Parlez-vous Dothraki? The fantastical languages of HBO’s Game of Thrones

With HBO’s Game of Thrones back on our screens we look at the intricate languages that make up George R. R. Martin’s war-torn world.

The fantastical world of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is one of lies, war and deceit. Played out across its seven kingdoms, the novel brings together various tribes and peoples each with their own distinct language and culture. Unlike J. R. R. Tolkien who famously created entire languages including grammar, syntax, and tenses for his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy, Martin’s novels only hint at a few words from each language of Game of Thrones’ universe. So when the producers of Game of Thrones’ HBO television adaptation decided that Daenerys, Drogo and their people needed their own, extensive language, the task of crafting Valyrian and Dothraki fell on the shoulders on American linguist and founder of The Language Creation Society, David J. Peterson.

“M’athchomaroon! Hash yer dothrae chek?” – Hello! How are you?

The time has passed when small screen characters could spout incomprehensible gibberish masquerading as a ‘native language.’ Fleshing-out characters in our online world of fan-fiction, fan forums and fandoms involves creating entire cultures and languages to intrigue and excite viewers. Peterson took this on board with Dothraki and Valyrian in particular, creating culturally and even ‘historically’ specific tonalities, registers, idioms, metaphors and phrases. Taking inspiration from the sounds of Arabic, Turkish, Hawaiian, Swahili and Inuktitut, whilst the aristocratic Daenerys speaks in the melodiously Latinate High Valyrian, Dothraki’s tonality is as brutal as its speakers, a clan of vicious horse-mounted warriors. Speaking in guttural tones and without even an equivalent word or phrase for ‘thank you,’ Dothraki echoes the culture of its people. Indeed, it’s full of metaphors that are specific to its peoples such as Hash yer dothrae chek? (how are you?), a phrase which literally translates as ‘Do you ride well?’

‘Dothraki is Coming…’

With over 4,000 words in Dothraki alone, the languages of Game of Thrones have sparked a revolution in language learning. Arming themselves with ‘Learn Dothraki’ apps as well as Peterson’s own Dothraki dictionary and phrasebook, fans have taken to learning this fictional language in their thousands! With wedding ceremonies being conducted in Dothraki and even translations of Shakespeare and Harry Potter on the horizon, it seems like Dothraki is truly becoming a language in its own right. Or, as Ned Stark might say ‘Dothraki is coming…’

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