrae mr’anha.” The was the longest one in the book– “a prince rides inside me.” so if you have khal means king, it’s pretty obvious that that’s going to be prince So you see some evidence there of derivation And we have Dothraki Of course, they’re the riders, so it’s like this is probably rides, and that would mean that this would be “inside me.” And usually the part that gets kind of shunted off is the adposition, so I figured this was adposition followed by pronoun, and that’s how we did that There’s another sentence, “the prince is riding.” They say the prince is riding, “Khalakka dothrae!” So that made this pretty abundantly clear Again, you could probably analyze it in a different way, but this seemed like the easiest and most obvious way to do it, and so I thought I should stick with it for the fans Anyway, so then of course you see all these words occur in the books So it’s evidence of a couple of things First, Dothraki is going suffix-y And second there’s going to be things like verb conjugation And so I thought it was pretty uncontroversial to then have conjugated verbs I had them agree with the nouns in person and number and also had these suffixes for derivation The names turned out to be pretty simple There are only two female names in the entire book They’re on the right The others are male names, and you can see the pattern It’s pretty obvious what’s going on there So that was kind of got for me But then beyond that, once I’d figured everything out, everything else was up to me to do So like with the pronouns, for example, that’s the one that we got Everything else I was just creating Again, that pronoun comes from there Though if I had to do it over, I would have made that pronoun non-nominative I was going to, but then I forgot I did that a lot But I think probably the most controversial thing– well, I don’t know if it’s controversial The most controversial I did with Dothraki

was add noun case to the nouns, because I love noun case And it wasn’t going to have articles, which I am a big fan of, because I hate articles in any context I hate creating them I hate learning languages that have articles Articles never work the same in one language as they do in the other no matter how closely they are related I hate them Anyway, so these are the old noun cases of Dothraki where there’s just five of them I thought they were there were pretty easy And for those, again, non-language people, this is how noun case works All right, this is English We say, “I saw him.” You don’t say, “Me saw he.” That’s what noun case is That’s all noun case is You change the form of the noun or pronoun depending on what role it plays in the sentence And you don’t do it for any other reason then that’s the way it’s just supposed to work No English speaker would ever say that, unless they were trying to imitate caveman language maybe So in Dothraki, for example, the exact translation of that is “Anha tih mae,” and then the other one is to “Me tih anna.” So you can see there’s the same kind of change going on with the pronouns But with a greater variety of cases than just basically nominative and non-nominative, you can do other things with it that kind of economize the language So in English, we have to use a lot of articles and prepositions to do things So here’s the usual nominative, “Kemis rikha,” “The dried fig is foul.” And that second word is the entire verb “is foul.” So that’s what our word looks like when it’s just a subject of the sentence Now here’s it doing something else, “Anha dothrak kemisaan,” “I ride to the dried fig.” I use the same word over and over again so that you’ll be able to recognize it And “Anha dothrak kemisoon,” “I ride away from the dried fig.” That’s the canonical usage for those two cases So you just add the suffix on there, and that’s what that means, and you have to have a bunch of other words It makes it a little more economical But you can also do other things with these cases, and that’s what makes them really fun So for example, “lenta kemisoon” is “the stem of the dried fig,” and use that specific case, the away from case, in order to talk about things that are inalienably possessed So my hand, “qora m’anhoon.” It’s the hand from me And then use the other case to talk about things that you don’t possess intuitively Like this is the dried fig’s steed, “sajo kemisi,” because he owns a horse that he gets around on All right? And then you can do other fun things with it So this is kemis is just a regular object. “Anha risse kemis,” “I sliced the dried fig in half.” I sliced it in two But you also do, “Anha risse kemisaan,” “I cut into the dried fig.” So maybe you didn’t go all the way through You just gave it a little slice, gave it a sniff, and realized, oh, it’s a fig I’m going toss this aside I’m not eating that Then we have a separate sentence “Anha nivak” means I frowned You can use cases along with verbs to create new verbs So “Anha nivak kemisaan” is “I disapprove of the dried fig It’s like I frowned towards the dried fig, and now that’s the word for disapprove And that’s just how