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  • Writer's pictureShane Almgren

David J. Peterson: Hollywood Language Creator (Game of Thrones, Dune, Thor: Dark World)

Updated: Apr 29

David J. Petersen is an American linguist and language creator. He has studied over 20 "Earth" languages, and created more than 40 artificial languages for TV and movies, including Dothraki and Valyrian for HBO's hit show Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

Additionally, David has created the languages for Thor: The Dark World, Dune, The Witcher, House Of The Dragon, Syfy's Defiance, CW's Star-Crossed and The 100, Dominion, Penny Dreadful, The Shannara Chronicles, Warcraft: the Beginning, Doctor Strange, and Emerald City, to name a few.

He is the author of Living Language Dothraki and The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves to Sand Worms, the Words Behind World-Building. David’s work is featured in the documentary Conlanging: The Art of Crafting Tongues, and he is the co-founder of the Language Creation Society.

Episode Highlights

Step into the intricate world of language creation with our special guest, David Peterson, an acclaimed writer and linguist with a fascinating journey that includes the mastery of more than 20 languages. Peterson unveils the richness and complexity of his craft, painting a vivid picture of language creation as an art form. We unmask the methodical magic of shaping a language from scratch, focusing on the essentials of vocabulary development, internal consistency, and the evolution of grammar.

Peterson also shares his experiences from the heart of the film industry, shedding light on the painstaking process of crafting languages for the big screen and the pursuit of authenticity at its core. We delve into the pressures of language creation for the fast-paced world of television and film, with its tight deadlines and the necessity for compromise. From battling writer's block to discussing career advice for aspiring language creators, we cover it all. We draw the curtain with a look at the Language Creation Society's jobs board and the importance of early language education. So, join us and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring domain of language creation, where art and linguistics collide in a symphony of words!

We cover a lot of fascinating topics in this episode including:

  • JRR Tolkien's contribution to modern language creation

  • The workflow of sound development between himself and Hollywood show creators

  • Winning a language creation contest to land his first job with Game of Thrones

  • The linguistic rules and framework for creating a "realistic" fake language, and what makes a made-up movie language sound fake

  • Why language creation is living art that is never finished

  • Why the languages from Star Wars were all "crappily" done

  • The process of teaching an actor how to speak a new language

  • The Game of Thrones character he thinks speaks the best Valyrian


Read the Complete Transcript

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