Author Archives: David J. Peterson
Living Language Dothraki is going on sale October 7th! And in addition to that, I will be going around talking about the new book in various parts of the country over the next few months. Mark your calendars, if you happen to live near New York City, LA, the Bay Area, Las Vegas, Denver or Kirksville, Missouri. Here’s the schedule at present (all times local; to be updated fairly frequently as new events are confirmed):
- Truman State University, Kirksville, MO, September 17-18: I’ll be giving two talks hosted by the Linguistics department on September 17th at 4:30 p.m. in the TSU Student Union Building, Georgian Room B, and on September 18th at 7:00 p.m. in Baldwin Hall 176. The former is more linguistics-oriented; the latter more general (though it’s still kind of linguisticky. We’ll see how it goes).
- Seal Beach Wag n’ Walk, Seal Beach, CA, September 27th: I’ll be hosting a booth at the annual Wag n’ Walk, which is a benefit for the Seal Beach Animal Care Center. Come learn your dog’s true Dothraki name!
- October 7th: Living Language Dothraki is on sale at an independent bookstore near you!
- Word Bookstore, Jersey City, NJ, October 8th: I’ll be doing an event and signing at Word in Jersey City at 7:30 p.m. (note: there are two stores, one in Brooklyn and one in Jersey City. Be sure not to confuse the two!).
- New York Comic Con, New York, NY, October 9-12: I’ll be on two panels on Sunday the 12th: Dothraki 101 at 11:15 a.m. in 1A24 and How A Game of Thrones Changed Fantasy…Or Did It? at 1:15 p.m. in 1A05. The latter panel features some names you may have heard of if you read fantasy, e.g. Patrick Rothfuss, Robin Hobb, Garth Nix, etc. (Totally not kidding. Check it out!)
- Book Soup, Hollywood, CA, October 14: I’ll be doing an event and signing at Book Soup in Hollywood at 7 p.m.
- Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA, October 17: I’ll be doing an event and signing at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego at 7:30 p.m.
- Orange County Public Library, Tustin, CA, October 22nd: I’ll be doing an event and signing at the Tustin library right near my home at 7 p.m.
- Mission Viejo Public Library, Tustin, CA, October 28th: I’ll be doing an event and signing at the public library in Mission Viejo at 7 p.m.
- Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO, November 10th: I’ll be giving a talk at Colorado College (details to come).
- Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, CA, November 15th: I’ll be a part of a group of other sff authers at Kepler’s Sci-Fi Fantasy Day. It’s going to be from 1-5 p.m. and feature a number of interesting talks and panels. My Dothraki event will be at 2:30 p.m. Please note that this is a ticketed event (tickets are $10 and can be purchased here), but a ticket grants you admission to the entire day’s events.
There are a number of other events I had to leave off because they haven’t been finalized yet, so stay tuned! Doing lots of stuff the next couple months.
If you’re heading down to San Diego for Comic-Con this year, be sure to stop by the Random House booth (booth #1515) on Friday and Saturday from 3-4 p.m. I’ll be there in support of the upcoming Living Language Dothraki book (which you can pre-order now). If you come by and practice your Dothraki I’ll have prizes to give out! I’m not sure what the prizes are because I haven’t seen them, but I bet they will be worth having. Because I want them. And I’m’a get them, too, because I can speak Dothraki. You feel me?
Anyway, if you prefer info in party-invitation-style-list form, here it is:
- WHAT: Dothraki language practice
- WHO: Me and you
- WHERE: San Diego Comic-Con, Booth 1515 in the Random House LLC block (.pdf map)
- WHEN: Friday, July 25th, 3-4 p.m. and Saturday, July 26th, 3-4 p.m.
- WHY: Because conlang.
- HOW: Ambulatorily
- HOW MANY: Very good question. I have no idea. We’ll see, I guess.
Anha zalak m’anha atihak yera rekke!
And thus season 4 comes to a close. There’s a lot to be said about the finale, but I’m only going to talk about one character: Tywin Lannister.
