The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark


The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building An insider s tour through the construction of invented languages from the bestselling author and creator of languages for the HBO series Game of Thrones and the Syfy series DefianceFrom master language creator David J Peterson comes a creative guide to language construction for sci fi and fantasy fans, writers, game creators, and language lovers Peterson offers a captivating overview of language creation, covering its history from Tolkien s creations and Klingon to today s thriving global community of conlangers He provides the essential tools necessary for inventing and evolving new languages, using examples from a variety of languages including his own creations, punctuated with references to everything from Star Wars to Michael Jackson Along the way, behind the scenes stories lift the curtain on how he built languages like Dothraki for HBO s Game of Thrones and Shiv isith for Marvel s Thor The Dark World, and an included phrasebook will start fans speaking Peterson s constructed languages The Art of Language Invention is an inside look at a fascinating culture and an engaging entry into a flourishing art form and it might be the most fun you ll ever have with linguistics


10 thoughts on “The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building

  1. Manny Manny says:

    If you are another language nerd, you will find The Art of Language Invention absolutely irresistible I couldn t put the book down and read it in a day and a half Peterson, an amiable fanatic who lives and breathes for language, has been fortunate enough to land himself the best job in the world, inventing new languages for movies and TV series Here, he gives you the details of how he does it and tells you what it s like to be the Tolkien of the early twenty first century Basically, it s sim If you are another language nerd, you will find The Art of Language Invention absolutely irresistible I couldn t put the book down and read it in a day and a half Peterson, an amiable fanatic who lives and breathes for language, has been fortunate enough to land himself the best job in the world, inventing new languages for movies and TV series Here, he gives you the details of how he does it and tells you what it s like to be the Tolkien of the early twenty first century Basically, it s simple all you need to do is spend your entire life learning languages, and be prepared to go to any lengths to get the details right in your own creations Peterson s happy to do all that Judging from the examples he gives here, he has a good working knowledge of at least English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Swedish, Russian, Finnish, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Hausa, Georgian and ASL, plus bits and pieces of several dozenlanguages He s got a seriously good overview of the subject, and when he s building a new conlang there are any number of places where he can find ideas to adapt.A lot of the book is just walking you through the linguistic machinery you ll need to master if you want to learn how to do this yourself phonology, morphology, grammar, language evolution, writing systems but his background gives him a unique spin on all this stuff He explains how he invented High Valyrian for Game of Thrones When he started, he didn t haveto go on than a bunch of proper names, a handful of nouns, and two short sentences Valar morghulis. All men must die Valar dohaeris. All men must serve Evidently, thatis ending in some way encodes the idea of must but how From this unpromising beginning, Peterson sketches out how he built the whole verb system, not just for High Valyrian but for the proto language it evolved from Tolkien taught us that realistic invented languages always have a backstory , and walks us through the details the regular, the imperfect, the old and new forms of the perfect, the pluperfect, the future Finally, he tells where that mysteriousis ending fits in valar is a collective noun, theis form of the verb is a third person singular gnomic or aorist form, and the combination of the collective with the gnomic aorist form is what produces the force of must I m sure a hundred other explanations could have been found by less creative linguists But this one has real class, and it rings true.And that s not even the most amazing thing in the book Read it to find out how Peterson created the Castithan script,its relationship to Hindi and Thai writing systems, how it evolved from earlier forms of Castithan writing, and why their spelling is so annoyingly inconsistent If you want to know how a true master craftsman works, get The Art of Language Invention now