it works Let’s see another one “Anha lekhi kemis,” “I tasted the dried fig.” And now, “Anha lekhi kemisoon,” “I tried a little bit of it.” So you tried from the dried fig You didn’t eat the whole thing You tried a little bit of it, and again turned it aside because that’s what you’re supposed to do with fig Really not appropriate for eating [LAUGHTER] “Anha nithak,” this is a word that just means “I’m in pain.” So I guess as a verb it would be “I hurt.” I guess would be the best way to do it in English. “Anha nithak,” “I hurt,” because that’s a verb there But you could also say something like this, “Anha nithak kemisoon,” and it’s really hard to translate this into English But if you imagine that, for example, you had a dried fig attached to you right here, and it was just a part of your body It was just growing out of you, and it had sensation And you could say just the way you could say, oh, my foot hurts or my hand hurts, you could also say my dried fig hurts That’s what this sentence means, “My dried fig hurts.” The dried fig that is literally growing out of me hurts, and it’s such a bummer that I’m a person that has a dried fig growing out of me [LAUGHTER] And then this is– I don’t know I thought you’d just might want to be able to know how to say this, “Yer zheanae ven kemis,” “you’re as beautiful as a dried fig.” [LAUGHTER] I just thought this would be something useful for you, because look at those Just– [LAUGHTER] Yeah, there they are I Alta Vista’d that on Google The next bit So it’s like, yeah, grammar is bigger than that You have a whole talk, but we’re going to stop there and move onto the lexicon So the lexicon is your entire vast array of words that exist in your language

And so remember how I showed you the little bit of the Dothraki fun facts So one of the things I said on there is Dothraki has eight words for horse I knew that the non language people would love this because they love hearing, oh, Eskimos have got 100 words for snow, and they just love those things And so I threw that in there, and then it became a thing And now it’s like everybody’s saying, oh, Dothraki has a million words for horse It does, but so does English Look at that [LAUGHTER] You can probably think of more So then the question is, well, what does this say about the culture of we English speakers We’re obviously a very horse-ish people, all just horse focused, because you could just keep going It’s like no, no, no It’s just means that there are some people who speak English that do things like race horses and breed horses It’s a little different with Dothraki The horses are definitely more important to their style of life than it is for modern day English speakers But really where the lexicon plays a part is in illustrating where– I’m sorry Just small examples This is the word for horse in Dothraki, hrazef But it would be no different if this were the word for horse, which is actually big dog It wouldn’t change anything about the Dothraki if suddenly that was their word for horse, was a gigantic dog, which I think would be a good word for a horse I call dogs little horses because of the Simpsons, and so obviously then horses would be big dogs Anyway, what the lexicon does with your culture, what it tells you about is really where the people live, what level of technology they’re at, and kind of like what their daily interactions are So for example, these are all words of Dothraki There’s the word for kale if you ever wanted that, which you shouldn’t Carrot, turnip, cabbage Awful I’m not down with cabbage The word for radish is knew My little cousin created it When I was in Colorado just this last week I said, oh, you know what? There’s no word for radish, but obviously there’s going to be radishes in this area And she said I want to do it, and so she came up with gato That’s the word for radish It’s also the word for cat in Spanish, but that’s all right It’s the word for radish in Dothraki Anyway, Dothraki has no words for these The obvious reason for that is because, well, they just don’t live in an area where these types of fruits or– avocado is a fruit– exist Avocado is a fruit Avocado is a berry I know this because I looked it up on Wikipedia, and so it must be true Apparently avocado is a berry Fascinating So yeah, Dothraki doesn’t have a bunch of words for that, but it’s because it’s not really interesting that they don’t have a word for pineapple It just means that they don’t have pineapples in the place where they live If they encounter other people that did have pineapples, they’d probably borrow the word or maybe come up with some sort of a calque for it on their own if they decided Maybe they could call it a dangerous fruit It’s very spiky Can you imagine somebody actually trying to just bite into a pineapple? I hope nobody would do that, that they would know you have to cut it up, but you never know You never know Anyway, the place where actually the lexicon can reflect the culture is usually in places like idioms, or expressions, or things where you’re just talking about daily life So for example, we