Peterson lecture concludes 2016-17 Lyceum series
Lyceum Peterson
David J. Peterson presents “The Art of Language Invention” as part of Victoria College’s Lyceum Lecture Series on April 4 at VC’s Sports Center.

David J. Peterson, language creator for the Emmy award-winning HBO series “Game of Thrones,” wrapped up Victoria College’s 2016-17 Lyceum Lecture Series on April 4 at VC’s Sports Center with his presentation titled “The Art of Language Invention.”

Peterson spoke on the linguistics and phonetics of the languages he has created for “Game of Thrones,” Syfy’s “Defiance” and the motion picture “Thor: The Dark World” as well as the process of creating a fictional language.

“I talk to the producers and get as much information from them on the backgrounds of the people who are supposed to be speaking the language,” Peterson said. “That gives me some sort of an idea of what I want to do with the language. I can do just about whatever I want with the language phonetically. They just care about the sound.”

Peterson, who cofounded the Language Creation Society in 2007, got the job with “Game of Thrones” by winning a contest among other language inventors.

“When I applied for the job, I created a whole bunch of stuff and sent it to them, and I became one of four finalists for the position,” Peterson said. “I realized it would be judged by producers, so I wanted to do two things. I gave them over 300 pages of material, most of which was highly technical. I wanted them to just look at it and kind of be blown away by it and say ‘I don’t know what any of this means. All I know is it looks long and impressive.’

“Then I gave them a very short, one-page little thing with cartoon bullets on it that said ‘fun facts about the Dothraki language.’ ”

One of Peterson’s factoids was that the Dothraki did not have a word for “please.” Peterson also used his wife, Erin, in the Dothraki vocabulary. The noun “erinak” means “lady” or “kind one.”

Peterson, who received Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley and a Master of Arts degree in linguistics from the University of California at San Diego, begins creating a language by providing producers a fake sentence with a particular “sound system.” 

“It has word-like elements in it and uses the sound system that I want to use, but it doesn’t have any meaning,” Peterson said. “I send it to them and ask them how they like it. They’ll either say it’s great or they don’t like it and want me to tweak the sound. They give me vague descriptions, but I can usually figure out what they mean. Once they are happy with the sound, then I go back and begin my work.”

 Peterson said the most challenging languages he has created were “Dothraki” and “Valyrian” for “Game of Thrones.”

“Game of Thrones was very different because it was a very famous book series,” Peterson said. “They had to get everything from the books and account for it to make sure what we were creating fit what was in the books.”

Published: Wednesday, 05 April 2017

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