I know I’ve said it before, but Tywin Lannister is my favorite character from the book series, and was my favorite character from the show. The first scene we see with Tywin he’s cutting up a deer carcass. It’s a good scene, but the sense of Tywin I got from Charles Dance was different from what I got from the books, so I wasn’t immediately sold on him. Of course, as the season wore on, Charles Dance’s Tywin not only grew on me, but overpowered and replaced the Tywin Lannister I had in my head from the books. That Tywin—book Tywin—was more of a monster in my head—almost savage. Dance’s Tywin is the epitome of gentility. He is stern, he is cold, but he is always in control of every situation, and of his own emotions. He isn’t actively menacing the way I imagined him in the books.
But, of course, Dance’s Tywin is, I feel, the more accurate of the two. No matter how powerful or rich you are, you can’t get on as well as Tywin does if you’re an outright monster. And we do get the sense that if you remain on Tywin Lannister’s good side, he’s a fine guy to be around. A prime example of this are the few scenes with Arya and Tywin in season…two, I want to say? It may have been one. Even in a very kind of creepy way the scene with Tywin and Tommen, where Tywin is giving the new king a “lesson” on what it means to be king. It’s really easy to see how he could build a legion of followers who can see him treating others poorly and rationalize it by believing that they deserve to be treated poorly (if they didn’t, why would he do it? Tywin’s always so smart and sees things so clearly, after all!).
Now, before I go too far, make no mistake: I think Tywin Lannister, the character, is a bad person. If this were a real person, I would definitely not want to have any dealings with him, let alone have him as a father. But you don’t have to like a character as a person to like what they do for a particular story, and love the performance of the actor that portrays them.
And, honestly, I think the master stroke for Charles Dance was his very last scene. Tywin Lannister is always in control. No one ever catches Tywin with his pants down (though Cersei gets to him in this episode, doesn’t she?). And then Tyrion does—literally. This is a position that pretty much no human on Earth would be able to play off well—and yet Tywin does! He’s literally sitting on a toilet with his pants down, and somehow he still manages to be in control of that situation. He has all the right responses for Tyrion! The only thing that shifts the balance of power in that scene is the fact that Tyrion is armed and Tywin is not. Even here Tyrion can’t beat Tywin in a battle of wits or passions (something that Arya ends up doing with the Hound). Tywin doesn’t break. He doesn’t beg for his life. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t back down from his beliefs even in that position. Truly incredible, and a very well-executed scene from all concerned.
So something that I wondered—and perhaps other fans have wondered, as well—is if Tywin is so smart and so powerful and so rich and so cunning, how is it he still ends up on the wrong end of a crossbow on the privy? While there’s a lot to be said about his feelings regarding his dead wife and how his children continually fail him in his eyes, one thing keeps coming back to me. One of Tywin’s key failings is that he likes to teach lessons. If you’ve seen Arrested Development, perhaps you’ll remember the fellow with the one arm, and Michael’s lesson about not teaching lessons. That last lesson is one Tywin should have learned. It wasn’t enough for him to stick a false conviction on Tyrion: He wanted to teach Tyrion a lesson about falling for whores. Honestly, he didn’t need Shae’s testimony to convict Tyrion: it was just a cruel, public humiliation. Ultimately, this is what did him in. Without Shae, recall, Tyrion probably would have gone along with Jaime and Tywin’s plan and taken the black. And in fact even if all the events had transpired as they did up to Jaime’s rescue, consider: What would have happened if Tyrion had snuck into Tywin’s bedroom and found him alone? We’ll never know, but it’s worth mulling over.
Alas, Tywin is gone, and along with him Charles Dance. Truly, though, this was a masterful performance. I never met Charles Dance, but I will now look for him in other things just based on this performance. Sheer brilliance. And, of course, my hat is off to George R. R. Martin as well. He created the character who is just as electric in the books and paved the way for this outstanding role. Mr. Dance, you will be missed.
As for the rest, there’s too much to say, and I bet everyone else will say it, so I’ll leave it to them. I do want to praise the performance of the actor who played the shepherd, though—the one who lost the daughter. His lines were all in Meereenese Valyrian, but the emotion was raw. You didn’t need to understand what he was saying to feel it. A heartbreaking moment, and he acted it superbly.
