Game of Thrones and Dune | The Petersons and their invented languages, stars of films and series

(Lille) They are behind the creation of Dothraki and Valyrian in Game Of Thrones or chakobsa for Dune : David and Jessie Peterson are American language creators, the only two in the world to make a living from this work, a “game” for them.

“Yer athzalar nakhoki anni, zhey qoy qoyi”, or “You are my last hope, blood of my blood”: what would the series be Game Of Thrones without these exchanges plunging the viewer into the struggles for the Iron Throne?

In the movies Dune, the Fremen people speak Chakobsa by rolling the “r”. Originally, it was a hunters’ dialect, which inspired the novelist Frank Herbert for his book, brought to the screen in particular by Denis Villeneuve.

But Frank Herbert, like George RR Martin in his medieval saga, slipped only a few words from these languages ​​into their pages.

Following a competition in 2009, David Peterson was chosen to develop the Dothraki. First paid mission that launched the career of this linguistics graduate.

“Languages ​​can be funny; but often they are treated too seriously. You have to laugh if you’re wrong,” says the expert during a master class at the Séries Mania international festival in Lille.

With his wife Jessie, 42, who has always loved playing with words, they start from scenarios and wonder about the environment of the protagonists, their history, the objects they use… And “we extrapolate”, says David .

Jessie for example for the Pixar cartoon Elementary had to create a language “where we heard fire”. She cataloged a series of sounds (explosion, sound of a match, etc.) and assembled them to form words.

In the street, she has already heard children calling out to their father in this language. Pride.

Fan communities Game Of Thrones worship Dothraki or High Valyrian – which can be learned via courses or, for the latter, through the Duolingo application where you can hear their voices.

The use of language creators has developed since Star Trek where Klingon was used, created by Marc Okrand in 1985. Many of them, however, cannot make a living from this work.

Living languages

David and Jessie Peterson don’t just make up a string of words. They even start with grammar – how many genres, tenses… Then David, a music lover, works on sounds, while Jessie develops vocabulary.

The work of creating languages ​​is rather solitary in principle, but the tight schedule of the series – often two months – requires this sharing of tasks.

The couple prepares the ground for the actors as best they can, sending them recordings of the dialogue at normal speed, slow speed, and even syllable by syllable. “It makes us sweat a lot,” exclaims David.

At the first screening of Game Of Thrones, he heard a small error. “It was so embarrassing,” he says.

The duo sometimes creates new alphabets, for messages written on screen, as in the series Vampire Academy. “We start from images, we create symbols, which become letters,” explains David, drawing a parallel with the invention of writing five millennia ago.

The couple enjoys sharing their expertise, with “lives” on their YouTube channel “LangTime Studio”. Some 600 episodes are online for fans of “conlang”, constructed language.

Is it possible to speed up the creative process using artificial intelligence? “It would be a lot of work to train the AI ​​to produce a small number of things, so you might as well use this time to create the language yourself,” David says. “The beauty of language is that it is inherent to humans. There is no reason to remove humanity from languages,” Jessie agrees.


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