Creator of ‘Game of Thrones’ Dothraki language to teach summer linguistics class


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David Peterson, UC Berkeley alumnus and creator of Dothraki and High Valyrian languages spoken in “Game of Thrones,” will be teaching a three-unit course this summer, called “The Linguistics of Game of Thrones and the Art of Language Invention.”

Peterson has invented more than 40 languages, including 17 for television and film. He said the course aims to teach linguistics students about the fundamentals of language creation as well as reshape students’ perspectives on language. Peterson added that students will not be learning Dothraki or any other languages.

“They will learn how to create their own language,” Peterson said. “How to create writing systems and everything that’s involved in that process.”

Campus linguistics department chair Andrew Garrett approached Peterson, his former student, about teaching on campus after hearing Peterson speak to the Society of Linguistics Undergraduate Students, as reported by Berkeley News.

Peterson described the course as an “applied version of historical linguistics,” stating that students will explore how languages evolve gradually over time. Associate professor of linguistics Richard A. Rhodes said having a knowledge of historical linguistics leads to more realistic language creation.

“Linguistics has gotten more sophisticated, especially in the last 50 years,” Rhodes said. “We understand much more about language structure and how meaning in language works.”

Campus second-year student Jessie Yang has taken a linguistics class and said linguistics allows students to learn what makes languages “uniquely quirky and identifiably human.” She added that students also learn to apply concepts creatively.

“If you know what’s possible for a human language you can try to think about what’s possible for an alien language,” Yang said. “There’s all sorts of stuff going on in our head to just talk to other people that you never think about it.”

Peterson was selected to create a language for “Game of Thrones” when the producers of the show first reached out to the Language Creation Society, according to an HBO press release.

The Language Creation Society’s objective is to advance the “art, craft and science of language creation” according to the nonprofit’s website. Peterson now serves as the editor-in-chief of the society’s academic publications.

Rhodes said language creation has become an industry in Hollywood, dating back to when campus alumnus Marc Okrand invented Klingon, which was featured in “Star Trek.”

Peterson said seats are still available in the course and he is looking forward to teaching it. He added that he doesn’t believe that his course will have disproportionately more “Game of Thrones” fans than any other course on campus.

“I think you could grab any random course and most of those people will be ‘Game of Thrones’ fans,” Peterson said.

Contact Ahna Straube at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @akstraube.