know from the book that they worship a great horse god, and so I gave him this name, “Vezhof,” which is like “the Great Stallion.” “Vez” is stallion, and “of” is kind of an augmentative suffix, so “Vezhof” is the word for that great stallion in the sky And then we also saw that they evidently don’t respect a lot of modern technology enough to give them– to borrow the words, I noticed Or at least this is my interpretation So for armor, they have this word, “shor tawakof,” which means “steel dress.” That’s basically the word for Westerosi style armor, which they don’t respect And then when I came up with expressions, we have this expression, “Shieraki gori ha yeraan,” “the stars are charging for you.” It means basically good luck, or go you, or break a leg It comes from the idea that basically a lot of Dothraki superstition and religion is tied up with cosmology They believe that when they die, first of all, that their bodies should be burned, and then the idea is that the soul goes up to the sky and they become the stars, and that they kind of ride in the Great Stallion’s khalasar in the sky And so that’s why the bleeding comet is so important to them And along with this, I came up with this expression, “torga essheyi,” which means in secret And it actually means “under a roof.” So the idea is if you want to do something, and you want to be above board about it, you do it under the open sky They say that everything important that’s done

is done under the open sky So if you’re something under a roof, you’re kind of doing it on the sly That’s kind of like where the culture can really influence the lexicon in a place where a language creator can have fun All right, last is the writing system for a language, and sadly Dothraki doesn’t have a writing system [LAUGHTER] This is mentioned in the books that the Dothraki don’t have a written form of their language, so of course, to fit with the cannon you have to stick with that But that was really a bummer to me because I love creating script It’s like my number one favorite thing to do in the entire world Instead we just had to come up with a simple Romanization so that the actors could see it and be able to figure out how things are pronounced But I have gotten to do scripts for some of the other shows I worked on So I just want to show you a couple of them So for the show “Defiance” on Syfy, I got to do three scripts for three of the different languages I created This was the Castithan, which is supposed to be basically the Roman script of the alien universe Everybody has to use and learn to know how to read this It’s an abugida So the top word– I think these are names The top word says “key ree den.” “Keyreeden.” “Kreeden.” Oh no, “Freeden” “Freeden.” That’s what that says That must be somebody’s name Or “Fieriden?” No, “Fereeden.” “Freeden?” I have no idea what that’s supposed to be, but it’s definitely somebody’s name, because that doesn’t look like a Castithan word It looks like somebody’s English name On the lower right hand, though, I can see “taliswo.” That’s what that one says The one with the big– I love that letter by the way It’s just “zwo” on the end It looks like an M, but then goes on a really cool roller coaster [LAUGHTER] And then there’s a fountain in the middle That just says “zwo.” And it’s funny I evolved it so there’s a reason it looks like that, but it looks cool now Anyway, so this is another script I created for the Irathients It’s kind of more curvilinear I guess, and their language doesn’t have as much status in the world as theirs And then this one for the Indojisnen created Most of the scripts that I create I evolved naturally over time, and scripts evolve just the way languages do, except that it’s more dependent on the medium With these obviously no naturalistic script would ever be evolved that would be written like this, but the idea is that these Indojinsen have kind of genetically modified themselves to do things better than other beings And so one of the little ideas with that, well, they probably also modified their hands so they can do precise movements exactly the same way every time The big Indojinsen on the show is a doctor and does surgery, so she’s got implants for that So I figured they could probably modify themselves to produce these glyphs exactly the same way every single time, and so it was a post hoc creation Not a naturally evolved system And this one Did anybody ever watch the show “Star-Crossed” on the CW? Oh [LAUGHTER] Well, maybe someday it will come out on DVD or Netflix But it lasted for one season and I was really grateful I got to do a writing system for it And I decided to do something that was really just funky and totally hard to read and write I don’t actually even know what these things say The little dipsy doodles you see that go above and below the characters, they basically tag those letters as being a part of a word type So I know that the second one is an adjective, and I don’t know what it’s an adjective for Or maybe it’s just a name, I think But basically it’s like you need to know what the