  2. Jason Koivu Jason Koivu says:

    This is just a toe dip That line is in the concluding chapter of David J Peterson s The Art of Language Invention and I couldn t agreeThe topic and practice of language creation feels EXHAUSTING after having read this And yet, once you ve read it, you re quite aware that you ve merely glimpsed the tip of the iceberg I wanted to learn how to create a new language, which I could incorporate into my fantasy world As I finish up book two and begin fleshing out number three, all while d This is just a toe dip That line is in the concluding chapter of David J Peterson s The Art of Language Invention and I couldn t agreeThe topic and practice of language creation feels EXHAUSTING after having read this And yet, once you ve read it, you re quite aware that you ve merely glimpsed the tip of the iceberg I wanted to learn how to create a new language, which I could incorporate into my fantasy world As I finish up book two and begin fleshing out number three, all while developing four and five, it has becomeandapparent that I will be creating new races and vocal creatures that should not be speaking English, if my readers are going to have any chance at suspending disbelief I know it has been done that way and is readily accepted in mainstream productions, but to me, that is the cheese It is the cheesiest of cheese, by which I mean it stinks Why would any kind of alien race naturally speak English Obviously advanced civilizations could have translation devices or could be intelligent and advanced enough to cope with learning ESL, but I m writing old timey fantasy with monsters beating each other over the head with clubs I doubt they d have time to enroll in adult ed night courses So, I wanted to add some realism to my humanoid races Enter The Art of Language Invention Very quickly I realized I was in over my head This, my friend, is complicated stuff As an example for your benefit and for my own recollection down the line, here is a list of contents Chapter One Sounds Phonetics Oral Physiology Consonants Vowels Phonology Sounds Systems Phonotactics Allophony Intonation Pragmatic Intonation Stress Tone Contour Tone Languages Register Ton Languages Sign Language Articulation Alien Sound Systems Case Study The Sound of DothrakiChapter Two Words Key Concepts Allomorphy Nominal Inflection Nominal Number Grammatical Gender Noun Case Nominal Inflection Exponence Verbal Inflection Agreement Tense, Modality, Aspect Valency Word Order Derivation Case Study Irathient NounsChapter Three Evolution Phonological Evolution Lexical Evolution Grammatical Evolution Case Study High Valyrian VerbsChapter Four The Written Word Orthography Types of Orthographies Alphabet Abjad Abugida Syllabary Complex Systems Using a System Drafting a Proto System Evolving a Modern System Typography Case Study The Evolution of the Castithan Writing SystemThere s also a short phrase book at the back that includes approximately one page each of Dothraki, High Valyrian, Shivaisith, Castithan, Irathient, Indojisnen, Kamakawi, Vaeyne and Zaanics.Some of you GoT fans are probably getting all giddy in your pants at the idea of learning Dothraki And well you should This isn t the book to teach you the Horse Lords language, but it s a start That and High Valyrian are Peterson s two most famous creations They made him semi famous Famous enough to be mentioned by the lovable Emilia Clarke on late night tv does a great job in this book of explaining the basics You could, if you had plenty of time, construct your own brand new and very real language just from reading this book It probably would be rather basic itself, but it would function There aren t exactly step by step instructions, but Peterson does lay out this book, feeding you the info you need when you need it, in a way that naturally walks you through a language building education One way to look at it is that instead of taking the full semester s course, you re reading over the syllabus.Even if you re not interested in creating a new language, The Art of Language Invention is informative to those who are interested in words and language in general Peterson relays a good amount of language history to the reader in order to explain his theories and practices I found that quite educational Also, this is written in a very casual tone I think the man knew he needed to sugar coat this stuff for the vast majority of his audience to get it down If you re into GoT to the point of reading blogs for background information, you ll definitely get something out of this