And now we wait. Just a year, though. These things go by in the blink of an eye nowadays. Season five will be here before you know it!
A lot of people have been asking me over the years, “When will there be a book on Dothraki?” My response to this has always been, “Yeah! When will there be a book on Dothraki?!” Because I’ve long wanted for there to be a teach yourself guide on Dothraki—maybe something with exercises, grammar explanations, dialogues, vocabulary, etc., even some audio files to go with it. That would be awesome! But while I’m a language creator, it’s not like I’m a publisher. I can’t of a sudden decide that a teach yourself guide will exist, even if I wrote one. I’m just one guy: I need help!
Now, thanks to a partnership between Living Language and HBO Global Licensing, I got the help I need.
I’m happy to announce that Living Language is going to be publishing an official guide to Dothraki. Living Language Dothraki will come in three forms: a printed book; an online course; and an app for iOS devices. I’ve worked on every aspect of the course, and added some new vocabulary unique to the Living Language series. It’ll help get newcomers up to speed in the language, and will provide long time learners with an official resource to keep and refer to for years to come.
This book would not be a reality if there weren’t already a fanbase place—not just for Game of Thrones, but for the languages themselves. I especially want to thank the Dothraki fans that were there from the very beginning: Hrakkar, Dany, Crown of Gold, Lajaki, Najahho, Ingemar and Qvaak. If you’re wondering what I’ve been so busy with this year, this was a big part of it. San athchomari shafkea! I can’t wait for you to see it. October 7! Mark your calendars!
Preorder Link: http://livinglanguage.com/dothraki
As the title portends, I will be talking about Monty Python in this post, but first a brief commentary on “The Laws of Gods and Men”, written by old friend Bryan Cogman—who, by the way, is back on Twitter, so give him a follow!
There were some great speeches in this episode, but I feel like Tyrion’s trial overshadows the awesome scene with Stannis, Davos and Tycho Nestoris at the Iron Bank. It’s really awkward and uncomfortable for Stannis, which is the point, but then Davos comes back with this incredible save out of nowhere. And while we don’t know what the outcome is precisely, we get the sense that he made a positive impression—which is made all the more powerful after you think about how Tycho has just gone over how they at the Iron Bank are swayed by nothing but numbers. Yes, Davos does give him some facts, but he also lays his heart out there in front of these stuffshirts—and it works. It’s a Hail Mary to end all Hail Marys, and I loved it.
In Dany’s scene, I didn’t know we were actually going to see the dragon doing dragon stuff. That was pretty intense! Though I can’t help but feel bad for the sheep. They even have him bleating as he’s being carried away in the dragon’s claws on fire… Or wait, was that a goat? Let me check… Take that back, it was a goat. I know this because I just searched my Low Valyrian dictionary for a word for “sheep” and came up empty. “Goat” is there, though. (And hey, that’s the second time that word has been used—but only the first time in reference to an actual goat!)
Hizdahr zo Loraq looks a lot younger than I pictured him in the books. Then again, since I listened to the audio books, all of my mental images were painted by Roy Dotrice (or John Lee, for one book), so my mental images were dependent not just on the words but on the performance. The—
Whoa, hang on. Just realized I was about to write something spoilery. This is always a tough one. I’ve only read each book once, so when I start watching the show, I sometimes get confused about stuff that has happened or hasn’t—and whether it was in the books or the show. I had that confusion during the Theon scene, actually. Did that happen in the books? Also, from that scene, Ramsay was all cut up before that fight started, right? What was he doing beforehand?! That dude is straight up creepy; I love him.
Oh, and another question: I missed the “red shirt” punchline that the girls shout. What is it?
Back to Dany, looking back at the script, it looks like a couple of the Meereenese Valyrian lines with the goatherd were cut (likely for length). Still a lot left in there. Here’s a few of those lines. Dany first speaks to the goatherd in High Valyrian:
- Zūgagon daor, ñuhys raqiros. Skoros ynot epilū?
- “Don’t be afraid, my friend. What would you ask of me?”
And he responds saying that he doesn’t understand:
- Yeng shijetra, osh eghlish. Tha shifang.
- “Forgive me, your grace. I don’t understand.”
