recaps of the top 'ask me anything' interviews from reddit and more...
Keidmil! My name is David J. Peterson, and I'm the language creator from HBO's Game of Thrones, Netflix's The Witcher, Freeform's Motherland: Fort Salem, the CW's The 100, Legendary's Dune, and others. AMA!

Hello again Reddit! I'm /u/dedalvs, and I've got several things going right now:

  • The season premiere of the final season of The 100 airs tonight on the CW at 8/7C. I created the Trigedasleng language spoken by the Grounders on The 100.
  • The season finale of the first season of Motherland: Fort Salem airs tonight on Freeform at 9/8C. I co-created the Méníshè language spoken by the witches with language creator and linguistics professor Jessie Sams (/u/quothalinguist). The show was just picked up for a second season.
  • Jessie and I started a YouTube series called LangTime Studio in which we create a language live on the stream step-by-step in two hour chunks. The thirteenth episode airs tomorrow at 2 p.m. PDT.
  • I've got a book coming out on June 30th entitled Create Your Own Secret Language: Invent Codes, Ciphers, Hidden Messages, and More—A Beginner's Guide from Odd Dot.
  • I've created a Wiktionary-inspired dictionary for all of my languages which has enough critical mass to release. You can find it here:
  • I've also uploaded almost everything I did while working on Game of Thrones for ten years to my work space. You can find it here:
  • I've put up almost all the dialogue I've done on the shows I've worked on in a more digestible format on AO3:
  • More than that, I've also recently lost my four years of premium due to switching from the Alien Blue app, and I am already tired of the ads. This is a desperate ploy to get some gold so I can be rid of the ads for a little while longer. How do you live without it?!?

Other than those projects already mentioned, I've worked as a language creator on Syfy's Defiance, the CW's Star-Crossed, Syfy's Dominion, Marvel's Thor: The Dark World, Legendary's Warcraft, Showtime's Penny Dreadful, MTV's/Spike's The Shannara Chronicles, Marvel's Doctor Strange, NBC's Emerald City, AMC's Into the Badlands, Netflix's Bright, Netflix's Another Life, Netflix's The Christmas Chronicles, Netflix's The Witcher, Legendary's Dune, Netflix's Shadow and Bone (the latter with Christian Thalmann), and a video game called Arena of Valor from Tencent. I'm presently working on the second season of The Witcher, perhaps the tail end of Shadow and Bone, and six projects I can't yet disclose.

Feel free to AMA, but I won't be able to answer anything that's NDA or spoilery. I'll come back to answer questions about 1.5 hours from now (around 1:45 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time).

UPDATE: Okay, I have to go outside and run around with my daughter! Thank you for all the questions! If there are more, I'll answer them later tonight, so feel free to keep asking stuff. Stay grammar! <3 6:07 p.m. PDT

May 20th 2020
interview date

Perhaps a little against the grain on the theme of the questions here, but I've always wondered since I first heard about your work a couple of years back: how did you end up in language creation as a viable career? I'm a current MA student in linguistics who has recently decided to jump ship from academia, and have always wondered how people manage to find their niches in non-academic linguistics jobs.

On a note that might perhaps be more interesting for other folks reading this: I think it's super fun that you've explored a signed conlang – my primary research interest is in sign languages – and I'd be curious to know if there was anything you approached differently with KNSL than with other projects you've worked on.


I left grad. school to teach at a community college (English), and left that because I was earning $18k a year and working 60 hours a week. I left with no plans other than to continue to pursue writing. The Game of Thrones job came out of nowhere, and not a single person in the entire conlang community expected it—or expected that anything like that would ever happen. There was a competition which I won, and then after Game of Thrones started airing, new shows started contacting me directly to work on them. After a bit I was earning enough money to not do anything else.

The whole thing was completely haphazard, and not likely to be repeated in exactly that way. I've been trying to shift focus to help other language creators get work, but it's difficult. Hollywood likes to work with people they know, or people that are near at hand. It's hard for them to go to a group of people who are uniquely qualified and choose one without a guild or something equivalent. That may eventually need to happen, but it's not going to happen now.

Also, it's important to note that I'm trying to help other language creators get jobs—not linguists. A linguist is not a language creator.

I have a lot of fun creating signed languages, and would love to do a full one for a show one day! (Had the opportunity for The Boys but they contacted me way too late—like a month before they were airing.) KNSL was different from a natural signed language, of course, because it had its own thing, but I think the thing that's key for a signed language is to take advantage of the medium. There are things you can do with a signed language you can't with a spoken language, and natural signed languages take advantage of that fact. A created one should as well.


Sunkuriin ye Dawuud!

You used to say that you'd never make a conlang with tones or clicks for a movie, a show or another media involving actors unless you could supervise every take, since you assumed that these sounds would be too difficult for actors to pronounce.

And yet, you recently created Azrán and Méníshè, which are both tonal. Did tones turn out not to be that hard after all, or were you actually there to supervise? And do you think one of your future conlangs could have clicks?


Okay, for Into the Badlands, I just really wanted to do my future tonal Spanish. I'd had it in my head for years that Spanish could turn into a tone language, and Into the Badlands dropped that opportunity into my lap. I couldn't turn it down! That said, I did actually work with Lorraine Toussaint (which was incredibly intimidating, because I was familiar with her solely from her character in Orange Is the New Black).

For Motherland, it's because the show runner really wanted it, given the way the witches' voices are used for their magic. It made sense.

In retrospect, a register tone language isn't that bad. I can't see doing a contour tone language, though. It's too much.


Dune is, according to the book, set more than twenty thousand years into the future, as opposed to something like The 100, set in a relatively near future. Does the depth of time affect how you construct the respective fictional languages in relation to contemporary real languages? And how do you approach something as immensely distant as Dune?


The time depth of the Dune books makes the amount of recognizable Arabic that survived completely (and I mean COMPLETELY) impossible. Utterly. Since that was the case, I was left to simply accept that fact and move on in the direction I thought made the most sense. My hope is that the direction I took will prove satisfactory.


Whenever you watch a show with a made up language, do you find yourself listening to see if it's an actual linguistic system or gibberish? Do you get annoyed when it turns out to be gibberish?


Yeah, it's impossible not to. It's really easy to figure out. Every language has predictable patterns of intonation and repeated elements that show up a lot (the -ed, -s, and -ing suffixes in English, along with words like "the", "a", and "an"). Gibberish tends not to—or has over-repetition in weird spots. It's easy to spot in things like Star Wars (and if Taika Waititi's reading this, please hire me! I have a plan. I want to bring in a fleet of conlangers to do a full language for every alien that appears on screen and has even a background line. I guarantee you it will cost less than 0.5% of your total budget).


A lot of people say DUNE is like “Game of Thrones” in space. How did your work from GoT translate to DUNE, and what was your experience like collaborating with Denis Villeneuve and his team?


I had a couple of video chats with Denis, but otherwise was working through intermediaries and with the art department per usual. The thing I was most impressed by at the outset was the script. The biggest question with Dune is always how it will be adapted, given Jodorowsky and Lynch's versions. I was impressed with how naturally and simply this adaption worked. After I finished reading it, I thought, "Why could no one else do this?" I haven't actually seen any of it, so I'm still looking forward to the visual aspect of it, but overall I was delighted. I was especially delighted that I was given the green light to create a writing system—especially as a few had already been created by the art department. I'm really looking forward to releasing that to the world.


Did the matriarchal society (as opposed to a patriarchal one) have any effect on how you created the Menishe language for Motherland? Did their magic being vocal?


It did, actually. We used the word for "woman" as the basis for the human noun class, which was at least slightly unusual I think. Even more than that is that it was a language for witches specifically, as opposed to humans in general. It's very magic-focused. /u/quothalinguist can add some info as well here, if she's around.


Which media do you think has the most interesting use of a constructed language, regardless of the language itself?


District 9. I thought it was fascinating how they demonstrated an alien language that not only did the humans not use, but could never use, due to the fact that they lacked the appropriate anatomy—and vice versa. And yet, both groups were fluent in the other's language. That was awesome.


Say a writer wants to create a language for her (fantasy/sci-fi/etc) novel. Say she doesn't have the time or knowledge - or talent - to go full on David Peterson. What would be the most important parts to get down? What would be nice-to-have? What should she omit altogether, because it will only get too involved and derail her writing project?


The best thing to do is to hire someone else to work with, and there's a venue for this: The LCS Jobs Board. It's a great place to hire aspiring conlangers who are just as talented!

Also, take a look at this essay I wrote aimed at writers.


If you could change anything about the English language or writing system, what would you change?


I'd add a past participle beed to the language to be used when "be" is used agentively (e.g. "to be a fire fighter", "to be a teacher", etc., so you can say "And so he went out and beed the best teacher he could be" rather than being forced to say either "And so he went out and was the best teacher he could be" or "And so he went out and became the best teacher he could be", both of which are hopelessly awkward and/or inaccurate).


J. R. R. Tolkien was known to have been a reputable language as well. Have you ever drawn inspiration from his work?

Edit: extra a


While I was aware of Tolkien as the author of the Lord of the Rings books, I had no idea he created languages until after I'd already started. I was rather surprised to learn he'd been a language creator, and had created his languages before he wrote the books. It's truly impressive, but he was never really an inspiration, simply because I wasn't aware.


Do you ever feel that the supply of possible ideas for conlangs strikingly different from natural languages will run out?

The reason I ask is that when I was a kid (several decades ago) I read a lot of science fiction short stories that relied on some amazing new science fictional idea for the twist in the tale. But it turned out that the supply of that sort of "Wow!" idea was finite. I don't mean that good science fiction stopped being written, but the era of the story that could be carried by the sheer novelty of its central idea is over. I'm wondering if the same will happen for conlangs.


I don't think we've run out of scifi language premises: they'll simply change as we grow to understand more about language. The same is true of technology. As technology becomes less magical, you'll see fewer premises based on imaginations about older technologies, but new ones will emerge with entirely new premises (Black Mirror is a good example of this).


What's your favourite grounder word from the 100?


I don't really have any favorite words, usually. I did like flapkrasha, the word I came up with for "butterfly". (In general, I love words for "butterfly" in languages. They're always interesting!)


Do you think it would be effective to teach linguistics via conlanging?