  3. Jenia Jenia says:

    A 5 star book for any fantasy fan also interested in linguistics but a 1.5 star book for any fan with a linguistics background.The Art of Language Invention is a non fiction book that explores the topic of conlanging, or how to construct your own language The author, David J Peterson, is the guy who developed Dothraki for the TV series Game of Thrones from a few odd phrases into a fully functional language of over 3000 words In this book, he shows you how you can do it too.But to construc A 5 star book for any fantasy fan also interested in linguistics but a 1.5 star book for any fan with a linguistics background.The Art of Language Invention is a non fiction book that explores the topic of conlanging, or how to construct your own language The author, David J Peterson, is the guy who developed Dothraki for the TV series Game of Thrones from a few odd phrases into a fully functional language of over 3000 words In this book, he shows you how you can do it too.But to construct your own language, you have to understand how language works That means that in essence, this is a fantasy tinged Linguistics 101 textbook It briefly but thoroughly covers basic phonetics and phonology sounds , morphology word bits , syntax grammar , semantics meaning , orthography writing systems , language change, and other various bits and bobs of language There is also an overview of the field of conlanging and some anecdotes of the author s experiences on the sets of shows movies like Game of Thrones and Thor 2 But the bulk of the book is a linguistic toolbox , giving you the basics to help construct your own language or be able to analyse others.In my opinion, Peterson delivers his subject material very well I m a linguistics MA student, and I d say this book covers approximately the first semester of first year linguistics I would have been very happy to have had it as a supplementary text then Peterson s explanations are pretty clear and there s always plenty of examples to illustrate how the concept works, some from Dorthraki or Sindarin one of Tolkien s created languages , others from real world languages like Chinese or Arabic He writes in an easy going style, making it a bit less intense and dry than a normal textbook but no less informative.However, I do have one serious problem with the book, and that s how deceptive the blurb is The blurb implies that the book is mostly a look at conlanging, e.g its history and current issues, and also includes a bit of essential tools for making your own language I don t know, maybe the publishers thought people would run away screaming if they realised it was a linguistics textbook Yes, there s an extremely interesting overview of conlanging as a whole, but it s around 30 pages of near 300 The rest is a very thorough intro to linguistics You may need to take notes For me personally, therefore, the vast majority of this book was a mild form of torture It s absolutely not the book s fault, it s just that I ve heard the basic discussion on How do you define a word enough times over the last five years that I wanted to scream sob upon hearing it again Unfortunately, there just isn t enough conlang specific material for it to be worth suffering through the basics for anybody with a background in linguistics.A final issue I d like to touch upon is choosing what format to read the book in I listened to the audiobook Peterson narrates it himself and is a good reader, and pretty good at pronouncing all the different language examples, whether from Icelandic or Shiv isith the Thor elves language But I m not sure I would have been able to follow the audiobook if this was my first time encountering the material The syntax examples get fairly complex, particularly the ergativity stuff It s just easier when you can refer back to the examples in question quickly, as well as to the definitions of various linguistic terms.On the other hand, imo it s practically impossible to understand phonetics without hearing the sounds first Again, not the book s fault, it s just that no matter how carefully you word is an open mid back rounded vowel, it makessense when you can hear the sound in question at least once Perhaps both text audio together work best, but at the very least I recommend text checking out Youtube IPA videos during the phonetics chapter.In short, if you ve always wanted a crash course in linguistics, it s an excellent place to start And for people who do linguistics, avoid like the plague