letters say, how the sound changes work, and then how the little things that go above and beyond tag them as different types of words It’s gloriously difficult I love it It’s so nonsensical Anyway, for friend’s novel, this was fun This friend’s novel, she created a– basically these guys in the novel create a language themselves They are English speakers, so they’re definitely influenced by English and the Roman alphabet, and they wanted to create a way to create a kind a cipher So this is basically a cipher, and I have no idea how it works It’s impossible to read, but I did that for her novel called “The Zonix Deceit,” which is fun It looks pretty cool So then what you do with it? I found that’s one of the most interesting things that fans have done with is get tattoos And that’s just really, really cool to me I would never get a tattoo in my entire life, but I find it really intriguing that they do So these are all in Dothraki I think that that one is really neat It says “shekh ma shierak-i anni”

across here, which is “my sun and stars.” And across the back of the neck it says “jalan attihirari anni,” which means “moon of my life.” I was like, yeah And the one in the lower left there, those are two sisters And both of them got the same tattoo that says “qoy qoyi,” which means “blood of my blood,” so it’s like, yeah, we’re related That’s cool [LAUGHTER] I just thought that was so awesome And then people have also gotten– these ones are even more awesome They’re tattoos in some of the scripts I did for “Star-Crossed” and “Defiance” here I can’t read it– OK, I know the one on the left says Evan, which was that person’s boyfriend And then the one on the right, that’s her name So the one on the right in the upper right, that says Laura And what’s so cool about this tattoo is she got that tattoo of her name on her arm before the show “Defiance” even aired They were just giving teasers of what the language looked like a little bit, and she says, I really want to see what my name looks like, because I want to get a tattoo I’m like, OK, sure Before the show airs So I showed it to her, and sure enough there it is I was like wow That is awesome But probably my most favorite tattoo that I’ve ever seen is somebody– his name is Jean Peron I think he’s French– got a tattoo from one of the languages I just created on my own So this is that first language I showed you, Kamakawi And this says [INAUDIBLE], “silent scream.” I don’t know what the significance is, but that was a language I basically just created for myself and the writing system the same thing, and he got it tattooed on him I swear if I ever meet him in real life, pretty much my house and wallet are open to him That’s just amazing Anyway, so that’s kind of like a basic introduction to how you go from nothing to a language And if you’re interested in anymore detailed, by the way, run through, I’m coming out with a book next year called “The Art of Language Invention” with Penguin Random House, but for now you can always just learn Dothraki So thank you guys so much for coming, and staying, and listening Thank you guys [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: So for the show how much– for all the shows you’ve worked on, how much do you work with the actors? And how readily do they accept instruction? And how much do you have to sort of have back and forth with them? DAVID PETERSON: It totally depends on the show It totally depends on the show So “Game of Thrones,” I’ve never worked with the actors I’ve met a lot of them I’ve met a lot of them, and they do really good work, but they have separate dialect coaches on set for everybody, because they were designing different English accents for Westeros So then I just kind of send– well first of all, they get all their lines recorded by me on MP3 So that’s really, I think, their number one resource, but then they can go to the dialect coaches if they need pointers on various things But then for other shows, like with “Defiance,” I talked with pretty much all the main cast before the show started, and then they kind of got the hang of it and go now with “The 100,” which I work on on the CW I’m actually talking with two actors today So it really depends on the show, and the actors, and how comfortable they are with it I’ve noticed that, in general, most of the main cast of every show I work on, they tend to be really good They usually come into the project and are told you’re going to be having a lot of lines in a created language, and I think part of the reason why they’re hired is because they think it’s cool Most of the actors that I’ve talked with on every show that I worked on thought it was really, really neat, which I was so grateful for, because if they thought it was just a burden, it’s like this is probably not going to turn out well So I’ve been fortunate so far AUDIENCE: I actually had the same question I was going to ask you about the actors and how they learn the phonology of languages, but you pretty much answered it DAVID PETERSON: I think if I could add a little more, I will note this Actors that are British tend to be better They tend to get to it more easily There’s always outliers Like Jason Momoa was incredible What a gift that was Dude is a horse I love that guy And he really just totally went all out with the Dothraki, and he sounds wonderful I wish he didn’t have to die [LAUGHTER] I mean, he’s still alive His character– I wish his character didn’t have to die Jason Momoa is alive and well [LAUGHTER] But what I’ve noticed is I think a lot of the British born actors and actresses from all over Britain– I think they’ve had a lot of experience