I do! It's helpful to be able to try out new concepts rather than simply have them explained or look at examples. Especially with unfamiliar systems like ergativity, it feels different to create an ergative system than it does to read examples on the page.


How many people, in what roles, work with you on creating a new language for a show or film? Have you ever been surprised by the direction any of your created languages have gone after you’ve invented them?


I work alone, unless I work with someone else. I've been able to hire three people to work with me on languages in the past year or so: Jessie Sams (/u/quothalinguist) on Motherland: Fort Salem; Christian Thalmann on Shadow and Bone; and Carl Buck on an undisclosed project. In each of those cases, we worked together to create the language. We'd call each other up on the phone and work on a shared document. In that way, we're both responsible for everything. The only thing I do myself is the recordings (and prepping the translation document).


Does keidmil come from the Irish cead mille failte roth which is 100 thousand welcomes in english always though I heard other stuff like dol blathanna...... Blathanna being the Irish for flowers love to know these were inspired by the Irish language as its kind of dying out here in Ireland sadly.


It does, but I didn't create it. Andrzej Sapkowski, the author the Witcher series, created it (or adapted it) for the language. He coined a lot of the words that are used in the Hen Linge I adapted from his work. He took a lot of vocabulary from Gaelic languages, altering them haphazardly.


While Arabic is a common root for the Fremen language, what other languages played a part in building it and what was the motivation for using them? Spanish is suggested to be a possibility because of Fremen words such as cielago.


I didn't use other natural languages working on *Dune*.


Hey David, 1. How do you make different languages? 2. Do you forget some of the words that you created? 3. Will you be able to have a full conversation with one of the language that you created? 4. Which language that you created is your favorite? 5. Can you say a name in another language or rephrase it in a cooler way? If yes, do it with the name “Aeden”.

Thanks a lot for doing this!!!!

  1. One step at a time.
  2. I'd turn that around: I sometimes remember some of the words I created.
  3. Nope.
  4. Irathient.
  5. Not really. I mean, names are names; they don't change. I could write them in one of the writing systems I created, but I can't really post that here. I love doing stuff in alternate writing systems.

What are some of your favorite obscure languages/families conlangers should look at for inspiration?


My favorite families are Polynesian, Bantu, Semitic, Finno-Ugric, and Eskimo-Aleut, but I'd encourage conlangers to look at any and all languages. Each one has something unique in it.


M'athchomaroon, zhey lekhmovek. Hash yer ezhir ma vojjoroon mela mra shekhikh jalani dei?


*grumble* Making me get out my dictionary... *grumble*

Jadis anhaan, zhey gae'!


Hey David! I'm a big fan, and I hope this doesn't get lost in the pleasant pile of comments.

I love Conlanging, I've been doing it since I was very young, yet only in the past few years have I realized there was such a vibrant community around it. My question is, how do you get dedicated to your project? I have so many different conlang sketches, where I have the phonology and grammar, which are often in decent depth, however, I only make enough words for examples of the different features of the language. I would love to have enough words to translate works into my conlangs (or make religious/cultural texts for my concultures) because its difficult to say you make fictional languages: then have a someone else say to give an example or to show it off, and then to respond with, "Well, I really just make grammar", and then get that confused look. Even beyond that, I have hundreds of unfinished phonologies that I've never done anything with. So if you have any advice, let me know.


Honestly, I'm the asshole that would say, "Please don't make me work through your translations and just show me your grammar." Many conlangers are this way. I consider the grammar and dictionary to be the endpoint. On the latter end of that, I love creating words. I could sit down and coin words all day. It's one of my very favorite parts of conlanging.

And remember, it's no big deal to have a bunch of projects. They're not going anywhere. You can always come back to them later! If you're having trouble working on any of them, it might help to put them all in some world (for a novel, for a D&D campaign, etc.) and create something in that world. It will require you to create more vocabulary, and also give the language a person beyond existing.


Apart from conlanging, what is your favourite aspect of linguistics? And if you were to go into linguistic research, what subject would you pick?


I love phonetics, theoretical morphology, and historical linguistics—specifically grammaticalization. I feel like if I have anything to contribute, it would be to morphology.


Do you have any tips for handling conlanger's block, procrastination or fatigue?

How do you plan out your projects and see them through to completion?

I find that I'm able to come up with a cool idea and sketch but have trouble continuing after the initial steps.


I like juggling multiple projects at the same time, so if you hit a block with one, you can move to the other. It helps keep you from getting burned out or losing inspiration. If you get stuck with one, move on to another project—or another activity (painting, writing, video games). Sometimes your brain needs a break to be able to attack the language from a new angle.

In terms of planning, I don't know if I do...? I just kind of do it, and eventually it's where it needs to be. That's super unhelpful, but it's unfortunately the truth. lol


I know I’m a smidge late, but I do have one question:


As a professional conlanger what’s your best advice for conlangs based on real language trees, and intertwining those that aren’t?


I’ve been super passionate about conlanging for about 17 years, starting my first cypher when I was 5 and my first conlang when I was 8.(22M) My favorite ideas are part of a project set that I’ve been working on for about 3 years now; with 1 functioning conlang and a second and third in the process. Converging isolates and linguistic areas that aren’t close, not as creoles, but as proto-languages for a uniform outcome; varying only by dialect. I’ve stumbled upon something. It’s all just Standard European. Even when I mix in Native American into the Euro-sprachbund, it’s still just English, Spanish, Greek, Latin, or Finnish, with a mask on; using different words, or it becomes an isolated language with no directly present links to any language family tree.



TL;dr: Basically, I’m making English, but based on different areas of the world. It all feels too similar even when making A-priori decisions/additions. How could I “spice it up”, but not create a language isolate, nor an already-existing language?


First, remember that any language you create is going to have things in common with English, because there are only so many ways languages can vary. It's okay! Your language will have things in common with every language. Be sure to focus on two things:

  1. How languages divide up arguments and structure. This is where you'll see English influence where you might not want it. For example, often conlangers will create a verb that means "eat" which will be optionally transitive. This is what happens in English (e.g. "I'm eating bread" vs. "I'm eating"). It doesn't happen in every language. Furthermore, not all languages will necessarily have an equivalent word. Some may conflate "eat" and "drink". Others may have different words for "eat" depending on what's being eaten (something you bite into, something you chew more, something crunchy, etc.). When you sit down to create a verb, really ask yourself, "Do I want this verb to encode all of this, or do I want to encode something different for this language?"
  2. How your words divide up the lexicon. It's one thing to say that "turtle" in your language will instead by "hard lizard". That's cool! But you might also consider altering what counts as a turtle or a lizard. Maybe the word for "fox" is built off the word for "cat", and foxes are considered (lexically speaking) a type of cat. Maybe there is no separate word for "door". Maybe there's just a word used for windows and doors, and you simply talk about the window you get into the house through, and the window you look out of when you're in the house (i.e. it's just a word for "opening").

This type of stuff takes time, and so it's difficult to do if you have another goal in mind (e.g. "My goal with this language is to translate this for this project") because the thing you really want to do is the thing your'e going to do with the language when it's done. The more you do it, though, the more you'll feel like the stuff in your language exists for reasons you came up with yourself. And so long as you came upon it organically, it doesn't matter if it's the same as any other language. It won't be the same for the same reasons!


Ergative or accusative?


I've done both. One of my favorites, actually, is David Bell's split-ergative system in ámman îar. I did a write up on it here.


Which of the actors in Dune learned the correct pronunciation of the lines in fremen language the fastest?


You know I only worked with Javier Bardem, and that was at the earliest stage. I'll be looking forward to see their performance as much as anyone else!


Are you on set to make sure the actors “don’t mess up”? and how long does it usually take for the actors to be able to comfortably speak their lines?


Usually not. When I am, it goes better. One of the best performances I saw was on Bright, where I was on set nearly every single day, and worked with actors beforehand.

Incidentally, everyone involved loved working on Bright. We're still hoping for a sequel just so we can all get together again.


Will we hear the secret humming language between Count Fenring and his wife in Dune?


Can't say.


How's working with Denis Villeneuve 👁️


Really positive experience! 10/10 would do again.


What is the very best cheese?


Costco sells this fancy cheese platter, where you can unwrap it and lay it down and it looks like a prepared cheese board you'd see at a fancy party. One of those cheeses has a fine dusting of herbs, and Extraordinary. That is the best cheese I've seen (though, admittedly, I didn't spend enough time in that cheese shop in London).


Why do verbs be like that?


Because humans can't chill! Like, why does it matter if we did something in the past, the present, or the future, or if it's ongoing or finished, or who did it to whom? Why can't we be like?



I watch Deadwood.

Cool. I eat pizza.

Cool. We go to the park.



What do you remember about the first languages you worked on, even as a kid?


I never had any interest in language until I was 17, and didn't start creating languages until college. I wrote up an essay on my first language here. It's awful, and I get into why in that essay. To give you a hint, though, the name of the language, Megdevi, comes from my girlfriend at the time's name (Megan) plus my name (David).


Hey David, this isn’t a question but I want to show you this meme about linguistics geeks who create writing systems.




How would you rate English as a language?

And thoughts on how does it compare to languages like Spanish, German and Chinese.

Also, in a world where Brits were not so imperialistic, which or what kindof language would have become globally shared. Your opinions


I was raised with English and Spanish, and English is my dominant language. I doubt I'll ever know any language as well as I do English. It's pretty cool.

I don't really compare languages in that way. They're all great. Except for Dutch.

If you redid the history of the world, I mean it depends on which colonies blew up, I guess. French, Dutch, Spanish, Arabic—they all had a shot to be English if English weren't English. My personal favorite language is Hawaiian, so it'd be cool to imagine a world where Hawaiian was the default universal auxiliary language.

(Btw, just kidding Dutch speakers. You're all right.)


What part of a language do you work on first when you just start to create it? Also, what is the most difficult part about creating a new language?


For a spoken language, I start with the phonology, but the difficult (and most important part) of the language is the verbs.


I really enjoyed your appearance on the Allusionist podcast. You spoke about the word khaleesi and the problems with it's pronunciation in dothraki vs. the way English speakers pronounce. Can you tell us about some other creative bodging you've had to do to make language fit with the source material you used?