  4. Tracey Tracey says:

    If you re looking for a quick and fun read about the experience of creating languages for and maybe behind the scenes scoops about Game of Thrones or Defiance, this is not it If you re looking for a long, complex, and fun read about the experience and practice of creating languages in general, this is definitely it.I admit, I was expecting the former, which was why I requested a digital galley from Penguin s First to Read program And it was, shall we say, startling to very early on begin to ex If you re looking for a quick and fun read about the experience of creating languages for and maybe behind the scenes scoops about Game of Thrones or Defiance, this is not it If you re looking for a long, complex, and fun read about the experience and practice of creating languages in general, this is definitely it.I admit, I was expecting the former, which was why I requested a digital galley from Penguin s First to Read program And it was, shall we say, startling to very early on begin to explore the nuts and bolts of language invention conlanging Here, suddenly, were terms I hadn t seen since the days when some school friends and I wandered the halls on our way to Latin class chanting Nom Gen Dat Acc Abl Nom Gen Dat Acc Abl which stood for Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative Yes, we were weird You probably should have gotten that from we voluntarily took Latin I hadn t given those terms another thought since I kind of liked it that way And then came flurries of terms I had never heard before in my life I admit it I skimmed But I never quit, because the writing was so entertaining David J Peterson hates onions Just saying Every time the skimming almost did turn into ok, that s enough, moving on , I came across a cool fact like The tilde on top of the began its existence as a second letter n written directly above the main n or In American Deaf culture, deaf with a lowercase d refers to the inability to hear Deaf with an uppercase D refers to the ability to sign or an even cooler revelation about language, or life, that made me blink and smile and even possibly let out a faint squeak, like the bit about the pronunciation of knight And And stories like this one lie behind all grammar And Is one a word Sure TwoOf course Twenty threeYes But if that s the case, doesn t English then have an infinite number of words The examples given are interesting and attention retaining What is David Bowie Even skimming, I learned quite a bit from this book, and had fun doing it.The next time anyone complains about English being a difficult language, point them to Finnish Or Chinese Or the Tsez language, spoken in the Caucasus mountains, which has sixty four cases, fifty six of which are local not a joke It rained What rained The clouds The sky The weather English, whose orthography was devised by a team of misanthropic, megalomaniacal cryptographers who distrusted and despised one another, and so sought to hide the meanings they were tasked with encoding by employing crude, arcane spellings that no one can explainHa, ha I shall spell could with an ell They will powerless to stop meOne of the things I learned was that, quite possibly, conlanging is one of those things like crochet and making gifs from which I need to put my hands up and back away slowly, because I could far too easily become interested, find myself sucked down a rabbithole, and poof would go vast tracts of time I should be spending on one of the things I m already involved with I don t know if I would ever take the plunge but I have too many hobbies and potential hobbies and projects and distractions than are good for me Until I learn to do without sleep, I need to keep my distance from anything else that might suck me in.And remember Do not call a conlang a fake language Those who do only make themselves look foolish


  5. Christina (A Reader of Fictions) Christina (A Reader of Fictions) says:

    Amount read about 15%I loved the first chapter Though created languages aren t something I m especially interested in and I haven t given them much thought, learning about them was nerdy, and I super appreciate David J Peterson s performance and love for his art.However, once I hit the actual first chapter, it became apparent to me that I m actually not nerdy enough to appreciate this book His goal really is to teach others how to create a language, so he goes in depth into the creation of s Amount read about 15%I loved the first chapter Though created languages aren t something I m especially interested in and I haven t given them much thought, learning about them was nerdy, and I super appreciate David J Peterson s performance and love for his art.However, once I hit the actual first chapter, it became apparent to me that I m actually not nerdy enough to appreciate this book His goal really is to teach others how to create a language, so he goes in depth into the creation of sounds and stuff It s basically a textbook on language creation, one told in a funny manner but still with too much information for me to be able to soak in for a pleasure read.If you are deeply interested in language invention, I d recommend this super highly though If you re only mildly curious, it might be too much for you too


  6. Nicky Nicky says:

    Though this is written by the linguist behind Game of Thrones Dothraki, this isn t a populist cash in type of book It goes into the history of conlangs constructed languages a little bit, and then delves deep into all the ins and outs of creating a convincing one from phonology to grammar to script It s fascinating, if sometimes a little hard to follow for someone who isn t interested in building their own invented language, and thus doesn t have something to apply the ideas to.The book c Though this is written by the linguist behind Game of Thrones Dothraki, this isn t a populist cash in type of book It goes into the history of conlangs constructed languages a little bit, and then delves deep into all the ins and outs of creating a convincing one from phonology to grammar to script It s fascinating, if sometimes a little hard to follow for someone who isn t interested in building their own invented language, and thus doesn t have something to apply the ideas to.The book covers a lot of ground by including some case studies of invented languages as well Dothraki, unsurprisingly, included Less usefully for me, it includes phrasebooks for some invented languages.Ultimately, I think you have to be pretty darn into conlangs to get much value out of this, but it is a fascinating subject.Originally posted here