having to change their accent, either to do a different British accent or to do an American accent for lots of the stuff that they worked on, so they’re really used to it And so when it comes to a languages, they just jump right in, and they tend to be pretty good right from the get go AUDIENCE: How do you come up with swear words, or cursor words, dirty words, or whatever DAVID PETERSON: There was actually a really interesting book that came out just a couple years ago about curse words in languages There are patterns There are patterns Like all languages have a feces word All languages have one of those, and it tends to be a curse word But then also things will differ In French, for example, a lot of swearing is with the devil We don’t tend to do that as much, like say oh devil take you It sounds a little fanciful, but it doesn’t actually feel like a swear There are usual domains that swear words come from One of them is body functions Another is reproduction, and then another is usually religo-metaphorical superstition type things So all of my languages, they all have a feces word because it seems like every single language on the planet is always going to have a feces word But then with the Dothraki, for example, since they place so much cultural importance on being able to ride and being able ride well, I guess if you can’t ride, they literally just abandon you and leave you to die, which seems kind of weird I don’t know I don’t know Seems cruel I wouldn’t do it Look, if you were khalasar, I wouldn’t leave you behind I’d find a cart for you So we already had them insulting Viserys calling him the cart king, the sorefoot king, so it seemed like calling somebody a walker would be that type of insult where it kind of means gringo when you’re talking about somebody who’s non-Dothraki If you’re talking to a Dothraki and you’re joking, maybe you can get away with it But if you’re serious, you could really insult somebody, you know? So I kind of went there for that And then otherwise it’s just fun stuff With the “Defiance” languages where you have all these different alien races, and then they’re coming to Earth, there are actually a lot of insults that go back and forth and change meanings coming from English and then also coming from the alien languages And there’s also a lot of– I don’t know if you’d call it species tension or racial tension, but there are a lot of those type of terms that end up getting used It kind of depends on the project, I guess AUDIENCE: You started going this direction in the last question, but I wanted to ask, for Dothraki, in what way did things like irregulars and the sort of sound of words get influenced by the lifestyle and sort of character of Dothraki? Like angry invectives shouted from horse to horse, or communicating from horse to horse, when you’re writing Can’t really be a delicate, difficult to understand language DAVID PETERSON: I don’t know They do a lot of sitting too And also if you notice– and I did actually like this about how they portrayed it– they show them in their nomadic lifestyle They show them moving from place to place And you’ll notice that when they move as a herd, it’s very, very slowly So it’s not it’s not a quick thing that happens So I figure a lot of conversation happens It’s not that bad It shouldn’t be too loud I don’t know how much that influenced– don’t think that type of thing really influences, say, the sound of the language or the grammar a whole lot I don’t think that’s something that happens in natural languages at least, and I was going for natural As far as irregulars, that could be an entirely different talk, but the process is that for all the languages that I create I start with a very old language, and then I evolve the sound system I evolve the word meanings, and I evolve the grammar over a period of between 1000 and 2000 years depending on what the time frame is And so things like irregular conjugations, irregular declensions, irregular plurals– if a language has irregular plurals, and all languages do Those always come from basically a combination of sound change and analogical change and things like that So for example, your mouse, mice in English– that actually came from a totally regular pluralization strategy where the old word for mouse was “moos” with the long “oo,” and the regular plural was “moosi.” And then what happened is that the vowels changed, so “moos” eventually became mouse in the great vowel shift And then over on the right hand, “moosi” became “mewsi.”