Most of it is with names that are incongruous. One of the silliest thing is the name Alak in Defiance. I created the language specifically so that it would be pronounced in the usual way (similar to Alec), and then they went and made a point of saying a-LAK, which makes no sense given the Castithan language source of the name. lol How does this always happen when they make a point of asking me? Same thing happened with Wanheda. They asked me how to pronounce it and asked me to do an MP3 of it, and then they proceeded to pronounce it completely wrong.


Will we Dune fans who have an interest in niche Caucasian linguistics have any hope of seeing Chakobsa on the big screen?


I'm afraid there's nothing of the Caucasus in Dune. :( My guess is Frank Herbert had absolutely no idea that "Chakobsa" was used for a Caucasian language (or if he did, he just wanted the name, not the linguistic background, which is clearly all Arabic—or that children's rhyme he found in that book he lifted for the "Ekkeri-akairi" part).


What are your favorite fictional languages created by other people, and why?


Check out my Smiley Awards.


What got you into wanting to being a linguist who create languages?


I've been interested in linguistics and language creation for almost the same amount of time. They were always different sides of the same coin to me.


Goddamnit I missed another incredible AMA! Okay no need to answer but I have always been curious about your thoughts on Tolkien and how he crafted his languages versus yourself. For example the intense wordplay in the four hobbits names - if you haven't seen it, I will copy below.


"In Westron, hobbits are actually called “kuduk,” which means “hole-dweller,” so for an English translation, Tolkien called them “hobbits” which is a modernization of the Old English word “holbytla” which comes from “Hol” (hole) and “Bytla”(builder).  “Maura” is a Westron name which means “Wise.” Weirdly enough, “Frodo” is an actual Proto-Germanic name that actual people used to have and it means the same thing.  “Banazîr” is Westron for “half-wise, or simple.” In Proto Germanic, the prefix “Sam” means half, and wise is obviously a word we still use.  “Razanur” means “Traveler” or “Stranger” which is also the meaning of the word “Peregrin(e)” This one is a twofer because  “Razar” means “a small red apple” and in English so does “Pippin.” “Kalimac” apparently is a meaningless name in Westron, but the shortened form “Kali” means “happy,” so Jirt decided his nickname would be “Merry” and chose the really obscure ancient Celtic name “Meriodoc” to match. "

Sorry for the very long quote but it just awes me how deliberate this was. What I want to know is do you use the same methodology, or a different one entirely? Is your focus on the etymology, on the culture, on the sounds? For example, Elvish was deliberately using "a", "e", "i" sounds, and Black Speech uses "u" and "o" sounds almost exclusively (massive oversimplification but I'm sure you can see what I mean). The mouth shapes and sounds are fluid and light in one, and more guttural in the other. So there are so many influences in his language-building. What were your primary influences or inspirations?

One of the only criticisms I've seen for your work is that Tolkien's language can be built upon because of the foundational aspects of the languages, and that same person didnt see the same foundations in your own work (mostly in terms of roots). I wish I had a source but it's been far too long, years even since I saw it. But would you address these claims as being unfair? Do you have any knowledge you would add?

Are there any little tips or tricks you would want to show us, any easter eggs in your languages?

It bothers me that you wont answer this because I missed the AMA, but I had to get it off of my chest. I wish I had seen this earlier because it's been on my mind for so long. If you do read this, please know I'm a huge admirer of your work!


Tolkien's work was good, for being created essentially in isolation. Created today, it wouldn't hold up as well. Too many "incidental" similarities in words from our world in languages that ought to be a priori (i.e. not intentionally derived from Earth languages). He cared very deeply about phonaesthetics, but those phonaesthetics are grounded in Western languages, so not as universal as Western readers seem to think—or as he seemed to think. Tolkien pioneered the historical method, which is what is naturalistic conlangers now do today regularly. We're a lot better now. He was good at semantic evolution and was able to employ sound changes, but I haven't seen evidence of his facility with grammatical evolution (something that would have been very poorly understood in his time).

However, there is both the time period to consider, and the fact that Tolkien had no peers. There's no one he knew that could give him any serious critique of his work. There were no others he could learn from. Seriously, his only contemporaries were Esperantists or Esperanto-detractors who were in favor of another universal auxlang. The entire aim of universal auxiliary conlangers or proponents of such conlangs is completely antithetical to what Tolkien was doing, and at the time he would have had no allies. He would have been a complete outlier in the conlang community, such as it was. Through that lens, what he did was nothing less than extraordinary.

I can't make heads or tails of the criticism you refer to, so I suppose I'd need to see it first. Even so, there are few people whose criticism I'd pay much mind to, and most of those are known to me personally. That is, I respect the criticism of those whose conlang work I respect. Outside that, I'd doubt the critic had enough understanding of what they were looking at to offer an informed opinion.


How do you decide what words to add to a language? Do you have a basic list or wait until you get lines or have some other method?


I start off with some basic words, usually, to help me get to the point where I have reliable derivational strategies at hand, and then I start building on from there. It's always a decision whether a word will be basic or not (i.e. whether it will go back to time immemorial or will be derived from something else), but usually there are some very basic words you can rely on (sun, blood, bone, water, etc.).

  1. Do you find that most of your work in language creation is conceptual (big picture) kind of stuff, or small-scale, working out details?
  2. What is the most interesting grammatical parameter or feature that you have put into a language?

  1. I'm not sure it's either to the exclusion of the other. Most of the work I end up doing in language creation is translation.
  2. I'm not sure if I could pick one... The auxiliary system I came up with for Irathient is quite unique. I guess that one.

Hi David! You do some amazing work--I've followed your work for a while, and I've been conlanging for my own writing for ages. I'm also in grad school at the moment for writing. (I also had a really nice rejection from you last-year-ish when you had an open call for language constructors to work with you, which was really heartening--so thank you for that!)

My question is this: I've started doing these one-off classes on constructing languages for English and writing students. They started out as a thing I did with a club I was running, and ended up teaching to some of my fellow Masters' students a two-hour crash course that left a couple of them a little... confused.

Do you have any experience with teaching language construction? And if so--do you have any advice for how to approach it in these short situations? I'm gonna be looking for professor work soon and I'd love to be able to pull this out as a sort of unique sample class, but it needs polishing.


If you want, you can see all the slides for the summer conlang course I taught at Berkeley here. There are definitely things I'd do differently (like not having only six weeks), but maybe they'll be helpful. I do have thoughts, but it's probably too long for a comment. Make sure they're doing stuff as opposed to just listening to lecture. Struggling with it on their own will help.


Favorite phoneme?




Why is Klingon superior to all your mamby pamby pretend languages?


It has to be big and amazing and strike fear into the heart of the enemies of its speakers, because its speakers are such wimpy, whiny little babies compared to the superior Dothraki.


When charting out the content for a language, specifically inflection tables, vocabulary, things like animacy hierarchies if being used, what kind of software would you recommend using? Do you just keep everything in a bunch of word files, or maybe excel files? Have you used Polyglot?
EDIT: Omni to poly


I use a Pages doc (native Apple version of Word) and a notebook. I have profitably used Mark Rosenfelder's Sound Change Applier, but that's mostly done as a way to make sure I remember everything before I get all the sound changes down in my head. Before that I used one that was custom made for me in the Filemaker Pro environment (which no longer exists). Polyglot is, hands down, the most promising piece of conlanging software I have ever seen. It's not quite to a point where I would switch to it, but I'm keeping an eye on it. It's amazing.


What advice do you have for hobby conlangers who are interested in getting paid gigs?


Keep working on your craft and keep an eye on job postings on the internet. It's really all you can do right now.


What is your favorite book and why is it Lord of the Rings?


I've never read it. Among my favorites are Catch-22, The Great Gatsby, Dead Souls, The Manuscript Found at Saragossa, and anything by Virginia Woolf.


Which trends in conlanging should just die?


Euroclones... I thought we'd had done with them in the early 00s.

Also, most of the trends on /r/conlangs. If you have a language that isn't spoken in our universe, who the hell cares how you'd say the names of European countries in your language? So dumb. It's like, "You created your own language? How do you say 'Pokémon'? How do you say 'McDonald's'? How do you say 'Starbucks'?" Makes me want to sleep...


What did you think of the way existing words (JaI from Celtic languages) were borrowed for names of people and places etc in the Witcher books? Wasn’t it weird that someone was named “Listen Tired”?


The most I'll say is I would have advised the author differently.


What's the most difficult part for you when learning a foreign language (assuming you've tried learning a foreign language before)?


Practice. That's all. I need lots and lots of practice to feel comfortable.


How did you personally feel about Game of Thrones season 8?


FYI I answered this one elsewhere.


Did you do Defiance? Or was that someone else? I really like Defiance and even though it for cancelled I'm really happy with how they ended it.


I did work on Defiance, and I really, really wanted—and even expected—a fourth season. I talked about this elsewhere here, but that was my most cherished professional experience to date.


When you construct a language, do you ever play around with non-grammatical aspects such as speech rate, default pitch, prosody, or oral posture? It seems like most constructed languages rely heavy on sound inventory and grammar, but I feel like that misses a lot of the aspects that give actual languages their sound and vibe.


For my own languages? Of course. For languages for TV/films? Not often. I'm rarely on set, and rarely work with the actors in person. Something like this requires buy in from the entire production and constant support. Nothing like this is going to happen unless it comes directly from the creator of the show or the film's director.


What's the best way to cook onions?


Via the garbage disposal.


How do you justify the weird spelling of things in the 100 for words we can recognise. Like instead of ‘sky-crew’ you spell it ‘skaikru,’ when none of the grounders are ever seen to be using written language?


The written form of the language is for the actors. It doesn't have any reality in the series. Just like Dothraki. The Dothraki language was never supposed to be written down in the show, but it would be silly to not write it down because of that. After all, we live in the real world, and in the real world we find it convenient to read stuff, as opposed to relying strictly on audio recordings.

The romanization I use for Trigedasleng is like other romanizations I devise: It's more or less 100% phonetic, so that when an actor looks at it, they know exactly how it's to be pronounced. If I ever had the opportunity to create a writing system for Trigedasleng, I would have had to do some more study into the period in between the show and the nuclear holocaust to figure out something that made sense. The opportunity never arose, though. I was rather displeased to see in one episode a couple seasons ago that the word "Trikru" had been written on something like a chalkboard in a scene where Skaikru folks were making plans, because the spelling "Trikru" should have no currency in that universe. I don't see any reason why Skaikru people wouldn't have spelled that "Tree Crew". But I wasn't consulted on that.