I was really fond of that osh eghlish for “your grace” or “your highness”. It’s the characteristic phrase of MV. Then Missandei says:
- Ye Thal poghash koth nyesha she yedhra.
- “The Queen says you may approach and speak.”
Funny how close thal is to khal (total happenstance), but with this line here, Miss Nathalie Emmanuel became the most linguistically diverse actor in all of Game of Thrones! She has officially spoken:
- Common (i.e. English)
- Astapori Valyrian
- High Valyrian
- Meereenese Valyrian
Or, hmm… Actually, I guess Dany never speaks AV, so I think this was a title Missandei already claimed, but still, it’s further cemented here. She’s the only actor who’s had to deal with all of the Game of Thrones languages, and for that, I salute her! And, in fact, if the White Walkers’ language and Asshai’i were not used in the show, as I suspect, she’s also the only actor to speak every language featured in the show. That is boss!
Before leaving this episode, Tyrion’s trial was incredible (everyone knows that Tywin is my favorite character, so him doing anything is a treat), but I feel like the things I want to say about it are going to spoil at least one thing from the remaining four episodes… And since I’m liable to get confused, I’ll just hold off. All I’ll say for now is that I think Shae’s progression is done better in the show than it is in the books—either that, or I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the books. Frankly, it feels that way a lot when I’m watching the show (e.g. like the time I actually said, “Wait… Renly’s supposed to be gay?”). Also, “trial by combat” are possibly my three favorite words from Game of Thrones.
If you’ve read this interview with me over at the Making Game of Thrones blog, you’ll know about yet another one of Dan Weiss’s practical jokes. The insults that the Meereenese champion was hurling at Daenerys et al. were translations of the French Taunter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you don’t know what Monty Python and the Holy Grail is, you should probably stop reading this blog and find a way to watch the movie immediately. At the very least, you can see the speech being referenced here.
Also, I know I mentioned this in the interview (which, by the way, D&D gave their blessing to), but just to be clear, I don’t get credit for coming up with this idea; that was all Dan Weiss. Usually after I’m done translating the bulk of the material for a season, Dan gets an idea for something fun after the fact, and I get an e-mail starting with something like, “Hey, I had an idea for a joke…” I know I’m generally a stickler for realism when it comes to the languages, but when this opportunity presented itself, it was just too good. I like to think (though I don’t know either way) that Emilia Clarke, Nathalie Emmanuel, et al. had no idea what the champion was actually saying. This would amuse me to no end. But anyway, if you’re wondering, “Does this mean there are hamsters in Essos?”, or “Does this mean there were elderberries in Valyria?”, I honestly have no idea. I had to Wikipedia “elderberry”—both when I coined the word, and just right now again, because that’s how much I know about elderberries. The relevant words lie somewhere in between the holy mountain of Canon and the dry wastelands of Non-Canon. I’ll not sort it out beyond that.
Without further ado (and I’m not sure exactly how much of this made it onscreen):
- Byjan vavi demble eva o, trezy eme verdje espo jimi! Oa mysa iles me nýnyghi, si oa kiba tuziles espo tomistos!
- “I fart in your general direction, son of a window-dresser! Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”
So you don’t have to look for it, “hamster” is nýnyghi (which may have been inspired by the Knights who say Ni). Also, tomisto, from High Valyrian tōmītsos, was an homage to my friend Tom (a.k.a. Tommy) Lieber. I’ve found a way to work him into each one of my languages, but “elderberry” is the best, I think.
- Já si hojgá oa gundja, trezy eme mero dovodedha!
- “Go and boil your bottom, son of a silly person!”
Note to the Wiki folks: If it’s got a j in an odd place, it’s probably Ghiscari in origin.
- Kiman nya másina orvorta va oi sodjistos!
- “I wave my private parts at your aunties!”
There were some edits made to the text:
- Do eban av kimívagho dombo, o doru-borto pame espo gruzi evi havor espo begistos!
- “I don’t want to talk to you no more you empty-headed animal food trough wiper!”
- Ghorgan ji pungo va o, nynta Dare espo Zaldrizes, o si une oi dovodedhi, Vesterozi azzzzzantys.
