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|Posted: Tue Dec 13, 2011 10:48 pm Post subject: "Fun" Article Relating to Dothraki Language
At his best friend’s wedding reception on the California coast, David J. Peterson stood to deliver his toast as best man. He held his Champagne glass high and shouted “Hajas!” The 50 guests raised their glasses and chanted “Hajas!” in unison.
The word, which means “be strong” and is pronounced “hah-DZHAS,” has great significance for Mr. Peterson. He invented it, along with 3,250 other words (and counting), in the language he created for the HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” called Dothraki.
Some people build model railroads or re-enact Civil War battles; Mr. Peterson, a 30-year-old who studied linguistics at the University of California, San Diego, is a “conlanger,” a person who constructs new languages. Until recently, this mostly quixotic linguistic pursuit, born out of a passion for words and grammatical structures, lived on little-visited Web sites or in college dissertations.
Today, a desire in Hollywood to infuse fantasy and science-fiction movies, television series and video games with a sense of believability is driving demand for constructed languages, complete with grammatical rules, a written alphabet (hieroglyphics are acceptable) and enough vocabulary for basic conversations.
In “Game of Thrones,” Dothraki-speaking characters greet each other by saying “M’athchomaroon!” (hello) give each other commands like “Azzohi haz khogare” (put down that cask) and occasionally utter sentiments like “Vezh fin saja rhaesheseres vo zigereo adoroon shiqethi!” (the stallion that mounts the world has no need for iron chairs!) that don’t seem to make sense in any language. And this being an HBO show, there’s also a fair bit of “athhilezar” (sex).
“The days of aliens spouting gibberish with no grammatical structure are over,” said Paul R. Frommer, professor emeritus of clinical management communication at the University of Southern California who created Na’vi, the language spoken by the giant blue inhabitants of Pandora in “Avatar.” Disney recently hired Mr. Frommer to develop a Martian language called Barsoomian for “John Carter,” a science-fiction movie to arrive in March.
The shift is slowly transforming the obscure hobby of language construction into a viable, albeit rare, career and engaging followers of fantasies like “Lord of the Rings,” “Game of Thrones” and “Avatar” on a more fanatical level.
At “Game of Thrones” viewing parties in San Francisco, fans rewatched Dothraki scenes to study the language in a workshop-like setting. Last October, a group of Na’vi speakers from half a dozen countries convened in Sonoma County, Calif., for a gathering known as “Teach the Teachers.” Mr. Frommer gave attendants tips on grammar and vocabulary and fielded any questions they had about the language. The rural, wooded setting felt “almost like being on Pandora,” he said. At a question-and-answer session in July that he participated in, at least a dozen attendants rattled off their questions in fluent Na’vi.
“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.
There have been many attempts to create languages, often for specific political effect. In the 1870s, a Polish doctor invented Esperanto, meant to be a simplified international language that would bring world peace. Suzette Haden Elgin created Láaden as a language better suited for expressing women’s points of view. (Láaden has a word, “bala,” that means “I’m angry for a reason but nothing can be done about it.”)
But none of the hundreds of languages created for social reasons developed as ardent a following as those created for movies, television and books, says Arika Okrent, author of “In the Land of Invented Languages.”
“For years people have been trying to engineer better languages and haven’t succeeded as well as the current era of language for entertainment sake alone,” Ms. Okrent said.
The motivation to learn an auxiliary language is not so different from why people pick up French or Italian, she said. “Learning a language, even a natural language, is more of an emotional decision than a practical one. It’s about belonging to a group,” she said.
Richard Littauer, a 23-year-old linguistics graduate student at the Saarland University in Germany, maintains Dothraki.org, complete with an English-Dothraki dictionary and grammar guidelines. “I was raised watching Pocahontas speak fluent English,” Mr. Littauer said. “Linguistic diversity is one of the main ways you feel like you’re in a new culture.”
The watershed moment for invented languages was the creation of a Klingon language by the linguist Marc Okrand for “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (on the original “Star Trek” television series, Klingons spoke mostly English). That led to a Klingon Language Institute (a registered nonprofit), a Klingon version of Monopoly, an official dictionary and a published translation of “Hamlet.” (The Klingon race does not worship in the traditional sense, so instead of Hamlet going to pray, he goes to do calisthenics.)
Klingon, with its throaty, harsh sound, is notoriously tough to pick up. Even the creator has problems. (“I’ll admit, I’m not a very good speaker,” Mr. Okrand said in an interview.) Fewer than 20 people are fully fluent in Klingon, he estimated, though thousands more know enough to get by.
In 2007, Mr. Peterson helped found the Language Creation Society, the first professional organization for people who create languages. He won an open call to create a language for “Game of Thrones.” He submitted a 180-page proposal complete with a dictionary and audio files of spoken Dothraki judged by a double-blind committee of other language creators and finally, by the executive producers. It’s not the first language Mr. Peterson has come up with. Before Dothraki, he invented 12 others. His personal favorites: Zhyler, inspired loosely by Turkish, and Kamakawi, which nods toward Hawaiian.
Dothraki came with its own challenges. Mr. Martin’s books described the Dothraki people as nomadic warriors who live in grass fields and survive mostly on horsemeat.
“First you say, should this word exist at all?” Mr. Peterson said. He decided that the Dothraki, with their long braids, or “jahaki,” wouldn’t have a word for toilet, cellphone or even book since that implies they have a printing press. The Dothraki do however have more than 14 words for horse (including “hrazefishi” for a teeny-tiny horse).
Next, Mr. Peterson tried to establish words that would be native and basic (meaning they are not derived from another Dothraki word), toying with letter combinations and sounds he liked. His favorite sound is “JH” as in “genre,” so he made the word for man in Dothraki mahrazh.
“I said to myself, if I won the right to coin the word “man,” it better be cool,” Mr. Peterson said.
After he amassed a small vocabulary, Mr. Peterson tested out basic grammar. He adored the 18 noun classes in Swahili and the negative verb forms in Estonian, both influences in his created languages. He scribbled sample sentences and added suffixes and prefixes to expand the vocabulary.
He aims to eventually expand Dothraki to around 10,000 words — or about the equivalent of college-level foreign language proficiency. In addition to the Dothraki site, there is an official Na’vi grammar guide run in part by William Annis, a 42-year-old who works in information technology in Madison, Wis. He occasionally consults with Mr. Frommer, Na’vi’s creator.
But as with any language, there is a certain snob appeal built in. Among Dothraki, Na’vi and Klingon speakers, a divide has grown between fans who master the language as a linguistic challenge, and those who pick up a few phrases because they love the mythology.
“There are the language nerds, who just find grammar interesting, and the Na’vi folks, who paint themselves blue and go to conventions,” Mr. Annis said.