How does it feel when one of the shows you've worked on end? Now that nobody will speak it on air, does it feel a little like language death?


I feel nothing different in terms of the language, because what I want from my languages if for them to exist and to continue working with and building on them, and that's something I can continue to do whether the show is on the air or not. However, I do feel sad when certain shows go off the air. The show I miss the most is Defiance. That was my best experience as a language creator (second best being Bright), and I absolutely thought we were going to get a fourth season. It broke my heart that we didn't—for a lot of us. I would've gone back to the set for the season 3 wrap party if I'd known. If there's any show I would've wanted six seasons and a movie for, it's that show.


What are your thoughts on the circular language in Arrival?


I saw Arrival on a plane, and I remember laughing out loud at the scene where the aliens start shooting a bunch of circles out, as if they were squirting out the rest of their language. lol "The language has no beginning or end, so let's do it in circles!" lmao Quaint.


Did you have any feelings about the way the 100 went, with Trigedasleng playing a much less pivotal role in Season 6 (and presumably Season 7)?


I have immense gratitude to Jason and the writers for the continuing relevance of Trigedasleng. Honestly, the language could have been all but eliminated from the show starting in season 4. The writers bent over backwards to make sure that there was someone there to speak Trig. somewhere through each succeeding season—and that absolutely includes season 7. They didn't have to do that. I had an option every year. They were never required to use my services—in fact, it would have both saved them money and simplified things plotwise to not have to worry about it. But they didn't. They made it a point to include me, and I am absolutely grateful for it.

I know the impression that fans get is different, because you see Trig. getting used less in places (though there are big Trig. episodes in each of the last three seasons), but really consider how easy it would have been to write it off entirely! The writers were big advocates for me, and made me a place, no matter what.


Have you ever put alot of effort into creating a language, only for it to barely be used?


I created two full languages for a show that never aired. It was passed on by TNT and Hulu.

Oh, I also created a language for season 6 of Game of Thrones that was cut, and then I was going to use that same language in one of the Game of Thrones prequels, and they canceled that prequel! The poor Children of the Forest... Fated to speak English forever. (I also created an Andal language for that prequel that will never be heard.)

Edit: This was a good question! I'm not sure why it was downvoted.


How far does the Islamic language go in Dune? Does it mention hajj, Mahdi or Jihad?


There is no Islamic language. In the Dune books, the Arabic language is used in, being honest, rather unrealistic and at least semi-problematic ways. I did my best with it for the film.


How did you prepare for your work on Legendary's Dune?


I don't remember anymore... When was that? I think it was the fall of some year. Was it 2018? I know I had a lot of other things going on at the time. It was a good time.


I actually found out about your work through your credit in John Q’s Ithkuil music project (probably the strangest way anyone’s discovered you). How was it working on that and have you gotten any inspiration from his work? Also how did you pronounce the language so well?


Ha! Wild. John and I are good friends, and we both share an affinity for progressive rock. I loved his idea to create Ithkuil lyrics for music, but man, let me tell you, it is tough. I greatly appreciate that you say I pronounce the language well. A lot of swearing happens as I'm trying to record it. Then when I'm finally done and send it to John, he says I got it about 90% right, but he uses several different takes to get it all pronounced correctly. Ithkuil is quite difficult to pronounce, but also quite difficult to sing. I find it incredibly difficult to sing ejectives, as it requires a complete stop of the flow of air at a greater interval than a regular stop. I also found it quite difficult to maintain the quality of the vowels. In ordinary singing, it's usual to relax the quality of vowels in certain circumstances (hence why you hear "babay" in a lot of rock songs rather than "baby"). That's absolutely forbidden for Ithkuil, which makes it incredibly difficult to sing in a natural way.

Ithkuil didn't have much of an influence on my languages, because it's quite a different type of language from the ones I'm usually tasked with creating. Honestly, I wouldn't try to tackle the project that John did, because I'm pretty satisfied he's come as close to realizing his goal as anyone could. At present he's doing another major revision of the language, and it stands to be even better than the original. I am definitely envious of his meticulousness and his ability to fulfill his longterm goals. I'd like to take inspiration from that, but I know I'm not equal to it.


How did you deal with the arabic influences in Dune when working on it?


I answered this one elsewhere.


I have heard a lot of your languages! It drives me absolutely insane when a "language" is just a letter swap of English, so I always appreciate stuff like yours when it shows up.

How long does it usually take you to craft a new one? I assume you have a set list of base words that you make new words for first, and then get into the more specific or esoteric stuff later. Like place names for that particular world and stuff like that. Has it gotten easier with time? Like a checklist that you have that you just run down to make sure you have all the parts of speech covered so you can actually create grammar?

I've been writing a tabletop RPG for the past 3.5 years and created my own language (wrote a program to help with it since it ain't no simple letter swap) so I can fully appreciate the effort that goes into creating a language.


For shows and stuff, it takes however long I'm given, unfortunately. I'd love to spend at least six months on a language to ensure its quality, but I rarely get that. I usually get 2-3 months. I don't have a checklist or a set of base words. I do have a nice dictionary template that I modify in a unique way for every language. I've streamlined the non-creative aspects of it, but the creative part still takes the same amount of effort.


You translated a tattoo for me on Tumblr a few years ago, into high Valyrian, it was the coolest fricken thing that's ever happened to me. What's the coolest thing that's happened to you?


When I was invited to speak at Life Is Beautiful and it came with free backstages passes to the concert festival there. The Flaming Lips, Phantogram, Foo Fighters, Kanye West... Absolutely wild. Flaming Lips work hard af backstage.


How much does the writing system change from language to language? Do you always stick with Latin or Latin related characters? Do you think the way people write influences the way they talk?


There are two different types of writing systems that a language may employ:

  1. A romanization is a way to write the language using the Roman alphabet. For example, tabemashita is a way of writing the Japanese word 食べました.
  2. An orthography is a unique way of writing a language that may include a different set of glyphs, and a different spelling system.

For 1, I try as nearly as possible to use the same romanization system from show to show for my own sake (so I don't have to remember a bunch of different systems). There's no reason for a romanization system to be fancy, as it's only a tool. For 2, I try to vary styles as much as I can and create something unique whenever I'm given the opportunity to create a writing system. That part's a lot of fun!


A lot of terminology in dune traces back to Arabic and Hebrew among others. Did you take influence from those languages when developing one for dune? What’s the thought process behind that? How do you figure out what’s taking influence and what’s copying?


I responded to this question in depth elsewhere.


Do you typically create a full dictionary before we ever hear a word spoken onscreen or does the vocabulary expand to meet the demands of the script?


Both. I try to anticipate what vocabulary I'll need, but you can never predict every word you'll need. I think the only time I never needed to create a new word was season 2 of Game of Thrones (not as much translation, and Dothraki was pretty beefy from the get go). The goal is to have as much vocabulary completed as I can before production starts.


What are the most interesting or novel conlang projects you are aware of? What excites you the most?

What do you think of theoretical syntax?


I have a list of conlangs I love here. That's a good place to start. One of my favorites that was never fully developed (or at least not fully documented on the webs) is Elephant's Memory by by Timothy Ingen Housz. What an extraordinary concept and gorgeous execution! I wish that language could have been fully documented.

I don't spend any time thinking about theoretical syntax, and I think my life is better for it. If it amuses theoretical syntacticians, more power to them, but at this point I think theoretical syntax has discovered more about theoretical syntax than it has about language.


Have you ever heard language that you didn't create and try to decode it? Ever Successful?


Yeah, I tried once with the language Leia speaks as a bounty hunter in Return of the Jedi, and realized it was just gibberish. :(


Have you watched conlang's critic video on dothraki? What did you think about it?


I haven't. I think it's a great thing that the Conlang Critic exists, though think it's a bit embarrassing that he can call himself the conlang critic accurately. Imagine if there was only one person that reviewed movies! It'd be neat if there was a larger pool of conlang critics, but I suppose we're a ways off from that. Anyway, I'm of course aware that the video exists, and I'm delighted that he decided to review it, but I rather not be involved or have an opinion there, because I'd rather he continue his work uninhibited, without having to worry what an individual creator thinks of his opinions.


I’ve been working on a fictional sci-fi/fantasy novel with sprinkles of anime-like content set on a distant planet with no humans in it. Been working on this for 4 years now and I’m approaching the ending soon. Possibly another year or so before I finish. I’ve been dreading finishing because I know I will have to go back through the entire text and rework/edit the names and labeling of certain animals, planets, places and personal identities. For them to all have a common connection, I can’t simply just choose whatever names sound cool to me. There has to be some sort of cultural/linguistic consistency. I guess my question is, where would you generally start? Creating the alphabet?


An alphabet isn't really relevant, I'm guessing. Write it so that readers know how to pronounce it. For the names, though, let me recommend this short essay. It describes how to create a naming language, which is kind of a mini-conlang just for naming consistency. (Let me also recommend my essay on naming. It's less of a how to than the first, but more informative about what underlies the choices you make.)


I just want to say I love creating languages too.

Do you have any features that may be uncommon in natural languages, but you happen to use a lot, or at least more than average, when creating languages?


That's a really good question. I suspect I do, but I wouldn't know it. I'd be interested to find out. I think it require some study from others—someone else to point out, "Hey, this thing you do a lot is really weird..." I hope someone does that after I'm dead. I don't want to hear about all the mistakes I made. lol


were you as disappointed with the last season(s) of Game of Thrones as the fans were?


I didn't see what the big deal was. The quality was about the same as seasons 4-7. I was delighted that what I wanted to happen (and what I guessed would happen) actually happened—that the Iron Throne would be destroyed (I am a proud member of /r/NobodyWinsTheThrone/, and we won the competition). I also called that Arya would survive, and then discover she couldn't return to her normal family life, and so would join an exploring crew to explore the world (was very pleased by that!). I was absolutely delighted by what happened with Jon: Save the kingdom and potentially the world, and go to the Wall for your troubles. That was stellar!

In general, though, I don't think I was as invested in the show as a show enough to have any kind of a reaction beyond, "Ah. That's what happens."


