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Dothraki - from the fictional world into the real world

Fictional languages of movies and TV shows such as Game of Thrones are more and more finding their way into the real world. Globally, around 170 people speak Dothraki fluently. The language can currently be learned at Harvard University or with apps.

Languages develop over the years, and eventually the differences will be too great to understand each other. In this way, many but not all languages emerged. Dothraki was created in a fictional world and made it into the real world.

Invented languages of TV shows and movies such as the Dothraki language are becoming more and more important. It is made up of around 3800 words and has its own grammar. Today, you can even study Dothraki at Harvard University or learn it with apps.

The producers of Game of Thrones invest a lot of time and effort in order to create a detailed and authentic world with realistic characters. From handmade costumes through to a fictional language that seems real. The TV show has several fictional languages. There are even extensive dialogues in these languages. The Dothraki language is spoken by the nomadic horse-riding people Dothraki, who live in the steppes of the eastern continent Essos.

The language was created by David J. Peterson, a member of the Language Creation Society (LCS), a society specifically built to create fictional languages. When the Dothraki language was developed, Peterson had to meet two requirements. Dothraki had to match the uses already put down in the books and it had to be easily pronounceable and learnable by the actors.

Peterson speaks only English and Spanish, however, in theory he dealt with Arabic, Middle Egyptian through to Swahili. The linguist drew inspiration from several real languages when he developed Dothraki: Russian and Turkish Grammar, French syntax, and verbs based on Estonian form the language structure.

Movie producer David Benioff is excited about it: “The language he developed is phenomenal. It captures the essence of the Dothraki and adds another layer of richness to their world.”

Orthography

Dothraki is a language easy to inflect, which doesn’t have it’s own writing system. The inflectional endings of inflected languages usually express more than one grammatical category and such a language is more closely linked to the root word. Some experts argue that the Arabic script would fit this language well.

Phonology

Dothraki is primarily a spoken language. Peterson explains that Dothraki sounds like Arabic to those that don’t speak Arabic. In reality, its pronunciation is a mix of Arabic and Spanish.

Grammar

Basic word order is subject–verb–object (SVO). Verbs conjugate in infinitive, past, present, future, two imperatives and archaic participle. Nouns divide into two classes, inanimate and animate. They decline in five cases, nominative, accusative, genitive, allative and ablative.

Studying

The show’s success lead to an increasing community that wants to learn Dothraki. Starting next fall semester, you can take the course “The Real Game of Thrones: From modern Myths to Medieval Models“ at Harvard University. The students are to analyze how the show and the books of George R.R. Martin realistically capture and represent the Dark Ages.

At UC Berkeley, a summer course was offered on „The Linguistics of Game of Thrones and the Art of Language Invention“. David J.Peterson taught the students how to invent a realistic fictional language.

Learning with Apps

The Elvish language Sindarin in The Lord of the Rings or Klingon in Star Trek already got many movie and tv show fans to learn. Those who need a summary of all the Dothraki terms and example sentences should download the “Dothraki Companion” (iOS) app or the English-Dothraki (Android) dictionary.

Globally, around 170 people speak Dothraki fluently. More than 460 language fans are regularly active on forum.dothraki.org. You can find additional tips on how to learn the language in the Dothraki wiki. However, knowledge of English is required.

On alugha, you can watch trailers of the Game of Thrones TV show.

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