- “I blow my nose at you, so-called Dragon Queen, you and all your silly Westerosi kaniggets!”
And there it is.
But let me apologize to the Valyrian students out there. In the interview, I said that I didn’t think anyone had figured it out, but I sold you short! Mad Latinist and at least one other person did guess right; I guess I just didn’t hear about it (probably because I was traveling at the time). Well played! And you didn’t even have the words for “hamster”, “elderberry”, “aunty” or “fart”… That’s excellent sleuthsmanship!
Since it’s come up in the comments and elsewhere, I thought I’d give a quick rundown of my read on the Valyrian in the world as it exists in A Song of Ice and Fire. It’ll be useful to refer to this map in the discussion to come, since I’m going to be talking mostly about Slaver’s Bay.
High Valyrian was spoken in Valyria for centuries. The Ghiscari Empire was preeminent in the ancient history, and five times they tried to conquer Valyria. Each time they failed, as Valyria had dragons, which they used to repel the invasion. After the last attempt, the Valyrian army wiped the capital of the Ghiscari Empire, Old Ghis, off the face of the planet, and the empire fell, Ghiscari culture being displaced by Valyrian culture. At this time, the Valyrian Freehold took control of Slaver’s Bay, and three formerly small cities became large and rather important: Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen.
Looking at the map, it makes sense to me that the way Valyria interacted with these three cities was by boat. An army could march overland and get to Meereen, then Yunkai, then Astapor, but why bother? A trip by boat is much quicker. Consequently, Astapor is the closest of these three cities to Valyria. (Oh, and if you’re wondering why Daenerys, who, presumably, is coming from the north, goes to Astapor, Yunkai and then Meereen, as opposed to the other way around, it’s because she traveled all the way to Qarth first, and then traveled from there. Qarth is way east and south of Astapor.)
In these cities in Slaver’s Bay, everyone would have spoken Ghiscari, during the ancient wars. When Old Ghis fell, though, a Valyrian ruling class would have had to have been installed, and High Valyrian would have replaced Ghiscari by fiat, and also in practice. When this happens, it generally takes three generations for a language to be lost in a single family. In five or six generations, the Ghiscari language could have been stamped out, if that was a goal of the Valyrians (and it was, I think it’s safe to assume). The old language, though, would have survived in local vocabulary (why lose a word for something that the new language doesn’t even have a word for anyway?), and in the vocabulary of those who weren’t taught the new language explicitly. The result ends up being a Valyrian language grammatically, but with a lot of Ghiscari vocabulary.
Now, all this time, High Valyrian could have been maintained. With the presence of a home base in Valyria and a Valyrian upper class, there would always be motivation to maintain the original language. It seems likely that Valyrians would care about maintaining the language so they could communicate with every part of their vast Freehold. So even as new languages are emerging amongst the lower classes in Slaver’s Bay, High Valyrian would carry on.
The aggravating factor in this history is the mysterious Doom of Valyria, which we don’t know a whole lot about. The Doom was some sort of cataclysmic event that destroyed Valyria and left physical scars all over the region. Not even sailors were go near it now. It’s considered haunted and/or cursed. Linguistically, this is when the umbilical cord was severed for the various outposts of the Valyrian Freehold. I’ll leave the Free Cities out of this discussion for the time being and instead focus on two areas: Slaver’s Bay and Dragonstone.
Dragonstone was founded by the House Targaryen before the Doom of Valyria. It’s located in Blackwater Bay, and is a stone’s throw from King’s Landing (which didn’t have that name at the time). Initially it was established as an outpost to facilitate trade between the Valyrian Freehold and Westeros. Consequently, the Targaryens here would be upper class High Valyrian speakers. After the doom, Aegon I conquered Westeros, and the Targaryen dynasty was established. Naturally, they would have to learn the Common Tongue (it’d just make things simpler), but it doesn’t mean that they’d lose High Valyrian. Valyrian is the tie not only to the old Freehold, but to Essos and the old culture. It would easily have been retained over at least the first two generations. Thereafter, if it was important, it could be maintained through family use and careful instruction. It takes resources to do so, naturally, but they’re royalty; they’ve got resources. So to me it makes sense that High Valyrian is maintained by the Targaryens.