You mentioned in another answer that you're rarely on set, with the actors. Do you regret this, or do you sometimes wish it would be different, so you could see your creations come to life?

Were there any actors on GoT or Witcher that struggled with the languages? And on the other end, GoT/Witcher actors that worked exceptionally well with your languages?

Thanks in advance!


Frankly, in the beginning I was insulted that I was not invited to be on set every single day. Having done this for ten years now, I understand how rare that is. While I'm probably now in a better position to negotiate for that, I no longer want it. I have a four year old and I don't want to be away from home for ages. It was tough enough doing 8-16 hour days on Bright which shot right near my home in LA. Sometimes good enough is good enough. As long as what I'm sending is up to my standards, I'm satisfied.


Are you excited for Dune's release?


I am, but I have to admit the excited is a bit muted by Covid. I'm wondering if there will still be a premiere... I know December is a long way off, but a lot of people in the US are behaving rather stupidly. I suffered with asthma for 16 years, and even though I've kicked it, I don't like my odds if I catch Covid-19. I'd rather avoid it. I worry about what I personally what I will do if everything is opened up but there's no universal testing and no vaccine. I would hate to not see it in the theater, but, I mean, a theater? With that many people?

It's so dumb that this factors into it. Ask me three months ago, and I'll give you an unequivocal, enthusiastic YES, but now...


What are your thoughts on an English spelling reform?


Thanks for doing this, I've always had an interest in languages and I have greatly enjoyed several of the projects you've worked on in no small part due to your work (Valyrian might be my favorite constructed language.)

My question is, is there a language you have actively expanded on beyond the parameters of the original assignment? For instance, have you continued the development of the GoT languages simply for fun, or attempted to expanded on Sindarian or Quenya or other conlangs from past authors?


All of them! I continue working on all my languages. I created a word for Sondiv, the language from Star-Crossed, a month or so ago. It doesn't matter to me if the languages are still used on a show or not. I still love them.


Do you speak Klingon? If so was it helpful?


I never learned it to fluency, but I did learn a lot about it. Marc Okrand is a good friend of mine. We actually had plans to meet up again this March before Covid. :(


Do you think a conlang would be useful as a military code? I mean, if the grammar and vocabulary is top secret, do you still think the conlang would hold up or would it collapse under scrutiny of things like pattern recognition, phonological similarity between words and phrases, etc.


I think it would've been incredibly deflating if after Turing's machine finally worked they discovered it didn't resolve to German but a conlang they now needed to figure out.

That said, the reason they do things like have codes like that is the susceptibility of a code isn't necessarily the code and how easy it is to crack: it's the key and how secure it is. With a conlang, you'll need people who are fluent, so you'll need to teach it. One of the reason the Windtalkers were so successful is they already spoke the language, and there wasn't a lot of information about those language on a global scale at that time. With a conlang, you'd need at least two people to learn it, and if it's difficult, that may take time. Now the code depends on the security of those two individuals. So I'm not sure the extra effort and time would lead to a worthwhile amount of extra security. An interesting question, though.


Do you plan on making more youtube videos in the Art of Language Invention series?


Yes. 100%. Not now, though. Covid-19 has brought many challenges, and doing an AoLI video is very difficult now—especially as I have other work to do. But, I promise you, the series is not done.


hello! i loved your book “the art of language creation,” it got me into conlanging! i wonder, how did you get into it? what sort of things did you pursue to become a professional conlang maker?


I came to conlanging via language study and linguistics. I was taking a bunch of languages (including a semester in Esperanto) as a freshman at UC Berkeley, and then I took an introductory linguistics class, and it all fell into place. I considered it (both linguistics and language creation) a hobby, but it was so much fun, I kept up with it. It's been 20 years now. :)


Hey david I hope this isn't too late, what is the process like for making a language for a show? How much do you get paid. Do they tell you what they want for the show and you go off of what they say or what? I'm a world builder myself but am absolutely horrible at making conlangs. All I do is make portmanteaus out if other languages words. If I hired you for a show and told you i wanted a language that was primarily based off Greek but had the romance and sleekness and fanciness of the french language how would you go about that?


I'd probably ask what world it was in, and if actual Greek speakers had some undue influence on the speakers of that language, and then try to convince you that you probably want an a priori language not connected to any Earth language that reminded you of the languages you mentioned in certain specific ways. You know there are always conlangers looking to work with authors. A great place to find them is the LCS Jobs Board. Not saying you'd need that here, but just mentioning.


How do you find the balance between linguistic nerdiness like applying this or that new super cool supercomplex theory of language and actually getting things done before the deadline?


Most of the time now I have a pretty clear idea what I want to do, so I don't have the urge to add things simply for the sake of adding them. This is a phase that most conlangers will pass out of.


With House of the Dragon being Targaryen-based - and thus loosely Valyrian-related - would it be fair to say that there’s likely to be some High Valyrian lines in the show?


If there are, they won't have been written/translated by me. :(


Did it annoy you to hear the /kh/ in Khal pronounced as [k] instead of [x]? And did the inconsistent pronunciations of Rs in words like dracarys drive you crazy?


It did a lot at first, but I came to accept it. It's my job to push for as much authenticity as possible, and it's their job to make a show/movie. They could've had all the Dothraki speak English—or grunt. You push for the best, but accept that what you get is better than what others got in the past. It's progress.


Everyone seems to be asking language-related questions, so I'm gonna ask something different: do you drink coffee, and if so, how do you like your coffee prepared?


You know, I'm glad you asked that question. In general, I never drink caffeine, including soda—never have. When these blended frappuccino things came out, though, I couldn't resist, as I love coffee flavor, in light amounts. So every now and then I'll have a blended coffee drink, like a java chip frappuccino from Starbucks. If I get too much caffeine, though, my body goes nuts. In one instance in particular I got an iced coffee from the student cafe at Berkeley while I was teaching a summer course there. After about 20 or so minutes, I found myself unable to stop pondering the fact that at some point in time, every single person on Earth was going to be dead, the Earth itself would be destroyed, and likely all intelligent life in the universe would be wiped out, and so nothing at all mattered. The feeling went away when the caffeine wore off. Since then, I've tried to stay away from it.


Hey! I have a question related to conlanging. When you apply sound changes to your proto-language, do you exclusively use sound changes that have already happened, or just ones that seem plausible? And what exactly deems a sound shift plausible?


This is a good question that deserves a longer response, but here's the short one. I studied phonetics under John Ohala, who was a firm proponent of the acoustic nature of sound change. His work was quite influential on me, and I use that as a guide when developing sound changes. Many of the sound changes I've used have occurred in other natural languages, but there may be others that haven't. It's not really important whether it has or hasn't occurred, though. It's more important that it plausibly could, based on the principles I've set out. Provided those principles are accurate, the novel sound changes I come up with should be realistic. It's definitely speculative, though, and once we learn more, it may turn out that I'm wrong—and that's fine! Then it'll be interesting to look back on—like reading science fiction from the 19th century and seeing what they got right and what they got hilariously wrong.


Rytsas Davidys! Hen vikio bardukȳrto aōho boto tolvio syt kirimvose avy ȳdran! It was truly exciting to find out all the material which you released amidst the quarantine! Now you have created something even larger! Karāje iksā! I hope you'll continue with the same success! ^ Will you ever create the Valyrian glyph writing now that GOT is done? Were you approached for any spin-offs, especially for the House of the Dragon?


Unless I die early and unexpectedly, I promise to create a writing system for High Valyrian.

I was approached by the Valyrian prequel that was canceled. I was not approached by the Valyrian prequel that's moving forward. (There were two Valyrian prequels.)


JJyi! (that's "hey" in my conlang)

Is there anything you wish more conlangers would do/consider? Is it analytic langs? sign languages? Pragmatics? Something else?

Thank you for doing this!


Orthography! If I see another conlang using the word "orthography" when they mean "romanization" I will look up at the calendar and call it [INSERT TODAY'S DATE], since that is literally all I see everyday.


Ah David Peterson! First of all, congrats on being the go to guy for conlangs now! Your work is inspiring.

Secondly, what language family is your personal favourite?

Do you also have a language family that you think is vastly under researched?

Have you ever thought of including the khoisan languages into your works? Including the infamous Taa or ǃXóõ thought to have the most phonemes of any known language. I was hoping to write a book with characters that spoke such languages though I'll likely have to do a lot of research haha

Anyway, understand if you never get to see this but last question is would you ever consider streaming or having a bit more of an online presence as I believe there would be quite a bit of interest!


My favorite family is Polynesian, but there's tons and tons that are under researched. There's a lot of work yet to be done, and not much time to do it, as we're losing languages at a high clip. I generally don't include natural languages in a conlang unless they're supposed to be there (e.g. I'm creating a future version of some language, or a creole of two or three existing languages, etc.). I'd rather not use a language and have it pretend to be another.


Hi David hope you are well.

I was wondering whether, had the GOT series gone in a different direction/spin off series that focused more on the daughter languages of High Valyrian and you had the opportunity to flesh those out like HV, what directions would you have taken? By that I mean, did you have any idea already how you would change the grammars of the daughter languages, different sound changes etc?

I know you partly did this for the series but wondering whether you had plans to go further or what you might have done?


I didn’t have concrete plans, but I had sketched out the full tree to determine which languages branched off when. With Braavosi, I did plan to lean into the long vowels and geminates, but I hadn’t gotten as far as trying to sketch out noun or verb paradigms. That was the only one I had any initial musings about. I still think it would be cool to sketch out those languages—perhaps for some spinoff or some later work years down the line. Maybe not even for me! But yes, I think it would be a lot of fun.


What do you think the Rhoynar’s language would sound like or what model languages would it be based on? Did you make an sketches of it?


You know, I never did. It's not something I gave a lot of thought or study, so I wouldn't evince an opinion. It'd really be interesting to see the entire world given a proper linguistic treatment.


Hi David!

I'm not a huge TV show person, but I'm really interested in conlangs/the creation of conlangs. I'm an incoming freshman at UCSD starting this fall, and I wanted to ask if you had any advice for a potential Linguistics major in terms of interesting classes to take/resources to take advantage of since you did grad school there?

Thank you!


