M'athchomaroon! My name is David Peterson, and I'm a full time language creator. Feel free to ask me anything about my work on Game of Thrones or Defiance or about language, linguistics or language creation in general (or whatever. This is Reddit). The only thing I ask is if you're going to ask about Game of Thrones, try not to reveal any spoilers if you've read the books. Fans of the book series have been pretty good about this, in general, but I thought I'd mention it just in case. I'll be back at 3 PT / 6 ET to answer questions.

8:14 p.m. PT: All right, I'm headed out to dinner, but I'll check back here later tonight and answer some more questions. I'll also check back over the next couple days. Thanks for all the questions!

10:25 p.m. PT: Back and answering some questions.

1:38 a.m. PT: Heck of a day. Thank you so much for all the questions! I'm going to hit it for the night, but like I said, I'll check back over the next couple of days if there's a question you have I didn't get to somewhere else. Otherwise, I'm pretty easy to find on the internet; feel free to send me an e-mail. Geros ilas!

Comments: 1075 • Responses: 101  • Date: 

wawawawi577 karma

Would you consider yourself a cunning linguist?

Dedalvs966 karma

I ain't got no complaints, s'all I'm sayin'.

lvbnhbq13353 karma

  1. Will people in Yunkai speak different dialect of Valyrian as compared to Astapor?

  2. Are you gonna create other languages for GoT as well, particularly Braavosi?

Dedalvs408 karma

  1. Different dialect; not a different language. It's not reflected in this season, though. It'd be a future project.

  2. If they have other languages, I'll create them, but there haven't been any specific discussions with me for seasons 4 or beyond yet. One would imagine that Braavosi would need to be done, but I haven't heard anything yet.

Darklydreamingx295 karma

Valar Morghulis

Dedalvs349 karma

Valar Dohaeris

Stygeros109 karma


Dedalvs80 karma

Since I've already talked about Dothraki, let me address Valyrian specifically. I designed a bit of the case system and almost the entire verb conjugation system just using Valar morghulis and Valar dohaeris. Bless GRRM for using an -is suffix on both. After that, it was just nouns and names, which proved useful for sussing out the phonology and helping to define declension classes.

[deleted]14 karma


Dedalvs65 karma

It's the collective. Thus: vala "man"; vali "men"; valun "some men"; valar "all men".

AlwaysTwoSides230 karma

To start off I'd like to say I am just a huge GoT fan, from the books to the expertly made TV show. Anyways, I'd love to ask you what you take into account when creating a language for the purpose of an audience? years ago I read an article on the creation of the elven languages for Lord of the rings, and I found it so interesting. So to sum up, How do you go about creating a language? Do you take verbs and vocab from existing/ancient languages and modify them? or do you start from scratch? Thanks for doing this AMA

Dedalvs414 karma

There are a lot of different issues tangled up in this question. For example, for Lord of the Rings, they didn't create new languages: J. R. R. Tolkien created them. What they had to do was beef them up to handle translation (which, by the way, caused a lot of controversy amongst fans of Tolkien's languages [on the internet, a cow was had]).

Creating a language like Dothraki was different from creating some other language, because I had to work with what was already there in the books. So I didn't start from scratch. That said, no, I didn't take anything from existing languages. One is always inspired by certain ideas or snippets, but unless I'm dropping an Easter Egg for fun, I don't base my languages on natural languages. It's inappropriate to do so when you're creating a priori language.

DingDongSeven223 karma

Speaking of Easter Eggs and Lord of the Rings -- did you know that Viggo Mortensen said "Min elskling" to Liv Tyler in one of the first scene where they meet? He threw it in with all the Elvish, and it seems no one caught it.

It's Danish for "My beloved."

Dedalvs274 karma

I did not know that. In the first episode of Game of Thrones, Jason Momoa ad-libbed in Maori, and I had no idea. I retconned something, because it actually sounded like plausible Dothraki, but then someone who was commenting on one of the stories on Dothraki pointed out that it was Maori, and said exactly what he was intending to say (the pronunciation actually wasn't spot on for Maori, but it was enough for them to identify it).

jahemian8 karma

What did he say in Maori? I'm going to have to watch it now... (kiwi here :) )

Dedalvs8 karma

He says "i te waka", which just means "(object marker) the canoe", right?

rhiannonstone94 karma

What kind of Easter eggs have you dropped in for fun? Jokes for lingusitics majors, or the sort of thing anyone could get a giggle out of?

Dedalvs219 karma

When those of us who applied got to the final round for the Dothraki job, we decided to include each other's names and/or major languages in our Dothraki proposals, so in mine, the word ithkoil means "brittle" (from John Quijada's Ithkuil), simon is the word for a male relation (from Simon Olivier's name), and vil is an auxiliary meaning "to manage to" (from Bill Weldon's name).

Not_Cobra_210976 karma

That's amazing. It seems like you know a lot about these things. What did you study in school?

Dedalvs261 karma

I came to Berkeley as an English major and left as a Linguistics major. I then got my MA in Linguistics from UCSD.

Praestigium30 karma

That said, no, I didn't take anything from existing languages.

Really? Strange, I felt that some of the Dothraki words I heard in Season One were very similar to some Arabic words.

I've been meaning to ask actually, how do you go about assigning a tone to a language? Do you start off thinking 'Okay this language needs to have a harsh and rough tone' or does it simply develop on it's own as you flesh out the language?

Dedalvs84 karma

There's really no words that came directly from Arabic. The one word that keeps coming up, anha, wasn't coined by me: it was coined by George R. R. Martin. It may have come from Arabic, but honestly, I doubt it. I think it was just a coincidence.

Riagu28 karma

Those attributes depend on the culture and native language of the speaker, but I assume you base it on the view of a Western English speaker.

Dedalvs60 karma

This is correct. "Harsh" means one thing to an English speaker and something totally different to a Hindi speaker. Knowing that everyone involved was an English speaker (George R. R. Martin, the creators of Game of Thrones, the bulk of the intended audience), I had a good idea what was meant when Dothraki was described as sounding "harsh", and I tried to match those expectations (while, of course, sticking with what was in the books).

Pet_t-rex195 karma

So, we saw in the series that there is no word for 'thank you' in Dothraki, but what would you say comes closest to it?

Dedalvs367 karma

San athchomari which means "much respect".

Ferrele186 karma

Dothraki is where GoT really hooked me, and now I adore the entire series! I'm an undergrad linguistics student at UC Berkeley and one of the current officers of the Society of Linguistics Undergraduate Students (SLUgS), carrying on your legacy. I've been conlanging a couple of years now and have gotten into it recently with our club too. So I have a few questions:

1) What tips would you give to a conlanger? What about a club hoping to conlang?

2) What's your favourite phoneme?

3) Which is awesomer: Phonology or syntax?

4) Who were your favourite linguistics professors at Berkeley?

5) If you're ever in the Bay Area and feel like visiting your alma mater, SLUgS would be thrilled if you came to talk to us!

Thanks for doing this IAmA, it's really exciting!

Dedalvs164 karma

Wow! Well, hello, and nice to know you! You know, when I was there, it was SLUG. I blame Klinton Bicknell for changing it to SLUgS. He claims the change was organic; I see it as a hostile makeover. To answer out of order...

