I have said several times that I am addicted to series. And, one of my current addictions is the series Game of Thrones. In the first episode of the new season, Daenerys Targaryen surprises Khal Moro and everyone around them when she reveals her knowledge of the Dothraki language. This is one of my favorite scenes from the first episode of the sixth season. And because of this scene I had the idea to make this post about the languages of the series.
Check out the scene I just talked about
George R. R. Martin, creator of the book series “Song of Ice and Fire“, has no background in linguistics as J. R. R. Tolkien; so the languages were not developed in the book, instead there are only few examples of the various fictional languages.
Consequently, HBO hired the linguist David J. Peterson, who created the artificial languages spoken in the series. From the few sentences written in the book, he created a lexicon and grammatical structure for these languages.
If you want to know more about how David J. Peterson created the languages, look at this interview:
The Common Tongue
In Westeros, almost everyone speaks the “Common Tongue“. This language has become the common language after the conquest of Westeros. In the books and the series, English is the language that represents the Common Tongue. This language has minor differences in register and accents. For example, in Dorne, the accent is slightly Hispanic and in Winterfell it is similar to the accent of northern Britain.
The Old tongue
The Old Tongue was the language spoken by the first inhabitants of Westeros and was replaced by common language after the Andals invasion. The ancient language is rune-based and today is spoken only by a few wildlings. Yet, among the wildlings there is a great linguistic variety.
The Giants, for example, speak “Nuk Mag”, a simplified version of the Old Tongue, because they do not have the same intellectual capacity of a normal human being. The giant Wun Wun, spoke a phrase in this language: “Lokh kif rukh“, which means, “What the fuck are you looking at?”. The language was not futher developed because it is based on the Old Tongue and this language has yet to be created, therefore David J. Peterson cannot develop the “Mag Nuk”.
However, he has said that he would like to create the language, the producers’ just need to ask for it.
The High Valyrian is a language spoken mainly in Essos. It was the dominant language when the region was dominated by the old Valyrian Freehold. After the doom of Valyria, the language fell into disuse and became a dead language, but it is still used by intellectuals and ecclesiastics. The role of the High Valyrian in the fictional book has the same role as the Latin in our society. Several characters speak High Valyrian, including Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion and Melisandre.
Example of vocabulary
- Daor – no/not
- Dracarys – literally “dragon fire”
- Keli – cat
- Kirimvose – literally “thank you”
- Kessa – yes
- Valar morghulis – literally, “all men must die”
- Valar dohaeris – literally “all men mus serve”
- Zaldrizes – dragons
See an example of High Valyrian in this scene:
To learn more about the language and its grammatical structure, read this article on Wikipedia.
The Low Valyrian covers several different dialects spoken in Essos. Each of the “nine free cities” has its own dialect. The language that was highlighted in the series was the “Astapori Valyrian“, spoken in Astapor, in Slaver’s Bay.
It is the most prominent “foreign language” in the series, spoken by the nomadic tribe of the Dothraki. The Dothraki is only an oral language and has not written system. With a vocabulary of over 2,500 words, the language has already a website dedicated to its learning.
Example of vocabulary
- Athjahakar – Pride
- Lajaki – Warrior
- Dothraki – literally “man that rides”. Plural of Dothrak
- me nem nesa – “it is known.”
- qoy qoyi – literally “blood of my blood”
There are also several other languages that have little or were not developed in the series, as Lhazar, Qarth, Skroth and Asshai’i.
The Assha’i language was developed in the first season and can be seen in Mirri Maz Duur enchantment. But David J. Peterson was not happy with the result on the screen and said it would re-create the language for other seasons.
We could call Missandei a hyperpolyglot. The character appeared in the third season of the series as a slave-interpreter who served the masters of Astapor and was freed by Daenerys Targaryen. She speaks 19 languages and became friend and adviser of Daenerys Targaryen.
My favorite scene of her is when she criticizes the Dothraki of Daenerys Targaryen.
Do you want to learn any of these languages? Which one is your favorite?