The graduate level morphology class I took from Farrell Ackerman not only changed my entire view of language, but it changed the way I created languages, and changed my life. As an undergrad., I don't know if you'll have that opportunity, but if you can somehow work your way into his graduate morphology class, you should.

In terms of undergrad., absolutely take advantage of the Sign Language and Deaf Culture class started by David Perlmutter and continued by Rachel Mayberry. It's a big class, but it's an important one, and not to be missed. I TA'd it a few times.

Good luck with the fall! I hear at the moment it's supposed to be a mix of in-person and online. lol I expect that to be fully online by the time we get there.


I feel like a lot of people think "CV(C) phonotactics + lots of sonorants = aesthetic". What do you think makes a beautiful sounding language?


I don't really care much. Instead I want to have a language that has a unique sound, or sounds exactly the way I want it to. If it sounds the way I want it to, I like it, even if it doesn't feature any of my favorite sounds or anything.


It seems that linguists/language experts being brought in to develop full (or nearly full) languages for sci-fi/fantasy franchises seems to be becoming more and more popular. Perhaps as a young adult, I might just have a limited perspective, but as someone who tends to get even more excited by the idea of a conlang in a franchise than the franchise itself, I find this amazing. It almost feels like professional conlanging is becoming an industry.

Would you agree with this assessment? If so, what do you think has caused this trend, and what do you think the future of the industry looks like? It's something that I'd love to be part of, or even just witness if I can't professionally do it myself.


I honestly think Game of Thrones had a lot to do with it. Movies make a huge splash and then disappear from the public consciousness unless they have sequels coming in regular intervals. Game of Thrones was the biggest thing on TV for eight straight years, and it prominently featured a created language. That really changed the landscape. I don't know if this is the start or an industry, though, or the end of a bubble. That remains to be seen.


why do you think everyone can learn multiple languages at once? i tried that in college and almost failed out. you urged everyone to do it at a talk i saw you at recently and i was amazed that your brain could work in a way that mine couldn’t.


I think even those who've had trouble in the past might find it easier to learn a language if (a) they didn't worry about gaining fluency in the language (after all, even a little bit can be useful!), and (b) there was no penalty for "failing" (so not for a grade, not for a job, etc.). If you could just learn a little bit whenever you wanted and not have to worry about passing a quiz, and not bothering about whether or not you can participate in a televised debate in your target language, you might find it a bit easier than you remembered.


In sci-fi, everyone speaks modern languages. Would they really? Would future English be as different from current English as current English is to Old English? Or did globalisation freeze all languages in time?

And if you were asked by the UN to create a new language for all people, what would it be like? What grammar would you have? Would you take vocabulary from existing languages or start from scratch?


No, far future languages should be different, and it's weird they're not.

I would create an a posteriori minimalist language (zero vocabulary from existing languages), with a flexible grammar, and it would kick ass.


Having had extensive practice in creating languages, or front-filling languages for plot devices, how do you go about LEARNING a language for research and personal use?


My preferred way to learn a language is in a classroom setting with a native speaker. The only languages I feel any good speaking are those that I've studied in a classroom setting with a native speaker as a teacher, done entirely in the target language. When I study a language to learn about it, I don't actually learn it. I learn the grammar to see how it works, and I gain a lot of insight from that, but it's not like after spending that time I know how to speak that language at all. I need the interaction with a native speaker to feel comfortable at all actually speaking it.


How does it feel to have High Valyrian as an option to learn on Duolingo?


I created that course, so pretty good!


Hi Mr. Peterson. For Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune film with Legendary, did you create just the Fremen languages or did you design any others?


I worked on four different linguistics systems (two spoken, two signed), but not all of them are full languages. I also created one writing system.


(Apologies for not being familiar with all your past work) - how often/do you ever work with physically impossible To pronounce languages? Reversed syllables, multiple tones at once, sound design tools implemented into the structure? I can think of examples of reversed speech from works but it’s usually no deeper than just reversed English, not a language of its own.


I haven't on any shows or films I've worked on. It'd be fun to, but I'd need the support of the entire production to do something truly alien.


About a year ago, I had this idea of creating a new language with the goal of making it as simple and easy to learn as possible, yet complex enough to convey as much meaning as possible in a few short words (and taking up the least amount of space written out as possible). I have found that the Hangul alphabet 한국어, with the unique syllable block feature, tended to take up the least amount of space on paper, and there are roughly (I can't remember the exact numbers) several thousand different syllable block combinations, and so it's possible that every single word takes up no more than 3 syllables. In Russian, articles such as "a" and "the" are nonexistent (there is a rough equivalent "это", but is more closely translated to "this" or "that"). I tried implementing this into my language, but I ran into a problem where I couldn't figure out if I should begin with vocabulary or the grammar first, or simultaneously. I gave up after a while, as coming up with the vocabulary was a pain in the bum.

My questions are:

1) In your opinion, was choosing Hangul the best choice for compressing information in writing?

2) Does vocabulary or grammar come first in the language making process? Or simultaneously?

3) If grammar does come first, do I develop it by manipulating English sentences? Or would it be a better idea to base off of an existing rare and unique language?

4) When creating the sounds of a language, what would be the recommended max number of phonetic sounds of a language? Should I use accents?

5) Is there anything you wish you knew when you first started conlanging that would've been extremely helpful?

Thanks in advance!

  1. Why not create your own writing system? I bet you could make something even more efficient.
  2. Grammar comes first.
  3. Many conlangers actually do use something like English as a stand-in to suss out the grammar. What I usually do is create a few nouns, and a few key verbs and use those to figure out the grammar. That way you only need to come up with 5-10 words and you can use those to figure out how your clauses are structured. It won't be sufficient, of course, as verbs can vary wildly in their entailments, but it will be enough to get you on your feet.
  4. It depends on the purpose of the language. For what you're doing, I guess probably use a smaller number of sounds. Don't worry about writing when you're doing sounds. Just use the International Phonetic Alphabet.
  5. I'm not really sure... Anything else I knew might have altered the course of my development, and I'm fairly happy with where I am... Also, sometimes greater knowledge can be inhibiting—can discourage you from trying something that a million others have tried, but which will prove useful, as learning something through experience is a great way to learn. So yeah, I'm not sure about that.

What was more important in creating Dothraki for you, simplicity(the actors could use it) or realism?


Realism. The complexity or simplicity of the language doesn't make a difference to the actors, except for the sound system, but the sound system was proscribed by George R. R. Martin in the books (not overtly, but in the words and names he coined). It wasn't up to me to make the sound system simpler for the actors: I was supposed to make it an authentic representation of what's in the book. But in terms of grammar, they just needed to pronounce it, not understand it.

There are places where I simplified the grammar slightly because I anticipated the fans of GRRM books learning and using it. I think that assumption was optimistic, as there's never been much of a response from GRRM's fans (or at least no enthusiasm for learning or using the languages). Had I had it to do over, I wouldn't have simplified anything.


Were you the language creator who was on an episode of SyFy's Faceoff?


Yep, that was me! During the judging, that’s literally the handsomest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’m glad it was caught on film. If you want to know more about Faceoff, feel free to ask me about that. (Oddly enough, the NBA draft was that day. I learned the Knicks drafted Porzingis from a camera guy.)


What is a typical work day for someone doing what you do?


Well, a typical day now is wake up, watch my daughter for an hour and a half, take a shower, work while my wife is putting our daughter down for her nap, then watch my daughter until her bedtime, then work at night until around 3. Before Covid, the schedule was similar, but I could work a lot more during the day, and there was flexibility if I needed to go give a talk somewhere, or needed to do a little extra work. Now our lives revolve around keeping our daughter entertained. Before her I'd often work for like 12-14 hours a day, just because that's what I wanted to do.

Anyway, the usual things I do are translation, recording (i.e. recording all the translated lines to MP3), sending emails, occasionally chatting with a writer/producer, and then actual language construction. There's always something I need to be doing.


I remember the video game Far Cry: Primal had a group of anthropologists develop a caveperson language for the game. Is there a different degree of difficulty for creating languages for societies that existed in the past? Or is it easier since more current languages may have developed from them?


I'm not sure it's easier or harder, just different. The hard part is representing the world as they would have seen it. Most of our common experiences and the things we have words for wouldn't be relevant for such a project. Furthermore, you'd need to be able to analyze the natural world as it existed then, from their point of view. That's something that always troubles me. I think it's very difficult to unknow all your modern knowledge and to try to understand and explain the world without the thousands of years of history we've inherited through our languages.


How do you decide on a basis for language and tweak it to make it sound otherworldly when crafting languages for projects like "Dune" or "Game of Thrones"? What goes through your mind when picking and choosing the right pronunciation, dictation, and grammar for lines of dialogue? And what's it like having to go back and forth between directors/screenwriters/authors to make sure it fits within the world?


I don't choose a language and tweak it: I create something new. In the case of both Dune and Game of Thrones, there was some minimal language elements from the books that I had to account for, but other than that it was up to me to create something brand new. I generally have a sound in mind that I aim for, and so it's simply a matter of fleshing things out to get that sound, and the same goes for grammar. It's a matter of creating things, step by step, then testing them out to see if it's realizing the idea you had, then revising.

It's often less than exciting to have oversight on this type of project from those who don't know a lot about language. It's great to work with someone who knows what they're doing, though. It's why I love working with /u/quothalinguist, with whom I'm working on Motherland and LangTime Studio.


Hi David, I'm a big fan of your work! Here's my question for you... Do you consider conlanging to be more of an art, or a science? Why?


An art, definitely. Kind of like architecture. Architecture is an art, but there's a lot of scientific knowledge you need to make it work. There are lots of artforms that are crucially supported by scientific understanding.


What does your reddit username mean?


It's a handle I've used for many years, starting with Diablo 2. I needed a handle that was unlikely to be taken, so I spelled Dedalus with a v, borrowing the Latin convention of spelling u with v (the distinction between u and v was a later innovation). The name itself comes from Stephen Dedalus, a character from the James Joyce novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Places where it makes more sense to use a handle than my full name I use Dedalvs, so most of the time when you see it, it's me (accept for gd Instagram, where someone stole it and sat it just to be piss me off. Mission agoddamnccomplished!).


If you've already answered this I apologize, but do you think that its possible to engineer a relatively simple language that can be taught across the globe so everyone can communicate? What hurdles would there be to do this do you think?


