David J. Peterson, the linguistic mastermind behind Game of Thrones, detailed his painstaking process for assembling the Dothraki and Valyrian languages in an exclusive Rolling Stone video interview.
Peterson began his process by consulting George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy novels which spawned the acclaimed HBO series. “There were a number of names, but there were also a bunch of short phrases – some actual complete sentences that were in there,” he said. “The language I was going to be creating had to match both the aesthetic in the book and whatever grammar was in the book.”
Developing High and Low Valyrian brought its own challenges. While he relied on some of Martin’s material to construct High Valyrian, the “Low” (or “bastard”) vernacular was purely Peterson’s invention.
The linguist works closely with Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to ensure consistency from script to script – and overall, he’s “pretty pleased with all the actors and their performances,” though he singled out Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm) for his especially brilliant work. “He’s my hero,” Peterson said. “He’s the best on any show or movie I’ve ever worked on. I absolutely love him to death.”
While Peterson admitted that Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) struggles with Dothraki, that lack of skill makes sense since it’s not her character’s native tongue.
“It’s always funny to me to hear Emilia Clarke speak Dothraki,” he said, laughing. “Of course, her character is not supposed to be fluent, and it really sounds…not fluent. It’s great. For her character, she understands and she can speak. She just doesn’t sound quite right.”
Most recently, Peterson has worked with the brand Canada Dry. On their latest marketing campaign, he created a new language to help better define the word “busy.”