Occupation: language creator for “The Iron Throne”

Hash yer astoe ki Dothraki? Valyrio ydrā? To those questions that may seem quirky at first, David J. Peterson can answer “Ai” or “Kessa”.
C ar yes, the American linguist speak Dothraki and Valyrian two languages invented for the TV series Game of Thrones. He talks about them because he himself created them almost from scratch for the popular series drawn from the work of George RR Martin who will know his denouement Sunday on HBO and Monday at Super Écran.

“Never once would I have imagined making a living by inventing languages ​​for movies and TV series!” Says the 38-year-old father at the end of the day about his atypical job since 2009. That’s since Iron Throne, he has also created several fictional languages ​​spoken in the Defiance, The 100 and Emerald City series, the language spoken by the Dark Elves in the movie Thor: A Dark World besides working on no less than eight similar projects.

It is in his second year of study in linguistics that David J. Peterson has developed an interest in the creation of languages. “But you do not need to study linguistics to create a language. It’s not a prerequisite, even if it helps, “says the one who said he initially started to create a language” for myself, because I liked it “.

In 2007, he became interested in the invention of languages ​​a little further by creating the Language Creation Society (LCS) with nine other “language creators”, an organization he chaired until 2014. “Create languages ​​was a hobby for us, we did it for fun and we were all sure we would never have a penny for creating a language, “he says. Two years later, however, the phone was ringing at the LCS. People from the HBO network wanted to find someone to create languages ​​for a TV project from George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series …

“We did a competition among us for a month, and I won it,” says the linguist, who had never read the popular series before tackling this project. He created almost from scratch the languages ​​spoken by the nomadic people Dothraki and the Valyrian spoken by several characters, including Daenerys Targaryen interpreted on screen by Emilia Clarke. “I would have needed a full year to create these languages, but I only had a few months,” he says.

He created seven languages ​​to be used in the TV series, three of which were ultimately not used. The famous White Walkers originally had to speak skroth, the inhabitants of Asshai the asshai’i and the Children of the Forest the gerna moussha. The directors preferred to make replicas of the last two groups in English and it was determined that the White Walkers would probably be more frightening if they remained silent.

As a basis of creation, Peterson had only a few words of Valyrian created by Martin and used in his books, including “Valar Morghulis, Valar Dohaeris” meaning “All men must die, all men must serve” and the famous “Dracarys Which means “Fire of the Dragons”.

Moreover, David J. Peterson confesses to having a problem with the expression used by Queen Daenerys to invite his dragons to spit fire and that he must preserve. “I find it a little ridiculous to use the Latin root” draco “[meaning” dragon “] for a language that comes from a different world that has no connection with ours, no link to languages European, but what do you want, that’s how it was, you had to respect the spirit of the original work! “, he continues. The “chief linguist” of the Iron Throne receives the English scripts of the sentences he will have to translate. He then refers the translation team, a separation of the words syllable by syllable, a glossary of each word and an MP3 file where he pronounces each reply so that the actors and the director know how the reply should sound.

Today, the dothraki has 4000 words and the valyrian more than 2000 that the linguist keeps in a dictionary that he himself created. But like the Klingon language, created in 1984 by the linguist Marc Okrand for the third movie in the Star Trek series, the Throne of Iron languages ​​have had an unusual excitement among the fans of the series. The Duolingo platform for language learning has even asked Peterson to create a course to learn Valyrian!

“I created this course, even though it was a lot of work, because I thought it was a good idea. However, I did not think many people would like to learn it because it is a difficult language for those whose first language is English or French, “says Peterson. In the end, no less than 1.7 million people signed up to learn to speak like a Targaryen.


“I would like to push that even further,” he adds, referring to Klingon, for which a dictionary has been published and which has been used to create an opera. “Of course, I wish there were books in Valyrian or dothraki, it would be fun! But I think that for that, it would require the authorization of HBO “.

He admits he was very excited when he learned that the Iron Throne soundtrack would feature Muse singer Matthew Bellamy in a song where Valeryen would be used. “Muse is my favorite contemporary band and I thought I’d be called to create a Valyrian coin. Unfortunately, it is a play in English on which we have superimposed excerpts from the series in Valyrian … I was a little disappointed, “says the one who can still console himself by advising George RR Martin, who has asked for some translations for the last two opus of his still unfinished book series …

The Iron Throne will have been good, very good for David J. Peterson. Even if the popular TV series ends this week, the linguist still has a lot of work on his desk since Hollywood has never stopped calling him to “order” new languages.

“Currently, I’m working on eight projects, including six TV series projects that I can not talk to you and a video game project that I can not talk to you either,” he says.

The project he can talk about is the new film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune by Quebec director Denis Villeneuve, due out in 2020. For this project, Peterson developed chakobsa, the language spoken by the Fremen people on the planet. desert Arrakis.

“In fact, I was hired to do a lot of other things too … I had read Dune when I was in high school, I was interested in the adaptation that Alejandro Jodorowsky had to make in the 70s and I saw of course the Dune of David Lynch who was, say, particular, “he says about the film that had been a commercial failure in 1984 despite a very large budget.

Create a new generation

“It’s really nice for me to be able to make a living by creating languages. Seriously, who would not want to be paid to do that? However, there is not enough demand! It’s me, and then there’s nobody. The next big challenge will be finding a way to find work for other language creators. ”

David J. Peterson has been traveling a lot since he became a household name with Iron Throne. However, he will visit Quebec for the first time at the end of August on the occasion of LangFest, a festival dedicated to literature and languages ​​of the world organized in collaboration with the University of Montreal. “I’ll be there with Marc Okrand, the inventor of Klingon language! It should be very interesting! “Says one who has studied 20 languages, except those he has created, but who confesses speaking fluently only two, namely English and Spanish. “I have some fluency in reading French, but I am not good enough to speak it well. I would say that I am more comfortable speaking German “,Ian Bussières

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