Sure. The hurdles have nothing to do with language, though. They're all political and practical. What possible language could one create that would cause literal billions of people to say, "Yeah, let's speak that instead of our own language and whatever other huge regional language is in our area!" I don't think it's possible. But believe, hitting on just the right language isn't the major obstacle.


When does the trailer for dune come out? The trailer must flow


lol I have no idea, but I do know that right now they're planning marketing. My guess would've been that they would've released a trailer at like Comic-Con, but now, I mean, who knows?


I normally feel like I have a fairly good phoneme list when creating a language, and I generally am fine with the phonotactics of my languages, but whenever I start speaking it, it just sounds hideous to me. How does one get to a point to where they can actually be happy with something that they create or how does one realize that a language does not have to be phonosthetically pleasing to be a fairly valid language?


It doesn't matter if it sounds good to you, necessarily. If it functions based on the phonotactic patterns you've developed, it will sound normal and good to the theoretical fluent speakers of that language. Really it depends how important it is to you to like the sound of the language you're creating vs. creating a good one. It's much harder to create a good phonotactic system you like the sound of than creating a good one, because your tastes will be fickle and somewhat difficult to suss out (for example, I thought I liked a bunch of palatals in a language until I created Noalath. Yikes! There can definitely be too much of a good thing!).


Bilaik stoda kom eno!

I've known some conlangers to be very protective of their work. Do you ever feel some type of way when you see your languages used in a manner that you didn't originally intend? I've always been curious what it was like for you to see a fandom develop around one of your languages, with its own norms, dialect, etc.

I have to add, from the very beginning you've been so great and supportive of Slakkru and we've always felt very lucky to have you. So, mochof Slengheda! Osir hod yu in bitam.


I can't control how others use the languages I created, so no point in worrying about it. I rejoice in the positive uses, and sorrow in the negative uses (there have been a few). That there has been a dedicated fandom for Trigedasleng is probably the positive outcome of my career. I'm glad it was able to bring some joy to those who enjoy it. Ste ku. <3


While creating Dothraki and High Valyrian for the show, did you draw influences from any real languages? How?


Not really. It was more based on what I wanted the languages to be, and what George R. R. Martin had already done (to match the aesthetic and match the grammar he'd already created).


How many naturally-occurring languages can you speak?


Depends what you count s being able to "speak". At least English and Spanish, but I definitely get by with ASL, German, and French—and then know a whole lot about Russian and Arabic.


Hi David! I know you're a big applicatives fan, so here's more of a conlanging question: what are your favorite, or at least go-to, ways to justify a language needing to have applicatives? Is it primarily for situations where only the subject/object can be relativized? Does a language actually need to have a motive for developing applicatives at all?


Usually it makes sense. I look at it as a length thing. The bigger the verb gets, the more likely it is to have an applicative—especially if it has nouns that are on the longer side. Like, look at Swahili. Big verbs, and nouns are almost all disyllabic at the very least, with adjectives just as long. It's simply useful to have an applicative in that situation. It shortens things up quite a bit. I've found the same kind of things happens when I'm creating a language. At a point, it just makes sense—and that's without even thinking about relativization.


Did you write Daenerys's final Valyrian speech in GoT and the lines just got mangled along the way, or did the writers just kind of approximate it, or what? I was learning Valyrian on Duolingo at the time and what Emilia Clarke said really made no sense.


Yeah... It is what it is, I'm afraid. You can see what the speech was supposed to be here. That's about all I can say about that.


What is a language creator? Are you just making up languages that sound like they could exist?


Pretty much.


Also what is the strangest, most unaturalistic feature you’ve put in a conlang, and how did you go about establishing such a feature?


I think others might need to say, but I suppose the Dothraki passive... No one's called me out on that. It made sense at the time, the fronting, but I'm unsettled about the agreement... It could've been done by analogy, but I'm not sure why. It keeps me up at night.


Does working with source material that is so ingrained in pop culture and has such avid fans (Game of Thrones, Dune, The Witcher) change your process when creating a language?


Not in this sense: Whether the source material is popular or not, I will try my best to be faithful to it. Perhaps there's added pressure with more popular franchises, but it doesn't change my approach.


What is your favourite fictional language that you didn't create or play a role in creating?


Check out this list here (but ignore the first language).


Question: Any advice on how to manage sprachbunds in conworlds?

Huge fan, loved reading TAoLI, and I’m glad I was able to (accidentally) make you laugh last week on the stream :)


Actually, I think that'd be a difficult thing to maintain... I'm not sure I've ever tried anything like that. I'm not sure I'd have any specific advice.


Is there a weird language feature you've really wanted to incorporate into a conlang but haven't been able to? (For example, I worked with a group who came up with the novel idea of using a bell sound in an alien conlang, which was pretty fun.)


I still have plans to create a musical language. Some day...


Who owns your languages?


My opinion: No one.

The opinion of the studios I work for: We do.


How did you apply what you learned from Grad School to conlanging?


Whether grad. school or undergrad., it came rather naturally. You learn about something, you test it out in a conlang. That's really how I learned—how I approached the linguistics major. I loved trying out new stuff that I learned to see how it would work in a conlang. But yeah, with Farrell Ackerman's morphology class, I tore down my entire understanding of how I created a language. I refocused on interrelated systems—developing the paradigm instead of the exponence. It was so important for me.


When is season 2 of the Witcher coming???


I seriously and truly have absolutely no idea. We were in the middle of filming when we shut down due to Covid-19. All the episodes have been written (my work is nigh done), but I don't know when filming happens again, I really don't. No one knows. :(


what advice would you give to someone just starting out on their life as a conlanger?


Definitely study more languages!


What kind of education pathway did you take to get the career you have today?


I have a BA and an MA in Linguistics, but it didn't lead to my career.


To those of us wanting to create a conlang, what are some tips or sources you could provide us with in order to improve?


Definitely keep at it: Create something, evaluate it, create something else better. But study more languages (from many different language families) to get a sense for the variety that exists. The importance of language study can't be overstated.


Did Anthony Burgess' work on A Clockwork Orange and Quest for Fire have any influence on you? How would you personally go about creating a prehistoric language?


It did not. I haven't read A Clockwork Orange, though I did see the movie. Never saw Quest for Fire, but I do know the Iron Maiden song. I know of his work now, but didn't know about it until I'd been conlanging for a while. I actually did create a prehistoric language—two of them (the show never made it to air). Pretty much the same approach, but the vocabulary is quite different. It's difficult to know what that world was like. In many ways, you have to guess.


Hey! Sorry I’m a little late! Hopefully not too late! I was wondering:

  1. If you could use one sentence to describe Dune what is it?

  2. When working so creatively on such big projects - what part comes to be one of your favorites of the process?

  3. Do you ever find it complicated to pitch your ideas of new languages etc.? If not, how do you make the process of pitching them to others easier?

Thank you! Stay safe and have a great one!

  1. Epic.
  2. It depends. My favorite thing was working on the writing system for this one.
  3. Not especially, because I can always send audio files. That usually works!

When creating a language do you always consider how you want the language to overall sound (e.g., rough)? Only analogy I can think of is the German language is much "harsher" sounding than French.


I do consider how I want it to sound, but I don’t think of it in those terms. I think of how I want the intonational pattern to work, and what consonants, vowels, or clusters I want to be the hallmark of the language. That, then, needs to be filtered through what the producers want. Sometimes it doesn’t come out exactly the way is wanted it, but it usually works out well enough.


I've heard you mention verbs as if they were from the 9th ring of Hell, but I assume most of this is just some light joking. Why do you dislike verbs so much though? I find verbs interesting because of just how different each system can be, and it's probably my favorite part of conlanging.

Love your stuff!


It's because they're the most important part of the language, and the most difficult part to effectively and realistically implement. There's sooooooo much responsibility. If you mess it up, the whole language fails—and it's often hard if not impossible to fix.


Do you like The Beatles?


I do! I actually have a book that has music for all their songs (big white book). I learned to play the bass because a friend of mine needed a bass player for a band that was playing three Beatles' songs at a drama awards show in our high school. Considering the Beatles' entire catalogue, I found it quite bizarre that three songs he chose were "Can't Buy Me Love" (sure), "Gotta Get You Into My Life" (really?), and "Two of Us" (whaaa...?!). The bass part on "Two of Us" fucking killed me. That's not a song to help you learn the bass.


How did you get into creating languages?


FYI I answered this question elsewhere.


In the conlang community, what are some language features you think are over/underutilized? What's your favorite "wow, that's cool" feature in a conlang?


Every time I find myself saying "Wow" at something in a conlang, the conlang was created by Sylvia Sotomayor. She is, hands down, the best living conlanger, and I'm always amazed to see what she's doing next.

Also, one of my favorite features that I swear nobody gets but me and the creator is Jeff Jones Jaguar language. It's not a language for jaguars: It's a human language where the verb is always inflected to let you know what the jaguar is up to. (Because, after all, if there was a jaguar around, wouldn't you want to know what it's up to?)


Are you working on anything for Halo?


A while back I was supposed to create something for a Halo move that was going to be on X-Box Live, I think, and then X-Box Live shut down its feature production. (That's happened to me a couple of times, where the company itself decides to stop doing original content.) That would've been interesting.




lol I think I only ever translated it once... I hate that one, because I have never, for any language I've ever created, needed a word for "hovercraft", and I wouldn't want to make one up, because of the cultural implications. It would take so much effort...


How does a refrigerator work?




The Witcher language already existed in a way. Elder speech or Hen Llinge is the tongue of the Aen Seidhe elves. How hard was it to convert this language into something more for the Netflix adaption? Have you used the Witcher games as source material for this?


It was difficult, but to be clear, only Sapkowski's books were used as sources; nothing in any of the games was used as a source for the language.


So what's up with the Dutch hard "g"-sound and what kind of uses and effects can it have in the creation of conlangs for an international audience?


Depending on region, that "g" often comes out as [ɣ]—as does the "r". It's wild. I wasn't able to master it. But it is regional. It may have influenced some of the phonology of Bodzvokhan, the orcish language from Bright, but it would've been unconscious...


Wow, cool! Thank you for doing this AMA. What goes into making a language come across to the audience as believable rather than just gibberish?