  7. Cheryl Cheryl says:

    I gotthen I bargained for with this book While I have learned how Mr Peterson wrote the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones I have also learned a lotabout how everyone can read and use the same word in many different contexts In addition, that there are so many ways to use your vocal range to produce a variety of different pronunciations and sounds Which if you are a singer or an actor, I am sure you already know how to do the vocal exercises Yes, I agree that this book does I gotthen I bargained for with this book While I have learned how Mr Peterson wrote the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones I have also learned a lotabout how everyone can read and use the same word in many different contexts In addition, that there are so many ways to use your vocal range to produce a variety of different pronunciations and sounds Which if you are a singer or an actor, I am sure you already know how to do the vocal exercises Yes, I agree that this book does read like a text book but a very intriguing and informative book I did not think I would like reading this book as much as I did Also, the Case Studies that were featured in this book I found to be interesting and like added bonuses Geared with this additional knowledge, I will now be watching movies, television shows, and books withof a critical eye on the language used


  8. Esme Esme says:

    only reason I picked this book up was for r fantasy s Bingo Challenge to read a non fiction booked based on FantasyOn the cover it said it was written by the person who created the Dothraki language for the tv show Game of Thrones, based on GRRM s A Song of Ice and Fire series I adore ASOIAF so I picked it up I m a little disappointed it had very little to do with Dothraki or Valyrian probably a total of 30 pages for the whole book The rest of it WAS inter only reason I picked this book up was for r fantasy s Bingo Challenge to read a non fiction booked based on FantasyOn the cover it said it was written by the person who created the Dothraki language for the tv show Game of Thrones, based on GRRM s A Song of Ice and Fire series I adore ASOIAF so I picked it up I m a little disappointed it had very little to do with Dothraki or Valyrian probably a total of 30 pages for the whole book The rest of it WAS interesting though, and I learned a ton of stuff considering I have no background in linguistics.The book starts off with some background on created constructed languages the first known language that was consciously constructed was created by Hilegard Von Bingen named Lingua Lingua She thought her language creation was dictated to her by god, and had some interesting word choices Ie Zirzer meaning anus.It briefly went over the history of other constructed languages, but focused on Esperanto which is the most wide spread Auxiliary Language known today which was created in an attempt to make a widely known alternative language for international use.Tolkien was one of the first people to create a language not based on god or on and attempt for global communication, and was entirely focused on a fictional world He actually didn t just create a language, but a language family which is mirrors what happens in real life ie romance languages Two of his most widely known languages are Quenya and Sindarin which both share a common ancestor language Quendian.The first person ever hired to create a language for tv film was Victoria Fromkin for the show Land of the Lost 1974 Paku was unfortunately not featured as much as she would have liked, and so it doesn t get as much credit as it deserved.The book spent a fair amount of time talking about Conlanger culture and the rise of the Conlang website Conlang Litserv One of the past times many conlangers enjoy is translating each others languages and giving feedback but it works like an exaggerated version of the game telephone where some of the paragraphs translated end up hilariously warped.There was a whole chapter dedicated to the different sounds that are used or exempt from certain languages and what makes a language sound harsh or flowing to English speakers.A large chapter in the book went over how we physically make sounds without really being aware of it, large amounts of terminology in this chapter Oral Stops, Fricative, Affricate, Nasal Stops, flap Tap, Trill, Lateral etc Since describing how we do this doesn t come across easily through text, the author spends a lot of time making up throat experiments so you can understand what it is he s saying.One of the throat experiments used to explore the meaning of Backness, Height, Rounding, and Openness asked you to pay attention to what happens when you say Meet, Mate, Met, Moot, Moat as an example of openness.Sign language was also addressed in the book, and I felt a little embarrassed that I didn t know there were multiple types of sign language, not just ASL for example Britain as BSL, and France as FSL That chapter also briefly went over Deaf Culture, and I was woefully ignorant about many aspects of that as well.There was a chapter that briefly touched on what alien languages may sound like or what body parts outside of a mouth and larynx may be used ie clapping Technically, humans have the capability of using claps as a letter in our languages but we just don t.It wasn t until page 90 that the author went over how he went about creating Dothraki, and it was over by page 97 so if you don t like ASOIAF or GoT this may appeal to you, I was a little disappointed though By page 199 though he addresses Valyrian, and that went a littlein depth even though he only had 6 words and 2 sentences from the original text to create a language The two sentences were Valar Morhulis all men must die And Valar Dohaeris all men must serve From there he created an entire language, pretty impressive.The latter half of the book concentrated a lot on the evolution of language and how English ended up with words like knight vs night, and how the written language was developed and evolved.The last chapter of the book focused on a written language he helped develop for the show Defiance.I actually know Alienese from the show Futurama, which is a very simple 1 for 1 replacement code for English I thought that was nerdy unfortunately Alienese didn t get mentioned in the book Not a surprise considering it s really not a language but just a code.All in all I enjoyed this book, but it was EXTREMELY technical, I d say about 10% of the page space was dedicated to terminology and charts I had to take notes and re read and reference things all the time It took me a while to make it through this book I did however enjoy myself and I thought about things that never occurred to me before This book would have wayappeal to linguists and may bore the shit out of people who have 0 background in this sort of subject


