Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones

In our post-Klingon era, Hollywood is increasingly discovering the importance of hiring top-notch linguists to create languages for sci-fi and fantasy films. From a recent New York Times article:

There’s been a sea change in Hollywood. They realize there’s a fan base out there that wants constructed languages, said Matt Pearson, a linguistics professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore. He created Thhtmaa (pronounced tukhh-t-mah), the language of termite-like aliens in the short-lived NBC series Dark Skies.

Game of Thrones, based on the best-selling series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, may be the biggest television showcase for an invented language. The books, which primarily follow feuding kingdoms in the fictional land of Westeros, had a scattering of Dothraki words, but the show’s executive producers wanted a fully formed language.

Several scenes in the first season of Game of Thrones take place entirely in Dothraki with English subtitles. In one episode the shirtless tribal leader Khal Drogo delivered a monologue for two and a half minutes in Dothraki, with its subject-verb-object structure and no copula, or linking verb.

via “In Game of Thrones, a Language to Make the World Feel Real”.

Eric Bakovic on Language Log acknowledges that professional linguists usually look down upon artificial language enthusiasts. But they ought not to dismiss the value of constructed languages (conlangs) too quickly. In his response to the New York Times article, he writes:

I also happen to think that asking the type of question that I believe conlangers must (= should) ask themselves what does it take to construct a language? is probably a great way to get people to think critically, creatively, and scientifically about language; in other words, to comprehend the real subject matter of linguistics.

If Dothraki is intended to make the world of Game of Thrones feel real, it stands to reason that the languages we speak everyday are intended to make our worlds feel real. (And studies of the linguistic and socio-cultural creation of reality bear this out.)

It’s the capacity of language to create a subtle feel to reality that attracts me to the esoteric and geeky world of conlang, asking the question: what language makes a World of Enlightenment or Kingdom of God feel real?

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  1. It’s strange that the most successful planned language – Esperanto doesn’t get a mention here.

    It’s a shame that all the time and energy invested in these fictional languages is not dedicated to Esperanto which has demonstrated its usefulness over many years.

    Esperanto is celebrating its 125th anniversary next year. I’m sure we’ll hear more about that shortly.


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