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How Game of Thrones’ linguist developed Dothraki using idioms from George R.R. Martin’s books




The author of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin, has been a great champion of the fantasy genre. Language is a vital aspect of distinguishing a good imagination from reality. As some of you may know, linguist David J. Peterson created the Dothraki and High Valyrian languages especially for the TV adaptation, Game of Thrones, based on the minimal use of the languages in the novels. And he excelled at his work.

The importance of idioms in a language

In an interview with Hivemind, Peterson explained how he develops a language, “Well, there are two things there. One is there is no direct connection between, say, a given group of speakers and the sound of the language or the grammar of the language. The connection will be with their words, the words that they have, and the idioms that they create.

That’s where the most literary creativity comes from, really understanding the speakers and how they might conceive of the world, how they might discuss it in their own words. Because every language uses its vocabulary, it stretches its vocabulary beyond its limits, and talks about the world in a way that is shaped by the worldview that they’ve developed. And that’s what you get to do as a language creator.”


The quote that birthed ‘Dothraki’

Peterson went on to explain how a quote from Martin’s works gave him an idea for Dothraki, “Sometimes it’s your own invention and sometimes it’s just trying to match certain aesthetics, an aesthetic that’s there. For example, with the Dothraki, George R.R. Martin mentioned several times in the books that “anything of importance is done under an open sky.” That comes from one of the early chapters where they have the wedding of Daenerys and Khal Drogo.

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I think it’s the first time it’s mentioned. So there are all of these things that they do that strike one as a little bizarre if you come from a society like we do. In Martin’s world they really shun buildings and interior spaces, favoring doing things outdoors. And so, I thought, well, this is an opportunity to kind of play with what George R.R. Martin had set up. If you want to say you’re doing something in secret in Dothraki, you say you’re doing it under a roof, literally, and then it just means doing it in secret.”

Read next: House of The Dragon linguist David J. Peterson recalls writing Daemon’s Song to Vermithor


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