The creator of languages for Game of Thrones and alien languages for sci-fi shows reveals the deeply intricate secrets behind his “conlanging” (constructed language-making).
Peterson, who holds a master’s degree in linguistics and has published Living Language Dothraki, a book about a Game of Thrones language, tries to appeal to several audiences—from general readers (who will need a machete for some of the thick textual foliage) to Throne devotees (who will love learning more about the show but may suffer from glazed-eye syndrome at some of the linguistic theory he explains) to other conlangers (who will leap upon his charts and terms, rapidly consuming them). This is no Dick-and-Jane text. The more readers know about grammar, usage, orthography, linguistics, foreign languages, fonts, and phonology (and so much more), the better for them. Peterson deals with several large subjects—sounds, words, evolution of language, writing—explaining the complexities of each and providing examples from his own work. The author inserts humor where he can, suggesting in one place a list of possible conlang words for very specific uses—e.g., the word nipak to mean “the piece you need to finish a puzzle that you are actively putting together.” For the most part, this is a nuts-and-bolts text about how a language works, about the differences among languages, and about the vast array of things conlangers must know before they embark upon a voyage of creation. It’s not—as the author makes abundantly clear—a simple matter of making a list of weird words and calling it a language. Peterson ends with some mildly hopeful words for aspiring conlangers, recognizing that the gigs he’s managed to obtain are not all that prevalent. He suggests that writers of fantasy and sci-fi novels employ conlangers to help them with their work.
As dense as Mirkwood in some places, but shafts of sunlight do break through.