The evolution of the language is difficult to map realistically, since the time depth is greater than the real world analogues George R. R. Martin used. For example, at least 5,000 years are supposed to have passed between the old days of Valyria and the Doom. From 0 CE to today, Latin went from being an everyday spoken language to not existing. In fantasy, though, there’s a bit of wiggle room. I like to think that the rate of change in High Valyrian was accelerated by two factors: (1) contact with other languages; and (2) distance from Valyria.
In the case of Dragonstone, the Targaryens were far from Valyria, but also weren’t really mixing with Common Tongue speakers, per se. They kind of kept to themselves. So rather than change, the language is preserved, while the other varieties of Valyrian evolve past it. Low Valyrian never touched Dragonstone. When it comes to pronunciation, though, Common Tongue pronunciations did end up affecting the Targaryens. This is why older pronunciations of j and v aren’t maintained in the otherwise pristine form of High Valyrian spoken by the Targaryens.
Back to Slaver’s Bay. Although Yunkai is geographically closer to Meereen, I’ve always thought of it as being closer to Astapor culturally. Looking back, I’m not sure how precisely I came to this determination (I admit that). It felt, though, that Yunkish Valyrian and Astapori Valyrian would be closer to each other than either is to Meereenese Valyrian.
Each of the dialects (and I would characterize them as dialects of a kind of “Ghiscari Valyrian”) would be grammatically very similar. They have a common culture, and seem to exist in a kind of symbiotic way, with each city having something the others don’t. Since Meereen is the largest, it likely also has the largest lower class. This is where I saw the most distinct form of the language emerging. This is why it made sense to me that Meereen could support a Valyrian variant that’s quite different in sound from the other two. It’s the same language, but it’s developed its own distinct character.
With Daenerys, she grew up with High Valyrian from Viserys and from the loyalists that helped raised them. In Essos, she would’ve been exposed to a ton of different Valyrian dialects from the Free Cities. This would help her be able to pick up a new one. And, of course, if you look at Astapori Valyrian and compare it to High Valyrian, though there are sound changes, they’re not that drastic. I think it’s plausible that Dany could get the gist of it, even if she can’t speak it. Meereenese, though, is tougher. It’s hard to see a word and tie it to an Astapori Valyrian word, let alone a High Valyrian word.
Regarding comparisons, I likened Meereenese Valyrian to Scotch English and Astapori Valyrian to Southern California English. They’re way different, but they’re the same language with some vocabulary items that differ. A couple of commenters have likened the two to Spanish and Portuguese. I simply don’t know if I’d go that far. If I see Portuguese written out, I can kind of get the gist of it, but hearing it? I get nothing. If I studied it a little bit and got used to the sound changes, I mean, maybe, but I’m not sure they’re close enough grammatically. In some ways, Portuguese and Spanish are too close, and in other ways, too far. The pronunciation of Portuguese and Spanish is closer than the pronunciation of Meereenese and Astapori, but the grammar is much further apart. This is why I really think of them as dialects not separate languages.
As for Yunkish, I put don’t put it in the middle of the two dialects. Rather, it’s all but identical to Astapori. Truth be told, I haven’t had to do anything specific for Yunkish, but if I did, the variation would be minor.
If I’ve left anything out, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll add it to this explanation. It isn’t as thorough as it could be, but it’s a start. The Valyrian language family is really a fun linguistic experiment, so I wanted to at least give you an idea how I was approaching it. Thanks for reading!
Edit: Some thoughts on New Ghis. New Ghis is an island to the south of Slaver’s Bay:
Regarding New Ghis, where I would start is with the notion that the Ghiscari culture was wiped off the face of the Earth. If we accept that as a truth, we have to accept that they’re speaking some form of Valyrian in New Ghis. New Ghis is pretty far from Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen, so one would have to expect it to be quite different, but how is a question I haven’t dealt with yet. Presumably they can still converse with the cities on the mainland (this happens in Book 5), so it couldn’t have diverged too much. At this point, I think that’s all we can say about New Ghis.