(5) I'm in the Bay Area not infrequently (I have family there). I'd love to come visit! I didn't know SLUG/SLUgS was still up and running. I'm thrilled to hear it's still going!

(4) (Not in order.) John McWhorter, Andrew Garrett and John Ohala. I sincerely hope you guys still get to benefit from John Ohala's experience, even though he's retired. The man's a genius. EDIT: And Sam Mchombo! Gah! How could I forget?! The professor of my very first linguistics class in whose class I first came up with the idea to create a language! (Thanks for reminding me, Tommy!)

(3) Phonology.

(2) [ʒ]

(1) Do the evolution. It's the long way, but it's the right way—at least if you're aiming for naturalism. There is no other way to achieve an authentic result. Historical linguistics should inform this process, but artistry should guide it. And by "club", do you mean a group language? Because that's difficult. Check out this essay by Gary Shannon. It should prove useful. Akana is, I think, the best collaborative project we've seen in a while.

Ferrele42 karma

Whoooaaa that's so cool!

(4) I (for obvious reasons) have never had Ohala or McWhorter, but Garrett is certainly one of my favourites. So very cool - Keith Johnson told us a lot about Ohala and, of course, we've read him.

(3) :(

(5) I'll message you our email so when you think you might have time! The old name makes more sense. No one ever gets SLUgS right. Hmm...

(2) Sweet, that is a pretty great sound.

(1) That's really useful, thanks. Collaborating is really difficult indeed (especially with a bunch of linguists who all have linguistic features they adore that aren't really natural together), so it's a bit of a struggle for an activity. But for individual, that definitely makes more sense than just getting a list of phonemes and a random phonological rule or two and going for it.

Thanks for answering!

Dedalvs73 karma

(3) In truth, I'm neither a P nor S person: I'm an M person. MORPHOLOGY ÜBER ALLES!

(5) It's not too late...! You can still change the name back! wrings hands and cackles maniacally

laragnavat24 karma

I had John McWhorter at Columbia last semester, and he was absolutely fantastic. Best professor I've ever had, and now I've fallen in love with linguistics.

Dedalvs28 karma

I'm glad to hear he's back teaching linguistics. He stepped away for a little while, but he's so good; I'm so happy to hear he's back. I saw him a couple months ago at TED, and it was good to see him get a wider audience.

mizu4444181 karma

What's your favourite language to speak/hear/write?

What did you think of Rampart?

Dedalvs1009 karma


And Rampart is very interesting. It kind of reminds me of HBO's Game of Thrones ®©™, airing Sundays on HBO at 9 ET (in the game of thrones, you win or you die!™) and Syfy's Defiance ®©™, airing Mondays on Syfy at 9 ET (watch the show, play the game, change the world!™).

MoreHope160 karma

Hi, I just wanted to say thank you! Back in January you helped my boyfriend make a valentines present for me and I thought I would just update you on the final product!

Anyways, I really love your work, san athchomari yeraan!

Dedalvs129 karma

That's gorgeous! So glad I could help!

Salacious-160 karma

What phrase or sentence in Dothraki do you think sounds coolest?

Dedalvs372 karma

Personally, I like the word mahrazh, which means "man". Ferrele asked me what my favorite phoneme was, and it's the one spelled zh, so I reserved it for some of my favorite words (e.g. zhalia "butterfly". The word for butterfly is usually one of my favorite words in a language. They're always unique: mariposa, Schmetterling, faraasha, papillon...).

lucidpersian215 karma

Parvaaneh in Farsi (Persian) is butterfly. First "a" is short, like in stab.

Dedalvs216 karma

Ooh... Can you spell it in the script?

lucidpersian254 karma


Dedalvs259 karma

Ahh...okay. (It's easier to read it in the Arabic script.) That's a gorgeous word. Does it kind of rhyme with "nirvana" (stress-wise), but with a short "a" as the first syllable?

lucidpersian167 karma

Thank you!

The Par is stressed. Par-vaaneh. I don't think it quite rhymes with nirvana.

Nirvana goes like "near or nur", "vaa" (long a), "nuh" like bruh.

You're right about the first syllable having a short a in "par", the "vaa" is the same, the last syllable is like the japanese suffix "Desu-ne"

The "h" on the end is the slight exhalation at the end of "ne."

Dedalvs304 karma

Wow, how odd... In Arabic, usually if there's one long vowel in a word, it'll be the stressed syllable. So it'd be closer to [ˈpæɾ.væ.nɛ]. Sounds almost Finnish! Still quite pretty.

Luftwaffle8890 karma

Mahrazh sounds a lot like Maharaj, which means king in Hindi.

Dedalvs113 karma

Really? I thought it was raja...

Luftwaffle88148 karma

Raja is king. Maha means great. so Mahatma is a title given to gandhi meaning great atma (spirit). maha is usually added to raja as well to mean great king (almost emperor) cause no king wants to go by just raja when you can make your title fancier.

Dedalvs101 karma

Ha! That's cool. Is it a prefix, or a separate word?

skeptichectic78 karma

In Welsh butterfly is Pilipala :)

Dedalvs186 karma

I'm tempted to start a thread over at /r/linguistics that's just "List the Word for Butterfly In Your Language". I'd love to see those all gathered together in one place. This one actually looks, paradoxically, like it's related to the Italian word!

Wolfman85112 karma

Sommerfugl - Danish. The literal translation is bird of summer :-) the 'g' is silent but extends the length of the 'u'

Dedalvs73 karma

Wow! That etymology's even better than butterfly!

Creabhain76 karma


Irish speaker checking in with our word for butterfly. Pronounced fey-la-caun where caun rhymes with the name Shaun which we spell Seán.

Dedalvs72 karma

Ah... Sounds like a transformer. I like it!

Creabhain54 karma

If you ever want to pick the brain of a native speaker of Irish throw me a PM and i'd be glad to offer an opinion. I speak the west coast dialect of Irish as i'm from Connemara but I am familiar with the other dialects as well.

Dedalvs54 karma

I've added you to my friends list. :)

zseek69 karma

Just chiming in now: it's "vlinder" in Dutch!

Dedalvs46 karma

Thanks! I've got to write these down so I don't forget them.


pinpilinpauxa (thanks LaGeneralitat, sorry about the phonetics :P) in basque!!

Dedalvs41 karma

First time I've heard the Basque word. That's awesome!

boshiku62 karma

Бабочка (babochka) in russian Kapalak in Uzbek

Dedalvs58 karma

Wow, really? That looks a lot like "grandma", doesn't it? Бабушка. They're not related?

gerusz59 karma

Pillangó or lepke in Hungarian (pillangó is more official while lepke is casual, somewhat diminutive).

Dedalvs103 karma

Ha! An official and casual word for butterfly?! Guess which language just moved to the top of my "to do" list!

noott35 karma

蝶々 (ちょうちょう, chouchou) in Japanese.

Dedalvs99 karma


henryfinlay158 karma


Dedalvs219 karma

Thanks to Tales from the Hood, I'll take the Hodor-sized duck every time. Plus, I kind of have the feeling that I might be able to befriend the giant duck. I mean, I don't like to brag, but I feel like I have a connection with oddly-sized animals. I think I could charm that duck and turn it into my personal steed—and if I did that, world look out. You've got a new master.