And then we lost that “ew” vowel and it became “meesi.” We lost the vowel on the end, and then long E became I, and so then we’re left with mouse, mice That’s how irregularities emerge in language As a language creator, it’s challenging, but that’s what you have to try to emulate, that process So that’s where all the irregulars come from It’s fun AUDIENCE: One the languages that you have mentioned in passing, but didn’t say much about, was the prosody What do you do come up with that scheme? That’s important for actors delivering it for sure DAVID PETERSON: I actually realized too late I should’ve done something on that So first, if a language is going to have stress, that’s something that you can just plan out and figure out– the stress system I haven’t been courageous enough to try a tonal system with actors, because with tonal systems it’s so important to get the tone right It could be a change in word meaning I just don’t feel confident that it would come across the correct way If I was going to be in a situation where I could be on set every single day, and be there for every single line, and say no that was wrong, maybe But I think actors would really get tired of that So I’ve only done stress systems And so stress systems, they come up in a very– stress systems work in a number of ways basically Some of it is based on sound changes So for example, the reason that French apparently has no stress is because it’s lopped off everything off the ends of words, and so the only kind of stress that’s there is kind of a light stress at the end of a word But with Dothraki, for example, the stress system is fairly simple If it ends in a consonant, it will always be stressed on the last syllable If ends in a vowel, it will most of the time be stressed on the first syllable, unless the second to last syllable is heavy, then the stress is there A nice example is like to the Dothraki, dothrakaan, stressed on the last syllable The proper pronunciation of Dothraki is Dothraki, stress on the first syllable But the word for dragon, “zhavvorsa,” because there’s that heavy internal syllable, so it gets penultimate stress Then there are a couple of other strange things, like there are certain derivation patterns that move the stress around, but you don’t need to worry about those So that’s the stress pattern Then when it comes to the intonation, that really is just up to me to figure out how I want the intonation of a sentence to go And I am not happy with any method of transcribing intonation that’s ever been devised in linguistics or out of linguistics I really don’t think that there’s a good way to do it So all I do is just first I record every sentence exactly the way it should be spoken and hope that the actors will mimic And then I kind of do a thing where I do a phonetic breakdown I don’t do IPA because I discovered actors don’t learn that anymore, which is too bad I break it down syllable by syllable, and I put syllables that are supposed to have more prominence in all caps And so for languages like Irathient on “Defiance” that have a really funky intonational pattern, there are often words were the entire word has high intonation, because one of the neat things that Irathient does is for its subordinate clauses, which usually come first, most of the words actually get kind of a high tone And then we have the comma, it goes down to the regular low tone But again, this is not something– I don’t think it could be written down effectively I don’t think it could be conveyed effectively So I really just do that with the caps and the lowercase I record all the lines, and I just say, well, if it works it works If it doesn’t, if doesn’t Most of the time it works I’ve noticed that to the intonation that I do, they tend to do a more subtle version, especially with Irathient, but you can still hear it And I think that actually makes it a little better Probably my thing is to exaggerated, but at least it gives them the idea of how it should sound AUDIENCE: On that note, join me in thanking him DAVID PETERSON: Thanks [APPLAUSE]