Speaking Dothraki

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Now  more than ever, it seems like constructed languages have really taken off. Tolkein got the ball rolling with his elvish languages, Sindarin and Quenya, and Klingon has been showing up in some of the strangest places imaginable. Now, the success of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series has fans trying to pick up another fantasy language: Dothraki.

The show is based on author George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. Most of the characters speak English. Not the Dothraki, though- their culture seems to have been modelled after  the Genghis Khan-era Mongols. In the text, there are just enough Dothraki words thrown in to make the scenes feel exotic.

For the TV series, HBO wanted a fully-formed language. So, they hired linguist David Peterson to create one. The Dothraki characters speak in Dothraki, and there are English subtitles.

In a New York Times article, Paul R. Frommer,  the linguist who created Nav’i, declared that “The days of aliens spouting gibberish with no grammatical structure are over.” So we can expect more of these constructed languages in the future, no doubt. The New York Times says that this is due to a “a desire in Hollywood to infuse fantasy and science-fiction movies, television series and video games with a sense of believability,” but it probably goes a little bit deeper than that.

After all, science fiction and fantasy are aimed squarely at geeks. One defining characteristic of a geek is that they love to completely immerse themselves in the things that interest them, whether it be a series of books, a video game or the inner workings of computers. Learning a constructed language gives fans something to fixate on after they’ve memorized and analysed the novels, and keeps them interested while they wait for the next season of the show.  It’s quite simply good business!

Want to learn Dothraki? Here are some helpful resources:

Dothraki.com – David Peterson’s blog.

Dothraki 101 – Basic information and translations from the Game of Thrones blog.

Dothraki Forum on Westeros.org – A great place to practice your Dothraki.