StormbornSwan150 karma

How do you say "If I look back I am lost" in Dothraki? I've wanted the phrase as a tattoo since reading the books but I don't want it to be so obvious in English.

Dedalvs202 karma

Hash anha atihik k'irgesi, hash anha aleisok. The last word is derived from Leigh Bardugo's word. :)

bearlybaked149 karma

Hey! I was wondering what the creative process is like for someone in your position? How do you get ready to just create a language???

Dedalvs296 karma

All conlangs start with some idea. For Irathient from Defiance, for example, I decided I wanted the language to be spoken kind of slowly. That was the main spark for the entire language. The idea, then, begat a whole host of entailments. For example, since the language was going to be spoken on a TV show (a big constraint), I'd need to make it so that words could be dropped if need be without the main thrust of the sentence being lost. In order to accomplish that, I needed to make it so that marking was spread across sentence (so nominal agreement would need to show up on verbs and adjectives, verbs themselves needed to be dropped, etc.). That started a chain reaction, so that verbs were split into two parts (an auxiliary with 20% content, nominal agreement and grammatical information, and a stem with 80% content and some grammatical information), nouns were put into noun classes (so some of the content could be recovered if the noun was dropped), full adjectival agreement, etc.

So that's kind of how it goes. You start with some idea or constraint, and then start fleshing things out modulo that defining characteristic—all the while adhering to the basic principles of naturalism, if it's a naturalistic language you're creating.

clitromney88 karma

do you ever dream in your created languages?

Dedalvs170 karma

I've never dreamed in a specific language of mine, but I have dreamt in or of languages that turned out to be fictitious. For example, I once had a dream that I was a linguistics professor putting together a problem for undergraduates on a dialect of Italian spoken in Sicily. It seemed fairly standard, but when I woke up, I realized the language that was in that problem set was crazy, and totally not related to anything. I wrote down as much of it as I could before the dream slipped from me (got like four words, I think?), and I posted to the Conlang-L about it... I'll have to dig up that post. It was a bizarre alternation the language displayed; totally unrealistic.

Not_Cobra_210997 karma

So the language didn't exist, but you understood it? How many marijuanas did you eat?

Dedalvs240 karma

Not only understood it, but was prepared to teach it. Dreams is a hell of a drug...

five_hammers_hamming70 karma

I had a dream like that. In a history class, the professor was talking about Germany blitzkrieging Poland, and he wrote "Poland" as you would write its name in that language on the board. Then he erased two of the letters and wrote each in the other's place, which spelled that language's word for "blitzkrieg". He laughed pretty solidly about that for a while.

Dedalvs36 karma

Whoa... And did you write it down?!

shacoby74 karma

Considering the fact that they not only had to learn the pronunciation but also had to know the meaning behind what they were saying, how difficult was it for the actors to learn Dothraki?

Follow up, were they eventually able to form their own sentences apart from what was in the script?

Dedalvs143 karma

They didn't actually have to learn Dothraki to speak it; they just needed to be able to pronounce it and add the appropriate inflection to it. That said, they kind of picked up a few things. I met Amrita Acharia for the first time the other day, and she actually has all her lines memorized (though she doesn't necessarily know what they mean anymore).

For comprehension, this is generally what I do:

  • Anha vo tiho vosecchi mahrazhes fines addriv ave yeri.
  • I didn't see never the man whom killed father your.
  • "I didn't see the man whom your father killed."

This is Dothraki. So the second line is a more or less literal translation—and you can see it doesn't line up with the English. The literal translation is there to help them see how it works in Dothraki so they can figure out which words to emphasize (and they also listen to the recordings). So they don't need to understand it: they can use this as a guide to figure it out.

cygne70 karma

David, Defiance has just aired and I'm wondering how your experience has been working with the creative team at Syfy. How would you say your experience on Defiance compared to Game of Thrones?

Dedalvs130 karma

It's been entirely different. On Game of Thrones, I basically serve as a translator: I get scripts, I translate them, I send them off, and then I see what the result is when the episodes air live. That's been the extent of my involvement thus far.

For Defiance, I am actually a part of the team. I've been to the set three times, worked with all the actors, worked directly with the art department and the writers. My feedback was sought out on all the scripts (I actually have the entire first season on DVDs sitting on my desk right now. Still don't have season 2 of GoT [though I've got it on my DVR]), and I got to write a lot of material. I basically fill out the histories and cultures of all the alien races. (Oh, I also got to write lyrics for some of Bear McCreary's songs, which was awesome. That dude's a genius.)

Of course, there's pros and cons to everything. I have a bigger role in Defiance, but that means I have a lot more work to do (and I'm still doing it. We're working on Syfy Sync content right now). For Game of Thrones, I do the translations, and I'm done! And they're great about letting me work on the languages and do stuff with them in my spare time. Overall, it's been extremely positive experience, which is refreshing for a conlanger.

Pet_t-rex58 karma

To what extent do the languages borrow from each other? How much of High Valerian can you find in Dothraki and vice versa?

Dedalvs117 karma

Valyrian borrows some specific cultural terms from Dothraki (e.g. arakh, khal, etc.), and Dothraki takes its technological vocabulary (to the extent it uses it) from some Valyrian language, be it High or Low (e.g. the Dothraki now have a word for "book": timvir. It comes from High Valyrian tembyr).

rburp56 karma

I just want to say that I really like the Dothraki language. It sounds very exotic and I couldn't imagine the Dothraki without it. My only complaint is that whoever does the subtitles chose a horrible color. The yellow often blends in with the sandy environment on screen and irks me.

Dedalvs102 karma

Just a quick note: Yellow is often thought to be superior to white for subtitle color. Personally I think the best is yellow with a black outline. It should work for all contingencies. Not like I ever talk to those guys, though. If I do, I will pass on your note.

Rice_Krispie55 karma

What languages can you fluently speak?

Dedalvs100 karma

English and Spanish (though my Spanish is the Spanish of a heritage speaker. I run into problems sometimes and am much better with family members).

AislinKageno47 karma

I have been waiting desperately for this AMA, so I just want to say first of all, thank you so much for doing this for us, and for your amazing work on the show. Dothraki sounds just like it should!

So, I enjoy creating my own languages and contexts for them in my free time, and am an amateur fan of linguistics. I wanted to ask - how do I get a job like yours? How did you go about getting this position on Game of Thrones, or any position in creating languages for that matter, and what advice would you have for someone wanting to do the same?

Thank you so much!

Dedalvs92 karma

Real quick...

Dothraki sounds just like it should!

Thank you for this. That was my number one goal; nice to hear it. :)

The rest of this question I answered above (see MelanieKira's question), but it's not super encouraging. There has to be more demand. There's simply not enough jobs to go around. Even if every potential project hired a conlanger, that's a fraction of the total projects produced, because not every TV show or film needs a created language (though I think it would've improved Sleepless in Seattle). So there's never going to be as much demand as there is for, say, actors, makeup artists, sound editors, etc.

The best thing to do is to, first, continue to create languages. Look at the languages others have created and learn from them: continue to improve. Second, stay connected. Share your languages with the community, put them online—make yourself visible. Third, if possible, see if you can beef up your resume. There's got to be hundreds of potential projects within literature, if you can possibly wrest a potential conlang away from a fantasy author (they tend to do their own thing, which, 99% of the time, they shouldn't have). The jobs may not be as big as Game of Thrones, but they should be there. Whenever the LCS hears about them, we put them up on the LCS Jobs Board. Anyone can apply for those, but bear in mind that you'll be competing with the rest of the conlang community. Hopefully as the years go by, projects like GoT and Defiance will beget more projects—and, more importantly, increase the status of conlanging as an artistic endeavor worthy of pursuit. If we can break and do more collaborations with fantasy authors, there may be enough demand to allow someone to really break in for when a larger job comes up.

mikendave37 karma

Does Irathient written language follow an Arabic-like word structure or is it pictographic? Or neither?

Dedalvs54 karma

Neither. Irathient's script is an abugida. Each glyph of Irathient is a VC syllable. This can be see easily when it's combined with one of the main vowels, but the base symbol can be a consonant by itself or a consonant preceded by [ǝ] (schwa; a reduced vowel). So if you have a word of Irathient like the greeting above (eseneziri), in the script it will be chunked like this: es-en-ez-ir-i. So five letters. If you have a word like tlanǝs, though (it means "a short visit), it will actually look like this: t-l-an-s. A fluent (or literate) Irathient speaker would know that there's a schwa between the n and s, though.

MrCynicalDammit32 karma

When you know an alien language is only going to be spoken in one episodes and a few sentences, do you just come up with a few words, or is it more involved?

Have you ever re-used languages in different shows?

Dedalvs76 karma

I haven't yet worked on anything where language plays such a minor role. I will say that if you have, say, a movie where there's literal going to be one line, you probably don't need a language if the movie isn't going to spawn sequels, or a following for those aliens specifically, etc. So something like Galaxy Quest. That movie's incredible. But it's not like it was setting up for a franchise, or anyone's going to be wanting to speak like the little bitey aliens (do they have a name? The one's that call out Grignak?). So there's no point to investing the time or money to flesh that out. If there is a chance, though, that there could be a following or interest beyond the performance—however small—I think it is worth it. And certainly if there's going to be even six or seven lines. It comes to a point, sizewise, where gibberish just won't cut it, and it's nice to see that producers et al. are taking that seriously nowadays. (For example, I think Jabba the Hutt should've had his own language, no question.)

Dedalvs62 karma

Oh, and no I haven't re-used languages. Yikes! That'd be a super contract foul.

ILikeBowties32 karma

This is awesome. Whenever there are invented languages in a book/series/film, i'm completely hooked.

Are you planning on publishing some sort of guideline to your languages? Like a dictionary, grammar rules... Please say you will, please do!

And secondly: how "big" have the languages got so far? How many words does each of them have, how complex did you make the grammar? Any secret little puns you might have hidden somewhere? ;)

Dedalvs88 karma

I would love to publish a TY in various languages, but it's kind of a hard sell. I wouldn't say publishers have zero interest in it, but not enough to bump things over the edge. So yeah, I'd love to do that, but I'm not sure if or when it will happen.

Regarding language size, this is where things stand now (at least as far as the lexicon goes):

  • Dothraki 3,655
  • High Valyrian 618
  • Castithan 1,818
  • Irathient 2,144

I'd love to get about 8-10 thousand words in each one, and love to put out a grammar/lexicon for each one. I'm not sure if it'll happen.

The grammars for each of them are fairly complete, in that they can be used to translate just about anything. It's just a matter of having enough words to be useful.

There are plenty of puns since the languages aren't tied to our world (or at least the Game of Thrones languages). My pun of the moment: The word for a sibling in High Valyrian is dubys, which was coined from the nickname for my little sister (I call her Dubu).

JimmySinner18 karma

How quickly do you expect High Valyrian to reach the levels that the others are currently at?

Dedalvs56 karma

Not as quickly as Dothraki. Especially with Defiance, I don't have nearly as much time to do actual conlanging anymore (or, more specifically, conlanging that isn't immediately necessary). Also because I ended up using more Astapori Valyrian in season 3, it ended up getting more attention. But (if I can say this without sounding like a braggart) I really like High Valyrian. I want it to be larger. It's just a matter of finding the time now.

legnome30 karma

Sir, please publish the GOT languages, as someone else has asked. I think a lot of people would be all. over. that. shit. Also, then when people ask you how to say x in dothraki/valyrian/whatever, you can say.. look it up, bro.

Thank you for doing this AMA. It's been incredibly awesome.

Dedalvs23 karma

I'm not the one that needs convincing. Someone's got to publish that shiz... I'm down to write it.

Lotronex29 karma

How does it make you feel when you see your work enter the general lexicon? I know that while playing Defiance online schtako is becoming popular, not in the least because its not blocked by the profanity filter. When you created the word, were you hoping that it would become the next frell/frak?

Dedalvs43 karma

Ha. So this kind of has a funny story. I don't know who, but someone somewhere came up with jek as the F word, and it kind of stuck around. Shtako was originally a word that meant "idiot". For sh()t, I came up with an Irathient word skragi, which I anglicized as skrug. I thought that would be really cool. Kevin Murphy was kind of cool to it. A couple weeks later, it was decided (don't know who was in on that conversation) that shtako was going to be sh()t. I went back, then, and changed the etymology of shtako (moved it to a different word: banggo), and then they ran with it. I really liked shtako meaning idiot, but they really liked it as sh()t.

But yeah, when it was conceived, they wanted it to become their go to word. Who knows if it'll survive beyond the show (I use frak from time to time, but frell? Does it still enjoy widespread use?), but if it's helped people get around the profanity filter in Defiance, then I feel I've done a good day's work.

muffmunchkin28 karma

What is the first word that you created in Dothraki? What is your favorite word in any language, and why?

Dedalvs68 karma

Looking back at my paper notes, it was horse, actually: hrazef. I guess that's appropriate. Yeah, when I was coming up with test words for sentences, that was the first. I also came up with a fake word for "man" (just nam; I reversed the order of the letters. Changed the word later), then a word for "apple" (qazer; still in the language) and "bite" (ostat; still in the language). You can guess what the first test sentences were.

I already mentioned "butterfly" (tends to be a favorite word in every language), but my favorite word... One of my all time favorite is highly dependent on the dialect of Arabic (the pronunciation changes). I love the word دجاج, which means "chicken". In the first dialect of Arabic I learned, that's pronounced [di.ˈʒaːʒ]. In Egyptian, it's pronounced [di.ˈgaːg] which just sounds awful. Other favorites use the same phoneme, e.g. جيش "army" [ʒeʃ], رجال [ri.ˈʒaːl] "men"... Probably not a coincidence these are coming from Arabic.

iritegood27 karma

I've always been a huge fan of linguistics and conlangs in particular, so I have a few questions:

  • To what extent have you developed Dothraki and Valyrian, in terms of grammar, vocabulary, figures of speech, etc.?

  • How would you summarize Dothraki and Valyrian, in terms of its phonetic and sociological characteristics?

  • Have you created a script for Dothraki, just for fun, even though officially, they don't have one?

  • How much, or how little, collaboration did you have with George R. R. Martin?

  • What are your favorite languages, conlang or otherwise?

  • How do you feel about the current use of conlangs in pop culture? What do you see as the future of conlangs as an artform?

  • After working a major project like Game of Thrones, how do you feel about collaborations between fields of study (linguistics, anthropology, physics, etc.) and art? Is it necessary, 'good to have', or mere embellishment?

I apologize for playing fast and loose with 'a few'. Don't feel pressured to answer all of them.

Dedalvs55 karma

I'll see what I can do here:

  • I gave the vocab numbers for the languages in another comment. Both are fairly complete, grammatically. I continue to add to them as I go along, though. I can't imagine I'll ever stop working on them.

  • The sound of Dothraki I always thought of as like ((Arabic + Spanish)/2). High Valyrian was intended by GRRM to be the Latin of his universe, so I tried to honor that and make it sound like Latin—and to me, I think it does, though others disagree. Fleshing out High Valyrian lexically has been tougher, because we don't have a lot of information about what the empire was like before the Doom.

  • Myself, no. Two people have. And I used a script I created for something else to write the word "Dothraki" at the top of my blog.

  • No collaboration, really, but he has been generous enough to answer my questions when I asked. He's also asked me for some translations (for example for the book of maps that came out last year, and for Winds of Winter), and that's been really cool.

  • Hawai'ian is my favorite language, though Arabic is a close second (its structure is beautiful). Some of my favorite conlangs are Sylvia Sotomayor's Kēlen, Denis Moskowitz's Rikchik, Doug Ball's Skerre... One of my early favorites that wasn't as complete was Mia Soderquist's ea luna, which, along with Polynesian, inspired my language Kamakawi. I also love Elephant's Memory, though I don't think it was ever fleshed out.

  • At present, conlangs and conlanging have more visibility than they ever have. I'm greatly encouraged by their use in big productions like Game of Thrones, Avatar and Defiance, though I think we're still in the bubble right now; it remains to be seen if it will continue or fizzle. I'm excited by the prospect of conlanging down the line. I always felt like a practice can't really be an artform until there's collaboration and criticism. That didn't really happen until the mid 90s. Now, though, conlanging is so big that it's hard to argue that there's a single online community. So long as the old knowledge isn't lost and conlangers continue to learn from one another, I think we'll continue to get better and better and maybe thirty or so years down the line someone will finally produce a conlang masterpiece (something I don't believe we've seen as of yet).

  • It depends how seriously you take your art. If you take it seriously, yes, it's necessary; if not, you can do whatever you want. There's a lot of DIY conlang stuff that happens in sci-fi and fantasy literature (and has for the better part of the 20th century) which is eyeroll inducing. It's like they liked Tolkien's success, but didn't want to bother emulating his process. I think as audiences become more discerning (and they are), the bar will continue to be raised—and there generally is no going back when that happens.

Great questions!

waldoRDRS24 karma

How much do you feel J.R.R. Tolkien and Marc Okrand set the stage for fully developed fictional languages, with the languages of Middle Earth and Klingon respectively?

Dedalvs45 karma

J. R. R. Tolkien, definitely. He made the case for artistic and naturalistic constructed languages. Klingon's popularity certainly helped raise the visibility of constructed languages, which was good. When it comes to quality of construction, Tolkien is certainly a good model.

bergenit20 karma

Can you tell us anything about Skroth/Scroth, the language of the Others/white walkers in the pilot? I seem to remember seeing it mentioned that you had created a bit of that.

Dedalvs38 karma

They asked me to come up with something for the White Walkers, so I did (it was kind of a cool system). I don't think they ended up using it, though. They never told me that they didn't, but I never heard it in the show. It was fleshed out enough to that it could've been expanded. It was kind of like... Imagine an Old Norse creole language. I had fun with it.

DeathMetalEnthusiast19 karma

  1. When you listen to death metal, how easily can you make out the lyrics?

  2. Favorite programming language?

Dedalvs60 karma

  1. Death metal? It's usually not too tough. Black metal? Nearly impossible.

  2. The one you used on the TI-82 calculator—the only one I know. But, man, back in high school I got some use of that! I once created a program where if you had three equations with three variables, all you had to do was plugin the coefficients (and what the equation equalled), and it would return to you what x, y and z were. It helped me solve one problem on the math portion of the SAT in seconds. Worth it.

nandeEbisu19 karma

As someone who spent a few years learning German, it doesn't feel like a real language if there aren't any irregular verbs! (although I wouldn't really be able to tell in Dothraki anyway). DO you add certain flaws and imperfections into your languages so they seem more organic?

Dedalvs40 karma

Plenty. That's part of the fun! Irregular verbs are fewer in number in Dothraki (there's movelat, whose past tense should be move, but whose past tense is mov); there are more irregular nominal declension paradigms. Even so, words tend to fall into patterns. There are a number of words with doubled consonants that have a shortened stem in the accusative (e.g. nerro "foal" whose accusative is ner), but it doesn't apply uniformly to all such words (e.g. rivve "sniff" whose accusative is rivve). And probably the toughest thing to remember and keep track of are the cases tied to specific verb stems (e.g. most verbs have an object in the accusative, but there are a number that use the allative or the ablative for their direct objects). Plenty of things to memorize that don't follow from standard principles—but which are explicable if you look at the evolution of the language.

tomcat2317 karma

I just watched Defiance today and it's got great promise. I was only a little worried that the cultural shift in humans towards accepting any alien races would take longer -- so the show should have been set in 2167, not 2067. But other than that it feels like a lot of fun and I hope it gets a few seasons. It seems rather like elements of Farscape, Babylon 5 and Firefly rolled into one.

Do you have that ape-looking alien race fleshed out with it's own language? I think the show mentioned 8 races? Do they all have languages?

Dedalvs28 karma

They don't all have languages yet. The Irathients and Castithans do, because they had so many lines (and we should be getting at least one more language next season, if it comes [fingers crossed]). I haven't done anything with the Sensoths yet. For the show, it really depends how much screen time and spoken languages those characters will have. If they become popular, then maybe!

Also, something to keep in mind (no excuse, but just keep in mind) is that what you see on the show is the result of the compromise between Trion and Syfy. Certain things like the timeline were intensely negotiated by both sides, each wanting something to happen at a certain time for different reasons. Earth at 2167 might've made more sense for some reasons, but due to various factors, the timeframe had to be pushed up.

Oczwap15 karma

My conlanging hasn't been very productive recently. I've been flipping through my otherwise trusty muse Describing Morphosyntax, but I think I need something new. Do you have any recommendations on books or other material that might help with some inspiration, and how do you deal with dry spells when you have a deadline?

Also, do you think you'll be on the Conlangery podcast again?

Dedalvs27 karma

I'd actually love to keep doing Conlangery. The issue was that it took a lot of time, and I live in a one-room lofted condo, so when I would record, my wife would have nothing to do (she'd have to just kind of remain still and not make noise), so I stopped. Though maybe if I could convince them to have her as a co-host...

If you've tackled Describing Morphosyntax, the next huge most important book to take a look at is The Evolution of Grammar by Joan Bybee et al. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you're using the historical approach, it's basically a guidebook for how grammar evolves. It's awesome. You should have a basic familiarity with the principles of historical linguistics before starting, though. I kind of assumed you would if you were onto DM, but just in case, for historical, I recommend Lyle Campbell's Historical Linguistics.

TheShroomHermit15 karma

How do you feel when the actors accidentally pronounce the same word differently?

Dedalvs36 karma

I've learned to roll with the punches. It's also never the actor's fault. First, if they wanted them to get it exactly right, I should be there every day on set, and that hasn't yet proved possible. Second, when an actor does a scene, they'll do it dozens of times. An actor always knows when they screw up, but an editor won't. If an actor pronounces their line perfectly 9 out of 10 times and the editor takes the cut from that 10th time, they can't really do anything about it. Even though the actors come to really know the languages and work with them well, not everyone involved in the production has the same knowledge, as it's often not directly related to what they're doing on the show. I keep this in mind when I watch.

snail-in-the-shell13 karma

You've mentioned that one of your favourite languages was Arabic. Which of the colloquial forms are you most partial to? And why?

Dedalvs20 karma

Algerian, because of the pronunciation of ج. They really try to push Egyptian when you're learning it, but I do not like the sound of it at all.

MelanieKira12 karma

Hey! I absolutely love this fantastical language you created. So I was wondering, what got you into the buisness? How do you get started really?

Dedalvs22 karma

I've been creating languages since 2000. The problem with working in Hollywood, though, is that connections are more important than ability. With the Dothraki job, the LCS tried to stem that tide. The Dothraki job, for example, was merit based (i.e. anyone could apply, and applications were judged—first by conlangers, then by the producers). But when it comes to other shows, they want to work with who they know, or who's known by who they know. I don't know if there's anything that can change the overriding culture of the industry—especially something like conlanging, which is still on the margins of the creative part of the industry.

When opportunities come up, though, one needs to be prepared. The best way to do that (if conlanging is your interest) is to do it. No better time to start! There's lots of resources available online to help out. Check out the Conlanger's Library for some links.

way_fairer12 karma

Who is your favorite poet?

Dedalvs19 karma

Depends how you define it. I'm a huge fan of John Milton, but mainly for his longer works (Paradise Lost, Comus...). He did write short works, though, so I guess he qualifies. Aside from that, I have a fondness for William Butler Yeats, but that does was crazy (I've read A Vision. The whole thing. Dude had issues), for Emily Dickinson, and then there are certain poets where I like something they've done (like "Goblin Market", by Christina Rossetti? OMG. I can't even).

lordmalifico11 karma

Do you have any advice for amateur writers on creating languages?

Even if it's not just a full language, but giving off the impression of having one?

Dedalvs33 karma

In general, follow the example of George R. R. Martin; eschew the examples of, like, almost all the rest of fantasy. Even though I don't think he knew he was doing it, George R. R. Martin created sound systems and phonotactic patterns for Dothraki and High Valyrian (and also Ghiscari and some of the other languages). He came up with a set of sounds that were a part of the language, and patterns in which they could be used, and he stuck to those patterns. Thus, the Dothraki are Drogo, Jhogo, Mago, Cohollo, Rakharo, etc., not Drogo, Jhogo, Mantëriorià, Bblikff, Xxunúdrian—you know, a language where it looks like two of the words go together, and the rest came out of a bag of international Scrabble tiles.

The best thing one can do (if one isn't creating one own's language) is honestly to hire out. If you want a conlanger to create a language for you, you can post your job on the LCS Jobs Board. There are plenty of conlangers out there who would love the opportunity. But if you only have yourself to rely on, it's best to work with creating a consistent sound system, and doing as little as possible. This way when your book is an enormous success and they make it into a TV show or a movie and hire a conlanger, they won't tear their hair out when they sit down to flesh out your language. :)

pasdelizzy10 karma

there are discrepancies in language where there are words for many aspects of things, or an abstract amalgamation of concepts put together in one concise phrase. how did you construct the ideology of the people into the language you wrote for them?

and thank you for doing this! so cool.

Dedalvs14 karma

For the TV languages, the culture comes directly from either the books (for Game of Thrones), or from the writers. For Defiance, I got to help actually flesh the alien cultures out, which was awesome. I think partly what you're getting at, though, is how the lexicon is fleshed out. For something like that, the character of the language helps to determine it. It's hard to describe, but depending on whether a language relies on compounding or affixation—or even zero derivation—more affects how one tackles new concepts. It's unique for each language.

ContinuumGuy7 karma

What's the weirdest language you've ever been asked to create?

Dedalvs16 karma

So on Defiance, I came up with two sketches for the Liberatas and Indogenes. When they were first discussed, the Liberatas were going to be entirely CG, and I was told that, if possible, there language should use lip-movement as little as possible. When I came up with a phonology, then, I only used phonemes pronounced with the soft palate backwards, and omitted any rounded vowels (e.g. [u] and [o]). The language was called (and is still called) Yanga Kayang, and it became my immediate favorite. It sounds hilarious.

Of course, what happened is that this idea was abandoned (the Liberata, played by Jessica Nichols, wears a suit and mask), so I begrudgingly brought some labial and dental sounds into the language. Much of the core vocab I came up with was based on the old system, though. I never expanded Yanga Kayang into a full language, but I really want to; it was too much fun. Maybe if we're around for six or seven seasons and Bertie becomes popular.

300daysandnights6 karma

Do you ever give people ridiculous or humorously long lines to say, just for kicks?

Dedalvs19 karma

lol Not for kicks—usually because I'm asked to do so. Sometimes the writers, especially, have no idea what they're getting into—and it's the actors who have to deal with it. That speech of Drogo's was insane. There was also a huge speech for Kraznys in this past episode that (wisely) ended up getting chopped up. I translated some stuff for these little spots for Mun2, and they wanted to have some of their VJs do some lines in Castithan. I saw one of these lines, and I was like, "You serious?" Incredibly long and complex—and this wouldn't be for someone who'd ever seen this language before. I translated it for them, though. It didn't make it. I figured it wouldn't. It was for this spot, btw, which I thought was great.

aitiologia5 karma

after fan-girl-ing out, i think i finally thought of a coherent question.

what did you study in college (if you went)? were you always interested in languages/linguists/phiilology?

my youngest is obsessed with learning to write and read tolkien's elvish as well as learning classical greek and latin. i figured he's either going to be a CIA agent, criminal mastermind, or have your job when he gets older.

Dedalvs7 karma

I studied linguistics as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. I recommend it. If your youngest is looking for schools, think Berkeley. Probably the best linguistics undergraduate experience in the country.

And, no, I wasn't always interested in languages. I actually kind of rejected my home language (Spanish) when I was young. I came back to it late, and then came to it in a big way at the tail end of high school, when I discovered I liked learning language, and was kind of good at it. Haven't looked back sense.

Also, when they go to college: Take language classes! Any language classes. It's the best teacher when it comes to creating languages.

anxietea4 karma

Hello, Mr. Peterson! First of all, thank you for creating such beautiful, fitting languages for the worlds of George RR Martin. I was wondering if you can actually converse in these languages, or do you have to refer to your previous notes/resources to help with the dialogue in a scene?

Dedalvs26 karma

I'm pretty good at writing in Dothraki. I don't know all my vocab off the top of my head, but I have a good chunk of it down—to the point where for season 2, I was actually to translate most of it without coining new words and without looking at notes. I've got the grammar down, it's just a matter of vocab. But as far as speaking it, I really have no practice (i.e. speaking with someone else), so that's tougher. It's hard to generate stuff off the cuff (which is something interviewers always ask me to do, even though I always say beforehand, "Please give me anything you want translated in advance"! Who am I, Data?).

smashking30004 karma

(May or may not have already been answered, sorry)

What specifically did you study in Linguistics? Did you have any particular focus (like historical ling., phonology, syntax, etc.)?

Dedalvs3 karma

My main focuses were morphology and phonetics (at least as far as my course work and research goes). I spend more time now with historical linguistics and studying natural languages, but morphology and phonetics were where I was strongest in linguistics.

musingsofaraven4 karma

Though I am tempted to ask you your opinions on toilet paper dispensers and how they should function, I am wondering what the most satisfying thing about working on shows like Defiance and Game of Thrones?

Dedalvs7 karma

Personally, it's a kind of validation for what I do. I've been creating language for almost 15 years now, and if there were no shows I was working on, I'd still be doing it. Even as late as 2000, there's people that would outright laugh at you for creating languages (and there still are)—or worse. From the beginning, though, I saw that there was value in this, because it's something that, if done responsibly, requires a high amount of intellectual rigor. Now it's easy to say to dissenters that, even if they won't accept the inherent value, they have to accept that there are others who do value it—and not just other language creators, but artists from other fields. It's good to be able to show what we can do, and to have some ammo to back up our claim that we should have a seat at the table.

AlexielMihawk3 karma

Hi David, I just wanted to tell you how great your work is, plus I have a few questions.

Where did you start with the creation of the two languages? Did you get inspiration from some real - past or present - language? Did you create a grammar over new or you applied rules from languages you know those new languages?

Dedalvs4 karma

If you're talking about Castithan and Irathient (not sure? But when I think of the languages paired, these started at the same time, so I think of those), I designed them to be polar opposites, so they would be audibly distinct on screen. That was a driving force for how they developed. So Irathient I decided would be spoken slowly (commented on this above), and Castithan spoken quickly. Castithan is also predominantly head-final, and Irathient predominantly head-initial. In some ways, they're almost like mirror images of each other (in fact, most Castithan sentences are SOV, and most Irathient sentences are VOS). Some of the languages that inspired these two were Afrhili, ámman îar and Kēlen.

squatly3 karma

Question: Anyone know how you add a link to the time on the AMA schedule over there on the right...?

Sorry it took so long, but its linked now :)

Dedalvs3 karma

Thank you! ~:D

TenNinetythree3 karma

Greetings from /e:"s`i:na:/!

What do you think of people who use X-SAMPA instead of IPA?

Dedalvs7 karma

I think you're in much better shape if you're going to be texting. :) The Unicode revolution hasn't swept up the entire world just yet.

SunBakedMike3 karma

Did you create the language structure and vocabulary systematically like Esperanto or organically/haphazardly American English?

Dedalvs6 karma

Organically. The language is supposed to be a natural language, so an artificial one like Esperanto or Ido or Lojban simply wouldn't have been appropriate.

skullduggery193 karma

Did you also work on the Valyrian language? Jason Mamoa seemed awesome speaking Dothraki, would you agree?

Dedalvs4 karma

Yes and yes. :)

Grenache2 karma

Hi David, thanks for the IAMA.

From where did the inspiration come for the language? Did you build up a picture of the Dothraki in your head?

I only ask because well, Dothraki sounds bad ass, and they are bad ass.

Dedalvs6 karma

The sound system itself was inspired by the books, but the way I spoke it was influenced by the image of the Dothraki warrior Martin paints in his books—like the way someone sounds if they're really upset but are trying to shoo you away before they explode. Jason Momoa totally captured that (thinking of the tongue ripping scene).

mubashir13372 karma

Hi David! You have done a greta job on Game of Thrones!

My question: Is it hard to create languages?

Dedalvs2 karma

tl;dr Yes.

It's a simple thing to create a code (for example taking the English dictionary and mixing up all the letters and calling that a language), but it won't be a different language from the one being encoded. It's also not too hard to simply create a language that will work—especially if you allow for borrowings from other languages. One only needs a fairly minimal grammar to cover the full range of human expression modulo vocabulary. To create a naturalistic language (one that looks like it has evolved naturally by a group of speakers) takes hours—even months and years—of dedication, and quite a bit of expertise. It's possible to cut corners and simplify the process, but it will show, and the result won't be as satisfying or as interesting. To do it the right way is quite difficult and quite time consuming.

iamatravellover2 karma

I‘m not sure if these have been asked: What other language/s aside from English is/are you most fluent with? Comfortable with? Having a hard time learning?

What is your favorite Dothraki phrase?

Which of the actors do you think delivered the character they represent the most?

Did you find yourself muttering some Valyrian/Dothraki words under some circumstances?

I hope my questions comes through. Hi from the Philippines :)

Dedalvs6 karma

My favorite Dothraki speakers aren't on the show anymore: Jason Momoa (Drogo), Elyes Gabel (Rakharo) and Amrita Acharia (Irri). I loved their performances, and was sad to see them go (unexpectedly in the case of Irri and Rakharo). And I tend to mutter when I'm translating. Otherwise, I work hard to maintain an austere, foreboding aura of impenetrable silence.

iamatravellover3 karma

Thanks for sharing!

I thought you would mutter some Dothraki war phrases when mad hahaha.

I administer a page in Facebook called The Boar who Killed Robert Baratheon and the members are excited to hear from you too. Thank you again!

Dedalvs2 karma

HA! That's the best FB page I've heard of yet. That boar needs his own meme.

Narcosist2 karma

What established/created languages do you know?

Which ones are you fluent in?

What has creating languages taught you about the limits of human communication?

Dedalvs5 karma

  1. Know as in know of? I know hundreds. There was a time when I knew of every single conlang on the internet. I've talked about a few of them here, but that barely even scratches the surface. Back when Jeffrey Henning's Langmaker was online, he'd put together a top 200 for conlangs every single year—and it made sense to do 200, given how many there were. I couldn't possibly list them all. Some notables ones I haven't listed already: Teonaht by Sally Caves; Ithkuil by John Quijada; Okuna by Matt Pearson; Moten by Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets; Old Albic by Jörg Rhiemeier; pick a conlang by Henrik Theiling; they're all brilliant... There are scads.

  2. None. Fluency takes a lot of work—and for me, conversation. I doubt I'll ever have the time to become fluent in another language the way things are going (but Duolingo's method is promising).

  3. A lot of the boundaries that humans have are biological, rather than anything else. Most theoretical "rules" that linguists come up with aren't rules at all: just tendencies. It doesn't make sense for a language to have a separate number for singular, dual, plural, tetral and quinqual. It doesn't mean it's impossible, or humans couldn't handle it: it's just not very useful, so why would a language ever evolve it? Often I think linguists confuse "not useful, and therefore not likely" for "impossible".

LetterThree2 karma

Thank you for posting! I have been wanting to develop languages, both written and verbal for years. I love making codes on my freetime and would delight in expanding this hobby. How do you go about creating a language from start to finish? How can a novice/beginner start out on this?

