The writers who invented languages

The writers who invented languages
PHOTO: HBO Asia

If you're a Game of Thrones fan suffering from withdrawal, you might consider brushing up on your Dothraki while waiting to find out whether any of your favourite characters will live to see another season. How? With the Dothraki Companion app, of course, the latest creation of David J Peterson, who's the man responsible for turning the handful of phrases found in the original series of books into a lexicon of more than 4,000 words.

Filled with fricative 'kh' sounds that underscore the essential harshness of life in the Seven Kingdoms, Dothraki is one of the show's most distinctive features. But even though it's a made-up language - or 'conlang', as in 'constructed language', to use the proper jargon - bringing it to life has been no easy task.

Scouring George RR Martin's text, Peterson first identified patterns and worked out a logically consistent sound for the language. Then came the problem of grammar. While Martin always claims to have made up his Dothraki phrases on the hoof, Peterson discovered that they were in fact grammatically consistent (objects followed verbs, prepositions preceded nouns and so on). The result is an evolving tongue that typifies the culture in which it's spoken, one in which, for instance, there are seven different words for striking someone with a sword, from 'hlizifikh' (wild but powerful) to 'gezrikh' (a just-kidding decoy).

Authors regularly create worlds that are so fully realised they come with their own topography, history and mythology. Yet nothing is as piquant as language, which is why some writers go that step further and create their own. Martin may have only sprinkled his books with Dothraki, but JR Tolkien created multiple conlangs, several so precise that they've become the subject of university classes.

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