Game of Thrones: How to Speak Dothraki
The Scene: Los Angeles
Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 12:00 PM
From KCRW's The Business, hosted by Kim Masters
As it tries to keep up with increasingly savvy audiences, Hollywood hires experts to bring authenticity to its films and television shows — from the set design, to the costumes, to the language used. In medical dramas, physicians are consulted to make sure the hospital jargon is spot-on. But how do you make sci-fi and fantasy sound authentic? As KCRW's Saul Gonzalez learned recently, you hire a linguist.
The HBO series Game of Thrones transports audiences to a fantasy world in which the politics and violence are as brutally real as our own. The Dothraki are a nomadic warrior tribe that figure heavily in the series. When the show's creators were looking for someone to invent a language for the Dothraki people, they needed something that sounded as believable as the bloody battles looked.
The Berkeley-trained linguist and Language Creation Society member David Peterson got the job when he submitted a 300-page book of Dothraki vocabulary and grammar. "The Dothraki are supposed to be seen as a natural, horse-riding, semi-barbarous people. They hunt and they raid," Peterson explains. "They're supposed to be a real people and so they needed something to speak that actually sounded real. And not only that, that sounded unique — so that it didn't just sound like modified Arabic or modified Mongolian."
Dothraki has been recognized as the most complex constructed language, or con-lang, created for a TV show (yes, including Klingon). Peterson translates dialogue for the writers and coaching pronunciation and delivery. And with the third season already in the works (and fans clamoring for more), the language is still growing.
Video: Linguist David Peterson speaks Dothraki