  9. Dr. Andrew Higgins Dr. Andrew Higgins says:

    A MUST FOR ALL LOVERS OF LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGE INVENTION It has been an incredible joy and treat to read this book David Peterson is a linguist and the creator of such languages as Dothraki and Valyrian for the HBO series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R Martin s A Song of Ice and Fire series He has also invented languages for Syfy s Defiance and Dominion as well as the language of Shivaisith for the movie Thor 2 The Dark World and most recently Star Crossed and The 100 Peterson is A MUST FOR ALL LOVERS OF LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGE INVENTION It has been an incredible joy and treat to read this book David Peterson is a linguist and the creator of such languages as Dothraki and Valyrian for the HBO series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R Martin s A Song of Ice and Fire series He has also invented languages for Syfy s Defiance and Dominion as well as the language of Shivaisith for the movie Thor 2 The Dark World and most recently Star Crossed and The 100 Peterson is also a co founder of The Language Creation Society which is a group of not so secret language inventors If you are interested in the art of language invention and how language works I urge you to read this book Peterson adapts a very practical and sometime humorous this man does not like onions approach to laying out for the would be language inventor and I know they are out there the sounds, words, and syntax of invented languages using many practical examples and case studies from his and others invented languages He also includes a brilliant chapter on writing systems I very much enjoyed Peterson s descriptions of how his invented languages actually were used and pronounced by the actors on Game of Thrones and the detail he put into these languages as elements of world building This is a must read for all practitioners or want to be practitioners of the Secret and no so Secret Vice and you will learn a lot about how language works as well Highly recommend and Peterson s passion has inspired me to revisit some of my early attempts at language invention


  10. Terence Terence says:

    I might have given this book four stars The first three chapters, Sounds, Words and Evolution, were interesting and contained some useful information I can use in developing my own conlangs The fourth chapter, The Written Word, was of minimal use to me and I skimmed through a lot of it.What I couldn t stand, however, was the writing Peterson continually interrupted himself to make what he clearly thought were amusing asides Since they weren t, it made reading tedious.If you are at a I might have given this book four stars The first three chapters, Sounds, Words and Evolution, were interesting and contained some useful information I can use in developing my own conlangs The fourth chapter, The Written Word, was of minimal use to me and I skimmed through a lot of it.What I couldn t stand, however, was the writing Peterson continually interrupted himself to make what he clearly thought were amusing asides Since they weren t, it made reading tedious.If you are at all interested in constructing languages, then I would recommend this book to you Aside from the style, Peterson clearly presents the building blocks of a language and useful tips on creating one My own interest in conlangs began when I read The Silmarillion way back in 78 and fell in love with the all too small Elvish dictionary that was included When I was around 14, I began developing my own imaginary world, which I still work on to this day and for which I ve created several languages I m a dilettante conlanger so I ve only focused on one language, the dominant tongue of that region of my world most fully realized in my imagination, but I ve constructed the skeletons for a variety of others in an effort to avoid having every place and personal name sound the same


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *