There are seven different words in Dothraki for striking another person with a sword. Among them: “hliziﬁkh,” a wild but powerful strike; “hrakkarikh,”a quick and accurate strike; and “gezrikh,” a fake-out or decoy strike. But you won’t find these words in George R. R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire, which is where Dothraki originated as the language of the eponymous horse-riding warriors; rather these and more than 3,000 other words were developed by David Peterson, the world’s authority on Dothraki.
At TED2013, Peterson gave this fascinating TED University talk on the process of creating Dothraki for the TV series Game of Thrones. Based on Martin’s books, the HBO series premieres its third season on Sunday.
Peterson, who has a masters in linguistics from UC San Diego, was teaching English composition at Fullerton College when he heard that HBO was hiring someone to develop Dothraki for Game of Thrones. For the next four years Peterson developed the Dothraki grammar and wrote a dictionary of around 3,400 words.
Peterson is also the alien language and culture consultant at SyFy’s Defiance and the president of the Language Creation Society (LCS), which is made up of conlangers – creators of conlangs, or constructed languages.
Language enthusiasts have been creating languages from scratch since at least the twelfth century: for fun, for secret communication with loved ones, in pursuit of the perfect language. Conlangs have surged in popularity in recent years thanks to films and TV series like Avatar (whose characters speak Na’Vi), Lord of the Rings (Elvish) and Game of Thrones; the grandaddy of pop-culture conlangs is Star Trek‘s Klingon, a widely studied language almost as popular as Esperanto. (Both Klingon and Esperanto are available as subtitles on TED.com).