For the sound of it, consistent intonation and repeated elements (I talked a bit about this in another answer).


I just started watching The 100 a couple weeks ago. Is it realistic that a group of Americans would come up with a new language that’s widely spoken and dispersed in the span of 100 years?


It's not a new language: It's just English evolved over the course of 100 years with some vocabulary switched out due to an early code that was used by a successful group of survivors.


Do you consider where the actors in the production are from when you’re making a new language? Because inflection and pronunciation vary with each dialect or language, so a British person let’s say speaks a language in a different way compared to Americans, right? I may be totally wrong 😂


Sometimes, but it's usually not too big a deal, to be honest.


Hey David! Do you have any advice on a posteriori languages? I've been stuck researching the source language for a long time, and while it's been fun and I've learned a lot, I'm not sure how to tell when it's time to start developing dialects/daughter langs


I'd need to know more about the specific situation to provide a useful reply.


Your work is brilliant. My question is, who on Game Of Thrones was the quickest and who had the most difficult time learning the language?


I never worked with the *Game of Thrones* actors, but based on the fidelity to what I actually translated, I guess Emilia Clarke had the toughest time.


How many different languages were developed for Dune?


Not all full languages, but four.


How did you develop High Valyrian from its proto-language/ancestor?


I can't give a long reply to this in a comment, but essentially there were sound changes, the gender system emerged from a distinction between mass and count nouns and thematic vowels, and the verb system emerged.


Hello! If you were given the chance, would you ever have a go at establishing Huttese and/or Mando'a as fully-fledged languages?


Someone did something for Mando'a already. I could certainly flesh out Huttese, but I wouldn't look forward to it... Too much to account for.


What’s you opinion on Altaic and how can theoretical or disproven language families be used to better create families of conlangs?


I don't have a dog in the Altaic fight, so I tend to stick with whatever the prevailing theory is.


What are common mistakes or errors that you sometimes notice in languages made by others?


It usually ties to the assumption that language must work in a certain way. It's rarely the case that language must do anything.


Have you incorporated any words from your conlangs into your idiolect? Or any words you'd want to if you could?


I don't think so... It really is a kind of separate aspect of my life that doesn't mix with the rest of it.


I can't wait for Shadow and Bone? Did Russian and Dutch inspire you?


I worked with Leigh's stuff from the books and extrapolated based on what she was imagining. Leigh and I are friends, so I chatted with her about it.


As an expert, what do you think of The Sanskrit language. Many believe it to be the 'mother of all a languages'. Is that true?


Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, and precisely as cool as any other language. It's not superior to any other language, and isn't more important than any other, language qua language.


It's awesome to see you doing an AMA, I love your work!

Are there any linguistic features you really like and wish were used more often in conlangs?


Applicatives, switch reference, and reduplication!




"Don't forget to drink your Ovaltine."


do all of your languages count in base 10?


No. On Defiance, Irathient is base-18, Castithan is base-20, and Indojisnen is base-7. I described those systems somewhere or other on the internet...


How are you holding up in quarantine? ( you said ask anything!)


Eh. So so. Some days are better than others. I think as long as our daughter is happy and healthy, we count it as a win.


What's the most aesthetic linguistic feature to you?

How about the least?


[ʒ] [ʙ]


If you could have one of your languages translated extensively, such as the Klingon bible, which would it be?


Like if it were magically large enough to be able to do that translation...? I'd want Irathient to be that large. Love that language.


What was the most frustrating language to make in game of thrones?


Meereenese Valyrian. I kept mixing up the sound changes...


If you could make a non-vocal language, what kind of system would you most want to use?


I've created a couple:


What's a consonant you still struggle to pronounce?


Implosives. I need more practice.


Do you speak any other languages?


FYI I answered this question elsewhere.


What’s your favorite color?


Orange! ~:D


What is your favorite grammatical feature EVER?


It may be recency bias, but I do love me some applicatives...


Hey, David!

Since Dune is set in the far future of essentially OUR Earth, are the languages you developed for the movie just vastly evolved versions of natural languages (English, Arabic, etc.), kind of like your work on the 100, or did you fill in the gaps with completely a priori stuff?


It's actually not our Earth...


Have you learned lojban and what are your thoughts on the language?


I've never had any interest in Lojban and don't really know much about it beyond the basic premise.


I know I’m late to this and hoping you see this and have the time to answer.

First of all, I am a big fan of your work. I have known about conlanging for about 13 years and used to visit places like zompist etc however I always felt like it was too hard/I didn’t have the inspiration at the time.

After watching GOT that changed for me. Dothraki and High Valyrian hit me like a tonne of bricks when watching the series. The langs were so well devolved and fit the intended cultures so well I thought they were real at first and I’ve been inspired to have a go ever since myself.

Anyway, to the questions:

  • What were your main influences when creating High Valyrian?
  • Do loan words follow a set pattern when entering into High Valyrian? (e.g they will all fall into the lunar gender)
  • Will we see more High Valyrian in House of the Dragon?


Glad to hear from you! To answer your questions:

  • The main inspiration were GRRM’s names and the two phrases, plus his intention that Valyrian be to his universe roughly what Latin and Greek are to ours. The goal was to have a goodly set of verbs and declension classes, but after that I fleshed it out like a strongly head final language with a few quirks I felt fitting.

  • It varies. Some fall into a gender because if phonological similarity. Others are out into one as a borrowing (the result being lunar for count nouns or terrestrial for mass nouns). It really depends on what language it’s borrowed from, what the word is, what era, etc.

  • If there is any, it won’t have been done by me, I’m afraid.

Thanks for the comment!


What is your personal favorite of the languages you've created and why?


Irathient, because it does everything I love.


Do you speak Tolkien's Elvish?


I do not.


what's your favourite phoneme?




Do you enjoy watching the shows/movies you've worked on or does it take away from the magic a bit?


Yeah, I try to watch everything. I'm sometimes not as pleased with the performance, but I've come to accept it, since I'm generally hard to please.


2 questions, first how did you find out this is what you wanted to do. Like, language creation is hardly a typical job. And I can't even fathom how one can do that their whole life. Though is does sound quite interesting and fun.

Do you have a pattern you try to follow that helps you create them easier? Or is every lamugage kind of just it's own. I know they are influenced by existing languages but besides that.

P.S. Anything you would really like to work on but didn't/haven't gotten the chance to?


I didn't aspire to this job, as it didn't exist before I did it (as in it wasn't a full, day-to-day career). I got the opportunity to do it, and I absolutely jumped at the opportunity after creating languages on my own for ten years.

My languages don't follow specific patterns, though there are things I do more often than others, given that most of the actors that use these languages are English speakers who don't have much experience with non-English languages. But yes, unless the languages are supposed to be related (like High Valyrian and Astapori Valyrian), they stand alone.

I would really have liked to work in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe, but it got started well before it was commonplace to hire someone to create a language. Aside from that, I'd love to do something for a band. I think it would be awesome to create a language for the Flaming Lips for a concept album.


Science seems to indicate that cats meow specifically to communicate with humans, but that they don't use words per say. Each cat will mimic their people and trial and error their way to communicating.

Do you think that it is feasible to work out a standard language we can teach our cats to better communicate? If so, how would you start?


I don't think they have capacity for it, unfortunately. :(


With House of the Dragon in the pipeline, do you foresee there being any form of Valyrian in the script? I understand you mentioned elsewhere that you're not yet involved, but is your future involvement in this series still a possibility?


I guess if they ask me to be a part of it, but I can't imagine at this point. Seems too far along. My guess is since, theoretically, everyone would be speaking Valyrian, they're going to have no one speaking Valyrian.


It’s always interesting to me to see how language changes over the last few hundred years, but I wanted to ask, is it possible to predict what English might look like in the future? Like are there trends and changes we already see happening?


It's difficult, because you need to choose a region and project. Maybe my brain's fuzzed out after answering so many questions, but I don't even want to guess. lol With The 100 I was gifted a nuclear holocaust that wiped out civilization and a scifi backstory that allowed me to alter word meanings almost at will. I'd love to see how English is 200 years from now. I want to see if ubiquitous access to media is really, truly slowing language change, and to what extent. For example, will we ever lose the connection between "I'm'a eat" and "I am going to eat"? Somehow I doubt it, if we still have access to video and print materials.


Do you ever use other languages besides English as a kind of basis for the language? Say adding dual in addition to singular and plural like Sanskrit, or reducing usage of pronouns like Japanese does? If yes, what are some examples of this?


I don't use languages as bases for a language I'm creating unless it's an a posteriori language. Every language I've ever created has lots of elements that don't occur in English. They'd be too numerous to list.


If you don't mind more Dune questions, how many languages are being developed? I'd imagine the Fremen tongue will get fleshed out, but what about the various battle languages used by houses?


FYI I answered this question elsewhere.


What do you think about the movie Arrival? Or its source material, the book "Story of Your Life" from Ted Chiang?

Your thoughts about the alien language?


FYI I answered this question elsewhere.


Instead of creating new languages, why not use endangered indigenous languages? Imagine how much you could help to keep these languages from dying.


I've addressed this elsewhere, but it's rather cavalier to suggest that having an indigenous language pretend to be some other language on a show is going to do anything to save it.


Do you build up a certain amount of vocabulary while creating a language or do you made up the words only when you need them in the shows?


I build up as much vocabulary as I can beforehand, and then continue working on the language thereafter.


As a beginner conlanger, I'd like to know: What are some of your favorite conlangs that others have made? Why?


FYI I answered this question elsewhere.


Do you speak all the conlangs you created? Must one study linguistics to be able to create a conlang?


I definitely do not, and no, but it helps.


Could imaginary/constructed languages be used for government or intel agencies? Like, CIA MI6?


I could, but I'm not aware of any instances other than, say, the training exercise where the "enemy" combatants use Esperanto (I think that's the FBI?).


What's the best way for me to learn tolkein elvish? I'm struggling to find resources


Have you checked out Ardalambion?


Now, when youre making a language do you have like a planner or rule book you go by?


Not really, but I have a nice template for a grammar and dictionary I've built over the years.




FYI I answered this question elsewhere.


Why do you dislike your middle name? :-)


Because it feels like a little kid's name (probably on account of the ubiquitousness of Osh Kosh Bigosh when I was a kid).

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August 12th 2016