Dedalvs3 karma

The best thing to do is to check out the resources at the Conlanger's Library, and then to join one of the online conlanging communities so you can get feedback as you work (a list some of the major ones can be found here).

Dedalvs3 karma

And since I was reminded of it, also check out the Conlangery podcast. It's a great resource for beginners.

duglasfresh2 karma

I have friends that named their daughter khaleesi. Is this weird or is it an honor?

Dedalvs2 karma

Heh, heh. I actually didn't create that word, so I don't think it's my honor, but I think that's awesome. In general I'm in favor of creative names. We often go the boring route in English (or the Dakota route); I'd love to see creative naming strategies enter the mainstream.

n3rvousninja2 karma

As a note to everyone, Peterson is actually giving a free admission live presentation this friday at UCSD so you can all ask him your awkward questions in person!

Dedalvs3 karma

Yeah, if anyone's in SoCal, see if you can come down. Paul Frommer (Na'vi) and Marc Okrand (Klingon) will be there, too!

vinee0607081 karma

Have you ever considered doing a cameo for the show, and if you did what would you want to be?

Dedalvs3 karma

lol At this stage, I'd settle for getting to visit the set—once. If I were to do a cameo, though, it would be someone who was indoors, sitting down, very far away from anything violent—or the outdoors. Maybe a minstrel part of a bar band. I can fake playing the harp.

Benjodude1 karma

How did you develop the Dothraki dialect without it sounding like a made up language? in a sense - how did you make it sound natural? and what processes did you have to go through to achieve this?

Dedalvs1 karma

The key is evolving the language over a period of time. The irregularities and rhythms that crop up will do so naturally as a result of the evolution, rather than you having to create them cold. It's a way of ensuring that it sounds like a fluent, natural language rather than a clearly artificial one.

hannardynamite1 karma

Hey David! As someone who's been passionate about languages and linguistics for nearly all her life, I have a few questions.

  • How many languages (aside from your created ones) do you speak fluently?

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how ecstatic would you be if your languages ever reached the magnitude that Klingon has?

  • What was the inspiration for Dothraki and High Valyrian?

When I was in school, I studied French, Welsh, Spanish and Italian. By the end of the year, I was speaking in an amalgamation of them all to the point where I'm fairly sure I'd almost created a new language.

Thanks for doing this AMA - my inner linguist is going crazy!

Dedalvs1 karma

I answered a couple of these above, but on a scale of 1-10, 8? I never get too high on anything. Indeed, I can find the negative in every positive. ;)

Dothraki was inspired by the feel of inflectional languages with case systems, and High Valyrian by Latin and the Philippine languages. In both cases, though, the influences were relatively minor and/or specific.

LookMomImFamous1 karma

Hi! I really think you did a very good job with the languages in the GoT series. My question is, how many words do you create usually for a language? do you create more than its actually said? if so, how much more? and how complex in your opinion would you say the languages you create are? thanks in advance for the answers!

Dedalvs1 karma

I create a lot more vocabulary than I need. This proves useful when it comes to translating new material (I'd rather create more than I need than come across a word I'll need to coin on the spot). And the languages are approximately as complex as any natural language.

dougr10001 karma

Do any of the actors fluently speak Dothraki?

Dedalvs1 karma

No, but a good number of them still have their lines memorized.

Yiib1 karma

Do you ever speak to G.R.R. Martin or this matter doesn't have to do anything with the books?

Dedalvs1 karma

I have spoken with him a few times. I see him at conventions every so often, and exchange e-mails with him every so often. Not very frequently, but every so often. He's not super interested in working with the languages, but likes that they exist.

Dr_Wreck1 karma

Do you ever feel like the languages you've invented aren't dissimilar enough? Do you find yourself falling into patterns that leave the languages not as unique and natural as you would like? What sorts of things do you remind yourself of while you work, or what tricks do you use, to keep your languages fresh and unique from one another?

Dedalvs4 karma

This happens a lot phonologically. Since actors are English speakers and they want something pronounceable, there's lots of things I can't do (e.g. tone, implosives, retroflex consonants, etc.). It's tough to get a unique sound out of the same small set of phonemes. Though one thing you can do is addition by subtraction. One of the things that gives Hawai'ian such a unique sound is that it has such a small number of consonants. I use that to my advantage when creating sound systems (though I wish I could create a language without the sound [θ]. People creating the names of fictional races/cultures seem to be big into that sound...).

After that, focusing on the main modes of verbal and nominal inflection can ensure that the core of the language is different enough from other languages. For example, if you have a language that uses aspectual marking exclusively, it will ensure that it's quite different from a language with tense marking.

Dr_Wreck2 karma

Your answer is fascinating!

though I wish I could create a language without the sound [θ]. People creating the names of fictional races/cultures seem to be big into that sound...)

I'm a writer in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. I promise if I ever need a language, I will give you this chance. Whatever that promise is worth. :P

Dedalvs2 karma


JJKeys1 karma

As a person who's never seen or read the series of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, would you recommend me watching the TV series or reading the books first?

Dedalvs1 karma

Personally, I think you can enjoy the show without reading the books. The books are very long, so if you wait to watch the show before you finish, it may be a couple seasons before you get started. If you do read the books, though, I can recommend the audio books read by Roy Dotrice. He's a wonderful narrator. Otherwise, it's a matter of timing. Both series are unfinished at this point, so if you're the type that can't wait for the next installment when you get to the end, it might do to read the books, if you're a slow reader; if not, you'll probably be waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones for less time than you'll be waiting for the next book in the series.

superninja1231 karma

Have you heard of Zeuhl?

Dedalvs3 karma

Yep. :) You know John Quijada (creator of Ithkuil) is a big fan of Magma—and of progressive rock, in general. Dude's an encyclopedia.

Cauca1 karma

Hi, Spaniard here. Where are you from? How come you speak Spanish? Conlanging is just a new concept for me. I'm pretty sure we don't have a word for that in Spanish. Could you define it for me please?

Dedalvs1 karma

You do have a word in Spanish: It's ideolengua (cf. There's even a listserv dedicated to discussing constructed languages in Spanish (called Ideolengua). I'm from Southern California, and my family is from Mexico. I'm going to be coming to Spain this November (for El Ser Creativo).

Mr_Bro_Awesome1 karma

Could God microwave a burrito so hot that not even He could eat it?

Dedalvs1 karma

Well, I suppose He could, but... Well, then, of course, He couldn't...

creati541 karma

What are some common phrases in Dothraki? Is there any sort of vocabulary list available?

Dedalvs1 karma

Yeah, here are a couple of resources. First there's my blog over at Then there's the fan site over at The wiki they've set up is extensive and quite informative.

GiveThisGuyGold1 karma

What goes into creating a language?

Where do you start? How do you make it original? Do you create a unique alphabet for each language?

Also, isn't language weird? how groups of words make ideas and how 26 letters combine everything ever said or written in english.

Dedalvs3 karma

I created a new writing system for all my own languages, but haven't been able to do that for the Game of Thrones languages. I have for the Defiance languages, though!

And yes, language is weird. As evidence of this, I present the worst word in the English language: crafts. What an awful word!